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Black Jack pushed his way through the hospital lobby, pausing only to say "Excuse me" a few times in a perfunctory manner. He had to get to the boy's room immediately. When the elevator failed to arrive quickly he ran up a flight of steps, pausing at the top to read signs and figure out which way to head next. He shook his head in frustration. If he had a license, if he could have come here as a doctor... but there was no use in thinking about that now.

He burst through the door to the room and stood panting. Dr. Kiriko sat by the bed, gazing at the still figure in it. His euthanasia machine was by his side, and a ventilator sat by the bed, unused.

"I'm too late, aren't I?" Black Jack asked in an anguished tone.

Dr. Kiriko nodded. "I'm afraid so." Black Jack waited for Kiriko's cutting sarcasm to follow this statement but the other man remained silent, gazing at the young boy who lay dead in the hospital bed.

"His parents let you do this?" asked Black Jack. "Where are they?"

"Is that really what you think of me?" asked Dr. Kiriko. "That I would push a child's family to kill him? Shiro's parents begged me to do this and were at his side when he passed away. They are making funeral arrangements right now."

"And you are still here? What, are you waiting for another dying person to show up and need your services?"

Kiriko glared at him and Black Jack almost backed out of the door. They argued every time they met, sometimes passionately, but he had never seen the fury he saw now on the other man's face.

"This boy's father served in the military with me. He is like a brother to me and Shiro was the closest I will ever have to child of my own and I don't want to hear your damn lectures right now!" Kiriko's face had reddened and he was shouting as if he did not care who could hear him.

Black Jack had a retort on his lips, something about Dr. Kiriko not drawing the line at killing family since he had performed a mercy killing on his own father. But even with Kiriko he had limits. He remained silent.

"If you had seen the pain he was in--" Dr. Kiriko shook his head. "No, if you had seen the pain he was in you would have done what you always do and tried some foolish heroic measure that wouldn't work. But the cancer had left him barely alive except for feeling pain and I did what I had to do."

Black Jack nodded. "I'm sure I would have. But I believe you. I mean, I believe you that he was in pain."

"You will never agree with what I did, will you?"

"Absolutely not. But I'm human enough to acknowledge that you and the boy's family faced a horrible choice." And human enough, he thought to himself, not to argue now that I could have saved him.

Attendants had come to take away the boy's body and the two doctors left the room, heading down the hallway. Kiriko didn't look furious anymore. He just looked tired. Looking at his face, Black Jack didn't want to leave yet. Without speaking, they entered a waiting room and sat down in chairs there.

"Do you believe in heaven?" Kiriko asked in a voice roughened by grief.

"I wish I could tell you that I do," he replied honestly.

"It's all right. I don't either. But there's still a part of me that wishes, even hopes, that Shiro is somewhere pleasant, playing and smiling. It makes me feel foolish." Kiriko stared at the floor as if his words had shamed him.

"It isn't foolish," Black Jack said. "We all believe what we need to, just to make it through another day, and there's nothing wrong with that."

Kiriko shook his head. "You think of me as a doctor of death, but please believe me, that I wanted Shiro to live. Can you at least grant me that?"

Black Jack lifted his hand, then hesitated. Kiriko was still looking at him with a quizzical expression. Black Jack completed his gesture and took Kiriko's hand in his. "I can. And perhaps we are wrong about one thing, and he really is somewhere else, free from pain and laughing."

"You sound almost as if you're trying to understand me," Kiriko said, raising his eyebrows.

"I'm only human," said Black Jack, squeezing Kiriko's hand.

Kiriko gripped his hand strongly and didn't let go. "We both are, Dr. Black Jack," he said, looking into the distance.

The moment would pass, thought Black Jack, and they would be bitter enemies when they next met, but for now he just held Dr. Kiriko's hand and wished the world were a better place.