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i choose you (or, a lifelong love letter)

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falling in love with max goodwin happened slowly, and then all at once.

or maybe it did happen quickly, and helen sharpe just didn’t realize it was happening. did it happen in longing gazes and witty banter and touches that were just light enough to be accidentally in the hallways of the hospital, small things that ended up being much bigger parts of a whole emotion? or was there one big catastrophic event that knocked helen off of her feet and made her heart shout ‘you’re in love with max goodwin’?

helen doesn’t know, and honestly, it doesn’t matter. not anymore, at least, when they live together and work together and have a child together. max is permanently all around her and in her soul, and in every sense but legal, he’s hers forever.

it’s not like she’s obsessed with the idea of marriage. helen has been on the brink of it before, and max himself was married. while she can understand the appeal of the white dress and the flashy ceremony and all of that, helen doesn’t find it absolutely necessary in her relationship with max. in all her nearly three years with him, he’s never brought up marriage even once, which is totally fine with her. she’s secure. it takes one look at the both of them to know they’re in love, and helen is firm in her belief that this won’t change if she doesn’t have a rock on her fourth finger.

but helen sharpe is also a woman. and a doctor. working at a hospital, you learn the seasons for things, the times when more accidents are bound to happen; september is the month most babies are born (nine months after new year’s, anyone?), which makes may the month for gender reveals and the inevitable ‘i basically built a bomb in my backyard so my sister can see a tiny poof of a societally mandated color that subconsciously will determine how we treat this child for the rest of its life’ accidents. summer months are when everyone gets married. and the most highly anticipated month for anyone in a relationship at new amsterdam- december is for proposals.

people start getting antsy by late october. that’s when the assessing of relationships begins, the ‘are we at that level’ talks get serious, and rings are ordered. despite her swearing up and down in her mind that marriage is not on her list of priorities, helen finds herself starting to watch max for any indication that he has plans to propose around halloween. anything out of the ordinary is clocked and filed away under ‘oh my god is he gonna propose’ in her mind. the issue with this is that max is, by definition, out of the ordinary. spontaneous date nights, random flower deliveries to her office, and compliments that make all of the air leave her lungs are what constitute ‘perfectly normal’ in regards to their relationship. it drives helen wild that every single ‘Top Ten Signs He’s Going To Propose’ listicle from cosmo or refinery29 or hell, even buzzfeed, has these seemingly normal things as ‘sure proof’ a significant other is going to propose? ‘he makes you dinner’? max has been cooking for helen since before they were together.

(if anything, it just goes to show how lucky helen is to have him. she knew, of course, from the start that he was something ethereal, something different from any other man on the planet, but things like this just serve as proof that she made the right decision all those years ago when she turned her car around halfway to jfk. whatever had drawn her to max then had not steered her wrong yet, and helen is glad she trusted her gut.)

in the end, reynolds beats max to the ‘proposal’ punch, or at least to the idea of it. he corners them somewhere between psych and neuro in the long and winding halls of the hospital to ask them for help.

‘i’m thinking of proposing to lauren,’ reynolds says, sort of out of breath, like the idea alone knocks him off his feet.

helen can’t help the way she launches into her friend’s arms for a hug, his giddiness infectious. she’s happy for them, and says so while floyd and max do that manly ‘slap each other while we hug’ thing. ‘it’s about time,’ she teases, reaching up to knock reynolds in the shoulder. ‘i’m happy for you!’

‘we both are,’ max cuts in, smiling wide. ‘but i know you’re not asking us for permission so… why are you telling us?’

floyd glances down the hall as if he’d not literally shouted that he’s going to propose thirty seconds earlier. ‘i’ve gotta go get the ring from my mom. you know, the family one? but it’s gonna be a whole thing and lauren’s definitely going to notice if i ask for it at sunday dinner. i was hoping i could recruit you guys to help?’

‘distract and extract,’ max nods sagely. ‘also known as our favorite parenting technique.’

he’s not wrong. whenever luna is on the verge of a tantrum over a toy or no sweets before dinner, one of them distracts her while the other sneakily removes whatever plushie or piece of candy has driven her to the edge. it’s surprisingly effective on the nearly three year old.

‘give me a date and i’ll keep her busy,’ helen promises.

~

it turns out that distracting lauren bloom is about as easy as distracting a toddler. all it takes is for helen to mention that all she needs is a glass of wine and a face mask and lauren is bouncing on her toes and proposing a girl’s night: no boys, no baby, no work related emergencies. it’s very easy, and helen almost suspects that bloom knows, but she doesn’t want to say anything in case she doesn’t.

she’s not complaining. helen wasn’t looking forward to the possibility that lauren would see right through her and ruin the whole thing.

anyways, friday night becomes girl’s night, like back when they were newly minted doctors minus the copious amounts of hard alcohol. lauren meets her in the atrium, looking about as excited as helen feels. she’s not sure if it’s the whole idea of a proposal, of helping her friends be together forever, or just honest joy at being able to spend the night with bloom like they’re little kids again. helen doesn’t know nor does she care, and when lauren intertwines their hands, she almost forgets the purpose of this spontaneous sleepover. the boys come down to say goodbye and goodnight, little luna in tow, and they’ve both got this soft look on their faces that’s a little hard to place.

‘alright boys, barring any emergencies, i want zero phone calls, you got it?’ lauren says, hand on her hip as she stares them down. ‘texts are fine, but only as long as they’re of the good night variety or pictures of my favorite goddaughter.’

‘i think lauren bloom is going to try to steal our child one day,’ helen says softly to max, while they watch bloom bend down to tickle luna.

the comment makes max chuckle, and helen can’t help the way her head turns to watch him laugh. she has him memorized, from the uptick of his lips to the crinkle of his smile lines, and yet every time she hears the sound of his laugh her eyes are drawn to him. maybe it’s something about knowing that she drew that sound out of him. max only truly laughs when he is caught off guard or completely comfortable, and it comes from somewhere deep within him.

‘see you in a bit,’ is all max says as he leans down to kiss helen. she can feel his soft smile through the kiss, and her fingers grasp onto the blue cotton of his scrubs easily. helen could stay like this forever but both lauren and floyd clear their throats pointedly, obviously ready to get on with things.

‘see you,’ helen says back when she pulls away from max. no matter how many times he kisses her, the way he chases her lips with his as she breaks said kiss will leave her weak in the knees for all time.

helen hugs luna tightly before handing her over when the four friends part ways outside of the hospital. she can’t help but feel a slight pang of irrational fear whenever she leaves her daughter anywhere, but the sight of lauren bloom dancing excitedly on the sidewalk is enough to calm her mind.

‘do you still have those fancy gold face masks? we can paint our nails! oh my god, and we’re totally watching the princess bride,’ bloom rattles off as they squish into the backseat of a cab.

helen can’t help but smile. ‘yes, absolutely, and duh, all in that order.’

‘tonight is gonna be the best,’ her friend says seriously, as if this girls’ night is life or death, and helen squeezes her hand tightly. she agrees.

turns out, helen doesn’t have the fancy gold face masks, which are mysteriously missing (read: max stole them and is going to use them with reynolds). lauren suggests facetiming the boys to chew them out, and helen just barely talks her out of that idea by finding some other, equally as fancy mud masks and bloom’s favorite sally hansen nail polish. they jam out to beyonce and the kind of rap music that they can’t listen to around luna because she’s nearly four and likes to repeat words (especially those of the four letter variety; at one point the swear jar on the counter was perpetually full, but now max and lauren have a running competition to see who can come up with the most inventive curses). pizza is ordered, the princess bride is put on and repeated word for word, and they gossip their pants off about everything and everyone at the hospital.

‘fuck, marry, kill,’ bloom says suddenly, just as miracle max is telling inigo and fezzik that westley is only sort of dead. ‘clint hartman, agnes kao, camila candelario.’

the sound helen lets out is half snort-half laugh. she should’ve known that lauren would ask her something like this throughout the course of the night. ‘fuck candelario cause she’s too intense to marry, marry agnes because she’s sweet and would absolutely take care of me, kill hartman. sorry, hartman.’

‘don’t be. death is the only correct option for hartman,’ lauren laughs as she takes a swig of her beer.

‘your turn.’ helen is interested to hear what her friend says, considering what her boyfriend is up to at this exact second. ‘reynolds, casey acosta, that annoying temp from accounting- andrea?’

‘sandra. kill her, for sure. fuck floyd, duh. and- well, and marry him, as well,’ bloom finishes quietly, a little shy and a little pleased at the thought.

‘so you would marry him? really?’

‘well, yeah.’ lauren shrugs noncommittally, but her smile gives her away. ‘i never really thought i would want to get married,’ she admits. ‘not after my parents. but when i’m with him, i can’t imagine not being with him forever, you know? like, i want to be tripping over his dirty socks and saving his toast before it burns in the morning and waking up next to him every day. does that make sense?’

it does; helen knows the feeling well. she feels it whenever she’s with max.

‘yes,’ she assures her friend almost breathlessly. ‘yes, it does.’

bloom is quiet for a minute as she watches helen. now, in the background, westley has come back to life and is trying in vain to move his arm- every time fezzik picks it up, it falls limply back to the ground. this part usually has lauren in tears, but right now she’s not even paying attention to the movie. ‘and would you?’ she asks helen intensely.

‘would i what?’ helen asks, even though she knows what lauren is asking.

she’s not amused. ‘marry max.’

‘yes.’ she doesn’t even have to think. ‘yes, i would, if he asked me to.’

lauren grabs her hand and squeezes it tightly, smile bright.

‘mawwiage,’ she laughs suddenly, just in time with the priest in the movie, and the two of them devolve into giggles.

(nearly an hour later, helen gets a text message from max. it simply reads ‘sorry’, and attached is a picture of the medical director of america’s oldest public hospital and said hospital’s star cardiothoracic surgeon, faces smeared with helen’s finest 24k gold-infused face masks. she can’t even be mad- they both look so happy.

lauren is just a little mad. she was really looking forward to those.)

~

it takes floyd reynolds two weeks to propose to lauren bloom.

reynolds is an old romantic, so helen almost expects a large, drawn out and public affair from him. something with lots of flowers, maybe a band, definitely in the hospital. what she doesn’t expect is for lauren to just walk in with the ring on her hand one unremarkable wednesday, no fanfare or anything. helen almost misses it, and definitely would have if she hadn’t had luna, little, observant, and close enough to the ground to have lauren’s hands at eye level, with her. they say their ‘good morning’s and go their separate ways, helen promising to meet up with lauren for lunch.

luna doesn’t say anything until they’re halfway to the elevator, when she tugs on helen’s hand and says, very matter of factly, ‘mommy, i like auntie lozza’s new ring. i want one just like hers!’

now, it’s only 7:30am and helen’s only had one cup of coffee, so she doesn’t put two and two together immediately. ‘what ring, baby?’ she asks distractedly as she presses the button in the elevator.

‘the new one. it was really shiny!’ luna insists, and suddenly everything clicks.

helen’s head snaps up just as the elevator doors are closing to meet lauren’s eyes halfway across the atrium. bloom’s smirk is knowing and helen hardly has time to let out an indignant ‘you-?!’ before the doors shut and there’s the soft ding and lurch of motion. bewildered and unthinking, helen mumbles ‘what the fuck?’ before tensing as she feels luna grab onto her skirt.

‘you said a bad word!’ luna says slowly, almost gleefully. ‘you said fuck!’

‘do not repeat that,’ helen says sternly. luna’s smile is wide and god, does she look like her father. her father. ‘and don’t tell your dad!’

she ends up cornering lauren around midday and drags her to her office. ‘spill!’ she practically squeals, giddy from the excitement and the look on lauren’s face. she’s glowing, literally glowing, and she looks so happy, and helen can’t help but think that she deserves this more than anyone. nearly ten years of losing floyd and finding her way back to him- all for this.

‘i can’t believe it,’ bloom practically gasps, like it still astounds her. ‘well, i can, but i thought i would have to propose, you know how he gets. he second guesses and defers and everything, and i- jesus, i can’t believe it!’

helen grabs her hand to look at the ring. it’s simple, yet pretty; even if it didn’t have emotional significance to both of them, it would still fit lauren’s personality perfectly.

‘it looks like it was meant for you,’ she tells her friend honestly, and though lauren rolls her eyes, the blush on her cheeks gives her away. ‘how’d he do it?’

‘in bed,’ lauren confesses, laughing. ‘i think it surprised him, too. we were just lying there, listening to music and talking, and he blurted it out. i didn’t think he meant it at first, but he literally pulled the ring out of thin fucking air- i think he’s had it in his pocket for ages.’

‘two weeks,’ helen confirms, and the look on bloom’s face as she figures it out is hilarious.

‘girls’ night. i should’ve known!’ for a moment, helen thinks she’s going to get mad that they hung out under false pretenses, but then lauren pulls her into a bone crushing hug. ‘thank you,’ she mumbles. ‘for everything, ever. you’re the best friend, helen sharpe.’

they stand there for a few moments that feel like a few minutes, until helen feels lauren huff out a laugh in her arms. ‘you know what this means, right? you’re next!’

she laughs along, and hopes that it doesn’t show how much she wants that to be true.

~

turns out, when your best friends get engaged, that’s a sentiment that’s repeated to you a lot. variations on ‘you’re next!’ is all helen hears for weeks. she just graciously laughs them off and tries not to turn quickly to read max’s face. he’s unusually cool all throughout the end of november, fielding questions from nosy relatives at thanksgiving and skillfully changing the subject at the hospital back to medicine. december comes and goes without a change, new year’s is horribly mundane, and all of january passes while helen slowly becomes more and more desperate.

max is zero help. he doesn’t go on any unexpected outings, doesn’t come home late with no explanation, doesn’t act shady. helen almost scolds herself for wishing he would, because then it could mean that he’s ring shopping or making plans or doing anything of that sort. but he leaves for work with her in the morning and comes home with her at night, has lunch with her at midday and brings luna to see her after board meetings.

lauren says to just give him time. ‘maybe he’s planning something big,’ she tries to assure helen in between conversations about her guest list and color schemes and where she and reynolds are going to have their wedding, but it all sounds just a little pitying to helen’s ears. or maybe she’s only projecting.

it gets to the point where helen is ready to start going through max’s stuff in late february. max seems more worried about luna’s upcoming birthday than helen’s frayed nerves, and it all comes to a head when he starts talking about planning luna’s birthday in MID-MARCH instead of proposing.

‘so luna really wants this party to be frozen themed but i think if i have to hear the song ‘fixer upper’ one more time i’m going to kill myself,’ max laughs to himself as they’re sitting in his office one afternoon. ‘do we have time to get her obsessed with something else? moana maybe?’

he starts humming ‘you’re welcome’ to himself, until helen can’t take it anymore.

‘are you ever going to propose to me?’ she blurts out. it’s completely unintentional, and she hates how desperate her voice sounds.

max just stares at her, eyes wide, and helen starts to rethink everything.

‘i mean, would you- do you want to marry me? i thought you were going to ask me months ago and you didn’t and now i’m seriously doubting everything ever, even though that’s totally stupid. that’s stupid, right?’

helen may as well have turned her boyfriend to stone. he looks simultaneously terrified out of his mind and completely amused.

‘helen,’ max says, a dazed little smile on his lips. ‘helen of course i want to marry you. oh my god, i had a plan- the one time i had a plan for anything!’

now he’s laughing, but all helen sharpe is caught on is that max goodwin wants to marry her.

‘wait, what?’ helen asks as her brain catches up. ‘you had a plan- for what?’

‘for proposing,’ max rolls his eyes like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. ‘leon bridges is coming to town in may and... you know what, it doesn’t matter. okay. oh my god, are we doing this right now?’

‘doing what?’ helen asks, voice going just a little frantic. ‘max, what are you doing?’

max, for his part, just laughs and smiles and kisses helen on the forehead. ‘c’mon,’ he says, like nothing is happening, like this is any other normal day. ‘i wanna show you something.’

and then he walks out of his office, leaving helen bewildered in his wake.

~

‘max,’ helen calls after her erstwhile boyfriend, trying to catch up with his long strides as they wind through the hospital’s hallways. ‘max. where are we going?’

max turns around and walks backwards, smile wide and cheeky, either trusting everyone to move out of his way or helen to stop him before he knocks something over or falls. he’s not wrong. helen grabs his arm and forces him around before he runs into a nurse, and he takes the opportunity to be smooth and pull her under his arm. she can’t help the way the corners of her lips upturn when she feels him bend to press a kiss to the top of her head.

‘don’t worry about it,’ he assures her as he steers her into an elevator. ‘you trust me don’t you?’

and she does, so she just hits the button for the twelfth floor when he asks her to and goes along with it.

somehow, dora is waiting for them when they step off the elevator.

‘max,’ she says dryly, handing him a stack of forms. ‘sign these, please.’

how she found them, helen has no idea, but she and max have both stopped asking dora how she just seems to appear places. ‘can it wait?’ max asks pleadingly, already trying to pull helen in the opposite direction.

‘they were supposed to be done yesterday, so no.’

‘dora,’ he answers, sounding a lot like luna when she doesn’t get her way. ‘i am doing the thing right now, so if you could please just give me an hour?’

‘the thing?’

‘you know. the thing.’

helen has only a general idea of what they’re talking about. people are starting to get annoyed that the small group is blocking the elevator. as much as she loves max, if this is him trying to propose, it is not very romantic.

dora looks just as surprised as helen is feeling right now. ‘but that wasn’t supposed to happen for weeks!’

‘yeah well, she figured it out so i’m improvising. cover me for an hour?’

‘hell, take two! congrats you guys,’ dora says, as excited as helen has ever seen her, and squeezes helen’s arm as she passes.

‘he hasn’t asked me anything yet,’ helen says a little weakly to the assistant’s retreating figure.

but it doesn’t matter, because max is taking her hand and walking into an empty patient room.

‘know where we are?’ he asks as he drops her hand to sit on the bed.

helen’s hand traces the door handle, just like it did all those years ago. ‘this is room 1208,’ she breathes out.

‘remember that first day?’ max looks around the room, thirty five years of pain and love and longing clouding his eyes until they finally settle back on helen. god, just the way he looks at her is enough to make helen sigh.

‘yes, of course. how could i forget?’

~

helen sharpe had been having a very odd day.

first she hears that the new medical director has fired the entire cardio department. that’s a bold and risky move that helen wouldn’t approve of even if it didn’t mean that one of her closest friends was out of a job. then, said medical director- tall, cute, with a set of puppy dog eyes and biceps as big as helen’s head- tries to corner her as she’s leaving for an appearance or two and then aspen (work, not play, unfortunately) and tells her that he wants her to stop making money and work in the hospital. which is crazy. he had to know how much revenue she is bringing in, right? there was the whole ultimatum thing that helen couldn’t decide whether was cute or actually serious.

and lastly, there was the revelation that said medical director had cancer.

a lot of things became very obvious about his personality. of course he’s making big, sweeping changes. he’s trying to leave something behind, something lasting that will be here after he’s- you know. helen has no idea why the thought of max- doctor goodwin- having cancer hurts her chest so much, but it does.

so she goes back.

helen finds him on the twelfth floor, in a patient room, staring at- is that a sonogram?

‘i was just introducing someone.’ max- doctor goodwin- gestures to the sonogram and then around the room, and something lauren bloom had told helen comes rushing back. his sister died here.

a lot is starting to make sense about doctor max goodwin’s personality. helen can see how much he cares, it’s practically written across his forehead. he’s one of those people who has seen so much heartbreak and somehow still manages to come out on top. she wishes that could be her so badly, that she could walk into the hospital after every lost patient with a smile and a ‘next time will be different’ on the tip of her tongue.

‘you came back,’ max says, and god does he sound hopeful and proud and just a little bit smug, his voice a weird mix of ‘i know you would’ and ‘i hoped you would’. ‘it got to you, didn’t it? all of the death.’

‘no.’ helen shakes her head and hates how choked up she sounds. ‘no, i got numb to it, which is worse.’

it’s as hard as confession, except instead of the disappointed face of a priest, helen looks up to meet the max’s soft eyes. his face is open and understanding and every voice in her head that is telling her she’s a bad person is immediately silenced. helen has no idea why she’s pouring her heart out to a man she hardly knows and hates the way her chest feels just a little mushy, so she gives him the news.

‘max,’ she says, doctor voice switching on. detached, sympathetic, straightforward. ‘you have cancer. squamous cell carcinoma.’

now usually, this is news to a person. they cry, ask how this could be happening, talk about how healthy they eat, and how no one in their family has ever had cancer. but max just sits on the hospital bed staring up at helen, blue eyes bright.

‘but you already knew that.’ it comes out as as half of a gasp. but if he already knew- and he still took this job? this taxing, demanding job that would take the life out of his, cancer or no cancer? helen is almost frustrated with him. ‘max, you need to slow down.’

‘i get that a lot.’ max laughs, but it sounds more trapped than anything. suddenly, helen can see the weight of the world resting on the hunch of his shoulders, and she gets it. so, she takes a step forward and rests her hands on the edge of the bed, and as earnestly as she can, asks him.

‘how can i help?’

~

‘did you know you were the first person to say it back?’ max laughs a little, eyes a bit wet from the reminiscing. ‘actually, you’re the only person to say it back.’

‘really?’ helen hadn’t even realized she’d adopted his catchphrase until she’d been using it for months. bloom had pointed it out with a smile and a joke, and even now, helen uses it without thinking.

‘yeah.’ max sounds a bit dreamy. he takes helen’s hands in his and rubs the flat of her wrist with his thumb. ‘this is the spot where i knew that you got it- you understood what i was trying to do here. you understood me. and i’ll be forever grateful for that because-‘

and of course, helen’s phone starts ringing.

‘it’s doctor kao,’ she says apologetically as she answers. max just smiles and waves an okay. ‘agnes. what’s up?’

‘hey, i need a hemo consult in room 659. patient is exhibiting-‘

‘doctor kao!’ max interrupts, voice cheery. ‘can this wait? we’re doing a thing right now and it’s kind of important.’

‘yes, it can- wait, the thing?’ agnes asks.

‘mayyybe. you know what the plan was, but helen figured it out so i’m improvising right now,’ max explains. ‘give us maybe an hour?’

‘absolutely. congratulations, guys!’

‘he hasn’t asked me anything yet,’ helen insists again, a little amused, but the dial tone of her phone just beeps back at her. she turns to max. ‘how many people know about your plan, then?’

‘a few,’ he confesses as he pulls her from the room. ‘do you know how hard it is to get leon bridges tickets? it was a multi person operation.’

helen almost wants to apologize for ruining everything, but max knows exactly what she’s thinking and kisses the frown lines from between her eyes.

‘don’t worry about it. c’mon.’

next, max takes helen up to the roof. she gets the gist of what he’s doing now. it’s cute, bringing her to all of their ‘spots’, but she really wishes that he would just ask her. helen wonders which moment he’s going to bring up- they’ve had so many on this rooftop that it would be hard to pick a favorite.

‘we’ve had so many conversations up here,’ he laughs to himself. ‘our first one, you remember? ‘if you’re looking for a hideout, this one’s taken’,’ max says in a spot on impression of helen’s accent.

it makes her laugh and roll her eyes. ‘it was taken, this roof has been mine since i started working here.’

max just quirks his eyebrows at her and turns to look out at the new york skyline. he doesn’t say anything, lost in thought, so helen comes and joins him at the ledge. she looks over at him, fully aware she’s staring but unable to bring herself to care. max is completely zoned out, but helen is used to this by now. sometimes, his brain just moves faster than he can, and it takes a minute for his mouth to catch up. so she just grabs his hand and presses a kiss to his arm, trusting him to talk when he’s ready.

‘i fell in love with you up on this roof,’ max finally says, voice hardly above a whisper and nearly lost to the sound of traffic twenty floors down. ‘at least, i think so. or maybe i just realized it up here.’

it’s not the route that helen thought he was gonna go. he can probably see the surprise on her face, or at least feel it in the tense of her body, because max just barely tugs on the end of one of her braids, which has become his way of getting her attention or grounding her or even just reassuring her that he’s there.

‘when?’ she asks, genuinely interested in knowing.

max laughs. ‘twenty questions.’

~

hard days are expected when you’re a doctor. long days are a given. but slow days? those are simply unheard of, especially at a public hospital in the biggest city on the eastern seaboard. days when helen only has one or two appointments and then nothing are… unsettling. she wanders around the hospital, trying to find something to do, but they don’t need help in the labs or the icu or even the ed. somehow, as always, she finds herself climbing the stairs up to the roof.

the second helen throws open the access door and feels the sun hit her skin, she’s instantly calmed. it’s a nice day in spring, not too hot but not too cool, and she has the immediate urge to ditch work, to go sit in central park and watch all of the young couples play around. it nearly overcomes her before she hears the crreeaakkk of the old door and the sound of footsteps. she’d know the gait anywhere and in her sleep; those quick, slightly uneven steps, hard on the heel with a light bounce on the toes at the end. max tugs gently on one of helen’s braids before throws himself dramatically over the bit of the wall where she’d resting her elbows.

‘i hate being bored,’ max moans, sounding petulant even for him.

it makes helen snort. ‘tell me something i don’t know.’

‘don’t be rude.’ max finally picks himself up, but only to stand at helen’s back and throw his arms over her shoulders. she worries for a moment that he can feel the steadily quickening ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum of her heart. if he can, he says nothing about it.

he’s always been tactile, but recently he’s become more touchy feely. ever since georgia- ever since the accident, max has taken every opportunity to hug helen, to be close to her, to grab her hand, her arm, her face. it does nothing to quell the horribly ever-growing crush that she’s had on him for months. helen wonders if he knows what he’s doing to her.

he probably does.

‘i’ve always hated sitting still,’ max admits. ‘i used to get in so much trouble for it in school.’

helen can picture it, can see a tired teacher trying to get a mini max goodwin to sit still at his desk. the mental picture makes her laugh.

‘i always just got in trouble for talking,’ she shoots back. ‘or passing notes, but that didn’t happen as often. i was a master note passer.’

‘i can see that,’ max says, sounding thoughtful, almost like he’s picturing it too. ‘and i expect to see those skills in the next board meeting. if you can get a note past all of those hawk eyes, i’ll believe you’re a master.’

helen rolls her eyes, but doesn’t answer. they’re quiet for a moment before max huffs. she can tell he wants to say something.

‘what?’ she asks, and the way her hands come up to grab his forearms feels so natural that she almost doesn’t notice that she’s doing it.

she does notice when max brings his chin forward to rest on her shoulder.

‘nothing,’ he shrugs, and helen can feel it all through her body. ‘it’s just that- well i hardly know anything about you. where you grew up, what your favorite subject in school was, why you moved to the us.’

‘you know where i grew up.’ helen is so stunned that that’s all she can say. does he really want to know? she wracks her brain and realizes that he’s right- they hardly know each other. how is that possible? helen feels like she’s known max her whole life.

‘yeah, london,’ he answers, sounding a little exasperated. ‘but where did you grow up?’

‘hackney. i lived there until i went to university, and even then i stayed close,’ helen says immediately. max is almost never intentionally forceful with her, but something in his voice compels her to tell him. ‘i went to catholic school. my favorite subject was history. and i moved to america because i felt like i was dying in london and had to get out.’

she didn’t mean for it to sound so horrible, like she hates where she came from. because she didn’t. she doesn’t. she opens her mouth to clarify, but max is already talking.

‘hey, i went to catholic school!’ he says excitedly, tightening his grip on her. it’s a silent it’s okay, i understand, and helen has never been more grateful for him. ‘shoutout to saint george’s in the east village.’

‘so you really are a city boy, huh?’ helen asks. ‘new york born and raised.’

‘really am. legitimately did not go farther out than yonkers until i left for college.’

‘where’d you go? to college, i mean.’ helen has seen the degrees that hangs pristinely on his office wall, but has never stopped to inspect them.

max hesitates. this is weird; he almost always says what he thinks without considering what he’s actually saying. she wants to turn around, to place her hands on either side of his face and tell him that it’s alright, that he doesn’t have to tell if he doesn’t want to, but he’s holding onto her like she’s his lifeline and he’s sinking. so instead, helen just presses her body back against him and rests her head on his chest.

‘university of southern california,’ max finally sighs, and she almost jumps with the surprise of it. usc- that’s on the other side of the country. ‘i had to. after my sister, nothing was the same here. i was the kid whose twin sister died. and it almost broke my parents; i didn’t see my dad smile again for almost fifteen years. i love this city so much, but it was just….’

‘suffocating,’ helen finishes. she understands. without moving max’s arms from her shoulders, she shimmies around to look him in the eyes. helen can see the pain and the sadness and how much he misses his sister, and even though she never met the first luna goodwin, helen curses the illness that took her from max.

‘yeah.’ he sounds like he’s longing for something, and the yearning in his voice is nearly enough to bring tears to helen’s eyes. ‘everyone tiptoed around me until i could take it anymore. i couldn’t take it, couldn’t take the pity.’

helen searches his eyes, and hopes he can see that she’s genuine. ‘i don’t pity you,’ she reassures him.

‘i know,’ is his soft answer.

they stand like that until helen realizes she’s staring. max’s gaze is heavy, so helen clears her throat and fixes her eyes squarely on his chest.

‘tell me about it,’ she says suddenly. ‘los angeles. i’ve never been.’

‘really?’ his voice is incredulous, before it turns teasing. ‘never been to any fancy conferences there?’

‘shove it,’ helen hits back, but it’s half hearted. ‘i’ve only ever been to san francisco, but it rained the whole time i was there.’

‘well, it’s much more spread out than new york. the city is huge and very split up- i got lost the first time i tried to go out by myself,’ max laughs at himself. ‘it takes thirty minutes to go four miles and traffic is horrendous. the cost of living there is lower than here, but you pay an arm and a leg for gas.’

‘sounds horrible.’

‘it’s not all bad. like the beach, for instance.’ his voice goes a little dreamy and familiar, and helen wonders when else she’s heard him talk like this. ‘the pacific ocean is so blue, it looks fake sometimes. i used to get up super early and drive to malibu and get there before sunrise. something about the water at dawn- when you can hardly see it but you can hear the waves crashing. then the sun comes over the mountains and hits the water and you can see straight through the water to the bottom.’

halfway through his little speech, helen’s eyes dart up to meet his. she only intends for them to stay for a split second, but the way he describes the water is so magnetic that they stick there. she can see the ocean in his eyes, can see the bright blue and the crashing waves, and she knows that she’s so transparent and he knows. he can see straight through her eyes and into her soul like how he described malibu at sunrise. and he knows.

helen is surprised to find that she doesn’t mind.

max has stopped talking. it’s her turn to say something now, so she just says ‘it sounds beautiful.’

‘yeah,’ max answers. ‘it is.’

he’s not talking about california anymore.

helen’s heart is racing, and they’re so close that she can feel his quickening too. the way she rises on her toes in subconscious and max’s hands move so they’re on her neck and when he finally, finally kisses her they fit together so perfectly that helen can’t believe they didn’t do this sooner. her hands fist his scrubs so tightly that for a second she’s worried that she’ll rip them until he makes a sighs into her mouth so contentedly that she forgets about everything that isn’t max.

somewhere on the street down below, some asshole breaks the moment by laying on his car horn.

they break apart from each other, breathing hard from the kiss and the scare. max’s eyes are a little wild, almost like he can’t believe what’s happening, and helen knows that she looks the same. but the smile on his lips is genuine and when he laughs a little, her whole heart soars. max drops his forehead to rest on hers and breathes in deep.

‘thank you,’ helen says after a minute. ‘for telling me all of that.’

max just hums. ‘i trust you with it. with my entire life actually, but i think i already made that pretty clear. i wouldn’t have gotten very far without you, helen sharpe.’

the tone of his voice has her weak in the knees and she realizes- his voice when he’d been describing the pacific? it had sounded familiar because that’s what he sounds like when he is talking about her.

helen kisses him again. hard.

~

‘really?’ the question is a gasp and a sigh all at once. helen never thinks that it’s possible to love max more than she already does, and every day he proves her wrong. max is still looking out at new york, and the golden hour light on his skin makes his eyes look as blue as they had that day.

the hand that’s in hers tightens around her fingers. ‘yeah,’ max says. ‘i always knew i was lucky to have you, but that day- talking about where and how we grew up, i realized how insane it was that we both met. i mean, the chances of meeting your soulmate are already point-zero-one percent. the stars lined up so perfectly to bring us together, and i told myself that day to never take it for granted.’

max finally looks over at helen, and the pure sight of him pouring his heart out to her literally makes helen breakdown into tears. this is it, she thinks, he’s going to ask, but all he does is wipe away her tears, kiss her gently, and pull her back towards the stairs.

‘c’mon,’ he says, ‘we’re almost there.’

and helen has to take a deep breath and remind herself why she wants to marry him.

max laughs at her pout and drags her through the hospital, pointing out more places they’ve done things that were, for lack of a better word, insignificant. the first place she stole his coffee. the first place he called her ‘babe’ in front of the other doctors (that one had gotten him in trouble). the first place she ever yelled at him. the first place she called luna her daughter.

(max takes her down to the fourth floor on-call rooms and very loudly says ‘and this is the first place- in the hospital, i should say- that we ever-’ and helen has to cut him off with a smack and a hissed keep walking, don’t you dare, because the next word to come out of his mouth was most definitely going to be fucked.)

everyone knows what’s going on now, and they keep sending helen looks that can only mean ‘we’re so sorry, how are you still with him’. word travels fast in the hospital, and she’s pretty sure that there are people literally following her and max to watch the proposal.

if it ever happens, that is.

~

helen is almost over it all and ready to literally grapple the ring from where she’s pretty sure it’s sitting in max’s pocket. max can tell, and keeps sending her little smiles that are supposed to be either reassuring or endearing (they’re neither). they amble through the atrium of the hospital and towards the revolving doors that luna loves so much and helen wonders why they’re here until she catches lauren and floyd holding luna in the corner of her eye and- it hits her like a freight train.

‘this place, this hospital,’ max says, and he finally sounds choked up. ‘it’s taken so much from me. but it’s also given me more than i ever could have imagined. a family. a child. you.’

‘max,’ she starts, wanting to tell her that this hospital is the way it is because of him. it wasn’t always like this, warm and full of life. lauren and floyd have been joined by iggy and kapoor now, and across from them is dora, looking every bit like a proud parent.

‘helen, if you stop me now i’m gonna lose my train of thought and i really want this to be perfect.’ he laughs nervously and rakes a hand through his hair, and helen can’t help but think about how far he’s come from the sickly man who couldn’t do that without taking a handful of hair with him. ‘four years ago almost to the day, in this exact spot, i asked you to stay at new amsterdam. you were- god, you were just so stunning, and i could tell that you were so, so smart and i hoped that you couldn’t realize that i was asking you to stay not for the hospital, but for me. you were strong, and you knew what you wanted, and i was struck by you immediately. i almost forgot what i wanted to ask you,’ he admits, and he’s crying now. she wonders if the others are as well but can’t bring herself to tear her eyes away from max. it’s been coming all day, but helen is still surprised enough when max drops to one knee and pulls out the ring that she starts sobbing. ‘but that was then. i know exactly what i want to ask you now. will you stay? not at new amsterdam, but with me? you’re the best doctor i’ve ever met, the mother of my child, and the most important and greatest love of my life. so- will you marry me, helen sharpe?’

yes,’ helen gasps, and the atrium erupts with cheers as max literally jumps off the ground to spin her around and press a kiss to her lips.

when he sets her down after what feels like an eternity, he shakily slides the ring onto her own trembling hand. helen can’t even see it through her tears, but when someone else rushes forward to hug her, she instinctively knows it’s lauren.

‘congratulations,’ her friends whispers, and helen can feel her smile against her cheek. ‘this is everything you ever deserved.’

the next few minutes are a whirlwind of hugs and congratulations from everyone: iggy is volunteering all of his children to be flower children, kapoor is loudly proclaiming to anyone who will listen that his kids are getting married, and reynolds is literally crying. helen can’t stop glancing down at her left hand to make sure that it’s not all some elaborate dream.. the ring is gorgeous and she can’t stop smiling and max finally makes his way back to helen with luna in his arms.

‘do you know what this means, baby?’ he asks their daughter. ‘mommy and daddy are getting married.’

to hear max say that is so absolutely intoxicating that helen has to kiss him over luna’s head, only breaking away from him when luna starts making gagging noises.

‘mom, dad,’ she whines. ‘that’s icky. does getting married mean you have to do more of that?’

max looks across at helen, and she knows instantly that she made the right decision when she trusted him all those years ago.

‘unfortunately for you, lu,’ helen laughs slightly as she holds max’s gaze, ‘you’re going to be dealing with more of that for the rest of your life.’

the three year old looks hilariously devastated. ‘but that’s forever!’

the people around them are loud, but nothing can distract from max goodwin in all his glory- cheeks flushed, eyes bright, and mouth smiling- when he says, ‘that’s the point. and it doesn’t sound so bad, does it? forever with helen sharpe.’

‘helen goodwin-sharpe,’ she corrects him happily, and not luna’s protests nor the cheering from the people watching can stop the way max goodwin leans forward to kiss her soundly.

no, helen agrees. forever with max goodwin doesn’t sound so bad at all, and she simply can’t wait for it.