Examination Day

Author's Note: Something I found in my GDrive and will never finish: I'd been re-watching what was one of my very first online fandoms - just a few episodes, but enough to remind me how much I enjoyed the chemistry between Max and Liz in season 1. And then I read Delirium (a dystopian YA by Lauren Oliver). Somehow that turned into my attempt to write a less-juvenile fic for them than the one I started but never completed all those years ago. Unfortunately my inspiration didn't last, so I figured I could just as well officially abandon this. *facepalm*

***

My name is Liz Parker, and five days ago I died. After that, things got really weird.

Liz paused and hesitated, her pen hovering over the paper. Was it safe to write this down? But she felt as if she was going to burst if she didn't get it out somehow - and there was no one she could talk to. She shook her head, still finding it hard to wrap her head around the fact that she suddenly had a secret she couldn't tell anyone about. She'd always been a good girl, fitting in, never causing a fuss, counting the days until her 18th birthday and the date for the Procedure that would make her an adult, a productive member of society.

Yes, she'd been scared of her Examinations, but she'd made up her mind to pass them with flying colors. After all, the results would determine whether she would be allowed to follow her dream of going to college and maybe become a microbiologist one day, or whether she would have to get married right out of highschool. Not that she didn't want to get married - of course she did, but not just yet, not when she felt she could better contribute in other ways. A husband and children could wait. That was if all her test results were satisfactory, and as the date of her Examinations approached Liz had been more and more afraid of messing up.

Except that she needn't have worried, since she didn't get the chance to either choke or excel. On the day her mom had dropped her off at the Lab where she'd met up with Maria DeLuca. Even her best friend's irrepressible bubbly personality had been subdued, and Liz had wondered about the fierceness of her embrace before they separated again. She'd always figured Maria was not worried about the future, but maybe she'd been wrong. After all, Maria's dad had been a sympathizer and had disappeared across the border around Roswell into the desert when Maria was only a baby. Liz decided to ask her about it, once today was over and they were somewhere safe, where no one could overhear. She'd pushed down the fear knotting her stomach and tried to focus on the next few hours.

Having donned the embarrassingly see-through hospital gown everyone had to wear, she'd faced her four Examiners and began answering their probing questions. At first it went well, the replies she'd practiced so often coming easily - interests, hobbies, plans for the future - but then came a question she hadn't anticipated: "Miss Parker, you mention your interest in science, and we are in Roswell. In your opinion, is there alien life?"

"As a scientist," she began, and although a part of her screamed to just repeat the official line, to her horror she didn't seem to be able to. "It just seems so unlikely that…" Liz froze. Naturally she knew what the correct answer was - life on Earth was God's unique creation. Yet she hesitated, because deep down she had problems believing a lot of what it said in Genesis: A Complete History of The World and the Known Universe, the only accepted textbook. Squeezing her eyes shut, Liz desperately tried to formulate an answer, but as the seconds ticked by, she could see doubt creep into the formerly smiling faces on the other side of the table. Right then, however, noise erupted in the hallway, and everyone's attention snapped to the commotion.

Liz didn't get a chance to feel relieved, however, because the door flew open and a group of struggling people burst in. Invalids, people who had refused the Procedure, Liz thought, even as she stood staring, shocked to come face to face with people the government denied even existed. Not that she'd ever believed the propaganda that they had been eradicated. After all, every couple of years they snuck into the town and staged a protest of some kind, usually around the Lab, but this year they were actually inside, and Lab security were obviously trying to force them to surrender. The guards were waving guns, and Liz realized she was much more scared of them than of the protesters who were only carrying signs.

She began looking around frantically for somewhere even remotely safe, but the Examiners were already crouched underneath the table, with no room left for her. Liz backed up until she hit the wall, out of the way of the fighting, but suddenly she froze. Above her, on the observation deck that she could have sworn had been empty before, stood a young man, staring down at her with amber eyes, as if willing her to stay down. For a second Liz' stomach did a flip-flop that had nothing to do with panic, because what the hell was Max Evans doing here?

He was a year older than she was and already had his Procedure behind him. Not that Liz had been paying attention to him - interactions between boys and girls were completely off-limits, after all, and Liz was a good girl, not one of those that got into trouble and were shipped off or had to take the Cure early despite the increased risks. So he had no business being in the Lab, and he most certainly should not be looking at Liz like that, not when he was Cured and should therefore be in complete control of his emotions. Yet there he was, staring, and it was the look of horror on his face that Liz noticed first, before the sound of a gunshot and a sudden pain in her stomach registered with her.

Then her world went white, and she gasped, agony replacing all conscious thought. It was only a moment, however, then warmth pushed aside the pain, and her eyes fluttered open to meet Max Evans' shocked gaze. He had torn open her gown, and his hands were pressed against the place where she dimly realized the bullet had penetrated. He must have jumped down from the balcony and was… what was he doing? Healing her? Because it was undeniable that she'd been shot, and just as undeniable that she no longer was.

Instead Max was helping her to her feet, his grip still slippery with her blood, and Liz almost collapsed again at the sight. Instead she took a deep breath and stared at the place where the wound had been for a long moment, before looking up to meet Max' anxious eyes. His voice was low, pleading, "Please, Liz, don't tell anyone!"

Since the gunshot the Invalids had slowly begun to surrender, but so far no one had come to check on Liz yet. Her mind was racing. However, she could feel Max' hands touching her, the very hands that had just saved her life even if she couldn't understand how, and she could easily read the fear in his face. Not that she could blame him - they lived in a country where refusing to conform could get you killed. So she nodded, trying to look more certain than she felt, and let herself be pulled into the changing room by a relieved Max.

There he quickly handed her a fresh, undamaged gown, and without hesitation Liz stripped off her bloody one. Then she froze, suddenly all too aware that she was naked except for her undies, in front a boy, in front of Max Evans, who had been the reason for a good number of meditations for serenity. Immediately she felt ridiculous and quickly donned the gown - after all, they most certainly had other things to worry about right now. Except that she could have sworn that Max was blushing, another ridiculous notion that she quickly squashed. He was Cured, no longer subject to such emotions, and even if he hadn't been, why should he notice her?

She was just Liz Parker, nobody special, and after she botched this Examination, she never would be. So she just stood there, staring into amber eyes that seemed much too intense, until Max finally tore himself away and disappeared with a last plea for her not to tell anyone what he had done. As if she ever could - even if she'd had any idea what the hell just happened, there was no doubt in her mind that Max Evans had saved her life, and she owed him for that. So she waited where she was, until someone from the Lab came to tell her that all Examinations had been cancelled and that she could go home.

Liz just nodded dumbly, feeling too overwhelmed to be relieved that she'd get another chance to make a good impression, and got dressed again. At the last moment she remembered the bloody gown and stuffed it into her bag, hoping no one would care enough to notice it was gone.

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