DISCLAIMER: As per all my work not mine, no money whatsoever, just some writing fun and hopefully reading pleasure
.they are all.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Brave New World
It had been a strange week for everyone who worked at the White House, but for some, it had been stranger for others. For many of Bartlett's senior advisors, it was a time of celebratory relief, relief that now, after eight years of hard work and sleeplessness, their legacy was being handed over to another of the same political colour and standpoint: Matt Santos was no Jed Bartlett, but he was a Democrat, and that was the important thing. Now, as the Inauguration happened, many were packing up the final box, checking behind that last cabinet for the long lost photograph, soaking up the atmosphere one final time: it was time to leave your post...unless you had orders to stay.
For all the administration upheaval that was happening upstairs in the West Wing, there were some small corners of the White House for whom business was as usual. The Military Intelligence community who kept watch on the world from the bowels of the building were still watching; the Secret Service who kept watch on the world from the boundaries of the building were still watching...and Gino, the Senior Steward of the White House Mess, he was still watching the people who passed through his Mess, snatching a quick salad or, in the case of the blonde in the corner, watching her iced tea become, well, no longer iced.
Staring into the depths of her iced tea, absently scratching patterns in the condensation on the glass sat Kate Harper, her shoulders set stiffly as they became re-accustomed to the unfamiliar weight of her uniform, a uniform that had remained unworn for so long but which had miraculously still fit her after all these years of 'civilian' life: uniform that had once felt so comfortable and natural now felt somehow wrong, like a costume, increasing her general feeling of not fitting in that was once again re-asserting itself after four years of gradual fading during Bartlett's second term.
"Excuse me? I don't suppose that this locale which was once the Mess is continuing to be designated such an environment even after the administration change which is currently being undertaken as I speak?"
"What?" For the consummate and experienced professional that Gino was, the fact that he forgot himself and spluttered was a testament to how convoluted and strange the question had sounded.
"I asked if this location is still operating as its previous function as was familiar to the Bartlett administration or whether the incoming Santos Administration had necessitated a period of upheaval and transference to another place..." repeated the blonde who was standing just inside the door, clutching a briefcase to her with both hands, her eyes wide as if struggling to comprehend the reality she was currently standing in.
"I, Miss, I..."
"She means is this still the Mess or has Santos had it moved..." translated Kate, having listened and remembered every word of the remarkable questions, despite never having looked up from her drink or given any indication of being remotely aware of her surroundings, never mind the behaviour of others.
"Yes, it is. Would you like a drink Ma'am?" asked Gino, his composure recovered.
"I'll have some of that rather warm looking iced tea, assuming that the liquid was originally served well chilled, and, should you still have them at your disposal, two of your fresh muffins, a fruit flavour if possible, although a seeded muffin would be an acceptable substitute."
"Of course...Ms Hayes." Gino prided himself on never forgetting an order and, with the request for fruit muffins, he remembered who the extraordinary blonde was. Evidently, she and her prodigious appetite had returned for President Santos.
"Thank you...are these vacant seats unclaimed?"
Looking up from her tea, Kate Harper was surprised to discover the blonde woman was attempting to sit with her. Not normally one for company, Kate decided she had to give her marks for determination, taking on an obviously anti-social Naval Commander was a bold or stupid decision. Given that the woman was obviously a White House old hand who was joining the new team, Kate decided to be generous,
"Thank you." Dropping elegantly into her seat, she stuck her hand out, "Ainsley Hayes, the new White House Counsel."
Despite her reluctance to interact with people in a social setting, Kate knew when to turn on her social skills, and the White House Counsel was someone you certainly didn't look to antagonise, or come to the attention of.
"Kate Harper..." She had been about to introduce herself as the Deputy NSA, only for the gold braid on her cuff to distract her, reminding herself that was no more.
"You used to work at the NSA, but that would seem to no longer be the role you are currently fulfilling as that position is incompatible with the uniform you are currently wearing, indicating your return to a naval career."
"Do you ever speak in short sentences?"
"Can you answer a question using only one word without asking a counter-question?" asked Kate, slightly sharper than she'd intended, although her surprise guest didn't seem to take offence.
"Yes." The smirk suggested that Ainsley Hayes, White House Counsel, had a sense of humour.
"Good." Canting her head to one side, Kate took a sip of her drink, not really noticing how it had been ruined by the temperature change.
"The question of the moment however, not whether I can answer a question as you stipulate, but whether you are capable of phrasing such a interrogation."
There was one thing, Ainsley would later discover and that was never to challenge a Naval Officer to a competition at anything, not even if you were a lawyer of some skill; right now, she was about to discover you should probably avoid challenging a former CIA agent to an interrogation competition.
"Did you work for President Bartlett's Administration?"
"Did you have an office in the building?"
"Did you work in the West Wing?"
"No." Smirking, Ainsley leant back in her chair and demurely adjusted her jacket, enjoying the spark of challenge she could see in Kate's increasingly bright eyes.
"You worked in the Steam Pipe Distribution Room and like Gilbert and Sullivan."
"Is that a question or a statement?" asked Ainsley, not sure how to react to the depth of information Kate seemed to have at her fingertips.
"A statement." Satisfied, Kate also leant back in her chair, as Gino delivered the plate of muffins and two new glasses of iced tea.
"Thank you..." she acknowledged, not sure Gino could cope with whatever lengthy response Ainsley might spout.
"Yes, Thank you."
"So, Commander..." There was a pause as Ainsley took a generous bite of muffin, a pause that many would have tried to fill with nervous movement and noise, but not Kate, who merely waited for whatever was coming next, "...how do you know about me?" Ainsley deliberately kept her question as abrupt as possible, sensing that it was all part of the game they were now playing.
"CJ Cregg told me."
"She did? Why?"
"She thought I'd like to know you."
"Ah..." Ainsley took another large bite of muffin, before scrutinising Kate, who unsurprisingly, didn't react under the intense look.
"Based on CJ's intervention, it leads me to the logical conclusion that we must share some common foundation which, during the upcoming chaos that is characteristic of anything that has Joshua Lyman as the leading participant, might facilitate the development of a close bond between the two of us that may even evolve into something resembling a friendship, forged as it were, against a common source of adversity."
"Josh is scared of you as well?" asked Kate, canting her head in curiosity.
"So I am informed by Sam Seaborn. It has something to do with a fear of my politics and an inability to rationalise my appearance with my intellect."
"The issue at hand is therefore to establish the basis on which CJ's intervention is founded. It is likely to be something far more subtle than just our colouring and gender, and it is no doubt significant that she encouraged me to seek out you at the earliest opportunity, preferably at a location where there would not be eavesdroppers or interrupters."
"Not many people are in the mood for lunch today," agreed Kate, watching Ainsley attack her second muffin, idly pondering what sort of fitness regime the lawyer must attempt to adhere to if she was going to continue consuming muffins at her current rate over the next four years.
"I have a fast metabolism...are you a lesbian too?"
There were many things Kate prided herself on having, and the ability to maintain her composure in the most trying of circumstances was at the top of that list, a list that was now in tatters as said composure deserted her.
"I am attempting to draw a conclusion on the significance of our meeting early and in private. It is not a secret that I am a Republican with bipartisan leanings, nor is it unexpected that you, as a serving member of the military, also have the potential for Republican tendencies in light of historic attitudes towards military spending. That you frighten Josh does not warrant enough of a coincidence to justify CJ's interest in our meeting, nor does the interesting point that, despite the Santos administration not wishing to appoint you as National Security Advisor, the United States Navy requires you to continue to be at the heart of any advice given on decisions involving our nautical assets, which could be interpreted as equally controversial as my own existence in this Administration."
"Yes." Unable to withstand Ainsley's rambling any longer, Kate took both of them out of their misery.
"Yes, your first assumption is correct."
"And one I will never repeat, now that has been confirmed to me."
"You're odder than me in a rather attractive way."
"Yes, which is something I..." Suddenly not sure what to say, Kate lapsed into silence, unused to having these sorts of conversations with people as compelling as Ainsley.
"I would be delighted to accept your invitation for drinks somewhere private and away from public observation for reasons of professional decorum rather than unseemly haste in pursuit of anything stronger than friendship."
"Yes, although there is one condition on this otherwise unconditional acceptance of your somewhat appealing offer of social engagement at some point in the near future."
"I've always found the cut of the United States regulation dress for nautical personnel to be somewhat interesting, especially when worn by those of a female persuasion who have had successful careers and attained numerous medals in recognition of their heroic activities during their rise in rank and status."
"You find female Naval Officers with war wounds attractive?"
"And the condition of our social drinks is that I need to wear my uniform?" asked Kate, regretfully noting that she was having to head back to her office for a meeting in a little over two minutes.
"Quite the opposite situation Commander."
"A girl likes to be kissed on a date, Commander."
"Oh..." It was probably one of the most straightforward statements Ainsley had delivered during their acquaintance, but it caused Kate's brain scramble the most.
"A date Kate," repeated Ainsley, gathering her briefcase, conscious she had better find her new office and settle in. The Administration had officially existed for three minutes, which was surely long enough for the White House Counsel to be needed for something.
"Right, a date," agreed Kate, politely rising to her feet, also conscious she needed to depart, although her brain was still scrambled.
"I have a propensity to enjoy Pink Squirrels," announced Ainsley, before smiling at Kate and leaving, sure she would be hearing from the blonde again, glad she had followed CJ's advice and sought out the intriguing former-spy on her arrival.
"Pardon me Ma'am?" asked Gino respectfully, only coming into the room as Kate exhaled loudly in confusion at Ainsley's parting comment.
"Nothing..." Smiling distractedly at Gino, Kate gathered her papers and exited the Mess, determined to ring CJ as soon as the former Chief of Staff had arrived in California and relocated her cell phone...she had to thank her friend for the advice...and find out what the hell a pink squirrel was...maybe, just maybe, the new world she was looking at wasn't as unpleasant as she'd first feared, having to face it alone, at the forefront of the Naval charge into a Marine-led world...or maybe, just maybe, she was feeling braver, and a little less alone in this new world...a world now containing Ainsley Hayes.
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