24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

10:00 am, Tokyo
Naru, Nephrite, Jadeite, Kunzite, Zoisite

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Naru sighed and propped her elbow on the jewelry store counter, resting her chin on her hand. The store had just opened and there weren't any customers yet, so for the moment, she didn't have to act cheerful. It was bad enough being grounded and unable to see or talk to anyone outside of work or school; she wanted to explode with frustration at not being able to do anything to help Nephrite.

It seemed so unfair, though she had to admit she probably should have told her mother she was going out.

What was she supposed to say, though? Mom, this guy I loved who was dead is alive again and he thinks I forgot about him but now I remembered so I have to go find him RIGHT NOW? Yeah, that would have worked.

"Naru-chan, you're smudging the glass." Her mother came out of the back office into the showroom.

"Sorry, Mama." Naru straightened up, took the polishing cloth from under the counter, and rubbed at the smudge she had made.

"You look tired, Naru-chan. You shouldn't have gone out during the night. You don't get enough sleep as it is."

"I know, Mama. It was important."

"So important that you had to leave me worrying?"

"I said I'm sorry. I won't do it again. But, please, Mama, it's really important for me to talk to Umino-kun today. This afternoon. It can't wait till tomorrow."

"If you would only tell me what's so important, I might be inclined to make an exception to the rules. But you won't tell me, Naru-chan. What am I supposed to think when you start hiding things from me?"

Naru sighed again. "It isn't just my stuff that's going on, Mama. It involves other people, too, and I don't feel like I can just go telling their secrets."

"Are Usagi and Mamoru getting divorced?"

"No, Mama!" Naru didn't mean to shout, but she was getting tired of her mother's prying. She tried to calm herself down; it was only natural that her mother would be concerned about what was going on in her life. "It's nothing like that," she said more calmly. "They're very happy together, and I think they did the right thing, getting married, even though I don't think getting married right now would be the right thing for me." Not that she was likely to ever get married at all, at this rate.

"I wish you would tell me, Naru-chan. You've never kept secrets from me before, and I don't like being shut out of your life."

But I have kept secrets from you before, Naru thought. You just don't remember. And if I start to tell you, you'll know I kept more secrets than you ever imagined. Instead, she said, "I'm sorry, Mama. It's just something that it's hard to talk about right now."

"Well, I wish you trusted me more," Mrs. Osaka said. "But I can't force you to tell me anything; I can only try to make sure you don't do anything foolish."

"I know."

At that moment the bell chimed, announcing a customer coming into the store. Naru sighed with relief at the interruption, then her relief fled when she saw who it was.

Nephrite came in through the door, followed by three other men. One, smaller than the other three, had long, tawny-colored hair in a ponytail with curling ringlets hanging loose on either side of his face. She recognized him immediately as the one who had mocked Nephrite as he lay dying in her arms. She caught her breath and suppressed an urge to scream and run away. Nephrite didn't look worried about being with him, and he had mentioned his three "friends." Maybe it was that evil kingdom that had turned Nephrite's friend against him, and that awful little man wasn't really so bad. She had trouble believing that, but she would wait and see what was going on before she reacted.

One of the other men also looked sort of familiar, with his handsome face and short, thick, blond hair. The gym owner? She remembered something about a weight-loss gym that all the girls had wanted to go to, as much because of the cute owner as because they wanted to slim down. That had been a very weird situation; they had all become so obsessed with being thin and beautiful that they had nearly wasted away to nothing. But it made sense if it was a plot of that evil kingdom. The third man, olive-skinned with long, straight, silver hair, wasn't familiar, and she found herself glad that she hadn't run across him before.

"Can I help you?" Naru's mother asked.

"I'm here to speak to Miss Osaka," Nephrite said.

"I'm afraid that's not possible," Naru's mother said in her best "if you can't afford it, then please don't waste my time" voice. "I am the owner of this shop; I can help you with whatever purchases you would like to make."

"Mama," Naru said. "I have to talk to him. It's important - it's part of what was going on last night."

Mrs. Osaka took a second look at Nephrite, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. "Wait a minute. Didn't I see you -?"

"Mama, can I speak to you privately in the office?" Naru said before her mother could realize that Nephrite had indeed been with her in her room for just a split second earlier that morning.

"I can't leave the floor unattended, and Chieko won't be in for another hour -"

"It's okay, Mama. We can leave the door open, as long as it's just them, and I promise they won't steal anything. Right?" she asked Nephrite.

"You needn't be concerned about leaving the store for a moment, Osaka-san," Nephrite said. "I promise that my friends and I will be on our best behavior." He gave her his charming "Sanjouin Masato" smile.

To Naru's disbelief, her mother actually blushed a little and patted her hair in an unconscious gesture. "Well, all right. But this had better not take too long, Naru-chan."

Naru followed her mother into the office, and they left the door open just enough to be able to see and hear what was going on out on the sales floor. Naru could hear the voice of the man who had killed Nephrite as he talked about a ring he was looking at, asking one of the other men to buy it for him. His request was refused, but kindly, by a man with a deep, mellow voice. Not the gym leader; the silver-haired man. Were they together? It seemed strange that two of them would be lovers, especially considering how evil they had been. But then, Nephrite had fallen in love with her while he was still evil.

"Now, what's this all about, Naru-chan?" her mother asked, her fraying patience clear in her voice.

"It's kind of a long story," Naru said, still trying to figure out what to say, "but I'll try to make it short. You probably don't remember any of this, but there's a good reason for that, and I swear everything I'm going to tell you is the truth." Or, at least, as much of the truth as she could tell without her mother thinking she was crazy or lying.

Mrs. Osaka crossed her arms across her chest and gave Naru a look that said to get on with it.

"Three and half years ago, when I was in the eighth grade, I fell in love with an older guy. Sanjouin Masato, a young businessman. I don't know how old he was, maybe just out of college - he was famous for being so rich and successful at such a young age. Anyway, I'll admit I knew you wouldn't approve, so I snuck out a few times to see him. But we didn't do anything wrong, except one time I snuck a jewel out of the safe that I wanted to show him. I put it back later. Soon after that, maybe a few days, I saw him get hurt by some people he was in trouble with, and he disappeared. I really thought he was dead. Then, last night, he showed up again. First he saw me out on my date with Umino, and I was afraid he thought I didn't care about him any more. Then I found out he was over at Usagi and Mamoru's, so I went over there to talk to him and tell him I was still interested in him. Honestly, Mama, nothing wrong happened between us. But he's back, and, well, there's some things he needs to be able to do so he won't have to disappear again, and he needs me to help him. And, well, I've been thinking for a while that Umino and I just aren't right for each other, so I need to talk to him too."

"This all sounds very suspicious," Naru's mother said. "This business about being so rich at such a young age, and having to disappear. Sounds to me like maybe he's mixed up with the yakuza."

"He isn't, Mama. Honest. He does have enemies, and he made some bad choices and had to disappear to get away from them. But he isn't a gangster."

"And why don't I remember any of this? I would expect to at least remember a famous young millionaire in the neighborhood."

"It's because..." Naru trailed off. There really wasn't any way she could explain this. "That's where some other people's secrets come in, that I don't think I can tell you without asking them first. Just, something big and traumatic happened in Tokyo - you know, like these weird things that happen sometimes, and when it was over a lot of people's memories were affected so they couldn't remember it any more. Mine was sort of affected, too, which was why at first I acted towards Sanjouin-san like I didn't remember him, but then it came back."

Naru waited silently, chewing her lip, while her mother thought it over. "Please, Mama," she finally said, desperate for her mother to make the right decision. "It's really important that you let me talk to Sanjouin-san now, and also to Umino. It has to be this afternoon, or it'll be too late. Sanjouin-san and I will lose our only chance to be together. I love him, and he loves me, and... Right before he disappeared, when he got hurt really bad, he was protecting me from his enemies. He would have died to protect me."

Finally, Mrs. Osaka let out a long sigh. "All right, Naru-chan. I can see this is really important to you, and I can see that I'm not going to have any peace until I let you. Once Chieko comes in, you can have an hour to talk to Sanjouin-san and to Umino. In exchange, your grounding is extended to ten days."

Naru flung her arms around her mother's neck in sheer joy and relief. "Thank you, Mama! I promise you won't be sorry."

"I'd better not have reason to be," Mrs. Osaka answered, but she put her arms around Naru and hugged her back.

They went back out to the sales floor. "As soon as the sales clerk comes in, I can have an hour off, Sanjouin-san," she said to Nephrite.

He glanced at his watch, not looking as happy as she had hoped he would, but she understood why he would feel the pressure of time. "I'll be glad to wait," he said. "If you don't mind, Osaka-san, my friends and I will just browse your fine selection. We can't afford to buy anything right now, as there is an inconvenient problem with our bank at the moment, but I expect that to be remedied before too long."

"Go right ahead," Mrs. Osaka said. "I just ask that you not interfere with any of my customers."

"Of course not."

The two men who were together went back to browsing over men's rings and bracelets, while the blonde man began studying a display of watches. Nephrite glanced at the watches, then, Naru saw with a leap of her heart, began casually glancing at the display of diamond engagement rings. With all her heart she hoped he and his friends would get their second chance at life, and that he would have the chance to buy one of those rings for her one day.

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