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1. wandering through our city to find some solace at your door

Epidemiology isn't Liv's specialty. She's a surgeon, just barely, and she doesn't need any new complications. She's been working so hard for so long and things are finally, finally going right no matter what sacrifices she made along the way … and Evan gets turned into a zombie.

He's curled up on the couch in her apartment at three in the morning looking like he's just been kicked out of some kind of scene club with his hair all bleached and she keeps on feeling for a regular pulse, waiting for his heart to kick up to normal, and it's not happening, and he's been talking about an incident at the after-school job Mom made him get at some deli, and all Liv can do is keep holding on and saying “I'm going to fix this, okay? I'm going to fix it. We'll cure you.”

*

Liv can do a lot of things for Evan. She can steal brains from the cadavers donated to the hospital for the students to work on. She can help him through the visions that result, hating it the whole time when he stops seeming like her little brother. She can tell Peyton what happened and get her permission to have Evan stay with them as often as possible because their mother can't know yet.

But she can't cure him.

She tries, though. She steals chemicals and scrounges lab time and gets reamed out by her boss for screwing up a surgery (and it's only a miracle that she's not sued for malpractice and that the man survives, that it wasn't a fatal mistake). She does shadier and shadier internet research and finds out that Evan isn't the only one. Finds out that there are a lot of them around Seattle, and there are conspiracy theories and a whole underworld and it all has to do with some party Liv didn't go to because she was tired and wanted to study.

There's someone else who's trying to cure it. He posts only enough for Liv to know that he works with bodies and had seen some common and frightening patterns and that he's got the background in epidemiology that she doesn't have.

It sounds like you have a live subject you're hoping to test this on, he sends her privately when she's maybe revealed a little too much trying to get information about his progress out of him.

Not yet. I'm not even to rat trials yet. And he's not just any subject.

Are you in Seattle? We could collaborate. I need all the help I can get, honestly.

It's not my specialty. But we can meet up.

She doesn't trust him. She can't possibly, not when it's Evan and any moment now this is all going to go horribly wrong. But he's got the background and she's stuck and Evan needs help. That's going to win out anytime. Liv sends him the name of a coffee shop and a time, and shows up five minutes early to loiter outside on her phone, trying to keep an eye on someone who looks right.

There's a man with a beard who's walked by the shop a few times, and he finally stops in front of her. He's tall, but he doesn't look unfriendly. Liv grips her phone anyway, ready to call 911. “I suspect we're both lurking out here for the same reason,” he says in a surprising British accent, with an even more surprisingly bright smile. “Here about that rat problem?”

Liv isn't ready to talk about this like they're playing some kind of secret agent game, but she can't say the word “zombie” out here on the street. “Yes.”

*

Ravi Chakrabarti works at the morgue at the police station as the pathologist and ME, and he's lit up with discovery. “This is unprecedented—it seems to be related to drugs and energy drinks, it's impossible to tell how those managed to cause these kinds of symptoms.”

Cause. That's something Liv hasn't been able to establish yet. “How did you find that out?”

He shifts a little, guilty. “Some Hardy Boys detecting and ethics violations in the name of science, unfortunately. You found out because you know someone? Boyfriend, maybe?”

The last time she talked to Major, he was worried about some of the kids he works with going missing, but he wasn't involved in this whole mess. But the more she looks the more it seems like the whole city of Seattle is. Her ex might not be exempt. “No.” She swallows, but she's going to have to be honest. “Brother, actually.”

“That's actually potentially useful. We could try a transfusion of some sort, perhaps.”

Liv shakes her head. “First thing I tried, but it didn't work.”

“Bone marrow transplant?”

“Obviously couldn't try that on my own. I don't know if it would work, but I'd be willing to make the donation. I haven't tested to see if we're a match.”

Ravi is already fumbling a recorder out of his bag, and he looks at her hopefully. “Can I record this? Having a sibling pair with one still alive as control isn't as good as a twin study but it's something.”

Maybe he's a little too enthusiastic about this, a little too happy about the thrill of discovery. But he's helping, and Liv thinks he might actually be helpful, and she can't be choosy.

*

“I've got a meal for you,” Ravi says to Evan when they show up at the morgue after hours, and produces a tupperware with a brain that looks a lot fresher than the ones Liv has been providing. “Call it payment. I'm told he was the most boring person in the world, died in a hit and run, shouldn't be too disruptive to your life.”

Evan looks at Liv, wide-eyed, but then he grins a little. “That's … thanks, man. The last one wasn't great.”

Liv takes a deep breath. Evan likes him. She's going to have to trust him for now.

*

Ravi is easy to trust. He's smart and he's helping her and he's good with Evan. He's making Evan smile, and Liv can't manage that most days anymore, let alone anyone else.

Liv doesn't have the time to have a crush on him. She hasn't really had time for romance since undergrad, which is why she and Major didn't end up working, but now is worse. She needs to concentrate on her brother. But she is, and so is Ravi, and that's half the problem.

“Ravi's got a brain from a skydiver,” says Evan on their way home from a testing session. They're pretending that he's doing some kind of internship at the ME's office so Liv has the excuse to drop him there when she can't do the work, and she suspects that the visions he gets on the brains are getting passed on as anonymous tips to the police. That's not a problem she can deal with right now.

“No,” she says, because there are enough problems with Evan without him wanting to jump out of airplanes too.

He laughs. “That's what Ravi said too. You guys are no fun.”

She texts Ravi when she gets home and Peyton is kicking Evan's ass at Mario Kart, thanks him for keeping Evan off the dangerous brains.

I'm thinking of trying to feed him an accountant so he'll help me with paperwork, he replies, and they spend the next two hours texting.

Liv doesn't have time for this, but it might be happening anyway.

*

“Ravi is pretty cool,” Evan mumbles one night when they're on the couch and he's just at the right point in his food cycle that he feels like her little brother again, not her little brother filtered through someone else.

“Mom will be so disappointed if you go into pathology instead of something more glamorous.”

“She's got you in surgery. And I don't think I want to be a doctor. I'm just saying he's, you know.” He nudges her with his shoulder. “Cool.”

Oh God. Liv is apparently pathetic enough that her teenage zombie brother is trying to encourage a romance with the doctor who's trying to bring him back to life. Even Zombie High has never reached for a plotline that ridiculous. “If you could never talk about this again, especially not if Peyton's in the apartment, that would be great.”

He just laughs at her. He's laughing again, and he and Ravi keep coming up with names for the rats Ravi is experimenting on, and Liv doesn't have time for the crush, but at least her taste is good.

*

Mom forced Evan home for the night, so Liv is kicking her feet on one of Ravi's exam tables while he draws blood from one of the rats that seems to be getting a little bit of brown hair back after the latest treatment.

“I'm glad you stopped by,” Ravi says. “The rats aren't very good at conversation. And we don't get a lot of time without Evan around. Not that he's not a great kid, but you are … greater. And I'm going to shut up now.”

Liv blinks, stops, looks at him. Somehow, in the middle of all the worrying about having a crush on him, she'd never really managed to wonder if he was feeling the same way. Maybe, judging by the way he's fidgeting with his sample bottle, she should have been.

The timing is bad. Mutual crush or not, Liv isn't going to do anything yet. But the door's open, and that's something. It's a start. She'll take it, the one good thing to come out of this horror story. “I'm glad I stopped by too,” she says, and when he looks up at her, startled, she grins at him and watches the smile break out on his face.

2. feeling helpless i look for distraction / i go searching for you

Sometime after Liv starts working at the morgue and doesn't feel like she's an hour away from starving all the time, she remembers a lecture from med school. It was extra credit for her epidemiology course, a lecturer from the CDC talking about what they do, all their procedures and duties. Some of the women attending were mostly there to giggle about his accent, but Liv mostly remembers finding it funny when he kept using the zombie apocalypse as a theoretical example.

It seems less funny now, but if this is happening to other people, if it's spreading out from the boat party, maybe the CDC can do something. She digs through all her old med school papers and notes, getting Peyton's hopes up about progress in the meantime, and finally digs out the ones from the lecture.

“Hi, could I speak to Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti?” she asks the receptionist at the CDC.

“Dr. Chakrabarti?” The receptionist sounds dubious enough that Liv's heart sinks. “Why do you want to talk to him?”

“He gave a lecture in Seattle last year that I attended, I just had a brief question I want to ask him.” The brain she stole out from under her boss's nose is one of the less erratic ones, so Liv thinks that comes out sounding at least sort of professional.

“If you're sure. One moment while I transfer your call. You may have to leave a voicemail, he spends a lot of time in the lab.”

Liv is ready to leave a message and not get a response, but to her surprise he picks up the phone after two rings. “Ravi Chakrabarti speaking.”

“Dr. Chakrabarti, I'm Olivia Moore. You gave a lecture in Seattle last year about the CDC and I remembered your name.”

“Pleasure to talk to you, Miss Moore. What can I do for you? Were you one of the medical students there?”

“I was. But I'm not ...” There's no way to say this. “This is going to sound crazy.”

“Funny, usually I'm the one saying that. Is there something I can help with?”

Probably he just kept mentioning zombies because he thought it would keep the med students interested. He can't really believe in them. It's not something reasonable people believe. “You kept talking about zombie outbreaks, how the CDC would theoretically handle them.”

“Yes. It's a useful example. Drawing from pop culture.” He sounds wary. “I'm sorry, what did you call about again?”

“There is one.” He doesn't answer. That's fair. That didn't make any sense. “A zombie outbreak. In Seattle.”

“Oh, lovely, a conspiracy theorist. Look, Miss Moore, the CDC has other priorities, and while I do agree that it's a possibility we need to be prepared for—”

“Look, I know it's true because I am one.”

She doesn't expect him to believe her. He's going to hang up and nothing is going to change and Liv was stupid to think of this in the first place and— “I think we're going to have to start from the beginning,” he says, slowly and with something like delight.

*

Liv flies to Atlanta three days later. She gets a vision halfway through the flight about how her latest meal was murdered and she finds a pay phone and calls in a tip to the Seattle PD when she lands before she finds her rented car and drives out to a park not far from the CDC. Atlanta is sweltering, so hot she feels like she can't breathe, but he didn't want to meet where they could be overheard.

Dr. Chakrabarti shows up ten minutes late and squints around the park until she waves at him. “I should have come to see you in Seattle, would have given me an excuse to get away from the dreadful climate,” he says as he greets her. “So, Olivia Moore?”

“That's me. Liv is fine.”

“You are a woman who prefers to be called by the present tense of the verb 'to live' and you claim to be a zombie. You have layers.” He frowns at her. “I have to ask. Is the hair some kind of aesthetic thing, or it is a symptom?”

“Symptom.”

“That's interesting.” He pulls a recorder out of his pocket. “Now, let's discuss the zombie apocalypse, shall we?”

*

“This is so cool,” he says five hours later, drunk in his apartment and expansive. “I mean, horrible for you, obviously, being a zombie is clearly no fun, but I was right. I am never going to let anyone at the CDC forget this.”

Liv can't easily get drunk, but the South believes in hot sauce she can actually taste and Ravi has been threatening to do a test of how she perceives things on the Scoville scale. (“For science, Liv! I want to thoroughly test this strain of zombie-ism, it's nothing like the movies.”) “Are you going to be able to fix it?”

“If the government doesn't stick its fingers in its ears and start singing, yes.”

“There have to be other people. They can't just ignore it.”

“Apparently Seattle has somehow been ignoring it even though brains must be going missing.” He laughs like that's maybe funny and then sobers a little when he looks at her. “I want you to stay in Atlanta. Help me prove what's going on.”

“Be a lab rat?”

“A lab assistant. I won't let anyone do anything to you, Liv. I can promise you that.”

Liv should say no. She's going to get poked and prodded by the government and none of it is going to be good. But they need someone to do the job, and she's not doing any good in Seattle. Maybe everyone will stop worrying about her so much if it looks like she's doing something. Making steps.

“You get to explain why you need human brains to your supervisors,” she says, and he beams at her.

*

“No,” says Ravi while Liv is still too busy gaping at someone (she thinks the latest people asking questions are from the DOD—she should have expected this to get kicked up the chain of command really fast) to speak for herself. “Liv is a volunteer, and an assistant, not a test subject. You want to talk to people about unethical experiments? Look out for Max Rager.”

Ravi technically shouldn't be talking back to these people, she's pretty sure, but they back off, and leave Liv and Ravi in their lab, and that's what matters. “Thanks,” she says, because he's still looking pretty mad and she's not feeling great herself.

He must get that she's a little closer to full-on zombie mode than she likes to be, because he visibly makes himself relax and gestures to the mini-fridge in his lab where she keeps her supply of brains. Liv shakes her head, and he sits down. “Jesus, sorry. People can get a bit ends-and-means about this kind of thing, I'm afraid. But I promise, nobody is going to disappear you into a secret government lab where you'll never see the light of day or get cured of the whole zombie thing because they need a control subject.”

That's a worryingly specific promise. “Max Rager?”

“They're involved in something worrying, that's for certain. And if looking into Max Rager finds them other zombies so you aren't the only one working with the government any longer, it may make you all a little safer.”

“They are going to work for a cure, right?”

“Yes.” Ravi frowns. “I'm hoping we can make a public statement at least in Seattle about the government looking into a possible contagion from the boat party you went to, to make people wary and perhaps get them to come in if they were unwillingly turned. That would make sure the government wouldn't disappear people, too.”

“Great. Comforting.” Liv looks back to their cages full of rats. “So what are we doing today?”

“Same thing we do every day,” he says, and winks when she rolls her eyes. “Try to save the world.”

*

“It's funny,” he says over takeout one night, when she's having brains instead of pork in her fried rice. “When I was in Seattle giving that lecture for your class, I was also interviewing for the ME position, because I was worried the CDC was going to fire me. They kept making noises about conspiracy theories.”

“You didn't get the job?”

“They offered it, but the CDC realized I was thinking about leaving and backpedaled. I think someone higher up is pulling for me. Perhaps they realized the zombie apocalypse was actually oncoming.”

“Huh.” Liv takes a few bites of her food. “You would have been my boss. That would have made working for the ME's office a lot more fun, probably, but then you wouldn't be here helping me.”

“This is going to make my career, if they don't put it all under wraps.” He stops eating and watches her long enough that she puts her chopsticks down to look back. “Have you thought about what you're going to do once you're cured?”

The fact that it's even a consideration now, that the rat trials are going that well, makes Liv want to throw her arms around him right there. “I don't know. Maybe go back to medical school, but I don't think I want to do surgery anymore.”

Ravi grins and holds out his chopsticks. She lifts hers up too when he looks expectant, and he taps them together like a toast. “Have you ever considered a career with the CDC?”

3. i can't stop thinking about it / tell me, did you see the news last night?

“Detective Moore, looks like the ME just got here. You were pre-med, right? You can liaise.”

Liv knows that Clive is just being nice to her because this is a hell of a way to start her first day as a detective, but she'll take it. Seattle isn't supposed to be a violent place, at least no more than any other city. She wasn't expecting to start out as an extra body on the ground after what looks like a massacre at a boat party. “Of course.”

The ME is tall and tired and looks vaguely familiar, probably from when she was just a beat cop and saw him a time or two at scenes. “Dr. Chakrabarti, right?” she says, offering her hand to shake. “Detective Olivia Moore, Clive Babineaux asked me to help you out with anything you need.”

“About five more assistants, for this kind of scene. Christ. Any word on what happened to them?”

Liv has been avoiding looking at it all, even though she signed up for this when she joined the police force over the objections of what seem like half the people she knows. “Nothing yet. From what we can tell, something caused a panic, but we aren't sure what yet. Maybe some drugs. We're hoping we can get a toxicology report.”

“That I can do for you.” He frowns at her. “You're new, right?”

She wants to say that this is her first day on the job and that she wasn't expecting something like this, but there's really not time for pity right now. “Pretty new, yeah. Let me show you where you can set up that isn't part of the crime scene.”

*

“Why did I want to become a cop again?” Liv asks Peyton that night, head in her lap and finally getting some sympathy for a really awful first day. Major tried to take her out for congratulatory drinks, but Liv doesn't really feel like being congratulated tonight.

“Because I got you all interested in truth and justice but you didn't want to go to law school, and one day we're going to be an amazing team keeping Seattle safe,” says Peyton, and keeps petting her hair. “I heard about what happened even though there isn't anyone to prosecute yet. It sounds pretty terrible.”

“Yeah. Clive took it easy on me, mostly had me assisting the ME.”

“I've met the ME, saw him on the stand a time or two. He's cute. Ravi, right?”

That's what he told Liv to call him after an uncomfortable hour of “Dr. Chakrabarti,” anyway. “I wasn't thinking about whether he was cute or not, Peyton, mostly he was swaddled in a forensic suit because of all the … everything. Not exactly hot.”

Peyton nods, and her smile isn't real, but she's trying. “But he is, right?”

Liv makes herself laugh, and she's surprised when it actually makes her feel better. “Yeah, he is.”

*

“If it isn't Detective Liv!”

Liv smiles at Ravi, who's wearing a lab coat and looking a lot happier in his morgue than he did on the lake shore. “I think using the nickname kind of ruins the attempt to be professional, but that's fine. Any word for us on the boat party bodies?”

“Toxicology is interesting to say the least. Do you want it in small digestible words or the big impressive-sounding ones?”

“I almost went to medical school,” says Liv. “Give me the complicated ones.”

“I should steal you, Clive and the other people upstairs clearly don't deserve you.”

Liv grins at him. “Tell the chief that, maybe I'll get a raise.”

“Ha! Never. If you get a raise I won't even get an intern. Now, let me tell you about all of this so you can be the one to go to the trouble of telling the rest of the detectives what happened.”

*

“I've got a breakthrough for you!” Ravi makes a Vanna White gesture at the body on the table in front of him.

Liv frowns and moves forward to look at it. Bleached hair, pale, wearing black, major skull trauma. “A punk?”

Ravi makes a buzzer noise. “Wrong! A body showing the same toxicology present in many of the victims in the boat party massacre. Showing signs of albinism and other odd things that I can't begin to theorize about yet. But it's unquestionably the same strain of utopium, with a dash of Max Rager.”

“Someone who was at the boat party but made it off?”

“Funny thing, no.”

“So where'd he get it?”

“The other funny thing is that while he may have consumed the occasional energy drink, I'm quite sure he never consumed utopium.” On closer look at the file Ravi keeps waving around, he's fifty-year-old history teacher. So he could be wrong, but Liv is willing to stereotype for the moment.

“So how did he get it in his system?”

“That is the question.” Ravi frowns at the body. “I don't think we're going to like the answer much.”

“We're going to figure it out. Talk me through the pathology here. Maybe there's something.”

*

“Brought you some coffee,” says Liv the next time she comes down to see one of the bodies related to the boat party case. She's got other cases open on her desk by now, and things about the boat party are silent in the way that they only get when the captain has had something to say about it to the lead detective on the case, but she and Ravi haven't given up on it, and she thinks Clive is still investigating too.

“I have a theory.”

Liv puts the coffee down on a free table and prays it's been disinfected recently. “What kind of theory?”

“You are not going to like it. You may in fact laugh at me, which is what happened at the CDC, but it's the only working theory I've got right now, so we're going with it.”

“It's not going to be vampires, right?”

“Ah, no. Not quite. A lot of bodies we've had delivered recently have been missing brain mass. Quite a lot of it, in fact.”

“And?”

“Zombies.”

Liv does want to laugh. But she trusts Ravi and his instincts, and something is going on that's way past normal right now. It's a terrible theory, but it's a theory. She sighs and leans against a wall. “Tell me.”

*

It's a terrible theory, and Liv doesn't believe it until Major shows up on her doorstep with bleached hair and a wild look in his eye. “Someone scratched me,” he starts, and Liv tells him she's taking him to the morgue before he can continue. “What for?” he asks, alarmed. “I'm not dead!”

“Technically, you might be, if my colleague's theories are right.”

Major badgers her for information their whole trip to the morgue, but this is Ravi's theory, and Major is freaking out, so she just drags him into the building and presents him in front of Ravi, who gapes at her. “Liv, did you bring me a live one?”

“I took his pulse in the car. 'Live' is kind of a manner of speaking.” She grimaces at Major in apology. “Major, this is Ravi Chakrabarti, and his theory is that you're a zombie.”

*

“Ravi is nice,” Major says three days later, when the initial shock and horror of it is all over and Liv is still arguing that Major doesn't exhibit enough of the classic zombie symptoms to actually be called a zombie, other than the brain eating.

Liv rolls her eyes. “I know, you two are besties all of a sudden, it's a little scary.”

“No, I mean he's … you know. Nice.” Major is making an awkward face. Liv has no idea what to do with this. “If my opinion matters, I mean.”

“Of course it matters, you're the one he's using as a guinea pig to try to test out zombie cures.”

“No, that—fine, whatever you say.”

*

“Oh, shit,” says Liv that night, when she figures out what Major meant. Her ex-boyfriend is a zombie, and apparently he's still finding the time to say he approves of a new romantic prospect. Who is trying to cure him of the zombie thing.

She should have gone to medical school after all. Her life would be way less complicated.

*

“Major seems nice,” Ravi says the next time they see each other without either Major or a dead body in between them, in a way-too-familiar tone.

“Nope, we're not doing this. He is my ex-boyfriend and a good friend and we are never going to date again and that is all. And he ...” Liv swallows. There's a host of complications, but she can put it out there. See what comes. “He said the same thing about you.”

“Well, I'm not going to date him. Especially because it seems like the whole zombie thing can be sexually transmitted.”

But Ravi is smiling, and it's probably the stupidest way possible to get things on the table, both of them talking each other up like this, but at least it happened.

*

“Ravi says he's got something on one of our cases and wants you to go downstairs,” says Clive, eyebrows up.

“Don't even start,” she says, already laughing and grabbing her jacket because the morgue is always cold and she doesn't have the benefit of a lab coat like he does.

“I'm just saying, I introduced the two of you. I think I deserve a little credit.”

“Don't push your luck,” she calls behind her, and goes to see what new answers to their mysteries Ravi has found today.

4. help me keep these hours alive / help me chase those seconds

Liv knows medical conferences are valuable. She knows the hospital sends her to them for a reason. Networking is important, and learning new techniques and theories are important.

Some days, though, they are not as important as coffee, and today is one of them. As soon as the ethics panel she's spent half the morning at is over, she makes for the nearest Starbucks as fast as she can.

She's not the only one. “I see you too have escaped the halls of boredom,” says someone behind her in line, and when she twists around he nods to the conference badge she didn't hide well under her jacket. “One of these years something exciting will happen at one of these things.”

“They're important,” Liv says, mostly to be contrary.

“Oh, I certainly don't mind coming, better this than the bodies.” Liv doesn't know what her face does, but it makes him laugh and extend a hand. “Ravi Chakrabarti, Seattle PD ME.”

“Another native?” Not quite, with his accent, but probably people comment on that all the time. Liv isn't going to do it too. “I work at the hospital. Olivia Moore, surgical resident.”

“Hopefully less dead bodies in your profession.”

“When I do my job right. Planning on skipping for a while?”

“There's a paper presentation I am very much hoping to miss on insects at various stages of decomposition, so yes.” He has a nice smile. “If you save us a table I'll buy you a frothy coffee drink.”

Liv grins. “Deal. Well, an Americano, big as you can legally get it, but I'll always take free coffee.”

“Full disclosure, I will definitely be pretending that our coffees are switched because mine is as frothy as anything, but I'm happy to do it. Especially if you can snag us that window table over there.”

Liv looks where he's pointing and nods, stepping out of the line and snatching it out from under the nose of a grumpy-looking businessman.

She's texting with Peyton when Ravi sits down across from her, handing her coffee and a few packets of sugar and cream for doctoring it, and then a brownie too. She raises her eyebrows at him. “Pulling out all the stops?”

“It can't hurt to impress a pretty surgeon. You are quite likely to be able to keep me in the style to which I would like to become accustomed if I play my cards right.”

Liv, for a long time, didn't really have the time to be a good girlfriend. Or make the time. Everyone she knows has called her a workaholic at some point. It's part of the reason she's single now. But her shifts are getting slowly less terrible as she gains seniority at the hospital, and if anyone would get it, it's another doctor. “Moving a little fast, aren't you?” she asks.

“Call me an optimist.”

*

They make it back to the conference in time for a two o'clock panel both of them are interested in, and by then Liv feels like she's known Ravi for most of his life. He can talk pretty much indefinitely about everything from his job to his conspiracy theories on the explosion at a boat party that never got fully explained a few years ago, but anytime she says anything he stops and listens like he could listen indefinitely too. He listens to her talk about her mom and Evan and Peyton and Major and talks about missing his parents across half the world and his old job at the CDC but how he likes Seattle better than Atlanta because it reminds him of London with all the rain.

“Liv, there you are!” says Francine, one of her fellow residents, almost as soon as she's back in the convention center. “I thought we were meeting up for—who is this?”

“Ravi Chakrabarti, charmed, sorry for kidnapping your co-worker, I promise I am returning her in pristine condition. Well, I'm not returning her so much as attaching myself to her like particularly attractive parasite for the remainder of the day, but I do apologize for any inconvenience.”

Francine mouths something really embarrasing that Liv chooses not to translate even in her own mind behind Ravi's back and then says “Sure, we can all sit together for the two o'clock panel” out loud, because she's a good person.

Liv has no idea what's happening, but she thinks she kind of likes it.

*

“So,” Ravi says at the end of the night, when some people are settling in for the party the convention is throwing for the overnight guests and most of the local attendees are packing up to go home.

“So?”

He puts his hands in his pockets. “I don't like to assume anything. If we're just instant best friends, I promise that I am quite happy with that. If any part of today has been a date, I would be very happy with that as well. And either way I'd like to walk you at least part of the way home.”

“That would be pretty hard considering I drove here.”

“I could walk you … to the parking garage? That's a lot less romantic. If you want it to be romantic.”

To her surprise, Liv actually does. “Sure. Walk me to the parking garage. And maybe tomorrow I'll park a little farther away so we can have a longer walk. Unless you want to get in my car and have dinner.”

“You know,” says Ravi, a grin growing on his face, “I think I just might. Something to look forward to at the end of the conference, and all.”

He offers her his arm, and she takes it, feeling like Elizabeth Bennet all of a sudden, feeling like blushing and doing something stupid like she hasn't done since undergrad.

“See you tomorrow?” she asks when he's dutifully walked her to her car.

“Wouldn't miss it.”

He doesn't kiss her, and she doesn't kiss him, but it's there in the air, the maybe-tomorrow-night of it all.

*

“I've prepared all my very best first-date stories for tonight,” Ravi says, falling into step with Liv at the end of a day of them actually paying attention to the conference and going to separate sessions the whole day. “I'm going to be extremely charming. Prepare to swoon, Dr. Moore.”

This is crazy. Liv doesn't like people this fast, much less date them this fast. But Ravi's grinning at her and they spent half of last night and most of today texting in between paying attention and this already feels like the best thing that's going to happen to her all year. “I'm not sure you have the moves.”

“Just you wait,” he says, unoffended, and offers his arm again. Liv takes it and lets him talk about his last session all the way to her car.

5. never good, just the bad and the ugly / laid in front of you

“Honestly, Miss Moore, it's a relief to have someone else in the lab. Dr. Chakrabarti is a gifted pathologist, but he's ...”

The way the administrator trails off makes Liv very nervous, but the only way she could convince her friends and family that taking a year off in the middle of medical school was a good idea was by finding a job in the field and this was what she found. “I'm looking forward to working with him,” she says brightly.

“Hmm,” he says, clearly noncommittal, and opens up the morgue door. “Dr. Chakrabarti, I brought your new assistant.”

Ravi Chakrabarti's picture online is very different from the man in person. He's pale, his hair and beard both bleach blond, and he looks exhausted and twitchy. Liv immediately wants to back out of the room, but he also looks kind of pathetic and sad and she has a bit of a soft spot for lost causes. “Hi, Dr. Chakrabarti.” She offers her hand for him to shake. “I'm Liv Moore.”

“Of course, irony. That's exactly what this needs.” He shakes her hand, and his hand is very cold, but it seems like he's actually smiling for real. “Good to meet you, Liv. I think we'll do okay down here.”

“I think we will too,” she says, and hopes she's telling the truth.

*

Something is up with Ravi. He's friendly, and kind of a fun boss once she gets past all the weirdness, but there's something going on with him. He has mood swings, like he's a different person every week. Sometimes he zones out in the middle of a conversation and then he usually ends up having a private conversation with Detective Babineaux when it's over. There's some kind of experiment he's running with rat trials that he doesn't want her help on no matter how many times she offers. He doesn't eat his lunch when he's around her, and the morgue's food fridge is full of hot sauce.

Their corpses keep losing brain mass. It's sort of a horrible thing to notice, but Liv notices it anyway. Usually about one corpse a week.

There are logical things to assume. Like that maybe Ravi is a serial killer, or, best case scenario, some kind of serial body mutilator.

But he's not the only person in Seattle acting strangely right now. Major is talking about people he works with going missing, there are other people sporting Ravi's strange hair dye choices everywhere, and … well, something is going on.

And then she comes into work after a lunch break to find Ravi watching Shaun of the Dead, muttering commentary, and eating ramen with something that definitely isn't beef or pork in it. As she watches, trying to figure out exactly what she's supposed to do, he lifts up a bottle of hot sauce that almost set her mouth on fire when she tried a drop and takes a swig right out of it.

“I have to ask,” she says before she can decide whether it's a good idea or not. “Is the hot sauce a zombie thing, or …?”

*

Two hours of explanations later, she actually believes it, and believes that he's trying to fix it, once he walks her through the rat trials.

“I have to say, it's a relief to tell someone. I've been telling my parents my webcam is broken for months.” He waves at himself. “I tried dye and spray tan, but it took a lot of time that could have been spent on trying to cure myself.”

“And the … the visions. About the people. You're using them to help solve murders?”

“Yes, though some of the detectives are getting suspicious. I almost have one convinced that I'm psychic, but you have to admit I'm not very likely for that role.”

Liv toasts him with her soda and tries not to make a face when he takes a drink of hot sauce in response. “So what are we going to do?”

“Realistically, there's not much we can do other than keep working on the cure.”

“But this is spreading! You got it from a corpse, right? That's a strong contagion. And we don't know the point of origin, we don't know how many people are infected … there's so much we don't know. It's worrying.”

Ravi frowns. “Believe me, I know. I have my suspicions, but there's no way to confirm them without raising a whole host of issues.”

“So let me help. If there's anyone who knows about this, they know you're one of them. I'm not. I can look around on your behalf. Take pictures. Do pictures work to trigger your visions?”

“You know, I'm not sure.” And now he's smiling, and that fits a lot better on his face. Liv wishes she could know Ravi without the zombie, because she thinks she would like him a lot. “I've been focusing so much on the cure that I haven't been doing much experimental control with the symptoms.”

Liv nods. “We have to fix that.”

He's still smiling. It's just growing wider. “Yes, I suppose we do.”

*

“I hate this brain,” Ravi moans, on his back on the couch in the break room. “I cannot believe I am having sexy memories about a minor celebrity and it's not even one I'm interested in.”

Liv wrinkles her nose. “What triggered that vision?”

“Believe me, I'm keeping a thorough record of that now, but some things your poor innocent ears do not need to hear.”

“I was expecting you to pick up the art. Are you feeling artsy? Or did you just pick up the whole sex and love thing?”

“I could do a brief spot of painting.”

“We should catalog that too. It's not part of the zombie mythology, all the picking up of memories and personalities. It's weird.”

“That is because I am a real zombie, not a fictional one.” He frowns at the ceiling. “Maybe I should go hunting for other zombies, have us all try the same brains, see if we all pick up different personality traits, or if we remember the same memories given the same stimuli.”

“Good to see you haven't gone completely into the art brain.”

“Excuse you, science is an art.”

“Oh? Tell me how.”

“I know you're baiting me, but this brain has me feeling very profound, so I'm going to enact my vengeance by telling you in minute detail.”

Ravi makes them both cry talking about how much he loves science. That's all him, not the brain, even if the brain is making him eloquent about it, and Liv knows they'll never talk about it again but that she's not going to forget about it any time soon.

*

“I hate this,” Ravi says a few brains later, and Liv puts her arm around him because she doesn't know what else she can do. He's the one with the epidemiology background, the rat trials and the ideas. Liv is just taking some of the detecting pressure off him when the visions get to be too much. Detective Babineaux definitely suspects something. Probably not the right something, but something.

“You're going to fix it.”

“We are. I couldn't do any of this without you, Liv.”

She ruffles his hair. “Yes you could. You were. I'm just helping out.”

“You are practically a superhero.” He frowns, but it's not the dangerous frown that says he's hating his whole existence. “What do you think would happen if I ate a superhero brain? Would I be channeling Batman, or Bruce Wayne? Clark Kent, or Superman?”

Liv grins and leans against him. “Let's not find out, okay?”

“Some of the brains are actually cool.”

“Just not this one?” She knows none of them really are. Liv would be terrified if she felt compelled to act like someone new every time she ate a meal, especially if she got memories that weren't hers along with it. Ravi was alone down here before she came along. Liv doesn't know how he's still sane.

Ravi sighs. “I think you're really going to like me, once you get to meet me.”

“Hey.” She frowns at him. “I already know you. Some things are constant, no matter what you've eaten this week.”

“That's … thanks.” He's not quite smiling at her, but he's looking, and she doesn't think that look is coming from the brain he's on. “Some things are constant.”

“Like you being a nerd?” she asks, offering him the out.

He takes it. “Like me being a nerd.”

*

“The doc seems a lot happier with you around,” says Detective Babineaux next time he comes down to the morgue and Ravi is asleep in the break room, or at least pretending to be asleep. The latest victim was a teenage girl and Ravi is not handling it well.

“That's good. It's nice having a break from med school, and Ravi is great.”

“We were all a little worried about him for a while there. The new look and all.”

Liv shrugs, and she thinks it's probably really obvious she's hiding something. “Sometimes people need a change.”

“Maybe they do. Glad you're around, Miss Moore.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

*

“What are you going to do if we find the cure?”

“When,” says Liv, and then stops to actually consider the question. She doesn't know if she can go back to what she had planned before, not after spying on a soft drink company and talking to drug dealers and helping her boss pretend to be psychic and falling for a zombie. Ravi is going to be part of her life, she's going to make sure of that, but she doesn't know if surgery is what she wants. She isn't sure what she wants. “I don't know,” she says, because she has to be honest. “Any ideas?”

“A few. I don't want to be premature with them, due to the sexually transmissible nature of zombieism, but—”

Liv laughs and hits him with one of the break room pillows. He looks nervous, clutches the pillow once she lets it go, and she makes sure she's facing him. “Let's just find the cure first, okay? First the cure, then the riding off into the sunset and figuring out what I want my medical specialty to be.”

“That's why I like you, Liv.” They're grinning at each other, and Liv really hopes Clive Babineaux doesn't come in right now, because he would have a lot to say. “You've always got a plan.”

+1. hold me in this wild, wild world / cause in your warmth i forget how cold it can be

Liv sits on a table in the morgue with her fingers against her neck and waits for her pulse to come back.

She's on her own. They didn't plan it that way, but almost as soon as the cure (the real cure, Ravi swears it's going to last this time, The Cure Awakens died a regular brown rat with a regular lab rat's life span) got injected their phones rang with a murder, and Ravi told her to stay put in case there are side effects to the cure and drove off to take care of the body.

Two strong, irregular thumps. After so long without a real heartbeat, Liv feels like she's having a heart attack. When she was alive, she could never feel her heartbeat. Now it's an uncomfortable knowledge.

Three more in a row. It feels like her heart is constricting her lungs, and she bends forward a little and breathes through it. She's just used to one less involuntary muscle movement than usual. It's going to take an adjustment.

She wishes Ravi were here.

*

Ravi texts an hour in, when Liv's heartbeat is regular, if still a little slower than the normal resting rate, and when she's going through hot and cold flashes, getting used to real sensation again. She feels queasy too. She insisted on a meal yesterday, because she didn't know how long full-on zombie mode would last and if the cure would be painful.

Sorry, crime scene's a mess, Clive asked where you are and he might call soon.

Going to be a while? she texts, even though he as good as said it.

Afraid so. Status report?

Heartbeat. Going well so far, I think.

I wish I could be there to see the results of my handiwork.

Liv sighs. It's so stupid that after how long he's spent on this, after the two of them coming through this whole thing together, he has to be gone for the last part of it. (It's not the last part of it. There are other zombies to find, other things to fix. But it's the last part of it for the two of them, anyway.) Just come back soon, okay? I won't leave the lab until you're back.

And then we'll go out to eat something! Perhaps something vegetarian, just to really drive the point home.

Liv has never really liked tofu, but she's longing for something without meat texture in it. Eggplant parmesan. Really bland mashed potatoes. Wine, and Ravi across the table toasting her with it. It's a date.

I hope so.

A lot's gone unsaid in the last few months after everything finally calmed down and Ravi got enough resources to really make her a cure since neither of them trusts the government to do it after the Max Rager massacre. Maybe it's stupid that they're halfway saying it now, over text. But it makes Liv smile, and everything feels so much more with the life coming back to her. She's feeling like herself, and just herself, for the first time in a long time.

I'll see you on the other side, he sends when she's been quiet for too long. Probably he has to get back to processing the scene. If anyone not in the know asks, you have a dreadful stomach flu. Vomiting. Other unspeakable things. I am kindly tending to you.

Liv laughs and settles down in the break room to wait for him to come back.

*

“I'd sort of forgotten you're going to be a brunette,” Ravi says the second she blinks her eyes open, somehow having fallen asleep waiting for him. “It's really disconcerting. Have you considered bleaching?”

“Not on your life,” she says, and then manages to focus enough to look at him and sit up on the couch. He looks tired. It's been an hour or two, maybe. In the rats, that was enough to get them completely back to normal. Her appearance is still probably changing, but when she looks at her arm it's a lot less pale than she's grown used to it being. “Hi. That must be a bad crime scene.”

“The police already have leads they're chasing down,” he says immediately. The only hesitation she's had about the cure (he's had plenty, mostly about its relative safetly) is not being able to help Clive anymore, the Seattle PD losing a little bit of help they needed to solve cases, but Ravi and Clive both told her she's not a necessary part of proceedings, just one that speeds things up a little. “Are you hungry?”

Liv considers that and makes a face. “Still feeling kind of queasy. I know intellectually that most of the human brains have gone through my digestive system already, but all my systems were moving slowly. Maybe there's some left in there.”

“Let me know if it doesn't pass soon.”

She wants to test it. She wants to see if she still heals injuries quickly (probably not), if her heart is beating like this, wants to know if she's still contagious. She's somewhere between zombie and human, and she's not sure which is winning right now. “Do I seem human to you?” she asks, and winces when it makes him frown.

“You've always seemed human to me, you know that. But we can test it. I can make you a delicious cup of tea that has no hot sauce in it whatsoever and you can see if you can taste it at all.”

Liv follows him out to the kettle, feeling tired and sore like she's been running a marathon, and watches him make the tea. He makes hers strong, and she pretends not to notice, but she almost bursts into tears when she smells it and it smells normal.

Of course, “normal” for tea is pretty gross. She takes a sip once it cools down a little and starts crying.

Ravi hugs her immediately. “Liv, I'm sorry, we should have waited a few hours, this doesn't mean it isn't working—”

“No, it's—I always hated tea,” says Liv, and pushes him away so she can take another drink and relish the way it burns her tongue.

*

They stay in the morgue, because he's got an autopsy to start doing and neither of them wants to leave the relative privacy of their space. When she stops feeling sick, he orders takeout and produces a chocolate bar that makes her cry again, because it's plain milk chocolate and she can taste it now.

“I swear I don't cry this much when I'm only on my own brain,” she says by way of apology.

“It's overwhelming, I imagine.” He grins at her over the measurements on the body. “I'm going to get to know you all over again. And start stocking less hot sauce.”

Liv did like hot sauce before she became a zombie, but it's going to be a while before she eats it again. “I should call Peyton and Major later. Clive too.”

“Not now?”

“You're the one who got me through this. I want to start the new life with you too.”

Ravi frowns, but he seems to be thinking, not upset. “And what are you going to do now? You don't need to be near your brain supply, so you don't have to stay. Any thoughts as to what's next?”

Liv hasn't let herself think much about it. Mostly because she was too distracted, but partly because she didn't want to jinx it. Now that her heartbeat is restarting, her life is too. She has to decide whether to go back to medical school or whether she wants to find something else to do. She's not sure she could be a surgeon after all of this, and Clive slipped her a business card for his favorite teacher at the police academy, but that doesn't sound right either. “I'm probably going to have to leave here,” she admits, and risks looking at him even though that sounded awful outside of her head.

“I thought so.” Ravi doesn't look offended or upset. Maybe the opposite. “Even if I'll miss seeing you constantly at work, I'd rather not be your boss, when all's said and done.”

After everything they've been through, that shouldn't be what does it. Liv has been holding out for the cure, holding out for being able to go out to dinner and savor the food, has been holding out for a moment that isn't this one, but it's not even close to a secret anymore. It's just the two of them waiting, and there's really no reason to wait. Her heart is pounding, and that's not a metaphor anymore.

Ravi flinches when she starts moving, used to a long time of worrying she could go full-on zombie mode at any time, but when she slows down, smiles at him, he reaches out. He can't touch her with his hands, since he has gloves on and someone else's blood on the gloves (and that's funny and not funny and unfortunately perfect for them), but he opens his arms anyway and bends down and she kisses him.

“You couldn't have done that when I'm not in the middle of a literal autopsy?” Ravi complains when she backs off, but he's beaming, so she takes that with a grain of salt.

“You think we could start any other way?”

“Probably not. And I'm definitely going to kiss you again when I'm not literally standing over a dead body. And romance you with dinner once the takeout wears off. You've thrown off my whole timeline for the evening.”

Liv really doesn't regret that. She backs off and puts on her own gloves, because this is still her job until she figures out what comes next and she's feeling like herself again. Really herself. “We've had plenty of dinners. I just wanted to get started.”

“There's that go-getter type-A Liv I've heard so much about.” He nods her into the next step of the autopsy, same way he has a hundred times before. “You have to admit this isn't very romantic.”

“Maybe not, but it's us.”

“You're right about that.”

Liv catches sight of herself in the stainless steel of the table, and almost doesn't recognize the reflection. Her hair is darkening up, faster than should be possible, but sometimes things can't really be explained by science. She doesn't look quite like Olivia Moore, Med Student, but she doesn't look like Liv Moore, Assistant ME, either. She'll figure that out. “I'm almost glad all this happened. It meant that I got to know you.”

Ravi raises his eyebrows at her. “You think we wouldn't have found each other somehow anyway? I think we would have. Had a hot weekend in Vegas and gotten married, perhaps. Maybe you would have gone on a school trip to London when I still lived there, or you would have joined the CDC, or we would have met on Tinder.”

“I love you,” she blurts, because in the middle of all the uncertainty, in the middle of the mess that the brains made of her personality, that's been a touchstone for a while now.

He looks at the ceiling. “You need to stop doing this while we're standing next to a dead body.”

Liv laughs, because she's not feeling sick anymore. She's feeling giddy, enjoying the return of sensations she's sure are just hers, the burned taste buds she can still feel from the tea and from her attempt to have even a drop of her favorite hot sauce as a zombie, the smell of bodies that are all disgusting now and not tempting at all. Her standards might be low, but that's going to be amazing for a while. “Maybe we should get the autopsy done and call Clive with the results, then.”

“As though I haven't been saying that since the very ill-timed kiss. Help me with the bone saw?” Liv does, beaming the whole time even though she shouldn't be, even though there's a murder to help solve even if she won't be having visions about it. “You too, by the way,” he adds when they start working. “In case you were wondering.”

“Who's being romantic at a bad time now?”

“That's why I didn't say the actual words. I'm saving that for the wining and dining. Now, can I have a scalpel?”

Liv is so glad she knows him. Maybe he's right, maybe zombies or no zombies they'd get together anyway, through some means. But this world is the only one she's got right now, and she's got him in it. That's enough to be grateful for. She hands him the scalpel and feels her pulse racing all over her body and gets to work.