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I've got you (underneath my skin)

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Hey, it’s, uh, me…

I - I miss you…

I can’t get you out of my head…

It’s uh, very distracting…

Um… we said things to each other…

That were… just the beginning…

And uh, we never quite um - anyway…

Now you’re gone and it just feels like it’s been forever…

And I need - need to see you…

I need to talk to you…

I need to be with you…

In all the ways I’ve been dreaming of…

As Max's presence faded, his words started replaying inside her head. Helen pressed her back heavily against the closed door, eyes closing and hand reaching out to the very center of her chest where disappointment spread quickly, heavy as the mix of unspoken emotions stuck at the back of her throat. With her heart pounding; the image of Max's eyes, the torn expression on his face as he reluctantly turned around to leave ghosting behind her lids. How he seemed at the same time so drawn out to her, circling in tentative eagerness as they walked together silently to her home, and then also, impossibly, struck by this invisible force right upon facing the doorway, seemingly physically unable to cross the threshold and meet her on the inside.

Contrary to the wishfulness shimmering in his eyes, to the way this thing in between them seemed to pull them both towards one another ever since their eyes met at the elevator – threatening a much more dangerous crash than them running into each other – none of the things she'd hoped, fantasized of hearing ever came out of his mouth in person tonight.

But oh, if Max hadn't said many other things instead. Most of which Helen had avoided looking too hard at upon his babbling, for fear of losing her cool altogether – especially when something as simple as a golden band could evoke such a raw wave of despair every time she'd catch the sight of it, let alone hearing from his lips of how just devastatingly he'd taken losing sight of it briefly, amongst other spiraling thoughts that wavered between fury and exasperation then sympathy , out of the most confusing feelings of all.

But of course, he had looked so lost that she'd struggled, as usual, between wanting to give him some small amount of comfort, or, at the very least, removing herself from the situation if it meant it wasn't going anywhere past confusion and unnecessary trouble after all. So, she decided on the last and walked away. Barely holding her disappointment on her way out of New Amsterdam, feeling worn out to the bones, tired of efforts and misunderstandings and of all the things that were never properly said despite being felt, and then-

Max reappeared at the entrance hall, again with his request for a walk. Again with his pleading eyes, with his wishful being.

Can I just walk with you?

And damn if she didn't let herself have this, at least. When Helen agreed, she fully meant to grab for the only thing that had always been theirs and theirs only: the side by side companionship, if nothing else. She meant to revive it, to find ease in it, some pseudo balm to relieve the ache that seemed to run beneath their every interaction, these days.

It all ended once they reached the door, however. When Max's struggle became more evident, surfacing, torturing them both as he seemed both incapable of leaving and bringing himself to enter, as she felt an invitation surging deep in her gut completely uncalled for, unable to bring herself to neither close that damn door nor call it out loud once and for all.

But then he had left, actually picked the lane that went opposite ways from those unspoken wishes, and upon closing that door Helen felt resigned to this loop for good, doomed to repeat the same actions again and again without any real results in return. Like this tiresome dance, that brought them one step towards meeting some middle ground and then two steps back immediately, behind that line Max never seemed able to cross fully. Not from his initiative, his actions, and words without her having to give so much more of herself first.

A dance she, despite all of the above, failed miserably at walking away from most of the time.

Pushing away from the door, Helen shrugged off her jacket angrily, suddenly hot from the pent-up frustration crawling inside her belly, spinning around her head as she walked inside her house alone, confused and all sorts of done in general with every feeling concerning Max Goodwin for the night.

He had practically been gone in her arms, for crying out loud. Blind, barely conscious, and clinging to her for dear life. And then... I see you. I'm sorry. Sometimes it takes me a minute to remember what matters most. You .

What else would it take? What other stressful experiences would they need to share? What other terrifyingly intense connections should they forge, for them to finally reach the point where they met on equal ground, without the emotional retreat that always seemed to follow next? And until then, how much more would it cost?

Helen stormed towards the stairs that led to her bedroom dreaming of a shower to wash away those intrusive thoughts, but froze midstep, heart leaping to her throat on instinct alone when frantic knocks echoed against her closed door. The sound exorcised every lingering thought on the spot, and Helen spun on her heels sharply, hope sparkling inside her chest as she hastily made for the door.

And when she opened it, there he was.

Max, framed by her doorway, once again. Only this time, his body brimmed in frantic energy zeroed on her, his features ao strikingly transformed from when he had left her minutes before that Helen's belly fluttered in anticipation upon instant eye contact. His eyes clouded with longing, his hesitation seemingly gone with the wind. And next thing she knew, he devoured the space between them with languid steps, coming to stand inside towering above her almost predatorily, the devotion of his gaze making it impossible for her to think, to doubt, or even look away from this fascinating picture a driven Max painted privately, for her eyes only to devour.


His hands reaching out to her, hovering as if uncertain of where to touch first, his gaze running all over her frantically, hungrily, his body moving towards hers until he was close enough to breathe into her face, overbearing Helen's senses in this mixture of smells that were so characteristically him , igniting her insides with need so suddenly her knees weakened with the force of it, up to the point she had to reach out for a place to hold onto, trembling and deliciously vulnerable all of sudden. Her hand to his waist to pull him in, invitingly, mirroring his first warm touch at the base of her neck, all but burning the skin underneath, and the coaxing grip at her waist to bring her closer that followed, seemingly weighing on her insides as the only anchor in the entirety of this new, dizzying undiscovered world of theirs.


their noses brushing together, Max descending and Helen rising on her tiptoes to meet him halfway as they pressed together, heartbeats and rapid breathing combined, competing and rising gradually as their mouths grew closer and then apart, teasingly at first and then hunting for one another, following this dance guided by their touches, their anticipation and desire translated without any words needed, finally.

Finally, Max, there within her reach. Leaning to kiss her lips.

When he did, Helen pulled the door to the outside shut, and it all went dark behind her closed lids.

She allowed herself to feel and be felt. Allowed her hands to wander, scraping across Max's beard and cheekbones to entwine through his hair. Allowed herself to be pressed against the nearest wall, shivering and sighing her approval into his mouth, digging her nails into his neck and back while whispering his name as his kisses trailed down her pulse and collarbone, his handprints burning her sides down to her hips through the fabric of her dress as he brought her impossibly closer, mouth drifting to her ear.

"I should've never walked away." He breathed, knuckles brushing along her jaw as he pulled back minimally to look at her. Still nose to nose, their lips nearly brushing as Helen blinked up at him, holding her breath.

"What made you come back?" She searched his face for any resemblance of doubt, still partially fearing he'd regret this even when they stood so close to having it all, all of the above , right there and then.

She'd gotten used to the trepidation that came with loving him quietly, after all.

"Back at the elevator, what I told you… I actually believed I felt relieved for a while . " Max shook his head, closed his eyes, exhaling deeply. "But once I left, standing there on the street still thinking about your eyes, I-I could only feel lost , Helen. Having the ring didn't feel any different than not having it, except for the excuse it meant, except for the reminder of the past and everything else I felt like hanging onto so desperately… and for what? My only reasons were fears, and it's past time I let go of using them to keep us at bay."

He showed her the hand that cradled her face a second ago, now noticeable bare and shaking, held there in the space between them like a statement, such a strange sight that Helen had to take it between her own trembling fingers and run her thumb over the mark the absent ring left behind, smiling faintly.

Max hesitated, eyes shining sheepishly. "If you'll still have me."

Bubbling with a sudden wave of joy, Helen laughed, leaning in to brush her lips to his, and their joined hands to her pounding heart "I opened the door, didn't I? Even after the elevator incident."

"Yeah." Max wrinkled his nose adorably. "Unfortunately my default settings seem stuck on stupid lately." He lowered his tone, whispering against the corner of her mouth. "Sorry I didn't have something better… something unforgettable to say to you. The list only grew when you left, so many things I need to say, account for, that I just-"

"I want to hear them all." Helen caressed the side of his face reassuringly. "Especially after the teaser you delivered through voicemail. I mean, that was… surprisingly smooth."

"Ouch." Max chuckled hotly into the crook of her neck, pulling back in mock offense. ”I'd protest, but with my history, It's probably wiser to just take whatever I can. So tell me," He leaned in, grinning positively wickedly. " just how smooth am I being right now, let's say, on a scale of one to ten?"

Helen pursed her lips, pretending to consider. "Well you did lose some points for the first disastrous half of the night, but the awkward goodnight bit was actually pretty adorable in a dorky sort of way, so pitch a few points back in for that. Hmm, add this last-minute performance and I'd say you're coming off on the winning side by a slim advantage, for the most part.” She side-eyed him playfully. "Unless, you know, your phone rings right now and for whatever reason you have to leave."

“A-ha.” He wiggled his eyebrows smugly. "Bonus points for me, 'cause I actually thought of that. It is currently silent, so I might have to check my messages sporadically through the night for some Luna updates.”

"Oh, so that means you've decided on staying the night, then." Helen quirked an eyebrow teasingly, narrowing her eyes at him.

"As long as it comes off smoothly, hell yeah, I am planning to.” Max grinned shamelessly, his body all but caging her as he had both hands now on the wall by her shoulders, his eyes never seeming to fully drift away from her mouth as if to further endorse the idea.

"You're really on a roll with this sleek attitude tonight. Can't say I dislike it.” Helen threw her head back, exposing her neck and knowing what it did to him by the way his hips shifted slightly, by the groan at the back of his throat that had her grasping for the lapels of his coat almost aggressively in a second, pulling him in for a messy kiss that was all teeth and tongue, famished.

"Of course, you can stay." She murmured against his lips with a sigh, all but done with all the talking now that she knew he wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. Between the frantic kissing that followed the statement, she pulled at the sides of his coat a little desperately, struggling with it. " This must come off first though." 

"Yes ma'am.” 

Max barely broke contact before the piece of clothing fell to the floor, and soon Helen's fingers were in action, unbuttoning his shirt from bottom to middle so that when his hand slid a trail of goosebumps up her thigh and brought it around his hip as it swayed, grinding hard , she'd already scathed her nails across his ribs and abdomen, relishing in the moan he mouthed warmly against her collarbone.

"Can I still sound smooth while asking for bedroom directions?" He inquired playfully, except it sounded downright lascivious with his hand palming her breast and his teeth scraping the skin below her jaw, his shirt falling mercifully to the ground once she managed to work those couple buttons through the brain fog thoroughly clouding her response.

"Apparently." She gasped, finally embracing him skin to skin, feeling the way his muscles tensed underneath her touch, the way his stomach rippled against her belly as her mouth and teeth retributed his favors only fleetingly, for before she could properly skyrocket the rhythm of his thrusts he had her off her feet, legs around his hips and on the move towards the stairs.

"Where to?" Max grunted urgently, climbing the steps while somehow still kissing her, half stumbling a couple of times on their way up, even their breathless laugher punctuated by moans and sighs.

"Second door to the left. Can't miss it."

And he didn't. His thighs hit the mattress with her straddling his lap, the door left ajar on their way in providing the only lighting in the room. Once they finally got there, their rhythm seemed to slow down, the burning of a growing flame. Helen found Max's laugh lines exploratorily with her fingertips, suddenly met by a strange wave of awe, as many emotions blossomed at the same time her vision blurred, upon the absolutely precious sparkle glinting inside the blue of his eyes when he smiled, just for her, her fingers ghosting across the map written all over his face.

"I like them." She whispered secretly, feeling just a bit silly.

"I don't." He squinted, and she laughed.

"I do like that they make you smile, though." His thumb ran over her lips, more feeling the shape they took than really seeing in the dim light. "Truly radiant, every single time."

Helen rolled her eyes through a faint blush, half glad he might not catch either. "And yet, got mercilessly bullied thanks to it through middle school."

Max frowned. "What the actual fuck. Were they blind?"

"Just asshole kids."

"Damn right they were." He cupped her face, smooched her on the lips repeatedly until she was giggling again, then pulled back and shook his head, seeming honestly puzzled. "Who the hell can resist this?"

Helen laughed harder, amused by his cheesiness. "Not everyone's like you, Max."

"Not everyone is this lucky, you mean."

She sobered up a little at that, the fire in her belly spreading faster at this sweeter side of him than she expected to. "I mean, I am positive not everyone can be about to get laid tonight at this very second all over the world, sure, but some of them must-"

"God I love that your naughty side is so much better than I imagined already." It was Max's turn to smile, though his eyes turned quickly darker and his fingers found the zipper at the back of her dress just as aptly, slowly pulling it down.

"Well, I was pretty straightforward about fantasizing." Helen wrapped her arms around his neck, playing with his hair a little as he kissed her shoulder openly smirking, shivering once her back was exposed to the cold air.

"Ah yes, for the purpose of torturing me? I remember that."

He peeled the dress off her shoulders slowly, leaving it to pool around her hips while his eyes drank into the sight of her exposed shoulders and belly almost reverently, his fingertips ghosting over her ribs on both sides excruciatingly, barely touching as if to torture her a little in return. 

"Not fair." She complained to his ear when trying to press her chest to his lead to his hands finally touching her bare skin fully, only to keep her from actually doing it mid-act.

"I need this off first." Max explained, reaching for the clasp of her simple black lingerie and undoing it, his chest rising twice as rapidly once she was bare except for her panties, almost immediately pulling herself closer until her breasts were pressed against his chest, their heartbeats seemingly nearly touching through bone, skin, and breath. Helen found herself hugging him, his arms embracing her without hesitation in return, her chin resting to his shoulder and his lips mouthing whispered words by her skin.

"I missed this."

"Pretty sure we've never done anything like this before." She smiled a little, loving how the amused sound he made at the back of his throat played directly by her ear.

"I meant the hugging, but yeah, now that I know what it feels like I'll probably miss this constantly in the foreseeing future too."

"Shouldn't hurt to find some new things to miss, then." Helen whispered, pulling back a little to guide him slightly until his back met the mattress as well.

They were still half hugging, her laying on top and him with his hands sprawled at the middle of her back, just looking at each other for a few seconds, leisurely kissing, until the touches gradually grew heavier, faster, marking their handprints all over each other. Helen barely registered maneuvering her hips to get rid of both dress and panties, nor Max doing the same with his jeans and underwear, such was the haste in which they responded to every loss of skin to skin contact, thrusting towards one another, reaching out and crashing together, over and over again.

The first time she reached down and touched him, Helen witnessed what Max looked like completely on the edge, with his muscles tensioning, his fingers clawing around her hips possessively, his mouth closing over her breast just hard enough to leave a mark in response before he threw his head back to look at her, sighing her name in half surprise, his pupils huge as she drove him a little bit mad for a second. Until he rolled them over in return, looming on top of her bearing the hint of an absolutely wicked smile she couldn't help but mirror. They watched together as his hand slid down her belly, as she sucked into a breathless gasp, pressing herself up against his palm feeling surprisingly delighted in how much it turned her on to rile him up like that – until his fingers were inside of her, that's it, until his mouth found a nipple and he returned the favor expertly, blowing off her conscious thoughts for what felt like an eternity, a fantasy they both got lost into gladly, with more than just a hint of desperation.

By the time he moved into her, Helen's words had already lost all sense. His name, the only coherent sound she could muster amidst their joined painting; a plea Max echoed in equal, breathless relief, calling for her with every touch, every thrust, every time everything felt too much, as they chased each other around the myriad of dizzying sensations building up, knowing nothing beyond one another's presence. Helen's lids fluttered open and closed in frenzy, only focusing once Max's face hovered in focus above hers, the sparse lighting in the room playing across one side of his face intensely, somewhat highlighting his features otherworldly as he moved, watching her watch him with the same amount of fascination, never looking away up until the point they truly lost themselves, crossing over the edge in lightheaded succession, coming undone before each other's eyes.

They dozed briefly afterward, Helen giving in first with her face snuggled in the space between his neck and shoulder, his hand drawing lazy patterns along her side luring her into a much needed, dreamless sleep. Max must've followed her lead soon enough, for when she woke up sometime later, it was to find him still snoring softly, his features peaceful and relaxed in a way she rarely saw him awake. She watched him absorbed, propped in one elbow, more than a little curious about the hint of a smile playing on his lips as his eyes moved slightly behind his lids, until finally, he woke up, blinking adorably disoriented for a second there.

"Hey." He smiled through a playful frown, hand automatically rubbing her back. "Please tell me you weren't counting my many age lines while I slept."

"Of course not." She pecked him on the lips, patting his cheek. "Only your white hairs."

"You're funny, and I'm definitely not even a little bit hurt by that."

"Hey, never said I disliked them. The scruffy look is a surprising turn-on, you know."

"I can work with that." Max grinned, pulling her a little bit closer, watching her face intently. "You still look like you could use some sleep, did I wake you up?"

"Eh." Helen shrugged, stroking his beard absently. "While the snoring definitely didn't help-"

"Excuse me, I do not snore."

She squinted at him. "You kinda do."

"Everyone does that. It's called heavy breathing-"

"Anyway," She rolled her eyes at him. " I wouldn't be able to rest any longer. Probably my inner workaholic keeping me from passing out for 17 hours straight like I wanted to ever since I stepped out of that damn plane, with the insane amount of work I have piling up till tomorrow when I'm back." 

"Good thing your boss is right here, ready to take any requests for a day off in case you need, let's say, some thoroughly resting in bed for a night or two. Word's out he can be very understanding when asked nicely."

Helen laughed dryly. "My boss may be willing to sacrifice any chances of resting through the rest of the week when I'd be forced to do absolutely nothing but work all along as a consequence, but I think I'll pass." She kissed the cute pout on his lips. "I'm open to resting every free night in between, plus my weekend is pretty much off though, so…"

"Does this include you also being open for some company every coffee and lunch break on a daily basis, as well?" Max threw in his best puppy eyes, and Helen shook her head, wondering how the hell was she supposed to keep resisting this from now on.

"Well not if you're planning on resting, no."

"I meant innocently hanging out, woman." Max rolled his eyes as she giggled. "I'll obviously miss you, and expect me to be a little clingy 'cause I'm only human, so yeah, I'm asking for all the cheesy everyday relationship stuff, please. Also, every free night and weekend in between, absolutely."

That gave Helen a breathless, heart-pounding pause.

"So that means we're moving on relationship territory already."

"As far as I'm concerned," Max cupped her face in both hands, eyes twinkling excitedly. "we did that the minute you let me inside. I mean, I know there's still a lot left unsaid, and I intend on having all these conversations as soon as possible, but besides that… In my heart, I'm sure. Like I said, all my fears, the pointless doubting, I want to push past them. This right here," He leaned in, touched his forehead to hers. "is what matters. I understand if you're not there yet, but I need you to know that I'm fully committed. Have been , for a while, before even realizing." His hand moved to the back of her neck, sending shivers down her spine. "It also means I can wait, take this as fast as you want. Just say the word."

He paused, hesitating. Helen didn't let them hold their breath any longer than necessary.

"I just thought you'd rather move things… slower, with everything considered. I was- am fine with it, you know. I know from experience that hard doesn't even begin to describe it."

And she knew. The pain and grief she'd shown him so early in their friendship while opening up about her late fiance was something Max often caught himself thinking about in the first few, raw months after Georgia's death — when he'd sunk so far into his loss he couldn't bear to turn towards this bond even when Helen repeatedly begged him to lean on her, burden her as he so desperately wished to do, despite the stronger fear he'd drag her down in the mud with him as consequence. Risking seeing the same look she had on her face when she chose to triage their doctor-patient relationship back on the roof, the heartbreaking tones between the already blurred lines they walked around obviously weighing her down, bringing her all of the pain he'd never in a million years intend to cause ever again.

But now, there was his chance to make things different. Make things finally right.

Max smiled bittersweetly. "Like I said, you've been making everything easier for such a long time. There's a struggle, I'm not gonna lie, but it's nowhere regarding my feelings for you. There's stuff I'll need to work towards, and I might need you to be a little patient, but… I won't let it come between us. Not again, I can't."

"Then we're fine." Helen blinked away her tears, working her best radiant smile to ease his fears, cupping his own face in her hands. "Let's do this."

"We're doing this." Max chuckled, gifting her that wholesome smile that lit up his whole face, looking so over the moon she had to laugh herself, dropping her forehead to his chest as he pressed his lips to her ear. "Oh, and I'm completely, dumbly in love with you, by the way. Think I forgot to throw that in the middle of the whole speech there, but, yeah. Just to clarify."

Helen rested her chin over her hands, folded over his heart, which gave off all the telltale signs of Max's nervousness by its furious, absolutely lovable heartbeats.

"Good.” She pursed her lips. "Because I love you too, and it's apparently one of those bad cases where you fall deeper and deeper the dumber the other person is, so odds are you'll be stuck with me for good. Also, I sort of read in between the lines of your heartfelt speeches a while back."

"Nah, really? What gave me away? 'Cause I was trying to come off as politely interested at first, you know, play it cool."

"You know what, I did think it was pretty cool that you ran back to my door."

"Good. Because I one hundred percent planned that."

"Bummer. I liked it exactly because you clearly didn't plan it."

Max blinked. "Then I guess I didn't."

Helen narrowed her eyes at him. "Will all of our arguments settle as easily as that from now on?"

Immediately, Max got that fire back in his eyes. "I hope not. Always had way too much fun arguing with you. Now, I absolutely cannot wait-"

"Shut up." Helen swatted at his chest. "Though I'm obliged to agree. Partially. When you're not giving me nearly an ulcer a day, that's it."

"Sorry." Max made a face, then completely ruined the apology by trailing a finger across her collarbone mischievously.  "But we could work on the stress factor afterward…" 

"Oh yeah, first rule to a very healthy relationship."

"Well, I believe agreeing to disagree is a pretty healthy sign." Max replied, toying with one of her braids between his fingers, eyebrows arched. "Being able to maintain leveled discussions without hurting one another, as well. And if we get a little worked up, hey, a little bit of spice a day keeps the boredom away."

"It really is adorable," Helen wrinkled her nose at him, poking his cheek. "how thoroughly you think you're making your case, y'know."

"Nah, 'cmon, don't lie to me." Max caught her by surprise by flipping them over suddenly, kissing her on the tip of the nose as she broke into a giggling fit, slapping his sides in protest. "You do feel the appeal, admit. It's written in the perks of dating at work and everyone knows it. The secrecy. The stolen intimate moments." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. "We could kiss and make up afterward in your office. Oooor, in my office. I could even call you pet names secretly, before you're off to do some Dr. Sharpe badassery out there."

"Sure." Helen laughed, cupping his cute, dirty grin between her hands. She looked down, then back up at him with a raised eyebrow. "Though I really wish the pet names did the same for me that they seem to be doing for you right now."

Max shrugged shamelessly, snuggling even closer so that her legs parted further, eyes heavy on her as he leaned in to whisper in her ear. "I bet I can come up with some you might like. How about…?"

And he whispered it, hot and intimate by her ear, laughing along with her when she chuckled in response, shaking her head a solid "no". More laughter erupted within the whispers exchanged between them as Max threw in a few more attempts, until-

"Right, but how about…?"

And this time Helen – a woman old enough to have heard the same endearment enough times already from previous lovers, usually pretty unamused – actually blushed , mortified, feeling the heat spread to her neck and even the center of her chest as Max pulled back to grin down at her, triumphant. There was just something about having him say it, she realized, with that rasp in his voice that ran low through her veins till the very center of her core, that flipped the switch very unexpectedly, though not to unwelcomed sensations, which felt clear enough.

"Not bad." She cleared her throat briefly, recomposing herself. "Maybe you can use that one sometimes."

" Maybe? " Max moved his hips just minimally against hers, not even looking up at her as he busied himself with making her gasp by pressing light, feather-light kisses all over neck and chest.

"Yes. Please, do."

"Your wish is a command." He happily complied, then promptly, rolled the corny pet name out of his tongue as one would talk pure filth, pulling her hips to his roughly as soon as they started moving in response, somehow still perfectly coherent while being completely smug by the foot of her ear. "Anything else, Dr. Sharpe?"

"Yeah." Helen sighed, pulling him closer even when all there was left between their bodies was only a tiny pocket of shared breathable space, gladly drinking in his proximity, in the absolutely inspiring-to-foolishness embodiment of a man she'd quickly grown to love and ache to have within her reach. She smiled, certain that finally, he wasn't going anywhere. "Shut up and kiss me?"

Max's answer was wordless, but convict.