Life's a bitch, and then you die.
Unless you’re the bitch, because then you wake up as a zombie.
Caroline stared at her ceiling, waiting for her alarm clock to go off. She still couldn’t sleep. Ever since she woke up on the beach with shock white hair and a desire to eat brains, her thoughts just ran wild while she was supposed to sleep.
For the millionth time in the months since that dreaded night, Caroline found herself thinking about the infamous boat party that ended in her own zombie apocalypse. She hadn’t even wanted to go, but Stefan insisted she enjoy herself before getting shackled to him in holy matrimony for the rest of her life.
He still regretted that decision, if the broken engagement and months of radio silence was anything to go by.
In the tally her best friend Bonnie often reminded her she kept, Caroline was zero for two in life-changing decisions. The first was breaking Stefan’s heart, the best guy she had ever known, by calling off the wedding. The second was giving up her top-rated surgical residency when the hunger for brains soon outweighed her Hippocratic oath. Rather than hunt for fresh graves in New Orleans’ abundance of cemeteries, Caroline sought easier access to her specific dietary needs by working for the medical examiner’s office.
Her alarm finally sounded, the peppy song playing on the radio too much for Caroline’s more somber self. It did finally give her an excuse to get up, at least. She ignored her mirror and the makeup lying on her vanity; with white hair and too pale skin, the changes were too much for the former beauty queen to accept gracefully. Instead, she trudged out of her room and into the kitchen with her slouchy pajamas tripping around her feet.
“Good morning,” Bonnie said, looking over the blender with an arched brow. “It’s unlike you to be awake before noon anymore.”
If Caroline had trouble adjusting to her new reality, Bonnie somehow took it worse. Of course, she doesn’t know about Caroline’s…condition. All she knows is that her best friend turned her life upside down with drastic consequences and no warning.
“I’m on the day shift now,” Caroline answered with a shrug. She went straight for the fridge, where she pulled out hot sauce, milk, and a couple of eggs. “Kol says I’ve been doing good work.”
“That’s something,” Bonnie tried, though it came out as less than impressed. “You’ll be working with Kol more often, then?”
Caroline almost smiled at the question, knowing that her boss’s position as the city medical examiner often brought him into contact with various lawyers in the District Attorney’s office, like her roommate. Kol, who had become a pretty good friend in a time Caroline had pushed everyone close to her away, was adorably persistent in his courting of the young Miss Bennett. Bonnie often dated more famous, illustrious men, but Dr. Mikaelson had clearly made an impression. “Yeah, it should be fun,” she said, whipping herself some scrambled eggs for breakfast.
“I’ve got to go,” Bonnie said, pouring her power smoothie into a to-go mug. “They’re announcing the Utopium task force today, and I’m hoping to be assigned.”
“Good luck,” Caroline said, focusing on the hot sauce she poured over her eggs. She winced at how dead her voice sounded, still not used to the idea that she was actually dead. Once, she would have cheered Bonnie on with a congratulatory breakfast and celebratory drinks that night. Muttered kind wishes were the extent of her effusiveness anymore.
So much for the bubbly blonde I used to be.
Two months into her new career, Caroline had fallen into a comfortable routine. Well, as comfortable a routine as one could have when sneaking brains out of corpses for her daily meal, right under the nose of one’s new boss.
They had been working on their latest body, a lovely woman named April who unfortunately passed in a parachute jump gone wrong; Caroline was all but salivating at the thought of a April Caesar salad. As sick as the irony was, she needed the sustenance to maintain her humanity.
“Would you mind closing up for me,” Kol asked, plucking off his rubber gloves before going over to the sink. “I have a meeting upstairs I must attend to.”
“Sure,” Caroline nodded. She was relieved that Kol preferred to let her work alone, especially since it gave her easy access for her lunch. “I’ll take my break after, if that’s all right?”
“Of course,” Kol smirked. “Wouldn’t want to take advantage, would we?” After the cryptic comment, Kol swept out of the lab, leaving Caroline confused.
Too hungry to care, though, Caroline quickly finished up April’s processing and stored her body for the daily incineration later on. “Thank you, April,” she whispered before shutting the drawer. She turned to find the brain still sitting in pan, too ashamed to look back at where the bodies were kept. Instead, she took the brain back to Kol’s office. Her salad was waiting.
When she first realized what she had become, Caroline had vociferously collected every book, movie and graphic novel in the zombie genre. Faced with the impossible, she was only left with the improbable evidence for what she might experience. It was easy enough to talk Bonnie into bingeing The Walking Dead with her at home, and Stefan would never notice that some of his comic books had ended up in her things when she officially moved out. Some of the gorier fare, however, inevitably ended up accompanying her breaks.
Kol thought it was funny, her fascination with such dark themes contradicting her bubbly looks. The look was all she was left with, having been unable to part with her favorite sundresses. Luckily, Kol was a bit of a zombie nut, too. “While I Am Legend is a quality story,” he had advised one late afternoon, “too many people mistake it for the zombie apocalypse hysteria. The creatures are more like vampires, however ridiculous that may be. At least zombies could exist.”
Caroline remembered nearly spitting out her “coffee” - really an extra-spicy gumbo broth - at the comment. Kol didn’t seem fazed in the slightest, so Caroline had begun to finally relax at work.
She queued up Night of the Living Dead and took a bit of her salad. Caroline frowned down at it, missing something.
“Hot sauce, darling?”
Caroline whipped around to find Kol leaning in the doorway, offering her a bottle of her new favorite ingredient. Panicked, she glanced down to her salad peppered with obvious chunks of brain before meeting his glittering eyes.
“Yeah,” he sighed, oddly happy. “I know.”
Kol was practically bouncing in his seat, taking another vial of her blood. “I kept wondering the best way to bring it up,” he admitted, switching out the test tubes. “I wasn’t sure it outright accusing you of being a zombie would have the adverse effect of you bashing my head in for my brains.”
“Probably a good thought,” Caroline mused distractedly. She hadn’t been able to focus since Kol had caught her, though he immediately started collecting samples from her person. “How did you know?”
“This is a bit embarrassing,” he started, despite looking almost shamelessly proud, rather than embarrassed. “I only have this job because of my big brother, the big bad Lieutenant Elijah Mikaelson of the New Orleans P.D. He’s the stuffy one in a suit upstairs.”
“Where were you before,” Caroline asked. She was surprised to feel curious about her boss’s history, something that probably should have been covered in the two months she had been working for him.
Kol grinned cheekily up at her as he stabbed a new needle in for a saline IV. “Need to keep your fluids up,” he explained. “To answer your question, I was sacked from the CDC. They didn’t appreciate my tenacity for a pet project.”
“As a matter of biological warfare gone wrong, yeah,” he confirmed. Leaning back, Kol turned serious. “Unfortunately, the Centers were much more interested in weaponizing such technology rather than learning from it as a matter of prevention.”
“Is that what you’re doing with me,” she asked, looking at the multiple blood samples and nail clippings. “Learning?”
“You’re a doctor, a scientist,” Kol declared. “Surely you enjoy experiments.”
“I do,” she acknowledged. “But this seems dangerous for you.”
“Wouldn’t it be worth it if I could develop a cure,” he asked, distracted as he labeled the various samples. Noting her silence, he looked up with a pensive expression. “You didn’t think you’d be like this forever, did you?”
“Kind of,” she admitted.
Kol stood up and walked over to her. He crouched in front of her, looking earnest. “Caroline, a terrible thing happened to you,” he said gently. “I commend you for the efforts you have gone to in protecting the public from your situation. Let me do the same by curing you.”
“I’ve given up everything,” she mentioned, as though it were an off-hand observation. “My fiancé thinks I’m going through a mental breakdown before our June wedding, when really, I just can’t bear to turn him into…this. I can’t work with live patients in case of transference.”
“I know,” Kol said, placing a hand on her shoulder.
Caroline followed the motion with her eyes, staring at the hand. Despite Kol’s tendency for lewd and suggestive humor, the hand itself was entirely inoffensive. The comforting gesture what just that, meant for comfort from human to another.
I’m not human.
The thought had occurred to her several times over the last few months, but this was the first time it hadn’t brought the burn of tears to her eyes. This was the first time she could think of her condition as temporary.
“With all the compulsory mechanics out of the way,” Kol said, waving dismissively to the samples, “I’d like the more qualitative context to your zombie status.”
“How I turned, you mean?”
Kol nodded, pulling out a recorder and notepad he often used for autopsies. “So,” he said, focusing on her. “You tie this back to the boat party massacre that occurred in the Gulf on May nineteenth?”
“Yes,” Caroline said, remaining detached as she prepared to dig through the painful memories.
She hadn’t planned to go, but a fellow resident insisted. Caroline looked to Stefan for backup, having been looking forward to their date night. They were going to get ice cream and take a haunted tour of New Orleans.
“Go ahead,” he said, ignoring her pointed looks to the contrary. “You’re going to be stuck with my dumb face for the rest of your life. Sick parties on a boat? A once in a blue moon offer, babe.”
Never wanting to force her presence where it wasn’t wanted, Caroline reluctantly went to the party. She figured at the very least that she’d get to know her resident class, maybe make friends.
The only person she remembered, though, was a mischievous blonde man with dimples like the devil. “You’re a new face on the Gulf,” he had flirted, sex oozing from his British accent. “Why haven’t I seen you at parties before, love?”
Normally, Caroline would just flash her engagement ring before turning on her heel. Something about the guy rubbed her the wrong way, though. “Do you make it a habit of hitting on every new face you see,” she asked. “How successful are you? If I were to poll the party, would the women have a good report on you?”
“I get by,” he said with a smarmy smirk. “Though none have been as beautiful as you.”
Caroline couldn’t hold back her laugh. “Smooth,” she teased, raising her drink with her left hand. “I’ll be sure to let my fiance know about the multitude of options out there for me.”
Then, the screams started.
The guy dragged her underneath a table to hide, leaving a scratch on her arm in the scuffle. Rather than join her, though, he raced out. Caroline didn’t know if he had friends on the boat or what, but people had started going crazy on each other. There was blood and panic, with no way out. The boat shifted suddenly, and Caroline’s head hit the table leg. The blow knocked her out, but the tablecloth was enough to keep her hidden.
The next thing she remembered was waking up on the cold sand, covered with a sheet. The paramedics had assumed she was dead, focusing their efforts on more likely survivors. As she gasped back to life, scaring the daylights out of the workers, Caroline knew something was wrong. All she could focus on was an intense hunger, drawing her attention to an actually dead body lying next her with an exposed head wound.
“I didn’t notice the hair until I made it home,” she told Kol absently, still lost in her memories. “It wasn’t that much lighter than my natural shade of blonde, but it was completely noticeable to me. The chalk white skin wasn’t doing me any favors either, so I just let the hair go.”
Kol quickly wrote down everything he could. “You’ve tried the bronzer angle?”
Caroline cocked her head to the side. “Do you ask all the girls about their skin care regimen?”
“A man needs his tricks, darling,” Kol quipped. “I’m really a thousand years old.”
“Funny,” Caroline deadpanned. “Bronzer is too drastic for my lily-white self, anymore. Tinted moisturizers work better for my slightly healthier glow.”
“Interesting,” Kol said, scribbling away. “And what do you think brought about your transition?”
“I had something to drink,” Caroline answered, the question plaguing her thoughts since she started eating brains. “But my only open wound was a scratch on my arm, and I’m pretty sure I got that before the outbreak.”
Kol just shook his head. “Depending on how the virus manifests, it might have been contagious before any symptoms appeared,” he said. “I’ve been working on the assumption that it’s a blood borne pathogen, making the drink the weaker theory. Whoever scratched you is likely the source of your infection.”
“You’ve been working,” Caroline asked, incredulous. “Do yo-”
“What’s a girl got to do to get an autopsy report around here?”
Both doctors stared at each other wide-eyed before turning to the new addition. The woman had a badge hitched to her belt, the stiletto boots somehow more threatening than the gun on her hip. Dressed in all black with the dark brown curls spilling down around her face, Caroline immediately likened her to Black Widow. This woman just looked annoyed, though. “I’m not kidding, I need the report on April Young.”
Realizing that they were just staring at her, Caroline slapped Kol on the shoulder before hustling all her zombie samples out of sight. “Sorry,” Caroline said.
“Don’t be sorry,” Kol said, returning to his light-hearted self once the surprise has settled. “Kitty Kat here just wants to cause us trouble because she’s stuck on the easy cases.”
“You two know each other,” Caroline asked, wondering at the familiar teasing Kol used on the woman.
“She’s dating my big brother,” Kol crowed. “I’ve always wondered if she actually does anything to loosen the stick up his arse, but really, she’s just as fussy as he is.”
“Detective Katherine Pierce,” she introduced herself, nodding sharply as she glared at Kol. “I’m still new to the Homicide Department, and Kol likes to remind me that I only get the bunny shots. Accidental deaths, for one. Tell me about Ms. Young.”
“Her blood analysis showed high concentrations of a drug called Utopium, as well unusual amounts of ketamine,” Kol explained, pulling out the lab work he had completed earlier that day. “Both could have impaired her judgment before the jump, including her ability to pull her chute.”
“You feel comfortable ruling this as an accident?”
Caroline gasped, her vision focusing onto a past event through April’s eyes.
“Accident, shmaccident,” she yelled, popping another tab of Utopium before chasing it with an energy drink. “They pay us to live dangerously, right?”
“You bet, sweetheart.” She recognized that voice, but she couldn’t see who spoke.
A large hand held another bottle of Utopium, and Caroline could only watch as April opened it and greedily swallowed it down.
“Someone was feeding her the drug,” Caroline said, shaking herself out of the vision. When she had been eating cemetery brains, she tried to stick to older people. They mostly died in their sleep, which helped Caroline acclimate herself to the vertigo-inducing side effects. The brains she ate now came from potential homicide victims, though this was the first time her visions led her to further information.
Kat furrowed her brow down at the report. “How do you know that?”
Eyes wide, Caroline realized she didn’t have an answer. Panicked, she looked to Kol, who oddly seemed to understand her dilemma. Curious, as she hadn’t mentioned her visions yet. Nevertheless, she was grateful when he had a response at the ready.
“Caroline’s psychic,” he said confidently. “Strange, I know.”
Clearly unconvinced, Kat raised an eyebrow at the stranger. “Caroline, is it?”
“Doctor Caroline Forbes, my newest resident,” Kol introduced.
And a zombie who ate April’s brains.
“You wouldn’t be playing along for one of Kol’s pranks,” Kat asked, though Caroline clearly heard a warning in there.
She shook her head, but Kol came to her defense instead. “She really does have good instincts about these cases,” he said seriously. “In fact, you should take her along to the crime scene. I’ve got plenty of work here to do.”
Caroline glared at Kol for offering her services, especially when she clearly had more questions for him. She could tell he was hiding something from her. Unfortunately for her, Kat shrugged in acceptance.
“Let’s go, doc,” the detective said, sashaying out of the lab.
Slipping out of her lab coat and grabbing her purse, Caroline looked back to Kol. “Keep me posted on your progress,” she ordered, letting him know that their conversation wasn’t over.