Work Header

The Request

Work Text:

EPISODE 8.11 - Written by Aim





"I am sorry it must be this way, Mr. Ambassador, but we can no longer guarantee the safety of your troops in our country. The things once only said by extremist fringe groups are increasingly accepted in the mainstream. It is a volatile situation that my government fears will only get worse since the recent election of certain extreme elements to the people's parliament," the Qumari Foreign Minister shrugged his shoulders and held his hands out palm upward to emphasis his powerlessness. "We are greatly concerned about the ramifications of an incident."

"An incident?" The US Ambassador repeated, almost choking on the word.

"If something were to happen involving an American serviceman," the Foreign Minister explained. The Ambassador wondered if it was possible for a man's voice to actually have the smooth consistency of champagne cake or if he was merely imagining it. "Mr. Ambassador, I accept that my predecessor was a terrorist and a traitor. There are those who feel you did us a favor by executing him, but there are those coming to power who feel differently and there are those in the general population who feel that Minister Shareef was a true patriot, Mr. Ambassador. The recent elections were an indication of just how popular he was."

"It's a military base, we can't just give you thirty days notice and then move," the American objected. "In fact, we have a lease authorizing us to be there for the next ninety years and you can't argue that your country doesn't need us here, showing the flag and keeping the Straits open and moving."

"Mr. Ambassador, all I can do is suggest you take our letter to your President."




"There's nothing I can do. I'm sorry." Dr. Perez bowed his head and pulled the blanket over the young woman's head to avoid looking at the family gathered in the small clinic.

The clinic's director stepped between the American doctor and the woman's husband, ushering the family outside into the darkness and allowing the nurses to move the body out of the clinic's small infirmary.

The woman had died after only a few days of treatment, her husband unwilling to seek medical attention for her until the situation had become dire. The cancer they'd discovered had spread too far to be treated; the only thing doctors could do was try to discover the cause and insure there was no threat to public health.

There was, of course, but there was nothing the clinic could do about it. The social mores of this small, mostly rural and tribal country allowed for men to be sexually promiscuous and were unyielding that women would submit to their husbands. So HIV and other STDs spread from prostitutes to married men and then on to their wives. This women's husband was a truck driver, where he'd acquired a case of HPV along with dinner at a rest stop one night. There was no such thing as gynecological care in this small country on the Red Sea, so the disease had progressed, as it was prone to, into cervical cancer and then spread throughout the woman's body before she became so ill she could no longer get out of bed to cook breakfast. It was only when she would no longer breastfeed her young son that her husband borrowed his brother's dilapidated Toyota pickup and drove her to the regional health clinic.

Dr. Perez slipped from the infirmary and walked slowly to the quarters he shared with the two other doctors from the non-governmental organization he did non-profit work for.

"She die?" Dr. Hanson asked. They'd been expecting it since the woman had arrived. The only thing they had been able to do was make her comfortable.

"A few minutes ago, yeah."

"Bloody waste," the old Brit muttered. "Too bad they can't just air drop a load of that new HPV vaccine over here."

"Except that would cost the drug companies money."

"Chris, that's not entirely fair," Jeff Perez protested half-heartedly as he sat on his bunk and pulled his boots off.

Chris Martin snorted and raised his head to look at his friend. "You can use that line when you stop sending patients to Toronto to get prescriptions from me at half what they're paying in Houston."

"The approval came what, five or six months ago? A year or so of gouging insurance companies and they ought to be ready to write off a few cases of it for use in the wilds of Third World Africa." Jeff lay back and closed his eyes.

"Too bad there's not a way to make that happen faster," Dr. Hanson muttered into the darkness.



It would have been fastest to send a cable, the Ambassador knew, but even with today's high secure encryption technologies, secure telephone links and satellite transmission systems, he knew he'd have to explain this in person. So he'd made the decision to sit on it overnight and leave first thing in the morning.

He sent a cable to the Secretary of State, letting him know he was on his way back to the U.S. with a critically important message, and then he briefed the CIA station chief and his own deputy and told them both to keep their mouths shut unless something happened to him, grabbed his bag and headed for the port.

The Navy had a pre-arranged protocol for getting him out of the country in a hurry if he needed to, and within nine hours of the Qumari Foreign Minister's visit the Ambassador was aboard a government Gulfstream jet on the first leg of a long trip home.



"Stop playing around and eat your breakfast," Helen admonished. She'd left the breakfast table for five minutes and returned to find her children chasing each other around the room.

"Miranda started it!" Peter whined.

"No, I didn't!" his little sister cried in her own defense.

"I don't care who started it, sit back down and eat your toast. You're going to be late for school." Helen pointed uncompromisingly at their places at the table until both children sat down again.

"I hate school." The boy's complaint was accompanied by a throat-clearing cough that caught Helen's attention.

The cough had developed in the spring, but had never progressed into anything worse. She'd mentioned it to the kids' pediatrician when he'd graciously come to Washington a couple of weeks ago to do their back-to-school physicals, and Dr. Perez had thought perhaps it might be a beginning symptom of asthma, but in the absence of any other symptoms such as wheezing or shortness of breath or even feeling bad, he didn't want to overreact to what might just be an odd childhood tic. He told Helen to keep an eye on Peter and if the boy developed any other symptoms to give him a call immediately and he'd fly up to check things out.

Helen observed her son as he sullenly chewed his toast. He had been struggling at the end of the last year and she was worried it had coincided with her increased visibility and workload as First Lady. As much as she was enjoying the work she was doing, she promised herself nothing would come before her own kids.

"It's a short day today, Peter. You'll ease back into it." She gave him an encouraging smile.

"Mrs. Santos?" The lead agent on the kids' detail appeared as though on cue. "It's time to leave."



"So they're working on a settlement?" Santos asked.

"That's what Ainsley and Sam are telling me," Josh replied as the two men relaxed before the day began in earnest. "I told them to get it resolved as peacefully and quietly as possible. Based on what I've been briefed on we could let it go to trial and win it with no problem, but I don't think that's the politically expedient thing to do. I think we throw a little goodwill in that direction and put a gag order in the settlement and try to soothe the hard feelings."

"What would you have suggested if I hadn't blown the Mt. Saint Helen's call?" Matt asked. He knew the only reason Josh was capitulating on the environmental lawsuit was because people in that area were affected by ash from the [volcano] eruption.

"If we," Josh stressed the plural, "hadn't missed that, I would have entertained other options, but this is the best choice for the circumstances."

"Mr. President?" Ronna opened the door and interrupted.


"Secretary Vinick is on line six, sir. He says it's urgent."

"Arnie?" Matt shot Josh a quizzical look and stood up to get the call. "I just had a national security briefing that said God was in his heaven and all was right with the world. What can be urgent at the State Department?" Matt picked up the phone and punched the button for line six. "Arnie? What's going on?"

Josh rose from his seat and approached the President, concerned by the look on his face.

"Okay, Arnie. I'll see him as soon as he gets in," Matt said and then hung up the receiver.

"What's up?" Josh asked.

"There was critical cable waiting for him when he got in this morning from one of our ambassadors saying that he was coming home immediately via military transport and needed to speak with me the minute he got here."

Josh couldn't help the sinking feeling in his stomach. "The ambassador to where?"





"Qumar?" Josh repeated. "The Ambassador to Qumar is coming home and…"

"Needs to speak with me as soon as he gets here," Matt finished, nodding his head. "What do you think?"

"Could be anything," Josh hedged. "Maybe he wants to quit."

"You think he sent a critical cable and commandeered a military flight home because he wants to quit?"

The two men stared at each other until Josh shook his head. "This can't be good."

Matt agreed. "Arnie said it'd be a few more hours before he gets here."

"We should probably give General McClain and Secretary Brenton a head's up. I'll give them a call; tell them we'll want them here when the Ambassador gets here." Josh noticed the President's slight fidgeting and knew the man wanted answers now. "Otherwise, I guess we just go about the day and wait."

"We just wait?"

"We can't do anything until we know what's going on."

"So we wait," Matt exhaled. "And I take my meeting with the guys from OMB."

"And I'll go call the Pentagon."



Otto stared at the blank, mocking screen of his laptop before finally giving voice to his frustration. "ARGH!" he screamed, letting his head fall forward onto his desk, missing the computer by maybe an inch.

"What the hell?!" Lou shouted from her adjoining office. She appeared in his doorway before Otto could pick his head up. "What? What is the matter with you? For the past three days, it's been argh this and er that and eh and piss and moan and whine. For the love of God, what do you want?"

"It's this speech! I'm not energized. I'm not inspired. I can't find my groove, my mojo, my spark!" Otto shot her the most pathetic look she'd ever seen in the workplace. "Lou, do we even like trial lawyers?"

Lou rolled her eyes. "Yes. You know why? Because the ABA is hosting a fundraiser for the President in New York and he's going to give a speech there that's going to amuse and entertain them. And you're going to write it."

"I can't write," Otto moaned. "I've lost my mojo."

"Find it," Lou ordered. "Or go down to K-Mart and get some discount mojo on a blue light special."

"Blue light special?"

Lou growled a warning. "Making me feel old isn't going to help you find your mojo."

"Right. I'm just going to take a walk and see if a change of scenery helps." Otto gestured over his shoulder.

He wandered out of Communications and down the hallway. The sound of voices in the Roosevelt Room gave him pause, but once he realized it was Sam and Ainsley, Otto kept going. The last thing the Deputy Chief of Staff needed to know was that he hadn't come up with a topic for Friday night's speech yet.



"Why do you think this is a fair settlement?"

"I don't think it matters so much that it's fair as that it resolves the problem," Sam replied.

"The problem?" Ainsley arched her eyebrows.

"Yes, the problem," Sam repeated, preparing to explain to her what he felt the problem was.

"The problem," Ainsley interrupted. "is that these people are upset that the Umatilla Chemical Depot was put on the base closure list and the area lost a lot of good civilian jobs because of it, and these people aren't happy with the idea of a biodiesel refinery replacing it."

"But a biodiesel refinery has good jobs," Sam rebutted.

"It only has sixty good jobs, Sam, they lost upwards of 600 jobs when the Depot closed. I'm sorry, there was no collusion between the Department of Defense, the EPA and this energy company, so there's no basis for this lawsuit. You and I both know that all we have to do is stand that EPA guy up in front of a judge or a jury and this case is over. Why are we even entertaining the idea of a settlement?"

"We have to give these people something." Sam had his instructions from Josh and they were to stop messing around with this lawsuit. It had been hanging out on the periphery for too long. If they needed to settle it to make it go away, that's what needed to happen. He had quietly approached the appropriate Congressman, letting the man know just how strong the government's case was but indicating they might be amenable to a settlement and the next week an offer had been made by the plaintiffs.

"We can't conclusively prove there was no environmental or health impact from the chemical disposal done at the Depot," Sam continued.

"Have you and your fiancée been talking about this case at home again?" Ainsley asked, her high-pitched, Southern drawl giving the accusation a strangely sweet quality.

"NO!" Sam protested. "I know better than that."

Ainsley folded her arms across her chest and looked at him pointedly.

"No, we haven't." Sam denied it again while returning her stare. "But I think it's a valid point. We have no idea what the Army disposed of out there and we're depending on the EPA to tell us everything has been cleaned up when they don't even know what to test for. Am I the only one who sees the problem there?"

"Sam, if we settle this we give precedent for everyone who has ever lived near an Army base to sue! The government doesn't have that kind of money," Ainsley objected.

"So part of the settlement is a gag order with not just a monetary fine for breaking it," Sam suggested. "Ainsley, this is a good deal. In the end, it's less money than we'd spend litigating the case."

Ainsley gave Sam a long look. There was something else at play here. Sam was probably getting pressure to put this thing to bed, she figured. If she were honest with herself, it was past time to be done with it. They'd been sparring with the plaintiff's attorneys for six months over discovery motions and depositions. "The government admits no wrong-doing and we insert the gag order you were talking about."

Sam grinned. "I'll tell the Josh and the President. You make the changes and we'll present it to the other side later in the week."

"Who brought you the settlement, by the way?" Ainsley asked as they gathered their paperwork.

"Lauren," Sam admitted.

"Do you think she thinks this is a good deal?"

Sam remembered the angry look on her face when she'd shoved the paperwork into his hands. "I doubt it. She didn't look happy when she left last Friday."

Ainsley smirked. "Maybe we're getting a better deal than I thought we were."

"That EPA guy scares the hell out of them." Sam smiled. He couldn't help the way he felt when Ainsley smirked at him like that. It was so much more comfortable than the way he'd felt last Friday when Lauren had smacked the settlement on his desk and the way she'd cold-shouldered him all weekend. He'd thought things were getting better between them. He'd been making a valiant effort to be home earlier, to make more time for the two of them, to talk about setting a date for the wedding, but none of it seemed to matter. Things just hadn't been improving between them. He was starting to wonder how Josh and Donna were managing to keep their relationship together.



"Ma'am?" Donna said gently, trying to return the First Lady's attention to the conversation at hand.

"Hmm?" Helen looked at Donna and Annabeth expectantly and then realized she had spaced out. "I'm sorry. It's the kids' first day back at school and I think it's harder on me than it is them at this age. What were you asking?"

"We need to confirm you going with us on the trip to Hamilton at the end of the week to check on the pilot volunteerism program. Like we've talked about before, it would just be a day trip, out and back by the time Peter and Miranda get home from school. In fact, I think it's scheduled for the same day as the President's trip to New York for the ABA conference. It would be a nice opportunity for you to get out on your own and see how your initiatives are working first hand."

Helen frowned. Normally she'd jump on the opportunity, but it was the first week of school and she didn't like to stray far from the kids until she was sure they were settled in their new classes. "I just don't know, Donna. Let me think about it some more. Have you heard from Ms. Quinn about how the program is working?"

"She was very enthusiastic about the idea when I talked to her at the McBain's clambake, but I haven't spoken with her since we did the initial program set-up in July. It usually takes a couple of months to get a feel for whether the pilot program is successful in something like this, though, so I'm not too concerned. We've also lined up a number of other prominent supporters for the next phase." Donna let the trip go for the moment. She'd try again when it was just the two of them and she could press the First Lady harder.

"We should check with the West Wing and see if they've got anything going on that we can coordinate this program with," Annabeth suggested.

"That's a good idea," Helen nodded.

"I'm having lunch with Josh today; I'll talk to him about it," Donna said.



"I need to cancel lunch," Josh told Donna over the phone. "We've got a situation and there's a meeting. I don't know how long it will last or what my day will look like when it's over. I'm sorry."

"I understand," Donna replied. She knew he wouldn't cancel on her unless it was important. "Can you tell me what's going on?"

"I can't right now. I wish I could." Josh wasn't exaggerating. One of the things he missed most about having Donna in his office was having her as a sounding board, but until he knew what was going on in Qumar, he couldn't talk about it at all. "Maybe when I get home tonight I can."

"Do you think you'll be late?"

"Honestly? I don't know. It's pretty vague right now."

"Okay. Let me know if you can."

"Thanks," Josh smiled into the receiver, grateful for Donna's understanding. "I'll call you later. I love you."

"I love you, too," Donna replied, unable to help the sappy smile that always graced her face when they exchanged those words.

Josh hung the phone up and headed for the Oval Office. Secretary Vinick and Ambassador Brenton were due in from Foggy Bottom any minute along with Secretary Mitchem and General McClain from the Pentagon. He found the President on the phone when he entered the room.

"Well, Jeff, to be honest, that initiative was Helen's, but I'll talk to her about it. I certainly can't promise you anything. You might try calling…" Matt paused and listened to his old friend. "I understand, but… Look, I just can't…" Whatever had been said, Matt's voice hardened. "I appreciate that, but being President isn't like being Master of the Universe. I can't just bang heads together and make it happen, as much as I wish I could. I will tell Helen that you called and we'll talk about your concerns and if we can help you, we will… I understand, Jeff. Give Juanita my love." He hung up the phone and looked up at Josh, exasperated. "What is it about your old friends when you get this job?"

"Sir?" Josh asked.

Ronna knocked twice and announced that both the Secretaries of State and Defense were there before Matt could explain.

"Mr. President, thank you for seeing us on such short notice," Arnie Vinick said, "You remember Frank Weldon?"

"Of course. Ambassador." He shook the man's hand and noted the sweaty palm. Mr. Weldon was extremely nervous. "I hope you don't mind that I asked Secretary Brenton and General McClain to join us."

"No, sir. It's probably for the best they're here," Weldon said. He pulled an envelope from the executive folder he was carrying and handed it to the President. "I was asked by the Foreign Minister of Qumar to place that letter in your hands as quickly as possible, sir."

Matt opened the envelope, read the diplomatic note and then handed it to Josh. He waited until the note had gone around the room before asking his first question of the Ambassador. "What did he tell you when he brought that over?"

"That the recent election of extreme elements to the people's parliament meant that the Qumari government could no longer guarantee the safety of our citizens at the port, sir." Weldon went on to explain the details.

"Opinions?" Matt asked when he was finished. He turned to the man who ranked as the junior in the room. "Ambassador?"

Frank Weldon shook his head. "I think they're for real on this, sir. There have been some subtle changes in who has influence with the royal family there. Those who were in power when the treaty was signed no longer hold sway. There is increasing radicalism among the religious leaders as well. Two of the most moderate imams in the country have died recently, both of old age, and the clerics who took over their mosques are hard-liners who hate the West and America."

Matt nodded and turned to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. "General?"

"Since the Saudis insisted we withdraw all our forces from their country a few years ago, Qumar was our only port in the Persian Gulf, sir, but I don't know that I want to dock warships in a country that's essentially put us on notice that they're going to look the other way if terrorists want to bomb our ships or facilities," General McClain said. "The only problem is we don't have many friends with adequate port facilities in the region right now. We could explore some alternative options on the Red Sea," he paused and thought for a moment. "Perhaps that would work in conjunction with our base in Diego Garcia. I'm just thinking off the top of my head, though, sir."

"Phil?" the President looked at the Secretary of Defense.

"I don't like losing our presence in the Gulf, but it's better than losing an aircraft carrier to eight guys in rubber boats."

"I agree," said Arnie. "I don't think this is even worth arguing about with them if we can find a different port. I can't honestly say I've ever liked the idea of maintaining such important port facilities in what is essentially a hostile country."

"Okay, I want you two to get your experts together and get me a list of alternative port sites by tomorrow afternoon. Let's focus on stable, secular democracies on either the Persian Gulf or the Red Sea. We'll take care of briefing the appropriate members of Congress, so I doubt cash will be an issue if we have to settle on a country in need of some security upgrades," Matt said, standing up. "Frank, thank you for hustling this back. I want you to stay home until we get this thing decided so you can take our response back."

"Yes, sir."

After the four men left, Matt turned to Josh. "I want you to brief the Armed Services Committee leadership personally, but not until we settle on an alternative location. If anyone asks why Weldon's in town…"

"We called him home to consult with the Mideast terrorism taskforce," Josh supplied.

"Do we even have a Mideast terrorism taskforce?" Matt raised an eyebrow.

"You know, if we don't, we probably should."

"Make it believable and don't tell anyone more than you have to."

"Close hold, sir. You and me inside this building for now," Josh agreed.

"And ride herd on what's going on between State and the Pentagon."



Donna pushed the door to the First Lady's office open with her elbow.

"I brought…" she trailed off, seeing that her boss was on the phone.

"No, I appreciate you calling and letting me know. I'll talk with his pediatrician again. Thank you," Helen said into the receiver and then hung it up. "I thought you were having lunch with Josh," she said to Donna.

"He had to cancel. Big doings in the West Wing. So I brought us something from the Mess. I thought maybe we could talk about the Hamilton trip again." Donna set the tray she was carrying on the small work table in the corner of the office.

Helen picked up her fork and took a bite of the salad Donna had brought up. "I just don't feel right leaving town during the kids' first week of school. That was Peter's teacher on the phone already. He's been coughing all morning and won't stop kicking his desk."

"Back to school jitters?" Donna asked.

"I don't know. He's had the cough since the spring and I talked to Dr. Perez about it when he was here last month to do their back-to-school physicals. He thought maybe it could be an early indication of asthma, but other than the cough, there aren't any symptoms and the cough is a little strange. Just a little throat-clearing kind of thing."

Donna gave Helen a sympathetic smile. "Maybe it's just stress. God knows those two have been through enough of that in the past eighteen months."


The two women ate in silence for a few minutes before Donna broached the reason for her visit again.

"You know we'll be gone while Peter and Miranda are at school, right? And we'll be back by the time the President heads for New York that night? This is an important program that we went to a lot of work to get some important people behind. Friday is a big day and your absence would be seen as a lack of support for the program. I don't mean to be pushy, ma'am, but it's easier for Advance to set these things up ahead of time than it is to add them at the last minute. Can I at least put it on the schedule and if something comes up, we cancel?" Donna was concerned at the way Helen seemed to be shifting her focus entirely back to the kids and hoped it was just a symptom of their going back to school.



"Lou, where's Lester?" Josh asked, leaning against her doorframe.

Lou looked up from the pile of papers on her desk. "He's out with Otto trying to find his mojo."

"Lester and Otto are out trying to find Lester's mojo?" Josh scratched his head. Lester's last press briefing had been fine.

"No," Lou shook her head and leaned back. "They're looking for Otto's mojo."

"Do I care about any of this?"

"They're trying to pin down a decent topic for the ABA convention speech on Friday. We've been having some issues. Otto's blaming his mojo, or lack thereof.

"I didn't really care." Josh rolled his eyes and got on with his business. "Anyway. When you see Lester, let him know that if anyone asks him why Frank Weldon is in town, it's because he's attending a CIA briefing on Middle-eastern terrorism trends."

"If anyone asks, Frank Weldon is in town for a CIA brief on Middle-eastern terrorism trends," Lou parroted. "Got it. Do I get to know anything more than that? Like maybe who Frank Weldon is?" The name was tantalizingly familiar, but she couldn't place it without context.

"Just tell Lester," Josh admonished.

"It's a close hold. Got it."

Josh nodded and headed back to work. He took about three steps before spinning around and returning to Lou's door. "You'd better page Lester with that. God forbid he and Otto went looking for Otto's mojo out on the Mall or something."

"You really think some reporter is going to walk up to Lester sitting on a park bench and ask him about some dude named Frank Weldon?" Lou took in the seriousness of Josh's expression and picked up the phone to page Lester.



"What are we doing out here?" Lester asked, watching Otto throw breadcrumbs to the pigeons gathered around them.

"I'm trying to find my mojo."

"By sitting on a park bench throwing bread at birds?"

"Hey, you never know what will work," Otto said defensively.

"You think we're going to find a topic for Friday night's speech out here?" Lester guessed.

Otto looked at his friend miserably. "I could care less where the inspiration comes from, as long as it comes. Lou has shot down seventeen straight themes and six drafts, Lester. I'm running out of ideas!"

"What's this week's message?"

"Do I look stupid? That was the first thing I tried. Three weeks ago!"

"Excuse me, Lester, I'm sorry to interrupt." Lester was saved from a detailed recitation of Lou's decimation of the draft by the appearance of a tall brunette.

"That's okay." Lester smiled at the Washington Post's White House correspondent. "Hey, Peggy, have you ever had an editor shoot down everything you write before?"

"Oh sure," Peggy laughed. Lester pulled his buzzing pager off his belt and read the message from Lou while the journalist rambled on about the methods she used to overcome the occupational hazard. "Anyway, what I was wondering, and this is going to sound a little odd, is—do you know what Frank Weldon is doing in town?"

"Frank Weldon?" Lester repeated, buying time to glance down at his pager.

"Yeah, he's the ambassador to Qumar and he's back in Washington all of a sudden."

"He's in town for a CIA briefing on Middle-eastern terrorism trends," Lester said, parroting the information Lou had just sent him.

"Oh. That makes sense. Thanks, Lester."

"No problem."



Josh sighed heavily as he dropped his backpack onto the sofa. Margaret had left him a thick stack of message slips, which he quickly rifled through to see that nothing required his immediate attention.

Good, he thought. He could brief the President on the progress they'd made at the Pentagon this afternoon and then go home.

"So why is our Ambassador to Qumar really in town?" Lou asked, walking into the office without knocking.

"For the exact reason I told you earlier," Josh answered.

"You're lucky you caught me in the middle of something or I would have remembered who the guy was," Lou said with arched eyebrows. She hated being left out of the loop and knew it was happening again. "You are going to fill me in on this eventually?"

"Eventually." Josh nodded. "Don't feel offended. This one's so tight it could make a diamond."

It was clear Lou wasn't happy, but she accepted Josh's explanation. "For the record, Lester got the question out on the Mall while he and Otto were feeding the pigeons."

"Feeding the pigeons?" Josh asked, even though he didn't really want to know the answer.

"We don't have a topic for the speech on Friday," Lou admitted.

Josh stared at her incredulously. "This thing's been on the schedule for months. Stop screwing around with it and pretending that feeding pigeons will help find the answer! I want a draft on my desk before anyone leaves Tuesday night, even if you're all still here working on it Wednesday morning when I come back in."

"Yes, sir," Lou knew better than to argue when Josh used his Leo-voice. She started for the door. "I'm going to go get them restarted."

"Yeah." Josh pulled a briefing folder out of his backpack and headed into the Oval Office.



Matt was reclining on one of the sofas reading through some briefing materials when he heard the door to Josh's office open and close.

"Make any progress?" he called without moving.

"Some," Josh answered. He dropped his folder on the President's lap as he made his way to the antique wing chair that faced the sofa Matt was lying on.

"I'm wondering if we aren't giving in on this too easily," Matt said, sitting up. "Maybe we ought to make a bigger effort to keep that port operation."

Josh rubbed his hands over his face. It was something he'd been thinking about all day as well. "To be honest, the idea of abandoning port facilities just because somebody's got a bug up their ass rubs me the wrong way, too, but I've never been a fan of rewarding the Qumari government with American money while they make no moves to suppress their religious hardliners and allow terrorist groups to freely operate on their soil because they think we have no other friends in the region. I think it's time to make new friends, Mr. President. Friends who are actually our friends."


"Yes, sir," Josh paused for a minute before he spoke again. "If I can ask, sir, who were you talking to on the phone earlier today? Right before Ambassador Weldon got here?"

"Did you meet the kids' pediatrician when he was in town last month?" Matt waited until Josh shook his head. "Jeff Perez has been a friend of mine forever. In fact, when I was going to quit Congress and go back home to Houston, he was the guy I was planning to work with to open those healthcare clinics. Anyway, he also does some work with a non-governmental organization, kind of like Doctors Without Borders. He just got back from one of his trips to Africa, a little country called Amiir, on the Red Sea, and he wanted me to lean on the drug companies to get them to distribute their new HPV vaccine there because they have a horrible problem with the non-treatment of HPV developing into terminal cervical cancer ."

"You know you can't do that, right?" Josh asked. "I mean, I could have someone do it for you, but you personally can't do it."

"I told him the HPV vaccine was Helen's thing and he should call her, but that I'd definitely let her know I think it's a good idea."

"How did he take that?"

"Like I was blowing him off," Matt answered. Even though he'd been short with Dr. Perez on the phone, it bothered him that he couldn't fix the man's problem.

"This building is hell on relationships," Josh observed.



Secretaries Vinick and Brenton, Ambassador Weldon, General McClain, Josh and President Santos made short work of the formalities and got down to business quickly.

"The entire list of countries meeting your criteria is pretty short, sir," General McClain said. "Of the countries on it, we lean towards Amiir. It's a small African nation on the Red Sea. The capitol city is also the main port city, Zaytun."

"It's a Third World country, but several years ago, we helped them stage democratic elections and the government has held and, in fact, had more elections under the supervision of UN monitors," Arnie Vinick went on. "It's predominately made up of rural villages, with Zaytun as the major population center and a couple of other good-sized regional cities. There has been some influx of Islam and Christianity, but our information seems to indicate that nothing has really taken hold amongst the majority of the population."

General McClain nodded. "And the country is small. Even if there were a problem, we feel we could assist the locals in containing any incidents."

"Amiir?" Matt asked, with a glance at Josh, a plan was already starting to form in his mind.

"Yes, sir," General McClain confirmed.

"Arnie, how soon do you think you could get a delegation together to go feel them out?" the President looked at his Secretary of State.

"Realistically, something like this takes months to set up," Vinick replied, thinking about all the details that needed to be ironed out.

"What if the trip was about something else and you approached them quietly on the side? Expedite some of the diplomatic niceties?" Josh asked. He thought he knew what Matt was thinking, but didn't want the President to be the one to bring it up. "

"I'm sorry?" Arnie repeated.

"The country has a huge problem with HPV," Matt said.

"The new vaccine was one of the First Lady's very first initiatives. What if she were to go on a goodwill fact-finding tour at the behest of an NGO? Mr. Secretary, you go along because the First Lady's never made a trip like this before. While she's visiting clinics, you make an overture to the government," said Josh.

"We need to do this as quickly as possible," Ambassador Weldon chimed in. "I got a communiqué last night that there was a pretty large demonstration outside the Embassy last night. My deputy got the message loud and clear from the Qumaris that the press would be invited to the next one."

"That's just what we need, CNN blaring that all over the world," groaned Brenton.

"You know, Mr. President, we've got that ABA speech up in New York on Friday night," Josh mused out loud. "If we could pull this together in a hurry, we could use that speech to announce the beginnings new vision for American foreign policy: no more American assistance for nations who support or even look the other way at terrorism. We could conceivably get ahead of this story."

Matt raised his eyebrows and nodded thoughtfully. "Arnie, it's going to mean some long nights this week for your shop, but do you think you can pull it off?"

"I think so, sir. As long as we don't have to have anything more than preliminaries in place."

"Josh, have Otto rework the ABA speech, then you and Phil and the General head up to the Hill and brief the leadership. I'll take care of the hard part," Matt ordered.



Matt didn't relish trying to convince his wife to do something he knew she wouldn't want to do, especially as a cover for something else entirely.

Which would be her biggest problem with the whole idea, he knew, even though she'd plead the press of responsibilities here. If the trip were presented to her correctly, at the right time, in the proper context, which was the idea of saving starving orphans and that sort of thing, Matt knew Helen would be happy to go. Getting asked on Tuesday to leave on Friday for a four-day whirlwind goodwill tour of a country that until Monday Matt hadn't even heard of and he still wasn't sure they had an ambassador to?

Yeah, Matt knew why his Chief of Staff had given him a look of sympathy as he'd left the office. Josh wasn't stupid.

"Be a man, Matt," the President whispered to himself, gesturing for his Secret Service agent to lead the way into his wife's office suite.

"Mr. President!" Helen's executive assistant jumped to her feet. In the nine months she'd worked in the White House, the young woman had met the President only twice and was flustered by his presence.

He smiled. "Is Helen in?"

"Yes, sir!" she said, pointing at the closed door.

Matt had the good sense to knock before opening it.

"Come in!" Helen called.

"Hi." Matt forced a bright smile and shut the door behind him.

"What's going on?" Helen asked, instantly wary. Matt had never come up to her office before.

"A man can't come visit his wife at work?" Matt tried to sound innocent, but Helen only gave him a look that called him on it. "Can we sit?"

Helen led her husband to a small grouping of comfortable chairs in the corner of her office and waited until he was settled. "What's up?"

Matt sighed. Honesty, he decided, was the best policy. "I've got two intersecting problems and I need your help with both of them. One's relatively minor and one's a national security issue."

"You need my help with a national security issue?" Helen couldn't keep the disbelief out of her voice.

"Jeff Perez called me on Monday," Matt began his explanation. "You know that NGO he works with? Well, he'd just gotten back from a trip and wanted our help in working with the drug companies to start offering their HPV vaccine to impoverished African nations, either at a deep discount or for free."

Helen lifted her eyebrow, asking him to continue.

"Many of those countries have limited access to OB/GYN care. If women pick up HPV…"

"They're going to get cervical cancer," Helen finished, nodding her head in understanding. "So what does the HPV vaccine have to do with national security?"

"The government of Qumar delivered a diplomatic note to our ambassador demanding termination of the agreement we have to use their ports as a regional military base, and so the State Department and the Pentagon have come up with a shortlist of countries that could serve as suitable replacements for the base in Qumar. One of those countries is Amiir, which is a small African nation on the Red Sea. It also happens to be the country Jeff Perez called me about on Monday."

Helen was sure she wasn't going to like where this was going. There were things going on in her family that she needed to keep an eye on and the rumblings coming out of the West Wing said something big was in the works. Leave it to Matt to try to involve her in whatever was going on. "What are you volunteering me for?"

"It's not something entirely out of left field. Think of it as a continuation of work you've already started," Matt said.

"You know Peter and Miranda just started back to school this week and you know perfectly well that I'm always home for them the first couple of weeks in case there are any problems. What are we talking about here?" Helen asked.

"We're talking about a trip to Africa this weekend."

"Africa! This weekend!" Helen exclaimed.

"Yes, the timing is bad, I admit that, but I'm asking you to do this because it's important."

"Are you saying my priorities aren't important? I barely committed to going to Hamilton on Friday to oversee one of my own projects because the kids were just back to school, Matthew. What happens close to home is a big deal, too. Peter still has that cough, his teacher's already worried about it and sometimes I feel like I'm the only person in this building who cares!"

"I'm not saying Peter and Miranda aren't important, Helen, and I'm not saying the volunteer project in Hamilton isn't important. What I'm saying is that in one week, the Qumaris are going to publicly announce they're kicking us out of their port, and if we can't make it look like we went out and made new friends on our own terms we're going to look weak, and if we look weak it emboldens terrorists to take potshots at us and then we're not talking about Peter having a cold anymore. We're talking about phone calls I have to make to parents because their teenagers were killed in car bombings while they were on school trips to Madrid or London or Paris. Or because a bunch of guys in a rubber boat blew up a Navy destroyer. I'm asking you to help me not have to do that by giving Arnie Vinick some cover. You just need to go on a four day trip to Amiir and tour the countryside, their villages, medical facilities; talk to doctors, women, children, missionaries, whoever. And you can help out Jeff Perez in the process by calling for help for women in a poor country who really need a voice."

"I'll think about it." Helen replied.

"Thank you," Matt said.



"How are things looking for the trip?" Matt asked, wandering into Josh's office unannounced.

Josh was sitting at his desk, reading the same paragraph in the State Department background memo over and over again. "It's a real crap shoot," he replied honestly. "We've never invested much time, energy or interest in these people and all of a sudden we show up on their doorstep with our hat in our hands? I mean, granted, we did put boots on the ground in support of their first democratic election, but a fledging democracy is one thing if it's left alone. It's another story altogether if there's any kind of pressure exerted on it, and our presence would do just that. There is a Muslim identity in the larger cities. State and CIA don't know how radical it is…"

"You don't think this is the right country?" Matt asked.

"I think this is the best of the lot, but that's not saying much," Josh hedged. "Sir, I understand we have to do something to not look weak and I know you're trying to help out an old friend, but I don't know how wise it is to cover a serious diplomatic mission with a slapped together, feel-good trip by the First Lady."

"She hasn't said yes yet," the President pointed out.

"She'll come around, sir," his Chief of Staff replied confidently.

"How do you know that for sure?"

"Because, sir, you asked her to do something important for the country and you're the President of the United States. It doesn't matter whether she sees you every night in your underwear. You asked, and she'll do it."

"I don't think it works that way with wives, Josh."

"It does if you don't abuse it, sir."

"Well, I'm going to call it a day early and head upstairs. Maybe try and make peace. You might as well head out, too. You and Donna ought to enjoy one night before she heads off to the wilds of Africa," Matt said.

"Thank you, sir." Josh waited until the President left before he called over to the East Wing to make sure Donna had already left for the day. Confident she had, he grabbed his suit jacket and quickly made the rounds.


Lou had finally corralled Lester and Otto into the Roosevelt Room and, over pizza, was demanding they have a topic for Friday's ABA speech before anyone went home. Josh was half-tempted to let them off the hook, knowing the subject would change tomorrow and Friday's speech would announce the termination of America's port agreement with Qumar, but the process of coming together as a cohesive team wasn't finished yet in the Communications Department and the trio could use the exercise in futility.

"I'm heading out," Josh said, stopping at Sam's office. Ginger was gone and so was most of the staff. It was just shy of six o'clock, so while Sam showed every sign of imitating Josh's workaholic tendencies, he didn't seem to be expecting the staff to work the same hours. Sam looked up, giving Josh a good look at the fatigue in his face. "You should do the same. Spend a quiet evening with Lauren. The President is spending the night watching the kids."

"I've got a stack of reports to get through before tomorrow," Sam said, gesturing at the tower of binders on his desk.

"Sam, I promise you, none of that stuff will matter after the staff meeting tomorrow. I'm telling you to go home and get a good night's sleep."

"There's something going on?" Sam might be mentally and emotionally exhausted, but he was still quick on the pickup.

Josh nodded. "And there's nothing to be done about it until tomorrow. So get some sleep and be fresh tomorrow."

"Did you send Communications home?" Sam asked as he gathered his things.

"Leave the work here tonight, dude," Josh admonished when Sam started stuffing reports into his briefcase. "And no, I thought they needed the time together more than they needed the sleep."

"Good call," Sam said.

The two men walked together into the West Wing foyer and then parted ways, as Sam turned towards the parking lot and Josh kept going to the front gate.


"Rodney, it's not a problem if we walk home tonight, is it?" Josh asked.

"No, sir, we can use the exercise," the Secret Service agent answered. He whispered into his radio, quietly summoning a couple of extra agents for his principal's jaunt through the evening streets of the nation's capitol.

"Do you have a wife, Rodney?" Josh asked, for the first time in nine months taking a personal interest in the agents who protected him. He was sorting out a lot of thoughts [in his head] on this short walk, trying to figure out what he was going to say to Donna when he got home, because she was certainly going to ask what he thought of the President's plan.

"A girlfriend, sir," the young man asked.

"What does she think of your career?"

"She's not particularly fond of it," Rodney admitted.

"Yeah," Josh sighed. "I'd imagine she's not. She should be proud of you, though."


"Anybody who would voluntarily take a bullet for someone else?" Josh shook his head. "That's a very special person and while you're not on the Presidential detail right now, that doesn't mean you won't be someday. I mean, you can't start at the top, right?"

"Yes, sir," Rodney replied. "But, sir, if the President asked me to take a bullet, I would. Because he's the President."

Josh stopped at the stairs to his building, realizing that the young agent had given him the answer he already knew. "You're a good man, Rodney. Thank you."



They'd taken the rare opportunity of them both being home early to go out to a nice dinner. The conversation had been comfortable, but it was clear there was a giant elephant in the room. They had just mutually, yet silently, agreed to discuss it later.

At home, cuddled together on the sofa with the radio playing softly in the background, Donna finally broached the subject. "The President came to visit Mrs. Santos this afternoon."

"I know," Josh replied. He pulled away from Donna so he could look into her eyes, but kept hold of her hand. "Did she tell you why?"

Donna nodded. "I presume that's why you cancelled lunch yesterday?"

"Yeah," Josh answered. "What do you think?"

"Of what?"

"I guess I'm asking if you think she'll agree to go." Despite his reassurances to Matt, Josh actually had no idea what Helen would do.

"She was pretty upset this afternoon," Donna allowed. "But I think it was a pissed-off upset. He said something to her that really made her mad. Maybe it was the way he asked her, I'm not sure, but in the end, I think she'll agree to go. Because it is important and if she asks me, that's what I'll tell her. I know she's pretty caught up in this being the kids' first week back to school and all, but there are times when we have to put our personal lives aside for the good of the country and this is one of those times."

Josh looked down at their entwined hands, running his thumb over Donna's soft skin.

"What are you thinking?" She asked softly. His first question had been about the political because it was safe. She knew what he really wanted to talk about because she wanted to talk about it too.

"I'm thinking the President asked and it doesn't matter what I think," Josh looked up and met Donna's blue eyes. "But I'm scared to death. The idea of you going over there and something happening scares me to death. I don't care how stable Arnie Vinick claims the damn country is. But I also know we can't live our lives being scared that something crazy is going to happen."

Donna reached out with her free hand and brushed Josh's cheek. "It'll be okay. It's a four day goodwill tour. Besides, the President asked, what are we going to do? Say no?"

Josh pulled Donna to him and kissed her deeply. "I love you."

"I love you, too."



"I take Peter's cough seriously," Matt said, sitting down opposite Helen in the living room. The evening had been tense enough that he'd sequestered himself in his private study after dinner until it was bedtime for the kids.

"You couldn't even take an hour off to talk with Jeff Perez when he was up for their physicals," Helen pointed out, putting her magazine down.

"That doesn't mean I don't notice Peter's clearing his throat all the time," Matt said. "I really need you to do this, Helen. I know it seems cheesy. Like who won't notice the Secretary of State's along? It's an easy explanation. You've never gone abroad before, you got a phone call from Jeff, you decided you needed to see the situation for yourself and to make sure everything went well, we sent Arnie with you for support and we've decided to add a couple of extra stops on his trip after you're finished so it doesn't look like he's just holding your hand. Does it stand up to the greatest scrutiny? No, I accept that, but it's the best we could come up with on short notice before riots in front of our embassy in Qumar start leading newscasts around the world next week."

"Matt, stop selling it. I'll go. I don't appreciate the timing, but I accept there's nothing you can do about it. You have to promise me that you'll keep an eye on Peter while I'm gone. I really am worried about his cough." There was more to her reluctance than just the kids, but since she couldn't explain it to herself, she didn't even try to explain it to Matt.

"I promise. I'll see if Ronna will stay with them Friday while I'm in New York and then I'm home the rest of the time you're in Amiir. Thank you for going."

"You owe me one."



"Good morning." Josh entered his office from the Oval and greeted the assembled staff. "Lou, Lester, Otto, this is a magnificent draft you left on my desk. I'm glad to see the concept of a deadline was finally able to jump-start your mojo."

Otto managed an exhausted smile at the praise from the Chief of Staff.

"Except we're going to have to toss it," Josh announced.

"WHAT?" Otto and Lester looked mutinous, but Lou just looked resigned, as though she knew something like this was coming. Otto couldn't keep himself from blurting out his frustration: "I was here all night writing that draft."

"And you'll be here all night tonight writing a new one on a brand-new topic. Which I am about to explain the details of to you," Josh said. He ran down the specifics of what was going on with Qumar, the Secretary of State's impending visit to Amiir and the purpose of the First Lady's presence. "Questions?"

"What's out of bounds with regards to discussing the Qumaris?" Lou asked.

"Keep it relatively civil. Don't directly accuse them of anything and don't bring up Abdul Shareef," Josh replied.

"Is the ABA really the best place for the speech?" Sam asked. "I mean, what if Amiir turns us down?"

Josh nodded. "It's a chance we're going to take."

"Annabeth was going to offer the settlement to the defendant's law firm at the ABA conference. Do you want her to hold off on that because of this?" Sam asked.

"No," Josh shook his head. "Tell her to go ahead as planned. Anything else? Okay. Lester, coordinate the press message regarding the First Lady's trip with Annabeth. We've got a day and a half to get this together, guys."



"Tell me again how Josh got out of this thing?" Lou asked.

"He's home minding the store," Sam replied, distractedly. He was standing next to Annabeth, his eyes scanning the crowd for Lauren. "There she is."

"There who is?" Lou couldn't get her mind off Otto's hurriedly written speech. Granted, she thought he did his best work under tight deadlines, but this was a major policy speech that had come out of nowhere and hadn't gotten the review and vetting she thought it should have.

"We'll be back in a few minutes," Sam said as he and Ainsley moved towards Lauren and the two men she was standing with.

"Hi!" Sam greeted his fiancée warmly despite how rocky things were getting at home. Lauren was convinced Washington was changing him and nothing he did was right anymore.

"Hi." She returned his smile, surprised to see him here. He hadn't said anything about accompanying the President to this event, which he knew she was coming to.

"Lauren, this is Ainsley Hayes. She's the White House Counsel," Sam introduced the two women.

"This is Peter Farmington and Jonathan Marks," Lauren gestured to the two men with her. "Peter, Jonathan, this is my fiancé, Sam Seaborn and Ainsley Hayes."

"It's a pleasure," Ainsley said, shaking hands with the two men and smiling at Lauren. "I've heard a lot about you from Sam. Since I've got you here, I wanted to go ahead and give you this." Ainsley pulled a thick envelope out of her briefcase and handed it to Lauren.

"I'm sorry, what's this?" Lauren looked from Ainsley to Sam.

"That's the reworked settlement agreement for the EPA lawsuit," Ainsley answered.

"Perhaps we could take care of this back in Washington later this week?" Peter Farmington asked.

"We're both going to be pretty busy with some other issues, as you'll hear soon enough," Ainsley smiled. "I'd just as soon get the inconsequential stuff my plate and since we were all here, why not mix a little business with convention?"

Lauren held the paperwork, looking mortified. "Reworked settlement?"

"Did you really think we were going to accept what you brought over last week?" Ainsley asked with a chuckle. "Come on. You've seen the deposition from the EPA manager. You were asking for way too much considering the facts on the table."

"Lauren?" Jonathan Marks looked Lauren.

"You signed off on the agreement last week, sir," Lauren replied, her demeanor giving Sam a clue for the first time that one of these men might be her boss.

"I think you'll find the reworked agreement to be generous, but we're not giving away the store," Ainsley said. "If you'll excuse me, I need to take care of some other business."

Lauren watched as Ainsley walked away and then grabbed Sam by the arm and excused them as well. She led him to a quiet corner.

"I can't believe you sprang that on me in front of my boss. It made me look like an idiot. You couldn't have given me some kind of warning?" Lauren was visibly upset.

"First of all, I didn't give it to you, Ainsley did. Second of all, when you say warning, do you mean like when you called and let me know you were bringing the thing over to begin with?" Sam answered. "I'm sorry you think everything I do is wrong, Lauren, I really do, but this was work we had to get out of the way. I hope you understand that after the President's speech tonight."



"I was really hoping one of Peter's parents could actually be here. Mrs. Santos told me earlier this week she was very concerned about this," Ms. Jackson said, gesturing for Josh to take a seat.

"I'm sorry. Mrs. Santos is on her way out of the country for four days and the President is in New York. I'm Josh Lyman, the President's Chief of Staff." Josh had no idea how he'd gotten roped into this one, except that Ronna had taken a call from Peter's teacher asking for a conference with either the President or Mrs. Santos that same day, and since he was the only one left in Washington, he'd had to come.

The teacher nodded. "Peter's been in my class for only a week, but in that week, I've noticed some disturbing behavior. I've already discussed my concerns about his cough with Mrs. Santos and she assured me it was something she had been in contact with his pediatrician about. Unfortunately, he's also been randomly kicking at things, which I could overlook until he kicked a classmate late this afternoon. He told me it was something he was unable to control. If I hadn't observed similar behavior all week, I would be prone to disbelieving him, but it really does seem to be a random tic."

"I'm sorry, Peter kicked a classmate?" Josh repeated.

"Actually he kicked his desk, a classmate who was walking up the aisle caught part a glancing blow and Peter was immediately apologetic," the teacher explained.

"What sort of punishment is there?" Josh asked, visions of zero tolerance policies running through his head.

"The principal and I discussed this and we believe that it was an unintentional act, Mr. Lyman. There will be no punishment at this time. If his behavior continues, however…"

"Yes, ma'am," Josh interrupted. "I'll make sure that both the President and Mrs. Santos understand the severity of what's going on."

"We're not talking about expelling him, Mr. Lyman," the teacher said with a laugh. "But we think Peter should, at the very least, be talking to someone. He's gone through a lot of changes in the past nine months, and while he seems to be well adjusted, you can never tell what children are sometimes hiding. Plus, childhood tics like the kicking and his cough can have other causes. I think it's best for Mrs. Santos to call me as soon as she can."

Josh rubbed his temples, not relishing the conversation that awaited him when the President returned from New York.



"Here's a copy of your schedule, ma'am," Annabeth sat down opposite Helen. The First Lady was staring out the window watching the clouds go by.


"Your itinerary for the trip," Annabeth said, proffering one of the three folders in her hands.

"Is that the schedule?" Donna asked, joining them from the rear of the plane. "The State Department guy said he gave them to you."

"Here you go," Annabeth said.

The three women walked through the daily, getting to day two before Annabeth and Donna exchanged glances. They'd lost the First Lady's attention.

"Ma'am?" Donna, who was sitting next to her, touched her arm gently. "Is something bothering you?"

"I don't really want to be on this trip," Helen admitted. "I'm worried about the kids."

"It's only for four days. You left them for longer than that during the campaign," Annabeth said.

"I know, but they just started back to school…"

"With all due respect, ma'am," Donna interrupted. "That's the same reason you didn't want to go to Hamilton and it was a day trip. Sometimes talking about it helps."

Helen sighed, staring out the window. "That was really it, at first. Until Matt started trying to convince me to go and he brought up terrorist bombings and making phone calls." She turned to look at the other two women. "Have either of you ever known anyone who's gotten one of those phone calls?"

"I didn't get a call, but I'll never forget what it was like when Toby told me Josh had been shot," Donna said.

"When Matt and I were first married, I was spending the day with a mutual friend of ours. Her husband was in Matt's squadron. They'd just had a new baby. And there was an accident. I'll never forget what it was like when the notification team showed up on her doorstep. That beautiful baby girl who would grow up never knowing her daddy," Helen said, her gaze again wandering out the window of the government jet. "It was a long time before I could stay home by myself when Matt went off on drill weekends, and when the kids were born there was a whole adjustment period… Of course I want to help if I can, I just… I never thought about it being me going off somewhere. I mean, what if something happens? Matt's a great father, but can he really take care of two kids by himself?"

"You can't think of it like that," Donna said, remembering the conversation she had earlier in the week with Josh. "You can't live your life thinking something bad is going to happen."

Helen blushed. "I'm not living my life that way. Just this trip and I'm sure once we land, I'll be fine."

Annabeth reached out and squeezed Helen's hand. "Ma'am, I talked with Secretary Vinick before the flight. Amiir is a nice, stable country. Dr. Perez is meeting us in the first village. Everything will go according to that schedule. There's really nothing to worry about. You'll see."

"I'm just overreacting, aren't I?"

"You've been worried about Peter, and with back-to-school and the way this got sprung on you, it's natural," Donna reassured her.

"I was pretty short with Matt before we left, and I really shouldn't have been."

"You can make it up to him when you get back," Annabeth said.

"Buy him a souvenir," said Donna.

"Maybe some kind of native idol for when you get home and make-up?" Annabeth suggested with a wink, causing the three women to break up with laughter before they got down to the business of going over the trip's itinerary.