Some brains hijack her worse than others. Ravi, the consummate scientist, made her keep a diary for two dozen brains to figure out why. As far as they could figure out, it came down to a few major things:
- How stressed out she is. This works in a bell curve: not at all stressed, Liv!Liv; stressed, Brain!Liv; totally, completely, ridiculously stressed, Zombie!Liv.
- How extreme the personality was. The more extreme, the more wildly her personality oscillates between herself and the new brain; versus a more neutral personality will just take her over and tick her off-center.
- The state of the person when they died. Murder tends to heighten the personality and preserve the brain in its purest form.
There’s a couple ways she can fight, be more like herself. Between cases, Ravi gives her brains that are pretty much exclusively middle-aged people who have mysteriously died in their sleep: they’re not violent, not too neurotic, not too senile, and dying while unconscious seemed to numb the personality.
They tried once to seek out brains from people like Liv as she used to be--highly educated, young, driven, stable--but the first time they found a Liv-a-like, Ravi found her sobbing in their office.
“Hey,” he said gently, taking the seat opposite her. “What’s going on?”
Liv placed her hand to her heart and breathed in long enough that her tears paused. “I saw everything. Her wedding. Her first day at her fellowship.” The tears came back. “I’m never going to have that life again. I’ll never be me again.”
Ravi sighed, pushing the remnants of Liv’s brain musubi aside. “You will. I’ll find the cure. I promise you.”
Liv nodded. It was easier than telling him--and herself--that she didn’t believe him.
From then on, she avoids brains that will break her heart. Strangely enough, it’s easier to be Not!Liv than to be like herself but utterly aware she’s nothing like herself anymore.
She keeps certain brains in the freezer, labeled by tagline and date of death: “Soccer Mom - 11/15”; “Lifeguard Accidental Drowning - 2/16”; “Knitting Club President - 7/16”. She stores them for when she needs a boost, when Normal Liv could benefit from being more giving, more courageous, more detail-oriented.
She thinks of them like the drugs she’d give her patients back in the day: a little Ritalin here, a little Valium there. “You’ll still be the same person,” she’d tell them, “but you’ll feel better.”
And sometimes she thinks she is. Better, that is.
But she's never the Liv she once was.
She tries to avoid everyone she ever cared in her previous life. She can almost taste them, and has to swallow the desire to suck them up and become them. “Like Kirby,” Ravi said once, to which Liv had rolled her eyes.
Major is the hardest. Liv might be literally cold now, but even Liv!Liv hadn’t been the warmest, friendliest, most charitable person. That’s why she loved Major--why she needed Major. He was just as strong as her, but he softened her edges. When she first met him, she could barely look him in the eye, he was so handsome and direct and kind. Now she can’t look him in the eye because the moment she does, she knows she’s going to fall apart.
Babineaux is investigating the death of a Helton Shelter kid when he asks for Liv’s help. She remembers the teen from Major’s stories. He was one of Major’s favorites: a tough kid who pushed back until he realized Major would never, ever give up on him.
Major would never, ever give up on anyone or anything.
She closes her eyes and takes a bite, alternately praying to see and not see Major. Nothing kicks in until Major swings by the station to give a statement. Liv sees Major through the eyes of the kids he helps: literally it’s like there’s a blinding halo around him. She can barely contain herself from wanting to be near him constantly, to feel protected by him. She is lost without him. She hugs him until she starts crying. “I’m sorry,” she says, and she can’t stop herself from saying it again and again and again. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
He pulls her tight against his chest, his chin on top of her head. “I know. Me too.”
Clive Babineaux keeps her sane. She wonders if a small part of him realizes that she needs him just as much as he needs her. She’s missed having a routine: missed saving people, missed feeling important.
They’ve just solved another murder--Liv’s been on a champion dog breeder’s brain for a week and Ravi’s had to keep her from buying a $15,000 poodle--when Babineaux shows his first sign of affection for her. “You really are something, aren’t you?” he says, taking the dog collar from her hands. “Last week you won the station’s March Madness pool and this week you’ve bedazzled all of Detective Johnson's dog accessories."
“What can I say?” Liv shrugs. “I’m a million girls rolled into one.”
Her family doesn’t understand and Liv knows she can never make them understand. Her mom and brother haven’t talked to Liv since Evan got out of the hospital. It’s a hard line in the sand, a clear marker of her old life ending for good. Some days she misses them terribly; some days not at all. One day she realizes it’s been a week since she’s thought about them.
That night she eats the brains of manslaughtered mom and cries.
She’s watching Zombie High with Peyton when she has a vision. She’s on the brains of a high school student who died after she got Carrie-ed at prom. There’s satin and screaming and suddenly she’s falling. Liv returns to the present with a hard gasp.
“Whoa, what’d you see?” Peyton asks, pausing the show.
“Oh, the usual. Stampeding teenagers in tacky prom clothes.” Liv breathes in deeply. “And loneliness. This girl was so lonely. No friends, no social life.” She sighs. “Not that I have much of a social life.”
Peyton wraps her arms around Liv. “Come on. You’ve got a great crew. You have your ex-fiance, your-boss-slash-my-ex-boyfriend, your police partner…” She smiles. “And most of all, you’ve got me. We’re pretty much superheroes who fight crime and look good doing it."
Liv laughs and takes another chip full of high school student salsa. “It’s true. I even have super creepy super powers.”
“Me, I’m just super smart and super hot,” Peyton says, a wink to her voice.
Everything might be different now--no family, no fiance, no normal food--but she still has Peyton. Peyton is still the same. She and Peyton are still the same.
It's Liv's one and only constant from her old life, and she wouldn't give it up for anything.
Liv hates the feeling that rises in her when stomach when Ravi tells her and Major that New Hope is a zombie again. Sure, she and Major aren’t together anymore, but soon she won’t be alone anymore. Major puts on his dry wit and Liv holds her hands together and tells herself to get it together. Major is only a former-soon-to-be-again zombie because of her. She would do anything to keep him alive. Ex-doctor’s oath, ex-girlfriend’s debt.
Like Major, Blaine’s been counting down his days until he becomes a zombie again. Just add it to the things he counts regularly: dead bodies, stacks of bills, broken promises.
Liv pulls a sample of blood from his arm while Blaine shifts in his seat. “If you and Ravi keep this up, I’ll need to consider vampirism,” he quips.
“Trust me, we’re just as surprised as you are that your heart continues to pump blood instead of sludge,” Liv claps back. She removes the tourniquet from his arm. “Done.”
Blaine rolls down his sleeve. “All business, no pleasantries?”
Liv starts putting her supplies away. “I’ve got a case.”
“Ah. I get the impression that even as a human you weren’t known for your human touch.” Liv’s head snaps up and Blaine smiles, delighted that he’s successfully baited her. “You know, I’m going to miss this. Being everything you want and hate at the same time.”
Liv stares him down. “Trust me, I don’t want you.”
Blaine’s smile falters. “No. You want hope.” He opens the door and gestures her out. “But then again, so do I.”
It takes years and a zombie apocalypse and more New New New New New Hopes than PETA would be okay with, but Ravi finally finds the cure. Major takes it, as does Blaine. Liv lets them go first; it's more urgent for them, after all.
Ravi fills the syringe and looks at her, unreadable. “Do you think you’ll miss it?” he asks.
Liv raises an eyebrow. “What? The wild mood swings between cheerleader and convict? I don’t think so.”
“Right, of course, I know. But like it or not, this has been your life for years, Liv. It might be strange to be alone with only your own thoughts again. To be Liv and only Liv again.”
Liv tilts her head. She hadn’t thought of that. Sure, she'd thought about giving up crime solving and brains and hot sauce, but she'd never thought about how she hadn’t been herself in years. She had been versions of Liv, Liv wearing costumes. Who was the real Liv? Will she be who she remembers?
Worse: what if she’s nothing like who she was before?
Liv's been so many things at this point--stripper, gambler, crotchety old man--and none of them ever fully leave her. She remembers what it's like to be all of them, carries them with her every day. Even without the brains, she won't be who she was before all this happened. None of them will be.
She rolls up her sleeve, exposing her bare arm to Ravi. “I’m excited to meet her.”
Ravi smiles. “Me too.”