Disclaimers/Warning/etc: See part 1, though I warn you, Sam's gonna be an ass again.
Feedback: samwest5@hotmail.com

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The reception was at the British embassy. It was packed, with all the usual dignitaries and secret service, as well as some unfamiliar faces. Sam and Josh exited the motorcade with Leo and the President, looking around at the crowds. "Is Marbury here yet?" Leo asked the President.

"He and Miss Devlin are waiting inside." The President focused a beaming smile at a face in the crowd.

Sam nodded, then turned to Leo. "Who's Miss Devlin? His latest mistress?"

Leo cuffed Sam on the shoulder. "She's the Irish ambassador! Jeez, what crawled up your ass? Behave!"

"Sorry, Leo."

The President regarded Sam with a grim smile. "I think that Miss Devlin will soon set you straight, Sam."

Propriety and job security made him hold his tongue, but Sam inwardly rolled his eyes. Ireland was close to his heart, and he didn't want to go through a reception listening to some old woman rattle on about violence as a bargaining technique. He thought about what he'd seen of the country. Maybe it had just been fortuitous, but what he'd seen looked like a picture calendar. Page after page, frame after frame of beautiful sights. He didn't like being reminded that it was also a war zone.

The Presidential party got inside, but in the crush Sam and Josh were separated from Leo and the President. "Nice crowd," Josh cracked.

"Yeah." Sam didn't recognize many people. Many of them had some shade of an accent. "Lot of people."

"Most of them are the President's retinue," Josh responded. "McAleese travels with a lot of people."

"True."

Once inside, Josh winked at his friend. "You know there's really only one thing to do at an ambassadorial reception."

"What?"

"Why, drink of course."

Sam hesitated. "Josh, remember what happened last time you got drunk at a state function?"

Josh shrugged. "I'm sure the chandelier was replaced afterwards. Anyway. Just one. To help lubricate your vocal chords for that interesting discussion."

"Well..." Sam, spying the Glenlivet bottle, capitulated. "Sure, what the hell. Just one."

"Good man."

They sidled up to the bar and ordered one each. As Sam was about to take his first sip, however, he was rudely jostled by a large woman with red hair. "Pardon you, I'm sure," she sniffed in a distinctly Irish voice.

Sam turned back to Josh, now wearing about half the Glenlivet. Josh snorted and tried not to laugh. "Did you see that?" he said, tone rising. Loud enough for the woman to hear, he said, "Isn't that just like the Irish. They're never satisfied with what they have. Even in a small matter like this violence or rudeness is their first defense!"

"Sam –" Josh realized belatedly that his friend's tone was a bit loud.

"And I'm sure the Ambassador will be just as bad! All I need is an old unmarried witch lecturing me about forced protection and figurative economic blockades!"

"Sam –"

"Oh, no, I can just see it. She's going to argue about everything. You know them."

Josh was about to answer when from behind Sam came a rich, plummy Hibernian tone. "Damn, and here I thought Americans were the confrontational ones."

Josh leapt into action. "Miss," he began, apologizing for Sam who had suddenly gone very pale, "I apologize for my friend's rude remarks. It's frustration talking, I assure you."

"That's right, I –" Sam stopped speaking as soon as he turned to confront the voice's owner. From its sound he had expected a middle-aged woman – the voice had been cultured and refined; Oxford-Cambridge at its best. Instead he found himself staring at a wood sprite.

The woman was short; she barely reached his shoulder. Her hair was dark brown or black, not red like Sam would have imagined, but it looked natural. Her thin frame projected an air of respectability and competence as she folded her arms in a defiant pose. Oddly enough, she was smiling. But her most arresting feature was her eyes. They were two orbs of green, peeking out of the snub-nosed face with a surprising brilliance. It was a striking effect. It was strange; aside from the eyes she could have been a mirror image of Laurie.

Sam tried again. "Miss, I really have to apologize," he said, feeling an odd chill as those green spheres met his eyes. "I was just annoyed, and was not speaking for the administration in any way, shape or form."

He had been about to say more, but she cut him off. "It's quite all right, really," the woman said. "I was going to say I find Liadan a frightful bitch myself."

Josh grinned, and Sam hid a surreptitious sigh of relief. "I'm glad you're not upset, Miss." He stuck out a hand in greeting. "My name is Sam Seaborn; I'm the White House Deputy Communications Director."

"Josh Lyman, Deputy Chief of Staff." Josh shook the woman's hand as well.

She was slow to process but eventually worked it out. "Seaborn and Lyman?" she echoed, face breaking into a very pretty smile. "Well, I banjaxed that one, didn't I?"

"Banjaxed..." Sam echoed. "I don't understand, I'm sorry."

"Oh!" The woman smiled. "It's a slang term. What I meant was that I've made a mess of this."

"How so?" Josh asked, intrigued.

The woman stuck out her hand to Sam first, smile still playing on the corners of her lips. "Mr. Seaborn, my name is Flora Devlin."

"Flora – Devlin..." Sam repeated, feeling himself go light-headed. It wasn't possible, maybe, that there was more than one Devlin in the room, was there? Because he could *not* have said that in the presence of the new Irish ambassador to the United States...

Josh laughed weakly. "Uh... Madame Ambassador, it's a pleasure to meet you."

"Likewise," Sam mumbled, trying to avoid her eyes. They were very searching, he thought to himself. It made him nervous.

She laughed, however. "Please, call me Flora. And it's all right, Mr. Seaborn, really."

"Really?" Sam was still hesitant.

"Yes." Flora smiled to reassure him. "Really. Whenever I meet someone who – forgive me – doesn't keep up to date on the issues, I try to teach them a bit."

Sam relaxed just enough to return her smile, if a bit antagonistically. "Teach them your interpretation of the issues?" he asked rhetorically. "Or teach them the truth?"

She smiled at him again. "I'd like to teach the facts... if you'll let me."

Sam flushed, for some odd reason. What the hell to say to that?

Instead, he tried another tack. "It's amazing how much you remind me of my friend."

Josh, sensing a conversation shift, excused himself. "I'm going to go find the President. It was a pleasure, Madame – uh, Flora."

"Likewise, Mr. Lyman."

"Call me Josh!" the latter called as he was swept away by the crowd.

With Josh gone Flora turned her full attention to Sam. "You were saying, I'm sorry?"

"Oh. Well, you just remind me so much of my friend."

"Really." Sam decided that the Irishwoman's smile was decidedly attractive.

"Yeah. Her name is Laurie."

"What is she like?"

"Well, she used to be a call girl, but..." Sam broke off, tardily realizing what that sentence might be perceived as. "Madame Ambassador, I didn't mean..."

She cut him off with a gesture. "Mr. Seaborn, I must insist you call me Flora," she said, fixing him with her steely green glare, yet smiling. "Truth be told, I wish these gatherings were less formal. It's a bit jarring to me."

Sam smiled uncertainly. "Okay, Flora. Then call me Sam. And I assure you, I know the feeling."

"All right. Then let me say, *Sam,* that I understand what you were trying to say. I don't exactly hold your friend's profession against her. I haven't even met her; that would be wrong."

"Okay." Sam smiled timidly, then a bit more convincingly.

He was about to tell her more when a familiar face came up to him. "Sam!" Lord John Marbury shifted his drink to his other hand in order to shake hands with Sam. "So nice to see you again."

"Likewise," Sam said, being as cheerful as possible. Truth be told, the man made him nervous.

"Are you going to introduce me to your charming companion?" Marbury said, slurring his words slightly.

Sam felt his face turn pink again, but wondered at the man's memory. "Lord Marbury, this is Flora Devlin, the Irish ambassador to the United States."

"Pleased to meet you." Marbury raised Flora's hand to his lips.

"Likewise, my lord." She inclined her head to him in a sort of half-bow.

Marbury found it amusing. "Madame Ambassador, how long have you been in politics, may I ask?"

"Nine years," Flora said. "I was on the staff of the MP for Dundalk for some time, and then after I met President McAleese she took me on her staff. She just named me ambassador very recently."

Marbury smiled politely. "Dundalk... that's very close to Northern Ireland, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is."

"Then you must, like President McAleese, have very strong views about the Northern Irish question."

"Indeed I do."

Sam cringed. Marbury was in a state that if he was not completely drunk bordered on it. Plus, he didn't want to get drawn into an argument as he would certainly be.

"It's high time, in my opinion," Flora began, "that the British government stepped up protection and control in Northern Ireland."

It was difficult to tell who was more shocked, Marbury or Sam. The latter was having an extremely difficult time digesting it in particular. This competent, educated woman, on the staff of the President of Ireland... wanted the English to have control over part of the island?

Marbury recovered first. "Madame Ambassador," he said, "The Northern Irish are just that. Irish. Thus shouldn't your President and your government take responsibility for them?"

"Not necessarily." Flora, while keeping her cool outwardly, began to see red. Typically ignorant arguments coming from a high English official did nothing for her equanimity. "What about the religious question, Lord Marbury?"

"What about it?"

The frank exchange of ideas had begun to acquire an audience. Even President Bartlet was listening, unabashed, as the two ambassadors argued.

"We're Catholic. The large majority in Northern Ireland is Protestant. The Northern Irish have shown themselves steadily resistant to having Catholics in power over them."

"Well, do what you've been doing." Even as unstable as the man was, he had a remarkable way of looking acerbic. "Bomb and harass them into submission."

Eyes widening at Marbury's last comment, Sam felt an irrational need to jump in there and start to argue. What the hell? he asked himself. This wasn't high school. Then why did it feel like the school bully was picking on his friend?

Flora was far from defeated. "Like the English militias haven't been doing the same, Lord Marbury," she said. All of a sudden her tone turned harsh. "Let me see if I've got this straight. You'd leave a Protestant majority, and a colony of the Empire for the past two hundred years, adrift on a sea of angry Catholics?" Read like that it sounded like a litany of the seven deadly sins.

"Well, there's really no longer an economic benefit to being there!" Marbury snapped. His temper was growing short. "And how do you figure that your government would be so cruel as to persecute the Protestants in the six counties, Madame Ambassador?" There was a quiet mocking influence on the last two words.

Flora's tone was deadly quiet. "How do you figure that they won't... *my lord?*"

An uncomfortable silence reigned. Sam was impressed, however; it took guts to contradict Lord John Marbury in the midst of the British embassy.

Eventually, President Bartlet broke in, sensing the tension levels. "Miss Devlin, Lord Marbury, that was very refreshing," he said blandly. "Why don't we take our seats, and Lord Marbury, I'll introduce you to President McAleese." Sam made his way to his boss's side just in time to hear him mutter, "If the Oscars were like that, I'd watch." Then he went off with the glowering Flora and a sullen Lord Marbury, leaving Sam staring thoughtfully after them.

 

 

 

 

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