This is my first attempt at fan fic... It's definitely a work in progress, but I would desperately love some feedback before I continue. So, if get a chance to peruse my work, I will be eternally grateful.

Yes to archiving, just let me know.

Pseudonym: Mirilil

PG- 13+.

Ms. Walter goes to Washington.

 

21:45, 18/11/00, Dulles International Airport, Washington D.C.

There she was, a petite, tanned brunette, wearing a sleeveless silk dress and sandals, dark red-brown hair tied back- a little patch of summer on a particularly cold Washington November evening. Sam knew it before she could see the name board he was holding up, he knew because her expression conveyed a strange mix of lost, daunted and don't- mess- with- me.

"Ms. Walter" Sam called out. Her head whipped around to the sound of his voice.

"Mr. Seaborn?" Her accent sounded almost English, with a slight hint of an Aussie drawl.

"It's Sam, I look for my father, when I hear Mr. Seaborn."

I doubt that you do, given your occupation. Leila's internal commentary took on a dry tone. She raised her left eyebrow slightly and smiled. "Thanks for coming to get me, Sam. Call me Leila."

"'Layla' as in the Eric Clapton song?"

"No, it's of Hindu Arabic origin. Their equivalent of Juliet, as in Romeo and, but I have a Jewish first name, just for balance- Miriam. A parental attempt at originality- hope it hasn't doomed me to perennial fence sitting."

"Not from what I've heard."

They had been walking toward the luggage carousel and were now waiting for her luggage to appear. Sam had come to take for granted the streamlined nature of travel associated with Air Force One- embark, depart, fly, arrive and hit the ground running. This waiting around did not sit easily with him and nor did it seem to agree with Leila.

"What have you heard?" Although she headed up the Commonwealth Department of Health, she had next to no public profile in Australia and, naturally, she felt that she flew in circles well below that of Sam Seaborn's radar.

"Just that you have grass roots level experience and theoretical expertise, and well, you have the reputation of being passionate about the job you do. And it wasn't me that got you in on this, it was the FLOTUS herself."

Jesus wept, Leila thought, the first lady, talk about flying below radar. Not.

The crowd had thinned considerably and no luggage had arrived. They both eventually concluded that Leila's luggage had been lost somewhere between LAX and Dulles.

"At least it's in the country- because I know I had it when I came through customs in L.A. and transferred to a domestic flight."

Leila had come on short notice, Leo McGarry, the White House Chief of Staff, had called at the beginning of Novemeber to sound her out about sending a delegate to the President's summit on health care reform later that month. They were, he explained looking at different health care systems. Australia, along with Britain and Sweden had something to teach them.

Since then, however, there had been two cabinet reshuffles in quick succession, consequently, dealing with domestic and department issues had taken up most of her time. It was not until the beginning of this week, when Margaret, assistant to the White House chief of staff, called asking her when she would be arriving, that she realised her somewhat massive oversight. There was no time to brief anybody else, so she had spent Monday morning making sure Adam, her deputy was up to speed, getting the bones of a submission ready, arranging flights, packing for a D.C. autumn and calling her daughter Davida, at boarding school in Sydney. This last part had been especially difficult as this trip meant that she would miss her end of year Speech Night. Losing her luggage on top of that, or rather, misplacing it, as the clerk at the Pam Am desk insisted, had conspired to leave her feeling a little harried. However, the last straw was not carrying her coat on board with her. A decision she had made tomorrow (you have to love that International Date Line),, which in Canberra was a balmy, spring morning.

All she said aloud was: "Bloody typical. My fucking coat was in that bag, I'm gonna freeze my arse off"

"There is a car waiting just outside, and we can drop by the office and see if anybody has some spare clothes to lend you until you get your luggage back." Sam replied, a little taken aback by Leila's pithy round up.

Their drive allowed Leila to take in some of the monuments that dotted the city.

"Their plan worked, then."

"Pardon?"

"The city planners of Washington D.C. are said to have designed the city to overwhelm the foreign visitor... it's quite magnificent."

As they approached the White House, Leila began to feel the effects of the previous twenty four hours and stifled a yawn. She turned to Sam and for the first time observed him closely. Leila could read people too, this skill had been until recent years, a large part of her job.

Sam had all-American good looks, a tan, filled out a suit nicely and could, by reputation, string a few sentences together. He also looked preoccupied and tense.

"I'm sorry I lost my temper at the air port, it's been a very long flight and my brain/mouth filter goes offline when I'm tired."

Sam's face relaxed a little as he smiled. "I thought it was a suitably colourful turn of phrase, given the situation... maybe I could incorporate that into one of the president's speeches."

"Then again, maybe you shouldn't." Leila retorted. Sarcasm will get you everywhere.

They pulled up to the main doors and Sam whisked her through security. They came into an almost deserted West Wing.

Things were not going at all to plan, all she was meant to see were some meeting rooms, maybe the President, say her piece, do the tour and go sight seeing that afternoon and fly home. Leila began to feel a little overwhelmed.

"Donna, Josh's assistant, has found you some desk space but you can worry about that tomorrow, let me go see if anyone remotely your size and gender is in the building"

Sam, rather than just move from place to place, bustled, the man had so much nervous energy, it almost made Leila giggle to watch.

"Uh Sam, while you do that, is there somewhere I can call my office?"

"Sure, um, of course, uh you could use my office."

She motioned towards an office, "this it?"

"Uh, yep, sure is," he stood transfixed for a moment, "I'll go on a wardrobe hunt."

"Thanks." Leila called after his retreating figure, smirked a little, then the sheer embarrassment of the situation gave her a slight case of nausea.

Sam found himself standing outside Josh Lyman's office, at this time occupied by both the man himself and his assistant Donna.

"Sam" Josh greeted him, "'sup?"

"The healthcare reform summit meetings are looking up... well, better than having Al 'we can't sell science' Kiefer jumping in every second word. The Aussie is here, you gotta come meet her. Oh um and Donna, you don't happen to have any clothes in the office do you?"

"Yeah, of course, I always keep a spare change of clothes here, seeing as I spend most of my life here." Donna looked pointedly at Josh, who was busily looking nonchalant and disinterested.

As they arrived back at his office, Leila was sitting hunched over his desk, running her free hand through her hair, which she had undone, hoping that it would go someway to easing the ferocious tension headache she was developing. They waited outside the door but couldn't not hear what was going on.

"Jonathan, you arsehole, we are so royally screwed. When will the Liberals realise that cannibalism isn't the latest and greatest in political strategy? I'm really on the back foot here. Thanks a million. No, really, thank you so much."

"..."

"Disrespect? Let's not forget the life I put on hold for this government, one I didn't vote for, I might add. Not to mention that Davida was coming home from school this weekend after her speech night. Which of course, I will also miss."

"..."

"What am I doing now? Well, sitting in the deputy communications director's office, while the man himself is looking for some suitable clothing, since my luggage got lost and I'm wearing the same little number I wore to work this morning cos I didn't have time to change."

"Yes, 'Mr. Seaborn,' is looking for clothes for me."

"..."

"Now you get the embarrassing part"

"..."

"Yes, you can safely say that I'm not hysterically jetlagged."

Josh smirked.

Sam shrugged his shoulders, she was feisty to say the least.

Leila looked up and realised that she had been playing to an audience. "I will talk to you to tomorrow. Good bye Minister."

"..."

"Yes I will."

"..."

"Don't push me, Jonathan."

"..."

Leila exhaled and through gritted teeth, relented. "OK, I'll say it. Yes, Minister. I'm going now. Good bye."

"And that would be the Commonwealth Minister for health?"

"Yeah, the latest" She rolled her eyes.

Leila looked at Donna, who would have been, easily 5'9'' in bare feet and realised that Donna was at least half a foot taller than she was. Some temporary hemming would be probably be involved. Oh God, make it stop, she begged.

"Hi, I'm Donna Moss, Josh's assistant, I'm sure that Sam and Josh would have remembered their manners eventually, but how much time would be wasted if you had wait for men to get with the program. This is my boss, Josh Lyman."

Leila stood up and shook hands with both Donna and Josh. To Josh she said, "I think I saw you on CNN recently."

"That would have been about the President's secret plan to fight inflation" Sam jibed.

"I wasn't going to mention the context" Leila rejoined, grinning.

"Anyway, enough about me, Donna can fix something up for you, until we bash some Pam Am heads together to get your luggage back. Meanwhile, Donna and I haven't eaten, and I don't think Sam has either... um, so do you want to join us for dinner?" Josh rather hurriedly changed the subject.

"Sure, yeah, ok, but don't go out of your way, I feel like you are all going to a lot of trouble for me."

Donna smiled to reassure her, "I've been trying to get Josh to order in dinner for hours, so if feeding you means I get fed, then believe me, it's no trouble."

So that's how, after roughly 26 hours after leaving Canberra and at midnight, Leila found herself in a bar, drinking Margaritas with senior White House Staff. Leila had been trying to expound the virtues and sheer excitement of cricket to Sam and Josh. They weren't buying it, but Leila put down the trump card of five day test matches being a couch potato's best friend in the world of sport. They had just begun to see the light when her cell phone rang.

Leila got up to find some privacy, but the place was packed, so she sat down again.

Leila answered. "Davy, hi, I'm glad you rang, forgive me?"

"Hi mum, just wanted to check that your flight was ok." Davida patently avoided answering her mother's plea. OK, not forgiven, Leila realised.

"Thanks, yeah, yeah, it was fine, as these things go... guess what, there were only seats left in business class, how bout that for a little good luck?"

"Lucky Bitch."

"How's school?" Davy was in ninth grade at Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar and loved it. She was able to see Leila or her father most weekends, but was more interested in her friends at this time in her life.

"Cool, I got into the under 16 coxless fours."

"That's my girl, so does that mean rowing camp during the hols?"

"Yeah."

"Alright, give Bill a big hug when he comes to give you your lesson tomorrow from me. Take one back for yourself too, while you're there. I'd better go. I love you, missing you already."

"Bye mum, love you too."

Leila flipped her phone closed and quickly wiped her eyes dry. When she looked up all three of her drinking companions were silent.

"Davy, short for Davida, is my fourteen year old daughter," she felt compelled to explain herself, "Bill, my brother, teaches her the violin."

"Who's the father? Josh asked her, rather directly, she felt, this earned him a subtle shove from both Sam and Donna. Nevertheless, it was obvious they both wanted to know.

"Basically, I found freshman love, shared a flat, got pregnant, got over each other and got on with our lives. No hard feelings, he runs the oncology and palliative services unit in an inner city hospital in Sydney, and I have Davida.That's the story so far." Leila felt that the abridged version was enough for now.

She still had to rock up tomorrow and sound at least semi intelligent. It was time to make a move. She stifled a yawn and Donna poked Josh in the ribs.

"I think it's time to go, we have to be up in," she checked her watch, "six hours. I will come by your hotel in the morning with some clothes. What will you do about pyjamas, though?"

"Nah, don't worry about sleepwear, I don't usually bother."

You could hear a pin drop and Leila sincerely wished that her brain/ mouth coordination was slightly less dysfunctional.

"I really do have a shocking case of verbal diarrhoea." Leila, if she blushed, would have. The others, well, Donna giggled and Sam and Josh discretely picked their jaws up from the table, expunging, with minimal success, the image that had just smacked them in the face.

"Righto then, I think a cab would be in order" Leila decided, needing to fill the silence. She went to pick up her bag at exactly the same moment as Josh bent down with the same thing in mind.

"I think it's going to be a pleasure working with you, I hope your stay looks up from here on in." he said, not quite whispering, but clearly meant only for her to hear.

"I'm sure it will, I mean it's looking up already" Even Leila, high priestess of repression and denial as she was, didn't fail to pick up the presence of subtext. They maintained eye contact as they both stood up. Leila's knees felt somewhat wobbly, probably caused by the three or maybe four margaritas she had drunk and the close proximity of the charismatic Josh Lyman.

She stood up, took a deep breath and summoned the will to walk out of the bar, the cold crisp air providing a welcome relief, Donna offered Leila her shawl as they waited for a cab.

As Leila wrapped it about her, smiling her appreciation, she watched Josh and Donna banter. She felt her stomach drop when she realised that there was most definitely a thing between them. Leila actively refused to analyse this reaction. It most certainly did not do. Instead, she looked to Sam, raising her eyebrows and inclining her head toward them.

"It's complicated." Sam replied.

"And when is it not?"

Just then a cab arrived, leaving her question unanswered. As she got in, she handed Donna's shawl back to her.

"Keep it... we can swap tomorrow morning, 7:30 ok?"

"I'll be up and waiting, thanks. See you in the morning. Sweet dreams."

 

19/11/00, 07:30, The Willard Inter-Continental

The phone rang, interrupting Leila's reverie, invoked by the steam rising from her simply appalling coffee.

"Yes."

"Miss Walter, a Miss Moss to see you?"

"It's Ms, and thanks, send her up."

A minute or so later, Donna found Leila, wrapped in a white fluffy robe, fully made up and hair done. Organised and doesn't look a bit hungover or jet lagged, who is this woman? Donna thought.

"I borrowed stuff from my room mate, who is about your height."

"Yeah, I was wondering if I was going to have to tape up the hems so I wouldn't trip... I've always wished I had grown a couple more inches, but it never happened." She shrugged her shoulders in defeat and smiled. "Thanks so much."

Leila picked a charcoal suit with cigarette legs and a high Beatlesque collar.

"I bought shoes as well, but I didn't know your size, so here's hoping."

"And you know what, I probably couldn't tell you, I haven't the faintest idea about American shoe sizes."

A pair of patent leather court shoes with a slight heel, which, against all the odds, did fit, completed the outfit. Leila brushed her hair again, straightened her suit coat, took a deep breath and realised her hands were shaking.

"What I wouldn't give for a cigarette right about now."

"You smoke?"

"No I quit when I found out I was pregnant with Davida and never took it up again... knock on wood"

"Just let me check I have everything that I need, then we can go. Do we pass a café on the way? The stuff they sent up tasted like pigs swill."

Donna laughed and nodded, "Will Starbucks do you?"

"If they have double espressos then I'm already there in spirit. OK, all set, lets mosey."

"Mosey?"

"Just a word my hippy uncle used to say, means to go somewhere."

Leila turned the lights out and put her swipe card in her wallet. Then out they went into a cold D.C. morning; the sky a watery, pale blue.

"We can walk from here can't we?"

"Yeah, and Starbucks is conveniently right on our way."

"It sounds like you frequent that establishment regularly."

"Work with Josh without decent coffee? Now that's a situation incompatible with life."

Donna got her I.D. out of her bag and put it around her neck as they walked in to Starbucks. Leila noticed and wondered if she did it to queue jump, and it did indeed seem to speed the process but not overly so. They got their coffees and continued to walk. Donna explained that the I.D. got the tourists out of the way but the locals are pretty blasé. They probably had higher clearance than her, anyway. Thus the only limited success.

"So, you and Josh seem to get on well" Leila couldn't resist probing just a little. It was the key to her political survival, she always seemed to have a sense of who was doing what to or with whom, and if she were honest with herself, Josh had piqued her interest... just a little.

Leila looked intently at Donna and just maybe there was the slightest blush, subtle, so it was supremely clandestine at most and probably little more than a strong undercurrent between them.

"He's got the biggest ego in the White House, is highly intelligent and he knows it, but he's got a big heart, in summary, infuriating, messy but despite all that, strangely easy to work with."

"Not to mention easy on the eyes."

"Yeah, that too I suppose... but you when you spend the amount of time with a person that I seem to with Josh, you can't objectively say whether they are attractive or not. He's just there, really."

"You sure about that?"

"Positive" Donna paused, then continued, "so, were you really giving that much lip to the Health Minister last night"

Adroit change of subject, Leila conceded.

"Hmm uh huh, I didn't realise I had an audience," Leila looked sheepish. " The department is in this constant power struggle with the Minister, who usually has absolutely no idea about his or her portfolio before it gets handed to them. So they come in with a big stick ready to whip us all into line, but have no idea where or what that line is. We have to tell them where it is and usually try to bring them round to our way of thinking at the same time. Any change of government usually results in the fast tracking of known party sympathisers. In my case, the Liberals, who, by the way, in Australian politics are the conservative party, are holding on to power by the skin of their teeth, and they bought in a liberal, as in the normal definition, in an attempt to make their health policy more palatable to the electorate. The way I see it is that I get a head start at health care reform or at least engage in some damage control before the ALP gets in. Which, fingers crossed, they will next year, otherwise I'm basically maneuvering myself out of a job."

"You're gonna have to tell me more about Australia, It's fascinating...and any bizarre facts you think of that I can annoy Josh with will be much appreciated"

"How bout the Liberal Party/ conservative conundrum?"

"That's definitely a start" Donna had a wicked glint in her eye. "Well we're here, I'll take you to security and get you a temporary security pass, then I'll show you to your office."

"I'm only here for the day, two at most, you really don't need to go to all this trouble."

"It's a done deal."

"Donnatella" Josh's voice booms down the corridor.

"Coming Joshua" Donna turned to Leila and gave her an ironic little shrug which said something to the effect of here we go again, but clearly, it was a routine that Donna could not do without.

Josh came out of his office looking politically astute and vague all at once.

He looked at Leila, "right, hi, ok, let me show you your desk, no view, I'm afraid. Will your assistant be joining you?"

"It being my life, probably no, but you never can tell, I'll let you know."

"Donna will give you a copy of the meeting schedule that we've set up, but, it being the White House and all, the schedule will be blown to all hell by ten am, so just go with the flow."

"The rest of the world doesn't seem to care that politics would be so much more productive if they didn't always want something done five minutes ago."

"Oh believe me, I know." Josh threw her a grin that almost... it so didn't, Leila's conscience interrupted. Yes, it bloody did, countered her libido... floored her. It was as if the sun had come out right there in the office. It faded just as suddenly, however, as he noticed a balding man walking purposefully toward them.

"Josh, I need to see you about that thing, gotta a minute?"

Josh introduced Leila to Toby Ziegler.

"Hello," she smiled at him and then turned to Josh and gestured toward her room. "See you at ten am or thereabouts?"

"Sure, we'll talk later... So Toby, what's up?" He nodded to Leila and then he and Toby walked away.

She sat down at the desk, pulled out her computer and logged on. Despite the bureaucratic stuff up that preceded her trip, Leila had managed to pull together some semblance of a submission to give to the President's committee on health care reform and she set about polishing it till it shone with erudite brilliance.

Leila edited madly, lost in her own world. She was unaccustomed to the various American accents that made up the background noise and hence had difficulty blocking the noise out. And she hated having the door closed, which was why, about an hour a half later, she was singing, off key and, thankfully, under her breath along to Billy Bragg performing California Stars which was playing on her Discman. Josh came past, on his way to the coffee machine and couldn't help but stop, he leant against the door frame, transfixed. Leila eventually looked up and jumped. She swiveled her chair away, ostensibly to turn the CD off, but was also glad of the few seconds it gave her assess the likelihood that Josh had heard her singing. Her conclusion could only be that it was odds on. Oh well, she took a deep breath, worse things happen in politics.

"I'm not late for anything am I?

"No, but you missed your true calling, you could give Billy Bragg a run for his money.

"I'm hoping that that's not his only motivation, cos I'm guessing that his choice of subject matter has knobbled his chances of early retirement."

"True, true. I just came round to say that Leo wants to see us in ten minutes."

"Right, that's Leo as in Leo McGarry."

"Yep. So you want to get a coffee or something?"

"Now? Well, actually, I really need to find the loo... uhh... I mean bathrooms, before I go do my thing."

"Ok, sure, I didn't show you the practical stuff, I guess."

"Well no, but it doesn't matter, Toby wanted to see you about his thing" she raised an eyebrow slightly as she realised her unfortunate choice of words, "and I needed some final prep time."

"So the Ladies, ahh it's down that corridor, fourth or fifth on the right."

Leila picked up her cosmetic bag and stood up. "You'd better tell me where Mr McGarry's office is, too, I guess."

"I'll go annoy Donna till you come back."

Leila thought she was going to have to sidle out the door, but Josh moved out of the way at the last minute.

"Sorry." The word caught in his throat and came out husky. Damn, she smelt good, he thought. Leila looked up at him quickly and then felt she had to avert her eyes, just why, she would file away to think about after the meeting.

Josh walked over to Donna's desk and slouched against the filing cabinet.

"I'm surprised you didn't wear your Tuesday suit, Joshua. I think she would appreciate fine tailoring."

"We've been through this Donna, I don't have suits for days of the week."

"Whatever."

"She certainly different, I'll give you that."

"Are you bothering me for the hell of it, Josh, or is there something you need?"

"No, I'm waiting for her to come back from the bathroom, which, by the way, she called a loo, then we need to go see Leo."

"I know Josh, remember I keep your schedule and I suggested that you tell her as well."

"Fine, put me in my place, why don't you."

"That's my job, Joshua."

"I'll be going then." He stalked off.

Leila came back to pick up her portfolio and found Josh, in an unguarded moment, staring out into the middle distance.

"Shall we go then?" Leila said this quietly, wishing she didn't have to disturb him, he looked so tired.

"We shall." The reanimation was instantaneous and seemingly complete, however, Leila got the impression that Josh was really only going through the motions.

The senior staff and Leila congregated in Margaret's office.

Josh introduced Leila to C.J. "You come highly recommended, Leila, Dr. Bartlet says your masters thesis should be our blue print for health care reform. I'm looking forward to reading it" If C.J. meant to put Leila at her ease, then a different strategy was definitely necessary. Leila prayed her hands were only trembling enough to feel and not see.

"Don't worry, Leo is really a big cuddly kitten underneath the tough guy exterior," Josh whispered as he guided her into the office, his hand almost making contact with the small of her back."

"Why do I feel like this is the biggest job interview of my life, Josh?" she muttered back.

"Cos, it is."

Huh? What was that meant to mean? Leila felt flummoxed now.

"Leila, it's a pleasure to meet you, I'm Leo McGarry, I guess you've met the rest of them." Leila turned toward Leo's desk to find him coming toward her, with his hand outstretched.

"Mr McGarry, it is an honour to meet you." It's an honour? What am I saying? Leila heckled. Can I sound anymore preppy if I tried?

"Call me Leo, please. So let us get down to business. I want to hear your take on the situation. The President has a morning tea at the British Embassy and said to tell you that he'd join us as soon as he'd consumed enough scones to be polite, but to get started in his absence."

Leila reminded herself to breathe and began. "I'm guessing you don't really need a primer on Medicare Australian style. I don't want to spout rhetoric at you till I'm blue in the face, but I am speaking from the perspective of being intimately aquainted with a semi socialised health care system. As a patient, nurse, academic and bureaucrat I am painfully aware that our health care system has it's share of inequities and like any other institution, has it's limitations. It never fails to amaze me though, that despite succesive Liberal- National coalition attempts to dilute it, we still offer free healthcare to every single Australian. I may even seem unfashionably Left on this issue but the very concepts of a free market economy has also done it's bit to destabilise this system. Australian medicare was designed as a safety net. Private health insurance ws encouraged, it took the burden off the budget, it was never the difference between being seen by a doctor, having life saving surgery or medical care and being left in the gutter. A free market does not care about the poor. It pushed up insurance premiums to the point where private insurance is felt by many to be a luxury. Medicare has become overburdened, waiting lists have exploded out of all known parameters and the popular cry in the press is to scrap Medicare, to privatise health completely and render equitable access to health merely an ideal.

The Australian experience offers proof that to a large degree that this is an achievable goal. With a population roughly seven percent of the U.S. and a minuscule GDP, that we have been able to do this and do it for thirty years, lays down the gamut for the richest and most powerful country in Modern History.

Leila spoke evenly, she felt that she must surely be haranguing them. In reality, though, her quiet intensity left the senior staff in awe.

So what I need to know is this, to be blunt, are you looking to merely expand your Medicare infrastructure to pick up votes in uninsured demographics and reduce the HMO's stranglehold over health delivery mechanisms? Or are you willing to go further and be the first nation to truly embrace the tenets of the U.N. Alma-Ata, Ottawa and Jakarta Declarations?"

"You're referring to a primary health care model?" Leo sought clarification.

"Yes, that's right... but I need to know your capacity for courageousness. Do you want deliverable, concrete policy or rhetoric that makes half-arsed change look like real reform? I am willing and able to help with any of these scenarios. Honestly, though, given that this is the Bartlet administration, I'm hoping you'll be at least as courageous as you were on the appointment of Mendoza and campaign finance reform. You have the opportunity here to do lasting good for every single U.S. citizen. It may also make you vulnerable. Needless to say, someone will be pissed, probably, strong financial interests like the pharmaceutical industry, health insurance companies and even some quite influential, members of the medical profession. However, I can pretty much vouch for the nurses being in favour of reform." Leila smiled.

"Josh, what do you think?" Leo asked, appointing himself referee.

"Well, she's right, we do need to work out our courage capacity"

"I've always aimed for not being 'half-arsed'", Toby looked at Leila and gave a gentle, considered smile. "Lets go all the way with this, aim to get it through both houses and decide the compromises we are willing to make, as we proceed."

"For my two cents worth," CJ put in, "recent polling implied that a change in the way we look at health as a concept could bolster community support for other battles we're trying to fight. Drug treatment and mandatory minimums, need I say more?"

"I'm just thinking that there's going to be some excruciating meetings with Republican scum involved. Sounds good to me." Sam nodded his head emphatically.

At this point, President Bartlet opened the door between the Oval Office and Leo's. "Leo, Josh, can I see you in here for a second. Hello Ms Walter, I'm sure it will be lovely to meet you, please excuse this interruption. We won't be long."

Leila felt as if she staggered to her feet and only had time to utter "Good morning, Mr. President, yes of course." And the door closed again.

Sam turned to Leila and gave her a discrete thumbs up. This gesture reminded her of Josh's last comment as they came into the meeting. Two and two were no where near being in the same ball park as four.

Meanwhile, President Bartlet was direct. Well, is Abby right?

Leo responded dryly, "she knows her stuff, Sir, and she's eminently politically astute."

"The only thing is, Sir," Josh interjected, "she has fourteen year old daughter. She's a single mom. I'm not sure she'll be willing to take it on."

"Is that your only objection, Josh?" President Bartlet asked him.

"Yes Sir, like Leo said, she's our gal."

"Well no harm in asking then." President Bartlet went to the door but paused, "what is her daughter's name?"

"Davida,"

Jed Bartlet nodded.

He opened the door and Leila stood, somewhat more gracefully than the first time around.

"Ms. Walter, it's a pleasure to meet you. I understand you arrived safely last night?"

"Mr. President, thank you for inviting me, yes, I arrived last night, sir. Please call me Leila."

"Leila. Hindu –Arabic version of Juliet, I believe." Leila nodded. "Anyway, I'm dying to get this out of the way. Leo has a proposition to make."

Leo took up his cue. "I'm afraid we bought you out here under slightly false pretenses, we were hoping that you could join our staff on a longer term basis. Mrs. Bartlett is convinced you had the right combination of knowledge and political nous, and you have more than persuaded me of the fact. So are you willing to devise a thorough and implementable health policy based on the primary health care model?"

"Now take your time, I understand, of course, that your daughter, Davida, is an important part of this decision for you." President Bartlet counseled her. He went on, "but please let me assure you that no effort will be spared in helping you both to settle in."

"And I thought I was too hard line." Leila said, not quite realising that she had spoken aloud. The senior staff laughed."

"I accept, Sir" Leila's throat went dry, "I serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States."

President Bartlet shook her hand. "Welcome to the West Wing. Abby, my wife, is dying to meet you."

"The feeling is mutual, Mr. President, thank you again."

Leila could not remember how she got back to her office, but she must have because Josh found her staring out of her window, stunned. The implications of this were huge. This was exactly the right step to take, career wise. On the other, slightly weightier, hand, she had already dragged Davida to the UK for two years. Could she disrupt her life again?. She knew that she would always feel guilty about boarding school and she wasn't at all sure she could bear to live half way around the world from her.

Josh came into her office. "Donna tells me you like Malaysian food. Shall we go and find ourselves some lunch?"

"Wha?" Leila turned round. "Oh, hi Josh, yeah I think I need to eat, I'm feeling rather dizzy. Never thought I'd be designing a health care system for 274 million people. It's going to take some getting used to.

 

12:30, 19/11/00 Café Asia.

Josh and Leila had both ordered and were waiting for their food. The waitress served Jasmine tea in traditional cups and Leila was sipping carefully at the almost boiling water.

"Your oesophagus is made of, what, asbestos?"

"No, I just really hate tepid tea, it turns my stomach."

"Fair enough"

"Josh, I want to clarify something I said last night, you know when I said I saw you on CNN?" Josh nodded. "Well it wasn't when you unveiled the secret inflation fight. I saw an indepth feature on you just after the shooting. I didn't want to correct Sam last night, I would have bungled it. I was in a bit of a state."

"I would never have guessed." Josh quipped, wondering where the hell this was going. His defenses rising

"Anyway, all I wanted to say, is that I'm kind of relieved to see you in one piece. I was a pretty horrific injury."

"Thanks," was all that Josh managed to get out, he didn't like to admit that it was all still so raw.

"How's the rehab going?"

"If rehab is 16 hour/ 6 cups of coffee days, then just peachy."

"That sounds like helping to run a country. Not rehab."

"I'm talking to an ex nurse aren't I?" Josh smirked, he had regained the upper hand over his fragile psyche.

"I still am a nurse. I've kept up my registration over the years, I try and do a few casual shifts every month. Keeps me sane and stokes the flames of passion. I see how shitty it is on the coal face and it reminds me why I got into politics in the first place."

"And you sleep when? That's pot calling the kettle black."

"Lifetime member of workaholics anonymous, me."

The waitress bought their food over. The Laksa was surprisingly good, the richness of the coconut milk balanced with just the right amount of chilli oil, the chicken pieces were tender, the tofu light and fluffy. Leila expertly added the right mix of fresh chilli and nam pla.

" So, you eat a lot of Asian food?"

"Ja, mostly, suits the climate and is really quick to prepare. Davida loves stir frys and I just add more chilli for me."

They ate in companionable silence for a little while. Each of them pondering the consequences of the morning's events.

"I think Jonathan's gonna be pissed about all of this." Leila mused.

"All of this, being the new job?"

"Uh huh."

"Well, we could put in a request to second you over here for the duration of the project. That might help smooth over the waters."

"I think he'd conveniently lose the request. There is a federal election next year, which they look like losing and he just got the health portfolio a month ago. He'll go into melt down if he hears that I'm leaving."

"So are you in the middle of campaigning?"

"For a liberal? Sweet Jesus,no, I report to him as head of the department, I'm so not on his political staff."

"Donna told me about the conservative/ Liberal party paradox."

"Australian politics is full these rich oddities."

"My Laksa is really good, thanks for bringing me here."

"No worries." She likes the restaurant. Does this have implications? I hope it has implications. Hang on, how is this is relevant? Maybe it was the chilli in his noodle dish, but thoughts were zinging round Josh's head thirteen to the dozen. "I'm ashamed to admit it, but I couldn't think of anywhere else in D.C. that served anything remotely Malaysian."

"I guess I've been spoilt, when I worked at the New South Wales Labor Council, China town was a block away and I got to be a bit of a connoisseur of the chew and spews."

Josh almost choked on a Hokkien noodle, "you don't often hear connoisseur and 'chew and spew' in the same sentence... I'm almost afraid to ask."

"Oh, it's just one of those food courts that have various Asian cuisine, like Vietnamese, Malaysian and so forth... you have to wonder about the hygiene of those tiny kitchens, hence the chew then the spew."

"Charming."

"Thought you'd appreciate it."

"So why are you prepared to resign even though you think Labor will get in?" Josh wanted to dig around a little.

"I believe two things about U.S. government and why I should be here. Firstly, that whether we like it or not, and trust me, most of the time we resent it like hell, America is the political leader of, as you say, the free world. Consequently, the flow on effect to places like Australia will benefit Australians more than anything I can do at home where it feels like half of the time I'm pissing in the wind."

Josh chuckled, "eloquently put."

"Yeah, well, I call it how I see it."

Leila looked at her watch, "hadn't we better get back? That schedule said you were meant to be listening to the British submission after lunch."

"I told you the schedule would be scrap paper by ten am, didn't I? Well, no where on that schedule did it say offer Leila a job, did it?"

Josh looked immensely pleased with himself. The situation had played out just the way he and Leo had planned. Leila's submission had allowed the senior staff to see her in politico mode rather than out to impress, say the right thing, job interview mode. All on four margaritas, six hours sleep and a plane trip half way around the world in the last 36 hours.

"So I guess this is 'Machiavellian Josh'?"

Josh laughed "I'm so gonna kill her when we get back to the office."

Leila motioned for the check. "Lunch is on the Australian Department of Health, I'll consider it a parting gift."

She put down the department Amex on the tray and it came to her how much it had bothered working for a Liberal government. Many of her cynical pronouncements about the state of Australian politics had more than just her warped sense of humour as their genesis, they also reflected just how ready Leila was for a new challenge. And what a challenge this was going to be.

Leila finalised the account and stood up. She was ready to face this.

"OK, let's go, I've got a resignation letter to write."

 

TBC

 

 

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