Title: The Perfect Present

Author: Heavenli24

Pairings/Couples/Category: M/L


Disclaimer: The characters of "Roswell" belong to Jason Katims, Melinda Metz, WB, and UPN. They are not mine and no infringement is intended.

Summary: It's Max Evans' 18th birthday and he's having a party to celebrate. Will tonight be the night he plucks up the courage to admit his feelings to the girl of his dreams?

Max Evans grinned to himself as he pulled on his faded denim jacket over his plain, dark T-shirt and checked his appearance in the mirror. It was finally here; his eighteenth birthday, something he had been looking forward to for years. As of today he was officially an adult, he didn't have to answer to anyone anymore and he could live his life exactly the way he wanted to.

"Hey, Max, are you ready yet?" called Diane Evans from the bottom of the stairs. "We're all waiting for you."

"Yeah, Mom, I'm just coming," he called back as he ran a hand through his hair, spiking it up just the way he liked it, and then headed out of his room.

Once downstairs, he entered the kitchen and slid into his usual chair. In front of him on the table was a collection of cards and small wrapped gifts.

"Happy Birthday, darling," smiled his mom as she ruffled his hair and pressed a kiss to his cheek. Max immediately reached up and returned his hair to its original state, whilst giving his mom a mock glare.

"Thanks, Mom," he said in a tone that was half-sarcastic, half-thankful.

"Happy Birthday, Max," piped up his sister, Isabel from across the table. "Now you've finally made it to 18, let's just hope your hormones follow suit and you can start acting like an adult."

Max stuck out his tongue at her, but refrained from voicing the sarcastic retort that would usually accompany one of her jibes. It was his birthday and he didn't want his mom pissed off at him for ruining the happy mood. Isabel was two years older than him and loved to constantly rub that fact in his face. Ordinarily, she wouldn't be around to torment him, since she was a sophomore at the University of Phoenix in Arizona, but she had driven back especially because it was his eighteenth birthday today. At least, that's what his mom had told him; however, Max knew better. Isabel was more likely to have come home to spend some time with her boyfriend, Alex Whitman, who was a student at the University of Eastern New Mexico, than to wish him a happy birthday.

"Now, now, Isabel," Philip Evans, Max and Isabel's father scolded, as he appeared in the kitchen doorway, apparently just about to leave for work. "Don't torment your brother on his birthday." Isabel just sent Max a Look as their father continued, "Happy Birthday, son. How does it feel to be eighteen?"

"Thanks, Dad," smiled Max. "It feels great so far. But you do know that you're not allowed to boss me around anymore, don't you? I'm an adult now."

"Yeah, right," coughed Isabel as she poured milk onto her cereal.

"Shut up, Izzy," shot back Max, sending her a scathing glare.

"Hey, how about you open your presents now, Max?" cut in Diane quickly.

He smiled up at his mom innocently and reached for the first package.

Max grinned as he entered the West Roswell High parking lot and pulled his jeep into his usual space. He could already see a group of his friends standing around outside the main entrance, chatting leisurely. However, their conversation was cut off when his fellow basketball teammate, Kyle Valenti spotted him as he was approaching the group.

"Evans, my man!" called Kyle, reaching up for a high five when Max reached him. "Birthday greetings from us all."

"Thanks, Kyle," grinned Max. "Hey guys."

A chorus of 'hey, man' and 'Happy Birthday, Max' rang out among the small group.

"So, what's the plan for tonight?" questioned his best friend, Michael Guerin, slinging one arm over Max's shoulder. "Lots of booze and women, I hope."

Max laughed, "The party's at my house, not a strip club, remember, Michael? But, I'm sure there'll be plenty of both anyway."

"Sweet," his friend nodded in approval, giving Kyle a high-five.

The guys continued to laugh and joke as they made their way inside the school building. Birthday wishes greeted Max from all sides as he walked towards his locker and he revelled in the attention, giving the guys high-fives and grinning almost suggestively at the girls. He smiled indulgently as he turned the corner leading to his locker, leaving a gaggle of girls behind him. He loved being popular and the centre of attention. It could be really satisfying knowing that he was liked and even admired by a large proportion of the student body.

"Hey, Max. Happy birthday," called a new voice as he opened his locker and began pulling out the relevant books for the day's classes.

"Thanks, Liz," he smiled, closing the locker door and turning to face the girl who occupied the locker next to his.

The petite brunette was busy organising her own books, a small frown appearing on her face as she searched for something. The frown became a triumphant smile, as she seemed to find what she was looking for.

"Hey, you're coming to my party tonight, right?" asked Max casually as Liz balanced the small pile of books in the cradle of her arm and closed her locker.

She looked up at him with a smile, "Sure, I'll be there, Max. Seven-thirty, right?"

"Yeah, seven-thirty," replied Max with a nod of his head. He looked up as the second – and final – bell rang, indicating that first period was starting. "Look, I gotta get to class now, but I'll see you later, okay?"

"Sure, Max," said Liz, still smiling gently. "Hope you have a great day."

"I will, thanks," he smiled, as he shifted his books to the other hand and moved past her and towards his first class. "Bye."

Liz Parker turned to watch Max's retreating form as he strolled down the hallway and turned the corner towards his Geometry class. Then she shook her head and rolled her eyes at herself. God, she knew Max Evans' schedule off by heart; she was so pathetic.

With a sigh, she began walking to her own first period class. Logically, she knew that the only thing she and Max Evans had in common was the location of their lockers. He seemed to have such a full social life and fun-loving attitude that she didn't imagine he spent much time reflecting on the brief conversations he shared with her, the slightly more reserved and definitely less outgoing girl who utilised the locker beside his.

After all, there were plenty of other girls at West Roswell High, girls who were taller, curvier, less shy and more fun than she was. And all of them were just as head-over-heels for Max as she was. Not to mention braver, since they at least had the guts to admit to their friends, and even to him, how much they liked him. But in spite of the fact that she'd rather die than confess it out loud, Liz couldn't deny the way her heart sped up and her head felt light whenever he talked to her. She couldn't help it; she was just as attracted to him as the rest of her female counterparts (and even some of the male ones) seemed to be.

And who could blame her? Max was a great guy. He was smart and funny and witty and was always smiling. Not to mention handsome as hell, with those dark, smouldering eyes, which on occasion held flecks of gold, and dark-brown, almost black hair that seemed to have a mind of its own, curling around his ears and the nape of his neck. As any girl would tell you, Max Evans was gorgeous. But the great thing about Max, Liz decided, was the fact that even though he obviously knew how cute and popular he was, he didn't let it go to his head. Instead, he always had a smile for everyone, no matter who they were or what they looked like.

Liz shook her head as she entered the classroom, anyway it wasn't like he was ever going to notice her the way she hoped he would. She was just a locker buddy to him, nothing more. She was simply someone to make small talk with as he grabbed his books in the morning and returned them at the end of the day. They barely saw each other apart from those times, apart from in English class, but even then, they sat on opposite sides of the room.

However, despite the absolute unlikelihood of Max Evans being anything more to her than a casual acquaintance, Liz couldn't help but look forward to attending his eighteenth birthday party tonight. It was bound to be fun, no matter what happened.

Max let out a sigh of relief as he turned the corner, leading him further away from Liz Parker. It had taken almost every ounce of his willpower not to say anything stupid in front of her just now. He didn't know what it was about Liz Parker that fascinated him so much. She wasn't all that different from any other girl at West Roswell: she was pretty, with long, dark, shiny hair, and big chocolate eyes that you could just drown in… okay, so maybe she was a little different from all the other girls; alright, a lot different, in fact. She wasn't particularly tall, or blonde, or overly skinny. In fact, she was petite, yet curvy in all the right places… and absolutely gorgeous.

God, he was in trouble.

He and Liz Parker had occupied adjacent lockers for the past two years, but as much as he hated it, their friendship had never evolved into anything but casual small talk over piles of books in the hallway. If it was any other girl, Max would have had no problem with inviting her to become friends, maybe even flirt with her until she relaxed and laughed with him, but Liz Parker was different.

She seemed to have this air about her that told him she was either unavailable or uninterested and it was something that made him instinctively back off. It wasn't that she was cold or unfriendly or standoffish, it was just that he got the feeling from her that she didn't want his attention… or anyone else's for that matter. It seemed that she was perfectly happy just being single, with a group of close friends to keep her company. Max valued the small amount of time he got to spend chatting with her every day and was unwilling to jeopardise that for the sake of his own desires, thereby making her feel uncomfortable in the process.

Max shook his head as he continued on down the corridor towards his Geometry class. What was the point of obsessing over things that could never be? There was no way in hell he stood a chance with Liz Parker. Especially considering that in just a few months' time they would be graduating and heading off to college.

At least she had accepted the invite to his party tonight. If he couldn't date Liz, then he might as well make the most of being in her company, even if he was going to have to share that company with half the senior class.

"So, what are you going to wear tonight?" asked Maria Deluca, Liz's best friend, as the two girls picked up their trays and made their way out of the cafeteria, towards the tables outside.

"God, I have no idea yet," replied Liz, as she set her tray down on their usual table, the one furthest from the cafeteria – any way to try to escape the awful smell of mass-produced high school food. "What about you?"

Maria smirked, "What makes you so sure I'm even going to Max Evans' 18th?"

"Well, besides the fact that in all the time I've known you, you've never turned down a party invite, you know perfectly well that a certain basketball player named Michael Guerin," said Liz, nodding towards the table in the centre of the courtyard area, where Michael was messing around with his fellow team-mates, "will most definitely be there and I don't think you're about to miss out on that opportunity."

Maria's gaze landed on the other table, hungrily taking in the appearance of the boy in question, as if she'd been trying desperately not to look in that direction, but now that she was apparently allowed to, she couldn't tear her eyes away. Liz followed her gaze, a small chuckle escaping her lips when she noticed Michael shooting a quick glance in their direction and then doing a quick double take when he saw her friend.

Liz looked to Maria once more, to see if she'd noticed the look Michael had given her, but her eyes were focused somewhere else.

"But, enough about me," said Maria, with a teasing tone, "when are you going to do something about your not-so-little crush on Mr. Congeniality over there? You know, tonight would be the perfect opportunity to go for it," she nodded to where Max Evans was appearing out of the cafeteria, greeting just about everyone he saw with a nod and a smile as he made his way towards his friends.

Liz watched him for a moment, her face lighting up a little as she took in his flawless, handsome features. From across the courtyard, his gaze met hers briefly and he gave a grin and a small wave. Liz smiled back and lifted her hand in acknowledgement, as Maria gave her a smirk and a nudge. However, Liz's good mood was ruined when she saw two blonde sophomores come up to him, batting their eyelids and flirting for New Mexico. The smile left her face as Max gave them both an easy grin and began flirting back.

"That's why, Maria," Liz replied eventually, nodding towards the girls surrounding Max. "The guy is a class-A flirt. Like I'd ever stand a chance when he could have any girl he wanted and none of them would say no if he asked. And besides, isn't he supposed to be dating his lab partner?"

"But, Liz, he smiled at you just now. And he waved," reminded Maria. "It's not like you're invisible to him or anything."

"Just face it, Maria; it's never gonna happen," sighed Liz, as she tore her gaze from the scene in front of her and began eating.

"Not if I have anything to do with it," muttered Maria under her breath so Liz couldn't hear. Then louder, she announced, "Okay, babe, here's the plan for tonight. I'm coming round to yours at five-thirty and we're gonna find something amazing for you to wear."

"Maria, I don't need to you dress me," Liz rolled her eyes, "I can do that perfectly well by myself."

"I don't care," grinned her best friend. "I'm coming over, whether you like it or not."

Liz simply let out a sigh as she tried to stomach whatever the mushy stuff on her plate was. Once Maria Deluca got an idea into her head, there was no reasoning with her.

Max rolled his eyes as he tried to concentrate on what the teacher was saying at the front of the class. He normally liked English and found it interesting, but today, he couldn't care less about sentence structure, or how to create atmosphere in a piece of writing. It was his birthday, for God's sake. It should be illegal to go to class on your birthday.

But that wasn't the only thing distracting him. He was very aware of the fact that Liz Parker herself was sitting only a few feet away from him on the other side of the room. What was even worse was that she always sat a couple of rows behind his, so it was almost impossible to look round at her without her knowing it. And he didn't want her to know it. It was already hard enough being infatuated with a girl who obviously didn't want his attentions, without making a fool of himself and seeing the look of surprise mixed with horror that was bound to appear on her face if she caught him staring at her.

So instead, he'd been forced to keep his eyes forward for the entire semester. The only time he would ever chance a look in her direction was at the end of class, when he stood up and could face any direction he wanted. But even then, she barely acknowledged that he was there in the room with her. Instead, at the end of every class, she would quickly gather up her books and head straight for the door.

One thing did have Max smiling today though. Rather than listening to their English teacher drone on about sentence subjects, predicates and clauses, he was reliving that moment in the courtyard at lunch today, when he noticed Liz looking in his direction from where she sat eating lunch with her friend Maria.

Although he knew that it was much more likely that she and Maria were watching and discussing Michael Guerin than saying anything about him – during one of their casual locker chats before first period, Liz had confessed that Maria had a thing for his friend – he couldn't help giving her a grin and a quick wave as their eyes met. His heart pretty much leapt and he had to use all his strength not to punch the air happily when she returned the smile and even lifted her hand in greeting.

It had been in that moment, that Max found himself really looking forward to his party that night. If Liz was going to be there, maybe he would have a chance to talk to her properly, instead of the casual small talk they usually engaged in. That was if he didn't get dragged into playing stupid drinking games with the guys and missed his chance.

"Now, that outfit is totally perfect for you, Lizzie," stated Maria happily as Liz tentatively emerged from her en suite bathroom. "You are going to knock Max Evans' socks off tonight… and if you're luckily, maybe you'll knock the rest of his clothes off too!"

"Maria!" exclaimed Liz, her eyes widening in mock outrage. "Getting into Max Evans' pants tonight is the furthest thing from my mind."

Maria simply crossed her arms, raised an eyebrow and smirked at her so obviously besotted best friend until Liz rolled her eyes in defeat and sighed.

"Okay, so maybe it's not, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to, alright?" she said, sending Maria a warning glare before turning to face the mirror. "God, do you really think I should wear this?"

"Definitely," grinned Maria. "You look hot."

Liz looked herself up and down unsurely. Although she had to admit that she did look at least somewhat attractive, she wasn't sure if maybe it was a bit too dressy for her. Her tastes usually ran to tailored jeans and pretty tops, not dresses and heels; however, the more Liz stared at herself in the mirror, the more she grew to like what Maria had decided on.

The dress somehow managed to be casual and sexy both at the same time. It was mostly a cream colour, reaching to about six inches above her knees, complemented by a swirling design of black flowers and was made of a thin stretchy material that clung to her waist and hips, but then flared out slightly at the bottom. The capped sleeves barely brushed her shoulders and the V-shaped neckline, outlined with black, dipped almost dangerously low between her breasts, but at the same time, somehow managed not to look slutty. The dress was finished off by an empire waist marked by a thick ribbon of black that tied at the back. On the hanger, the dress had just looked plain, but on Liz it looked great and coupled with black, heeled sandals, she looked almost… beautiful.

A slow grin spread across Liz's face as she turned towards Maria.

"Yeah, I guess I kinda do," she replied with a chuckle, smoothing out non-existent wrinkles in the material. "Maria, do you really think I should say something to Max tonight? You know, that I like him?"

"I say go for it, girlfriend," replied Maria with a grin. "I mean, what have you got to lose?"

"How about my pride and my self respect?" returned Liz worriedly. "God, what if I tell him and then he laughs in my face, what then? I'd still have to see him at school every day. Plus, have you seen him and that girl Katie together? They sure look like they're a couple, despite the fact that Max never mentions her."

"All I'm saying is that you'll never know if you don't try," said Maria. "What if he feels the same way?"

"Yeah," scoffed Liz, "like that's gonna happen."

As the two of them continued to get ready for the party, Liz's self-confidence began to take a nosedive. There was no way she could tell Max that she liked him. No way. She was just gonna have to live with the fact that she was attracted to someone who did not return those feelings.

It was 7:45 pm and the party was… well, not quite in full swing, but it was getting close. Max was busy making the usual rounds, saying hi to the newcomers and passing out drinks. Luckily, Isabel was spending the night at Alex's apartment across town, so he didn't have to worry about her barging in and making a scene. His parents had graciously agreed to leave him to it for the night and had driven over to Las Cruces to visit his aunt and uncle. Max was grateful that they obviously trusted him enough to host a party, but he knew that their real reason for agreeing so quickly was that they didn't fancy sharing their house with dozens of high school seniors.

"Great party, Max," called one of the guys from his Biology class as he walked passed.

"Thanks, man," replied Max with a grin, before moving through the living room and out to the foyer.

He took a quick glance at his watch. 7:50 pm. Where was Liz? He hadn't seen her arrive yet. She had said 7:30 when they'd spoken earlier that morning and he knew she was often punctual. So where was she? Had she decided not to come? Max felt some of his happiness fade at that thought. He'd been looking forward to seeing her tonight since she'd confirmed she was coming. Had something happened to her?

"Hey, man," said Kyle from behind him, as he slung an arm over his shoulder. "Cool party, dude."

Max frowned, shaking his head and berating himself for dwelling on thoughts of Liz. Instead, he smiled and shrugged Kyle's arm off his shoulder.

"Are you drunk already, man?" he questioned his friend.

"Nah, I haven't had not nearly enough to be drunk," muttered Kyle, taking a swig of beer.

Max rolled his eyes. Kyle was using double negatives already – not a good sign, especially since the party had only been going for twenty minutes.

"Hey, why don't you have a drink yet?" said Kyle suddenly, pushing him in the direction of the kitchen. "You're the birthday boy. You have to have a drink in your hands at all times. It's like a rule or something."

Max allowed himself to be dragged into the kitchen, where a sizable crowd was beginning to gather around the island in the centre of the room. Coincidentally, that was also where the alcohol was. He reached in and grabbed a couple of beers, one for now, one for later. Despite opinions to the contrary, Max wasn't a big drinker; at least, not anymore.

When he was fourteen and a freshman, he and Michael had experimented with cigarettes and Michael's father's liquor cabinet a couple of times and on one particular occasion, had gotten very, very drunk on whiskey. After waking up to find the room spinning and that he was unable to move without either throwing up or collapsing from the pain in his head, he pretty much swore off getting drunk again.

However, just like most people, who say they're never drinking again when they wake up with a hangover, but then go right back out there and do it again, Max had a few relapses over the next couple of years. But, a particularly gruesome night and subsequent hangover at the beginning of senior year had pretty much put him off for life and he no longer felt the need to get drunk just for the sake of it.

As he moved to the other counter to reach for a handful of chips, Max jumped as he felt a hand on his butt.

"What the –?" he questioned in surprise as he turned around… to find Katie Harris, his Biology lab partner grinning up at him mischievously.

"Happy Birthday, Max," she told him.

"Shit, Katie, you scared me," he said, leaning forward to give her a quick hug, "but thanks."

Max couldn't deny that Katie was a great girl. They had been lab partners in both their Biology and Chemistry classes since sophomore year and they'd become good friends in that time. In fact, they'd spent so much time together over the last few years, that Katie was the only person he'd ever felt comfortable enough with to confess his growing feelings for Liz Parker to.

"So, have you talked to her yet?" she questioned, giving his butt a light squeeze before turning her head slightly and removing her hand.

"No, she's not here… yet," he replied, glancing towards the kitchen door… and freezing in his tracks.

There was Liz, standing in the doorway, looking completely and utterly gorgeous… and looking right at him, an unreadable expression on her face. His mouth dropped open as he stared openly at her… until Katie reached up and pushed it closed. He couldn't do anything but watch as she made her way towards him.

"Hey, Max, great party," smiled Liz, as she reached him. "Hi Katie," she nodded to his companion.

"Liz, glad you could make it," managed Max, as he got over the shock of seeing her dressed like… that. "Would you like a drink?" he asked, holding out his second beer.

"Sure," she smiled, taking it from him. "Thanks."

"So, um," Max struggled to think of something else to say. "Did you come here with Maria?"

"Yeah, I did," replied Liz, looking around the kitchen. "Actually, I said I'd get her a drink, but I don't know where she went. I should probably grab another beer and go find her."

"Oh, okay," said Max, a little disappointedly.

"See you later, Max," smiled Liz, with a little wave as she reached for another bottle whilst there was a free space in front of the island, and then made her way out of the kitchen leaving Max staring after her hungrily.

He was so busy drinking her in that he barely heard Katie's exasperated sigh and "Nice going, Max," from beside him.

As soon as she'd left the kitchen, Liz let the smile drop from her face as she exhaled heavily. She wasn't stupid; she'd seen how close Max and his lab partner were standing and she'd seen how Katie's hand squeezed his butt just as she entered the room. Honestly, it had taken every ounce of strength she'd had to plaster a smile on her face and walk over to greet them. Suddenly, the evening wasn't looking up anymore. All she wanted was to find her friends and forget she'd ever entertained the idea of being with Max Evans.

She found Maria standing by the fireplace in the Evans' living room, chatting to a guy Liz recognised from Trigonometry. However, her friend's attention was on anything but the conversation. Maria was rather blatantly staring at Michael Guerin, who was seated on the couch, beer in hand engaged in conversation with two cheerleaders. Although Maria couldn't see it, it didn't take long for Liz to realise that every time Maria averted her gaze and attempted to concentrate on what Trigonometry guy was saying, Michael would return the gaze. Liz rolled her eyes as she approached her and handed her the beer. She would get Michael and Maria talking by the end of the night if it was the last thing she did.

Liz spent the next couple of hours mingling with friends and occasionally getting up to dance with Maria. She barely saw Max, except for a couple of instances where he would come by and start chatting to the group she was also engaged in conversation with. However, Liz was determined not to let the fact that he obviously had a girlfriend, get in the way of her enjoyment of the party. Instead, she focused her attentions on trying to persuade Maria to ask Michael to dance. After several unsuccessful attempts, she was just about ready to give up, when she felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to see Michael, who asked if he could cut in and drag Maria out onto the dance floor. In response, her friend's jaw dropped and she had trouble forming words, so Liz gave her a little shove towards Michael and mouthed 'go for it'.

Liz watched with a grin as the two of them came together, placing their arms around each other awkwardly, before eventually relaxing and beginning to sway to the music. She continued to watch them for a few more minutes, until she belatedly realised that she looked a little like a lemon standing all alone by the window, watching other people dance, so she headed towards the kitchen for a drink and maybe something to eat.

Finding the kitchen rather stuffy and extremely full, Liz simply grabbed a beer and a handful of chips and then pushed her way through the crowd towards the back door located at the end of the room. As soon as she pushed the door closed behind her, she sucked in a lungful of clean, fresh night air. It was cool outside compared to the house, but given that it was late March in southeastern New Mexico, the air was warm enough not to need a jacket.

Beer in one hand and chips in the other, Liz walked over to the wooden bench located on the Evans' backyard patio and took a seat. She closed her eyes and let out a slightly relieved sigh, thankful to be away from the loud music and the stench of alcohol mixed with sweat. She leaned back against the back of the bench and, taking a sip of beer, tilted her head up towards the night sky.

"Nice out here, isn't it?" came a soft voice from behind her.

Liz's eyes shot open and she sat up quickly, startled by the sudden noise piercing the quiet, peaceful atmosphere. She turned to face the intruder of her thoughts, only to find Max himself standing just behind her, one hand resting on the wood beside her whilst the other held a bottle identical to hers.

"Max, hey," said Liz almost breathlessly, as she tried to get over the shock of him appearing so suddenly and catching her off guard.

"Hi again, Liz," he murmured, looking down at her with a smile. "You mind if I join you? It was getting too crowded in there," he nodded towards the house.

"Sure," she replied, shifting slightly to make more room for him.

"Thanks," he said as he rounded the bench and took a seat next to her.

Liz just watched him curiously as he made himself at home on the wooden seat, relaxing back so he too could look up at the sky.

"What?" he questioned, looking amused when he caught Liz watching him intently.

"Nothing," she said quickly, shaking her head to clear it, before relaxing again and resuming her previous position.

They sat together in a fairly comfortable silence, both gazing up at the stars, until Max switched his beer to the other hand and subsequently brushed his elbow against Liz's arm as he lifted it to take a sip. Just like that, the atmosphere seemed to change and Liz shifted to sit up properly. She couldn't get the feeling of his skin touching hers out of her head and her heart involuntarily began to race as Max also shifted to look at her rather than the stars.

Max couldn't believe his luck when, after he'd given up on finding Liz amongst the dozens of people inside and had slipped outside for a breather, he discovered none other than the girl he was looking for seated on the patio bench, gazing up at the stars. For a moment, he just let himself take her in, from the way her shiny, dark hair, cascaded down the back of the bench, loose and wavy, to the way her dress hugged her body in all the right places, at least from what he could see between the wooden slats.

But then, he couldn't take it any longer and he had to speak up. It was most likely now or never if he ever wanted to get close to Liz Parker. He took a couple of steps towards her and when she didn't acknowledge his presence, he became bolder and moved forward to rest his hand on the seat back, next to her head. He racked his brains for something to say to break the silence, but all that came out was,

"Nice out here, isn't it?"

He cringed and berated himself for his sudden appearance when she practically jumped out of her seat with fright and then slowly turned to face him. He smiled when a relieved expression appeared on her face and she greeted him with a "Max, hey."

He let out a breath he hadn't realised he was holding before saying hello properly and then boldly asking if he could join her. He bit back a grin when she agreed, and not wanting to destroy the peacefulness she had obviously been enjoying before he'd arrived, he sank down into a similar position and lifted his head to look up. When, after a few moments, he realised that she hadn't moved, he looked over to find her gazing at him instead of the sky.

His heart did a little flip when his eyes met hers, but to cover up his reaction, he mustered up an expression of amusement as he questioned what she was doing.

"Nothing," was her quick reply, before she finally relaxed beside him and they stared up at the sky together. A quick glance towards Liz showed Max that, unlike him, she didn't seem particularly affected by his proximity. He, on the other hand, was having trouble forming a single coherent thought, and matters only got worse when he nervously shifted his bottle of beer to the other hand and then accidentally brushed her skin with his own when he took a swig.

Almost in slow motion, he watched as Liz sat up straight, the atmosphere suddenly changing between them. He followed suit, turning to face her, his eyes locking with hers. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could get a word out, she spoke first.

"Max…?" she murmured.

"Yeah?" he replied, swallowing hard, anticipating the moment when…

"Happy Birthday," she finished, looking away.

"Thanks," he said, somehow managing to maintain his composure. Happy Birthday? For a moment, he had been so sure she was about to… never mind.

"Well, I guess I'd better get back inside," she said then, getting up to leave.

Before he had time to think about what he was doing, Max grabbed her wrist and pulled her back down.

"Liz, wait," he said urgently and she looked at him in puzzlement.

"What is it, Max?"

"Um, well," he struggled over the words, the urge to just take her in his arms and kiss the living daylights out of her almost overwhelming. "It's just…" he leaned in, his lips barely a couple of inches from hers. Liz's expression was one of confusion, but he just couldn't stand it any longer. "Oh, what the hell," he muttered, throwing caution to the wind as he captured her lips with his own.

Liz couldn't think straight; her head was spinning, her heart thumping crazily in her chest as Max's soft, warm lips caressed hers. Only moments ago, she'd chickened out of admitting her feelings to him, before forcing a smile onto her face and preparing to flee the scene; and now…now all her hopes and fantasies were actually coming true.

Max Evans was kissing her!

And what a kiss it was. A tentative touching of lips at first, it had quickly escalated into something more. Much more. Max's lips were nipping and tugging at hers as if he couldn't get enough, his movements changing from soft and tender, to raw and passionate in a mere matter of seconds, leaving Liz tingling with anticipation. As they kissed, she was vaguely aware of his hands sliding up her arms and coming to rest just above her elbows. She shivered as their warmth seared into her skin.

She sucked in a sharp breath when she felt Max's tongue dart out, demanding entrance to her lips. Without a second's thought, she opened her mouth, allowing him access. Their tongues met and a quiet moan escaped Liz's lips as a rush of sensation ran through her entire body. Becoming bolder, she lifted her hands to his shoulders and then slid them up towards the base of his neck so that she could touch the soft curls that grazed his skin.

She was in heaven.

That was, until Max pulled away a few moments later, breaking the passionate embrace. Liz did not open her eyes immediately, still lost in the emotions coursing through her body, but when she finally did, she found Max staring down at her, his eyes dark.

"Liz…" he murmured, his voice throaty.

"Max?" she all but whispered, half in shock and half overwhelmed.

He shook his head, a ghost of a smile appearing on his lips, "I've wanted to do that for so long."

"What?" murmured Liz, her heart skipping a beat. She was confused, what had just happened here? Didn't he already have a girlfriend?

"I've been trying to pluck up the courage to tell you, but I couldn't do it. You just didn't seem to be interested in having a relationship and I didn't know how to tell you–"

"Tell me what?" asked Liz breathlessly.

His expression turned gentle and Liz's skin tingled beneath his hand as it slid up her arm and cupped her jaw.

"That I liked you," he confessed softly, hesitantly. "That I wanted you to be my girlfriend."

Her eyes widened. "You did… you do? But," she frowned as his words sunk in, "what about Katie?"

Now it was Max's turn to frown, "Katie? What does my lab partner have to do with this?"

"Well, she's your girlfriend, isn't she?" said Liz, speaking slightly slowly as if he hadn't understood her before.

"My…?" Max's voice trailed off in confusion an unreadable expression on his face. Liz began to feel slightly uncomfortable, until he suddenly shook his head and chuckled, "Liz, Katie's not my girlfriend. Where on earth did you get that from?"

"She's not?" Max shook his head in the negative. "But… I saw you two together earlier. Her hand was on your butt and…"

"Oh," said Max then, a look of understanding appearing on his face as he slowly shook his head again. "No, it wasn't what… she was just joking around earlier. Katie and I are just friends, good friends. There's never been anything between us."

"Oh," said Liz faintly, suddenly feeling embarrassed about having jumped to conclusions.

"What you saw earlier, when I was talking to Katie…" said Max softly, "We were actually talking about you."

"You were?" questioned Liz, her voice coming out squeakier than intended.

"Uh huh," Max nodded, with a smile. "She wanted to know if I'd plucked up the courage to ask you out yet."

"Oh my God," murmured Liz, closing her eyes briefly as her cheeks began to burn with embarrassment.

"So," smiled Max, his thumb stroking her cheek tenderly, "what do you think? Will you go out with me?"

"I, um…I…" stuttered Liz, the topic of conversation so unexpected that she felt completely out of her depth. So much so, that she almost shook her head and declined, like she usually did if some guy asked her out unexpectedly, but just in time, her common sense kicked in and she realised what she had been about to do: turn down the one guys she'd always wanted, just because he'd caught her off guard.

"Liz?" questioned Max, his smile faltering slightly.

"Yes," she said finally. "Yes, Max, I will go out with you."

"Yes!" he exclaimed, his smile breaking into a grin as he let out a sigh of relief, causing Liz to giggle nervously. "I…I mean, great, perfect, wonderful," he amended quickly, before leaning in for another kiss, to which Liz eagerly responded.

"Wow," murmured Liz softly, when they finally pulled apart once more.

"Yeah," chuckled Max breathlessly, taking in her flushed face and reddened lips. He almost couldn't believe she'd actually agreed to go out with him. He'd never imagined he'd actually be in this position.

"So, I guess we probably should talk or something now," said Liz, almost hesitantly.

"Yeah, we probably should," replied Max as he realised that he'd been doing most of the talking…and initiating. "But it's getting kinda cold out here… you wanna go inside?"

Liz glanced towards the house and wrinkled her nose; "It's too noisy in there."

"Yeah, I guess it is," Max nodded. "Unless…"

"Unless… what?" asked Liz, and Max noted the way her eyes lit up slightly as she spoke.

"Well, if you didn't mind," he hesitated slightly, a little nervous about continuing. "We could, um…go upstairs… to talk."

Her eyes widened, "You mean, like, in your room?"

He shrugged, as if to play off the possible implications of the suggestion, "Yeah, I guess. I mean, it would be more quiet and slightly warmer there than out here."

Liz averted her eyes for a moment, as if contemplating the idea, but soon turned back to Max.

"Okay," she murmured with a nod.

"Okay," Max repeated with an inward sigh of relief, before sliding off the bench and holding out a hand to her.

She took it and he led her back into the house. Instead of smiling and casually chatting to people as he passed them like he usually would, this time he simply wove through the crowd as inconspicuously as possible, keeping the hand that was entwined with Liz's tucked into his body, so as not to draw attention to the two of them.

They made it to the bottom of the stairs with barely anyone giving them a second glance, but unfortunately, just as he placed his foot on the first step, Katie emerged from the small bathroom to the right and her eyes widened in surprise when she saw them together. Max quickly ushered Liz in front of him, rolling his eyes and shooting his lab partner a glare when she gave him a grin and a thumbs up.

Luckily, Liz didn't question the quick exchange and they made it the rest of the way upstairs without interruption. When they reached his bedroom door, he pulled out a key and proceeded to unlock it, before inviting Liz to step inside. She did so and Max watched her with a smile as she took in her surroundings.

"Nice room," she complimented softly, looking back over her shoulder at him with a grin.

"Thanks," Max shrugged, slightly self-consciously, as he shoved his hands in his pockets. Downstairs he had felt elated and confident that she had agreed to go out with him, but now that they were really alone, he was nervous and uncharacteristically unsure of himself. "So, um… "

"Yeah…" murmured Liz as she turned back to face him. "God, I can't believe we've wasted all this time, Max."

"You mean…?" he started, his heart skipping a beat at what she seemed to be suggesting.

"Uh huh," she nodded with a soft smile. "I've liked you for ages, Max. I just didn't think I stood a chance with you."

He frowned, "Why not?"

"Well, you were always laughing and flirting with all those other girls. Girls who were taller, prettier and more outgoing than me; and I assumed you just wouldn't be interested in someone like me."

His mouth fell open in surprise; what on earth was she talking about?

"What do you mean, someone like you?" he wondered incredulously. "Liz, you are by far the most beautiful girl in the school. You're smart and genuine and sweet… what's not to like?"

Liz blushed and gave a little smile at the compliment, before continuing, "But, Max, I'm not tall, skinny or blonde and I'm definitely not outgoing like many of the other girls at school."

"Exactly," he grinned, biting back a chuckle over her idea that he would rather date a tall, blonde airhead than her.

"Exactly…?" she wondered.

"Yes, exactly," he confirmed. "Liz, if I wanted a girl like that, I wouldn't be here with you right now. To be honest, I don't really care for blonde cheerleader-types. Petite, soft-spoken brunettes with dark eyes and curves to die for are much more my type."

Liz's eyes widened, "Really?" She frowned, giving him the eagle eye, "You're not just saying that to get into my pants, are you?"

This time he did chuckle.

"Of course not, Liz," he assured her with a shake of his head. "God, what do you take me for?" he questioned playfully.

"Okay," she accepted with a serious nod, before breaking out into a grin and closing the distance between them. "Well, now that's out of the way…" she hinted.

"Yeah?" murmured Max, his gaze lowering to her lips.

"I think maybe we should make up for lost time," she continued.

"Okay," he nodded.

"Okay," she murmured, closing her eyes as she closed the final distance between them.

As their lips met, Max wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her close to him and Liz slid her hands up over his chest and around his neck. They remained like that, locked in a tight embrace, lips and tongues caressing each other as if they couldn't get enough, for several minutes. When he felt Liz pressing her body against him, he became bolder, sliding his hands up over her hips and towards her chest. When she didn't protest, he let his hands rest at her sides, the lower part of his palms just grazing her breasts. He couldn't quite bring himself to do anything more, but just holding Liz Parker in his arms was enough.

"Oh my God," whispered Liz, when they broke off for air. "Why is it we never did this before now?"

"You know, I really don't know," grinned Max, gazing down at her flushed cheeks and slightly swollen lips. "God knows I've wanted to for so long."

"Me too," she smiled. "God, we've been so stupid, Max."

"Yeah, we have," he agreed. "But now, we've got all the time in the world," he added, leaning down to capture her lips with his once more.

He couldn't help grinning against her lips as they lost themselves in the kiss.

This was, without a doubt, the best birthday present he could have ever hoped forever.