A/N: Set a few years after everything, and after my other Boof Thief fic In the Oppressive Darkness; same three-room apartment. Not that I'm plugging my other work ;) Anyway, enjoy!
What Cannot Be Said
Liesel could not remember the precise moment in time in which Max Vandenburg became more than just Max Vandenburg for her, but she couldn't seem to get the concept out of her mind thereafter.
When he stood at the sink scrubbing the breakfast dishes and she sat at the table with a plate of uneaten toast in front of her, she slid her eyes sideways toward him, studying him as she often found herself doing. He was focused on his task, his sleeves rolled up, his hair in his face. He needed a haircut.
When he sat in a chair as she stood behind him with a borrowed pair of scissors in hand, Liesel ran her fingers through his freshly-washed hair, caressing its soft featheryness, feeling small tears prick in her eyes as she raised the scissors and trimmed the ends off, imagining her face pressed into it, breathing him in.
When he was out, at work or searching for more, Liesel washed and hung his clothes as Rosa Hubermann used to do for the people of Molching. Max's shirts never seemed to lose their wrinkles, his pants perpetually creased, but Liesel didn't mind. She didn't mind at all. Rather, she loved it. She adored Max's tousled clothing, his fraying scarf for the winter, his holey socks. She washed it all carefully and hung it in the kitchen by the heater until it was warm. She folded it slowly and set it in Max's drawer, then lowered herself onto his mattress and curled up in the rumpled mess of his sheets and held her thoughts of him delicately in her arms.
When he came home from work in the evenings and hung up his thin coat, his back to her, her eyes were drawn to the contours of his shape, the texture of his hair, whether he needed a haircut, the tired curve of his shoulders, the muscles he had regained in his arms since his release from Dachau. She studied him until he turned around and smiled wearily at her, at which point she quickly averted her gaze and murmured hello, Max, I've been waiting, Max.
When he lay on his mattress across the room they shared in the middle of the night, she listened to his steady breathing and imagined his heat, drawing her own sheets tightly around herself, shivering, wanting so badly for him to share his heat with her. For him to slip into bed beside her and warm her from the inside.
When he awoke from his nightmares and pierced the night with a gasp, she turned over on her mattress and pulled her covers more tightly around her slight shoulders. "Max?" she whispered after a minute of silence.
He offered no reply, but she knew he was awake.
"Max?" she said again. "It's cold, and—"
She shifted on her mattress and heard Max shift on his.
She murmured his name again, then: "Please—"
"Liesel." His voice cleaved the night in two. "I can't."
When he rose from his bed early in the morning, before the sun rose, Liesel lay awake, staring silently into the pre-dawn darkness, her breath suspended in her chest. As Max moved around the room, pulling a worn shirt over his chest, pushing his sleeping hair off his forehead with his hand, sighing an tired morning sigh, Liesel listened hard and imagined him doing these things as if she could see him. As if she were looking at him. Sometimes she turned her head slowly on her pillow to search the shadows for Max, but could only make out a ghost in the darkness, an outline among the blackness, a slim figure silhouetted against the pale light of the small bedroom window. He became something unknown and unreachable in the darkness, and soon in the light as well.
Liesel never said anything to Max, of course. Nothing of her obsession, her addiction to everything he was, or the distance she began to feel. Eventually, she found it difficult to say anything at all, for all her thoughts were plagued by him and she couldn't manage to discuss much else.
"Liesel?" he said one evening, while standing at the sink with the dishes. Liesel was hanging his clothes by the heater.
"Yes?" she replied, draping a shirt over the makeshift clothesline she had erected in the corner.
"You've been quiet."
Liesel wasn't sure what to say to that. She shook the folds out of another shirt and creased her brow. "Have I?"
Max's hands worked the rag against the pan in the sink. "You know you have."
She hung the shirt and smoothed her hair down with her hands. She glanced over at Max, whose eyes were fixed on the dishes. His hair needed washing. It looked like twigs. Liesel loved the twigs.
"Are you alright?"
"Of course I am," Liesel said quickly. "I'm great."
Max stopped scrubbing looked up at her then. His swampy eyes studied her, and she was unsettled by it. She felt like he hadn't looked at her in weeks. She looked away first, then fidgeted with her hands.
"Are you sick of it here?" Max asked. "Should I ask Mr. Steiner if you can have your job in his shop back? Should I ask him if you can live there again?"
"No, I—I want to stay with you."
"You just..." Max dropped the rag in the sink and dried his hands on his pants. He strode to the table and sank into a chair. "You just seem so unhappy."
"I'm not unhappy."
"Then what? I want you to be happy."
"I am happy, Max."
"No you aren't, Liesel. You wander this place like a restless ghost. You haven't spoken to me in ages—"
"I speak to you every day!"
"Not like you used to," murmured Max, his eyes cast downward. He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees and clasping his hands together. "I never know what you're thinking anymore."
Liesel said nothing.
"I realize you aren't a child anymore and you don't feel like sharing everything with me, but I feel like you resent me and you resent being here with me. Don't you want to go somewhere else?"
"Haven't you outgrown me? You don't need a parent anymore, Liesel." He struggled over the next thing he said: "You're...nearly a woman, after all."
"You aren't a parent to me. I've never thought of you like that. Never."
Max heaved a big sigh. "Well," he said. "I don't know, then. I don't know what's wrong."
After a moment of silence, Liesel asked quietly, "Do you want me to go somewhere else?" She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and stared at the floor. "Do you resent me?"
Max pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger and shook his head slowly. "I just want you to be happy, and you don't seem happy to me. All I can do is guess."
"Then why don't you talk to me anymore?"
"I do talk to you."
"We're going in circles now," moaned Max. "Why can't things just be how they used to be?" He covered his face with his hands and slumped further over.
"Because things aren't how they used to be," Liesel murmured, joining Max at the table. "You're right. I'm not a child anymore. And I don't think like a child anymore."
"Okay," said Max slowly. "So do you want to go? What do you want to do?"
Liesel sighed and glanced away from Max, out the tiny window by the stove.
"What do you want, Liesel?"
The tears were coming to her again. You, she couldn't say. I want you. She knew he was looking at her, but she couldn't meet his gaze. She couldn't look at him. He didn't feel what she felt. "Liesel," he had said. "I can't." He would think her foolish. He would ask her to leave. Everything would change. Had everything already changed? Had she changed everything with her impossible infatuation?
Max sighed and leaned back in his chair.
"Please," Liesel gasped, still refusing to look at him. Her throat was constricting and her face was turning red. "Please don't make me say it."
He crossed his arms over his tired chest as it rose and fell with his tired breath and kept his tired eyes steadily on her as she struggled. They fell shut as the next words spilled from her lips.
"Max," she whispered. "I can't."