Elizabeth settled down in her home office to pay bills and realized she could turn the calendar over, as it was now officially December. She repressed a sigh. As much as she loved the holidays, for anyone who worked in an academic environment, December was so chaotic that it took a lot of the fun out of the season. Being dean of the law school only added to her obligations and the list of things that she needed to take care of.
There was a loud groan from down in the living room and she grimaced. At least the end of December would mean she would no longer be what she was coming to think of as "a football widow." Since the start of fall John's world and consequently their weekends were more or less centered around football games. She would be very, very happy when that ended.
Though the incomprehensible "bowl season" was still ahead of her.
Reminding herself that living together meant compromising, she glanced at the calendar again and stopped.
One year ago. It had been the previous December, the night of the trustee's Christmas ball, that she and John had kissed for the first time.
More than kissed, she remembered with a smirk.
She'd gone with him to spend Christmas with his family. When they got back, she took him to meet her brother and his wife and son. John had moved into her house late in the summer, and after four months, even with the football, things were going well between them.
So well that her mother had given up on subtlety and was openly asking if there was a particular weekend next year she should be keeping open. The thought had occurred to Elizabeth more than once since her parents had met John shortly after he moved in and given their approval, such as it was.
Elizabeth bit her lip, a nervous habit she'd trained herself not to do in front of people. She hated herself for this, but she couldn't bring the subject up with John. They'd spoken about marriage briefly during that visit but it hadn't come up again. John had even admitted he had been thinking about it, but since then neither of them had said anything.
She couldn't do it.
Elizabeth considered herself an enlightened and liberated woman. She hadn't gotten where she was in life by sitting back and hoping things would work out. She took action. She had been the one to kiss John first, to break the stalemate of close friendship and mutual attraction that had existed between them for so long. She had been the first person to say "I love you." And she had asked him to move in with her. None of that had been a problem.
It was silly and it made her feel like a stupid character in a Doris Day movie, but she wanted John to propose. Not only because of tradition and a million novels and poems and magazine articles and movies weighing down on her, but because she wanted him to say it.
Which was completely unfair to John on her part and she knew it. It wasn't like he didn't tell her, every single day, in some way or another, that he wanted to be with her. He was here, sharing the house and their responsibilities and the bed every day. He had no reservations about being sappy and affectionate in public or in private.
Why wasn't that enough for her? Why did she have to have this?
Memories of past relationships rose up in her mind. "You make me feel like I'm not good enough for you." "I just can't keep up with you, Elizabeth." "You're the adventurer, not me."
Every relationship she'd ever had, she was always too something; too busy, too driven, too demanding, too strong. There were plenty of moments, when the differences between her personality and John's surfaced, that she feared deep down that the same thing was going to end up happening. She would push him off or leave him behind somehow.
She didn't want that. She didn't want to lose him. The mere thought terrified her.
And maybe she wasn't that same person now. People changed, right? She was happy where she was. She loved her work, even on the days when she wanted to beat Jack O'Neill with a baseball bat. Even when John's groupies were driving her crazy. She loved her job, her house. That constant need to prove something to the world had faded.
Irked to find her eyes watering, Elizabeth went into the bathroom and grabbed some tissues. As she went back to her office, she glanced downstairs. John was sprawled on the couch, as usual. Sedge was lying half across John, clearly perfectly content.
They had moved things around in the office when he moved in. There was a second television and stereo in here, as well as a small desk for John to use when he needed to work on something in quiet.
Compromise, she thought. She'd never been good at it, which was one of the things that had made her a good lawyer, but compromising with John didn't feel like a fight she was afraid of losing. It felt normal.
She blew her nose and sighed. Maybe this was just hormonal, or the onset of holiday angst. That didn't stop the niggling thought that Christmas would be a good time to buy someone a ring.
Which reminded her, she had no clue what to get John for Christmas, either way.
She heard footsteps in the hall and was just able to compose her face before Sedge trotted over to her and two warm hands rested on her shoulders. "Whatcha doin'?"
"First of the month. Bill paying time."
John kneaded her shoulder muscles gently. "Is that why you're all sniffly?"
He had the ears of a cat. "I think I might be coming down with a cold."
"Aww," he said and kissed the top of her head. "We should have the rest of that jambalaya for dinner then. The spices will knock the germs right out of you."
She laughed. John's cooking was odd but the dishes he did know were very good. "I think you ate all the rice the other night."
"I'll make more." His fingers slipped up into her hair and began to massage behind her ears and she sighed happily.
"No games on tonight?"
He snorted. "Yeah, but none that I care about. Watching Toledo beat Bowling Green again isn't worth the effort." He leaned down and kissed her neck. "You going to be long up here?" Elizabeth shook her head. "I'll get dinner started."
He headed downstairs. Sedge stayed with her until the sounds of pans being moved in the kitchen summoned her dog like a magnet. Elizabeth started typing in payment information and sternly told herself she really was getting a cold and that was it.
The last day of classes was, as usual, frantic. Students in sudden panic over final exams were harassing her hourly, and Jack and Kinsey had nearly come to blows during the last board meeting. To top it off, she really had gotten a cold, though she'd gotten over it in three days as usual.
John wasn't faring so well. He'd been coughing and stuffed up for a week, and after every particularly bad fit of hacking, he'd shoot a baleful look in her direction. He turned into a five-year old when he was sick.
She was tempted to remind him he could have slept on the couch while she was sick, but she didn't. Instead she did the laundry so the sheets were clean, ran to the grocery store and bought the marshmallow chocolate covered cookies she knew he liked which she hated, and made a point of getting to bed at a decent hour, just so she could rub John's back until he fell asleep. All of which didn't seem to be alleviating his pouting by much.
After her morning class ended, she was on her way to her office and she saw a line of girls standing outside John's office. A couple of them were holding notebooks and looking frightened. The others were simply standing and whispering, and shooting malevolent glances in Elizabeth's direction.
Oh no. John did not need this today.
Elizabeth marched into her office and picked up her phone and dialed John's office. "Yes, Typhoid Mary?" John said in her ear. He'd been calling her that for two weeks. Of course with the stuffed up nose, it sounded more like "tyfid mury."
"Hi. You're going to lunch in 20 minutes," she told him.
"I am? Hang on a minute." She heard him finish with the student he was talking to and then ask the next one to give him a moment before he came back to the phone.
"So I'm going to lunch?"
"You don't hold office hours between 12 and 1. It says so on the schedule."
She could almost hear him frowning. "Elizabeth, I don't have a schedule posted."
She smiled a little. "Well, if you did, it would say that you don't hold office hours during lunch. Tell the girls in line outside your door that they can come back after 1."
There was a pause. "Did I ever tell you you're my hero?"
"Heroine," she said before hanging up the phone.
Half an hour later, they were in the faculty dining room, sitting with Janet and Sam, and John was breathing in the steam from his soup. "Ah, that's better."
"Not over that cold yet?" Janet asked John. There was a dangerous look in her eye that Elizabeth recognized as Janet preparing to bully someone into coming to the clinic.
John recognized Janet's dictatorial tendencies as well and he shook his head. "No, it's going away, just slowly. Also there's a lot of dust in my office."
Janet eyed him and John tried to look reasonably well. Fortunately, Sam shifted the conversation to the argument that had occurred between Rodney McKay and Dr. Zelenka in the lab earlier in the week. Zelenka had called Rodney something in Czech that was driving Rodney crazy because he couldn't figure out what the translation was.
John rolled his eyes. "The two of them fight like an old married couple," he said affectionately.
"Speaking of marriage," Janet said and Elizabeth's entire body tensed. Out of the corner of her eye, she thought Sam was looking similarly nervous, but Janet folded her hands and rested her chin on them with a deceptively innocent air while she eyed Elizabeth and John. "Should we be preparing for an announcement from you two after winter break?"
"Janet!" she exclaimed, irritated. Elizabeth met John's eyes for a moment and recognized the look of sheer panic on his face. "That's none of your business."
Janet, however, was undeterred. "What's the matter, John? Can't quite work up the nerve? Everybody's waiting for you to make an honest woman out of Elizabeth, you know."
Elizabeth knew Janet wasn't trying to upset either of them, but she could see clearly that John's usually docile temper was up. His expression went cool and he shrugged, his eyes hard and pointedly not looking in Elizabeth's direction. "Well, you know, things are going well, so why rock the boat?"
They were just outside the law building when Elizabeth put a hand on John's arm. "John? I'm sorry about what happened at lunch. Janet shouldn't have said anything. She wasn't trying to be obnoxious."
He sighed and rubbed his nose, which was red from the cold. "I know. I was probably a little harsh. It's just, with the cold and the end of semester rush and the holidays, I didn't need her teasing on top of everything."
She nodded. "I'm sure she knows that."
"I'll be nice next time I see her. Maybe I should go to the clinic and let her poke at me for a while."
"No!" Elizabeth blurted and then blushed when John smirked at her reaction. "You don't want to give Janet the excuse to pull out her big thermometer."
"Come on, let's get you in out of the cold." She tugged his arm and they walked into the building.
"Hey, I was thinking, you're done with finals on Thursday, right?" Elizabeth nodded. "What do you say we have our own Christmas party next Friday night? Just for the two of us, before we go do the family thing?"
"The Trustees Ball is Friday night," she reminded him.
"Oh right. Okay, Saturday then?"
She smiled gamely as they separated to go to their respective offices. "It's a date."
"Why rock the boat?"
The words had been echoing in her head for a week now. Half the time she agreed. John was right. Things were going smoothly between them, they were both happy, so why disrupt that?
The rest of the time she was fighting not to let the hurt show. Was he really content with that, just to drift along? Were they going to spend another 4 years in suspended animation until one of them finally broke through? Every fear she had been pushing away about their personalities being incompatible nagged at her, so she kept herself busy and tried hard not to think too much. By Friday she was exhausted.
John had tried to wiggle out of attending the ball with her, but his cold was completely gone by then. Elizabeth's heart wasn't really in the party, however, and they were home and in bed relatively early. As it had the year before, on their way home from the ball, it started to snow.
By morning the world was covered in a fluffy white blanket, and Elizabeth broke out her Muppets Christmas album for the first time. Saturday afternoon they made cookies, and then as the sky grew dark, they began to decorate the tree. Elizabeth forgot her worries as they squabbled like children over arranging the lights, and then started putting on the ornaments. She'd only had a little table top decoration for the last several years, and the living room was a little overwhelmed by the tree.
Hanging the ornaments only took a couple of minutes. John looked at the tree critically. "We need to get more decorations next year."
Elizabeth nodded, trying not to think about things like plans for next year. John flipped off the living room lights and the tree, with the brightly colored star at the top, glowed in the twilight. He handed her a glass of wine and then raised his own glass. "Cheers." She mustered a smile back and sipped. He leaned in and kissed her cheek. "Now, I'm going to go make dinner and you can stay here and rearrange the ornaments to your satisfaction."
She gaped at his completely accurate assessment of her intentions, but he only chuckled and left.
Dinner had been chicken cutlets and mashed potatoes, one of Elizabeth's favorite meals. They ate with only the glow of the Christmas tree and some candles for light, including the small votive candle in her glass Nativity scene. Elizabeth had never been particularly religious, but the slender, graceful glass figures had appealed to her. She'd carried that set from place to place carefully for years. It had been the first decoration she'd ever bought for her first apartment.
Elizabeth put the dishes in the dishwasher as John brought a couple of packages out to place them under the tree. She'd brought her gift for John down while he was cooking. Once the dishwasher was running, she went to the living room, munching on a cookie. Before John could pout she held up her hand and he grinned and popped the entire cookie she'd brought him into his mouth at once.
In spite of herself, Elizabeth looked at the boxes John had set under the tree. One was long and rectangular, the other was a square about five inches wide. She told herself she was being stupid and that she wasn't going to ruin their private celebration for any reason.
John swallowed his cookie and bent over. He picked up something thin and gold-colored and held it up. "Do you recognize this?"
She reached out and tilted the ornament. It was a Santa Claus made out of thin metal. Across his pack was engraved, "John." She smiled. "This is yours. You got it when you were a kid."
He nodded. "My parents got one for each of us when we turned five. I asked my Mom to send this to me a few weeks ago." He looked down at the ornament and then back at her. "I figured since I finally had a Christmas tree of my own, it was time."
Elizabeth's heart sped up a little in relief. It was a tiny gesture, but she understood what it meant.
John's expression turned mockingly innocent. "So can I hang it myself or are you going to direct me?"
She tried to glare, but it didn't work too well. "It's your ornament, so you should get to put it wherever you want."
John made a show of hunting for a spot, though given the sparseness of their decorations, it wasn't hard to find an open space. Once he'd admired his handiwork, he clapped his hands together. "Presents?"
"You drove your parents crazy on Christmas Eve, didn’t you," she asked rhetorically.
They sat down on the floor next to the tree, Sedge settling down nearby. John picked up the long box first. "This is for Sedge, actually, but I think someone with thumbs probably should open it."
Elizabeth smiled and ripped the paper off. Inside the box was an enormous rubber bone. "Oh thank God. He'd finished the last of those small ones the other day."
Sedge sniffed the bone all of once before chomping on it and dragging it over to his corner to start chewing.
John reached for the other gift but Elizabeth held up a hand. "Hang on, we have to take turns."
John pouted, but his expression turned into one of excitement when she handed him the large box and wished him a Merry Christmas. Internally she prayed the gift wouldn't send a wrong message. John tore into the wrapping paper eagerly and opened the box. "Oh, yay!" he said, pulling the heavy flannel robe up out of the box. "Now you won't be nagging me about my ratty old robe anymore," he said with a knowing grin.
"I would think you'd see the advantage of wearing something *I* want to cuddle with," she retorted.
He leaned in to kiss her but she stopped him, "There's more."
"More?" He dove back in and she rolled her eyes. He was 10 years old. "Ah," John pulled the new slippers and the new pajamas out of the box. "As God is my witness, I'll never be cold again," he deadpanned. But he poked a foot into the slippers to test the fit. "Did I get everything?"
She shook her head. Puzzled, John went back into the box. "Tissue paper? Oh, wait," he pulled out something thin and wrapped in tissue paper and a ribbon. Puzzled, he got the ribbon and paper off and held up the black silk. Then, even in the low light, she saw him start to blush.
She cackled. There had been an infamous discussion between them in bed one night about her lingerie and how his cotton boxer shorts just weren't comparable. Now she had evened the playing field. "Those aren't for keeping you warm, just so we're clear," she told him.
John leaned over towards her. "Then what are they for?"
"For getting me hot," she said truthfully. He smiled and kissed her slowly and thoroughly, so that she nearly forgot about the last present waiting.
John didn't, however. He pulled back reluctantly and swept the garbage out of the way. Then he rubbed his palms up and down his thighs a couple of times before picking up the box. He looked nervous, she realized, and that made her own stomach lurch.
"Merry Christmas, Elizabeth." He held the box out for her and she took it, and promptly almost dropped it. It weighed a ton.
"What's in here?" she asked. She couldn't think of anything that size that would be so heavy. Mercury, maybe.
"Open it." There was a strange look on his face.
Elizabeth pulled off the wrapping paper (John was useless at tying ribbons) and then lifted the lid off the box.
Sitting in the center of the larger cardboard box was a small, velvet-covered jewelry box.
A ring box.
It took a moment for her to remember to breathe. She glanced at John, who was watching her silently. She'd never seen him look quite this way before. He nodded wordlessly.
She lifted the jewelry box out and saw there were ceramic tiles filling the rest of the cardboard box, which was why it was so heavy. She would think about that in a minute. Her fingers shook slightly as she opened the velvet case.
Inside was a silver engagement ring. There was a small, perfectly shaped square diamond in the center. The setting was very simple and another person might have thought it plain, but Elizabeth liked the elegance of it immediately.
John was suddenly kneeling next to her. He took the ring box and wrapped one of his hands around both of hers. "Elizabeth," he said quietly and had to clear his throat. He looked right into her eyes and took a deep breath. "I love you. I knew I loved you a year ago tonight, when you kissed me that first time. I want us to spend the rest of our lives together. I want to go to sleep with you every night and wake up with you every morning. I want to have children with you. I mean, I know we haven't really talked about it, but if that's what you want..." He shook himself slightly and refocused. "I'll do anything you want. I just want to be with you. Will you marry me?"
She couldn't draw a breath. Something was choking her throat, the same thing that was making tears well up in her eyes. The horrible fear that she'd been carrying around for weeks melted within her and she could only cry and throw her arms around John's neck and kiss him.
He kissed her back, stroking her cheek and wiping the tears away from her face. "Um, Elizabeth? Is that an answer?" he asked pointedly.
"Yes!" she practically yelled. "Of course, yes!"
He kissed her again, a little possessively. Then he took the ring out of the box and held out his hand. Elizabeth gave him her left hand and he slid the ring onto her third finger. "Your hands are shaking," he said. His voice was as well. He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed the back of her knuckles gently.
Elizabeth cupped his cheek in one hand. The rush of emotions within her made it impossible to keep quiet. "What about not rocking the boat?" she blurted out.
John frowned. "I just said that to get Janet to shut up. I didn't want to talk about it with her. Plus I was afraid talking about it would ruin tonight." It dawned on Elizabeth that he had been planning this for a while. She hadn't even considered that possibility. John eyed her warily. "You thought I meant it, what I said to Janet. That's why you've been depressed this whole week."
She looked away. "It was stupid. I never should have believed it."
"You should have said something." He was angry over her being upset.
"That would've spoiled this," she reminded him.
"That would've been better than you being hurt all week," he shot back but she placed a finger against his lips.
"I wouldn't change anything about today, John. Not one thing. It was perfect."
He went from irritated to bashfully pleased in a heartbeat. "Really?"
She nodded, the tears coming back. "Really." She stroked her thumb along his jaw. "God, I love you so much," she whispered.
John kissed her then, and they fell back against the floor. The kiss turned hungry and she felt his hands slide up under her sweater, his warm touch teasing her skin. But there was one thing they still needed to clear up. She pushed his shoulders back and he stopped.
She reached up and smacked the back of his head. "Ow! What was that for?"
"Ceramic tiles?" she said, raising an eyebrow.
He grinned. "Well, I didn't want to be too obvious."
She locked her hands behind his neck. She was too happy to really resent it, but his sense of humor had the oddest quirks sometimes. "You're lucky you're so cute," she told him.
John's expression became serious as he looked down at her. "Yeah, I'm very lucky."
Then he leaned down and kissed her. They made love right there, bathed in the colored lights of their Christmas tree.