24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

10:00 pm, Tokyo

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Naru and Umino left the theater, Naru's ears still ringing with the sound of explosions. She preferred romantic comedies to mecha movies, and this mecha movie had been especially loud and explosive. Umino had loved it, though, and had chattered all through the movie, to the displeasure of the people sitting around them, about this or that line of dialogue or special effect or bit of actor gossip that Asuka-san had told him about. As they left the movie theater, he was still going on about Asuka-san's analysis of the movie and offering up his own opinions. "I totally think we could engineer a model like that within the next fifteen years," he said, referring to a super-destructive, super-intelligent AI mecha in the movie. "Asuka-san says the basic algorithms have already been developed, and -"

"Maybe you should have taken Asuka-san to see the movie," Naru snapped, then immediately wished she hadn't. Shouldn't it be enough for her that he was having fun?

Umino didn't seem hurt by her statement. His face lit up. "Hey, that's a great idea! Let's all three of us come back and see it, and then we could have a really great discussion about it afterwards."

Naru tried not to roll her eyes, and completely failed, and also failed to suppress the annoyed growl in her throat. They reached the stop for the bus that would take them to Umino's house, where they would spend the next hour or so studying. All at once, Naru wanted nothing more than to go home and think about the man she had met. "I'm pretty tired, Umino-kun," she said. "I think I'd rather just go home."

"But Naru-chan, you'll never get into Juuban Polytechnic University if you miss a day of studying!"

"I don't -" want to go to Juuban Polytechnic University, she wanted to say, but there was no point in arguing about it with him. Or maybe she just didn't want to start an argument right now, not in the mood she was in. She'd end up saying something she'd regret, and then...

Then what? They'd break up? Would that really be so bad? They'd been together for three years; she couldn't remember exactly why, after bouncing back and forth between crushes on her and Usagi for a couple of years, Umino had finally settled on her and they had started going out. That was around the same time that Usagi had started going with Chiba Mamoru, whom she had just gone and married. At seventeen. Naru had heard that Mr. and Mrs. Tsukino had had a fit, but Usagi had been adamant that she and Mamoru were destined to be together, so her parents had finally given in. Naru couldn't say she blamed Usagi; if she had a boyfriend as handsome and dreamy as Mamoru, she would want to marry him as soon as she could, too.

But Umino... She glanced sideways at him as he continued to chatter on about the movie, and tried to imagine spending the rest of her life with him, sleeping with him, having kids with him...

No way. She couldn't do it. She just couldn't.

So then why did the thought of breaking up with him make her feel so scared and lonely? There were worse things than being alone; being with someone who wanted you to be something you weren't, for example. He would be terribly hurt if she broke up with him, and she hated to think of doing that to him. They'd been good friends, even if their "romance" wasn't turning out to be what she wanted. And she really didn't want to hurt him. But she didn't want to go on like this, living a life that she just somehow knew wasn't the life she was supposed to be living.

"I'd really rather just go home," she said.

"Well, okay," Umino said. "Make sure you look at those outlines Asuka-san made before you go to sleep, okay?"

She sighed. "Okay."

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury