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In the second between one PowerPoint slide and the next, the meeting room was torn apart, an explosion crumbling drywall and glass. The tall, bald man at the head of the table saw a chunk of ceiling begin to fall, and he lunged to cover the three women directly under its path. He lost consciousness as the falling plaster connected with the back of his head.

"Sandburg! I'm on my way to the Government Center..."

"It was a bomb, wasn't it? I knew it!"


"Yeah, I'll meet you there. Wait for me."

Jim folded his phone up and dropped it onto the seat of his truck, glad for the promise of company on this one. Stopped at a light, he extended his senses enough to see the tendrils of smoke rising up from the bombsite. The building itself wasn't yet visible, the sprawling, one-story complex easily hidden in the distance. As the light turned green, he reined in his sight and concentrated on simply driving the rest of the way to meet Sandburg.

Jim got out and stood next to his truck, dutifully waiting for his Guide before entering the government building. It wouldn't be long; he could hear the distinct sounds of the car's engine just a block away from the parking lot entrance. The ambulances carrying the last of the bomb's victims pulled out into the street, lights and sirens blaring against morning traffic. He would have most likely been fine investigating the scene on his own, but he knew that Blair didn't want him extending his senses in the dangerous environment of a bomb-blasted building. His guide...his lover.

For nearly six months they'd been sharing a bed, sharing their hearts. They'd left the loft less than an hour earlier, kissing each other before getting into separate cars. Jim treasured every day of those months, and if holding back for ten minutes was required to keep that happiness safe, well, then they were ten minutes well used.

Jim's phone rang just as he saw Blair pull in to the parking lot.


"Jim, tell me you're not out at the bombsite?" Simon's voice on the other end was tense with frustration.

"Sorry, Captain, can't do that. Sandburg's here, and we're heading in now."

"No you're not-"


"Listen to me, Jim, I'm not any happier about this than you are. This has gone federal, and if you go in there, the Bureau in Seattle is going to have my ass. And then I'll make the rest of your natural life hell." Simon's wide grin was clear over the phone line. "Okay? Get back here now and bring Sandburg. The Feds are being so kind as to allow us to draw up data on the victims."

Jim sighed, focusing on the burnt-out windows of the building ahead of him. "Simon, I just want to-"


"You know I can sense-"

"No! Get in your truck. Drive to the station. End of conversation."

"Yes, sir." He flipped the little phone closed. "For now."

Blair had pulled his car in next to the truck and was perched on his trunk. "What's up?"

"Hey, Chief. We're off the case. Feds." They shared a look of distaste. "Follow me back to the station. Simon requested you specially."

"Sure, man, let's go." Before walking around to the driver's side of his car, Blair crossed over to where his disappointed Sentinel leaned against the truck. Rubbing a hand lightly down Jim's arm, he whispered, "Sorry."

Back at Jim's desk in the bullpen, Blair coordinated with the hospital to get names of victims wounded in the bombing while Jim fed those names into the computer.

"Simmons, Amanda. O'Donnell, Michael. Kovacs, John. Skinner, Walter."

"You sure about that one, Chief?

"That's what the woman said."

"Shit. There's the federal involvement for you." Jim pulled out his phone, simultaneously bringing up his address book file in the computer. He dialed quickly, staving off Blair's questions with a gesture. "Fox Mulder please. Detective James Ellison. Yes, I'll hold."

"Jim? Oh. Oh, man."

"Yeah, Chief. That Walter Skinner." He directed his attention back to the phone. "Mulder, it's Jim. No, we're fine. Listen, did you know Skinner was in Cascade? Yeah, I guess you would notice." A small grin. "Mulder, I don't know if you've heard, but there was a bomb in the Government Center, and he's been injured. No, I don't know how bad, yet. The hospital's chaos; all I have is names. Yeah, I'll pick you up. Call me back with your flight number, and I'll try to have some details for you. Okay."

Jim rubbed his forehead as he folded up the phone and felt a wide hand settle on his back. "Blair, call that nurse back and charm some details out of her. I think we're going to have a guest."

Fox Mulder hung up the phone in his basement office after talking to Jim for the second time that day. He had one non-stop flight to Cascade booked on his credit card, a request for vacation time filled out and ready for personnel, and a brick-like object lodged somewhere just below his sternum. Scully was working on her own that day, so he could just e-mail her, wouldn't have to really explain.

So, he had one thing going for him today. Two. Just the previous week-end he'd restocked the suitcase he kept stowed in the trunk of his car. Never knew when a case would come up needing urgent attention. Never knew when his lover would be injured in an explosion on the other side of the country. Shit.

All Jim had managed to find out was that Skinner had sustained a head injury in the explosion and was currently unconscious, listed as in guarded condition. He had promised to be waiting at the airport when the five-hour flight landed. Mulder didn't want to have to take time to deal with renting a car; he just wanted to get to Cascade and the hospital. He just wanted to get to Skinner.

They'd only been together for three of the nearly six months since his trip to Cascade. One month while Mulder developed a course of action. One month while he and Scully were enveloped in grueling cases that dragged them around the country, leaving no time or energy for romance. Three weeks after they finally got together one incredible night in Skinner's bed. Three heartbreaking weeks while Skinner avoided him, averting his eyes, shutting his office door, refusing phone calls. Three weeks while Skinner fought the fact that he wanted Mulder more than anything else. Three weeks until he finally gave in to fate and showed up at Hegel Place at 2 a.m.

So, three months wasted. Three months together. Mulder could only hope that those three months wouldn't be all they got.

Mulder's plane, amazingly, landed five minutes ahead of schedule, but Jim was already there. Since Mulder had only his carry-on, the two men proceeded briskly through the terminal to where Jim's truck was parked in the police lane directly outside the doors. They arrived at the hospital in record time, and before he knew it Mulder found himself standing at his lover's bedside talking to a doctor.

"So what's wrong with him? What are you doing for him?"

"Agent Mulder, your friend has a moderate concussion from a blow to the back of his head, and he has a number of lacerations on his back from flying debris. We stitched up the cut on his head and a couple of the deeper cuts on his back, and we've done an MRI to check for internal bleeding. It came up clear, but we're going to need to keep an eye on him for the next couple of days. He's very lucky. He sustained no spinal damage, and he should recover fully in a couple of weeks."

"But why is he still unconscious?"

"His wounds, the head wound in particular, bled quite a bit before paramedics were able to get to him through the rubble. We've got his fluids back up, but what his body really needs is rest and time to repair itself. I would be concerned if he didn't wake up at some point this evening, but I really think he will."

"Jim?" Blair's voice from the door drew the attention of the men standing around Skinner's bed.

"Anyway, that's really all the information I have for you, Agent Mulder. I'll be checking on Mr. Skinner throughout the evening, but you can have the nurse page me if you have any urgent concerns."

Mulder nodded, his attention split between Skinner, the doctor, and the young man who had just slipped into the room. Blair Sandburg. Their last meeting, if it could be called that, had been brief.

"Mulder, I'd like you to meet Blair."

Blair leaned forward and stuck out his hand. "Nice to meet you." He blushed, slightly, embarrassed at recalling his hasty flight after he caught Mulder and Jim kissing in the interrogation room all those months ago. Truly, he was thankful for that kiss, because otherwise he and Jim might not have admitted their feelings for each other.

Mulder shook the outstretched hand. "Likewise." He stepped back and shoved his hands in his pockets, looked over at Skinner's sleeping form and then back at Jim. "So, what's going on with the investigation?"

Jim sighed deeply. "Jack shit, as far as I know. Your buddies in Seattle took ownership of the case and won't let us so much as touch the bomb site."

"You haven't been there?"

"No, I was a hundred feet away within thirty minutes of the explosion before my captain reeled me back in to the station. The fucking Feds, pardon me Mulder, have us by the balls in this one."

"And let me guess, they still have no clue what happened?" Mulder sneered.

"No, not as far as I know, anyway. Maybe you could find out..."

"No. I called the SAC from the plane, and he told me to keep my nose out of it unless I was officially assigned. But I knew what he didn't have to tell me-they don't have any leads."

"Wonderful. So we're stuck here waiting for news."

"I don't think so." Mulder looked back at Skinner again for a moment and then turned to Jim. "Take me to the site, Jim."

"I don't know, Mulder."

"Drive me there, or I'll get a cab to Hertz, rent a car, and investigate on my own. I'd rather have backup, but I've certainly done without before."

Jim stepped up into Mulder's face. "What about Skinner? Aren't you supposed to be here for him?"

Mulder looked around, guilt warring with resolution on his face. "I can help him more out there." His glance caught on Blair, who was leaning against the wall, watching the two men argue. Mulder noticed the full backpack hanging on the younger man's shoulder. "Could you stay with him? It's not...I don't want him to be alone."

"Yeah, I can do that, no problem. I've got a bunch of papers to grade tonight anyway."

"Thanks. Thanks a lot, Sandburg."

"It's okay. And you can call me Blair."

"You sure you don't mind staying here, Chief?"

"Nah, just be careful, okay, Jim?"

"Will do."

Jim pulled his truck into the Government Center parking lot for the second time that day. This time, the lot was quiet and uninhabited, cleared of the emergency vehicles that had swarmed over it earlier in the day.

"Hey, Jim, you have a flashlight or two in here?" Mulder peered through the encroaching dusk at the squat, sprawling building.

Jim was thrown for a moment; he was accustomed to have Sandburg or Simon with him on these evidence-finding expeditions, and they knew that Jim would be able to find what was there using only the faint traces of ambient light that filtered inside the building. Nevertheless, he had a flashlight stored behind the seat-just in case. He fished out the heavy, metal flashlight and tossed it end over end to Mulder, who caught it neatly.

"Thanks, but won't you need one?"

Jim sniffed the air appreciatively. "Nah, I'll be fine. But you shine that in my eyes, and I'll shove it where the sun don't shine. Comprende?"

Mulder lifted his eyebrows and opened his mouth as if to comment but shut it without saying a word. Jim started toward the line of yellow police tape that surrounded the site, and Mulder followed.

Once inside, both men began looking around to get their bearings. "This isn't as bad as I thought it would be," Jim commented, focussing down the gloomy hallway. Mindful of the need to keep from zoning without his guide present, Jim relaxed his sight and sniffed the air, filtering out the expected overlaying scent of smoke.

"Ugh, do you smell that, Mulder?"

"Smell what? Smoke?"

"No, no, not that, it's manure. This must have been a fertilizer bomb."

"Can you tell where it was planted?"

"From the pattern of debris, it looks like the bomb exploded from the ceiling over there." Jim pointed to a corner between two rooms. "But there's something wrong with this. There isn't enough destruction. Something..." He sniffed the air again, walking briskly down the hall with Mulder at his heels. He tilted his head and paused, turning toward a maintenance closet. He tried to open the door but found it locked, so he pulled out his phone to call Simon.

Mulder spoke up from behind him. "Let me take care of that." He pulled out his wallet and extracted a slim set of lock-picks. Jim merely raised an eyebrow and watched the lanky Agent expertly trick the lock into releasing. Mulder moved to open the door, but Jim held out an arm to stop him.

"No. Let me..." Jim opened the door to the maintenance closet and stepped through smoothly, placing his feet carefully on the tile floor. Silently, cautiously, he moved aside bundles of paper towels and boxes of toilet paper until he found the source of the odor he'd detected under the stink of the fertilizer. C-4. A lot of it. Connected to an intricate mechanism with multiple wires.

Mulder looked to see what had Jim's attention, and his eyes widened with apprehension. "Is there a timer?"

"No, it was supposed to be set off by the other blast. The smaller bomb should have triggered this one. It would have flattened the building."

"You've seen this before? You sound pretty certain."

"Yeah, a guy I put away about five years ago. A real fruitcake. I bet forensics can get some prints off this thing."

"It's a dud?"

"I don't know. We've got to get out of here-just...don't slam any doors."

"Gotcha." With Jim right behind him, Mulder turned and made his way carefully toward the building's exit.

Once outside, Jim pulled out his phone and dialed. "Joel. Hey, man, I could use you out here at this bombsite..."

Skinner finally surfaced in the early evening. One minute he was floating, and the next he was awake. He tried to sit up and gasped, the movement pulling the injured patches of skin on his back, the slight elevation causing his head to spin.

"Hey, lay back, it's okay." An unfamiliar voice, rich and friendly, came from somewhere to his right. He didn't want to move his head to look. It pounded horribly, and he closed his eyes against the spin that woke nausea in his stomach. When he felt like the world would stay still, Skinner opened his eyes again to see a young man with long, dark hair leaning into his line of sight.

"Not a good idea to sit up yet, man. I've taken enough conks to the head to know, believe me." The stranger smiled, and Skinner wondered what was going on.


"Oh, sorry, I'm Blair Sandburg. I guess I'm sort of a friend of a friend of Mulder's."

"Sandburg...Christmas card...Ellison?" Skinner tried to pull the facts out of his abused brain.

Blair smiled again, a brilliant smile. "That's right. Guess you didn't get hit too hard. Uh, I better let the nurse know you're awake." He reached over and pressed the call button.


"He's fine. He got into Cascade a few hours ago, and he and Jim are out looking into some things. I thought I'd stay and keep you company, since I had to sit around reading tonight anyway. I'll call Jim and let them know you've joined the waking world."

"Thanks." The word slipped out on a breath of air as Skinner fell asleep again.

"So he woke up?" Mulder whispered harshly, pacing in the hospital room. "How was he? Did he remember what happened? Did he say anything?"


The pacing continued.


A glance, more pacing.

"Mulder, settle the fuck down. I am not talking to a moving target."

"Sandburg-" Jim started to speak, but stopped at a look from his partner.

"Mulder, sit down. Please. You're not helping him like this, and you're going to get us all kicked out. Sit down, and I'll answer your questions."

Mulder sat and fidgeted, stilling his legs with both hands. "Now talk."

"Yes, he woke up. He was in some pain, and he was unsteady from the concussion, but he seemed to know what was going on. He knew who you were, and he even recognized my name when I gave it to him. From the holiday card we sent."

"Okay. Okay, then what?"

"Then he fell back to sleep. The doctor confirmed that he's not unconscious, just asleep. And his body needs sleep." Blair looked Mulder in the eyes and spoke firmly. "He's going to be okay."

Mulder tipped his head down to rest in his hands. "Oh, god. Thank you. I just don't know what I'm supposed to do to help him."

"I'll show you. Me and Jim-we, ah-," Blair grinned over at his lover, who stood propped against the far wall, "We have some experience in this. Come on, stand up." Mulder stood, watching as Blair took the chair he'd been sitting on and carried it around to the right side of Skinner's bed. He motioned Mulder over, and the agent followed instructions, making himself comfortable once more in the chair. Blair took Skinner's right hand, the one unencumbered by an IV, and gently threaded it through the bars guarding the bed. Then he took Mulder's left hand and folded it around Skinner's.

"There. Sit there. That's how you can help."

Mulder took a deep breath to steady himself and forced himself to meet deep blue eyes. "Thank you."

For his reward, he got a smile from Blair. "No problem. Jim and I will be right outside."

Jim pushed off from the wall and moved over to the door, holding it open and following his lover into the hall. "That was amazing, Chief."

"Hah. I've handled you in full-bore Sentinel mode. I can handle a neurotic FBI agent."

"Maybe Skinner will hit you up for lessons once this is all over."

Blair put his arm around Jim's back and leaned into his chest, feeling the solid strength that could always hold him up. "He's going to be okay."

"I know, Chief. They both will." Jim's hand came up to softly stroke the cheek that wasn't pressed against his chest.

"God, Jim, if that were you lying there..."

"Or you. It has been. Too many times."

Blair tightened his hold, and Jim reciprocated, winding his free arm around Blair's body and pulling it in closer.

Mulder examined the hand in his grasp: the thick fingers that ended in cleanly manicured nails, the slightly rough skin of the palm, the soft hairs growing across the top. Suddenly, the hand twitched in his, and Mulder stood up. Skinner's eyes blinked open, and Mulder smiled, tightening his grip on Skinner's hand.


"Hey." Skinner's voice was soft and still rough with sleep.

"How do you feel?"

"Like a building exploded and fell on me."

Mulder laughed softly, trying to see the humor. "Do you need me to get the nurse? Good drugs?"

"No. You're blurry enough already."

"Damn it. Let me-" Mulder moved to press the call button.

"No. It's getting better." The words tapered off until Mulder could barely make them out.

"Yeah, and you're falling asleep. I...I'm so glad you're okay."

Skinner's mouth twisted in a slight smile. "Love you too." And he was asleep again.

Mulder leaned over and pressed a kiss to Skinner's warm, stubble-roughened cheek. Disentangling their hands, he arranged Skinner's arm to rest comfortably on the bed and stepped back to lean against the wall and watch his lover sleep. Just then, Jim stepped though the door and silently walked over to Mulder.

Jim spoke quietly so as not to wake Skinner. "Mulder, we're heading home now."

"Okay, I'll just, you know, stay here."

"No, I don't think so. We have a spare bedroom. Blair's old room. You'll sleep there."

"No, I should-" Mulder protested weakly.

Jim raised his eyebrows. "Do you want me to send Sandburg in here?"

"Hah. Yeah, okay, I'm coming. Just give me a minute."

Jim nodded and stepped out into the hallway again. Mulder watched his lover for a minute, watched his steady breathing, his apparently peaceful sleep. He cupped his hand around Skinner's cheek and kissed him once again, lightly, then left to join Blair and Jim.

Mulder lay on the futon in the small room beneath the stairs, thinking that the sleeping situation was neither here nor there. It was neither the big, comfortable bed he'd been sharing with Skinner a few nights each week for the past few months, nor was it his old, familiar couch with the TV humming nearby. Just a small, quiet room. With Jim and Blair preparing for bed above him.

Mulder's thoughts wanted to stay on Skinner, to obsess over what could have happened, what still might conceivably happen one day. He had to find something else to think of, anything, or he would never get to sleep on this lumpy little bed. Something else. Somebody else. Jim.

Mulder let his mind drift to the beach on the Vineyard, to the summer of 1980 when he and Jim had met and found something together, something within themselves. Not love, not really, but a heady combination of lust and friendship and being eighteen with time on your hands. Mulder reached under the sheets and let himself remember.

The day after Jim's birthday, the day after they had finally kissed, Mulder woke up worried about what Jim thought, what his reaction would be. But Jim came by to pick him up that afternoon, and he acted like nothing had happened. Except. Except for the looks he gave Mulder over cheese fries, the looks that sent Mulder's dick straining against the zipper of his jeans. Mulder waited.

He waited, and the next Saturday, they drove into town to see The Empire Strikes Back. After the movie, they were excited, not wanting to drive straight home, but it was raining, so they couldn't go to the beach. Instead, the drove to Mulder's house and sat in the car. He knew his mother wouldn't come out; she was deep in chemically enhanced sleep.

They sat in the car, turned sideways in their seats, discussing the merits of The Empire Strikes Back versus Star Wars, which they'd both liked better. The conversation lulled for a moment, and Mulder stared off into the blackness beyond the windows of Jim's sleek black car. He came back to reality to lips pressed against his and a hand behind his neck, pulling him toward the driver's seat.

Jim's tongue slipped into his mouth, and he savored it, pushing his own tongue underneath, around the invader. Finally, he pulled back, breathless, and watched for a moment as Jim panted with arousal in the driver's seat.

"Want me to show you what I learned at school, Jim?"

Jim breathed heavily for a few beats. "Yes."

Mulder swallowed his nerves and leaned down, undoing the buttons on Jim's jeans and then reaching through the cloth to pull out Jim's already-hard cock. Oh. Wow. He'd done it before, once, with his roommate, a pasty boy with a smallish, uncut penis. This was entirely different. Mulder looked up to see Jim's eyes wide and dilated, Jim's mouth hungrily consuming air. He looked down at Jim's smooth cock, turning red and slick from arousal.

He braced his hands on either side of Jim's bucket seat and dipped his head down, taking in the first couple of inches. Somewhere above him, Jim gasped, and Mulder kept going, bobbing his head up and down, trying to do something with his tongue. He didn't know if he was doing it quite right, but it was apparently working. Jim's breath grew increasingly ragged. He cried out, "Oh, god!" and he came. Mulder swallowed resolutely and sat up, smiling when Jim's eyes drifted open again.

"I gotta go."

And Mulder was gone. Out of the car, into the house before Jim's sated brain could even form a protest.

On the little bed in Jim's loft, Mulder sighed with spent pleasure and drifted off to sleep, dreaming of his youth.

Upstairs, as Blair undressed for bed and Jim dried off after his shower, Jim was markedly distracted. In the middle of a discussion about what they would do with Mulder the next day, Blair realized that his lover was staring off into the middle distance, his head tilted in his listening pose. Not zoned, just distracted.

"Hellooooo. Earth to Jim. Ground control to Major Jim."

"Yeah, Chief, I'm listening."

"I can see that, Jim. I'm just curious what you're listening to."

A telling blush rose on Jim's ears. "Ah, I'm just making sure Mulder's okay down there."

Blair smirked. "And just how okay is he, man?"

"Real okay." Jim couldn't help but smirk back. "He's real okay, Chief. I'll stop listening."

"I'll bet you will," Blair muttered, knowing his Sentinel would hear. "He's jerking off down there, isn't he? He's jerking off in my bed!"

The redness rose again on his ears. "Well, it's not your bed anymore, Chief. What do you say we, uh, take our minds off the horror?"

"Just keep your ears to yourself, my friend, or I'll show you fear in a handful of lube."

"No need for that, now. Come here." Jim wrapped his hand around Blair's bare upper arms, pulling the smaller man close. Blair reached his other hand behind Jim's head and pulled him down for a kiss. Jim groaned with pleasure, "God, Chief, you are too good at that."

"Shh, Mulder..."

Jim tilted his head for a moment. "He's asleep."

"I thought I told you to keep your ears to yourself."

"I'll guess you'll just have to punish me, then."

"On the floor. Drop and give me twenty."

"Are you serious? Push-ups?"

"I want to see those fine muscles in action. And you can't tell me twenty push-ups are going to be difficult for you."

Jim rolled his eyes as he lowered himself to the floor. "I live for your pleasure, Richard Simmons, Jr."

"You'll pay for that. Now, count out loud-not too loud. Watch your form"

Jim aligned his naked body on the floor, balancing on his toes and the heels of his hands, his arms bent to take his weight. The low light cast by the small lamp by the bed played over the muscles of his back

Lift. "One" Lift. "Two." Lift. "Three." Lift. "Four." Lift. "Five."

Blair knelt next to Jim on the floor and poised one hand above his lover's exquisite back. With the next push-up, he ran his hand from the curve of Jim's lower back to the mound of his shoulders, petting the soft skin.

Lift. Pet. "Six." Lift. Pet. "Seven." Lift. Pet. "Eight." Lift. Pet. "Nine." Lift. Pet. "Ten."

Blair replaced the hand with one single finger, stroking light from the base of Jim's neck to the top edge of his ass. Jim's counting grew breathier, occasionally catching on a high note.

Lift. Stroke. "Eleven." Lift. Stroke. "Twelve." Lift. Stroke. "Thirteen." Lift. Stroke. "Fourteen." Lift. Stroke. "Fifteen."

Blair knelt down, balancing a bit precariously, and stuck his tongue out as far as it would go. He placed his tongue at the top of Jim's ass and, as Jim pushed up, ran it down the cleft to the top of his thighs and back up. Jim could barely count out the last few, his breathing rougher than the exercise would merit.

Lift. Lick. "Sixteen." Lift. Lick. "Seventeen." Lift. Lick. "Eighteen." Lick. Pet. "Nineteen." Lift. Lick. "Twenty."

Jim dropped to the floor and sat up, twisting around to grab Blair's head with his hands. His kissed his lover's full lips quick and hard before pulling back, panting. "I want you in me."

Blair licked his lips, happy to oblige. "On the bed. Hands and knees." Jim scrambled up onto the bed, positioning himself, while Blair grabbed condoms and lube from the bedside table, tossing one to Jim. Both men rolled their condoms on, and Blair covered his with a thick layer of lube.

He started to squeeze some more lube onto his fingers so that he could prepare Jim, but a gasped, "No," stopped him. "I am so fucking ready you wouldn't believe it."

Blair ran a moist finger over Jim's opening, finding it relaxed and ready for him. "You are so hot, Jim." He moved to straddle the larger man and then thrust, slid in partway, paused. Jim's hips pushed backwards, and he slid the rest of the way in.

Tongue-and-groove. They fit so perfectly that Blair could scarcely believe they hadn't been doing this for years. At another push from Jim's hips, Blair found a rhythm, thrusting in and out. He reached under Jim to grab his hard, heavy cock. With just a few strokes, Jim's ragged breathing grew faster, and he came, grinding out Blair's name.

Blair thrusted again, again, and then he was falling, too, falling into Jim, melting with him. Together, they collapsed sideways onto the mattress, slowly coming back to their senses. As soon as he could control his major muscle groups, Blair knelt up on the bed and removed his condom and Jim's, tying them off and tossing them in the small trashcan next to the bed. He cleaned them both off with the hand towel Jim insisted on keeping in the drawer, and then Jim reached over to turn off the lamp. They just barely managed to pull the covers up before dropping off into sleep.

The next morning, Mulder was feeling much calmer than he had when he arrived in Cascade the previous afternoon. Jet lag had him awake just before dawn, so he donned his sweat suit and sneakers and braved the cold, misty Pacific Northwest morning, hoping that someone would be awake to let him in when he returned. He jogged comfortably for a mile or so and then turned back, happy to discover that the bakery on Prospect Avenue had opened during his run.

He arrived at the top of the stairs in front of #307, bag of pastries in hand, just as Jim opened the door and waved him in.

"Blair's in the shower. I told him to leave you some hot water."

"Thanks. I really appreciate you letting me stay here."

"No problem." Jim smiled, taking the bakery bag from Mulder and passing him a mug of hot coffee. "I figure that last-minute cross-country flight set you back enough, never mind a hotel stay."

"You're not kidding. was worth it."

"I know." Jim listened as the shower shut off. "I would have done the same thing. Speaking of that, you'd better plan on spending the day with Skinner today."

"No, I thought I'd work on some of those leads we found last night."

"No way. Your local Bureau boys are going to be all over it today, and personally, I don't want my ass fried. Anyway, the doctor said he should be awake more today. Isn't that why you came? For him?"

"Yeah, yeah, I guess you're right. We can investigate later tonight after they kick us out of the hospital."

"You're impossible, Mulder."

"That's what they tell me."

"Well, Blair has a light schedule today. Since I'm just going to be doing paper work and phone interviews with bombing victims down at the station today, he said he'd come keep you company during the afternoon."

Blair emerged from the steam-filled bathroom, wrapped in a robe, with a towel around his head. "Yep. I'll be there after my eleven o'clock class lets out."

"Thanks, Sandburg. I really appreciate it."

"No problem!" The terry-swathed man disappeared up the stairs, and Mulder headed into the bathroom to wash off the sweat of his morning run.

Mulder spent the morning struggling with tension and boredom. Skinner was asleep almost constantly, a condition that the doctor assured him was normal, considering the pain meds combined with the stress the injuries had placed on the older man's body.

When Blair arrived a little before one o'clock, Mulder took the opportunity to stretch his legs, using the men's room and then walking down to the McDonalds on the first floor of the hospital. He choked down a double-cheeseburger and fries and then picked up an extra coffee to take back up to Blair.

Skinner was awake again when he got back up to the room, so Mulder helped him eat some of the lunch the nurses had left for him while he was sleeping. Soon, though, Skinner's eyes slipped shut again, and Mulder kissed his cheek and pulled a chair around to sit next to Blair.

Blair looked over at Skinner and smiled. "You know, I really feel like an idiot about how I acted when I saw you and Jim that time."

"Don't worry about it. If I had discovered you kissing Walter, I probably would have started shouting. Anyway, I hope it doesn't make you uncomfortable, having me in the loft."

"No, it's cool." Blair tried to keep from laughing at the thought that occurred to him. I know you're keeping your hands to yourself, so to speak. "You know, I should be thanking you. Until that day, the two of us were so sure of each other's heterosexuality that we might have never figured it out."

"I could say the same thing. Seeing you two find each other-and Jim's nudge in the right direction-got me to go after what I'd been thinking about for years."

"Skinner-he's a good man."

Mulder looked down. "Yeah, I know. If he weren't, I would have been toast long ago." He glanced back over at Blair. "The question is, how do you know?"

"You know Jim was interviewing victims of the bombing today?"

"Yeah, he mentioned that this morning."

"He talked to a woman, Geraldine Murray, who escaped with a few minor bruises. She said that, when the bomb went off, she was dazed. Most of the people there were-it was 8:30 in the morning, and they were talking about statistics. Anyway, she said she heard the explosion from the far side of the room, and then she found herself, along with two other women, knocked to the floor. Not by the explosion-she says a guy came at them like a linebacker, knocked them out of the way of a huge piece of ceiling.

"She's sure this guy saved her life, the lives of those other women. She didn't remember his name, but she identified him as the 'cute, bald guy' giving the presentation. Which, according to the meeting agenda, was Walter Skinner."

Mulder's mouth hung open, his face gone pale. He stared at Blair and then at the sleeping man on the bed. "Jesus. God, what an asshole. He could have been killed."

Blair just nodded his head, thinking of the risks Jim had taken in the line of duty.

"Damn." Mulder swallowed thickly. "Damn."

They fell quiet for a while then, Blair grading some more tests and Mulder just taking in the sight of his lover, alive, if not entirely well. He imagined how else he might have spent this afternoon-grieving, preparing for a funeral.

The nurse came in some time later, pulling Mulder from his morbid reverie, and he decided to take his mind off the gruesome possibilities. He had a few questions he wanted to ask Blair. A suspicion to confirm.

"So, what's your exact field of study, anyway?"

"Oh, me? I'm doing my thesis on law enforcement in the context of closed societies."

"Huh, really? Personally, I would have pegged you as somebody studying, oh, I don't know? Sentinels?"

Mulder's gaze sharpened as Blair looked away. "What? Sentinels? What are you talking about?"

"You know exactly what I'm talking about, Sandburg." Mulder realized that he shouldn't be interrogating his friend's lover and made an effort to tone it down. "Blair, I've read about more weird stuff than you can imagine. Burton's theory is interesting, but I never thought Sentinels were real. Investigating that building with Jim last night, some simple observation...I can see I was wrong to discount Burton."

"Mulder, I-I can't divulge details about my research subject."

"I know. I don't expect you to. Rest assured-he's not committing any crimes, so I'm not interested in his abilities on a professional level. I'm just fascinated. Figures-I'm on vacation, and I still find strange phenomena."

Blair whispered, "Nobody we work with ever figured it out before."

Mulder smirked, "Well, I'm smarter than the average bear."

"Mulder?" Skinner's rusty voice from the bed heralded another period of wakefulness, and Mulder stood, turning his attentions towards his injured lover.

Mulder and Blair had lapsed back into quiet contemplation of the sleeping Assistant Director when Jim's soft knock preceded his entrance into the room. "It's 6:30-you two up for some dinner?"

"I'm starving, man," Blair admitted. "I could even eat at Wonderburger."

"You shouldn't have said that, Chief," Jim grinned. "What about you, Mulder?"

"I'll stay."

"We'll bring you something back. What are you hungry for?"

"Whatever. Food."

Jim nodded, and he and Blair walked out toward where the truck waited in the hospital parking lot. Once they were safely ensconced within the truck, Blair was eager to speak.

"Jim, there's something I've got to tell you."

"Mulder knows about my Sentinel abilities."

"How? Oh, you heard?"

"Yeah, I just thought I'd let you two discuss it. I don't mind; I had a feeling he'd figure it out."

"But, Jim, he works for the government..."

"So do I. And anyway, I did a little digging on him after he was up here last summer. From what I can tell, he's not exactly Joe Bureau. I think they would have canned him by now if he weren't so damned brilliant. I talked to an old friend from the Army who works with the feds, and I get the feeling that if he told them I was a Sentinel, nobody would believe him any more than if he told them I was Bigfoot."

"So I should stop worrying about that?"

"Yeah, Chief, he's a good guy."

Jim parked the truck in front of Blair's favorite Italian restaurant, and they got a quiet table in the back where they could relax while waiting for their food.

"Jim, I, uh, I'm not jealous of what you had with Mulder anymore."

"Good, I'm glad. I didn't think you were."

"No, well, I said that to preface what I'm about to ask. It's just that I'm curious-was it just sex between you two? I mean, since you didn't keep in touch?"

Jim sighed and leaned back in his chair. "No, no, we were friends, too. It wasn't a relationship like you'd normally think of, more like friendship with kissing. And other stuff."

Blair spluttered into his water glass. "'Other stuff'? Yeah, I bet. But you didn't keep in touch?"

"No, but, well, we were kids. We were in college, and then I joined the Rangers, and he joined the Bureau, and things got busy."

"Did you ever think of him, though?"

"I think about this one night sometimes."

"Do I really want the details?"

"No, no, it wasn't like that. It was...quiet."

That one night, late in July, Mulder and Jim had decided not to go see a movie for once. They'd already seen Superman II, and Friday the 13th (after which Mulder had boasted of having been born on Friday the 13th), and they really didn't want to see The Blue Lagoon, so they decided to hang out on the beach and build a fire. The night was muggy, and the fire refused to catch well, so they ended up just lying on the damp sand with the moon overhead the only illumination. The darkness and boredom led to conversation.

"So, the aunt you're staying with, is that your mom's sister or your dad's?"

"Oh, she's my dad's older sister. I don't know my mother's family."

"Your mom doesn't talk to them?"

"My mom left when I was six. I haven't seen her since."

"Oh, sorry. That sucks."

"Yeah, well, it's okay. Really. It's just me and my dad and my brother. Steven's at home doing summer courses."

"I used to wish I had a brother. I had a sister..."

"Really? Did she, um, did she, uh, die?"

"No, she was taken seven years ago. She was eight. I was babysitting."

"What happened?"

"I don't know. Nobody knows. She's just gone. I lost her."

"God, that's horrible. But, really, it can't be your fault, can it? You were what, thirteen?"

"Twelve. And, according to my dad, it's definitely my fault. I'm going to find her."


"I don't know. But I'll find her, and then everything will be okay."

"You must miss her a lot."

"Nah. She was a pain in my ass."


"She was."

"You know, you don't have to be so fucking cool about everything all the time."

"What do you want to hear? She was my sister. I hated her. She was my best friend."

Mulder's voice cracked on the last sentence, and he stood up, walking toward the water. Still wearing his shorts and t-shirt, he waded out into the dark, moon-striped expanse. Jim watched the cool blackness swallow Mulder, the surface shimmering with his movement. He stood where the salty water hit him at chest level and bent his knees, dipping his head under to saturate his dyed-black hair.

Jim followed Mulder, wading in to the shallower water, and when Mulder re-emerged, Jim closed his hand around the cool, wet flesh of Mulder's upper arm and pulled him to stand in waist-deep water. He wound his arms around Mulder's back, and Mulder mirrored the gesture. The tide was low, but they could feel the force of the sea alternately pushing them gently in toward land and pulling them out into oblivion.

They resisted moving in either direction, the tides burying their feed in thick sand, the water moving through their clothes, until they both started shivering in the cool night breeze.

Jim blinked his eyes, aligning himself once more with the present, and looked across to meet Blair's soft expression.

"I'm glad you two found each other, Jim."

"Yeah, me too. And I'm even more glad that I found you."

Blair smiled and then jumped a little as Jim's phone rang.

Twenty minutes later, Blair and Jim stood with Mulder outside Skinner's hospital room. Jim brought Mulder up to speed. "Simon called while we were eating. The prints from the bomb casing matched with Hopkins-the perp I was talking about before. Turns out he was released about two months ago. Your Bureau boys traced the C-4 to a company that has a warehouse over by the waterfront. An affiliate of the company Hopkins was working for when we busted him. The Feds are sending a team over there, but this guy's tricky. I know him, and I want to be there in case he tries anything. Sandburg thought you might want to be involved."

Mulder felt for the service weapon strapped to the small of his back. "Let's go."

Mulder watched as Jim stood next to the truck, his eyes closed, his head tilted to the side. Sandburg's hand curved around Jim's upper arm, lightly stroking. The younger man's lips moved in an unheard whisper. Jim was silent for a moment and then began to talk.

"I can hear him moving around in the back of the building." Another whisper from Sandburg, and the hand on Jim's arm gripped tighter. "Okay, yeah, he's got a gun and something...something else. He's heading for an open window. Damn! Rappelling equipment."

Jim took off at a run toward the back of the building, with Sandburg right behind him and Mulder in stunned pursuit, weapon drawn. They rounded the corner of the warehouse just in time to see the bomber touch ground, duffel bag in hand, deftly disconnecting the rappelling cord from his harness. Jim motioned for Blair to take cover behind a dumpster and ran to block the man's path.

"Hey! You! Stop!"

"Federal Agent! Drop your weapon!" Mulder called from the other side.

Hopkins turned and threw his bag at Mulder. The weight hit his shoulder hard and Mulder stumbled backwards, his gun skittering across the ground. Hopkins aimed his weapon at the now-unarmed agent.

"Put it down, Ellison!" Hopkins called over his shoulder. "I'll splatter his brains before you can get me."

Mulder swallowed and glanced at Jim's calm stance before gasping as Hopkins' hand exploded in blood, his gun falling to the pavement as he roared in anger and pain.

"You son of a bitch! My hand!"

Mulder took advantage of the man's shock to retrieve Hopkins' gun along with his own. Jim moved to secure Hopkins as the agents who had been gathered in front of the building swarmed around the side.

Mulder grinned over at his old friend. "Thanks."

Jim slapped Mulder on the back and reached out with his other arm as Sandburg approached. "No problem."

When Mulder walked into the hospital room on Saturday morning, Skinner was already sitting on the edge of his bed, waiting. Mulder had gone to the hotel where Skinner had been staying before the explosion. He collected the older man's luggage and checked him out with the front desk.

"You look ready to go."

"Damn straight. Hand over my travel kit."

"Well, since you asked so nicely." Mulder put Skinner's suitcase on the bed and dug out the small, black zippered bag.

Skinner reached over and placed a hand on his lover's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I just want to get out of here so that I can get home and get some real sleep." He sighed, trying to release some of his pent-up frustration.

Mulder nodded, reached for the hand not on his shoulder. "I know. And besides, you'll be in my care for the next few days. If you piss me off, I'll just take advantage of you in your time of weakness."

Skinner smiled. "I'm counting on that." He grabbed the travel kit and stood, allowing Mulder to steady him through the moment of dizziness that still remained from the concussion. He was horribly glad for the opportunity to shave and brush his teeth and basically feel human for the first time in days.

Ablutions competed, Mulder helped Skinner get dressed for the trip home. He steadied his lover as he stepped into his briefs and jeans and helped him pull on his cream-colored henley without putting too much strain on the stitches in his back. Skinner grimaced with embarrassment, but he allowed Mulder to put the socks on his feet, in order to spare both his back and his head the stress of bending over. At least he was able to slip into his loafers unaided.

Skinner's doctor had already signed the forms, so they were free to go. Jim was waiting outside the front entrance with his truck.

"Hey! It's good to see you on your feet," Jim greeted them as they loaded themselves and their bag inside.

"Thanks. Thanks a lot, Jim." Skinner nodded and then leaned his head against the seat back.

"You know, it's about four hours until your plane leaves. How about coming up to the loft for some brunch? It was Blair's idea, and he's back there cooking if you're hungry."

Skinner was surprised to realize that he was well and truly ravenous. "Sounds good."

Mulder chimed in his agreement. "Bring it on."

Later, after a breakfast of eggs and turkey sausage and some muffins that, while decidedly weird, were undeniably delicious, the four men sat at the little table in the loft. Content and sated, they spoke little, simply enjoying the rare pleasure of like-minded company. Jim stood to start taking dishes to the sink, and Blair rose to join him, refusing offers of help from Mulder and Skinner.

He pointed a finger at Skinner and then Mulder. "You're recuperating, and you're on vacation. Relax!"

Leaning back in Jim's sturdy, wooden chairs, the two men watched their hosts work together in the kitchen. Their arms worked in tandem, and their hips brushed together as they shared smiles while passing dishes hand to hand. Skinner was reminded of the early days with Sharon. It had been good, sweet, in the beginning, but even so they'd never had anything like these two men moving in concert.

Mulder felt a lump in his throat, a lump of something very like desire and hope, and he tried to imagine how he could communicate this to Skinner. He turned to look at his lover's face and saw that same desire-not for sex, but for this, this uncomplicated happiness and familiarity-etched into his tired features. Skinner's warm brown eyes met his.

"You ever think..." Mulder began.

"...of moving?" Skinner whispered.

The four men stood at Gate14b, waiting for the final boarding call. They all shook hands warmly but politely. Only their shared glances communicated that, after the week's events, they felt much closer than simple acquaintances.

Mulder adjusted his carry-on to sit more comfortably on his shoulder. "You two should come visit us some time. Do the tourist thing."

Blair nodded. "Actually, that would be really great. I haven't been there since, god, the summer after my junior year, and there are a couple of museums I'd really like to explore."

Jim smiled at his ebullient friend. "Could be fun. I never did get to spend much time in Air & Space, and that was during Reagan's first term in office."

"You should try to come in the Spring," Skinner added. "The cherry blossoms are nice, and anyway...maybe by then we'll have somewhere to put you up."

Mulder snaked his arm around Skinner's waist and leaned in towards him. "I'll e-mail you with our new address."

"Now boarding business class for Flight 1209 to Washington Dulles International Airport."

"That's us." Mulder reached down to grab Skinner's bag before his wounded lover could get to it, steadfastly ignoring Skinner's growl.

"You guys have a good flight!" Blair waved.

"A safe flight," Jim added, putting his arm around Blair's shoulders and, as their friends disappeared through the doorway, they turned around to return home together.