After the trip to Roswell for Thanksgiving, the weeks running up to Christmas passed quickly for Liz, as she tried to juggle her own school work with organising finals and grading homework assignments for her students. Some days she had found herself staying in her office in the Biology department until gone seven o'clock in the evening, something that Max hadn't been too happy about, considering that he didn't have any projects to work on at the moment and had tried to make himself as available as possible to spend time with her. With him complaining about the lack of time they'd managed to spend together lately and all the pressure on her to get good grades and keep up with the demands of being a TA, the closer it got to the end of the semester, the more stressed Liz became, until one Friday night in early December, just before finals were due to begin, she couldn't take it anymore.
The day had started off badly, due to her alarm not going off on time, which made her late getting to campus, and it only got worse when her professors piled on the study materials and revision sessions, and by the time Liz was able to leave her office and head home, she was exhausted.
"Hey, I'm home," she called to Max, as she let herself in through the front door and placed her bags down in the foyer.
"In the kitchen," came his muffled voice from down the corridor.
With a smile, Liz made her way through the large house, walking in the direction of his voice, but she stopped dead in the kitchen doorway when she saw him sitting at the table, his arms folded across his chest and an impatient frown marring his normally open and friendly features.
"Hey," she murmured in puzzlement. "What's wrong?"
"You're home late," he stated, his expression remaining unchanged. "Again."
"I know, I'm sorry," Liz sighed, shaking her head as she made her way over to him. "Long day."
She moved to loop her arms around his neck from behind, but her fingers barely touched the fabric of his shirt before he shrugged off the gesture and stood up, turning to face her. Liz couldn't stop the feeling of hurt that spread through her at his rejection and she was sure that it showed on her face.
"What's going on, Max?"
He sighed heavily, his expression serious, "You said you'd be home by six tonight, Liz, and now it's almost eight o'clock."
"I know I did," she replied, "but it was one thing after another today and I couldn't get away any sooner."
"That's what you said last night, and the night before," he reminded her.
"Well, it's the truth," she told him. "I have work that has to be done and studying I have to do for finals, and sometimes I have to stay late. I don't like it any more than you do, but I don't really have a choice."
"I understand that," he nodded tersely, "but you promised that today you'd be home earlier."
"I know I did," she sighed heavily. "And I tried my best, I really did, but if I want to pass my finals next week, I need to put some extra time in." She frowned then, "I know it's not the best scenario, but you've been okay about this every other night; what's so special about this one?"
"Because, Liz," he closed his eyes briefly as he exhaled slowly, "tonight I booked us a table at Cicada. You know, the restaurant you've been dying to go to ever since you read that review in the LA Times?"
"Really?" Liz's eyes widened in surprise. "We're going to Cicada?"
"No, we were going to Cicada," he corrected. "I know you've been stressed lately and I wanted us to have a nice, relaxing, romantic evenings; but the table was booked for seven-thirty and now we've missed it because you weren't here."
"Oh, God, I'm sorry, Max!" she exclaimed apologetically, her hand coming up to cover her mouth. "Why didn't you tell me? I would have tried to get home earlier."
"It was supposed to be a surprise," he responded pointedly. "And since you said you'd be home early today, I didn't think it would be a problem."
"Shit, Max," sighed Liz, taking a step closer to him. "I'm really sorry."
"Yeah, well," he shrugged noncommittally. "It's done now."
"It's just…" she exhaled heavily, sinking down onto the chair he'd vacated a few moments ago. "…well, everything's so hard at the moment. I'm getting kinda swamped with all this school work and it feels like there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done." She looked up at him; his stance was still tense with annoyance, but his expression had softened slightly. "I want to spend more time with you, I really do, but this grad school thing is turning out to be much harder than I thought it would be and I'm struggling to cope with it all."
"Oh, Lizzie," murmured Max softly, as he took a seat beside her at the table and reached out to take her hand in his. "I'm sorry for getting pissed off just now. I guess when you came over here, I just didn't realise how much of your time was going to be taken up with school."
Liz just nodded, as she felt a lump in her throat and tears beginning to swell up in her eyes.
Max looked at her in concern, "Is it really that bad?"
She shook her head, trying to compose herself before the tears started to fall, but it was no good; all of the emotions that had been building up inside her for the last few days came tumbling out.
"I don't know what to do, Max," she cried, a small sob escaping her lips. "There's so much pressure to do well and not enough time to get all the work done. I don't know if I can do it much longer."
"Hey, hey, come here," he said gently, moving closer and pulling her into his arms. "It's gonna be okay."
His soothing words were all it took for Liz to let go. She collapsed against his chest, giving into her tears as she let out all the bottled-up emotions that had been building inside her the last couple of weeks.
"I don't want to do this anymore, Max," she murmured, between sobs. "I want to be with you, but it's hard to adjust to everything; grad school isn't how I thought it would be, and apart from you, I don't really have anyone here."
"Oh, Liz…" said Max gently, his grip tightening around her. "I'm sorry."
"I miss home," she admitted then, fresh tears sliding down her face. "I miss London, I miss my family, and Maria and Michael."
"I know," he comforted. "I know it must be hard for you, but I'm here to help you. You'll get through this, okay?"
"I just… I feel wrong, Max. Like my world has gone all off-balance and I can't quite make it right."
"Look," said Max, pulling back and lifting his hand to her cheek as he looked down into her eyes. "What you're feeling is normal, okay? It's a big adjustment to move so far from home, especially to a new country. I felt the same way when I first moved out here to L.A. and even though I've been here for several years now, the only place that really feels like home to me is Roswell."
"Yeah," he nodded, giving her a gentle smile. "Look, I have an idea. After you've finished your finals and school lets out, how would you feel about spending Christmas in England?"
"What?" Liz wondered in surprise, her heart skipping a beat at his words. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, really," Max nodded, smiling widely. "You can go home, see your parents, catch up with your friends… whatever you want to do."
"I'd love that," she replied, straightening quickly and wrapping her arms around his neck. "It would mean so much to me. Thank you."
She pressed her lips to his, pouring all of her emotions into the kiss as she held onto him tightly.
"No need to thank me," he told her softly when they parted. "I would do anything to make you happy."
"Don't," she shook her head, giving him a watery smile. "You're gonna make me cry all over again."
"But they'd be happy tears, right?" he looked down at her for confirmation, an eyebrow raised in question.
Liz simply nodded in response, not trusting her voice to remain steady right now and Max shot her a grin.
"I love you."
"I love you, too, Max."
So, just two and a half weeks later, Liz found herself on a plane with Max, flying first-class from Los Angeles to London. It was only three days before Christmas now and the closer she got to home, the more festive she started feeling. Despite all the decorations and the carols playing everywhere, she'd found it difficult to get into the Christmas spirit in California and she blamed it on the weather… to Liz, Christmas was about cold, frosty mornings, seeing your breath in front of you when you went outside in your thick coat, gloves and scarf and curling up in front of the fire with a cup of hot chocolate. However, Christmas time in Southern California was pretty much lacking in all of these things; for one, the temperature was still in the 60's in L.A. – a good 25 degrees warmer than London would be when they landed in a few hours and there. You couldn't really do the 'snuggling up in front of the fire with a mug of hot chocolate' thing very well when outside it was as warm as London in August!
Unfortunately, though, Liz had a slightly different opinion of the cold English weather when they finally landed at Heathrow and made their way out to their car, through the crowd of reporters and paparazzi who had congregated in the terminal when they heard that 'Max Evans and his girlfriend' were arriving that morning. The air outside was bitingly cold and Liz began shivering as soon as she stepped out of the warm building, suddenly wishing she'd worn a thicker jacket today. Beside her, she saw Max glance at her in concern, but she just shook her head and, wrapping her arms around herself to keep warm, she headed straight for the car that was waiting for them and climbed inside. Max followed shortly afterwards, having helped the driver load their luggage into the back, and he immediately pulled her to his side as they relaxed back against the comfortable seats.
"Tired?" he murmured when Liz yawned loudly and let her head rest against his chest.
"Uh huh," she mumbled, her eyes drifting closed, despite the fact that she knew she should try to stay awake to get over the jetlag. "Glad to be home too, though."
The journey to their London hotel was spent in comfortable silence as both Max and Liz tried not to give in to exhaustion. Originally, Nancy and Jeff had offered to pick them up from the airport and Liz had been keen on that idea; however, Max had pointed out that it would be best for them to arrive in as low-key a fashion as possible, due to the media attention they were bound to accumulate on their trip and instead he'd suggested that they spend the night in London first, before travelling over to her parent's house South Gloucestershire the next day. Plus, he'd reasoned, it would give her a chance to catch up with Maria and Michael again before they left London.
When they reached the hotel, Liz's first priority was to hop onto the large, comfortable bed in their room and call Maria from her UK mobile phone. She could see Max playfully rolling his eyes at her as she chatted to her friend and arranged to meet with her and Michael for lunch tomorrow, before he headed towards the bathroom to freshen up. Liz's eyes followed him as he gave her a grin and then disappeared through the bathroom door, and as soon as she could, she got off the phone with Maria and then headed after him.
"Hey," she murmured, leaning against the doorframe as she watched him remove his shirt to reveal the taught, defined muscles of his torso. Her hungry gaze involuntarily drifted down his chest and over his stomach, and it would have gone lower if his low chuckle hadn't snapped her out of her daze.
"I thought you were tired," grinned Max, as she licked her lips and moved towards him.
"And I thought we were supposed to stay awake for as possible," she countered. "What better way to stay awake than to, I don't know… share a shower?"
"A shower, huh?" Max raised an eyebrow as he glanced at the pristine walk-in shower in the corner of the room. "I think I could just about manage a shower."
"Well, all right then," grinned Liz as she pulled her shirt over her head and stepped closer to him. "Come on, let's go."
She couldn't help but let out a small giggle as his now-heated gaze dropped from her face and skimmed down over her bra-clad chest. His hands came up to rest on her hips and he pulled her close to kiss her deeply, as Liz reached for the button on his jeans. They undressed each other eagerly as Max backed her towards the shower and then reached out to turn the water on. Liz slid her arms around his neck, tugging him to her and kissing him hungrily as they stepped under the hot spray of water. Pressing her against the cool tiles of the shower walls, Max explored her body with his hands, cupping her breasts in his palms and then running his thumbs across her nipples, before tracing gentle patterns down over her ribs and stomach. His right hand came down to the back of her thigh and hiked her leg up over his hip, his mouth swallowing her aroused gasp as she felt his arousal pressing against her intimately. Breaking their kiss for a moment, Max lifted his head, his smoldering gaze boring down into her eyes as he gave her a small smile.
"I love you," he murmured roughly, before pushing into her, making her gasp with pleasure in response.
"Love… you… too," she managed between small sighs and moans as he moved within her.
Liz let her hands roam across Max wet, naked skin, savouring everything about this moment as they made love in the steamy shower. Suddenly, all the worry and stress that she'd been trying to deal with over the last few weeks didn't matter anymore. Everything she was going through now really was worth it to be with Max on a more permanent basis. Over the last few months, he'd gone from being a guy she loved spending time with–who just happened to be great in bed too–to being completely and totally in love with the most amazing man on the planet, and she wished she could just stay with him like this forever.
Max couldn't help but grin with contentment as he glanced over at Liz, who was asleep in the passenger seat of the rental car they'd hired to drive to her parents' house. Despite each of them getting over twelve hours of sleep the night before, he knew that the pressure of finals and all her schoolwork had really taken it out of her lately, so it wasn't surprising that she was still exhausted. He didn't really mind that she was asleep right now though, as the quiet gave him some time to think.
They had almost reached the Parkers' house when Liz eventually woke, stretching lazily and letting out a loud yawn before opening her eyes to look at Max with a sleepy smile.
"Good evening, sleepyhead," he grinned. "Good sleep?"
"Yeah," she nodded, before wincing and lifting a hand to the back of her neck. "Except my neck is really sore now."
"Come here," suggested Max, holding the wheel with one hand as he raised the other to her neck and began kneading her stiff muscles.
"That feels good," she murmured in response, her eyes sliding closed as she relaxed into his touch.
"We're almost there," he told her a few minutes later. "You can relax properly soon."
"Mmm," she sighed. "Looking forward to it."
He shot her a smile, before sliding his hand from her neck and placing it back on the steering wheel again as he exited the motorway and began navigating the car towards Liz's home town.
"So, remind me again what our plans are for the next few days?" he asked.
Liz moved her head from side to side a couple of times, as she replied, "Well, tonight, I said I'd meet everyone at the pub–you're welcome to join us too, if you'd like–then tomorrow it'll be the usual preparations for Christmas…. I've got to bake the Yule Log again." She smirked and Max grinned, remembering last year's Yule Log baking experience very well. "Then we're heading to the outdoor ice rink again in the evening."
"Sounds great," agreed Max. "Very reminiscent of last Christmas, huh?"
"Yep," nodded Liz enthusiastically, her sore neck apparently forgotten for the moment. "I like to stick to tradition at Christmas."
"Well, I'm looking forward to it," he decided, grinning inwardly as he thought about what the next couple of days would entail.
They reached Liz's family home a few minutes later and as he parked the car outside, Max looked up at the familiar house with a feeling of nostalgia as he recalled that it had been exactly a year ago that he'd first met Nancy and Jeff… and Liz.
The next twenty-four hours pretty much flew by as Liz found herself overwhelmed by being back home – first her parents pulled her into a huge three-way hug and then insisted she tell them all about life in L.A. over dinner. After dinner, she and Max headed out to the pub to catch up with Serena, Kyle and Alex over a few drinks. She'd been slightly worried that Max might attract too much attention, but it turned out that hardly anyone even batted an eyelid. He was approached by a couple of teenagers having dinner with their parents at the pub, but luckily they had been placated with an autograph and a photo with him and after that they left him alone.
The next morning, Nancy and Jeff headed out to do some last minute Christmas shopping, leaving Max and Liz alone in the house. They started off the day with a lazy lie-in, still trying to sleep off the rest of their jetlag, before Max headed to the bathroom to shower, while Liz made him a traditional English breakfast, which they ate in front of the TV in the living room. After breakfast, Liz took the opportunity to shower as well, before heading back down to the kitchen to prepare the ingredients for the Yule Log. Max joined her in the kitchen a few minutes later and offered to help her out with the baking… needless to say though, it took much longer than it should have to finish, and by the time it was in the oven, the kitchen was a complete mess and Max and Liz weren't much cleaner either!
They spent the afternoon relaxing around the house, before heading upstairs to get ready for ice skating around 7 p.m. As they walked to the rink together thirty minutes later, Liz found herself glancing over at Max curiously on more than one occasion; something was off with him tonight: he seemed quieter than usual, almost jittery, as they walked.
"What?" he questioned, somewhat uncomfortably when he caught her watching him on one of those times.
"Nothing," she denied. "It's just… are you okay?"
"I'm fine," he said quickly. "Why wouldn't I be fine?"
Liz frowned, "I don't know – you tell me."
"I'm great, Liz. Honest," he smiled, slipping his arm around her shoulder as they walked. "Come on, we're almost there."
Liz still felt a little confused by his behaviour, but she shrugged it off and continued walking with him. It was only when they rounded the corner and reached the location of the rink that she knew for sure that something was up. For a start, there was no one on the ice at all, despite the fact that the rink was brightly lit and definitely open. Then, a glance towards the ticket booth showed a large sign stating 'Rink Closed for Private Party', which confused Liz even more: it was Christmas Eve and the rink should be heaving, so why would they close it for a private party and risk losing out on all that money?
"Max?" she turned to him questioningly. "What's going on?"
"I don't know what you mean," he claimed innocently, although she wasn't entirely convinced. "Come on, let's go get some skates on."
"But… it says they're closed for a private party," she protested, as he started leading her towards the skate hire area.
"I know," he shot her a grin. "We're the private party."
"What? No," she shook her head in denial. "We can't be."
"We are," he chuckled as they reached the skate booth and began removing their shoes.
"But… how?" she wondered in amazement, handing her shoes to the clerk and requesting her size in skating boots.
"I called in a favour," he confessed with a shrug. "You know, it's amazing what people will do for you when you're a movie star."
Liz couldn't help but give an amused scoff, "I can't believe you did this."
"You don't like it?"
"No, I do," she said quickly, taking her skates from the clerk and sitting down to put them on. "It just seems a bit… much, that's all."
"Liz," smiled Max, grabbing his skates too and taking a seat beside her. "Just relax and accept that I wanted to do this for you, okay?"
"Okay," she rolled her eyes at herself and shot him a smile.
She quickly laced up her skates and stood up as she waited for Max to finish his. When he stood up too, he took her hand and led her over to the empty ice rink. The ice was smooth and clean, having not been used yet this evening, and Liz couldn't help the excited smile that spread across her face at the thought of having the entire rink all to themselves this evening.
"You ready?" Max asked from beside her.
They stepped out onto the ice and almost immediately Liz let her hand slip out of his and, letting her instincts take over, began skating across the slightly slippery ice. It was only when she heard Max clear his throat from behind her and she turned to see him standing unsteadily at the side of the rink, his hand grasping the barrier tightly, that she realised she'd abandoned him. Quickly, she skated back over to him with an apologetic smile.
"Sorry, didn't mean to leave you here."
"S'okay," he smiled. "I'm just not that great on ice skates."
"I remember," she smiled, remembering how he'd practically crashed right into her on the rink last Christmas, before holding out her hand to him. "Come on, we'll go round together."
Max took her hand and she carefully led him further onto the rink, allowing him to adjust to the unfamiliar feeling of balancing on just two thin blades. It took a few minutes, but soon Max was moving across the ice with a little more ease and a lot more confidence. They skated for about twenty minutes, mostly together, but a couple of times Liz skated a couple of laps on her own, just enjoying the feel of the cold wind flowing through her hair as she moved faster than skating with Max would allow. After one of her laps though, Max motioned for her to join him in the centre of the rink. With a nod, she headed towards him, but misjudged the distance slightly and instead of coming to a graceful stop in front of Max, she went ploughing into him, knocking both of them to the floor.
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry," she gasped apologetically as she scrambled to stand up again, before reaching out her hand to help him up too.
"Don't," he shook his head, not taking her hand, as he shot a quick glance towards the ticket booth area.
"What?" Liz frowned in puzzlement; didn't he want her to help him up?
She saw him open his mouth, but before he could say anything, the rink's glaring floodlights suddenly shut off and several strings of Christmas lights lit up instead, bathing them both in a multitude of soft colours.
"Max?" she wondered curiously, gazing around her at the breathtaking display. "What's going on?"
He just gave her a soft smile, before clambering slightly ungracefully to his knees and reaching for her hand.
"Liz, it's been exactly a year since I first laid eyes on you and my life hasn't been the same since," he started softly, his thumb gently grazing her hand, sending shivers down her spine. "The last thing I ever expected was to fall in love with you, but I did, and now I can't imagine what my life would be without you in it."
"Oh my God," murmured Liz, her eyes widening in realisation at what he was about to say to her.
"I love you so much, more than I ever thought it was possible to love one person," he told her earnestly, reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out a small, black box, opening it up to reveal the most beautiful diamond ring she'd even seen in her life. "Liz Parker, will you marry me?"
"Max…" she breathed in awe. "I… um… wow! I don't know what to say."
"Well, you know, a 'yes' would be nice," he gave her a nervous half-smile.
"Oh my God, yes!" she exclaimed suddenly. "Definitely yes."
"Really?" His small smile widened into a grin as she nodded and he exhaled in relief. "Oh, thank God."
Liz grinned happily as she kneeled down on the ice in front of him, flinging her arms around his neck and kissing him deeply. She felt his arms come around her and he hugged her to him tightly. However, just a few moments later, they were interrupted by the sound of clapping and Liz lifted her head to find the ice rink staff watching them from the side of the rink.
"Um," she whispered, embarrassed. "We have company."
"I don't care," he grinned, moving to kiss her again.
"I do," she responded. "Maybe we should get out of here… go somewhere more private?"
"Sounds like a plan," he replied after a moment. "But first, I need to give you this."
He removed his arms from her waist and reached into the small jewellery box, extracting the sparkling ring. With a grin, Liz held out her left hand and watched in a slight state of shock as he slid it onto her finger and kissed her again.
As they walked home arm-in-arm a few minutes later, Liz couldn't keep the wide smile off her face. It was Christmas, she was at home with her family and friends, and she was engaged to the most gorgeous man on the planet.
Life was perfect.