24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

5:00 pm Tokyo time, 8:00 am local time, somewhere in Europe

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Thetis stared into the mirror of her dressing table as she fastened her chunky gold earrings and put on the chunky gold necklace that went with the sea-green silk day suit she was wearing. She hated all these social events that, as Claude's fiancee, she was expected to attend. A lot of them pretended to be "charity events," but they were really for seeing and being seen and getting one's name in the social columns. And she especially hated breakfasts that started at such obscenely early hours, most especially after a night like the one she'd had.

Seeing Jadeite last night had been a shock. She still hadn't fully processed all of her feelings about it. She had been stunned to see him - up until then, all she had known of his fate was that Beryl had punished him by sealing him in a Crystal of Eternal Sleep - and she hadn't been able to stop an initial rush of joy. But then the way he had treated her in the Dark Kingdom had come back to her, along with all her hurt and anger and resentment. And then he had the nerve to ask for her forgiveness without even doing anything to earn it. He had gotten her killed, for heaven's sake! That wasn't something she could just brush off. True, she had felt a little sorry for him while he was being interrogated by Charles, but she had also been more than a little pleased to see him squirm, while also generally embarrassed that she had admitted she knew him and the others and at getting them into the casino in the first place. What in the world had she been thinking?

But now, this morning, all she could think of was the desperation in Jadeite's face as he asked her to forgive him and as he begged Charles - yes, begged, the great Guardian and General Jadeite had actually begged a lowly human - to be allowed to keep the money he had won. She couldn't get his face, his voice, his plea to her out of her mind.

Claude came into her dressing room without knocking. He never knocked. He owned this apartment, and everything in it, including her, and he never let her forget it. "Wear the blue, babe," he said. "I don't like you in green."

"I'm tired of blue," she said. "Would lavender suit you, instead?"

"No. You should always wear blue."

She glanced at her watch. "It's too late to change; you'll just have to endure me in green, darling." She put the finishing touches on her makeup while he waited impatiently. He was handsome and dashing and intelligent, and a skilled, considerate lover. And tremendously rich, of course. But he wanted what he wanted, and what he wanted from her wasn't always what she was willing to give. Take the diamond ring on her finger, for example. He wanted to be able to claim a beautiful, exotic woman of mysterious origins as his "fiancee" but she knew full well he had no intention of ever actually marrying her. She didn't want to be his possession, to be shown off like a trophy; she wanted to be valued for herself. That wasn't the kind of value Claude seemed to understand, though.

"I'm ready," she said. She stood to follow him out of the apartment and down to the car, on the way to another dreadful breakfast where everyone wore fake smiles as they secretly compared everyone to themselves.

Suddenly, she couldn't do it any more. She couldn't settle for being a prized possession; she wanted to be loved in the way that only a man who had loved her for a thousand years, and even beyond death, could love her. She would smother and die if she had to spend one more moment in this life. "I'm sorry, I forgot something. I'll be right down; you go on ahead."

Claude grunted in acknowledgement. "Don't take too long."

Thetis fled back into her dressing room, and this time she locked the door. He always got mad when she locked him out of a room, but this time it wouldn't matter. She checked her purse to make sure she had all her credit cards, took the information from the hidden compartment in her vanity table drawer for the secret account she had set up for herself should this day ever come, and teleported to a discreet landing place near her bank.

At the bank, she took out the maximum allowed cash advances on the credit cards and cashed out her bank account. Then she returned to her hidden teleportation spot, fixed Jadeite's face in her mind, and teleported to him.

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury