and who can say what we are?
january 24, 2021 — samuel aust & bastian wildes

Considering the state he'd woken up in, Bastian was fairly certain he'd gone on a bender. He had no idea how he'd ended up so bruised and sore, but that didn't change the fact that he was. Headache, check. Lost time, check. But his house was in order, it wasn't a mess, it was clean to an almost concerning degree. So that didn't add up with the rest, but more was against him than not.

There were texts from Sam about coming over, but he didn't have any memory of seeing him the night before. A car ride later, stopping to pick up breakfast because fuck he was hungry and coffee had to help, and he let himself into Sam's house, keys and sunglasses tossed onto the kitchen counter. He grabbed his breakfast sandwich out of the bag and took a bite before heading down the hall to Sam's room. "Hey Sam, brought breakfast..."

Where the fuck — no, that wasn't the right question. Based on the carpeting directly below him when Sam cracked an eye, he was well aware of the where. Tilting his head from one side to the other, he stretched out the muscles in his neck, alarmed to discover that pain accompanied the motion. He pressed his palm to the mattress below him and rose to a relatively upright sit. "Mmm," he heard, the hum coming from his immediate left, and it dawned on Sam that he couldn't remember the who.

"Morning," she cooed at him from where she was lying, peeking at him from beneath a fray of dark blonde hair. "Sleep well?"

Had he slept well? Sam couldn't recall. He didn't know how he'd gotten home last night — or the night before, for that matter — and he certainly didn't remember inviting a perfect stranger into bed with him. As a matter of fact, it was a clearcut rule of Sam's that no one slept in his bed.

"You need to go."

The unpleasant surprise on her face did nothing to Sam. This was in equal part because (a) he had no idea who she was, therefore cared next to nothing about her, and (b) it had just occurred to him that he wasn't wearing a shirt.


He spoke it with insistence, because she hadn't made any moves to gather her clothes, let alone get out of his bed. With an irritated scoff, she slipped from beneath his sheets and made excruciatingly slow work of throwing on the dress she'd been wearing last night. When she reached the door, Sam heard the sound of Bastian's voice, its volume rising to indicate that he was getting closer to his bedroom. She shot him a curious glance before she opened it, regarding Bastian with a snide little smirk, and slipped down the hall en route to Sam's front door.

That left him sitting, shirtless, on the left side — not his side — of the bed. He looked more perplexed than pleased with himself. "Don't ask."

Bastian had been expecting to see Sam on the other side of the door, but instead it was some unknown woman. His head already hurt enough, that just added to it because in the decade or so he'd been friends with Sam he'd never run into someone he'd slept with the morning after. Because they didn't sleep over, ever. But this one had, and Bastian was pretty sure if Sam had started dating or seeing someone to where they would, he would've known about it.

And then he stepped into the doorway and things got even more confusing.

"I... brought breakfast," he repeated, for lack of anything better to say. Because everything happening in that room was wrong. The woman, where Sam was on the bed, the state he was in. Another first in their decade of friendship — seeing Sam shirtless. Bastian had known for a long time the why as to Sam never taking his shirt off, but he'd never actually seen it. He'd never tried to, never felt the need because he wasn't an asshole whatever, and now it was all right there in front of his face and he was making a point not to look. His eyes were fixed on Sam's face, not the rest of him. "Probably enough for your... friend, if she's into that sort of thing."

"She was just leaving." It was all Sam said, and he said it flatly, no emotion in his tone that might suggest he was concealing a relationship of some kind from Bastian.

Raking a hand through his hair, he stood and moved swiftly across the room to locate a shirt to tug over his head. It was an old black AC/DC tee he'd had since his days at M.I.T., but it would do. "You weren't with me last night, I take it." That in and of itself was a bit odd to Sam; it was rare for him to attend so much as a company fundraiser without Bastian at his side. He was rummaging through a drawer to locate a pair of jogging pants. As he stepped into them and pulled them up to his hips, Sam regarded Bastian with a questioning raise of both brows. "So you have no idea who the fuck that was either."

A decade ago, maybe, this sort of behavior would've been more fitting. Sam wasn't as reckless now as he had been in his early thirties. That still didn't explain how or why that woman had gotten into his bed.

It also didn't explain the bruises, scratches, and scrapes that patterned his skin: From his face to his feet, these were prominent just about everywhere. Now that he was more cognizant of his surroundings, Sam noted that Bastian appeared to be suffering from similar injuries. "Did we beat the hell out of each other?"

That made it all the weirder, that she was no one of consequence. Someone Sam didn't even know, apparently, but still let sleep in his bed, see him exposed. Bastian didn't know how to respond to that or deal with the sudden annoyance that welled up in him because of it. He either needed more coffee or to give up and switch to alcohol.

"I don't know," he said, tone equally flat to match Sam's, hand coming up to rub at the back of his neck. "I'm not remembering much. You were supposed to come show me something last night but that didn't happen, though now I can see why."

Tilting his head toward the hallway to indicate he was moving, he made his way back to the kitchen so he could get at his sandwich. True to his word, he'd picked up Sam's favorite too. And extra bagels with fixings because why the hell not. Settling on a stool at the island, Bastian rubbed his hand over his face with a groan. "When'd you see me last?"

"Show you something?"

The confusion on Sam's face ran deep and it exposed itself immediately. What had he intended to show Bastian? It seemed irrelevant somehow in the face of all the other missing pieces to the puzzle that was the last forty-eight hours.

As he padded behind Bastian down his hallway, barefoot and feeling exceptionally thoughtful, Sam considered the possibility of apologizing. It was an infrequent move on his part, but the way that things appeared, Sam had bolted on plans with Bastian to bring home a woman he'd never met. Regardless of how out of character that was, regardless of the suspicions he held that he hadn't been fully aware of his actions, he still felt a surprising sense of guilt.

He was reaching into the bag of bagels that Bastian had brought along for him when it tumbled out of his mouth: "I'm sorry." There was a pause as Sam lifted his eyes from the bagel bag to meet Bastian's gaze. "I have no idea what the fuck is going on, but I'm sorry."

Pausing to start a pot of coffee, sure he would need it if he was going to solve the mystery of his whereabouts last night, Sam set his bagel on the counter and retrieved two mugs from the cabinet with such practiced ease that it was clear this had been a routine of his for some time. He rested his forearms on the counter as the coffee readied and stared down the logo on the bagel bag. "I'm not sure. A week ago, maybe? Does that sound right to you?"

Bastian took a bite of his sandwich before fishing his phone out of his pocket, scrolling through to find the text messages he'd seen earlier. He was about to slide the phone over to Sam when the apology came, and that made him pause and look across the counter at him. If neither of them knew what was going on, that certainly wasn't good. Bastian couldn't even figure out where things apparently took a turn and sent him downhill — or when, or why.

"I don't know what the fuck is going on either," he admitted, though it was probably easier for him than Sam. He wasn't the one dealing with a stranger in his house and not knowing what was going on. "A week — probably? I can't remember jackshit, it's just this gap, I don't know."

Frowning, he turned his attention back to his phone and pushed it across the counter to Sam so he could see the texts. "I don't remember these either but yeah, you said you wanted to show me something."

Unfolding the wrapper of his bagel, Sam plucked the egg from it in much the same way that he usually did, tearing it into bite-sized pieces that were easier to slide into his mouth. The expression on his face at Bastian's confession transitioned from confusion to concern in a millisecond. He dropped the piece of egg that he was holding in favor of pulling Bastian's phone closer to him with the tip of his middle finger, intentionally avoiding an accidental swipe of grease across the screen.

He fell silent for the handful of minutes that it took for him to scan the series of text messages. "A suit?" His brows arched toward his hairline. Sam let his eyes flick from the phone screen to Bastian's gaze. "A weaponized suit?" He relinquished his light hold on his friend's phone, manifesting a bend of his finger to slide it back in Bastian's direction with as much momentum as he could gather without sending the thing clattering to the kitchen tile.

"What the hell would I need in a weaponized suit?"

Studying Sam as he looked through the texts, Bastian took in the injuries he could still see a bit better than he had moment before in the bedroom. There'd been too much else to focus on at that time, but now he was wondering the same as Sam. Had they beat the hell out of each other? Why? It wasn't something he could imagine happening in general, and he also liked to think he was at least smart enough not to try and fistfight a fucking SEAL.

"I don't know Sam, why would you need a weaponized suit?"

He caught his phone and held it in one hand, thumbing around on the screen to try and find any other bits and pieces of information that might be helpful, still idly eating his sandwich. "And you were going to show Reed, so that's something."

The last of his egg popped into his mouth, Sam regarded him with a look of faux annoyance, waiting until he'd fully swallowed that bite of his breakfast before he spoke. "That's what I just asked you, genius." A shake of his head and a smirk later, he was crossing his kitchen to pour them both a cup of coffee. He took his black, but he adjusted Bastian's with the sort of second nature that suggested he had done it dozens upon dozens of times in their history.

"You think Reed knows anything?" He asked this as he placed Bastian's coffee in front of him on the counter and lifted his to take a careful sip. Furrowing his brows, Sam met Bastian's gaze briefly before he surveyed what injuries were visible to him. "I can't imagine a reason I'd beat the shit out of you."

"You asked me, but I'm not the one that came up with plans for said weaponized suit," Bastian replied, before finishing off his sandwich completely. He watched Sam move, make their coffee, as if any little thing might be able to start the dominos to figuring this shit out.

"I don't know, you were gonna show me first but seems like something you'd want to talk to him about." Bastian gratefully accepted the coffee, lifting it up to take a sip before huffing out a breath, almost a laugh. "I can be a dick sometimes but hasn't caused you to beat me up yet. I'd hope if I did something bad enough to cause that, you'd remember."

Sam was picking apart his bagel now, combining it with pieces of pastrami and tucking the whole bite in his mouth. He was half focused on the cup of coffee that he'd made and half focused on what Bastian was saying. "I'm not sure that I was the one that came up with the plans for the weaponized suit either." Curiously, he glanced up at Bastian with simultaneously raised brows. "I'd show it to you, but the schematics are back at the office, and it doesn't matter how many times that I look over them, I'm still not sure how I concocted the idea."

Sam polished off the top half of his bagel and most of his pastrami before he settled his attention primarily on his coffee. "Well," he offered sardonically when Bastian suggested that he could be a dick. The right side of his mouth quirked in a smirk. "What'd you do, bring home a load of broads or something?"

Bastian studied him for a long moment, eyes narrowed like he was trying to figure something out. He took a slow sip of his coffee before setting down the mug, his hands clasped loosely around it as he mulled over his thoughts. "See that's interesting," he said after a moment, head cocked to the side. "A minute ago it seemed like the first you'd ever heard of this weaponized suit, and now you know where the schematics are and you're telling me you've looked over them multiple times."

His mouth quirked in a smirk mirroring Sam's, though there wasn't much behind it. "That's rich considering which one of us woke up with a broad in his bed this morning, Samuel."

Blinking, Sam seemed to slowly register what Bastian was saying, his brows knitting together in a show of concentration. "I can visualize it now." His fingertips rubbed across his right temple. "Lying on my desk." His eyes swung from the coffee cup into which he'd been staring to abruptly meet Bastian's gaze. "I couldn't recreate it for you, and I can't remember drawing it, but I can picture where it's sitting." Cocking his head to the side, the expression on Sam's face read Am I crazy? in every possible facet.

This of course shifted into something more akin to annoyance when Bastian countered that it had been Sam who awakened next to some strange woman in his bed that morning. "I have no idea who she was or where she came from," he argued, though he wasn't sure why he felt the immediate need to defend himself.

Bastian hummed low in thought, thinking back to Sam's texts. How he'd said there was someone in his brain, which was curious in itself, but now this with him having conflicting thoughts about these plans of his. He didn't have any kind of logical explanation for it, but he didn't want to jump to crazy right off the bat. "Maybe you're concussed?" he offered in an attempt to be helpful. "That fucks with your head, right? Maybe you're concussed and this is all just not fitting together right yet but makes total sense when it does."

He raised an eyebrow at Sam's quick defense, not a stranger to waking up with someone he didn't remember but it was all the parts that were weird that stuck out to him most about Sam's particular situation. Wrong side of the bed, no shirt, she'd slept over. There was still irritation and hurt lingering from all that, but also concern since Sam was so adamant he didn't know her. "Yet she slept over."

Sam needed something other than coffee. He crossed his kitchen en route to the liquor cabinet, combed through its contents, and retrieved a bottle of whiskey. He didn't bother pouring it into his coffee. Instead, Sam plucked two shot glasses from the same cabinet and slung both of them bottoms-up on his countertop. Filling one and then the other, he locked eyes with Bastian in an offer of the second, but Sam was more than content to cock back both if the offer was denied.

"That's the thing," he said, his lips making a strange sound as they sucked back against his teeth, Sam's expression one of outright confusion. "I don't know how she got here. I don't know where I met her." There was a note of almost pleading in his tone when his eyes met Bastian's. "We both know that I don't just welcome people into my bed, Bastian."

His gaze followed Sam even though it didn't need to, Bastian knew where he was headed and why. He shifted up to the edge of the stool he was perched on, leaning over the counter to snag the proffered shot glass and tossing the whiskey down. It was definitely welcome considering the morning he was having, and when he set the glass down he nudged it back Sam's direction. If it happened to be filled again, he certainly wouldn't complain about it.

That was why it hurt — was it jealousy? Was he jealous of this random woman they'd likely never see again? Bastian chose not to wait for Sam, reaching for the bottle and pouring himself another shot. "Yeah, I know," he said, a pinch in the middle of his brow. "That's why I keep coming back to it."

His shot glass slid across the counter toward Bastian when the whiskey bottle was pulled in his direction. "Especially in the case of a one night stand." It didn't make much sense to Sam either. He refused to take his shirt off in front of anyone, much less a woman he had known less than twenty-four hours. That was the single piece of the puzzle that seemed to have the most profound effect on him. Because Sam could do little more than turn it over and over in his mind as if investigating all of its elements, he met Bastian's gaze with shame shadowing his expression. "I would've shown you first."

Whether Bastian understood what he was trying to say or he didn't seemed irrelevant to Sam. He reached across the counter for the bottle of whiskey, bypassing the shot glasses altogether to take several prolonged swigs out of it before returning it to Bastian. He swiped the backside of his palm against his mouth, then raked that same hand through his hair. "If that means anything."

Bastian filled Sam's glass too before setting down the bottle, thumb absently smoothing over the label before he fully let go to take his shot. I would've shown you first. Why did that make his chest tighten? It was a combination of what he'd said and the way Sam was looking at him, and Bastian hated it. He hated that Sam looked ashamed and he was at least partially to blame for it, and that Sam felt like he had to explain himself in the first place. If he wanted to have some unknown woman over, not have any idea where she came from, yet still let himself be more exposed and vulnerable to her than he'd ever been with him? It was fine. Who was Bastian to say otherwise?

He watched Sam drink straight from the bottle, a move he was far from unfamiliar with, and gave a shake of his head, clearing his throat. "You didn't — you don't have to show me anything," he said firmly. "Never have, never will."

Snorting a laugh through his nose, the breathy sort that spoke of irritation — more with himself than with Bastian, Sam shook his head and tossed back the shot that Bastian had poured for him. The most the alcohol had done was warm his insides; it hadn't dulled the sensation of guilt lying like a stone in the pit of his stomach. It didn't dull the sense of rejection that he felt when Bastian insisted that Sam never had to show him anything. "Right," he countered wryly, the tone of voice markedly hurt even in the face of its sarcasm. "Why would I suggest such a stupid fucking thing in the first place."

He gathered the remainder of his breakfast, along with any trash that was left on the counter, and dumped the whole lot into the can hidden beneath the sink. "Doesn't look like we're figuring anything out today," Sam added, now notably averting Bastian's eyes as he poured the coffee in his cup down the drain. "I need a shower." That certainly wasn't a lie, but it wasn't as immediate a necessity as Sam was making it out to be. "You know the way out, I trust?"

That laugh felt like a slap, and nothing that followed it helped matters either. Bastian wasn't sure how what he'd said, an attempt to placate and lessen whatever guilt was happening, had been taken in a way to cause that reaction, but he didn't feel like he knew or understood much of anything that morning. But like he'd said before, he could be a dick. So maybe he hadn't registered the offensive part of what he'd said. Either way, there was no denying the complete dismissal he was getting, just short of a literal boot on his ass to kick him out the door. At first his teeth clicked as his mouth closed abruptly, words swallowed down and jaw clenched. Then he pushed back to stand, annoyance and hurt in his eyes, not that Sam would meet them.

"Yeah, I know the way," he replied, all sharp edges to his tone. "You're welcome for breakfast."

Bastian didn't wait for a response, didn't care if one was coming, just grabbed his keys from the counter and left the way he'd come. If anything, his visit there that morning had only upped his confusion — and added a lot worse to the mix. Maybe he'd get lucky and soon find himself unable to remember the morning too, like the week before. He could only hope.


The sound of Bastian's voice, the sharpness with which he spoke, gave Sam an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach that he wasn't sure how to identify. Internally, he winced, and that expression became external when Sam heard the sound of the front door slam behind Bastian.

What the fuck was wrong with him? Why did it cut Sam to the quick to think that he'd just hurt Bastian's feelings? What was this ache sitting in the center of his chest?

Sam wasn't in control of his own two feet. He was already moving before he had the chance to tell his brain to make himself — out of the kitchen, through the foyer, out the front door (which he left hanging open), and onto the driveway. Sam was standing in front of Bastian's car before he'd fully comprehended where he was going and why. He was locking eyes with Bastian in a very wild, somewhat apologetic way. And then he was speaking, saying words that Sam wasn't sure he understood the implications of stating: "Come take it off."

Bastian heard the door but didn't stop until he heard the footsteps coming closer, pausing with his car door open and one foot inside. His eyes rose to meet Sam's and that wildness caught him off-guard. They'd sniped at each other before, over ten years of friendship — of course they had, but this had had so much weight to it, it felt like something big. Something uncomfortable and not so easy to brush away. So was he relieved Sam was standing there, talking to him? Yes. Did he know what to do with it? Fuck no.

"What?" he asked, pulling back from his car and pushing the door shut, still staying beside it to keep that bit of distance between them, for the moment. He wasn't playing dumb, being intentionally dense. Bastian wanted to know exactly what Sam meant, and that Sam knew what he was saying.

"Come take it off," Sam repeated. For a second, it was all that he said, his tone of voice presenting the quartet of words as more of a challenge than any sort of retort. There wasn't even a note of sensuality to it — not currently, that was — Sam merely suggesting that Bastian peel off the shirt that he was wearing to see what it was that he was so afraid to show everyone beneath it.

He took a step closer to Bastian. "She saw it. She didn't deserve to see it." His eye contact was unwavering now, Sam determined to find some way to resolve the conflict that stretched out unexpectedly before the two men. "You've never seen it." He held his hands out at his sides, both palms facing Bastian and all five fingers outstretched: A show of surrender. "So come take it off."

His tongue ran over the backs of his teeth as he stood there quietly, not sure what to say to the near demand Sam was making of him. Not that Bastian didn't want to see, he'd always been curious ever since he knew the reason behind Sam's never-nude tendencies. He wanted to see exactly what that IED had done, the visible scars to go along with the ones no one could see but he'd witnessed the aftermath of plenty of times. He stepped away from the car, closing the distance until there was only a few feet between them. Far enough he couldn't reach out and touch.

"It's not-" he started and stopped, huffing out a breath through his nose, irritated at how hard words seemed to come by, at least ones that matched what he wanted to say. How he didn't want Sam to feel forced into revealing this part of himself if he didn't want to, just because something happened he couldn't remember and this woman had seen him all. "You don't have to just because she saw."

The expression on Sam's face softened when Bastian spoke. His eyes remained fixed on the similarly dark gaze of his best friend. "Bastian," he spoke into the space between them, something in his tone pleading, a reflection of the way his brows dipped lower with the weight of his concern. It suddenly dawned on Sam that Bastian hadn't been rejecting him at all. He wasn't exactly sure what Bastian had been doing, but he was certain that it wasn't that.

How did he communicate what he wanted to communicate? He was a wordsmith a vast majority of the time, but these were uncharted waters. Sam wasn't as adept at navigating a moment like this, a feeling like this, as he was most other conversations. He took one step closer to Bastian then, the look in his eyes conveying something that Sam couldn't quite express verbally, and spoke with a much softer tone. "Come take it off."

Rejecting Sam? Never. Rejecting the idea that Sam owed him any part of himself? Absolutely. Bastian stood by what he'd said in the kitchen, Sam never had to show him anything, not if he didn't want to. That was never anything he'd believe. Those same words, gentled, drew Bastian another step closer, and another, holding Sam's gaze intently to watch for any changes. Regret, maybe.

He reached over with both hands, fingers skirting along the bottom of Sam's t-shirt before taking hold and starting to lift. It felt a bit like he couldn't breathe, shouldn't breathe, concentrating more on getting Sam's shirt off than any shirt he'd ever removed before — and there had been plenty. Inch by inch, his knuckles grazing against his skin, until he worked it up over Sam's head and all the way off.

He didn't move. The way that he looked at Bastian, determination as present in his eyes as it was in the fold of his brows across his forehead, Sam tried to communicate that he wanted Bastian to peel his shirt away from his upper body. He wanted Bastian to discover what lie beneath, the jagged scars that cut a visible X from a circle in the center of his chest, lines of white that were a visible contrast to the skin from the bottom of his rib cage to the tops of his shoulders.

Sam held Bastian's gaze until he couldn't. He watched him until his shirt temporarily blocked his vision, then realized he was holding his breath when he was left standing shirtless in front of his best friend. For the first time in what had to be the entire decade that Sam had known Bastian, he didn't know what to say. He didn't know what to do. The only thing he could manage was standing there, staring into Bastian's eyes, everything in his expression begging for the other man not to be turned off by the sight of what he found when he looked down.

It was difficult for Bastian to look down — not because he didn't want to, but because it was such a huge thing, he didn't know if he was ready for it. But Sam said he was, and it was Sam's huge thing, so after a few extra moments of holding Sam's gaze he let his own drop.

Remembering back to that night so long ago, how Sam said he should have died, it was so obvious in the lines cut across his skin. Obvious how lucky he was to be alive, even if it meant having those constant reminders written onto him. Bastian studied them, gaze tracing over each line from beginning to end, memorizing as if it was his only chance. Maybe it would be, it had taken all this to get there in the first place. Was he allowed to touch? He didn't, in case the answer was no.

Instinct was to make a joke. Not about the scars, he wasn't an asshole, something innocuous, like about Sam's abs — which were great. But it was too important not to, Bastian knew that. Deflection was the easy way out, inappropriate, cowardly. His expression the whole time had been curious, interested, and there were remnants of that still when he met Sam's eyes again. "Do they hurt?"


It was all that he could say, because Sam's brain was working in rapid overdrive. What if Bastian suddenly couldn't look at him the same way? The inexplicable tightening of Sam's throat forced a gasp out of him that he hadn't intended to release. "No," he whispered then, because Sam was concerned that Bastian might suspect that he was on the brink of tears and hoped to avoid that train of thought.

Then, with a remarkable softness, Sam took one of Bastian's hands in his in the very same way that he had a decade prior — then out of a desperate need for comfort, now out of a different need altogether. He kept his eyes fixed on Bastian's when he lifted his friend's palm and flattened it against his chest, fingertips resting at the top of the circle over his heart, his breathing slow as Sam tried to persuade his heartbeat to do the same. "I want you to," he offered gently, struggling to quell the strange sense of emotion that surged in his throat. "Touch it. Touch me."

Bastian's eyes widened at that gasp, worried for the brief moment before Sam repeated himself and seemed to move on. His fingers flexed absently when Sam took his hand and he let it be moved up to Sam's chest, blinking slowly but otherwise keeping Sam's gaze. And those words, what was he even saying? It was all so foreign that it took Bastian a long moment for it to register.

Swallowing thickly, he looked down again. Slowly, gently, he let his fingertips trace along the lines and intersections standing out on Sam's chest, a more tactile way to commit them to memory. "I'm glad that bomb maker sucked," he said quietly, eyes flicking up to Sam's a second before going back to watching the path his fingers were following. "The world would be so much worse without you."

This was different. It wasn't different in an easily defined way, different in the sense that it was Bastian's hands versus some strange woman whose name he couldn't place, but different because little more than the contact of Bastian's fingers against his skin made Sam's breath hitch in his throat. Different because he felt inwardly warm in a very real way that he couldn't deny. Different because it made the rest of his body feel as though it were just powering on for the first time.

He wanted to laugh. Sam was glad that bomb maker sucked, too, but it was for the opposite reason that Bastian spoke into the silence. He wanted to laugh, because every other nerve ending in his body demanded a different action.

"Bastian," he whispered, because he didn't quite trust the sound of his voice. With the heel of the hand that wasn't resting atop Bastian's, Sam cradled his friend's jaw, fingertips diving slightly into the hair he could reach on the back of his head. He waited until Bastian was looking at him, until their eyes met, and then Sam leaned forward to press his mouth against Bastian's.

"Sam," he replied automatically, still entranced by following the lines along Sam's skin, right up to the moment that Sam's hand was tilting his face upward. Bastian looked up, words caught in his throat at the look on his best friend's face, his hand flattening out onto Sam's chest again as the small distance between them grew even smaller still.

His lips parted slightly as they met Sam's, and he was far more prepared for that kiss than the first one they'd shared. Though he hadn't been ready for that one at all so it didn't take much. Bastian's fingers splayed out where they were resting on his chest, his free hand coming up to cradle Sam's jaw.

He didn't release Bastian this time. It wasn't some short-lived, fleeting thing happening in the throes of an overly emotional moment. Sam let his fingers burrow into Bastian's dark curls, his palm cradling the backside of Bastian's skull, and tipped his head back enough that he could deepen the kiss. There was an intensity that came alongside it, an inexplicable flurry of emotions that Sam wasn't prepared to vocalize, and an electricity that made him feel like an overwhelming part of his body was set aflame.

It suddenly occurred to Sam that he didn't want to stop in the same instant that it dawned on him that he and Bastian were still standing in his driveway. He and Bastian were still standing in his driveway, and Sam was shirtless for the whole city of San Francisco to see. (That was definitely an exaggeration, but the point still stood.)

This was why, when Sam broke the kiss as delicately as he possibly could, he met Bastian's eyes in a show of reassurance. "Come inside with me?"

Oh, this was much different than before. Bastian remembered how soft, tender, delicate that kiss had been, fragile. This was not that. It twisted something inside him in a good way, his fingertips pressing in against Sam's chest. He kind of didn't know what to do, because there was his brain, his heart, and the twisting in his stomach, all telling him different things. It was dizzying, trying to parse them out while also not paying much attention to them at all because Sam was kissing him and he was kissing Sam and who cared about thinking?

Bastian slowly blinked up at him after the kiss broke, biting his lower lip like he'd still be able to taste Sam on it, slowly letting it go. He lifted his hand from Sam's chest, taking his hand and giving it a squeeze. "Okay."