24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

Nowhere, No Time

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The voice startled him. It was the first word he had heard in... hours? moments? eons? Since Naru's anguished cries as he died, whenever that was. Since then, he had been floating in utter darkness, no sensation, no sound, nothing except his own thoughts and memories, until the voice said the word that had once been his name. Was it still his name? Why did he need a name if there was no one else around him to call him by it, if there was no one else around it would distinguish him from?

Nephrite, the voice said again.

This time he decided to respond. I'm listening.

You have had time to reflect on the errors of your ways.

That was true. In all the measureless time that he had been in this dark nothingness, there had been nothing to do but think about all the stupid mistakes he had made, the wrong paths he had taken, the selfish desires that had drawn him away from the life of honor he had intended to live. Power, knowledge, glory... What did it all matter now, when he had lost everything and was doomed to an eternity of nothingness? What did it all matter compared to what he could have had?

He remembered her face, her sweet mouth turned up in laughter even as tears glimmered in her eyes. He had never imagined it would be possible to make a girl's dreams come true just by promising to take her for a dessert treat. He had never imagined that the ability to make someone else so happy would mean so much to him. Almost... he had almost had that new life in his grasp, a life that actually meant something, a life away from the scheming and backstabbing and groveling to Queen Beryl and the dim, dank loneliness of the Dark Kingdom. Almost, he had found a life worth living. But then the bad decisions of his past had caught up with him, and all possibility of anything better had been torn away from him forever. Yeah, I've reflected, he replied in a surly manner. For all the good it does me.

It may do you more good than you realize, the voice said. If you see clearly where you went wrong and what your heart truly desires, you may be able to keep from making the same mistakes again.

I may - What do you mean, keep from making the same mistakes again?

You made wrong decisions and followed evil desires in your other lives. Yet, to an extent, you were deceived into following that evil path.

That was true. King Endymion IV's short-sighted waffling had prevented Earth from either entering into mutually beneficial alliances with the other kingdoms of the solar system or gaining supremacy over them. Disillusioned, Nephrite and the other Guardians, seeking clear direction, had joined with Beryl, whose vision of a solar system united under her rule had seemed so magnificent. Then, when it was too late, after they had sold their souls for her promises, her true nature and aims had been revealed to them and they discovered that she had blinded them with both her beauty and the extravagance of her promises. Helpless rage arose inside him again at how Beryl had led him to destroy his own life and any hopes he might have had for happiness. And not only his life and hopes, but those of a young girl who had seen something in him that he hadn't even known was there.

Yeah, Beryl lied to us and tricked us. What of it?

You are to be given a great and rare gift. You and your three comrades, who like you were good men at heart yet set on selfish, prideful desires and because of that were vulnerable to being led astray, will have one chance to make up for the wrongs you did and reclaim your lives.

Reclaim your lives. He couldn't have heard right. Wait. We have one chance to get our lives back?

You will have twenty-four hours to apologize and make reparations to all those you wronged and to win the heart of the girl who holds your redemption in her hands.

Apologize? And win Naru-chan's heart? That second part was easy enough; he had already done that. Maybe he was flattering himself, but he didn't think she would have forgotten him in - how long had it been?

It has been three years.

Not long at all; not long enough for her to have forgotten him, and she would still be too young to have made a serious commitment to anyone else. As for apologies, there was the young tennis player, and the dollmaker girl, and the animator, and the elderly gardener, and the photographer and all the girls who had modeled for him, and...

All right. That part might not be so easy. He could do it, though. Assuming his mansion was still intact on its not-quite-there hill in Tokyo, he could find the careful records he had kept of his attempts to gather energy for Queen Beryl and find the silver crystal. At first, his records had been intended to remind him of his triumphs, but as the failures became more humiliating, he had still held on to his notes to remind himself of his previous mistakes and hopefully avoid making them again. It was all there - names, addresses, phone numbers, occupations, physical descriptions. He could track down all his victims and offer his apologies, perhaps along with a monetary restitution; there should be more than sufficient money in his bank accounts...

Remember, the voice said, you have twenty-four hours. And, remember this well, you may commit no further wrongs as you carry out your task.

Twenty-four hours. Commit no further wrongs. He would have to work fast and behave himself; otherwise, how hard could this be? I understand, he replied. When do I start?

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury