Rating: PG (YTeen)
Disclaimer: I own neither the characters presented in this story nor the show (or books) from which they originated. Unfortunately.
Pairings/Couples/Category: Max and Liz, AU
Summary: Two strangers stranded in an airport on Christmas Eve find themselves drawn to each other. But is the attraction natural, or is there something... magical... about it, and, once Christmas Eve turns into Christmas Day, will they go their separate ways?
A/N: We're changing our Roswellian history here, folks. Though Max and Liz are essentially the same people that they were on the show, they have never met before at the start of this story. She was raised in Roswell; he was raised in Santa Fe. Their paths never crossed... until this tale. Also, this is pure holiday fluff. No real angst. No danger. And you get a happy ending. Finally, this concluded my holiday pieces for this season. Although I had intended upon writing something for Buffy and Bones, I just ran out of time. Three – almost four – days into the New Year, and I think it's time to call it quits. Maybe next year, right? Anyway, enjoy the story!
A Dreamers Holiday One Shot
“Yes, Isabel, I'm sure I got everything on your list. And, yes, everything is wrapped, too. Why do you think I'm running so late?”
Rushing through the ridiculously busy airport, Max Evans carried, drug, rolled, and lugged all the various suitcases he required to take home to his sister all the presents she had oh-so-casually asked him to pick up for her. At first, she had assured him it would just be a few easy to find items, but, as was wont to happen with his Christmas Nazi of a sibling, those few items had turned into many, and, now, all he needed was some extra pounds and a red suit, and Max would have felt like Santa Claus.
As his sister rambled on, berating him for his complaints when all she had asked of him was a tiny favor while she was busy organizing dinner, decorating their parents' home, and shouldering the burdens of not one but several local holiday festivities – and did she ask for sympathy, Max realized just how far he was running behind. Interrupting her, he tersely stated, “look, Is, you can yell at me later for being a Scrooge, okay, but, for now, I have to go. I....”
And that's when he ran directly into another passenger. With an apology immediately upon his lips, he looked up from where he had been watching his feet to make sure that they didn't get tripped up by the multitude of bags he was hauling around before, beside, and behind him only for his thoughts and mind to freeze when he met the gaze of the woman in front of him. Distantly, he could hear his sister vying for his attention through his cell phone, but Isabel's attempt to recapture his focus was futile. Even if he hadn't been running late in that moment, even if he wouldn't have been fighting his way through a congested O'Hare, Max still would have paused to stare at the stranger before him.
Though she was beautiful, it wasn't her long, thick, rich mahogany hair which besotted him; her flawless complexion; or even her mouth which seemed to call to Max like a siren's song. Rather, he couldn't help but stare into the woman's eyes. They were a deep, warm brown – like melting chocolate, but more hypnotic than their color was the depth of emotion they displayed. By simply looking into the stranger's gaze, he could tell so many things about her. She was strong, and compassionate, and brave, and so unbelievably intelligent, but, overriding everything else, he could also see that she was sad, and, for some unexplainable reason, he wanted to make everything better for her.
And Max Evans was not a guy who got involved in other people's problems... probably because he had too many of his own to even keep track of all of them.
“Max!” Isabel eventually resorted to screaming his name to get his attention.
Snapping back into reality, he distantly mumbled, “I have to go, Is. My flight....” That was as far as he got before he terminated their call, quickly turning off his cell before Isabel could hit redial and start her harassment all over again. With his sister dismissed from his mind and already forgotten, he refocused his attention upon the depressed and defeated woman still standing before him. “I'm so sorry about that... running into you... and my sister. She can be a little insane around the holidays. But that doesn't matter right now. You do.” Recognizing the fact that he was rambling, no small feat on its own considering how taciturn he usually was, Max shook his head slightly in an attempt to regain control of his thoughts, feeling his ears burn in embarrassment the entire time. Smiling gently, his composure resumed, he asked, “are you alright?”
Morosely, the woman replied, “physically, yes.” Before he could question her further, though, she jabbed a bitter thumb over her bowed in resignation and distress shoulders towards the terminal where his flight should have been boarding. But then Max noticed that there was no one else standing there. “If that was your flight, if you were going to Santa Fe, too, then there's no need to rush, because the plane already took off. You missed your flight; we missed our flight. So, you might want to get your phone back out and let your sister know that you're going to... yeah.” Swallowing thickly, the joyless brunette motioned around him. He could see the tears gathering in her wide, innocent eyes. “And I need to go call my parents, too.”
Peering over his shoulder – as if he could actually decipher the spot where she intended to run off to, Max offered, “oh, if you don't have a phone, I'd be happy to let you use mine.”
“No, I just want to make the call in private. I'm, uh, if you haven't noticed, I'm a little upset.”
“No, I have,” he admitted, and then flushed brilliantly again. Not only did those three words basically say that he had been staring at her but also that her sorrow was evident. Living with his sister for eighteen years had taught him better than to confess to noticing when a woman's emotions were written so transparently across her face, especially when she was so upset. Such inept concessions only led to more upset feelings and too many questions about a girl's appearance.
Only the woman across from him didn't seem to be insulted, though he was still flustered. Pressing on, Max continued to talk, hoping that something he said would make her feel better. “Sure, missing our flight sucks, but it's not the end of the world. It's only Christmas Eve afternoon, and I'm sure there will be another flight either tonight or tomorrow. We'll buy new tickets, and we'll still make it home in time to open presents and eat far more food than what is considered a good idea. In the meantime, we'll just have to... keep each other company. Do you live around here? We could share a cab back to our apartments, maybe grab a pizza to commiserate together?”
“No, you don't understand. Chicago is just a layover for me,” the stranger confessed, dropping her carry-on bag to run a slightly trembling hand through her long, smooth hair. “I live in Boston. I don't know anybody in Chicago, and I spent the money my parents sent me to fly home to buy my first ticket... which I just wasted by missing my flight. Now, I don't know what I'm going to do.” He could see that she just wanted to break down completely but that she was refusing herself the luxury of crying in front of someone she didn't know. “I think... I think I'm stuck here, and, while the airport might let me hang out for a little while, they're not going to let me stay until my connecting flight back to school takes off from here a week from now.”
She had so many things stacked against her, so many obstacles to overcome if she wanted to get home to her family for Christmas. The most amazing part of the situation was that all he wanted to do was help her – him, the guy who had lurked in the shadows his entire life, who had made blending in and being forgotten about an art form, the guy who had never once went out on a limb for anyone in fear of what he could have revealed about himself if he ever stepped out from behind the tree. And, now, in one of the busiest airports in the world, he was about to make a complete scene and a fool out of himself all because of a stranger, all because, for the first time in his life, he knew what it was like to feel an immediate and powerful connection to someone who wasn't his sister.
“See, not all of that is true,” Max told her, grinning somewhat cheekily. “You know at least one person in Chicago, because you know me.” Holding out his hand to her, he introduced himself, “I'm Max.”
And the cheesy, teasing gesture seemed to work, because, for the first time since he had so clumsily walked into her, the bewitching woman smiled. “Liz,” she returned.
Although her hand – soft and tiny – in his felt wonderful, Max knew better than to hold their handshake for too long, for he didn't want to make her uncomfortable. “As for your options, if you don't have the means to buy another ticket, I could help you out.” When she went to protest, he held up his hand, already prepared to offer her a second option. “Or, if you're not okay with that, you could just stay at my apartment while I'm out of town.” There was a very large part of him, though, that really wanted to say 'forget Christmas, forget Isabel, and forget Santa Fe and his parents; he'd stay in Chicago with the woman before him and celebrate the holiday with her.'
“Max,” she warned, and he loved the way she said his name. It wasn't barked shortly like the way Isabel called for him, it wasn't said chidingly like his parents always sounded when addressing him, and it wasn't uttered monotonously like it was by all the people in his life – his neighbors, his co-workers, his friends, people who were ostensibly his connection to the world but who, now, after meeting Liz, felt more like strangers than ever before. “I can't accept your money, and I definitely can't stay in your apartment. Maybe we introduced ourselves to each other, but you don't really know me, and I certainly don't know you.”
“I know that you don't live in Chicago; you know that I do. I know that we're both from New Mexico originally. You know that I have a sister, and I know that you're on your way home to see your parents. And you know that I'm, apparently, incapable of walking and talking at the same time.”
“No, I think that had something more to do with the entire stock of a luggage store being wrapped around your arms, neck, and... do you really have a bag strapped to your leg?”
He did. Hence, the dragging.
Sheepishly, Max shrugged his shoulders. “Like I said, my sister goes a little crazy during the holidays.”
Thinking about Isabel, though, made him think of all the annoying errands she had sent him on during the past month. And, thinking about all those errands, made him recall some of the purchases he had made. Plus, he recalled just who... or, more precisely, what he was, and a grain of thought started to slowly turn around and around in his mind, gathering cohesiveness and plausibility until the point where it turned into a tiny pearl of wisdom.
“Alright, so, if you won't accept my money, and you refuse to stay in my apartment, will you allow me to keep you company while I wait for the next flight out. We'll... I don't know? We'll keep brainstorming, trying to figure out a way to get you home, and, in the meantime, I'll find us something to eat.”
“To eat,” she parroted, raising a finely shaped brow in inquiry, in curiosity.
“Well, it is Christmas Eve, and you have to eat. We both have to eat,” he rushed to correct himself. “So, why shouldn't we share a meal together?”
“Your treat, though, right,” Liz responded, and, by her tone, he knew that it was a statement and not a question.
He grinned widely. “You won't accept anything else from me. Please don't turn down a little chivalry on my part. After all, I ran into you,” he pointed out, reminding her. “I the least that I could do.”
“Fine,” she relented. “We can commiserate together over a pizza. Just don't make it a deep dish.” Like he was going to buy her a pizza for their Christmas Eve dinner! “While you order, though, I still need to make that phone call to my parents.”
“Go, then,” Max instructed her, “but don't think you can skip out on me.”
“And go where,” she teased, laughing softly. Before he could respond, she was already walking away, calling back over her shoulder, “see you in a few, Max.”
… in a few...
Carrying, dragging, rolling, and lugging all of his various bags over towards the waiting area, purposely picking a section of seats positioned near a large, potted plant, Max took off his winter coat, rolled up his sleeves, and started digging through Isabel's carefully selected gifts. He had a lot of work to do before Liz got back.
Realistically, Liz knew such a thought wasn't rational. There was no such thing as magic, after all. She was a scientist – a Harvard educated scientist. If something couldn't be proven by empirical knowledge, then that something was false. Magic... and everything that went with it... was false. But that still didn't explain the past twelve hours of her life.
She had been stuck in O'Hare airport overnight, believing that she could very well be stuck there during the duration of what was supposed to be her Christmas vacation back home to visit her parents and closest friends. Instead, though, in that moment, she was seated on an airplane that was about to make its descent into Santa Fe – in business class no less, for her coach ticket had been upgraded – next to the most generous, adorable, shy, unbelievably handsome, magical – there was that ridiculous word again – man. And, despite everything she had been through during the past day, all she could think about was the fact that it had been more than twenty-four hours since she had showered, and she was pretty sure that her hair smelled like industrial carpet... but that's what one got for sleeping on the floor of an airport terminal.
“Uh,” she moaned softly so that only she and her seating companion could hear. “I feel so icky already, and it's going to be another few hours in the car before we get back to Roswell. And I'm so late as it is that everyone will already be waiting to see me at my parents' diner, so I won't be able to change, or freshen up, or....”
Her words trailed off when his own, ones of reassurance and praise, interrupted her. “You look great, Liz.” Shocking her further, Max leaned over the arm rests separating their chairs and smoothed his large, gentle palms down the length of her loose hair, determinedly tucking several stubborn strands behind her ears before cupping her jaw and running his thumbs rhythmically across her eyebrows, down her nose, under her tired eyes, and then over and over the apples of her cheeks. “And would I lie to you,” he finally questioned, pointedly meeting her awed expression before pulling his hands away and back into his own lap.
“Nn... no,” she stumbled over the word, then bit her tongue hard enough to recompose herself. “But you would misdirect my queries, distract me, and play coy. I still can't believe that the 'little gift' you gave me, which was supposed to be for your sister, by the way, just so happened to contain a winning lottery ticket, one that was worth just the right amount of money to purchase a ticket on this flight, a ticket which just so also happened to be immediately upgraded to a business class seat directly next to your own.”
Max shrugged, but the mischievous twinkle in his dark, whiskey hued eyes belied his innocence. “What can I say? Christmas magic.”
And, once more, there was that impossible word.
Despite all her education, though, all her hours logged in the various science labs around campus, and the fact that Liz knew there was no such thing as magic, she also was incapable of explaining how else she was sitting beside Max on her way home to New Mexico that morning. And it wasn't just the lucky lottery ticket and the seat upgrade; her entire evening with Max the night before had been... extraordinary. Mysterious and miraculous. Enchanted. Wonderful and absolutely unfathomable.
It had all started when she got back from calling her parents to tell them that she had missed her flight and wouldn't be making it home for the holidays. Not only had she found Max comfortably camped out in a corner of the terminal's waiting area, but he had somehow found a string of lights and a few simple yet elegant ornaments to decorate a potted plant with. It wasn't a pine tree, but, because of his effort, it might have been even better... at least for her. He had also pinned two stockings to the wall – not socks but actual stockings, one of which somehow had her name newly written upon it, and he had gathered all the poinsettias anywhere near their portion of the airport and arranged them around their little corner. Shocking Liz further, there had been a prettily wrapped package under the potted tree, addressed to her.
Quickly, she had scrambled to also piece together a gift for Max, settling upon giving him her present for her friend Alex – an entire semester's worth of signed CD's from the various Indie bands which had played at Harvard, now knowing that she'd have to explain her lack of a gift to her high school buddy or delay, delay, delay, and hit up the mall for a substitute present the day after Christmas.
From that point on, things had just gone from uncanny to downright unrealistic. Instead of the pizza she had assumed he would order them, a full-course Christmas Eve dinner was delivered to the airport – including ham, the best seasoned, baby round potatoes Liz had ever tasted before (and her dad owned his own restaurant), and the most sumptuous strawberry-vanilla torte ever concocted by a pastry chef... amongst other superb dishes. In fact, the meal had been so delicious, afterwards, she had been able to temporarily forget the fact that she wouldn't be sharing a similar – if not nearly as tasty, though she would never tell her parents that – dinner with her family the next day. But, then, when the reality of her situation crashed back into her twenty minutes after their feast, Max had been right there, ready and willing to distract her.
Somehow, he had all her favorite holiday movies downloaded to his iPod. So, they watched them together. Somehow, he just so managed to have all the supplies they would need to play cards, and hangman, and tic-tac-toe, and every other two-person game practically in existence. And, somehow, Max had managed to turn what should have been her worst Christmas Eve ever into the best... and that was before they had opened each other's gifts at midnight.
What he had given her, excluding the magical lottery ticket, had made Liz gasp. It was the softest, most beautifully handcrafted leather satchel, one that she couldn't wait until she graduated with her doctorate and could use to carry all her students' papers in back and forth to campus once she became a professor of molecular biology in less than a year's time. At first, though, she had protested such a lavish gift. It was obviously expensive, and Max had already confessed that he had meant it for his sister (who was almost finished with her law degree), but then he had teasingly said that it was the least Isabel could do after causing him to run into her, and the sheer... pleasure in Max's gaze as he insisted she keep the briefcase eventually won her over. Though, afterwards, when he opened her gift to him, the one she had meant for Alex, she had felt like a toad. He had been quick to reassure her that he thought his present was great, and it wasn't so much that she didn't believe him; it was just that there was nothing she would ever be able to give him that could match what he had given her: Christmas with her family and all because of some handy-dandy lottery ticket he had just so happened to slip inside of his sister's present instead of the traditional penny or two for good luck.
Nudging her from her thoughts, Max whispered, “hey, don't fall asleep on me now. We're landing.” And, true to his word, the plain was touching down upon the Santa Fe runway.
Opening her eyes and showing him that she wasn't slumbering their last minutes together away, Liz smiled. “I'm awake... just trying to think of an explanation as to how all of this is possible.”
“You really just can't accept the fact that it might be chance... or even fate, can you?”
Rolling her eyes, she replied, “Max, I'm a scientist. For me, nothing happens because of chance, and fate is just a four letter word that really doesn't give a girl that many points while playing Scrabble.”
He chuckled good-naturedly as they stood up to gather their things but, still, did not offer her a further explanation. His continued silence in the face of her curiosity simply pushed Liz back into her own thoughts, but, this time, instead of thinking about the afternoon and evening she had spent with Max, she thought about the night. Somehow, he had also just so happened to have several brand new quilts, blankets, and pillows tucked away in his mountain of suitcases, and, by using them, they had created a pallet on the airport's carpeted floor. Though they had started out the night with several feet between their resting bodies, by the time she woke up early that morning to the sound of their cell phone alarms buzzing, she had been firmly and possessively held in his arms – her back against his chest, her bottom nestled perfectly in the cradle of his hips, her head resting on one of his arms, while one of his hands buried itself in her tangled mane and the other spread itself wide across her stomach, her shirt riding up to allow his slightly rough and deliciously callused palm access to her bare skin.
At the mere thought of their intimate contact earlier that morning, Liz shivered in appreciation, her surroundings fading into the background while she exited the plane by rote, and, as she recalled his fingers softly caressing her abdomen, she would have sworn that she could still feel his touch upon her, branding her as his. It was the strongest reaction she had ever had to a man before, and, unlike all the other guys she had dated over the years, she had known Max the least amount of time but already, somehow – magically, felt closer to him than all the other guys combined.
Before she realized it, they had reached the end of their terminal, and it was time for them to part. Though she could tell that Max really wasn't that excited about the prospect of spending the holidays with his family, she also knew, from just a few hours in his presence, that duty and family loyalty were important to him. He would say goodbye to her, go off and find his luggage, and then listen to his sister as she chastised him for being so careless as to miss his flight the afternoon before as his sibling drove them to their childhood home where their parents still lived in one of Santa Fe's numerous suburbs. Shockingly, after her complete misery the day before at the very idea of not seeing her parents for Christmas, Liz was also, if not hesitant, then at least regretting having to leave Max and continue her own trip home to Roswell.
Once they were away from the other passengers, out of the crowd, Max, who had been holding her hand the entire time they departed the plane, turned around and smiled down upon her. His grin, though, was crooked – part grateful for the time they had been able to spend together and part dismayed that their time with each other was already coming to a close. The fact that she could read so many emotions from someone she, technically, barely knew nearly knocked the wind out of her, causing her to rock back on her heels slightly.
“Merry Christmas, Liz Parker.”
“Merry Christmas, Max Evans,” she returned, offering him her own smile which spoke of a complicated bag of mixed feelings as well.
Then, he pivoted around and started to walk away.
But she couldn't allow him to leave yet, not like that. So, already running after him, leaving her own luggage where she had just been standing, Liz called out, “Max, wait!”
He spun around just in time to catch her as she launched herself against him, her arms tightly encircling his neck, her legs lifting up to wrap around his waist, and her mouth immediately sought out the warmth and taste of his own. When her tongue brazenly darted out, licking his bottom lip and requesting further entrance, he instantaneously granted her such access, and, for what felt like an eternity which could never possibly be long enough, the two of them stood there in the middle of the bustling airport, tightly locked together and completely oblivious to the rest of the world watching and moving by around them.
And that's when the magic began again.
Somehow Liz started to see things, opaque yet crystal clear images. Flashes. Really, there was no other possible way to describe what she saw. And they were all of Max – of Max as a scared child, of Max as a lonely teenager, of Max as an adult doing everything expected of him but still not feeling as though he belonged anywhere, of Max as what he obviously wanted himself to someday be. And the most amazing thing about those future flashes was that she saw herself with him, right there by his side. She wasn't sure if those were his thoughts or hers, but what Liz did know was that she liked them. She wanted them.
Finally unable to kiss him for even yet another second more, she distressingly ripped her mouth away from his, inhaling deeply to assuage the glittering lights still wrecking havoc upon her eyesight due to her body's depletion of oxygen. Before she could comprehend his actions, Max had placed her back down solidly on her feet and was already backing several steps away from her. Lifting trembling fingers to her red and swollen lips, Liz whispered, “I don't understand. That's never... that's never happened to me before. Max,” she questioned softly, his name a plea that stretched between, one that would prove to go unanswered. “Did you...?”
This time, when he turned away, he offered her no smile. “Merry Christmas, Liz Parker.”
Too stunned to speak, all she could do was just watch the him walk out of her life.
But he couldn't not be there.
Perhaps it had been slightly creepy on his part, but he had found out when Liz's return flight would leave New Mexico and then touch down in Chicago before she could switch planes and continue on her way home to Boston. Although he had no intentions of doing something rash and romantic like following her to Harvard or asking her to stay with him instead, he also couldn't walk away. Not yet. Before he did, before he went back to his meaningless, lonely life, he had to see her... even if it was for just one last time. Why? He wasn't sure. But he also knew better than to second guess his instincts. After all, they had gotten him to where he was that day – as a successful archeologist with a loving family, the respect of his colleagues, and as an alien completely blended into an oblivious human society.
So, without any clue as to why he needed to still be at O'Hare, despite the fact that his own flight had landed hours before, wasting away his New Year's Eve pining for a woman he could never actually have, Max waited. And he watched. He watched as the screen announced Liz's flight's arrival. He watched as her connecting flight called for boarders. And then he watched as her connecting flight, the one that was taking her away from him and back to her own life, departed. Even then, though, he couldn't leave. Instead, he found himself back in the little waiting area they had shared a week before, ignoring the throngs of holiday travelers moving to and fro around him as he gazed sightlessly out one of the airport's numerous floor to ceiling windows.
Though it was cold outside – nearly below zero without windchill, the skies were clear, free of both clouds and the winter snow storms so common for the city he lived in. But it wasn't the prospect of heading out into such bitter weather which froze him before his view of the nighttime skyline. Rather, Max had to admit to himself that he just couldn't face the idea of ringing in the New Year by himself. Again. So, instead of being alone in his empty apartment, he elected to be alone in a busy airport, the strangers around him offering more companionship and company, even in their absolute dismissal of him, than his furniture would have.
“I know you don't know me very well, and I know that this is extremely forward of me, but, you see, I just missed by connecting flight to Boston, and I was wondering if you might be able to offer me a place to stay for a day... or maybe a few weeks.”
Startled, Max nearly tripped over his own feet in his haste to turn to his side and look at the woman suddenly standing beside him. Swallowing thickly against the combination of surprise, elation, and fear which was so suffocating – if he wouldn't have forced himself to move past it, he would have choked – he asked, “you, uh, you missed your flight... accidentally?”
“Not exactly,” Liz admitted, shrugging her shoulders and biting her lip nervously. “Despite what happened between us, despite what we shared, I was just going to stick to exactly what I had mapped out for my life. You see, I kind of have this thing for plans. Anyway, I was going home to Boston, back to Harvard, refusing to second guess myself, but then my flight from Santa Fe landed, and I was back here where everything started between us, and I just... stayed. For the first time in my life, I did something completely and totally irrational. I just... I couldn't go back to my life without knowing, without....”
And that was as far as she got before he leaned down, cupped her delicate face between his large palms, and kissed her. Distantly, he could hear the countdown to the New Year starting... and then finishing, but, still, neither of them were willing to let go of one another or end their embrace. Eventually, though, just like in Santa Fe, they simply had to pull away or risk losing consciousness, but, even after their lips were separated, he could still taste Liz on his mouth, could still smell her shampoo, could still see the images of her life – past, present, and future – shimmering before his dazed eyes.
“Happy New Year, Max Evans,” she whispered, leaning into his chest and allowing him to wrap her up tightly in his arms.
Returning the sentiment, he kissed her neck before murmuring, “happy New Year, Liz Parker.”
As they walked out of the airport together, Liz tenderly tucked into his side while he folded one of his arms possessively around her shoulders, a comfortable silence stretched between them. She lived in Boston. She went to school in Boston. Her life was in Boston and his was in Chicago. But, for the next three weeks, she'd be staying with him. After that, they'd figure something out. Max had waited far too long to find someone like her to just let her go without a fight.
“Oh, and Max,” she told him, turning to face him while they waited in the taxi line. “You will be explaining those flashes to me, and, be warned, I don't believe in magic... of any kind. Not even Christmas magic.”
Smirking, he just nodded in acceptance. After all, she was right. He would tell her the truth about not only the flashes but also himself, because she deserved to know, he deserved to tell someone, and he believed her delightfully rational, gorgeously quick mind would be able to grasp and comprehend the truth.
With that thought, Max found himself wondering how she'd feel about alien magic. He had a feeling – and not a little bit of hope – that he'd have a lifetime to find out.