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Who We Were Isn't Lost

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[SHAUN - November 2041]

Of the first joint reports that George and I posted when we were sixteen, when we were fresh-faced baby bloggers with new provisional licenses, there's one I remember better than all the others: the one we wrote after George decided we should get identification tattoos, which also conveniently struck us as a good topic.

All she had to do to convince me was mention it. Usually if people our age talked about tattoos--and I know this from experience--it resulted in lectures from adults who said we didn't understand the concept of permanence, that we couldn't possibly know what we'd want inked into our skin in just a few years, never mind decades down the road. But ID tattoos were different. George said getting them was the responsible thing to do, and our parents agreed, and next thing we knew they'd signed whatever parental authorization forms needed to be signed. All that was left was for us to decide on specifics.

I spent a few days fiddling around with design concepts, hunting down pictures online of what looked coolest to me, considering colors and putting real, honest thought into how much of my aesthetic sense had been there as long as I could remember, and how much might be something that could change by next year.

George didn't bother with any of that. ID tattoos can take all kinds of forms, as long as they have all the key info incorporated, but there are a few standard designs that are all about being efficient and single-purpose. To her, it only made sense to go with one of those; she didn't see any point in dancing around what they were actually for. It wasn't about self-expression or anything. It was about having identification we couldn't lose, which she needed in a way most people didn't, since giving her retinal scans never resulted in anything but people freaking out when the scans picked up her highly-localized live KA infection.

Those standard designs are uninspired, but like she said, they're not about inspiration. I looked at them, and I thought about the low odds of me and George agreeing on any aesthetic, even if I could talk her into opting for a more personalized design.

And then we sat down to talk over booking an appointment and all that logistical stuff, and I have no idea what George actually said at first, because my eyes fell on her inner wrist. She has beautiful wrists, along with equally eye-catching collarbones and ankles and hips, and her wrists were the only bones on that list it was socially acceptable for me to look at for longer than a second at a time. Over the previous couple of years I'd spent a lot of time gazing at them surreptitiously.

While she started mentioning practicalities, I couldn't help staring at that bare skin that was about to be changed forever, and I thought about getting a boring tattoo on my own wrist. If I did, its only redeeming feature would be that it was same as George's--but all of a sudden, that felt like redemption enough.

I was sixteen, so I'd gotten boners over weirder shit than the idea of having matching tattoos, but the rush of the idea was so visceral and intense that my whole body got warm, and my ears and the back of my neck got hot. I kept staring until suddenly the object of my focus was much closer to my eyes, as George waved her hand in front of my face in annoyance. "Shaun? Hello?"

"Sorry," I said, and I made myself stay on task so we could get things sorted out.

**********

We both did a lot of research before we even met with a tattoo "artist"--if you could call someone that when they only do variants on a handful of designs ninety-nine percent of the time. I didn't let that feeling show on my face when I interviewed the artist about her work, and that paid off when I asked about the aesthetic choices some people make to keep from feeling like their IDs are nothing but a barcode, even though that's exactly what they are. As soon as I mentioned that, her face lit up, and I got a pretty solid interview out of it.

Meanwhile, George read up on and wrote about the history of ID tattoos--when they'd first come into common usage, what the statistics were on people adopting the practice, that kind of thing--and then produced an op-ed outlining her reasons for expecting the tattoos to become mandatory within the next ten years. (She got a ton of great feedback for that one.) For fun, we interviewed each other before we went in to get our actual tattoos, as a sort of bonus feature to tack on to the posts we later wrote about the entire experience. She talked societal implications and I talked technical details--our nascent standard operating procedure.

And of course, we filmed each other getting inked. Since we were getting our left wrists done, I could record her while also holding her hand, which the tattoo artist allowed on the condition that if it caused George's arm to move at all, it'd be hands-off from there on. George took the pain calmly, and over the steady buzz of the needle she talked about how this wasn't only about IDing her body. Every name in the system that was associated with an ID tattoo was another name that didn't have to be considered when an unmarked zombie or corpse was dealt with. Her getting this tattoo would make it that tiny bit easier to figure out whose loved ones should be notified, and a bit easier to give them closure.

I remember all of that, but there was only ever one part of it that mattered to me. What mattered was holding each other's hands, wrists turned up to the light and the needle while we literally bled for the cameras. What mattered was that the fresh blue and red ink marking my skin was virtually identical to the ink marking George's, and that we'd both have them forever.

**********

George got that tattoo solely to prove she was who she said she was, and now, nine years later, her wrist showed no sign that the tattoo had ever been there--because it never had been. You couldn't get more perfectly symbolic if you tried.

I missed that strip of color and the subtle pleasure of my skin matching hers, but I missed her scars more. Once upon a time I knew the story behind every one, which she swore wasn't true in reverse; I was always getting cut and banged up, and more than once a fresh injury on top of an older one had kept us from ever finding out if the first one would've scarred permanently or slowly faded away. I know where my handful of really visible scars came from, but the fainter ones? Some of them, I have no idea.

The woman I grew up with had barely-visible pale scarring on her left forearm, where her sleeve ripped during a minor bike accident and her skin hit the asphalt. She had faint red lines on the back of her right hand from bumping it against the oven heating element when we were kids. Over the years there'd been shrapnel, childhood fights with me, gouges from climbing over wire fences--things that all left their mark on her. I could find half of those marks by feel in the dark, just like I could find the invisible unevenness in her collarbone, where she cracked it when we were fourteen.

The woman I was waking up beside now had skin so smooth and flawless it was almost creepy. I might've felt bad for thinking that if George hadn't felt the exact same way. And unlike me, she could never get away from it.

Not that long after we'd both finally started feeling like maybe we really could think of our place in Quebec as home--it was small, cozy, and ours, which made it feel safer than any security measures could--I woke up alone in our bed. That wasn't normal; as we settled into a routine that didn't revolve entirely around work, it turned out I didn't need as much sleep as George. We usually went to bed around the same time, because getting to fall asleep beside each other every single night was something we'd both dreamed of for years, but she tended to be in bed until I'd been up for a couple of hours.

I got the feeling that that might change gradually. Her body hadn't been around for years of work-induced sleep deprivation, but she had all the memories of pushing herself so relentlessly for so long, so it didn't seem strange that she might still need to rest and psychologically recover from that along with all the other shit she had to deal with.

Puzzled by her absence, and grateful that it wasn't actively freaking me out, I got out of bed and found her sitting in a sunbeam on the living room floor, frowning at her legs.

We'd already talked enough about her new body and how it made her feel that I had some idea what was bugging her. I sat down beside her and stroked her thigh, enjoying the feel of sun-warmed bare skin. "You look like you're thinking about mutilating something. Hopefully not yourself."

She snorted. "Oh, please. This--" she poked her leg "--completely lacks character, but doing something like that wouldn't really help."

"New tattoo?" I suggested. "Got any ideas yet?"

"Plenty of ideas, just no conviction that I want any of them forever." George stretched, turning her face to the sun. We keep our bedroom pretty dark--she feels safer that way, and it feels comfortable and snug for me, even though it was never me who needed protection from light--but other than that, she's right into natural light. "I plan for this to be my last body, after all."

"Fair enough." I sprawled beside her and put my head in her lap. She dragged her fingertips along my jaw, scritching at morning stubble. "Want something temporary?"

"What've you got in mind?" she asked, rhetorically. Live your whole life with someone, and you learn to read them pretty damn well.

I lifted my head and rolled over, kissing the leg I'd been resting on. When I nudged, she turned her hip to let me get at her inner thigh. I kissed across it, using my teeth and tongue lightly until I hit a spot halfway up that made her shiver. The sound of her pleased sigh almost covered the noise of her nails scraping the wooden floor as she clenched the hand she was leaning back on.

I stayed right there for a while, kissing and sucking that bit of skin while it reddened and started darkening into a painless bruise that would last her for at least a few days. George had her other hand on the back of my neck by then, rubbing her thumb possessively at the base of my skull. I was down with the possessiveness--I'm the one with the urge to leave marks on her, after all, as long as they don't hurt her--and she moaned a little every time I sucked more sharply. Anything where one of us likes the sensation and the other likes the result counts as a win all around, as far as I'm concerned.

It was as good as sex, in a way. After we started having sex as teenagers, we found ways to fuck furtively when we had to, so we'd almost never felt deprived on that front. Other intimacies had been harder to come by: sharing a bed; trading kisses in the kitchen; being as loud as we wanted during fights and make-up sex...and being able to make out or have sex or whatever without constantly thinking Will this leave evidence?

I still wasn't going to start leaving hickeys on George's neck or anything, but now the only things that could prevent me from doing that to her thighs or belly or breasts were her not wanting me to or my mouth getting tired. George understood perfectly. When her nails dug into me hard enough to scratch, it was passion, but it was defiance, too--a way of spitting in the face of all the restrictions we'd had to place on ourselves for so long.

Chapter Text

[GEORGIA - December 2041]

In winter, Shaun's Canada-born habit of getting up before me stopped being a simple fact of life and became something I loved. He doesn't mind the cold as much as I do, so it let us skimp on the overnight heat to balance out the criminally-expensive power all our tech draws: when we went to bed we set the heat to "just warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing", and in the morning Shaun got up, made coffee, and turned the heat up enough to keep his fingers from stiffening while he built a fire.

The house is small and well insulated, with moderate soundproofing and fire-resistant walls, but the cold seeps in despite humanity's best efforts--at least, despite the best efforts that don't include paying through the nose even after factoring in solar paneling on the roof. Shaun's morning routine meant that by the time I got up, the house was warm enough that I didn't mind the short walk to the fireplace, where I could toast my bare feet on the tile hearth and not bundle them into socks until I had a reason to spend any length of time elsewhere in the house.

**********

I woke up early one morning and padded out into the living room, shivering. The fire was going, but its heat hadn't seeped out into the room yet.

Sneaking up on Shaun became a stupid idea when we were twelve and got our first gun licenses, and I walk quietly, so I compensate by humming a little now that we don't share a home with anyone we have to hide from. From his chair he heard me coming up behind him, and had time to hide what he was doing before I leaned over and rested my chin on his head.

What he didn't have was time to hide that he'd hidden something. "What was that?" I asked, rubbing at the lingering sleepiness in my eyes.

"You won't believe me if I say 'nothing', will you?"

"Um, hi? Investigative journalist?"

"It's something I don't want my retired investigative journalist to see yet," he said firmly.

My interest was piqued, but he'd thrown out the "yet" knowing it'd get me off his back, whether or not it actually mollified me.

I wrapped my arms around his shoulders, still leaning on his head, and we stayed like that in silence for a little while, both of us lulled by the crackling and dancing light of the fire. "Aren't you getting cold?" he asked eventually.

"Yes," I admitted. The room was warming up, but most of the fire's heat couldn't reach me through the chair. I tightened my hold on him. "Come back to bed."

He chuckled. "Of course you need more sleep, if you're up this early."

"Sleep wasn't what I had in mind." I nuzzled the base of his skull, exhaling slowly against the back of his neck. "Or you could make us a bed out here."

His breath caught in a way that made me smile. "Is that what you'd rather?" he asked.

The fire was singing to me, promising its warmth and brilliant colors--colors I hadn't seen in my original body since we were four or so. I didn't let myself flinch at the thought of the excruciating pain it would have caused to even glance at open flames with uncovered eyes. "I think here would be good," I said, and let go of him so I could go brush my teeth and rinse my face.

By the time I got back, Shaun had laid out blankets and an open sleeping bag for us, only five feet or so from the hearth, and topped the cozy little nest with pillows from our bed. He'd also brought a paring knife and a bowl of apples, the sight and smell of which made my stomach growl.

We took care of that need first. The apples were all the same variety--Shaun had bought a bushel on a whim, amused by the fact that "spy" was part of their name, and had spent the next few days setting them in unexpected places around the living room so he could joke about being spied on. Only a few months earlier neither of us would have found it funny; being able to laugh about it now felt good. And so did telling myself I was biting into a spy whenever I ate one, no matter how unseemly it is to talk about eating people.

He didn't joke about it now. He just cut an apple down the middle and gave me half, repeating the process after we'd devoured each one. The cores went into the fireplace, to burn as quickly or slowly as they pleased.

When we'd eaten enough to tide us both over, he brought my juice-sticky hand to his mouth and licked it clean--slow and sensual at first, then more erotic as he sucked each fingertip in exactly the way he knew would appeal to me most.

He let go of my hand only after kissing my palm and wrist in a way that went well beyond suggestive. By then I was lying on our makeshift bed, on the side closer to the fire, and still in my nightclothes. Shaun knelt and undressed me, baring my skin to the flames without either of us saying a word. Then he stripped out of his own clothes and cuddled up behind me, closing the sleeping bag loosely around us.

We spent an hour or more that way, our shared body heat sparking its own fire. We changed position only once, when he pressed me down on my back and leaned over me so we could kiss each other's overheated skin. Luxuriously unhurried sex is a pleasure we hardly ever had a chance to indulge in, not that long ago; now we had all the time we could want, and we were making excellent use of it.

When we didn't feel like delaying any longer, Shaun spooned against me again. I rested my head on his arm and stared into the fire contentedly while he fucked me from behind, slow and gentle and thorough, drawing out the pleasure for us both.

Afterwards he held me even tighter, touching my face to see if it was wet with tears. I barely notice anymore if sex makes me cry a little; it was horrifying the first couple of times, and then embarrassing while I got used to it, and it had finally become something that just happens sometimes, with no rhyme or reason that I can discern.

Presumably my original body would have done the same thing if it weren't for the retinal KA. Trying to imagine that--crying even a tiny bit when Shaun and I fucked, in our parents' house--made me vaguely ill.

Shaun would have been tender with me when it happened; we've always been tender with each other in our own ways, willing to take from each other what we've never wanted from anyone else. As Stacy and Michael Mason's kids, we'd spent our lives fighting for every minute of off-camera privacy, fighting to establish ourselves, fighting to smother our own weaknesses even while we loved and soothed each other's as best we could.

I know we would have dealt with those tears somehow; maybe it would have been entirely different if I'd grown up able to cry. But from where I was standing, that implicit vulnerability, under that roof, was unthinkable.

Here it was just a fact of life. Shaun stroked my cheek gently and found no sign of tears. I liked how blasé we'd both become about it; he was checking in, nothing more, and his fingertips were warm on my skin.

**********

Shaun left me there after a while, waking me enough from my doze to exact a promise that I'd give him some time alone in the larger bedroom that we used as an office. I protested on principle, and he laughed as he kissed the back of my neck and got up. "Just sleep some more, George."

So I did, soaking up the heat like a cat.

**********

I didn't wake up again until Shaun settled back in beside me, smelling faintly of soap--another of the ways our lives had changed that I appreciated, that unless we had real need of decontamination, we could just smell clean, not like bleach or aggressive moisturizer. "Hi," I murmured, not opening my eyes.

"Hey." He inhaled deeply, basking in my pheromones and the warm scents of sex that he'd washed off his own skin. The raw physicality of sex has always been part of the delight for him, and that had only intensified after I died and came back to him. "Are you ready to wake up?"

My stomach informed me that that was a good idea. "Yes."

"Okay. I have something for you," he said, kissing my earlobe with each word.

I grinned and pressed back against him, teasing, and discovered that, whatever else he'd been up to, he'd made it as far as putting on pants. "Something else?" I asked, letting my tone be its own suggestion that the pants could come back off. "It's not even Christmas yet."

He didn't take the bait. "I know, but I don't want to wait." He sounded serious enough that I turned over to face him, still encircled in his arms. "And you already know there's something. Would you really let it rest until Christmas?"

I stared blankly at him, then realized he was talking about whatever he'd hidden from me when I got up unexpectedly early. "I learned to be patient about presents before you did," I protested.

"Georgia." He drew my name out exaggeratedly. "Humor me."

"You teased first." I fidgeted in spite of myself. Shaun quirked an eyebrow at me--which he'd taught himself to do after I did--and waited until I caved. "What is it?"

"Close your eyes and wait here." I obeyed, and it was a matter of only a few minutes before he was back. I listened while he sat beside me, positioning himself to avoid blocking the fire. "Okay," he said. "You can look."

Burning with curiosity, I looked.

When I saw what he was holding, tears--tears that made perfect sense--sprang to my eyes before I could even try to stop them. My hand shook a little when I reached for the scarf, stroking the backs of my fingers against it.

I know essentially nothing about handicrafts, but unless a knitter is extremely good--as many people in our town are--it doesn't take much knowledge to see if something is handmade or not. It was unmistakably a handmade scarf he wrapped loosely around my hands, soft and thick and deep, deep green. The stitches were tidier and more even than I would have expected, but the perfect color and the hope in his eyes told me its entire brief history.

"Thank you," I breathed, gathering it up. "When did you do this?"

"A couple of people down at the workshop helped me some," he said, referring to the meeting place for the local hardcore gun fanatics. "The basics came back pretty fast, and they showed me how to do it better." There was a memory of heartbreak in his smile, but it was a memory we were learning to live with. "I thought you should have a new one, since your old one kinda blew up in Oakland."

My "old one" was the scarf he made for me when we were seventeen and he spontaneously decided to learn to knit as some kind of Shaun-logic retaliation for my habit of calling it "knitting" when he worked on chain mail. He taught himself through online videos and got good enough to make a scarf he was proud of, which he ceremoniously gave to me. Since the scarf proved his point, whatever that had been, his first creation had also been his last.

I adored that scarf. It wasn't perfect, but it was soft against my skin and warmer than anyone not from the Bay Area would have believed I needed in California. Shaun always insisted he'd made it to spite me, but even his creative storytelling wasn't up to making that sound plausible. We both knew how loved I felt every time I touched it.

I loved it, and then I died, and Shaun took it with the rest of my things when he moved into his own apartment to escape our parents and live in grief-stricken peace with my ghost. When the CDC had that part of Oakland bombed, it wasn't one of the few belongings he had time to grab.

Since coming into possession of a body capable of crying, I'd cried more than I was entirely comfortable with, for any number of reasons. Touching the new scarf he'd made, I had my first experience with smiling and crying simultaneously, and the tears didn't bother me at all. The combination was just right for what I was feeling: gratitude, and joy in how steadfast Shaun's love was, and delight that he'd managed to keep the secret from me.

I was still glad that I could rein the tears in quickly, leaving only the smile. "Thank you," I said again, meeting his eyes. We wiped the tears away in unison, each of us touching one of my cheeks. "It's just what I've always wanted."