Today’s brain wasn’t a full-on alcoholic, Liv had decided, but he had liked to get his drink on, and more than that he’d desperately needed the validation of strong men, which was how she’d ended up begging Clive to go get a drink with her. Not in the cop bar; she’d learned her lesson there and In Need of Strong Male Role Model brain didn’t have any preferences as long as there was alcohol and aforesaid strength.
Unfortunately, Clive’s strength had manifested as an unwillingness to get more than one beer, and he’d refused to suggest a place he already knew, so they’d ended up in a depressing mid-level hotel bar. Well, mid-level for Seattle still involved house cocktails with foam and infused syrups of all sorts and crystallized bacon, so it wasn’t a complete dump. But it was still sad that Clive wouldn’t share anything about himself with her.
“It’s sad that you won’t share anything about yourself with me,” she said. Honestly, that was probably only 50% non-Liv brain talking, because she wanted to make a new afterlife for herself, and part of that had to be building good relationships with the people in that afterlife.
Clive looked meaningfully at her half-empty cocktail (she’d eaten the jalapeño pepper garnish early on; there was something to be said for artisanal cocktail bartenders trying to one-up one another for the Instagram likes). “Are you sure you haven’t had too much to drink?”
“Very sure,” she said emphatically, which probably did not constitute the reassurance Clive was looking for. “Clive, we’ve been working together for a few months now, and in that time, we’ve solved multiple murders together. Don’t you think it’s time to—take things to the next level?” It took her a moment to realize how that might have sounded (she blamed the heterosexual male brain that had never experienced the security of a father’s unconditional love for the unintentional come-on). “I did not mean that in a harassing way,” she hurried to explain.
“Yeah, I saw you at the mandatory seminar last week, so I was kind of hoping that was the case,” Clive said, his mouth quirking a little. He never seemed to take her fully seriously, which was annoying even when she wasn’t on attention-seeking brain. In fairness to Clive, she’d been so many different people in the time she’d known him that he could be excused for thinking she was flighty even without the whole psychic rigamarole. But that was her (un)life now and she had to forge ahead.
“Tell me something about yourself,” she ordered. “Something that a person who wanted to get to know you, in a very innocuous yet connection-deepening way, would want to know.”
“That I don’t like to talk about myself,” Clive deadpanned.
She frowned. “I didn’t want to be doing this job, seeing visions of people’s lives that led to their unfortunate deaths. It’s not my idea of fun. If I have to do it, can’t I do it with people I know and like?”
Clive’s shoulders slumped, just a little. “Liv, I’m here, and for what it’s worth, I am sorry about what your—gift—costs you. I just don’t—Look, back on Vice, we maybe knew way too much about each other’s lives. It can get messy, and it can make the job even harder.”
Great, now she was the asshole. She couldn’t convince Clive to want to be her friend by wanting it, and she couldn’t even be the same person every day, reliable enough to start to care about.
Clive did care enough to notice her sudden spike of despair. “I’m not saying I don’t want to get a beer, or—whatever the hell that thing is,” gesturing at her drink, “every once in a while. Just, maybe, don’t push it too hard.”
And like that, the vision hit.
“—Always, always push too hard!” a male voice said from out of frame. “And not in the fun way. We’ve taken a vote and you are no longer welcome at The Back Slap.”
The alleyway smelled like alcohol-soaked piss, and his knees were getting wet, which was ew.
And then the words sunk in. He felt outrage, immediately replaced by disbelief. This had to be an extended scene. All that was necessary was to give some more lip, thus setting up the appropriate punishment and reconciliation. Steve wouldn’t do this. They’d see. They’d all see—
“What did you see?” Clive asked.
Liv gulped the rest of her drink. “Have you ever heard of a place called The Back Slap? I think it’s some kind of bar. Our vic got thrown out, except it didn’t seem like he was into taking no for an answer.” Come to think of it, it didn’t seem like he was into words so much as deeds. Liv shifted on her seat, a phantom ache along the back of her thighs and up her ass. “Um, based on the name and some details of the vision you don’t need to know, it’s possible it was some sort of S&M thing.” But saying that felt wrong, too. “Domestic discipline. Frank was into domestic discipline.”
“I know I’m gonna regret asking this,” Clive said—
“Spanking,” she said, and felt a new rush of heat from the word alone. The thrill of anticipation, of not knowing the exact moment the hit was going to come or the exact degree of force. “Frank liked to be spanked. But the autopsy didn’t show any recent bruising in the, uh, relevant areas. I think he might’ve pissed off someone beyond what it takes to get put over a friendly knee.”
“I guess we’re checking out The Back Slap,” Clive sighed.
Except that Liv was fairly confident, based on the vision she got when they approached (which she was sharing with no one, especially not Clive or Ravi or Major or, really, any man of her acquaintance), that the members of The Back Slap wouldn’t be open to talking to the cops. Seattle was open-minded as cities went, but there were some things it was still awkward to discuss in mixed company (kink versus vanilla, she explained to Clive, and they wouldn’t expect cops to be out and proud about anything that could in the wrong circumstances be misconstrued as police brutality).
“I think we should go in as a couple,” she told Clive, instead. “Check the place out like we’re looking for play partners, ask a few questions.” Pretending to be interested civilians was itself almost like a scene, the Frank part of her noted. Frank was kind of an asshole, she thought, which wasn’t all that uncommon for her meals (for humanity in general, probably, even setting aside the distribution of murder victims). In particular, Frank didn’t mind having people watching even if they didn’t want to watch; he’d gotten off on the humiliation of being punished in public either way.
Clive made his usual sour-lemon face, but he agreed. It was nice that he trusted her visions—no, her interpretations, because the undercover thing wasn’t taken directly from a vision.
“Don’t we need to go put together a costume first?” he protested as she took his arm to drag him forward.
“A, if you have a zippered playsuit waiting at home then you have definitely been holding out on me, and B, no. It’s all about the attitude. Trust me, you’ll give off ‘pissy dom’ vibes a lot better in your ordinary, and frankly rather sexy, leather jacket than uncomfortable in some so-called costume.” She glanced down at her own attire, which was, in fairness to Clive, a little more suburban housewife than a trip to a club like The Back Slap would usually have called for. “But give me a minute.”
Ducking back to the car, Liv used the passenger side mirror to add more mascara and eyeliner than she ordinarily would have, even for clubbing. One charming consequence of inhabiting multiple personalities was all the extra makeup she’d acquired to suit their varying tastes. It came in handy now, when she could add some killer red lipstick and end up looking like Harley Quinn pretending to be a square. It was good enough for government work, she judged, and that was after all what she was doing. On her way back, she unbuttoned her blouse enough to get a little slutty, and just like that she and Clive were a kinky couple.
“Are you sure about this?” Clive asked once more when she returned.
“Just because his sexual habits were non-normative doesn’t make Frank any less vision-inducing,” Liv pointed out. “But, you should probably know, even though they’re gay-friendly, the gender politics seem kind of regressive, and it’s also possible that the racial difference is going to draw some fetishizing attention, which is not normally a good thing but might provide a distraction as we investigate.”
“Great,” Clive said. “Just what I wanted from my night.”
“Sorry,” Liv said, wincing, “but wouldn’t you rather know what’s going to attract their attention than not?”
“Don’t even get me started on what I’d rather,” Clive said immediately, then patted her on the shoulder to show that he wasn’t mad at her. Which was nice of him, she thought, and wondered whether it was the brain making her extra sensitive to signs of his approval. Needy brain—or maybe Liv on her own had never been needy enough, if all reports were to be believed.
“Embrace your inner disciplinarian,” she counseled him as they approached the doorman. “It’s not even that inner. Again, no disrespectful innuendo intended.”
“Again, I’m gonna accept your psychic weirdness,” Clive said into her ear, then clamped his hand around her wrist. His fingers were warm, but not sweaty. Very nice, she thought, and didn’t think it was entirely Frank.
Fifteen minutes later, they were in reluctant agreement that it wasn’t working. They were not in agreement on why. The bar was dark and warm and ignoring them.
“I need to show a badge,” Clive snapped into her ear. “Which means you need to keep quiet, seeing as how you are not a detective.”
Liv kept a demure smile on her face and kept her eyes down, which was Frank’s influence given that it was making finding vision-worthy visuals difficult. “You need to show authority in a more not-cop-like way. People are wondering if we’re just fakers, tourists getting our thrills by staring without offering any of our own. I think we need to show off a little.”
“I am not groping you in public,” Clive insisted.
“I wasn’t thinking about groping,” Liv shot back. “C’mon, Clive, doesn’t it tick you off how I ignore you, the actual cop, and go ahead with my investigations regardless of your instructions? Doesn’t it aggravate you, make you think I need instruction and a firmer hand?”
“Liv—” She could hear it in his voice, anger winding up, getting closer to a real explosion. It wasn’t safe and it wasn’t nice, but Frank liked it and so she did too.
“Put me over your knee,” she urged, putting her drink down on a convenient table. “Do it here and now and everyone will watch and I will get a vision.”
“I know you don’t know that for sure,” Clive said. “And isn’t that called topping from the bottom?”
Liv restrained herself from rolling her eyes. “Not if you’re not topping.” She leaned into Clive, speaking her words into his neck. “I’m serious, Clive. I am asking you to do this and I think it will help solve a murder. I know you don’t want me to get hurt. I trust you not to hurt me.”
“What if I don’t trust myself?” Clive mumbled, but at last he grabbed her upper arms and twisted her so that she was facing away from him. “You say blue and I’ll stop.” It came out as more threat than promise.
“Pants down,” Clive gritted into her ear. His hot breath against her neck made her shiver, then fumble with the closings. She was wearing sensible white cotton underwear, thank goodness, though it was getting a bit hot down there. With shaking hands, she pushed her serviceable black khakis down past her hips and shimmied a little to help them puddle down at her ankles.
Clive pushed her over his lap with a suddenness that gave her a head rush. Lifting her head, she could see through some disarrayed strands of (still distractingly) white-blond hair that they were attracting some favorable attention now. If she’d been alive, she would have been bright red from the immediate combination of humiliation and arousal.
She was balanced on his strong thighs, several inches away from his stomach or his groin. He was holding her up completely, keeping her feet off the ground, but he prevented her from wobbling with a firm arm laid across the backs of her lower thighs, keeping her in the perfect position.
Liv had a moment of unpleasant mortification—how did she get into this place?—and then something in her head (or her gut) clicked over and it was all trembling anticipation.
The first smack was still a shock, hitting entirely on the fabric over her ass, nothing skin to skin.
He hadn’t been the one to suggest the spanking, because he hadn’t known he could ask. But when he’d stretched himself crosswise over Ben to get to the condoms, Ben had given him a whack, and like that his world changed.
“Liv!” Clive’s voice was low but urgent.
“Unh?” She was still shaking with the force of it, heat softening her bones even as other parts of her quivered and tensed. “Oh, uh, vision, but … not relevant to the case.”
Distantly, she knew that she should be interested in the idea that a vision could be sparked by a physical sensation. Ravi would certainly be excited. “Do it again,” she ordered, not thinking about whether that was because she wanted to solve the case.
Clive grunted skepticism but she could feel the loss of the heat of his hand when he lifted it again, and then the displacement of the air as it presaged the shock of contact. She raised her head to scan the crowd now openly watching. This time, Clive smacked her harder, catching a sliver of the skin of her thighs. Her eyes met a face in the crowd. It was Steve.
“Bad breakup?” the voice asked.
He turned, and saw a person he thought he recognized, but not from the club. He shivered, only some from the cold.
He shrugged, or tried to. This wasn’t his kind of humiliation. “Steve’s been going here longer than I have. I guess he gets it in the split.”
“That doesn’t seem fair.” The guy stepped closer. “You’re Frank, right?” He ducked his head. He wasn’t super handsome, but his hair fell in a fan over his eyes when he did that and the shy smile helped. “Greg. From the office?”
Oh. “Fancy meeting you here.”
Greg flushed, which was fair. “It was … my first time. Wanna go somewhere else?”
“I don’t want to keep you away from the broader experience,” Frank said, which was partly true and partly he didn’t want work to get weirder, what with the whole embezzlement investigation and all. He didn’t exactly remember, but he thought that Greg might even work in the affected division.
Greg shook his head. “I’ve got the feeling I’d be better off with you.”
Which might have been a line, but it still sealed the deal as far as Frank was concerned.
Liv came back to herself gasping and squirming, and with the circle of watchers much closer, which was almost certainly why Clive hadn’t been trying to prod her back to consciousness. Prod, heh.
“Please,” she managed. “Please, again.” She was barely in contact with Clive, if you thought about it, just lying across his legs and reined in by his stabilizing arm, but she still felt—controlled. Protected. He cared enough to do this for her.
“One more,” Clive said, his voice strained. Was it so bad to hope that some of that was from watching her, feeling her writhe on him like a girl in a music video?
But there was no vision this time, only the shock of contact, like a bellyflop from a high dive, a stinging reverberation that concentrated her into the feeling of touch. Her hands fisted as she bucked against him, her hips surging as she came, letting the rhythm flood through her like a high tide regardless of the audience, letting Clive hold her up.
She was still shuddering with the aftershocks when Clive had her standing up, hustling her into one of the conveniently locking individual bathrooms. The watchers probably assumed they were fucking, she realized, and even that didn’t bother her right now. After all, Clive was clearly a catch.
“What did you see?” he demanded. She wanted to check to see whether he’d been as affected as she was—she hadn’t exactly gotten a feel in all the confusion between vision and reality—but she had the sense that Clive might perceive a direct inspection as an insult to his professionalism. Anyway, this wasn’t the time to pursue the matter any further.
She explained Steve, and Greg, and the potential embezzlement issue. “If Steve kicked Frank out the same night he was killed, then we have a suspect and a motive.”
Clive nodded, then paused. “So, you had two more visions after the first? Please don’t tell me that’s going to be how this works from now on. And also, what was the second vision?”
Liv turned to the sink and splashed water on her face, giving herself a little time. In the mirror, she didn’t look any different than before she’d sort of had sex with, or at least on, Clive, other than the now-somewhat-smudged mascara. “I think the spanking was specific to Frank,” she told him. “And, um, the second vision was also not relevant.”
“That was insane,” Clive said several hours later, shoving Greg into the back seat of the car.
Liv expected that her shellshocked silence would read as agreement. Honestly, she hadn’t even expected Clive to re-raise the issue, once they’d gotten Steve to confirm how recent his ejection of Frank had been and turned their attention to Frank’s colleagues.
But Clive apparently wasn’t done, even though they’d both solved a murder and handed a now-related financial crimes case over to Major Crimes. “You know,” Clive said, “that was all—I wouldn’t put pressure on anyone. I mean, I’m an open guy. No objections to what a woman wants—”
“Am I going to have to remind you about that incredibly awkward seminar?” Liv interrupted, both to spare Clive and to relish being the one who wasn’t mid-verbal eruption. “Clive, do not worry about it. We both know why were there.”
And they both knew who’d enjoyed it most, which would’ve been more embarrassing to Liv on some other brain. Did it count as internalized shame if she was feeling conflicted about the sexual practices she’d only enjoyed as a result of the brain she’d consumed? Literally internalized, sure. But what about that ‘only’? It wasn’t as if she’d done anything more exotic with Major than the occasional bit of lingerie, and that one time with the video game characters. Could some of that have been Liv’s own enjoyment? And what did the idea of her own enjoyment even mean—it was her orgasm one way or another, wasn’t it?
Zombie sex dilemmas are different from other sex dilemmas, she thought. At least this had been safe sex, zombification-wise. But she’d been silent so long, through getting the perp into the car and Clive driving them halfway to the precinct. She ought to say something else reassuring, and the privacy divider between the front and back of the car was up.
“You know, I wouldn’t have wanted to go in there with anyone else. I trust you to have my back—and not just for the spankings.”
“You were doing so well,” Clive groaned.
Liv grinned. “Had to be said so we could get past it.”
Clive rolled his eyes, which she took as confirmation. Clive had accepted some pretty outrageous stuff from Liv. She was kind of hoping that this particular brain would be a standout in that category, though. She’d hate to see something that might top this night’s activity. So to speak.
Later, after Greg had been booked, she headed down to the morgue—since they were both going to have to start work again in a few hours, there was no point in going home; given the distance, she’d just have to shower and turn around. Maybe she could catch a nap on an empty slab.
Before she could convert speculation into no-doubt-disturbing-to-Ravi reality, Clive came into view, holding a cardboard cup.
“Tea,” he said, holding it out. “Not the kind of drink you suggested at the beginning of this little adventure, but I figured you might want something more suitable for work.”
“Thank you,” she said, accepting it and inhaling the warm steam. Even if she couldn’t enjoy the taste, there was still the warmth. With a wave of her hand, she invited him over to the side table, where they could sit comfortably across from one another. “I know we didn’t really finish our previous conversation, but I’m letting you off the hook. You’re a good partner, whether or not we hang out extracurricularly.”
“So are you,” Clive said, more softly than his usual wont. They spent a few moments in silence, which Liv found immensely reassuring. One brain-inspired night of unusual passion didn’t have to change everything forever.
Clive took a deep breath. “I do have a personal question for you, though.”
“Ask away,” she invited. “I promise I won’t take it as evidence that we are meant to be—anything more than people who work well together.”
Clive chuckled, relieved. “Right. So there’s this thing I keep wondering about your visions. Do you think God chose you?”
Perhaps oddly, Liv had never given that question even a moment of thought, and it took her a long, silent time to organize her thinking, though Clive waited patiently. “I’m not much of a believer,” she said at last. Life after death notwithstanding, she saw no evidence that any particular entity—other than the odious Blaine and the murderous Max Rager—was involved in her resurrection.
“You have visions,” Clive said, with his usual air of disbelief (which had to be a little bit ironic). “How can you not believe in God?”
“I’m a psychic, not a prophet—totally different visions,” Liv said, though admittedly her full neurotransmitter-based justification, complete with discussion of flatworm memory transmission via cannibalism, was more persuasive. “Look, science is just beginning to figure out how the human brain works—how memories are formed. But just because we don’t have a scientific explanation yet doesn’t mean there’s no explanation but supernatural forces.”
“Supern—I’m talking about God, not witchcraft.”
She was learning a lot about him tonight. “Said to the girl who might’ve gotten burned as one a couple of hundred years ago, courtesy of God-fearing folk. Look, I’m not trying to diminish your faith, whatever it is. I’m just telling you – I don’t share it.”
Clive shook his head. “Of all the things you’ve said to me, that’s the one I find hardest to understand, and don’t think there isn’t a really significant competition.”
She smiled at him. “I guess we’ll just have to try to work across our various divides.”
“I guess we will,” he agreed.
She sipped her drink, covertly watching him. Maybe not so covertly, given that he was a police detective and he was right across from her. Still, he didn’t seem uncomfortable, which was promising.
Liv shifted in her seat and felt the twinge, a not entirely unwelcome reminder of how much there was left to understand about other people. Maybe Frank knew things about pleasure and pain that Liv on her own hadn’t; maybe Clive knew other things about faith. She was beginning to think that she might be able to learn some things from him. Without consuming his brain, even.