Disclaimer: I do not own the characters or situations herein. This is merely an extension of a scene from the episode Leave of Absence.

Note: As I'm sure we're all aware, the Chicago Hope section of is all but dead, as are most Chicago Hope sites, so even if you're just skimming it, please find it in your heart to R&R.

Note two: Jeffrey's collapse scene and subsequent departure completely broke my heart. I'm assuming this is painfully clear.

A Truly Morbid Optimism

Jeffrey Geiger was aware of exactly five things: the cold, unyielding floor beneath him, and someone's thin but sturdy arms around him. He was aware of the struggle in his chest, trying to force out the tears, and the irony of how long he had fought to keep his emotions inside him, now only wanting to cry, present company be damned.

He was also aware, of course, that he had failed. Despite all the notoriety, the patients saved, the years of experience; despite all that, a man was dead, a man who mattered. A father. A friend. Never to open his eyes again, never to smile. Succumbed to the cruel truth of rigor mortis. Already it would be setting in.

The faces had been staring down at him, like gods. Friends transformed into judgmental deities, condemning him, his actions, his choices. He could barely remember lifting his mask, stepping back from the table- collapsing- but there he was, prone and vulnerable, on the OR floor.

He sobbed, his knees reflexively pulling towards his chest, and the arms tightened around him. He turned his head away, face to the floor in shame, and sobbed again. Still his eyes were dry. His arms were weak, limply curled against his body, his bloody hands shaking. Another sob. Who was there? Who was holding him? Was it someone he knew? No one at all? Was it Aaron?

Everything around him was a dimmed and buzzing blur, a black-and-white movie backdrop, where the only things in color were himself, Alan's body, and somehow the pain, so hot it was blue, burning in his throat. He whispered something. The name that was so clear in his mind came out uncertain: Alan? Or Aaron?

The choking noise was him, weeping. The others noises faded together into a meaningless cacophony, with the exception of one, soft sound: a sheet being pulled over the still-warm body of a friend. Someone was screaming; he didn't think it was himself, but he couldn't be sure of it. Wouldn't even swear that he was actually hearing it.

Another choke, and he pressed his hands over his face, feeling still no tears. Something was wet, though: blood, Alan's. His gloves were still on his hands. He gagged at the smell of the latex.

Someone else bent down, someone else unimportant, and gently peeled the rubber away from his palms and fingers. The person holding him reached out and wiped the blood from his forehead. None of this mattered.

"Aaron," he whispered.

The gods were descending, coming down from their perches on high and entering the OR room in a swirl of irrelevant grey shapes and disillusioned noises. They spun through the room in a daze, dividing their attention between the dead man on the table and the limp man on the floor. And suddenly another face entered his world, another swatch of color, another actuality.

"Jeffrey," he whispered, "get off the floor."

He obeyed, with his hands held out for support, still sobbing, so dizzy. And as Aaron's hands caught his and hefted his deadened weight to its feet, the tears sprang out at last, impossibly hot; he closed his eyes against the sudden fire.

"Come on," Aaron whispered.

Jeffrey Geiger was aware of exactly two things: his own miserable bawling sending the tears swiftly down his face, and the presence of Aaron Shutt's arm around his back. Everything else, Alan's corpse included, was gone from the world, and the only thing that mattered was Aaron, leading him out of the room, down a hallway and to a chair and then Aaron, forcing him into it, and standing beside him, looking passive but torn.

"Jeffrey?"

He felt himself shaking his head, his hands flaccid and useless on his knees, leaving his tear-soaked face freely exposed.

"Jeffrey."

He shut his eyes, and his mouth would not respond when commanded to speak. He was sick, nauseous, lost, and he knew it. And so did Aaron.

"Jeffrey."

He had not forgotten what had happened, and he never would, but somehow he felt unsure of it. Why he was crying was beyond him, as well as why he should stop, or how he could. His hands spasmed out, looking for something to take hold of, and met empty air.

"Jeffrey Geiger…"

That was him.

"…calm the hell down."

And that was Aaron.

"We're in my office."

Whatever you say.

"Look at me, Damnit," Aaron ordered.

Jeffrey Geiger opened his eyes, painfully cognizant of the fact that this was almost impossible, swollen as they were. Aaron Shutt stood beside him, hands crossed in front of his chest, a look of absolute severity on his face.

"Aaron?" He reached up bravely and wiped the tears from his eyes, determined to stop his disgraceful spectacle. But he couldn't help the final quiet sob that escaped him. "Aaron, I didn't save him."

And the future unfurled in front of him just like that: a flower, dying as it bloomed, condemned as its stem was cut: he would leave, of course; it was not like he could stay. Alan's daughter, Alicia. Now it had to be about her. He would never replace her father, and she would never replace his child, but he would do what he could. What he hadn't.

But it meant leaving Chicago Hope. It meant leaving Aaron. It meant that he would promise to come back, and he would mean it, but it wouldn't happen. This was it for them: Shutt and Geiger, inseparable for years. The scant yard between them felt like an abyss. Was Aaron mad? Would Aaron blame him?

"I…" he started to say. His friend just stared at him- speechless, or disgusted? He closed his eyes.

Jeffrey shivered.

"Oh, for God's…" Aaron began, his voice cracking tearfully, and bridged the gap by pulling over another chair and sitting beside him, placing a warm hand gently on his knee.

Jeffrey sighed.

"You with me?" Aaron asked after a moment, his voice steadied.

"I'm with you," Jeffrey whispered, and opened his eyes. The light in the room pierced them mercilessly, but everything was beginning to fade back into focus despite his blurred vision.

"You fell over," Aaron said shortly.

"I know," Jeffrey replied.

"You okay?"

"Nope."

He hoped Aaron would believe: he didn't want to leave him. He just had to get out of that place. He didn't want to leave Aaron, his closest friend, his brother, he didn't want to. But there was no third option, no middle ground. It was staying, or leaving, and he couldn't stay.

Would it fade? Would they grow apart from each other, instead of growing old together? The man who had seen him through so much… would there ever be another?

"Aaron," he croaked.

His next thought was so utterly morbid that it startled even himself: there had to be a Heaven, because there was a hell. Here it was. He was in it. And if there was a hell, there was a Heaven. And if there was a Heaven, there was hope. His son lived there, never forgotten; many patients, and now a friend. And someday, no matter what happened on earth, he and Aaron… they would be there. They couldn't stay apart forever.

As rapidly as the world had come back into focus, now he was fading out; his eyelids sliding down, exhausted, spent. He hiccupped sporadically, like he had as a child, from weeping. It was as if the sudden burst of macabre optimism had drained the last reserves of energy that he had left. Before it all could recede, he summoned what was left of his will and moved his hand forward, resting it just next to Aaron's, barely touching. He would not dwell on the fact that they would soon be apart for a while. That was a pain for tomorrow to handle.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, his voice entirely wrecked. "I really am sorry." He felt Aaron's hand turn and grip his own around the wrist.

They sat together. And for the first time in what he realized to be hours, Jeffrey Geiger was aware of the world around him- enveloped by grief, shaken with guilt- but still conscious. That meant something. Didn't it?

But despite an awareness of everything around him, only a select few things mattered now: his breathing, for instance, gradually slowing as his tears all but ceased, Aaron's fingers, resting on his hand, and somewhere, close by, a little girl that he was going to care for. And somewhere, a little further, the hope for Heaven.