Set two weeks after "One False Mole and You're Dead" (Season 5, Episode 12). I just can't shake the sight of Fran's face when she catches the disappointment on Maxwell's, right after she tells him she accepted his proposal as a joke. OY.

I only own the series on DVD, not the rights…so please don't sue me! :)

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Summertime had arrived, and with it a heatwave that sapped the energy of every man, woman, and child in the city. The air lay thick with heat, a cloying and suffocating afternoon that slowed even hustling and bustling New York to a slither. Every window A/C unit and central air conditioner on the island was working overtime, with the exception of one…

What's the bloody point in being successful if I can't even get the A/C to work?! thought Maxwell, wiping a handkerchief across his damp brow for what seemed like the thousandth time this afternoon. He loosened his tie and rolled up his shirtsleeves, feeling the sheen of perspiration already gathering on his skin. He had fully intended to finally catch up on the work that had been piling up over the past two weeks; the kids were off at a friend's house taking full advantage of their indoor pool, C.C. was in Chicago attempting to woo a promising new actor for one of their productions, and Niles was busy calling every A/C repairman in the Yellow Pages. Maxwell had ensured that just about everyone had something to do outside of the house so that he could finally concentrate…only to remember why he was having such a hard time concentrating in the first place.

It was the same reason that his normally tidy desk had become overrun with manuscripts, letters, and notes about phone calls and faxes that needed to be returned…save a space at the closest left corner, roughly large enough for someone to sit. The same reason why he found himself unnerved by the mounting absences of a certain presence at the dining room table in the mornings. The same reason that relative quiet that had crept into the atmosphere of the house, a certain nasal laughter Maxwell had grown to love becoming more and more infrequent…

Get ahold of yourself, man! Maxwell removed his reading glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, irritation peaking at his weakness. You cannot jeopardize the stability of your household for your own selfish desires! An image arose unbidden in his mind: the sight of two warm brown eyes set into a beautiful and familiar face, two eyes filled with hurt and regret once again due to his own careless actions.

A heavy pit settled into Maxwell's stomach, and he sat down heavily on his green leather couch in an effort to steady himself. He hadn't intended to propose when Fran walked down the stairs two weeks ago, mourning the loss of her future in cosmetics. The sadness and pain in her voice had pierced his very soul, and that pain was doubled in himself at the knowledge that he had been the cause of it all. He had opened his mouth to say something, anything at all to bring a smile back to her face, and the proposal had tumbled out before he even knew what he was saying. Before he had the chance to regret it she had accepted, kissed Maxwell deeply and bounced away to the kitchen, no doubt to share the news with Niles. That kiss, that twinkle in her eyes that had immediately returned, that megawatt smile that lit up brighter than any Broadway marquee…Maxwell stood stunned in the foyer, making no attempt to fight the smile that had crept over his face. He found himself wanting to always be the cause of that smile, the one who put the bounce in her step. This…this is what it feels like to be ready to love again, he had thought.

That newfound peace had evaporated the instant he stepped through the swinging kitchen doors, looking for a celebratory bottle of champagne and instead finding a guarded look on Fran's face and a stiffness in her shoulders that told him something had changed in the mere minutes that they had been apart. Maxwell had made the herculean effort to laugh at Fran's lighthearted jest about Sylvia's reaction to her rejection of his proposal, but internally a numbness crept into his heart as he realized he was actually genuinely happy that she had accepted his hand in marriage.

Too late for that now, old boy.

He stood up with a heavy sigh, walking over to the intercom and jabbing at the call button a little more forcefully than was necessary.

"Niles."

Maxwell waited a few seconds for a reply, but received nothing but silence from the other end.

"Niles!"

Again, no one responded. Maxwell took a deep breath, wiped his brow yet again, and pushed the call button once more.

"NIIIILES!"

The door to the study flew open, but the person on the other side of the door was definitely not who Maxwell was expecting. In strode Miss Fine, carrying a tray with a sandwich and a pitcher of something resembling lemonade. She dropped it onto his desk with a little crash, raising both hands to her hips in indignation.

"Would you stop with the yelling already?! It's like I'm back at home with my parents and Ma is screaming at Daddy from two rooms over!" Fran quipped, wiping her hands on her denim skirt. She glanced up at him briefly, and then quickly shifted her gaze to one of the myriad posters on the wall instead.

Maxwell sighed, removing his reading glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose again in an effort to ward off the special little headache that Fran Fine always seemed to summon when she walked into his office.

"Well I wouldn't have to yell if the people who worked for me ACTUALLY WORKED! Why are you bringing in my lunch? I could have sworn that I pay Niles to do exactly this sort of thing," said Maxwell, peering into the pitcher with a wary eye. "Aren't you supposed to have the day off?"

"Niles went out to get some part from the hardware store, since the fakakte air conditioning won't work without it. You'd think that being a millionaire would bring the repairmen in no time, but what do I know?" Fran sighed with a shrug. "I, uh…I offered to help Niles while he was out; I thought you were with the kids." She continued to studiously avoid meeting his gaze, toying with the hem of her cropped floral top and heading back toward the office door.

"Miss Fine, wait!" Maxwell blurted, grabbing ahold of her wrist. She turned and looked at him expectantly, gently withdrawing her arm from his grasp.

"Did I forget something?" she asked coyly, arching a shapely brow. "Niles made the sandwiches before he left, and since it's so hot I thought the lemonade might be nice." Fran knew that Maxwell's plea had nothing to do with his lunch, but after five years of dancing around each other she had gotten pretty good at redirecting the conversation when things became too uncomfortable.

"I, er…I rather thought you might want to join me. You should enjoy the fruits of your labor, after all," Maxwell said, pouring some of the cool yellow liquid into two glasses and offering one to Fran. He almost dropped it when her fingers brushed against his, but managed to keep his composure…until he took a sip out of his own glass and felt his taste buds shriek in protest.

"Alright, alright," Fran chuckled wryly, patting Maxwell's back a little rougher than was necessary as he coughed. "Maybe I'll leave the drink mixing to Niles."

"I think that would be wise, Miss Fine," he choked out. Fran eyed him with a smirk, turning to sashay out the French doors and onto the terrace in search of cooler air.

After taking a swig of water to clear his mouth of the punishing sourness of straight lemon juice, he wiped his mouth and turned his gaze to the view outside. Fran sat perched on the table, eyes closed and her head tilted back in pleasure as the slightest of breezes whispered by. Maxwell stared openly, taking in the delicious sight of the woman he cared for: her dark curls were piled atop her head, save the few wisps framing her face and a thick coil plastered to the nape of her neck with perspiration. Fran's lithe legs were intertwined, exactly how she would cross them when she sat on the edge of his desk every time she stormed into his office and turned his day upside down. Her curvy frame always drew his attention, and despite her dressed-down attire he remained transfixed by her slight waist and the line of her hips. He felt a familiar stirring deep within, and suddenly the punishing temperature became even more unbearable.

"You know, I never liked the summer," Fran said with a sigh, fanning herself half-heartedly with her hands. "The schvitzing, the bugs…the humidity! My hair suffers for months!" She opened her eyes when no reply came, only to find that Maxwell had quietly appeared at her side. He stared at her wordlessly, reaching his hand up to slowly tuck an errant curl behind her ear. Fran's pulse quickened, and she squirmed under his gaze. Inching off of the table and nervously stepping back, she cleared her throat and rasped "I should get back to, uh…get back to what I was doing."

She turned to leave, stopping short when she felt his hand once again encircling her wrist. Fran didn't look behind her, hoping that he would let her go of his own accord. Isn't that what he always does? Let me go?

"Miss Fine, please look at me," Maxwell murmured. She refused to turn around, shaking her head and squeezing her eyes shut in an attempt to fight back the hot swell of tears she had been suppressing since she had walked through his office door. I'm not going to let him get to me, not today!

"Mister Sheffield, please…let me go," she whispered, the lump rising in her throat making it difficult to speak. Fran didn't want him to see her pain, her longing for something that clearly wasn't meant to be.

He released her hand, but Fran found herself frozen in place. A warm breath tickled the nape of her neck, followed by the sensation of Maxwell's fingers running across her slick skin. He tucked another errant tendril of hair into the bundle just above, letting his fingers brush the column of her throat once more before he lifted them away. She finally turned to face him, her heart jumping at the proximity of his body to her own, but couldn't lift her eyes to meet his. His arms snaked around her waist, gently pulling her even closer to him, and suddenly the air sizzled with an entirely new heat.

"Miss Fine…look at me. Please," Maxwell implored, feeling himself on the point of begging. Have I finally lost her? She won't even look at me now? He felt a wave of relief as she finally tilted her head upward to look at him, a wave that quickly dissipated when he saw the tears filling her eyes. They held each other's gaze for what seemed like a century, the humid air heavy with the weight of everything they hadn't said to each other. Fran placed a hand on his chest, and Maxwell felt the imprint of her delicate fingers burned onto his skin like a brand as she pushed him away, breaking their embrace and leaving his arms feeling strangely cold despite the muggy air swimming around them.

"I just can't do this anymore," she choked out. Fran hugged herself as she took a few steps back, tears spilling from her lashes as she let out a shaky breath. Maxwell opened his mouth to speak, and when nothing came out his heart broke all over again as he watched her turn on her heel and run out the door.