Exact Change
by Kira


"Hey Blair, you ready to go home?" Pete Summers shouted in Blair's ear over the pounding rhythm of the bass.

Downing the rest of his coke, Blair nodded. "Go round up the gang...I'll get our coats."

The blond haired young man passed the coat check receipts over to Blair and went in search of their friends. The evening was a celebration of Peter's completion of his comprehensive exams. Blair had offered to be the designated driver and they had gone to a local club downtown to party. The night was winding down though and it was time to go.

Blair collected the coats and waited by the door for his friends. Paul, with four other cohorts in tow, sashayed to the door. Julie Forsythe, a lanky brunette with a killer smile, --and an equally killer slinky dress that hugged all the right curves -- clung to Peter's arm. Both were pretty buzzed, giggling and very, very happy. Mike Dawson, the rugby player-come-anthropology student, and his date, Mary Gracie, were three sheets to the wind and were being guided by the slightly less drunk Frank Pierce, a new grad student who had just transfered to Rainer from Iowa.

Blair handed out coats amidst much laughing, teasing and general confusion. While it was fun to be one of the party people, sometimes it was more fun to simply watch the inebriated students make fools of themselves. Blair grinned as Mike slobbered a kiss -- meant for Mary's ear --on her forehead. Being an observer definitely had its high points at times.

They walked to the parking lot and after securing his friends within the Volvo, Blair buckled his seatbelt and turned the key.

Nothing.

"Whas a matta Blair?" Frank drawled, leaning over into the front seat. Blair laughed as he reached for his cell phone.

"Looks like we're cabbing it home. The car's dead." He dialled the cab number he remembered seeing in the bar. "Hi, could I get a cab at the parking lot of the Lava Pit please?...Yup, for Blair Sandburg....thanks."

Blair shut off the phone, and glanced in the rear view mirror at his friends who were mostly leaning on one another, falling asleep. He looked over at Pete and grinned.

"Have fun tonight?"

"Oh yeah. It was a blast, Blair. Thanks for setting this up. Too bad your partner Jim couldn't come, we're interested in meeting this guy who seems to have sucked up all your time lately. Must be one hell of a research subject."

"Yeah, well he had a stake out. And he's my friend, not just a research subject." Headlights from an approaching car hailed the arrival of the taxi. Blair did a quick head count.

"Oh man, Pete, we're not going to all fit. How about you guys take the cab, just get the cash out of my wallet. Make sure that everyone gets home okay. I'll call Jim and get him to pick me up." Blair tossed his wallet over to his friend, too lazy to pull the bills out himself.

"You sure?"

"Yeah, the stakeout was supposed to be over by ten, and its going on...what... twelve now? Shouldn't be a problem."

Blair helped Pete get the near comatose grad students into the cab. Blair quickly jotted down the address on a scrap piece of paper and handed it to the driver.

"See ya tomorrow Pete. Bye guys!"

Blair waved at the car as it pulled out of the parking lot and went back to the Volvo to get the phone. After trying unsuccessfully to reach Jim at the loft, Blair figured he was still at the stake out. He left a message for Jim on the machine and resigned himself to taking a cab. He swore softly to himself as he realised that Pete, in his slightly tipsy state had taken his wallet and the remaining cash that he had. Digging through his pockets he managed to find a handful of change. Great. Looks like I'm bussing it.

The night air was chilly as he walked to the nearest bus stop; a slight breeze nipping through the light cotton shirt that he had worn in deference to the heat of the club. The cold leeched the heat from his legs through the black jeans. While he hadn't intended to pick up a date tonight, he was always open to the possibility. And wearing his 'butt jeans' -- as he put it -- was all part of the plan. While modesty normally was a very important thing for the young observer, he would be the first to admit that his ass looked mighty fine in these jeans

He shivered as he stood at the lamp post sporting the bus stop sign. When is the bus going to come anyhow. Geez its cold. Blair spotted a twenty-four hour 7-11.  I wonder if I havetime to grab a coffee.  Looking around he saw a man approaching and figured he's ask him for the time.

********

Officer David Collins slowly drove the unmarked police vehicle down the main drag. His partner unwrapped a hamburger and chomped into it with great gusto.

"You know, Marshall's been coming down on the department really hard lately. What's up with that?" Michael Smith, Collins' partner asked around a mouthful.

"Aw he's just worried about us not getting our quotas. You know, like in traffic? So many tickets a month? Well Marshall's got this crazy idea that if we get so many hookers a night we're showing the guys upstairs that Vice is doing its job." Smith broke off as he peered out the window. "And speak of the devil. Looks like we got a bit of action."

Collins followed the direction of his partner's gaze. A young man stood on the curb, approaching a man walking by. The young man's shoulders slumped dejectedly as the older man shook his head and moved on.

"Break out the tally sheet, Mike. I do believe that we can meet our quota tonight."

*******

Blair sighed as the man walked away. Just his luck that the only person he would meet wouldn't have a watch. Rocking back and forth on his heels, he was startled as a bright light suddenly shone in his face. He squinted against the glare and managed to make out the outline of a police cruiser and then two burly officers getting out of the car.

"Up against the wall," a voice commanded. Blair held up a hand to block out some of the light.

"Excuse me?" He looked behind him, almost expecting someone else to be there. When he looked back, the two men had moved closer.

"Assume the position. Now." Blair could tell who was speaking now, a hulk of a man with closely cropped hair and a moustache. He held his hands out placatingly.

"I think that there's --- mmmnph!" His protest was cut short as large hands pulled him around and shoved him face first against the brick wall of the building behind them. Unprepared for the move, Blair barely got his hands in front of him, and failed to protect his face. Pain blossomed as his lip split as a result of the impact.

"No ID," the cop said, easily holding the smaller man in place as he frisked him. "So pretty boy, thought you could get away with trolling for customers right in front of us, huh?" He gave a Blair a shake, even as Blair began to shake his head.

"Look, I think that there's been a huge mistake --" Blair fell silent as a night stick struck him in the small of his back, right in his kidneys. The blow took his breath away and left him gasping -- not to mention wanting to curl up in a painful ball. But he couldn't so much as lean forward as the strong arms kept him pinned to the wall.

"Listen punk. The only mistake here was the one you made. Now shut up." The older man spat in disgust and gave him another blow, this time along Blair's right side. "Filthy faggot."

Blair's chest clenched painfully and he knew that it had nothing to do with the blows he had recieved.  This is not good, he thought. The world exploded into a haze of pain as the beating began in earnest. The grad student tried to curl himself into a ball, wrapping his arms behind his head in an attempt to protect himself from the blows of the nightstick and fists. His body jerked as a foot connected with his side and he bit his sorely abused lip, only letting a whimper escape. Blair felt his arms pulled behind his back and cold steel snicking around his wrists as one of the officers cuffed him.

"One down, five to go. I'm thinking we might get our quota yet. Let's run him into the station house." To Blair, the voice seemed far away. He closed his eyes and gave in to a groan as he was hauled upright and pulled over to the car.

"Watch your head," one of them said snidely, after his temple impacted sharply with the doorframe. What was one more pain among many, Blair thought blearily as he tried to curl up on the seat. His side was burning and breathing was something that he really didn't want to do as the stabbing pain, from what he thought could only be a cracked rib, made itself known with each inhalation.

"So, Mike. You're daughter's graduating in a couple of weeks, huh?"

"Yeah. Hard to believe that she's already seventeen. God, they grow up so fast. Darlene wanted to get her a car or a trip to Europe, but really...on a cop's salary? She's lucky we're going to be shelling out half of her college tuition. What about your kid? Isn't he off to university?"

"Sophomore business major. He'll be coming home at the end of semester. He wants to find a summer job here..."

Blair let the inane conversation wash over him. He was bleeding and bruised and the buggers were talking about their kids. He panted weakly, resting his head against the vinyl seat covering.  Show no fear. Once they got to the station everything would get sorted out. Jim would come for him. Jim would make everything better.  Jim.  The world slipped by, the sporadic flashes of the streetlights in the windows making his head pound. He closed his eyes and let the heat of the car enfold him, beckoning him to the welcoming darkness.  Jim.

*******

"See you later, Rafe," Jim called as the younger detective pulled out of the parking lot at the loft. Rolling his neck, he smiled at the thought of getting Blair to do a nice back rub to get out all of the kinks in his spine from sitting in Rafe's undersized car all night.

He knew as soon as he opened the door that Blair was still out. Sentinel vision caught the flashing light on the answering machine from across the room and he went over to see who had called.

//Hey, Jim, its me, Blair. The car died and I thought that I'd see if you were home. Guess not. I'll get a cab then. Don't wait up for me.//

Glancing at the clock, Jim frowned as he realised it was well past one o'clock. Blair's message had been left at quarter past twelve. Cop sense atingle, Jim flipped through Blair's address book by the phone until he found Pete Summers number. He remembered Blair mentioning the other student's name.

//hhhmmm...'llo?"// The voice at the other end was muzzy with sleep.

"Hello...Pete Summers?" Jim asked.

//Uh, yeah.//

"Sorry to wake you, but this is Jim Ellison. Did Blair go home with you?"

//No..he gave me some money for the cab and said he'd call you.//

"I wasn't home. Look. He's not back yet. Do you know where he could be?" Jim started to worry. No, scratch that, he was already worried. He was starting to really worry.

//No, sorry -- oh shit. //

"What...What is it?" Jim demanded, his knuckles clenching on the phone.

//He gave me his wallet to take out some cash...I guess I kept it. It's here on my table

Jim hung up and was out of the door and down the stairs. First stop, the bar. After that -- he didn't have a plan, but he'd come up with one. With any luck Blair was safe and warm in his office at the university, or with another friend, or even catching a ride with someone on his way home -- perfectly normal, perfectly harmless, perfectly safe.

*******

Blair gasped at every step as the officers led him through the police station. It was just his luck that the officers weren't stationed at the main department where he was at least known by some of the staff. Strange faces met his desperate gaze. He was unceremoniously dumped in a chair; hands still cuffed behind his back. He mostly ignored the conversations going on around him, but the shrill voice of a woman cut through the confusing sounds.

"Look, David. We're swamped with bookings right now. Put him in the back and we'll get to him as soon as we can. We had a gun fight tonight and some hooker -- even if he did resist arrest -- is pretty low on our priority list right now."

Blair couldn't get his wits together enough to protest that he hadn't resisted.

"Okay, Janine. Tell you what. Me and Mike, we'll leave him here and come back in an hour or so and fill out the paperwork, when you're not so busy." Blair watched the tall cop flash a grin at the beleaguered clerk. She blushed and pushed at his shoulder.

"Oh, stop it, Dave. You're married remember." But Blair could tell she was interested and furthermore that she was prepared to agree to the plan. Dave walked over and pulled Blair to his feet with a hand under his arm, painfully stretching the injured man's side.

"Let's go, kiddo. Couple of hours in the holding tank will teach you what happens to people like you," the cop said as he led Blair through the corridors of the precinct.

"L..l...look, man, there's been a mistake...," Blair stuttered as he resisted the urge to curl himself up and scream.

"Tell it to the judge." A vicious twist to his arm cut off anything Blair would have tried to say. They arrived at the holding cell and Blair could see five other people already inside. They definitely didn't look friendly.

"Here you go, fairy. Next time think twice about trying to sell your ass." The cop pushed him forward with a smirk, and Blair couldn't think of anything else he could have said to make the people inside the cell think worse of him. The steel door clanged shut behind him with an ominous echo. Five men -- very large men -- turned to look at theiir newest cellmate. Blair swallowed painfully, one arm wrapped around his stomach. He slowly sank down to the floor as the stabbing pain pulsed in his side. Fear clenched his belly and it was all Blair could do not to lose his dinner. Oh god, Jim. Get me out of here.

*****

Jim stood next to the Volvo, frantically and futilely searching for an indication of where Blair could have gone. He could detect the faint scent of Blair's shampoo trailing off towards the main street so he left the truck, deciding to go out on foot. Like a bloodhound, Jim focused on the scent, following it to where it permeated the air the strongest. Then there was another smell overlaying the herb scent that was Blair. Jim strained to identify it and immediately went on alert as he realised it was blood. Sentinel vision zoomed onto the brick wall and then onto the cement sidewalk. Blair was hurt.

******

Voices. Fuzzy voices. Blair could barely make out what they were saying.

"I think he's waking up."

"Hand me your jacket, would ya?"

Blair bit back a moan as pain returned with consciousness. He could feel the concrete beneath him, leeching the heat from his body. A hand on his neck gently raised his head while another tucked a leather jacket, still warm from being worn, underneath.

"Hey pretty face. Come on, open those gorgeous eyes."

"j...j...jim?" Blair managed to whisper through cracked lips.

"Sorry sugar, no Jim here."

Another hand patted his cheek insistently. Blair's eyelashes fluttered and the small cell gradually swam into focus. Five faces peered down at him, and Blair jerked convulsively away as he remembered where he was.

"Easy there, sweet cheeks. We ain't going to hurt you."

Blair blinked and accepted the proffered help over to the sole bench in the cell.

"Lie down. There you go." A burly black man with a earring in his ear and abs which would make Jim jealous, slowly eased Blair down. "I'm Lucas, by the way. These are my friends, Mike, Shawn, Pete and Fred."

Blair almost started laughing at the inane names. They were so...so...so bloody normal. Mike sported an impressive set of dread locks which offset the dapper clothes that stretched across his rather impressive physique, while Shawn and Pete had to have been identical twins from a biker gang movie. Leather studs, leather boots, leather pants, hell, a whole herd of cows had died to outfit these guys. Blair tried to reign in his hysterical inner commentary. Fred on the other hand had to have been a sumo wrestler in a former life. Blair shut his eyes and stifled yet another groan...this one at his incredible luck of getting stuck in a cell with five guys who could eat him up and spit him out...not for breakfast...no, he'd be an hors d'oeuvre. Small and tasty. They'd probably have to use toothpicks. Blair clamped down on his wayward thoughts.

"Hi...nice...to meet you." He managed to reply after a moment, feeling obliged to say something. He refused to laugh at the complete weirdness of it all.

"What you all...in for?" he managed to wheeze. That's it Sandburg. Find out what truly crazed and psycho cellmates you have. It was then he realised that they weren't acting like ordinary criminals. The last time he'd been in lock up, when Jim had been kidnapped by Colonel Oliver, the men had made threats, postured, invaded his space and generally made him wish that he had gone to the gym with Jim just a few times more. But these guys...they were fucking polite already! That's when he noticed that Fred had a hand firmly planted on Pete's ass, and Pete didn't show any signs of complaining. Furthermore, Mike was stroking Shawn's hand in a comforting move that couldn't be mistaken for anything less than a lover's caress.

"Well, you see honey. We were down at Darla's," Blair knew the club by reputation only. It was the only bar in Cascade that opened gays with welcome arms. Shawn continued, "And Lucas here starts a fight over some blonde number who couldn't find his ass with a map..."

"He could too! Don't you dare insult him!" Lucas interrupted. Shawn made shushing motions with his free hand.

"You see? Anyway, everything went to hell in a hand basket, the police come by to break it up and we all end up here. Disturbing the peace and all that jazz. Next thing we know, the cops are throwing your fine self in here with us. Seemed to think we'd like a piece of you or something."

"Yeah, well...I'm a popular guy...name's Blair, by the way." Blair grinned at the unexpected turn of events and then winced as his ribs decided to make their presence known.

"Blair, you know, I don't want to sound intrusive or anything, but trolling the streets is really not a good idea these days. Do you have any idea the sorts of dangers you face? AIDS? Perverts who would really like to mess a sweet kid like yourself up?" Mike crouched down beside Blair, hand still touching Shawn's.

Blair pushed himself up and groaned.

"Goddamn it, I am not a prostitute!"

The pained shout echoed in the cell, stunning all of the occupants, including Blair. Taking a deep breath, and then regretting it immediately, Blair tried to relax.

"Look. This has all been a huge mistake. I was waiting for the bus! The *bus*!"

"Sure, Blair." The men nodded tolerantly.

"Blair, denial is horrible state of mind. You must acknowledge your state of being in order to change. Shawn here is a social worker. Maybe he could set you up in a program or something."

The other men chimed in with useful advice. What is this...a group intervention for god's sake? Jim...come and shoot me now.

Blair settled himself against the bench, resigning himself to be harried to death by a bunch of well-meaning cellmates

******

Jim stood at the bus stop, pondering what to do next. He could go home and wait in case Blair called. Yeah right, and Simon is my fairy godmother, he snorted. He could put out an APB. An option that looked better and better the longer he stood there. Spotting a parked police cruiser, he jogged over and flashed his badge as he approached.

"Detective Ellison, Major Crimes."

The burly man in the driver seat rolled down the window.

"How can we help you, Detective?"

"I was wondering if you'd do me a favor. I'm looking for my partner. He was maybe waiting around here. About five eight, shoulder-length, curly brown hair, dressed in a blue shirt and black jeans?"

The increased heart rate of the two officers pounded like timpani in Jim's ears. They looked covertly at each other.

"Your partner you say?"

"Yeah. He was probably waiting for the bus at that bus stop. But I found some blood and I'm worried that something happened to him. You wouldn't happened to have seen anything would you?"

"Bus stop?" The other cop in the passenger's seat asked plaintively.

"The one over there." Jim pointed back towards where he found the bloodstain. He forced himself to remain calm, slowly letting out the hook to bait the two men into biting.  Come on, fishies, come to papa. "His car broke down and I was on a stake out, I figure he took the bus. Have you seen anyone around?"

"oh god." It was a barely audible whisper, but Jim easily heard the panic in the cops voice.

"Is there something you gentlemen would like to tell me?" Jim's voice was laden with sarcasm as he put on his most menacing voice, leaning in towards the window.

********

"Blair Sandburg?" Blair jerked his head as his voice was called from outside the cell. His new 'friends' were still trying to detail the poor choices he was supposedly making, and the dangers that lurked on the streets for young men such as him.

Blair didn't even get a chance to respond as suddenly his partner was pushing past the clerk who had called his name, and rushing up to the bars. Blair pulled himself up and tottered over to meet Jim. Jim stuck his arms between the bars, running his hands over Blair's head and shoulders, quickly checking for injuries. Blair closed his eyes as Jim's comforting hands roamed over his body, checking for contusions and cuts. Everything would be okay.

"Oh man, I am so glad you got here." Blair groaned, clutching his ribs. Jim cast a wary eye over to the five men who stood looking suspiciously at the detective.

"They hurt you, Chief?"

Blair almost giggled with relief.

"Nah. Only tortured me with kindness." He stroked a hand across Jim's forearm. "I'm okay. Sore, but okay."

"I found the men who arrested you. They're being suspended."

"Can I go home?" Blair whispered, closing his eyes again as Jim stroked his cheek.

"Yeah." Jim motioned to the clerk who opened the cell. "Let's go home, Chief."

Blair turned to the men remaining in the cell, who had been watching the proceedings with interest. The smiles and knowing winks put a wry grin on Blair's face.

"I was just waiting for the bus." Content to get the last word in -- and pointedly ignoring the hungry looks that were being directed at Jim -- he allowed his partner to drape a protective arm around his shoulders after wrapping him in his coat.

Once at the truck, which was parked haphazardly outside the precinct, Blair gratefully sank onto the seat with a sigh.

"Home James."

"Not quite Chief. First stop, the hospital. I want you to get your ribs checked out. Your breathing is off."

"Aw, come on, Jim. You know I hate having to go through all that waiting, just to get some sort of synthetic pain killer that probably is single handedly responsible for ruining the rainforest.--" Blair trailed offas Jim glared at him as he stopped for a red light

"Forget it, Chief. We're going to the ER."

Two hours later, a muzzily drugged Guide and a harried Sentinel made their way back to the truck. More specifically, the Sentinel made his way to the truck propping up his Guide along the way.

"Mmmm...Thanks man," Blair mumbled, listing to the side as Jim opened the door to the truck and got him settled. The trip to the loft went smoothly except for a small incident when Blair slowly titled to the side to rest his head on Jim's shoulder. The detective had been distracted for a moment by the scent of blood and antiseptic, but had quickly regained his center before zoning on the sensory input.

"Okay, buddy. We're home." Blair's head nodded at his words, but the drugged young man didn't so much as move an arm. "Great. Glad I've been working out a bit more lately, " Jim grunted as he hefted Blair into his arms, praying that the elevator was working. Somehow Blair managed to get up the energy to raise his arms and wrap them securely around Jim's neck, resting his head on a solid shoulder.

Jim managed to open the door without relinquishing his hold on his partner, going straight to the bedroom and placing Blair beneath the covers. A quick trip to the living room to grab the afghan off the couch and Blair was tucked beneath two layers of blankets, a pillow supporting his side. Blair opened half-lidded eyes, his blurred gaze dopily taking in his Sentinel standing on guard in the doorway. With a small smile and soft sigh, Blair drifted off again into blessed oblivion. Jim had made things right again just as he had predicted.


Finis