"There he is," Ravi says, under his breath. "Ten o'clock, blue shirt. Mr. Benjamin Ranscombe himself."
Liv sneaks a peek quickly, jerking her eyes quickly back down to the Ms. Marvel comic she's been staring at for ten minutes. "Ew," she says, just as quietly. "Holy hair gel, Batman."
"I know, it's appalling," Ravi replies, pretending to lean down at look at something over Liv's shoulder, so he can keep Ranscombe in his line of sight. "He's like a walking oil spill. He wears the most dreadful cologne, too. Nat bought air fresheners for the front counter because every time he comes in, he leaves the entire place smelling like the inside of an Abercrombie and Fitch store."
Liv stifles a laugh, her eyes still glued to the same (first) page of Ms. Marvel #46, which if Ravi recalls correctly was part of that dreadful Dark Reign storyline. He should've directed her towards the DC aisles - if he could trick her into even glancing at a Batgirl of Burnside comic, he knows she'd be hooked. "Is Nat the cute redhead or the grumpy-looking mouth breather?"
Ravi frowns down at her disapprovingly. Jared is a very nice fellow who always lets Ravi have first crack at the new shipments in the rare/collectible section. His asthma is no joking matter, either. "Neither. She's a cute brunette, and she only works weekends."
Liv wiggles her eyebrows. "I know how you feel about brunettes. How cute are we talking?"
"Medium cute and married," Ravi says, rolling his eyes. "Get your head in the game, Miss Match, and keep that brain under control. We're here for Lucy Carmike, not my love life."
"Right." Liv shakes her head, as if to clear it, and turns a page of the comic. For realism, Ravi supposes. "Sorry. She's kind of...enthusiastic."
"Yes, well." Ravi remembers Lucy well - she'd been a sweet girl. Energetic, friendly, always willing to hang around and chat, even if her shift was over. Clearly a romantic, judging by her picks for the "Employee Favorite of the Week" display, but unlucky in love herself, jumping from one rough breakup to the next, with hardly a pause in-between. She collected Funko Pops, and the last time Ravi had spoken to her before her death, she'd been over the moon about finding the Conan O'Brien figurine, which apparently was quite rare. "Look. He's headed for the trade paperbacks. Good chance to get him alone - you can't see back there from the front counter."
"Okay," Liv says, that grim veil falling over her face again, the one she wears whenever she gets into zombie cop mode. She hands Ms. Marvel to Ravi. "Stay here and get ready to call Clive if he runs."
"What? No way, I'm coming with you," Ravi says. "That guy is three times your size."
"I can handle myself," Liv hisses, her eyes on Ranscombe's back as he disappears into the back room. "Zombie strength, remember?"
"Zombie strength won't do you much good if he steps on your face," Ravi points out. "Honestly Liv, no offense, but you barely come up to my shoulder, and Ranscombe has at least three inches on me - "
"Oh my God," Liv exclaims, "you're doing it again, you're doing the thing again that I told you not to do anymore because I am fine - "
"I'm not doing anything but backing you up," Ravi says definitively, shoving Carol Danvers back amongst a row of Peter Parkers. She'll be content there, he's sure. "Besides, what if he does try something and you go all red-eye on him? We have enough undead football players running around Seattle, thank you very much."
"Your faith in me is, as always, inspiring," Liv says dryly. "Fine. But follow my lead, and if I give you the signal to run, you run, got me?"
"What's the signal to run?" Ravi asks.
"Trust me, you'll know it when you hear it," Liv says.
The thing about Liv is that she takes up a lot of space, without even really meaning to, which Ravi admits is understandable given her general...situation. He doesn't begrudge her for it at all, of course not, but - he has a feeling that she's always been this way, zombieness notwithstanding. Judging by the bits and pieces that Peyton had let slip, whenever she'd forget that Ravi was Liv's Boss in addition to his role as Peyton's Occasional Boyfriend - Liv Moore has always been a bit on the high maintenance side.
Most ambitious women are, in Ravi's experience. He has a bit of a type - put-together, smart, stressful occupations, confident - and most of the women he's dated were the same. It's nothing he holds against them of course - when you spend most of your time negotiating plea bargains or operating on sick children or chasing down murderers, you're bound to need a little extra care and attention from those you love at the end of the day. Most of the time, Ravi is happy to provide said attention. Most of the time, Ravi doesn't even think about it.
But most of the time, Ravi is dating the person in question, and barring a time machine to go back and reverse some very crucial roommate/romantic decisions that were made in the first year of their friendship, that's just...not going to happen, between him and Liv. Not that he'd - not that he thinks about that, or wants it, or anything. They're friends, good friends. Confidants. Buds, pals, BFFs. She watches horror movies with him, he covers up the regular desecration of corpses for her. She always brings him lunch from that Thai place he likes, and he helps her mitigate her multiple, rotating personalities. It's a partnership that works, mostly. Most days. Sometimes. Whatever.
What was he talking about, again?
"I don't know," Liv says loudly, holding up a copy of the first volume of Hawkeye. "Evan doesn't really like girly stuff, and this looks pretty girly, you know? Can we find something that's a little...you know. Explodey?"
Ravi knows it's an act, and that she doesn't actually know what she's talking about at all, but he's offended anyway. "Matt Fraction won an Eisner Award for that run, Liv."
"So?" Liv shrugs and plops it back onto the shelf. "Let's find something with more murder in it. Something manly, you know?" She turns to the opposite shelf, angling her body so she's blocking most of the aisle. Ranscombe, buried in a gigantic Avengers volume in the corner, tenses up slightly. "Does the Joker have his own title?"
Ravi is secretly very proud of her for using 'title' correctly in a sentence. "Well, yes, but it was horrible." He sighs, leaning against the doorway to the room, effectively blocking Ranscombe's only escape route, as casually as he can. "If he likes blood and guts, there are plenty of horror comics you could get him. It doesn't have to be superheroes."
Liv makes a noncommittal noise, ambling slowly in Ranscombe's direction, still pretending to browse. "Maybe. Hey, what do you think?" She stops short a few feet of Ranscombe's rigid shoulder. "You look like a tough kind of guy. What kind of stuff do you read?"
Ranscombe doesn't reply right away, his head still buried in the book. "Sorry, you talkin' to me?" His accent is stronger than Ravi'd expected - a deep New York twang. Ravi thinks of Lucy bouncing around the shop three weeks before babbling about how dreamy Brooklyn accents were, and feels slightly sick.
"Yeah." Liv pulls on the flirt-face, leaning with one arm against the bookshelf and the other dangling just inches from Ranscombe's hip. "My little brother - he's about to turn eighteen, and I'm trying to encourage him in the right direction, you know what I mean? He's a bit of a pushover."
Ranscombe finally breaks, his head popping up from the book. "A pushover, huh?"
"A bit." Liv smiles, and motions to Ravi with her free hand, below Ranscombe's line of sight. The message is clear: stay quiet, stay put. Ravi crosses his arms and tries not to get too anxious. "He gets bullied a lot. He's kinda skinny, you know." She ducks her head, a strategic move that she'd told him about ages ago, because it makes her hair fall in her face in such a way that it draws attention to her cleavage...or something. Ravi had been too busy mocking her at the time to pay very close attention. "Bet you never had that problem growing up."
Ranscombe shrugs. He still looks tense, but his attention is firmly on Liv, and he's stopped eyeing Ravi at the doorway. "I had my fair share. Played sports though; that helped."
"Evan plays hockey," Liv says. "He's not very good at it though, which only makes it worse."
"Hockey?" Ranscombe says, approval in his voice. "I played varsity for three years at Washington State."
"Really? Wow, what a coincidence!" Liv exclaims, and goes in for the kill, laying her arm against Ranscombe's bicep. "I would've thought you were a football player or something, with your build."
"Hockey's a real man's sport," Ranscombe says, surrendering finally, placing the Avengers book back on the shelf. "What's your name? Haven't seen you around much."
"Oh, I'm Olivia," Liv says, shaking his hand slowly. Ravi watches their hands linger in the clasp and grimaces. "I usually go to Ransom Comics, at the mall. Closer to home."
"Their selection sucks," Ranscombe says.
"Right?" Liv says, and Ravi watches as her eyes narrow, as good of a sign as any that she's about to pull off an impressive K.O. "That's why I started coming here. Plus the manager there, with the…" Liv motions to her breasts, the tip of her tongue sticking out between her teeth. "Such a stuck-up bitch."
Ranscombe visibly melts. "You're tellin' me."
"What's your name?" She motions at Ravi again, this time victoriously: we got him. Ravi clenches his fists, inside the fold of his arms.
"I'm Ben," Ranscombe says. Liv beams.
Some days, Ravi thinks of quitting - he's certainly under no obligation to fix Liv's life for her, and there are times when it feels like too large of a burden, too unfair, too dangerous, too everything. He'd never actually do that - it'd be the worst sort of abandonment, especially since through it all - Major and Peyton and Drake and Evan and whoever else - Liv still remains an island at the end of each day, isolated in her pain, and Ravi refuses be the one to cut off her escape route. He knows what he represents for her, and he knows that it doesn't matter if they ever actually manage to find a successful, reliable cure - just the promise of one is something that she desperately needs, the light at the end of the tunnel that keeps her from giving herself over to the madness of her hunger.
It's difficult though, and Ravi excuses himself the momentary fantasies of running off, back to England, opening up a practice near his mother's home in Kent and spending the rest of his days playing video games and treating the runny noses of French tourists. There'd be no zombies there, and should they lose control of it - well, there's no better place to ride out an apocalypse than rural England, in Ravi's opinion. There're plenty of cows and most of the houses already run off generators, for God's sake. Plus - what the hell would zombies want there, anyway? A side of Yorkshire pudding with their brains?
Maybe he's too optimistic. Maybe that'd be the first place to be hit - it's bloody close to London, after all, which he's sure would be a major ground zero. Maybe it's France he needs to flee to, or Belgium. Nobody likes Belgium. Not even Belgians like Belgium, because even though they'll loudly defend it to other Europeans in bars, Ravi has never quite believed them, mostly because they always seemed so defensive about it. Perhaps that's the key, then - he'll have to amend some of his emergency plans to include possible retreat locations ranked by how embarrassing they are.
Anyway. Ravi thinks he can be forgiven for the occasional "run away from your responsibilities" daydream, which he's certain everybody has. Poor Detective Babineaux has probably had dozens upon dozens of them since the big reveal, and Ravi knows that as a fact, since he will sometimes fantasize about them out loud in the car - usually when Liv has just run off to do something stupid and/or reckless. Major definitely has a bunch of them, most of them involving varying levels of violence. Eva and Evan Moore already enacted theirs, and lately Peyton seems one bad day away from doing the same.
The difference with Ravi is, he thinks, that he's the only one who doesn't think of Liv as part of what he'd be escaping - in fact, she's usually the thing that he pictures holding him back. He's got a few contingency plans about how to get illicit brains through airport security so she could make it through a long-haul flight, if the need ever arose, and he's already laid the groundwork with his mum, in case they should ever need a place to lay low for awhile. He has two sets of equations for food stores and emergency rations - one for just himself, and one for himself and a benevolent zombie with a penchant for sriracha-covered peanuts. He's got three different escape routes from the city planned, two by car and one by ferry, and he's been hoarding back bits of leftover brain for months, freezing them in case something happens.
He's looked into med schools in the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Malaysia, Cyprus, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, and the Virgin Islands and he's got lists of requirements she'd need to fulfill to finish her degree and obtain her license in all of them - both to practice medicine, and to become a mortician. He's got contact information for morgues all over the world, itemized by ease of entry and proximity to major cities. He's got over 200,000 Delta SkyMiles from years of holiday visits to England. He's got a safe full of emergency cash, in twelve different currencies, and the contact information of someone who can make fake passports, which he's never been brave enough to call. He's got a binder of hot sauce recipes, organized by degrees of spiciness.
A phrase his mother used to say all the time: the writing's on the wall, Ravi. Usually this was in reference to his nasty habit in secondary school of avoiding unpleasant situations by way of video games and X-Files marathons, but this situation is just a little different than having to tell Heather Uxbridge that he'd rather just be friends after all, thank you. The stakes are higher, certainly. The risk is, too. Maybe the reward, in return. Maybe the payoff would be worth it.
You know what your problem is, Liv said to him once, on a very bad night, her voice clogged by tears and ash and the sharp edge of formaldehyde. You're too nice to me. You'd be better off just cutting me loose, moving on with your life. Marry Peyton and move to the country and have babies and build yourself that bunker, and never talk to me again. That's what you should do.
Ravi had hugged her, not knowing what to say. Of course he knows what to say now, what he should've said: I would never, I could never. But he's always better at telling the truth in hindsight. In the moment, it just gets all mixed up.
"She's the source of the problem, really," Liv says. She and Ranscombe - Ben - have migrated to the hardback collection, leaning against a display of Picks of the Week. Her body language is mirroring his - arms open, shoulders wide. Another trick she'd told him about. "She led him on for ages - feeding him all this bullshit about how she was religious, or whatever. Then the second someone with bigger muscles - and a bigger wallet - came along, she dumped him like yesterday's dinner. It just makes me sick."
"Some people are just…" Ranscombe trails off, apparently overwhelmed by disgust. "You can't get through to 'em."
"Evan was so in love with her, he did everything for her, the way he was supposed to, you know?" Liv's eyes are big and wide - Ravi even thinks there might be a hint of tears, there. "Took her out on dates, paid for everything. Walked her to class...bought her stuff all the time…"
Ranscombe is shaking his head. His attention is squarely on Liv - he doesn't even seem aware that Ravi is still in the room. "I know girls like that. Only after one thing, at the end of the day. He's better off in the long run."
"That's what I've been telling him, but - broken hearts are broken hearts, right?" Liv shakes her head sadly. "It just tears me up that he's getting all worked up over some...some whore."
Ravi flinches violently, unable to conceal it. Liv looks over at him quickly, then back to Ranscombe, a split-second glance that a more sensitive person would have picked up on. But Benjamin Ranscombe is not what you would call sensitive.
"Have you," Liv says, and falters. Ravi curses himself out silently - he distracted her, threw her off. But she recovers after a second, shaking her head clear again. "Have you ever dated a girl like that?"
"Yeah." Ranscombe crosses his arms - a defensive move. Self-comfort. Oh yeah, they've got him. "Yeah, not too long ago, I was datin' this broad...kind of a gold digger like that, yaknow. Always after me for fancy dates and stuff. I tried to do it at first, but…"
Liv smiles at him sympathetically. "You wanted to make her happy, right? You liked her. It's understandable."
"I musta spent upwards of two hundred bucks on presents for her," Ranscombe continues, still defensive. "All kinds of comics, action figures, that sorta thing. But she never...you know. Too much of a fuckin' priss." Ranscombe looks startled by his own vulgarity, but Liv just keeps smiling, like she didn't even notice. He smiles back, tentatively. "Some women...you can't tell 'em nothing, right? You just gotta...cut 'em loose, and move on."
"I'm glad you did," Liv says earnestly. "She definitely deserved it."
Ravi takes a deep, sharp breath, and steps out of the room. There's only so much he can...there's only so far he can go. Each time, he pushes a little bit farther. A little more practice, and he'll be with her the whole way.
Out in the main area of the shop, the world seems normal again, bright and cheerful and far, far removed from the one Liv is creating, in the dark corner with Ben Ranscombe. There's a father and son pair looking at the new arrivals, and Jared is checking out a teenage girl buying a stack of Batman books at the counter. Ravi stares at a shelf of Funko Pops, his back to the doorway of Liv and Ranscombe's room, and thinks about Lucy Carmike, nineteen years old, strangled to death and left in the backseat of her own car, parked outside of a Caribou Coffee. She was scheduled to start her second year of college next month - she was a Business major. Her mother had told Clive and Liv that she wanted to do something with rare collectibles - comic books, or action figures. She collected coins, too, and world currencies. She had a pet cat named Prince.
This is, Ravi muses, why he calls the cadavers he autopsies "customers." It'd been an excellent coping technique, before Liv came along and forced him to see them as people. Damn her, anyway.
Almost twenty minutes pass before Liv finally emerges, looking a bit paler than even her usual. Ranscombe isn't far behind, his big hand on her shoulders, smiling like he doesn't have a care in the world. Ravi hates him fiercely.
"Hey, Rav," Liv says, making panic-eyes up at him. "Sorry, were you waiting this whole time? God, I'm a jerk. Hey Ben," she turns to Ranscombe, who is staring eerily at the side of her face, "this is my work friend I was telling you about - we've gotta get back before our lunch is over. Can I call you later? After I get off?"
"Sure," Ranscombe says. He grins, like they've got a shared secret. "I'll send you that list for your little bro, too. Olivia dot Moore at gmail, right?"
"Right," Liv says, glancing over at Ravi. He stares back at her, trying to communicate that better be a fake email or else with the power of his judgemental eyebrows. "I'll...keep a look out for it."
There's a strange minute in which Ranscombe stares at Liv, and Liv stares at Ravi, and Ravi stares at both of them, and they all seem to be frozen in a moment of suspended weirdness, unsure of how to proceed. Finally Liv smiles again, big and fake, and leaps forward to kiss Ranscombe's cheek. Ravi watches her do it in silent horror, his fists clenched at his sides.
"Bye," she says, and giggles. Then she grabs Ravi's hand and high tails it the fuck out of there, Ranscombe staring mutely after them.
Neither of them stop until they reach Ravi's car, parked illegally in a loading zone. Liv hits it first and leans against the passenger's side, panting dramatically. He knows it's for show, since she doesn't actually need to breathe, anymore, but he never calls her on it. He's not sure if she realizes she's doing it, anyway.
"That was," pant, "incredibly disgusting." Liv shudders, just as dramatically. "I can't believe you just stood there and let me kiss him."
"Let you?!" Ravi cries indignantly. "I was an innocent bystander! You're the one that decided to flirt with him."
Liv shudders again. "He wants to take me out to dinner."
"Where? IHOP? Waffle House? That diner off I-5 that got closed down by the Health Board last month?"
"No. Tsing Tsao East." Liv sobers. "He mentioned it specifically."
Lucy's last meal had been kung pao chicken. Side of fried rice. Ravi feels slightly ill again. "Oh."
"He definitely did it," Liv says. "He didn't outright confess of course, but...after you left, the girl he was talking about, he said she was younger than him, and that she went to North Seattle College. That's as good of a confirmation as we're gonna get that he was the one Lucy was dating."
"Won't hold up in court," Ravi points out.
"No, but an hour or two in interrogation with Clive and he'll give us something that will," Liv says. "I can text him right now, and he'll be in holding by the end of business today. I won't even have to blow him off."
Ravi grimaces. "You didn't actually give him your number, did you?"
"I gave him a fake one," Liv says defensively. "What do you take me for?"
"Determined, I believe is the politically correct term," Ravi says pointedly, leaning against the door next to her. She's already buried in her cell phone, tapping out an extensive message to 'Detective Clive, eye emoji.' "Not to be the devil's advocate, but...just because they were dating doesn't necessarily mean he was the one who killed her."
Liv rolls her eyes at him. "C'mon. You heard what he said."
"I heard what you said," Ravi can't stop himself from saying. "And I heard him react to it, the way any scumbag would react to that sort of validation. But I didn't hear anything indicative of murder - just a bad boyfriend."
Liv stops tapping. "I didn't," she starts, then seems to abandon the sentence, looking away, off into the middle distance. It's the look she gets when she's hearing someone else's voice in her head, having a flashback or an impulse that's foreign to her, invading the space of her own personality. "You know I was just saying that to get him comfortable. You don't actually think - "
"Of course not," Ravi says. "Of course not, Liv, don't be silly. But - "
"I know." Liv sighs, and turns back, an expression of defeat written across her lovely, pallid face. "Yeah. I know. But - he did it, Rav. I know he did. The way he talked about her...you didn't hear all of it."
Ravi puts his arm around her shoulders, his heart pounding emptily in his chest.
"She's so hyper," Liv says softly. "It feels like she's just...bouncing around in my head constantly, always excited, hopeful, romantic…" she leans into Ravi, just a bit. "But the whole time I was talking to him, she was quiet. Dead silent. I didn't even feel the urge to babble."
It's been a weird few days for Ravi, particularly since he'd known Lucy personally. Liv's been talking everyone's ear off about the most random topics, practically bouncing off the walls, excessively optimistic and cheerful, which coming from Miss Undead America herself had been disconcerting, to say the least. But Ravi's seen more of it than anyone, and he'd noticed the difference too, in that room with Ranscombe.
"I suppose," Ravi says, "that's fairly good confirmation, short of an actual vision of her death. Which doesn't seem to be forthcoming, I assume…?"
Liv shakes her head in the negative. "I'm sorry if I upset you," she says. "It was good that you left, though. He opened up a bit more."
"I should've let you go in alone. I overestimated myself, perhaps." Ravi sighs. "She was such a nice girl."
"She was, yeah," Liv says sadly.
"I guess we all have that one case that gets personal," Ravi muses. "It's been awhile since it was my turn."
"They're all personal," Liv says flatly.
Ravi squeezes her shoulders again. "Right," he says belatedly.
It's chilly like it always is in Seattle, even at the height of midday, the sun straining to break through the heavy clouds that hang forbiddingly over the skyline. Ravi had moved here originally because the weather reminded him of London - an urge for the familiar, when surrounded by everything strange. He wonders what Liv would think of London. What she'd say, if he had the stones to ask.
"I'm glad you came," Liv says, breaking the moment. She brings her phone back up and resumes her tapping. Ravi can feel the movement of her hands through his own, still resting on her opposite shoulder. Her bones feel sharp and painfully obvious, even through the multiple layers she always drapes herself in. Zombies are always slowly starving to death, Ravi knows. Always slowly dying a second death, rotting from the inside out. "I'm still really sorry I talked about her that way. Especially in front of you. I know you liked her."
"You were talking about Evan's imaginary girlfriend," Ravi says.
"I really wasn't," Liv says, unwilling to forgive herself, as usual. "Anyway. This will help Clive. All he needed was a viable theory."
He's a good detective; he'll find a way to make sure Ranscombe does some solid time. The DA is impressed enough with his closure rate that they don't ask that many questions, anymore. "I know."
"You wanna…" Liv swallows hard. "They just put new episodes of Dark Matter on Netflix. Did we even finish the first season?"
"I don't think so." Ravi smiles at her. "Don't you have a date with that handsome Robbery detective? I thought Lucy was helping you up your game this week."
"Who? Oh - the goatee guy?" Liv grimaces. "Eh. He's a bit…" she wiggles her hand in the air.
"I haven't the slightest idea what that hand gesture is supposed to mean."
"Eh," Liv says again, pointedly. "It means 'eh.'"
"Ah," says Ravi.
"Uh huh," Liv replies.
"Well, I suppose I could go for some Dark Matter," Ravi says. "If you still refuse to give Daredevil a chance - "
"It has ninjas," Liv says. "I can't take a show with ninjas seriously. You know this about me already."
"Jessica Jones is quite good, as well. And contains significantly less ninjas."
"I'm in the mood for spaceships," Liv says, nudging Ravi with a pointy elbow. "C'mon. I'll make that chocolate popcorn stuff you like."
"Ooh." Ravi perks up. It's the only movie snack they've managed to come to terms about; mostly because it actually is quite good with drizzled hot sauce on top. It's possible that his taste buds are starting to atrophy, after so many Netflix nights with Liv. "Deal."
"Cool." Liv reaches into Ravi's jacket pocket and pulls out his keys, pressing the button to unlock the doors. "I'm driving."
"No you are not," Ravi says, yanking the keys out of her hand deftly. "Lucy didn't have a license, I saw it in her background check."
"But I have a license!"
"You know how you get when you're on a brain," Ravi says unapologetically. "No heavy machinery."
Liv pouts, but slides into the passenger seat regardless. Ravi struts around to the driver's side, content in his victory.
"Clive just texted me back," Liv says, once Ravi has slid into the driver's seat. "He was looking into Lucy's finances and he found some suspicious bank withdrawals. He talked to the teller that served her the day before she died, and he said Lucy was with an older man who fits Ranscombe's description. It's enough to bring him in for questioning."
"And he said she was a gold digger," Ravi says, outraged.
"Men lie," Liv says flippantly, shoving her phone back into the pocket of her hoodie. "Except for you, of course." She aims a cheeky smile in his direction.
"Of course," Ravi says gallantly. Liv laughs, for no apparent reason at all. It's a nice sound.
"Thanks for coming with me," Liv says, rather sweetly, as Ravi is pulling out into traffic. "I mean - I can handle myself, and everything. But we make a good team. You should work in the field with me more often."
"I just might," Ravi says, shooting her a grin. "You could use the help."
"Always," Liv says.