Indeterminate Territory II
"Jack? You, uh, wanted to see me?"
"Blair, come in!"
Jack Kelso watched as his young friend entered then closed the office door. Sharp eyes took in the slightly hunched shoulders, pale skin, and drawn facial features that revealed Blair's distress to the people who knew him.
And Jack Kelso did know Blair Sandburg; knew him quite well. Knew what Blair's long years of research had involved, knew that Blair had lied at that press conference, and knew that Blair was reaching some kind of breaking point.
"How are you?" He asked quietly while Blair sat.
"I'm fine- No. I'm not doing too great," Blair admitted, avoiding Jack's gaze. Jack sighed.
"No, I don't suppose you are. Look at me, Blair."
Slowly, so slowly, Blair lifted his head and met Jack's eyes. The pain buried in those deep blue eyes almost took Jack's breath.
"I'm not going to second-guess your decision, and I'll never bring it up again unless you want to talk about it. What you did was one of the bravest things I've ever seen, and I'm proud to call you my friend."
Blair turned away, but not before Jack caught the sudden glitter of tears. Blair took a deep, hitching breath, then another smoother one before turning back towards Jack, who was gratified to note that Blair seemed a bit more relaxed than when he'd come in.
"Thank you," Blair said simply, and Jack nodded.
They stared at each other for a moment; two men who understood too much about sacrifice, expedience and pragmatism.
"Got any plans?" Jack eventually asked, and watched Blair shrug.
"Naomi wants me to go with her."
"And leave Cascade? Is that what you want to do?"
"I don't have a lot of choices here, Jack. This whole thing's been- the press conference was just the last straw." Blair reached up to rub at his temples, and Jack grimaced in sympathy.
"For days, man."
Blair snorted out a short laugh that sounded more than a little bitter.
"Been there," Jack commiserated, making up his mind about something he'd been considering since the press conference. He'd known from the moment he heard Blair's statement that Blair was going to be finished at Rainier, and he wanted to give his friend an alternative.
"I'm going to Russia. My next book is about the American counterintelligence efforts in Afghanistan that occurred before the Soviet invasion in '79."
Blair shot him a wry grin.
"Sounds like another bestseller, Jack."
"'Read by the few and bought by many'," Jack quoted himself with matching irony, and they shared a moment of genuine amusement. "Come with me, Blair. I could use your help. I'm going to need a research assistant, somebody who can help me retrieve and review documentation. I know you can speak and read a little Russian."
"Very little," Blair said, but his absent tone and serious expression indicated to Jack that he was giving the offer some real thought. "The Russian government-"
"Invited me," Jack interrupted. "The CIA backed certain factions within the Mujahedeen in an effort to draw the USSR into invading Afghanistan, and the Russians want the world to know." He watched with pleased relief as a spark of interest lit Blair's eyes. "What do you say?"
"Let me think about it. When do you leave?"
"I'll let you know in a couple of days, then." He held out his hand to Jack, who shook it firmly. "Either way, Jack, thank you," Blair added softly.
Jack Kelso smiled at his friend, recognizing what Blair was thanking him for.
"You're welcome, Blair. Either way," he echoed, and hoped he wasn't fooling himself by thinking Blair's step looked a bit lighter on the way out.
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