24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

8:00 am, Tokyo

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A sudden, horrifying thought jerked Naru out of the dreamless sleep she had finally fallen into. "My mom!" she exclaimed, sitting up abruptly.

"What's the matter?" Nephrite demanded from beside her.

"My mom is going to kill me. I'm supposed to be getting up now to help her in the store since there's no school today. When she figures out I'm not there, she's going to be so mad. She'll probably think I spent the night at Umino's house!"

"I can teleport you home right now," Nephrite said. He looked at his watch. "I'm supposed to meet Jadeite, Zoisite, and Kunzite in about an hour anyway, so I might as well not sleep any more. I can take you straight to your room."

He looked like he hadn't slept at all. Naru felt like she hadn't slept at all. But she had to figure out a way to get home and keep her mother from finding out she'd been out half the night. "I just hope my mom doesn't walk in right then and catch you there. Then she'll really kill me."

"I have an idea," Usagi said. "Mamoru and I can drive you home. Mamo-chan has a car."

"So what will I tell her about why I'm in my pajamas?"

"Hmm," Usagi said, her face scrunching up as she thought. "How about this, I called you up late because I missed my best friend and asked you to come over and have a sleepover!"

"Married women don't have sleepovers with their friends," Rei pointed out as she sat up, stretching, from where she'd been sleeping on the floor.

"Well, why not?" Usagi demanded. "You all slept over."

"That's different," Rei said.

Naru looked at Nephrite as Usagi and Rei went on arguing. "I guess you'd better teleport me home and then leave before my mom catches us," Naru said.

He nodded and stood, then picked her up in his arms. "I hope you don't mind. It's easier this way, if I'm carrying you."

"Why should I mind?" She smiled up at him and he returned her smile. Then, with a flash of red and white swirling light, Usagi and Mamoru's apartment dropped away, there was that brief sensation of cold and dizziness, then Naru's bedroom took shape around her.

Naru's mother stood in the doorway.

Naru's mind didn't even have time to process her horror before she felt herself set on the floor and another flash of red and white light filled the room. When she got her balance and the light cleared, she realized that Nephrite was gone and that her mother was staring at her with equal parts fury and confusion on her face. "Naru-chan! Where were you? What was that?"

"What was what?" Naru asked.

"That flash of light! And I thought I saw..." Mrs. Osaka narrowed her eyes and stared hard at Naru. "I thought there was someone with you."

Naru looked around. "There's no one else in here." At least that was true; she really didn't like lying to her mother, even if it was for a good cause. "Maybe the light was just..." She looked at the morning sunrise streaming in through the window. "It was probably just the sunlight reflecting on my mirror. Are you sure you're feeling okay, Mama? You aren't getting one of your headaches, are you?"

Mrs. Osaka rubbed her forehead but said, "I'm fine. Where were you? I've been calling for you and looking all over the apartment for you!" She gave Naru another suspicious look. "You weren't out somewhere, were you? In your pajamas? You didn't spend the night at Umino's house, did you?"

"No, Mama! Of course not. I'd never do that." And that was true, too. Something she had always avoided thinking about in her relationship with Umino was the possibility of marrying him and then having to sleep with him. She had never admitted it to herself before now, but she just wasn't attracted to him that way. In fact, now that she was thinking about it, the thought made her a little queasy.

"Well, where were you, then? I couldn't find you anywhere. I was starting to worry!"

Naru thought fast. Under the circumstances, Usagi's story seemed like the best thing to go with, after all - and the closest to the truth. Not only did she not want to lie to her mother, but if she lied about where she had been, would that mess up Nephrite's chances to come back to life? "I went over to Usagi-chan's place. She just - I don't know, I think she and Mamoru were in a little bit of a fight -" That was true, too, in a way, they just hadn't been fighting with each other "- so I went over there to spend the night. It was fun visiting her again. We hadn't really talked in ages."

"Well." Naru's mother didn't quite look like she believed it, but at least she didn't look so mad. "I didn't hear you come back in."

"You must have been in another room." Lame, but the best she could come up with.

"Well," Mrs. Osaka said again. "I wish you had told me before you went out in the middle of the night."

"I'm sorry, Mama. I was just in a hurry to go over there."

"You must have been, if you went out in nothing but your pajamas. And nothing on your feet."

Naru stared down at her bare feet, dirty and roughed-up from her run through the streets. "Yeah, well, I guess that was kind of stupid."

"It wasn't just stupid, it was dangerous and thoughtless. Anything could have happened to you, and I wouldn't have known where you were!"

"I'm sorry."

"I'm afraid that 'sorry' isn't good enough, Naru-chan. I hate to do this - I'd like to think that you're too old for this sort of thing - but you're grounded for a week. No friends, no dates, and no telephone. I'll call Umino's parents and explain."


"I hope you'll learn your lesson about running out in the middle of the night without telling me. You'll help me in the store today, and then spend the rest of the afternoon and evening at home."

"But, Mama, I have to talk to Umino today! It's really important!" She had to tell him it would be better if they saw other people, and that he would probably be happier with Asuka-san, and that she wasn't really what he wanted. Part of Nephrite's conditions were that he had to win her without hurting anyone else, and the only way that would happen would be if she let Umino down gently and kindly.

"You can talk to him at school tomorrow."

"But that'll be too late!"

"What is it that's so urgent, Naru-chan?"

"It's -" Then she stopped. She couldn't exactly say, I have to dump him so I can be with the man of my dreams, who was dead but who's come back to life. "It's just really important."

Mrs. Osaka gave her yet another one of those looks. "You aren't pregnant, are you?"

"Mama, no! We've never slept together! And to be honest, I don't want to ever sleep with him." There, she had said it, at least to her mother.

"Well," Mrs. Osaka said. "I'm glad to hear that, at least, though you may feel differently when you get older. To tell you the truth, that's another reason why I'm not happy to hear that you spent the night at Usagi's place. I really don't approve of her marrying so young. She's throwing away her whole future, if you ask me. I've been worrying that you might decide to do the same thing. I'm glad to hear you aren't interested in getting married for now."

It wasn't exactly true that she wasn't interested in getting married. She envied Usagi, in her own little home with her handsome husband who seemed to be so crazy about her. And it wasn't that she was put off by the thought of sex; it was just the thought of sex with Umino. Doing it with Nephrite was something she could really see herself being interested in, and if he were to propose to her today, she'd say yes right away.

But there were so many things he had to do first, before they could even dream of a life together. This thing about moving Earth back to the other reality, Nephrite having to make apologies and pay back what he owed to the people he had harmed in his work for the Dark Kingdom, those other guys and the things they had to do... "I'll probably never get married at all," she muttered.

"At least, not for now, dear," her mother said. "Now, hurry up and get dressed and have some breakfast. We need to get downstairs soon to get ready to open up the store."

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