FanFic - Max/Liz
"Small Sacrifices"
Part 3
by Karen
Disclaimer: Borrowed and returned undamaged, thanks.
Summary: A joyous event turns tragic; Liz sets Max free.
Category: Max/Liz
Rating: PG-13
Authors Note: Feedback is always appreciated. Thanks!
Maria eyed Max from across the Crashdown counter. He wasn't as upset as she'd expected him to be - he just seemed confused by the whole situation. He was staring at his untouched burger, his hands on either side of the plate.

"Is it cold yet?" Maria asked.

Max nodded his head, inconspicuously waved his hand over the patty, which started to steam.

"How many times can a burger take that abuse?" she questioned, her voice amused. "That has to be the fourth or fifth time you've brought it back to life."

Max looked up at her and Maria nearly withdrew from the look in his eyes. Max wore his emotions on his sleeve - the guy was a mess.

"My stomach aches," he said simply.

"I'm sure it does," Maria agreed softly. "Do you want something a little more bland? Some vanilla ice cream maybe?"

Max shook his head. "No, I'm not really hungry at all." He sighed and ran a hand through his dark hair. "Maria, what went on?"

Looking into those eyes, Maria found herself struggling to lie to him. She'd never lied to him about anything in the past, and she wasn't going to start now. Just because Liz could lie to him - a tactic Maria hadn't agreed with - it didn't mean Maria could. "You'll have to ask Liz that question," she responded. Good evasive maneuver, she credited herself.

"I did. She wouldn't tell me. She said nothing happened. But I know something did."

Maria reached out and took one of his hands. He looked at her, startled by the contact. "She'll come around. I know Liz loves you, Max. So I know she had to have a reason to do what she did." She smiled a warm smile, then moved to the shake machine. She knew Max's eyes were on her as she mixed him a shake. She came back to the counter and placed it before him. "On the house." Then she leaned across the counter and kissed him on the cheek. Max needed all the affection he could get right now. ______________________________________________________________________

Isabel was hovering near her brother's doorway. Max finally put down the magazine he was staring at - not really reading it because that would require getting Liz out of his head first - and let out a sigh.

"Come in, Isabel," he called, knowing she had passed his door for about the tenth time.

Isabel appeared beside his bed, her hands folded anxiously in front of her.

"Yes?" Max questioned.

"I, um, thought maybe you'd like to catch a movie, or maybe go for a burger or…" Her voice faded as she saw his blank expression. "Or maybe not."

Max pushed himself to a sitting position and patted the bed. "Sit down," he invited gently. Isabel obeyed. "I know what you're doing," he said, forcing himself to give her a small smile. "But it really isn't necessary."

"You sure?" Isabel's brown eyes, so like her brother's, searched his in a vain attempt to read his emotions. "You seem to be taking this awfully well."

Max sighed again and looked down at his comforter. He didn't want to dig into it too much. He hadn't allowed himself that defining moment of hitting rock bottom. He didn't want to be that out of control.

Isabel reached over and touched his arm, rubbing it soothingly. "You wanna talk about it?"

Max met her gaze again. "Isabel, what is the coldest thing anyone has ever said to you?"

She thought for a minute, trying to conjure up the most humiliating, humbling thing someone had said to her. "I think Kyle Valenti called me a freak once," she mused. "In like the fifth grade. That was pretty cold." There were other examples - Isabel just didn't want to dig them back up, so she'd made a joke.

Max snorted a small laugh.

"What about you?" Isabel asked, forcing the conversation back in his direction.

"Liz told me she waited to tell me she wanted to break up with me until we got back from Florida because she didn't want to ruin my vacation." Oddly, he felt the sting of tears in his eyes and had to force them away. "She didn't want to ruin my vacation," he repeated in disbelief.

Isabel gave his arm a little squeeze.

Max gasped in a breath and the pain he'd been suppressing for the past week came rushing forward. Within moments he was in his sister's arms, crying out the grief over his loss, over Liz, over his confusion. Isabel kissed his head and rocked him while he wept. ______________________________________________________________________

Liz spent the next month holding Max at bay. She'd managed to avoid actual physical contact with him - no small feat considering they had science lab together every day. She was confused by Max's coolness to the situation. He didn't look at her with those hurt, kicked-dog eyes. He looked at her with completely blank eyes. It was impossible for Liz to read him. Was he angry, was he hurt? Had she destroyed him?

Once he gave her one last chance to come clean, told her he'd never ask again. She'd remained silent and he had simply walked away from her. She hadn't expected his reaction. A different Max had returned from Florida, she decided. One that didn't give a rat's ass that she'd dumped him.

No, she knew that wasn't true. Deep down, she believed Max felt she was hiding something, that she really wasn't trying to hurt him. Which was the truth. She could hide nothing from Max.

As she was walking home from school, Liz's cell phone rang. Maria was on the other end. She wasn't happy.

"Spaceboy rode his friggin' dirt bike to the pod chamber and the damned thing broke down," Maria said. "I'm on my way to pick up his sorry ass."

Liz stifled a giggle at her friend's crabbiness. "Okay. Do you want me to come along?"

"No," Maria responded. "I just want someone to know where I am so if I don't show up in an hour you'll know I was dragged off by the coyotes. Jeez, I hate driving out there."

"What was he doing at the pod chamber?" Liz questioned.

"Praying to the gods of the universe?" Maria guessed. "I don't know. Your guess is as good as mine."

Liz considered Maria driving out into the desert by herself. She didn't like the idea. "Maria, swing by and get me. I want to go with you. In case the coyotes attack."

Liz heard Maria sigh on the other end. "Okay, where are you?"

Liz glanced up. "Third and Elm."

"Okay. Later."

Liz turned off her phone and gave a little laugh. She would hate to be Michael when Maria caught up with him. She waited patiently by the road until she saw the red Jetta turn the corner. Maria looked totally aggravated. Liz stepped into the car and tried to smother her smile.

"I'm going to be late for work," Maria said matter-of-factly. "Your dad is going to fire me."

"Maria, my dad is not going to fire you. He's never fired anyone."

"Well, Spaceboy hadn't better even think of trying to shove that filthy, rusty piece of crap in the trunk. Oh, he is so going to hear about this."

Liz giggled again. Yes, he surely was.

Chatting about their day - and occasionally adding in a comment about what a jerk Michael was - they drove the twenty minutes it took to reach the rock formation that held the pod chamber. When they pulled up to the base of the rocks, Liz's heart jerked in her chest. Max's jeep was parked beside Michael's dirt bike. Liz angrily turned to Maria.

"Did you know about this?" Liz spat.

Maria shook her head. "No, you gotta believe me. I didn't."

Liz sat motionless for a moment, then swore loudly and climbed out of the Jetta, Maria close behind. Liz bitched while she ascended the rock formation, complaining to Maria about Max setting this whole thing up. Maria just let her rant. About half way to the top, Liz lost her footing and went down hard. Maria dropped to her knees beside her. Liz clenched her teeth and brought her knee up to her chest.

"Are you okay?" Maria asked worriedly.

Liz swore some more, then pushed herself to her feet. Her jeans were ripped over her right knee and there was some blood starting to soak through the material. She tested her weight and was able to climb the rest of the way to the top.

The entrance to the pod chamber was open and she could hear Max and Michael laughing inside. It only infuriated her more. When she stepped through the entrance, both boys stopped laughing and looked surprised - too surprised for someone who had planned this.

"Liz," Max said. "What are you doing here?"

Maria entered behind Liz and gave an apologetic shrug, hands held palm-up. "I'm sorry," she said to Max. "I didn't know you'd be here. Why are you here?"

Michael scratched his forehead. "I called him first," he explained. "I left a message on his answering machine and he'd already left by the time I knew you were on your way."

"I figured I'd just hang out until you got here," Max said. "I figured you had to be right behind me." He looked at Liz. "I didn't know you were coming, too."

Liz didn't want it explained away that quickly. Her chest was rising and falling noticeably with the rapid breathing of her fury.

Max pointed to Liz's leg. "Are you hurt?" he asked, concerned.

Liz let out a disgusted sigh and turned on her heals. "I'm outta here." She hobbled out of the chamber and into the harsh light. She knew Max was right behind her.

"Liz, stop," he called.

For some reason she did. She turned around and tried to keep tears from welling up in her eyes. She could deal with Max when she knew she was going to have to - like when she knew she would see him every day in lab. She could prepare for that. But this had been totally unexpected and she was left shaking from the surprise.

Max reached for Liz's hand, but she jerked it away.

"Leave me alone, Max," she spat, taking a step backward.

"Liz, please." Max's eyes were pleading. He held out his hand, hoping she would just take it, that things could go back to the way they were.

"No," Liz replied, shaking her head defiantly. "I wouldn't even be here if it weren't for Maria. I was worried about her."

"Maria is fine, Liz. Please just come here and let me help you."

She took another step back, limping on her scraped knee. "No, I'm leaving. I have nothing to say to you, Max. We're through." She turned to retreat, but her next step led directly off the edge of the rock formation. She didn't even have time to scream before she was falling downward. Panic instantly twisted in her stomach, forced its way to her heart and made it pound. She was going to die. She was going to fall to her death. This wasn't how she'd intended on going.

Confusion invaded Liz's mind as the falling sensation came to an abrupt halt, a jolt to her shoulder and elbow sending a searing pain through her body. Legs swinging helplessly in mid-air, she looked up to see Max holding her by the wrist, his face contorted with the strain of keeping both of them from plummeting off the cliff. As she looked into his eyes, she felt it, the first stirring of the connection. Not now, she pleaded with herself. She'd spent so much time, so much energy making sure he didn't touch her, because if he touched her, he'd know. He'd know about the baby, and how she really felt about him. And all of her best-laid plans would be for nothing.

"Give me your other hand," Max said in a strained voice.

Liz made the mistake of looking down and the height made her head spin. She closed her eyes and swung her free hand over her head. Somehow Max caught it and started to pull her upward. She used her feet to brace herself against the vertical rock surface, but she could still feel the rocks ripping jaggedly into her jeans. A line of blood was trickling down her arms from her elbows. She could feel Max's hands beginning to sweat against her skin - it wouldn't be long before they were slippery and he'd lose his grip.

Then the connection kicked in full force. Liz gasped when she felt Max's emotions course through her - pure terror at losing her, pure love for her. Just her. He wanted nothing more than his Liz. She could feel his strong heart thundering in her own body, and then she felt her love pour out to him. He knew.

With one final, rough yank, Max pulled her over the edge of the cliff and onto solid ground. Their momentum sent them backward, Max falling to his back with a loud thump and Liz falling on top of him. Liz felt her heart jerk crazily in her chest, then her world went silent and black. ______________________________________________________________________

Liz slowly opened her eyes as if she were awakening from a nap. She felt oddly rested, peaceful. She could hear birds, the rustle of the wind, but nothing else. Above her, the sky was a cloudless blue - she felt like she was inside of a marble, looking out. It was a long time before she became fully coherent of where she was.

Rolling her head to the side, she spotted Max, sitting Indian-style beside her, her arm in his lap. He was silently tracing her abrasions with his index finger, healing her. She didn't say anything, she just watched him as he worked, enjoyed the soft, tender glide of his fingers along her skin. His face was full of concentration, of love. He almost looked a little guilty - like he was stealing time with her while he thought she was unconscious. Like he could only revel in her body when she wasn't aware of it. Liz felt a small smile crease her face. His fingers stopped over the pulse beat in her wrist, he blinked, then turned to look at her.

"Hi," he said softly.

"Hi," she repeated, smiling at him.

"I think you passed out," he explained, his eyes gentle.

She nodded. She remembered being pulled from certain death, then checking out. It had been her only defense. "You saved my life, Max."

He looked away from her, embarrassed, but didn't let go of her wrist.

"Thank you," Liz said.

He nodded his head, then began tracing the other side of her arm. "I'm not done yet," he said, still not looking at her. "Is it okay if I finish?"

Liz nodded, continued to watch him as he worked. The throbbing pain in her knee was gone. Her other arm felt fine. He must've been about finished with his task when she'd awaken. When his fingers reached the palm of her hand, she closed her hand around them.

Max stopped his motions and looked down at their fingers for a long moment. Then he looked up, straight across the horizon, away from her.

"Max," Liz said, her voice barely above a whisper. "I know you know how I feel. I know you know what happened."

He hung his head again, swallowed. "Yeah, I know." He turned her hand over and disentangled his fingers from hers. He lightly, silently traced the scrapes on her knuckles.

Liz's brow furrowed. "Don't you want to talk about it?"

He shook his head. "Not now. We've been through enough for one day." He looked at her shyly, smiled weakly. "I need to get you home so you can rest. You've been through a lot."

Max pushed himself to his feet and reached for her hand. "Do you think you can stand?"

Liz nodded and took his hand. As he pulled her to her feet, she felt the world sway and his arm went immediately around her waist. His other arm started to take her behind the knees so he could pick her up. She laughed lightly.

"I can walk, Max," she said gently.

"I know," he said, removing neither of his arms. "Just…let me."

Liz met his gaze and conceded. Max whisked her into his arms as though she weighed nothing. Liz wrapped her arms around his neck and inhaled deeply. She was in Max Evans's arms again. This wasn't like before - there was no anger, there was no danger. Just Max carrying her silently to safety. Against her body, she could feel the strong muscles of his chest and abdomen. She felt his ribs expand with each breath he took. His hair tickled her forehead. Looking down, she noticed the abrasions on his arms and hands; he'd taken the time to attend to her and had neglected himself. She felt the gentle buzz of the connection, on a much lower level this time, course through her body. From Max, she felt relief, exhaustion, confusion, sadness, and always love.

At the bottom of the rock formation, Max placed Liz gently in the front seat of the jeep and buckled her seatbelt around her. Liz smiled - he was treating her like a fragile infant. He hadn't said a word on the decent and it didn't appear he was going to speak now. Liz wondered if there was even anything to talk about.

Knowing it would be cold and dark by the time they reached Roswell, Max methodically snapped the ragtop onto the jeep for protection. Then he climbed into the driver's seat and headed for home. A few miles into the desert, he tentatively reached across the seat and took Liz's small hand in his. Liz gave his hand a reassuring, gentle squeeze, then drifted off to sleep to the hum of the tires against the road.

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