24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

1:00 am Tokyo

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Even though Naru was exhausted, her thoughts were too agitated to let her go to sleep. Over and over in her mind, she heard Umino's voice saying "Asuka-san" and saw the disappointed - no, more than disappointed, devastated face of the stranger when she asked him if she knew him.

She did know him. She knew she did. And he had expected her to know him. But she had never seen him before in her life -

At least, not that she could remember. She thought back to that foggy time around when she and Umino had started dating. Was the nameless man part of that? Was he why she had been feeling so lonely and sad?

Was he the danger Umino had saved her from?

She shifted onto her side in bed and thought about that. He was older than her - she would guess about five or six years or so. That didn't seem like so much now - it was about the same as the age difference between Usagi and Mamoru- but three years ago, when she was only fourteen and he was maybe twenty, it would have been a big deal. And he was way more handsome than any normal guy. Had he tried to seduce her or get her to run away with him? Would he have used her and dumped her?

But he hadn't seemed like that type. He had seemed so nice, and so sad, and had apologized so politely for interrupting her and Umino's date, instead of trying to put moves on her.

Who was he?

As she tried to dig deeper into her memory, exhaustion overcame her and she finally fell alseep, and dreamed.

She was sad. No, sad wasn't the word for it; sad didn't even come close. Grieving, distraught; she felt like her sorrow would tear her apart, consume her from the inside out. She was pleading for someone to come to her, or stay with her, but he couldn't. Her world had ended, and it was just so wrong.

She didn't know what had happened, though, except there were explosions, and blood, and then tears swimming in a pair of deep blue eyes looking up into hers.

His eyes.

And then there was nothing but the pain and the heartbreaking grief.

And then she heard his voice, the voice of the man she had met that evening, calling to her. Naru-chan.

She woke up. She knew him. And he wasn't the danger Umino had saved her from. There was danger surrounding him, but he wasn't a threat to her. He had - how did she know this? He had protected her.

So why couldn't she remember him? She sat up in bed and stared into the darkness of her bedroom in frustration. It must be something from that fuzzy time, back when she was in eighth grade. What had happened to make her forget? If only she could find something...

She jumped out of bed and pulled a cardboard box out from her closet. The box was painted purple and had sparkly stickers stuck on it. She had decorated it herself, to keep the mementos of her junior high school years in. She opened it and started digging through the contents. Movie ticket stubs, collectible cards she had traded with friends, some of her school papers... She pulled out each piece of her past, remembering each event, each class, each friend clearly. Newspaper clippings about her friend Saionji Rui winning some tennis tournaments... That struck a spark in in her mind, and she stared at the articles, reading them closely, looking for any hint of the man. But there was nothing.

Maybe she could call Rui-chan in the morning and ask her if she remembered anything about a man like the one she had met. Or - The thought came to her now, she could call Usagi-chan and ask her. They'd been best friends in eighth grade, and Usagi might remember things that had happened then that Naru couldn't remember. She almost wanted to call Usagi right then and there, but it was after one o'clock in the morning and Usagi would be sound asleep, in bed with her husband. Or maybe not asleep. Naru's cheeks grew warm and she told herself firmly not to think about things that were none of her business.

But she couldn't stop the stranger's face from coming into her mind, in the wake of those thoughts. Why his face and not Umino's? she wondered. And it wasn't just because the stranger was so much more gorgeous. She really wasn't one to fantasize about random guys; there had to be something else there that attracted her to him.

Like the jazz musician she'd had a crush on, also back in eighth grade.

She dropped the yellowing newspaper clipping she was holding. Where had that come from? She hadn't thought of that in years. Around her, the world seemed to shift and become less solid, as though she was slipping back into her real life and leaving this world behind. It was a frightening feeling, almost as if she was going to drift away from the world altogether, but it also convinced her she was on the right track. She picked up the newspaper clipping she had dropped and set it carefully into the pile of keepsakes, and dug into the box again.

Silly drawings that she and Usagi-chan had exchanged, notes passed in class, letters from her cousin, letters Usagi had sent from her family's vacation, and then a pink envelope with a heart-shaped seal and a return address saying only "Tuxedo Mask"...

"What's this?" Naru wondered out loud. She didn't know anyone named "Tuxedo Mask". At least, not that she remembered... She opened the envelope and took out the note inside. I love you more than anyone else, it read. Please meet me at the Shinjuku MS department store tomorrow night.

The chime of recognition in her mind went off even louder. Tuxedo Mask; was that the stranger's name? But what a weird name. And anyway, he hadn't been wearing either a tuxedo or a mask. Had she gone to meet this Tuxedo Mask, whoever he was, at the department store? She closed her mind, focusing on the little jolt of memory she'd experienced, imagining herself in the familiar store with a man dressed in a tuxedo with a mask concealing his face...

Happiness, anticipation, nervousness, fear, confusion... I love you...

Then nothing.

Naru made a little noise of frustration in her throat as she tossed the note aside onto the pile. She dug down deeper into the box - she was almost to the bottom. Fortunes she had bought at the Hikawa Shrine, an autographed CD from the jazz musician - how had that ended up in the bottom of this box? She set it aside to listen to.

And then, the last thing in the box, down at the very bottom - a strip of orange fabric, its ends tied togther, rough and fraying on one edge and hemmed on the other as though it had been torn from an item of clothing. It was stiff and stained with something dark.

Naru picked it up and held it, careful of the stained portions. She remembered... Remembered tying it around Umino's arm, where he'd gotten a cut or scratch. But she had already had it with her then. And the stains, which she realized now must be bloodstains, didn't look red. Did blood come in any other colors? Why would she have been carrying around a dirty scrap of cloth like this? It was really kind of gross.

Unless the blood had come from someone special to her. Unless... the blood was all that was left of him.

A pain like in her dream began to swell up inside her. Terror, a park at night, blood, blue eyes swimming with tears as they gazed up into her eyes. I'm glad I knew you...

No!, she cried, but she didn't know if it was just in her memories or if she really screamed the word out loud. The world spun around her, then everything went dark.

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury