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LOVE HINA: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO

By Doctor-T

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For the sweating trio of rescuers, almost ten agonizingly-slow minutes had now ticked by since their leader had attempted to cure the badly-wounded stranger who had stumbled into their hideaway. And then, deep in the comatose mind of their patient, black nothingness finally gave way to coherent thought as Naru's awakening mind swam back up out of the darkness towards the light she could now faintly sense beyond her tightly-closed eyelids.

Uhh…! Wha-? What happened to me? She groggily asked herself, instinctively lifting up her right arm to rub at her face. I feel…so warm and relaxed. Am I in bed?

Then the still only partially-awake Naru opened her eyes. Even though the day was heavily overcast, the sudden flare of light stung her sensitive retinas, causing both eyes to instantly water with tears and her eyelids to snap tightly shut again.

After a couple of seconds, Naru cautiously reopened her eyes, a lot slower this time. Blinking and squinting against the glare, she finally managed to focus her blurry gaze on the trio of shapes hovering over her – to espy the worried-looking faces of three incredibly beautiful girls, all three seemingly of about her own age. The dark-haired teen to her left had a look of mixed puzzlement and concern in her violet eyes, whilst the two anxious-looking blondes in the center of her vision and on the right had the bluest pairs of eyes that she had ever seen.

?! Who in the heck are they? Have I died and gone to Heaven? Naru's still-dazed mind thought as she shook her head in an effort to clear the fuzziness from it. If so - darn! Why couldn't there have been handsome guy angels with faces and eyes as lovely as theirs waiting here for me, instead of girl angels? Still, I have been having perverted thoughts about Kanako recently, haven't I? Oh! Ma-maybe Heaven sorts you by your - 'gulp!' - real gender preference?

But if that's so…then maybe this won't be so bad, after all? They're all gorgeous, and I'm sure that once we get into it, I'll-!

"Hey, she's awake already," the right-side blonde exclaimed with relief, her right hand thumping the back of the girl next to her as Naru began to move again. "Good job, Usagi-chan!"

"Oof!" that worthy coughed, grimacing at the force of the unexpectedly-violent pat. "Th-thanks, Minako-chan – I think? Owww – that hurt!"

"Yeah, you did good for once," the teen with the long black hair agreed, sparing the aggrieved-looking odango-haired blonde a look of approval before returning her gaze to Naru's confused face.

"Hi. I'm Rei-san," she then declared to Naru in a friendly tone. "That's Usagi-san and Minako-san. You were badly injured, but Usagi-san there saved you. And you are-?"

"Um, h-hi! I'm Narusega – I mean, Naru! Please just call me Naru, okay?"

Wow! This means that I'm still alive," Naru realized, her cheeks reddening with embarrassment at what she had just been thinking. So this isn't Heaven after all? Aheh-heh! How silly of me to think that! Of course it isn't…!

"Okay, sure," Rei softly and gently agreed, taking note of the momentary flash of evasiveness in the eyes of their suddenly wary-looking, and now also red-faced patient, and wondering why on both counts. "So, how are you feeling right now, Naru-san?"

"Actually…I feel pretty good," Naru declared with surprise, leaning upwards with the help of her elbows and managing to sit upright on the grass. And then her eyes widened and her mouth fell open with astonishment as she noticed that the nasty wound under her right arm was completely healed. The pain from it was also totally gone, and not even a scar remained to show that the bullet hole had even been there!

Ditto for the huge bruise that had been on her chest, and all of her other, smaller bruises, cuts and grazes, as well!

Wh-what is this? A miracle? Oh, shoot! Maybe these three girls really are angels, after all?

No, they can't be, but-?

"Hey! My injuries – they're all gone!" She then gasped out, raising up her right arm for a second time to stare with disbelief at the smooth and unmarked underside of it once again. "But how?"

At the incredulous Naru's exclamation of delight, Rei, Minako and Usagi exchanged quick, nervous looks amongst themselves. This was the moment that the trio hadn't been looking forward to, at all. Explanation time.

"Ah, about that," Rei spoke up, trying very hard to conceal her anxiety and to keep her voice cheerful and upbeat. She figured that one of them had to say something about the medical miracle that had just happened. "Well, it's like this. We're all – um – trainee paramedics, you see, and-!"

"Well, I don't know how you did it, but thank you so much," the overjoyed Naru interrupted the sweating miko, in her delight totally forgetting the fact that she was almost stark-naked as she quickly felt the areas on her body that she knew had been injured, just to reassure herself that they really were healed, and that she wasn't-in-fact merely dreaming the whole thing. "I thought that I was a goner-!"

"Well, your injuries were obviously not as bad as you thought they were-" the girl named Usagi quickly started to say, a large sweat-drop of worry now beading on her forehead.

"Come on, we can chat later, but right now we've gotta get the heck out of here," the blonde with the red ribbon in her hair suddenly interrupted her friend, having just remembered what they had seen only a few seconds before their surprise guest's sudden arrival. "We spotted two jet-packers flying overhead just before you arrived, Naru-san! I don't know who they were, but it could have been the cops out looking for us. It's been almost ten minutes since then, so we gotta scoot right now!"

"Oh, yeah, that's right," Usagi exclaimed, a huge-eyed, alarmed look instantly replacing her previous nervous one at her friend's reminder of the danger they could now be in. "Rei-chan, come on!"

"Huh?! The cops?" Naru gasped out as the suddenly apprehensive-looking pair of blondes sprang into action. They grabbed her arms and tugged her back up onto her feet, then turned and ran for it. "Oh, shoot! I'm with you! Let's go!"

"Minako-chan!" the black-haired girl growled, directing her exasperated words towards the girl whom had given the warning, even as the blonde-in-question dashed past her in the direction of the old, red car, the other one hot on her tail. "Don't tell Naru-san that about us! She doesn't know-!"

"No, it's all right," Naru hurriedly reassured the annoyed speaker as she scrambled up the grass-covered bank after the other two girls. "You see – um – the police are kinda, well…after me, too! So we really should go right now!"

"What? They are?" Rei stated with surprise, following close behind their suddenly very active ex-patient. "Why are they after you-?"

"Er - I'll tell you all about that later, I promise!" Naru replied in a pleading tone over the sudden roar of the car's engine starting up. "But for the moment, let's please just go, okay?"

"Ah, right! Um, hop in the back seat of our car, then, with me." Opening the left-hand-side rear passenger door, Rei ducked and scrambled inside their sold-looking conveyance, moving across the seat to the opposite side. Naru jumped in behind her, then she reached back and slammed the door shut, before hurriedly buckling herself in with the left-side seat belt.

"We're all in, Minako-chan," Rei Hino urgently told the red-ribboned girl in the driver's seat directly in front of her, once her own seat belt was securely fastened. "Floor it!"

And, with spinning tyres and an explosion of swirling dust and gravel, that was just what Minako Aino did.

Once they were underway, the solid old car bouncing and bumping its way along a gravel track that led up and across the lightly-forested slope of the mountain towards the main road above them, Naru noticed Rei Hino's gaze flickering across the rear seat at her, an ill-at-ease expression on her now red-tinged face.

"Um, Naru-san?" the obviously discomfited girl finally ventured in a hesitant tone, after trying hard – and failing - to suppress licking her suddenly very dry lips at what she was seeing.

"Yes?" Naru replied, sudden worry on her own face. "What is it, Rei-san?"

"Ah, well? Um, exactly what happened to your clothes? In case you hadn't noticed, you're – um – nearly naked."

Naru's eyes grew huge with shock and embarrassment as she stared down at her nearly fully exposed body, now clad only in her very skimpy panties, her shapely breasts bouncing and jiggling in a most seductive way with every jolt of the car!

"EEEEEK!"

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The anxious trio of sailor senshi and their brightly-blushing new companion weren't the only ones who had spotted the jetpacks flying high overhead. Only a minute or two after Keitaro and Su had overflown the three fugitives' far-too-open-and-exposed position, just over two kilometers further up the valley floor, Patrolman Takeshi Konoe had also taken excited note of their thunderous passing.

Prior to this latest in his series of bizarre encounters, the policeman had been wearily trudging along through the rough, rock-strewn terrain, heading back upstream towards the distant lake. And all of the while his shocked mind was trying to deal with the fact that he had just deliberately shot a girl, even if the girl-in-question had been the well-armed, dangerous Naru Narusegawa. Still, he wasn't feeling all that good at having been forced to do it…

But, on the bright side, at least he now had something positive to report to his superiors. And once he had finally made it back to his patrol car, parked high up in the observation bay on the shoulder of the mountain road above the lake, he intended to do just that.

Yeah. At last it's over. Well, in truth, it's not quite over just yet, the Junsa told himself as he scrambled across a series of huge boulders embedded in the stony riverbank. I'll probably still have to help with the recovery of Narusegawa-san's body – something that I'm not looking forward to having to do, at all – huh? What's that sound I can hear? It's coming from behind me-!

The police officer froze in mid-step; his head swiveling to stare over his right shoulder back the way he had come, his wide eyes carefully scanning the oppressive blanket of grey cloud overhead.

Could that be thunder? Maybe there's a storm on the way? That'd be just my luck, caught out in the open down here, and me with no wet-weather gear!

But even as he looked, the rumbling echo high above him died away into complete silence, leaving only the swish of the wind, the hissing rumble of the surging river and the buzzing of innumerable cicadas for him to hear.

For a few more seconds, he stood thus. Then, after shrugging his shoulders in puzzlement, Patrolman Takeshi Konoe continued on his way for a few more minutes –

- And then the distant roaring sound commenced again. But this time, the downstream noise was becoming steadily louder as its mystery source approached his location.

Oh, hell! Could that be a low-flying jet coming this way that I'm hearing, the now definitely-startled cop asked himself, once again staring with alarm up at the cloud-covered sky to his rear, warily searching for the first sign of movement. If so, then it's far too low for this terrain! Oh, crap! Maybe it's out of control and going to-?

A split-second later, before he could complete that frightening thought, the objects responsible for the roaring sound finally came into view. A pair of quick-moving shapes swept around the nearest, downstream, forest-covered bend in the valley, the leading one considerably smaller than the following one, both passing high overhead with a swelling crescendo of sound and superheated exhaust from what was obviously a very small jet engine.

"That was a jet-packer and that flying cat again!" Junsa Konoe gasped out, his disbelieving eyes locked onto the swiftly moving pair as they moved away at some speed towards the still-distant lake at the head of the river valley. "What the hell…?"

Then the dumbfounded cop had a sudden flash of inspiration.

Hey? Maybe the operator of that thing has something to do with Narusegawa? I seem to remember hearing that she had an accomplice waiting for her in a car when she fled the apartment bombing the other day. And even if that pilot doesn't have anything at all to do with her, what a chance for a photo-op! I'd best go check this new guy out right now!

Increasing his pace, the now once-more-enthusiastic policeman jogged off on his route back up the winding river valley towards the frustratingly-distant mountain lake. He might have failed in his quest to film the flying cat and girl, but catching the flying cat and jet-packer together on digital film would make up for that failure very nicely! Maybe his as-yet-unused camcorder might yet prove to be very useful to his financial future, after all?

Big screen T.V - here I come!

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The instant Keitaro touched down outside the cave mouth that Kuro had guided him to, the anxiety-stricken student cut his engine, unbuckling his jetpack harness even as it was still powering down. Tossing his helmet to the ground, he then dashed up the slope and into the cave in search of his sister, Kuro racing in right behind him.

"Kanako!"

"Oniichan! You're here!" The delighted Goth girl cried out from her makeshift bed as the man she loved appeared right there next to her. Her arms eagerly reached up to embrace her upset brother as he practically fell down into them. "Good job, Kuro! Oh, Oniichan..."

"The policeman who – we saw before is still somewhere downriver, so I'd best go outside and keep watch, meow," Kuro stated to the pair, once he could get a word in. "And also to give you both some privacy, meow. I'm sure that you two have a lot to say to each other, meow."

"Thank you so much, Kuro," Kanako told her faithful pet from the comfort of her older brother's arms, tears of gratitude shining in her eyes as she looked across Keitaro's right shoulder at him. "I love you so much!"

"Thank you, Kanako, meow. As do I with you, meow. Always."

"So, Oniichan…Is Su here with you, too?" the Goth girl wanted to know, once her cat had exited the small cave. "Since you're using one of her jetpacks, I thought she would have accompanied you on your flight out here?"

"She did. Su's called for some medical help for you, and she's waiting further up the valley for them to arrive. They should be here soon, I hope? So…just what is wrong with you, Kanako? I can see blood on your mouth! And after what Kuro told Su and I, we feared the worst."

"I'm – I'm dying, Oniichan."

Oh - damn! Keitaro thought, tears of misery reappearing in his eyes at the desperate plight of his sister, his spirits plummeting once more at that final confirmation from her own mouth of his worst fears. So it is true, then?

"I know that much Kanako! But what are you dying of?"

"I don't know, exactly. But I only found out what is happening to me two months ago from a specialist that my doctor referred me to. Apparently, it's a genetic fault of some sort. No one else knows about it – not mother or father, not Granny Hina, not Auntie Haruka – well, with the exception of Tsuruko and Kuro, that is."

"Dammit! I wish that Granny or Tsuruko, or even Motoko was here with us right now," the agitated ronin cried out with frustration as they clung tightly to each other. "Someone who's an expert in ki healing! Surely one of them could do something-?"

"No, Oniichan," Kanako gasped weakly out to her desperate older brother, pressing even tighter against his chest. "Like I said, Granny doesn't know anything at all about this – I couldn't let her know beforehand that I was sick. As for Tsuruko, I did tell her, and she scanned me with her ki – but even she can't do anything to save me. I'm too far gone. And we both know that if Tsuruko can't cure me, kendo girl Motoko doesn't have a hope in hell of doing so, either."

"But Granny could, I'm sure of it!" Keitaro repeated. "Kanako, why in the heck didn't you tell her about your illness months ago? Not doing so was just plain stupid-!"

"No it wasn't! I was considering telling her and our parents, but then the news came through that you were in Hinata hospital and that you might not make it! I couldn't stay home then, trapped in a sickbed. I had to come and watch over and protect you! Can't you see that, Oniichan?!"

Keitaro wearily sighed as his eyes met the pleading gaze of his sister, seeing that she meant every word that she had just said.

"Yes," he breathed out slowly, his shoulders slumping with resignation. "I do understand, Kanako. And – thank you for that. But to do so at the risk of your own life-?"

"No! Your life and happiness means everything to me, Oniichan. Everything!" Kanako emphasized. "That's why I had to come to be with you, no matter what the personal cost would be to me!"

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High above the rugged mountain valley, hovering in her jetpack in the cold, high-altitude air, Kaolla Su waited patiently for whomever it was that Hotaru Tomoe was sending to arrive at her location.

Upon contacting the younger girl through the Hinata Apartments annex telephone; Su had explained the situation to her – including the bit about having seen her revive the dying sparrow on Tuesday morning, which she had caught on security camera footage. Kaolla had then asked the dumfounded Hotaru if it was possible for her to drop everything and come straight away to Kanako's rescue.

Hotaru had been more than a little taken aback at finding out that Su knew all about her healing powers, and had at first denied that she could do anything at all to help, claiming that she had no way of physically getting to the remote location where the life-and-death drama was unfolding. But, upon finding out that Kanako would almost certainly die if she didn't go, Hotaru had thought hard for a moment or two, and then promised to immediately contact an unspecified friend of her own and send said person to save Kanako in her place.

It's bad enough that Haruka-san and Tsuruko-san know that I'm really Sailor Saturn. And now Su-san knows about my healing abilities as well! But if I go to save Kanako-san as Sailor Saturn, then neither Su-san nor the others there will recognize her as me, was the essence of Hotaru's clever idea at the time. I certainly don't want or need Keitaro-san and Kanako-san to also find out about my secret abilities as Hotaru Tomoe, so I can't go as myself. So having Sailor Saturn heal Kanako-san will ensure that my civilian identity and my healing powers will remain a secret from them, at least.

"And don't worry about giving me directions to where you are currently located," the slender, dark-haired teen had reassured Su. "The friend I'm sending to help you is capable of homing in directly on the energy flare from your jetpack engine. She'll be there as soon as I transform – contact her, I mean! And I promise you that my friend is a very powerful healer, just as I am. So there's no need for any of you to worry about her ability to save Kanako-san, either, Su-san."

"Okies," Su had agreed, brightening up considerably at that more-than-welcome news. "But your buddy had better hurry! I'll keep hovering right here until she arrives. Bye!"

The second that her unexpected phone call had ended, Hotaru dashed off to tell Chibiusa what was up. After relaying on Su's urgent request to her best friend and then receiving the very surprised-and-concerned Chibiusa's reluctant agreement as to her plan of action, Hotaru immediately materialized her Henshin stick out of 'hammerspace' to carry out her most important preparation before her imminent departure.

"All right," she said, once she had transformed into her alter ego. "I'm off. I'll be back as soon as I can, Chibiusa-chan."

"Okay. And don't worry about your shift here at the annex, Hotaru-chan. I'll cover your work for you while you're gone," the pink-haired teenager promised her best friend and partner, the slightly-worried look still on her face. "And while you're saving Kanako-san, you just be careful not to let anyone else there find out who Sailor Saturn really is!"

The disguised Hotaru nodded, and then raised up her Silence glaive in her white-gloved hands.

"Sailor Teleport!"

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As she hovered above the mountain pass, the anxiously-waiting Molmol girl was deep in speculative thought. She wasn't at all sure just how the younger teenager she had just contacted was going to accomplish the miraculous feat of sending medical help across the not-inconsiderable distance from Hinata Hot Springs to here in a couple of minutes, despite already knowing that the other girl did possess quite remarkable powers. But it sure was going to be interesting finding that out when Hotaru's mystery-healer friend did finally arrive on location.

Su didn't have to wait for long. A couple of seconds later, a slender figure dressed in a purple-and-black sailor outfit and carrying a large-bladed weapon of some sort, abruptly materialized out of thin air only a couple of metres away from her.

"Wow! Teleportation! That was quick, all right! Heyo, I'm Kaolla Su-!" she began to greet the newcomer. But then her green eyes expanded even more as she suddenly recognized just who the girl floating in the high-altitude air in front of her really was.

"Yowwie?! Is that you, Hotaru-yan? But…why are you dressed just like one of the sailor senshi that we've been hearing about on TV? Yeah, you look exactly like Sailor Saturn does!"

"Huh?" the sailor-suited figure before her gasped out, Hotaru's slender body now rigid with shock at being so easily recognized, right off the bat. "How did you-?"

"Hey! It is you, Hotaru, and you are Sailor Saturn," Su enthused, now absolutely positive that she was correct as to the new arrival's real identity. "Yaaay! That's great!"

"What? But – but how do you know that I'm really Hotaru Tomoe?" the young sailor senshi stammered in reply, utter surprise warring with understandable confusion on her face. "When I'm in my sailor senshi form, no-one is supposed to be able to recognize me because of the cloaking spell that conceals our real identity!"

"Not from me," Su confidently declared. "Maybe it's broken?"

"No, the spell always works! Unless…oh! Wait a minute? Since it isn't working on you, Su-san, then that can only mean…that you must be a magical girl of some description, too! Am I right?"

"Um, sorta," Su confessed, a sheepish grin now replacing the previous delight on her face. "As you probably already know, I'm secretly a Princess from the Kingdom of Molmol, and-"

"Molmol! Oh, that's right, I forgot about that! Then that explains it," Hotaru exclaimed, remembering something that her tutors in the future Crystal-Tokyo had once told her. "Didn't the ancestors of the Royal family of Molmol originally come from Magicus Mundii-?"

"The Magic World? Yeah. A thousand or so years ago," Su replied, the surprised look returning to her face. "Wow! So you know about that place, too? I'm impressed. But, back to the here-and-now, I shoulda figured out who you were really were right from the start, when I first met you."

Then Kaolla put two-and-two together yet again, and her smile intensified. "So - your buddy, Chibiusa. Even though she looks a lot older now than what she should be, she's gotta be Sailor Chibi-Moon, right?"

"Er, well, yes," Hotaru reluctantly admitted in an abashed tone. Her gaze dropped and her smooth cheeks began to redden as she hoped like heck that she wouldn't have to sleep on the floor of their room tonight, once Chibiusa found out that Su had discovered the secret identities of them both! Then the eyes of the young sailor senshi quickly lifted again to meet those of the Molmol girl, and in a pleading tone, she added, "But please don't tell anyone else about it, Su-san? Or about whom I really am, either. Our real identities here are supposed to be a secret!"

Not that they were even before now, of course, the anxious teen reminded herself. Haruka-san and Tsuruko-san found out about us, too. The way people are discovering our secret identities left-right-and-center, we might-as-well have arrived at the Hinata Apartments waving placards announcing who we really are, right from the start!

"No worries," the cheery Su declared. "I promise. Besides, most of my friends don't know that I'm a Molmol Princess, either. So we can keep each other's secrets, okies?"

"Deal," the relieved Hotaru laughed back. Then she grew serious again as she remembered the reason for her being there, floating in mid-air nearly one thousand feet above the valley floor. "But, Kaolla-san, didn't you have an emergency for me to attend, right now? Something about Kanako-san being seriously ill?"

"Oh, yeah? That's right! Kei-Baby, Kuro and Kanako are down by the near-shore of the lake ahead of us, in a cave at the foot of the cliffs. C'mon, follow me!"

-:-:-:-:-:-

Even as Kaolla Su and Sailor Saturn swept down towards the mountain lake, in the cramped confines of the tiny cave that was their destination, Keitaro was trying hard to come to terms with why his sister had acted in the way that she had. And he was having a great deal of difficulty in doing so.

"But why? After I had recovered enough to leave Hinata Hospital, why did you then go to help me run the Hinata Apartments and Inn if you were this sick?" Keitaro was at that moment pleading to his now rapidly-weakening sister. "Kanako, you should have been in the hospital, yourself, getting treatment! All you were doing by helping to manage the apartments was making yourself even worse off. Why?"

Kanako looked up at Keitaro, her eyes full of tears of pain, but also of love, and a desperate longing that would now never be fulfilled.

"I couldn't rest after I heard about what Naru had done to you, and I couldn't stay away – even with you out of hospital again. I had to be there, near you, to watch over you. Nothing else matters to me, not even my own life, only you!"

"Kanako. I know that you truly love me, and I am eternally grateful for that. I really am! But Naru had been arrested by the time I got out. And even though she escaped custody, there was no-way that she would ever go back to live at the apartments again after what she did to me. By being there with me then, you were killing yourself for nothing!"

"Yes, she would have! And no, I wasn't! Naru – 'cough!' - she would have found a way back into your life, Oniichan. We both know it! And that is why I did…what I had to do to save you from her."

Then the steadily-weakening Goth girl explained to her shocked brother exactly what she had done – framing Naru with the gun in the back of the prison van and then arranging her escape from it, visiting her disguised as him in Kentaro's apartment – only leaving out the events of the last hour-or-so. Even though she had seen Naru being shot by the policeman and being carried to her death over the waterfall, for her dear Oniichan's peace of mind, it was best if he knew nothing at all about that particular event.

Let Keitaro keep on believing that Naru was still on the run, and had maybe even reached a place of safety where she could start her life anew. He would sleep better at night that way.

Besides, for some strange reason, Kanako was no longer so sure that Narusegawa was dead, after all.

If Naru had really died in close proximity to her, like she had at first thought must have happened, Kanako now realized with slowly-dawning comprehension that she definitely should have sensed an event of that significance with her highly attuned ki, illness or not.

And she hadn't.

Naru's life-force had not flickered out – well, not right at the moment of her supposed death, anyway! It had just been her own wishful thinking at the time that had caused her to automatically assume that Naru had died from the gunshot wound to her chest, plus any other additional injuries inflicted on her from her tumble over the waterfall. That being the case - perhaps the bullet fired by the suddenly-appearing cop miraculously hadn't hit a vital spot on her ex-enemy…?

So maybe she really has–? No, I'm certain, now! I'm positive that Naru is still alive, somewhere down river-!

"Kanako!" Her brother's voice cut into her relieved thoughts, jolting the girl back to the here-and-now. "How-? How could you have done those things to Naru? She was already going to prison for what she had done to me. But now, because you framed her, when they catch her again she'll probably get a life sentence behind bars-!"

"Because I had to protect you, big brother…I had to save you from her," Kanako gasped out. "Once I was gone, there'd be no-one left to look after you, to keep you safe. Naru almost killed you, Oniichan, and she was only going to prison for two years for doing it! When she got out and returned to the apartments, the next time she could have succeeded, so - so she had to go away for good! I'm so sorry for what I did, but - but I had to protect you from her while I still had the strength in my body to do so…even though it has cost me my life!"

Keitaro cradled his nearly-dead sister in his arms, his tears of despair and regret now flowing freely. "Kanako…!"

She held him tight, the only man that she had ever loved. "I'm sorry for what I had to do, but I did it because – because I love you, my dear, precious, irreplaceable Oniichan! Please…forgive me…?"

"Kanako, I forgive you! Because it's you, I forgive you for everything! How could I ever do otherwise? Please, please don't leave me?"

Keitaro felt so weak, so helpless. His little sister was only seconds away from dying right there in his arms, her slender body slowly shutting down, her indomitable will no longer able to keep her spirit in her spasm-wracked shell. And another trickle of blood was now beginning to flow, out of her left nostril this time.

Kanako smiled weakly back up at him at his heartfelt words. "Thank you, Oniichan. If – you ever see Naru again, tell her that I said sorry, sorry for what I did," she whispered, and then coughed again, a spray of bright-red blood splattering against her brother's chest, mingling with the moisture from his tears as he clutched her tightly to him. "I went…way too far…when I framed her for that prison van…escape. My confession for my crime against her is in…bag here…in this cave. Kuro…Kuro knows where - ask Kuro…!"

"I will, I promise you! And I'll find Naru again, and tell her everything that you just told me!"

"My big brother? About…Naru. I may be sorry for what I did to her, but…but she still hurt you badly. Please…please don't marry her? She'll…she'll only hurt you…end up killing you… Please? Stay safe!"

"I – I know that. Kanako…forget about Naru. I haven't forgotten what she did to me, and I can deal with her now. It's you who means everything to me right now. You're my little sister, and I love you! So don't you dare die on me now! Please?!"

Kanako's eyes widened, euphoric tears erupting from them despite her obvious pain. "Oniichan, do you…really mean that? You really love me…?"

"Yes, I do!" Keitaro cried out, not even registering the sound of a landing jetpack outside their refuge, such was his distress at that moment in time. "You mean the world to me, and I've loved you ever since I first saw you! Because you're my sister, you are always the first one in my heart! Always!"

At his heartfelt words, Kanako sighed with contentment and lay back in her weeping brother's arms, her eyes closing again. Even though Naru was almost-certainly still alive, she had succeeded in preventing her dear stepbrother from making a possibly fatal mistake with the cruel and dangerous girl that he had been so obsessed with. She had also kept Naru away from him until he had become strong enough to deal with her, by himself. And now - the final icing on the cake - the dying girl had finally received his confession of his love for her. Her job was now complete, and so Kanako realized with a great sense of satisfaction that she could finally die with no regrets. Her dear Oniichan's future was now safe and secure; her thankless, life-long task was finally over.

"I love you, too, my big brother."

Kanako's eyes closed for the final time. She went limp in his shaking arms, just as a faint cry from Kaolla Su sounded from outside the cave, further down the bank.

"Keitaro! Are you in there? I put in a call to Hotaru back at the apartments, and she's here – oops! I mean a friend of Hotaru's is here with me, right now, to help!"

"Hotaru? You mean Hotaru Tomoe, the new maid?" the distraught young man cried back to the new arrivals, tears rolling down his cheeks at the magnitude of his loss. "What can she possibly do-?"

"She's - I mean, the friend she sent here is Sailor Saturn, and she's a healer," Su replied as she and Hotaru ran up the gentle slope towards the mouth of the cave. "Sailor Saturn can save Kanako, even now!"

"What? Sailor Saturn?! Then, please, please hurry!" Keitaro screamed out, his quavering voice a mixture of absolute relief and newfound hope for a last-second miracle. "Kanako's dying right now!"

A second later, Kaolla Su bounded in through the cave entrance, a slender teen wearing a navy-blue, purple-and-white sailor suit and carrying an enormous bladed spear appearing right behind the super-agile foreign girl.

Both arrived at Keitaro's frantic side almost simultaneously, Kaolla landing on the kneeling student's shoulders, Sailor Saturn dropping down onto one knee beside the deathly-still body of Kanako.

"Please, Sailor Saturn, can you save her?" Keitaro begged the Sailor Scout of Destruction as she hurriedly released her Silence glaive and placed both of her white-gloved hands onto Kanako's unmoving chest. "Kanako has been secretly carrying around a genetic disease inside her for months, and now…now, I think that she's dead! Please don't let my little sister die?!"

"I won't. Now, please step back. I have to concentrate!"

"S-sure! Please hurry?!"

A sudden violet-white glow erupted from both hands of the young sailor senshi, nearly blinding the hovering student before he could clamp his trembling hands over his glasses and turn away from its overwhelming brilliance. The just-as-curious Su dealt with the flare of intense light by pulling a huge pair of dark-lensed sunglasses seemingly out of thin-air, and flipping them down over her eyes.

For twenty seconds or more, the radiance completely engulfed Kanako's prone body, before fading away as quickly as it had appeared. Then Sailor Saturn arose back up onto her booted feet and turned to face her fretful, huge-eyed audience.

"It's done," she stated in a neutral tone. "The rest is now up to Kanako-san."

"Well? Did it work?" Keitaro cried out in hand-wringing anxiety. "Please, please let it have worked?!"

His frantic prayers were answered. Kanako's eyes fluttered open once more, and then flickered back-and-forth for a second-or-two, before finally focusing on Keitaro's joyous, tear-streaming face.

"...Oniichan...?"

"Kanako! You're going to be all right!"

"Keitaro! My big brother…I love you!"

Next second, they were crying with joy in each other's arms. And to Kanako, for once - just for once - all was finally right with the world.