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Impossible Barbacoa

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The Cold Open


Stevie stood in the kitchen of the McCord house, spatula in hand, frowning at the dish on the island. It looked like it might have been intended to be a quiche, but the yellow color was slightly duller than it should have been and it was half as fluffy as a quiche could reasonably be expected to be. She poked at it, gingerly.

"Well, it's ready," she announced to the apprehensive-looking Elizabeth.

Elizabeth feigned a smile that didn't convince anyone. "And you're sure we couldn't have added in the bacon?" she asked, looking uneasy as Stevie sliced into the quiche.

"Meatless Mondays, Mom," Stevie answered. She slid the slice off the spatula with her finger and pushed the plate across the island to Elizabeth. She looked apprehensive herself, as though all she wanted was her mother's approval on this dish. "I probably didn't make it as well as Jareth does but-"

"Oh, Jareth makes this?" Elizabeth sounded slightly more interested now. She picked up a fork and contemplated which direction to attack the quiche from. At the thundering of shoes on the stairs, she put her fork down and let out a small, "Thank god," as Stevie was distracted by the newcomer.

Jason had his backpack on and phone in hand and barely looked up as he entered the kitchen.

"Jason!" Elizabeth beamed. "Your sister made breakfast. Quiche! Spinach and Tofu … something-"

"Green pepper," Stevie supplied.

Elizabeth gestured at Stevie, her fist clenching in triumph, "Yes, spinach and tofu and green pepper."

Jason looked nonplussed, "No bacon?"

"Meatless Mondays," Elizabeth said, nodding as she spoke. She caught Stevie's eye and smiled, "We're doing our part to help the planet."

Jason remained unconvinced. "You know it's useless for just us to do it, right? Anyway, I'm not eating that, Marcus said he'd bring me a McMuffin."

Stevie looked crestfallen. Elizabeth made a quick grimace then said, "You don't have to leave for ten minutes. We're supporting Stevie in this house and that means you too. Just try a slice."

"Why?" Jason said, looking angry at the suggestion. "You're not."

All eyes turned to Elizabeth's plate, which still had the full slice of quiche on it.

"I was just getting to it," Elizabeth said, picking up her fork again, "when you came in. And this is Jareth's recipe, isn't that nice?"

Jason put his phone down on the island only to fold his arms and call his mother's bluff.

Elizabeth looked from him to Stevie, who nodded at her encouragingly. Looking rather resigned, Elizabeth stuck a forkful in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. "Mmm," she said, convincing nobody. "This is interesting, honey."

"You don't like it," Stevie's voice was flat.

"No, no, honey," Elizabeth said quickly. "It's good and Jason's going to have a piece and he's going to like it to, isn't he?"

While Elizabeth had been talking, Stevie sliced a second piece and placed it expertly in front of Jason, with a fork quickly following. "It tastes better hot," she offered. "Where's Alison? She should get some, too. Ali?" she took a step towards the stairs, still holding the spatula.

With her back to the room, Jason moved quickly, cutting off two pieces and sliding them into a napkin he crumbled. He looked up at Elizabeth, as if challenging her.

"Good idea," she mouthed to him, cutting off a large piece and putting it in the napkin. Before she could crumble it, Stevie had turned around again, and Elizabeth froze, incriminating hand outstretched.

"Would you get a little container for this, honey? So I can take it to work?"

Eying Elizabeth's hand with suspicion, Stevie nevertheless turned her back to the island to root in the cupboard for a container. Jason took advantage and moved the rest of his slice into another napkin. Elizabeth glared at him, but more out of jealousy than admonition. When Stevie turned around and handed the container to Elizabeth, she slipped the quiche in, napkin at all, and slid the remainder of her slice on top before snapping the lid on. All the while, Stevie continued to watch hawkishly.

Jason clattered his fork on his plate, breaking the silence. "Well, I'm done," he said. "It was …" he trailed off at the look from his mother. "It was good, Stevie. Not as good as bacon and eggs, but not … terrible and inedible. Can I go now?" He directed the last bit at Elizabeth, who wearily nodded. Jason, not needing another second, moved so quickly that if Elizabeth hadn't been specifically watching for him to throw the napkins away, she never would have seen him do it. Stevie, who had not been watching for that reason, missed the sleight of hand into the trashcan and only saw an empty plate get placed into the sink.

She beamed at Elizabeth, "So it really is good, then?"

Elizabeth nodded and opened her mouth to speak, but she was saved again by Alison rushing down the stairs. "Thank you," Elizabeth murmured, taking a step back from the offending quiche.

"I'm late," the middle McCord child said. "I'm so late. My video on Natasha Evans was reblogged by three other bloggers last night and has exploded in hits and comments. Plus dad took forever in the shower this morning, so I had to wait and what is that?" She pointed to the quiche. "Is that what smells-"

She stopped at the alarmed look on Elizabeth's face. "-so good?" she finished lamely. "I wish I could have a piece, but if I don't leave now, I'll miss first bell."

Stevie once again looked dejected, "Okay, bye, I'll save you …" she trailed off as Alison practically ran from the room. Elizabeth took the distraction to pick up her phone and look at it.

"We'll save her a piece," Elizabeth reassured. Before Stevie could speak again, Elizabeth wagged the phone at her "I have to go. I loved the quiche. Be nice to your father. He had a late night."

"Oh yes, don't forget your piece," Stevie said, handing over the container.

Elizabeth smiled a genuine smile, "Can't forget that." She walked out of the room, leaving Stevie to stare at the half-eaten quiche, a ponderous look on her face.

*

At the elevator, Blake, Jay, and Nadine greeted her.

"One of these days?" Elizabeth joked. She slid off her wet jacket and Blake quickly grabbed it, holding it gingerly. "It's pouring now," she added, undoing her scarf. "Spring in DC. Minutes before the humidity."

Blake frowned, "If it's raining, isn't it already …" He trailed off after seeing the look on everyone's face. "You know what? Never mind. Ma'am, there is a developing situation regarding the cafeteria."

More incredulous looks followed, but this time Blake seemed unperturbed by them. "They're cutting the budget, and they've decided to-"

"Really, Blake?" Elizabeth said as they walked back to her office, the coat dripping on the floor behind them. Blake still held it gingerly, as though it were contagious. "We have good food downstairs. Not great, okay, this is a federal cafeteria, but we have organic, and hormone free, and something with preservatives, and they're really complaining again? They complained when they got all that years ago."

Blake nodded, "Yes, ma'am, from what I understand, the proposed budget for Foggy Bottom means switching some of the food offerings."

"And people here are unhappy about it?"

"They've written a letter, asking you to stop it."

Elizabeth stopped dead in her tracks.

Jay quirked his eyebrows at Blake, "You probably should have led with that."

"Probably," Blake conceded.

Elizabeth waved her hand, "Great, staff revolt. Perfect. Can't wait for the press on this." She looked around the office, "And please tell me that's the most pressing thing we've got for today."

"I'm afraid not, ma'am," said Nadine. "Brazil has demanded to expand the P5 to seven, and has demanded to be one of the additions."

Elizabeth took a deep breath, closing her eyes briefly to process the information. They had reached her office, and Blake was hanging up her wet coat while Elizabeth moved around her desk. She looked out over her staff, contemplating her options while they looked expectantly. Then she turned to Blake, "You deal with the cafeteria. Nadine, get everyone together. Jay … put together a list of inducements. And Blake - I need the Secretary General of Brazil before you go tell State employees to get over themselves."

Blake bobbed his head,. "Yes, ma'am, right away." He hurried off and Nadine watched him go briefly, before turning back.

"Thank you, ma'am," she said, and she and Jay left the room.

Elizabeth watched them leave and sat down, tapping her finger against her desk and staring at a black computer screen.

It lit up and she leaned forward, "Hector, hello. How are the twins?"

The man on her screen, Hector Melo, a life-long public servant operating under the guidance of the newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister Schmitz, looked much-beleaguered. He looked as though he was expecting instant rebukes or harsh words from Elizabeth, and his face changed from surprise quickly to delight.

"Luis is a very quiet boy, but Olivia is living up to her namesake and has yet to find a silence she cannot fill," the proud father beamed. "Maria and I are very blessed indeed. And of yours? Do you still have an anarchist child?"

Elizabeth chuckled lightly, "Jason has toned down a little. Henry's been wearing him down, I think." As she spoke about the girls, Jay entered and slid a paper across the desk. Making it look easy - and displaying where Jason had learned his deft skills - Elizabeth read what was in front of her. She signaled for Jay to stay, and shifted back fully to Hector, "Blessings you have to look forward to, my friend. Come let me know the first time Olivia tries to sneak out of the house. It'll happen sooner than you think. Speaking of coming to me, why didn't you come to us with this, Hector? A letter to Secretary Juris? You couldn't have started with the Security Council, but straight to the Secretary General? I thought we were better friends than that."

This was the rebuke Hector had been waiting for. His smile had disappeared and the brightness in his eyes faded to a dull weariness. "We deserve a seat at the table, Elizabeth. You cannot fault me for beating India, or Germany, or Japan to the table. There is no representation of the Southern Hemisphere on this Council. In today's global economy, do we not deserve representation?"

"I understand that Brazil was not in any position to ask for a seat at the table after World War II-" Elizabeth started, but Hector angrily interrupted.

"Yes, and why was that? What has Monroe brought us-"

Elizabeth looked incredulous, "We're going there? Hector I-"

"Elizabeth, no," Hector said firmly. "The United States has held a hegemony over the Americas in the same way China attempts to hold a hegemony over Southern Asia. Only in Europe-"

"Is this Schmitz or is this you?" Elizabeth demanded. Jay moved to sit down opposite Elizabeth, looking just as shocked as she did.

"We are Brazil," Hector countered. "I look forward to our discussions to finally allocate Brazil the place in international relations that it has long-deserved. Give Henry my best."

"And Maria too," Elizabeth sighed. She hit the power button, ending the call. Then she turned to Jay.

"This isn't a flight of fancy," Jay said. "This is President Morais. Melo has been-"

"I'm surprised they kept him on," Elizabeth said. "Given his friendly nature with the United States. He must have assured them he could do the job."

"He may not have been the only one in the room," Jay suggested. "Given their-"

"Given the shakeup, he may still be the highest-ranked Brazilian-born in that office. How many have left Itamaraty since Morais was elected and Schmitz appointed? It would be like 30% of the State Department leaving in a matter of weeks after my appointment."
Jay looked confused, "Brazilian-born? Is Melo in the-"

Elizabeth shook her head, "No, he's not a political appointee. He needs to be Brazilian-born to hold the post. Schmitz doesn't and she's not. I wonder if they left Melo to give some further legitimacy to Schmitz. Either way, I'll need to talk to Schmitz, this is definitely coming from her and Morais."

"Inducements aren't going to get us out of this," Jay added.

"No, but they must want something. See if you can do some digging. And talk with Daisy. I'll need her to keep the press as far away as she can until we figure this out."

"A letter to the UN Secretary-General isn't going to stay quiet, even if Juris kicks it back to the Security Council. There's going to be a lot of people unhappy about the idea that the only people who -"

Elizabeth nodded, "Haven't we been through this with Japan?"

"And their request for 15 permanent members on the Security Council? That was before Parliament, to send the request to the UN. It failed."

"Look up those inducements. See what we gave Brazil and the others. We can work from there."

Jay stood, "Yes ma'am. And also, I know this isn't the best time to pile on…"

"No, no, go ahead. What could be worse?"

Jay smiled, "Oh, you'd be surprised. Beck is in town. His daughter's graduating from Georgetown in a few weeks and his wife wanted to do an extended US visit and do all the touristy things before the graduation."

"Beck as in Minister Beck? As in, Minister Beck of Germany, who has been bitter about the Security Council from its inception and will jump at the chance to demand that the world's fifth largest economy have a seat at it? That Minister Beck?"

"Yes, ma'am, that Minister Beck."

Elizabeth sat back in her chair, mimicking Jay's wry smile, "There is no way we can win this, is there?"


Act One


Blake sat a table of impatient looking lower level State Department employees.

"I don't know that arguing for only locally-grown, certified organic food from the State Department is particularly a wise choice," Blake said, bluntly.

"So you're not even going to consider it?"

"Not only am I not going to consider it, I'm going to tell the Congressional Budget office that we'll be happy with whatever they give us; if that's fish sticks and tater tots, then it's fish sticks and tater tots."

One of the employees, Sarah, who had been taking her own notes, looked up. She was younger than most of the others in the room, but looked as though she were used to fighting for her place and had no qualms about letting her opinion be known. She was wearing a 'power suit' and had positioned herself directly across the table from Blake. She was the unofficial leader of this band of employees, they had been deferring to her, and allowing Blake to speak largely uninterrupted. Fish sticks and tater tots seemed to be the tipping point. She put her pen down and folded her arms on the table, leaning on them to bring herself closer to Blake. A few other employees shifted as well, anticipating the showdown that was about to occur. She smiled sweetly, condescendingly, at Blake, "But organic is better, and locally sourced is cheaper. Not to mention that the low-fat, low-sodium requirements lead to more productivity and increased -"

"Organic isn't better," Blake said, rolling his eyes. "It's a hippie scam and we're not in the business of that here. As for-"

Several people interrupted, shouting over each other about organic produce and meat and its benefits.

"We'll just throw the food away," Sarah said. The room went quiet at this. "We'll just throw it away if you try to serve it to us."

"Nobody is forcing you- Sarah, is it? Sarah, nobody is forcing you to eat here. Walk outside. This is Foggy Bottom. You can't trip on the sidewalk without finding somewhere to eat."

Sarah looked affronted by this. "Not all of us have the luxury of leaving the building whenever we'd like and going wherever we want," she sniffed.

Now Blake looked affronted, "Did you just mock the Secretary of State's job?"

"We'll throw the food away," Sarah repeated, firmer. Several others at the table nodded. "You can't fire all of us. Almost 1000 employees have told us they'll do it with us."

Blake shuffled through the papers in front of him. When he found the one he was looking for, he scanned it carefully. "Just as I thought," he said. "Nowhere in your list of demands does it say that you - as representatives of America to the rest of the world - including poor, food-insecure areas of the world -- are going to throw food away to try to force an isolationist food policy that rightly should have been reworked."

"It wasn't reworked, it was abolished," a second employee said. He was sitting towards the end of the table and hadn't said anything yet. The whole room swerved to look at him. He seemed unsure of this, but kept going, "I'm not with Sarah on throwing-"

"Traitor," Sarah muttered, crossing her arms.

"-away the food. But we will visibly refuse to eat the food until a more equitable policy can be enacted."

Blake rolled his eyes again and stood up, "Enjoy being hungry. I'm going to leave the building and go wherever I want." He directed this at Sarah, who glared passively back at him. As he strode out of the room, he muttered to himself, "That probably could have gone better."

*

Henry sat in the study at the house, glasses on, book in one hand, phone in the other. He was deep in the middle of a conversation.

"Right, but in the 12th century, Boethius' definition of person …" Henry nodded at what ever whomever on the phone was saying. "Unreality of all earthly greatness, yes, I can see where …" He again trailed off.

As he was speaking, Alison entered the house, followed quickly by Jason. Both were yelling.

"Let me call you back," Henry said quickly. He put the phone down and followed his children into the kitchen.

"If you had thought for one second before-"

"Oh, I'm supposed to censor myself, is that what you want?"

"You know what, Ali? Do whatever you want. But be careful of the consequences." Jason brushed past Henry, without offering any greeting or acknowledgement.

Henry looked at Alison, "Do I want to know?"

"My vlog about Natasha Evans is getting a lot of attention. Jason doesn't like it because he goes to school with her cousin. He's being a baby," Alison said, rolling her eyes. "He wants me to take it down, because he was asked to tell me to. I can't believe he agreed."

Henry brushed off his glasses in one solid swipe across his face, folding them and putting them into his shirt pocket just as seamlessly. "I take it your vlog was critical of Natasha Evans?"

Alison looked at him as though he were an idiot, "This is what I do, dad. I'm supposed to stop because I don't have a glowing review on her VMA outfits?"

"You could consider how this would affect people you care about," Henry tried to reason.

"He's only doing this because he thinks she's cute," Alison said. "And he thinks he can ask her out, then meet Natasha herself. Now he's mad that I've ruined his chances."

Henry considered this for a moment. He opened his mouth to say something, but the phone rang. "I have to get this, but we're not done," he said, opening his book and slipping his glasses back on as he walked back to the study. He didn't offer any greeting when he picked up the phone just continued right where he left off, "his idea of eternity and how it affected the writings of …"

*

Elizabeth sat in her office, with Nadine and Jay sitting opposite her.

"So explain it to me again?"

"China is supposed to give both India and Bangladesh reports on the flow of the Brahmaputra River during monsoon. Mainly so they can anticipate flooding. China has been refusing, and the situation that occured in Doklam isn't helping matters. We've agreed to stay neutral on the issue, to avoid angering either side, but this is more infrastructure investment from China, and since India is already anxious about China in Pakistan, the Chinese crowing about their win in Doklam-"

Elizabeth raised a hand to cut Jay off, "Wait. We just did this. We talked the Indians down and the Chinese agreed to hold off on building the road. China gets sovereignty, but the reports on flow and release were guaranteed as a part of that, were they not?"

"Yes, but-" Jay started.

"Ma'am, the Chinese aren't giving the reports. There's a vote to condemn them up at the Security Council that's currently scheduled for next month," Nadine said carefully. "While China is expected to veto the condemnation, India is feeling powerless and given the recent conflicts in the South China Sea, this is just adding tensions to the region."

"India signaling for a permanent seat will be supported and opposed by Asian countries in near-equal numbers," Jay continued. "There's no way this won't be seen as an escalation of the South China Sea debate, and it's possible that the vote next month can be seen as a referendum on permitting India to join P5."

Nadine nodded, "Ma'am, the two issues seem unavoidably interchangeable if they happen to join Brazil."

"Which they will," Elizabeth sighed wearily. "I should talk to Verma sooner than later, then. See if I can't head her off at the pass. You know, this is why we stayed neutral publicly on Brahmaputra. And I would have loved to side with India and Bhutan over Doklam, but we managed to find a peaceable solution there, so why is … I should talk to Chen, too.

*

"Minister Chen," Elizabeth said, staring into her computer screen. "Thank you for meeting me on such short notice."

"Madam Secretary," Chen started, clearly all business and not bothering with niceties. "China's difficulties with implementing the correct recording technology should not have anything to do with China's sovereignty over its borders, or China's rightful place within P5."

"I wholeheartedly agree with you that these should be separate disputes," Elizabeth said. "However, Bangladesh is saying technology or no technology, they're getting flow reports from you. One would think poking the bear with India isn't the best way for China to avoid a contentious time in front of the Security Council."

Chen smiled, "I have Bangladesh's full support on anything, and Chad's as well."

The pieces clicked and Elizabeth smiled wryly, "Because Bangladesh just got elected for its 2-year term on the Security Council and you just agreed to a solar power deal with Chad, also on a term on the Security Council."

"Yes, and I am certain once the others hear how India wants to join only to assert their-"

"Separate issue, remember," Elizabeth warned. "But, I will say, in the interest of optics, it might be best if you managed to pick up the pace on the technology that only doesn't work when India is asking for what you've promised to give them."

"It is not a separate issue when India uses it as fodder for anti-Chinese sentiment to curry favor with influential members of the UN," Chen said, sounding both hurt and angry at the same time.

"Chen, you don't think we would support India's request, do you?" Elizabeth asked point blank. "Because if you need those assurances, I personally assure you, on that front, we are on the same side."

Chen looked relieved, "Thank you, Elizabeth, that is what I had been concerned about. "You give your word you will not push for India or Japan to join the P5?"

"There will be no P7, Minister, but I cannot give assurances on this water dispute. You might want to fix your technology in a hurry, there."

"I will take that under advisement," Chen said. Elizabeth nodded and clicked off the connection. Blake appeared moments later in the doorway.

"Ma'am, Minister Verma is unavailable to speak until Thursday."

Elizabeth shook her head, "She's playing the long game. Running out the clock to see what happens with Brazil first. Smart, but risky."

She stopped there and drummed her fingers against the desk.

"Ma'am?" Blake said. "Should I keep insisting then or …"

Elizabeth looked up, "No, that's fine, Blake. Hey, how'd the thing with the cafeteria go?"

Blake looked chagrined, "Well ma'am, to be honest, it could have gone a lot better."

"Oh no."

"I wouldn't worry about it," Blake said. "I can fix it."

Elizabeth looked unconvinced.

"Really," Blake tried to reassure. "They may have threatened to throw out all their food, but that was just-" he stopped at the look on Elizabeth's face.

"I will fix it. I promise."

"Oh, I don't doubt you'll try," Elizabeth said. "Why don't we just plan ahead though, and you get me a few minutes with the cafeteria manager."

"Yes, ma'am, absolutely," Blake said. "I will get right on that."

He turned to leave, but Elizabeth called after him, "Your earnestness is why I've kept you all these years, you know."

He turned back, "Ma'am?"

She laughed, and waved a hand at him, "Oh, nevermind. Don't worry about it. Just … get me some time while I try to figure out the best approach for Germany."

"I found vanity works well," Blake said. Elizabeth waved him off and he hurried out of the room.

*

Elizabeth entered the house, to Henry sitting on the sofa, intently reading a book. He smiled at his wife, "Long day?"

She kicked off her shoes and stood, dripping in the front hall for a moment before siding over to him. "Very long. What's for dinner? Wait, don't tell me. Stevie cooked. What's really for dinner?" Elizabeth flopped onto the sofa and curled up on Henry. "I can't do meatless. Please tell me you have a backup."

"Eggplant lasagna is the official dinner," Henry said. "But if you look behind the milk carton, you'll find a paper bag containing some chicken nuggets."

Elizabeth leaned over and kissed him, "Have I told you that you're a good soul?"

"Just be thankful I didn't call out Jason for his napkin trick," Henry said. "I have a feeling he learned that from you."

Elizabeth shook her head, "No, no, that one he came up with all on his own. Or the State employees who use the cafeteria."

"They don't like the cafeteria food?" Henry asked, sounding slightly amused.

"They're upset they don't get .. something. I don't know, I wasn't paying that much attention. Too much on getting Brazil, India, and Germany to back down on joining P5." Elizabeth said. She nuzzled Henry, "But enough of that. We haven't done this in a while …"

Just as Henry leaned in, the phone rang.

"Can't we just ignore it?" Elizabeth pleaded, but Henry only smiled and picked up the phone. After a brief conversation, he hung it up and gently disentangled himself from Elizabeth.

"Jareth's on his way up."

"And Stevie's not here?"

Henry shook his head. Elizabeth thumped her head against the back of the sofa, but regained her composure and stood up, a smile on her face. Moments later, Jareth knocked and Henry answered the door.

"I'm so sorry for coming so late," Jareth said. "But Stevie texted me and requested that I bring my bubble and squeak recipe and some brown sauce for your Meatless Week endeavors, since Meatless Monday was a rousing success."

Elizabeth leaned in and gripped Henry's arm tightly.

Henry graciously took the bags, "I will make sure she gets these, thank you for stopping by."

"And stay dry out there," Elizabeth offered, waving. Once the door had closed, she turned on Henry, "Rousing success?"

Henry walked back towards the kitchen, "You never should have taught Jason that napkin trick."

Elizabeth pouted, "No, I guess I really shouldn't have."


Act Two


Elizabeth stood in Jackson's office, with Jackson sitting behind his desk, looking annoyed.

"You rang?" Elizabeth said, looking amused. "You saved me from another toxic-smelling breakfast. Why Stevie thinks she … you don't care."

Russell had waited for her to finish, looking far less than amused. "I need you to fix this."

"Fix the Brazil thing? Now the India thing? Potentially also the German thing?"

Russell grabbed his phone and stood up, only to sit back down again as a second message came in. He put the phone down and looked back at Elizabeth, "Yes, that thing. And hurry up with it."

"Yes, that's what I'm currently trying to do, but when you call me over here, Russell, I can't go make us look like we know what we're doing."

"We have the vote next month about the Brahmaputra river dispute," Russell said, looking annoyed. "We can't waste all our capital on-"

"Speaking of issues we're never going to win," Elizabeth said. She gestured with her hands.

Russell now stood, "We have to win this one. If Brazil is even moderately successful with this-"

"You know the Security Council will vote it down-"

"-they can ask for a full vote from the GA," Russell interrupted. "And they will, and that's the vote we need to win. The only way the Security Council will vote it down is over veto."

Elizabeth shook her head, "Bolivia, Bangladesh, and Barbados will vote it down with the P5. It's not the greatest optics, 8-7, but it'll get done without any veto needed."

Russell shook his head, "No, the President doesn't want it to come up for a vote at all. Do whatever you have to, but get Brazil to back off."

He stood and started to leave his office. Elizabeth called after him, "I can't work miracles all the time, Russell!"

"Just this time," he called back. "And don't make me come down there."

"No, wouldn't want that," Elizabeth said to herself as Russell was long-gone down the corridor. She looked around the empty office. "Figures he doesn't have a miracle hiding around here somewhere."

*

The staff room at the State Department was somber.

"Nothing?" Nadine said. "There has to be something."

Daisy piped, "Danny from the Post asked me about it, I managed to brush him off, but I can't hold the press forever. And honestly, I don't see why it's a big deal. Doesn't it increase the seeking of diplomatic solutions to have more members who can veto?"

"It decreases it," Nadine said. "Too many cooks in the kitchen; it's hard enough getting P5 to agree on anything, imagine if it were P7."

Daisy pressed, "But doesn't Brazil deserve a seat at the table? The idea that 21st century issues can only be solved with 1950's solutions seems a bit backwards."

"Thank you, Daisy, for making Morais' points for her," Elizabeth said, striding into the room. Everyone stood briefly, and Daisy kept her eyes downwards.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," she offered, quietly.

Elizabeth stood at the front of the table, shaking her head. "No, no, don't apologize. For one, you're not entirely wrong. Also, you're going to need to come up with answers to your questions, as it's all the press will ask you." Elizabeth smiled, "It'll be good practice." She glanced around the rest of the room, "Where are we? And why am I hearing rumors of the cafeteria closing?"

Blake looked up, guiltily, "That's my fault, ma'am. I'm fixing it."

Elizabeth gave him a long look, "Fish sticks and tater tots?"

"I'll fix it."

There was a pause for as moment, before Jay spoke up, "Ma'am, the inducements from last time still favored the United States and with Morais' anti-American rhetoric and the declining real, Brazil is looking at posting its first trade deficit in decades within the next few years. We would have to agree to go into deficit with them for them to even consider our offer."
Elizabeth pinched the bridge of her nose, "We can't just buy more soybeans? Can we convince the Chinese to buy more soybeans?"

"In all likelihood, probably not," Jay said flatly. "The Chinese are going to be busy with Japan and India, especially against Russia, who sees India and Japan joining the P5 as a way to blunt Chinese-"

Jay stopped as Elizabeth waved her hand. She shut her notebook. "Ok, time to get creative. I have to - Blake, what time …"

"You're having lunch at 12:30 with Minister Beck and his wife. Henry is also able to attend."

"Thank god, real food," Elizabeth said. "We all enjoyed Stevie's Meatless Monday a bit too much and we're on Meatless Week." She raised her voice as she continued, "Which is why I need that cafeteria to stay open, in case my house becomes vegetarian only."

Blake, looking chagrined, nodded fervently, "Yes, ma'am. It will be taken care of before you get back."

Elizabeth looked pleased at this, "Well, that's that. I will go have real food and talk Germany off insisting on being a major player, despite WWII ending in a different century and despite them having the world's 5th largest economy. Daisy, you will offer Danny whatever you have to, including an exclusive, to keep him making any more noise about this, Jay and Matt, come up with something, and Blake …" she had been pointing at each person as she spoke. When she got to Blake, she threw her hands up in exasperation, "you're going to need some inducements of your own. Nadine will you …"

"I will be happy to help Blake practice his diplomacy," Nadine said, looking resolute. She shot Blake a look, who ducked his head in shame.

"Excellent, I can't wait to see how this will all go wrong," Elizabeth sighed.

*

The restaurant where Elizabeth was meeting Minister Beck and his wife was an upscale restaurant, but downscale enough that the Minister could realistically feel that he was giving his wife a true DC experience. The pouring rain contributed to the ambience. Elizabeth shook herself off as she entered, but stopped dead in her tracks.

"Jareth? What are you …"

"I'm so sorry, ma'am", Jareth said. "I was at the house, helping Stevie cook tonight's lasagna, and Henry had been planning to come, but he got a phone call, and he said I should go, so you weren't alone, and that Minister Beck and I could bond over our love of … should I not have come?"

He shouldn't have, but Elizabeth couldn't send him away; Minister Beck had already seen her enter and was beckoning her over. She slid off her gloves and slipped out of her coat. "Oh, it'll be fine. Just avoid any talk of British Imperialism. You look freezing. And very wet. You're from Britain, do you not have a proper raincoat?"

"My one is ragged to shreds and I haven't been able to-"

Elizabeth threw an arm over his shoulder and started to lead him to the Minister's table, "I'll get you an LL Bean one if Germany agrees not to ask to join the Security Council."

Before Jareth could respond to this, they were at the table. "Minister!" Elizabeth beamed. "It's so good to see you, and I finally get to meet the wonderful Margaret, Ivan has told me all about you. This is Jareth Glover, Stevie's boyfriend. Henry had a work emergency and sent along a fill-in."

"Pleased to meet you," Jareth said, his accent crisp and sharp in the room.

As everyone sat down, Ivan inquired, "Ah, a Brit, then? Is Elizabeth trying to stack the deck."

"Now, now," Margaret said, "You promised to keep the politics to a minimum." She turned to Elizabeth, "Don't let anything he says fool you; he adores you and the work you're doing. He was like a puppy at Christmas when you agreed to have lunch."

Elizabeth smiled warmly at Margaret, then turned to Ivan, "Minister, you need to bring your wife to town more often. It's a shame your daughter is graduating in a few weeks."

Jareth perked up at this, "Oh? Where?"

"Georgetown," Ivan said, proudly.

Jareth grinned, "Ah, yes. I will be, myself, in a few weeks, leaving Georgetown as well. To Oxford for me."

Ivan sat up a little straighter, "You know of my daughter? Henrietta Beck?"

"There's a lot of people at Georgetown," Elizabeth said.

Just after, Margaret added, "He can't be assumed to know everything, dear. Etta is studying biomedical science. She has a fellowship at TUM in einklang-

"Unison," Ivan filled in.

"Yes," she continued, "in unison with Neovii."

"That is very impressive," Elizabeth said. She picked up her menu. "Now, I've heard the duck here is very good, but I haven't tried it myself. Shall I be brave, do you think? Jareth, will you tell on me if I have some duck?"

Both Beck's looked curious at this, so Elizabeth waved her hand at Jareth, "He can explain. It's all his fault."

Jareth looked affronted at this, "I am merely supporting my girlfriend in her endeavor to-"

"Slowly kill her parents," Elizabeth muttered.

Jareth was unswayed by this, "In her endeavor to phase meat out of her diet."

Minister Beck laughed, a hearty chuckle, "Ah, but someone has to eat the cows, or the economy would crash, would it not, Mr. Glover?"

*

Blake stood in the middle of an almost deadly quiet cafeteria. Nadine stood beside him, as did Daisy.

"You really managed to piss them off," Daisy said, stating the obvious.

"You sure did," Nadine said, looking fierce, but not angry. "What were their demands?"

"Our demands are organic, locally-sourced food," said Sarah from behind them. She smirked at Blake, "I'm enjoying being hungry right now, how about you? Still planning to go wherever you want?"

Nadine whispered to him, now sounding angry, "What. Did you do?" She looked at Sarah, "And you're … the lead spokesperson? Top diplomat of the 'Better Food Brigade?'"

"You can mock all you want," Sarah said, gesturing around the cafeteria, "but you can't deny that I'm being effective."

Blake visibly bristled, "And I wonder what the food truck receipts will show for today."

Nadine held up a hand to silence everyone. "Sarah, this is impressive. I hope these skills can be put to good use in far more consequential situations."

"This isn't consequential enough?" Sarah shot back.

"You work for the State Department," Nadine reminded her. "Working on State solutions. Not what's to eat in the mess hall."

"So you're not going to take this seriously?"

Nadine gestured at Daisy, who had been quietly standing there, sizing up Sarah.

Daisy smiled, "What's your press strategy? Discord at State? An argument for isolationist trade? Beyond the Budget? No matter, I can twist anything into a positive. Including the closing of the cafeteria to save costs over cutting personnel. Add in that you forced the cafeteria to close because you didn't believe in any idea of statesmanship, and are you sure you want to be the spokesperson for this? You might wind up with a pink slip for lunch."

"Thank you, Daisy," Nadine said. "Now, we'd like to avoid that, and focus on the far more pressing matters at hand."

Sarah looked wary for a second, but only a second. Then she recovered. "I'm sure the press will be interested in knowing that the Secretary cares about open dialogue and finding common solutions unless and until it comes to her own staff. Then everyone follow the leader. I'm sure they'll want to know that the Secretary favors scoring political points over the well-being of her staff."

Blake interrupted, looking agitated, "It's hokey science. It's fake. Organic isn't better and-"

"And even if it were, this isn't the time or place to have this argument," Nadine said. "The unavoidable reality is that Congress has cut State's budget, and cuts have to be made to meet that budget. While workers have been fortunate to have the food they have, changes have to be made for the greater good. The Secretary-"

"The Secretary understands the need for more healthful food choices, which is why the cuts don't replace low-calorie, low-salt foods with fish sticks and tater tots," Daisy picked up. "The cuts aren't really cuts and are a maximization of the supply-chain. Workers are still able to enjoy high-quality food, for less." She took a few steps forward as she spoke, and Sarah took a few steps back. "And I not only won the news cycle, anything else you say looks like pedantic whining and the Secretary will have no choice but to demand your resignation."

Nadine nodded, "And that's if she doesn't flat out fire you."

"So call off your dogs," Blake added. Both women turned to look at him with looks of admonishment on their faces. "Sorry," he squeaked. "I got caught up in the moment."

Nadine turned back to Sarah, "Are we making ourselves understood?"

Sarah mulled over the question, then acquiesced, "Yes, I understand."

"And you'll tell everyone to use the mess again, or face its closure?"

"I'll try," Sarah said.

Nadine shook her head, "No. You will. Or you won't be eating in the mess at all, because you won't be in the building. Is that clear?"

Sarah nodded and turned to leave.

"Yes!" Blake said, once she had left. "High five, team!" He offered Nadine his hand, but she just shook her head. Blake sheepishly lowered it. "I - thank you for saving me."

"We're not out of the woods yet," Nadine said. "But you're welcome."

*

Margaret and Jareth were deep in conversation as the two parties readied to depart from lunch. Minister Beck looked at them and smiled. Then, resolute, he turned back to Elizabeth, "You may have stacked the deck-"

Elizabeth shook her head, "Believe it or not, it was supposed to be Henry."

"Well, fortune smiles on us, then. Germany will, how did I put it earlier? Eat the cow to keep the economy moving. We won't join Brazil in their demand."

Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief and the tension visible ebbed off her. "Ivan, the US will repay you for this. I'm not sure how, but we will."

"You will buy more cows," Ivan said. "That is how all of this has been stopped in the past, has it not?"

"You know what? I think you're onto something," Elizabeth said slowly. "Jareth, are you ready? Margaret, wonderful to meet you, please come visit again. Give my best to Henrietta, graduating Georgetown is a tremendous honor."

The Beck's exited first, with Jareth and Elizabeth behind them. "Did I do right?" Jareth asked, looking nervous. "You said not to talk about British Imperialism, but he … started it," Jareth finished, trailing off.

"You did beautifully," Elizabeth said as she slipped on her coat. "Crisis with Germany averted, some delicious duck we're not telling Stevie about … yes, you can expect the finest coat LL Bean can buy."

"I don't really need-" Jareth started, but Elizabeth shook her head and Jareth nodded. "Well, I am glad to be of assistance. Though may I ask, you really hate Stevie's meatless recipes that badly?"

Elizabeth regarded him for a second, then nodded, "I hate them. I need bacon, Jareth, it's my duty as an American. Please, please, can you at least get her to stop making weird British things?"

Jareth laughed, "Yes, the British palate is not for everyone. I will do my best, and I hope you'll make it home for dinner tonight. It's a palatable meal, I assure you."


Act Three


Blake was waiting for Elizabeth at the elevator.

"Middle of the day elevator greet? This really can't be good," Elizabeth said. "On the upside, it's stopped raining. Is this cafeteria or Brazil or something else? Cos I gotta tell ya, I don't really care about the cafeteria."

"No ma'am," Blake said. "That situation appears to be heading towards a resolution. It's Alison. She's waiting for you in your office."

Elizabeth looked puzzled, "Shouldn't she be at school?"

"It's my understanding she went home sick, ma'am," Blake said. "The school called and asked for her to be picked up. I didn't want to interrupt the lunch the Beck's, so I took it upon myself to have her picked up. She said she didn't want to go home and asked to be brought here instead. I put her in your office."

"With the door closed to contain any contagions, I imagine," Elizabeth said, dryly.

Blake didn't say anything to this, but stopped at his desk instead of continuing on into Elizabeth's office with her, as he usually did.

"It's why I kept you, Blake, I find your hypochondria amusing." She frowned. "I should probably be more concerned about it, but oh right, I just don't care. While I'm in with my youngest daughter, will you gather the team? Beck said something at lunch that just might work with Brazil."

"Right away, ma'am," Blake said, speeding away.

Elizabeth laughed as she opened the door to her office, but that disappeared immediately when she saw how distraught Alison looked.

"Ali, what happened?" Elizabeth said, rushing over to Alison, who was still crying.

"It's gone, mom," Ali sobbed. Elizabeth pulled her onto the sofa and Alison buried herself in Elizabeth's arms. "I don't know how he did it, but the entire vlog is gone."

Elizabeth's brow furrowed, "This is about your videos? You're not hurt? Sick? Just upset?"

"Isn't that enough?!" the teenager wailed. "Everything I've worked so hard for is all gone, just because Jason has a stupid unrequited crush."

"I'm clearly missing some pieces here," Elizabeth said. "But the school sent you home over this?"

Alison composed herself long enough to nod, then let out another sob. Elizabeth let out a soft murmur and pulled Alison closer. "I can't - I can't -"

Elizabeth nodded, "You can't stop crying."

Alison nodded.

"Okay," Elizabeth said. "Noodle, I get this seems like an emergency, and I know you're upset, but you can't get sent home from school because you can't calm down."

"Ma'am-" came Blake's voice over the intercom. "Ma'am, everyone is ready."

Elizabeth kissed the top of Alison's head. "I have to go save the free world again, then we'll talk and pick up a quick snack before heading home for dinner, okay?"

Alison sat up and nodded, and spoke as Elizabeth headed out the door, "I'm okay. I'm sorry, mom. I just don't know how Jason did it."

This got Elizabeth to turn back. She reached a hand out to Alison, then closed her fist, a pained expression on her face. "Ahhh," she said, frustrated. She opened the door a crack. "We will talk about this later. And, oh, if you get a chance, be sure to cough on Blake."

She opened the door to find Blake standing right there. She poked her head back into the room, "Maybe don't cough on Blake."

Blake had covered his nose and mouth immediately. "Ma'am," he said, his voice muffled. "Melo called. He will be in the US tomorrow to speak with you regarding this."

Elizabeth looked at him pityingly, then caved. "She's not sick, Blake. Just upset."

"Oh." Blake's entire demeanor changed. He dropped his hand and looked a bit more cheerful. "You really think you can convince Brazil to drop it?

"I really hope so," Elizabeth said as they entered the staff room.

"I was just having lunch with the German Minister," she began.

Daisy looked like the wanted to say something, but hesitated. Elizabeth nodded at her to go ahead. "A lunch celebrating the family accomplishments at Georgetown, nothing political discussed, congratulations to Henrietta and Jareth, etc etc."

Elizabeth beamed, "Perfect. As you know, Stevie has decided we're all to become vegetarians. I made a joke of it, and Beck said something about needing to eat the cows to keep the economy rolling. What is Brazil one of the largest exporters of?"

Blank stares from the staff.

Matt looked uncomfortable, but answered, "Halal meat, but ma'am, there's several concerns, especially regarding Saudi Arabia. There's still a ban on them."

Elizabeth held a hand up at Matt, "Yes. Everything Matt is saying is true. But, I think, if we can come up with a way to guarantee the inspections, we can get Saudi Arabia to lift the ban. That should be inducement enough to get Brazil to back off this time, yes? Jay?"

Jay looked thoughtful, "They already have a surplus with the OIC, this would boost their economy without the US making trade concessions, or convincing anyone to buy more soybeans."

"How are we going to guarantee the inspections, though?" Matt asked. "Brazil's system isn't up to standards enough for Saudi Arabia and they're not going to spend the money themselves."

Daisy looked up from her papers, "Why don't we do it? We'll take a hit, it'll give Morais the win she needs to extract something from the US, and she'll get increased trade surplus as a result."

Elizabeth nodded. "I can sell this, this works." She hit her hand on the table, "I knew something good would come out of Meatless Monday. Blake, get me Russell, I'll need approval on the inspectors. How are we with India?"

"Nothing from them, ma'am, they're still waiting to see how Brazil shakes out," Nadine said. "And you'll be happy to hear that the situation with the cafeteria looks as though it's coming to a close."

"Really?" Elizabeth said. "I heard differently in the elevator. Make sure, will you? I don't want this getting in the press ahead of Brazil and meat."

"Yes ma'am," Nadine said, and Elizabeth grinned again.

"We might actually come out dead even on this one."

*

Elizabeth walked into the Oval Office, chewing on a beef jerky. "Sorry," she said to Dalton and Russell. "Sorry, Jareth promised me dinner last night would be edible and he … lied. By a lot. I'm so hungry."

Russell looked impatient, while Dalton looked amused. "It was a nice lunch you had with Beck. I'm glad to hear Germany isn't insisting on joining. We're certain Japan and India will stay out of it?"

"India will, unless Brazil gets some traction," Elizabeth said. "And Japan will go through their Parliament first, as well as giving a better heads up. Morias rolled in on some strong anti-American sentiment."

"We were worried about this," Dalton said, frowning. "Worried about having to play geopolitics in that area again."

"The only good news," Elizabeth started, choosing her words carefully, "is that Melo is still on our side. He's hanging on to his position by mere threads, but until they can find someone qualified to be there on their side, they're stuck with him."

Dalton regarded her carefully. "And you're certain this is something you can leverage?"

Elizabeth nodded, "That's why I'm here. I have a proposal. The Saudi's are on board, we just need to get our inspectors to certify Brazilian halal butchers and processing centers." Elizabeth paused. "For free."

Jackson started at that. "What? What?! No. Tell the Brazilians they're going to back down or else."

Elizabeth shook her head, emphasizing her point with her hands, "We can't. We have a trade surplus with them. Given the anti-American sentiment, cancelling trade deals with the United States will gain favor with the population, even as the real decreases in value as a result."

"They're going to crash their economy over a - over a publicity stunt!" Russell fumed. He paced back and forth quickly. "And if they - jesus, we're looking at destabilizing the entire South and Latin American economies that will take decades to repair, even with US involvement!"

"I know," Elizabeth said, placatingly. "I know. Which is why, sir-" this she addressed to Dalton, "Sir, this is our best course of action to stop this from coming before the Security Council. Sending our inspectors will give the security that the Saudi's are looking for. It will give Brazil-"

Russell shook his head, "We're going to give them an economic boost so they don't - we're just setting up ourselves to be blackmailed by India, Germany, Japan and and - and god knows who else!" He paused, breathless, and addressed Dalton, "Sir, we have to let them sink on their own-"

"Sinking on their own could collapse any number of economies - Russell, you know this. Sir, we can't-"

"We can't be seen as being blackmailed," Russell snarled. "There's nothing else you can do?"

Everyone was silent for a moment.

"Bess?" Dalton asked.

She shook her head, "No. Sir, this is our best course of action. It's our best chance to preserve economic stability and prevent a global outcry over the UN."

Dalton nodded, "We'll try it, Bess. It better work."

*

Daisy walked apprehensively into Nadine's office. "Ummm," she said slowly.

Nadine looked up, "What is it, Daisy? Something with Brazil?"

Daisy shook her head, "No, it's about the cafeteria." She tapped her folder nervously, "I'm getting … questions."

Nadine pulled off her glasses and bit the end of them, "And what sort of questions?"

"That you threatened to fire a high-level State Department worker when she raised opposition to the food cuts."

"You were there, Daisy," Nadine said, her voice calm and level. "You couldn't get them to back off?"

Daisy winced, "They're on the scent, Nadine, I can't stop them when they're on the scent. There's a human interest story here, and - and … our approach may not have been the best one."

 

"It would have been nice to know this before we spoke with Sarah," Nadine said, still sounding unconcerned. "Anyone I need to be worried about?"

Daisy shook her head, "Not yet, ma'am, but it's only a matter of time."

Nadine smirked, "Well, then, I think it's time we deploy our nuclear option, don't you?"

"You mean …?" Daisy asked.

Nadine just nodded.

*

At the press briefing, Nadine stood in the back while Daisy answered questions.

"Uhh, Tom," she said, pointing at someone three rows back.

"Yea, I've got a question about the lunch with the Secretary and Minister Beck. According to witnesses, they discussed the price of beef in the EU and how to make it cheaper. Do you have a comment on that?"

Nadine took a deep breath, but Daisy was ready and prepared for the question, "The Secretary has been eating vegetarian at home at the behest of her daughter and was eager to cheat by eating the Pan-Seared Duck with Blueberry. She gave it a 6 out of 5 stars, but admits she might have been a little biased, as it was the first bite of meat she'd had in days. Tom, I'd say your source misheard the elation the Secretary felt and how it amused the Minister and his wife. Especially considering that Germany is one of the top meat exporters in the EU."

The room laughed, and Nadine took a deep breath.

Tom followed up, "So you're denying any political talk?"

"There may have been an innocuous joke about eating cows, but I assure you, the meal was to celebrate both families successes at Georgetown," Daisy said, easily.

"Um, Mark," she pointed to the front row.

"What can you tell us about the Secretary's meeting with Minister Melo of Brazil and their request to permanently join the UN Security Council?" he asked.

"I can tell you that the Secretary is meeting with Melo as a courtesy, I can't tell you what exactly is on the agenda, I imagine their request will come up," Daisy said, sounding bored with the question.

"Does the Secretary consider what's happening with the cafeteria a bigger issue?" Mark followed up with.

Daisy looked momentarially taken aback, "I'm sorry?"

"Apparently the Secretary's Chief of Staff threatened to fire Sarah Madden, who works for the Assistant Deputy for Near Eastern Affairs, over her objections to removing the healthy food options from the cafeteria menu. Do you have any comment on that?"

Daisy took a deep breath, "Mark, that is very out of context. Ms. Madden had expressed a legitimate concern, but has acted outside of the protocol of reporting those announcements. Regrettably, severe disciplinary measures will need to be taken." She shifted, and tried to point at someone else, "Jane?"

Mark persisted, "Will the Secretary fire Ms. Madden over this insubordination?"

Nadine put her hand to her necklace, playing with it while waiting for Daisy's response.

"That's up to the Secretary, Mark," Daisy said. "Now, Jane?"

"Yes, about the Blue Salt dispute in Lebanon, will the Secretary …"

Nadine smiled as the briefing continued and left the room drumming her fingers on her arm conspiratorially.

*

Henry sat in the house, cooking dinner and watching the news, when Jason burst into the house.

"Alison!" Jason yelled. "Alison, how dare you?!"

He stormed into the kitchen. "Where's Alison?"

Henry looked concerned, "What happened?"

"She got unsuspended and posted again," Jason bemoaned. "And of course she posted about Natasha again, but she was- dad, she was just vicious. She said the meanest, most untrue things she could."

Henry looked unconcerned about this, "And she did this in retaliation for you getting her suspended?"

"She wouldn't take it down!" Jason said, angrily. "It affected me, at school, and she wouldn't take it down, because all she wants is to be famous."

"Did you ask her to take it down-" Henry held up a hand before Jason answered. "Or," Henry continued, "did you demand she take it down?"

Jason looked upset at this line of questioning. "If I'd asked her nicely, she wouldn't have," he countered.

Henry raised a brow, stirring the pot, "And you know this how?"

"Because," Jason huffed. "She'd do it just to upset me. What are you making?"

"I'm making Indian curry," Henry said. "Giving Stevie a break."

"It smells better than her toxic sludge," Jason said. "Almost edible."

"Be nice to your sisters, Jason," Henry said. "Alison's finding her own path in the world, and the way she's found to do that, is to evaluate fashion, something I think you and I will never understand, but she does, and she seems to be good at it. Do you think she knew the cousin of a famous individual attended your school in your year and knew you personally?"

Jason scowled as he thought about this, "I guess not. But she still should have taken it down."

"Did you demand, or did you ask?" Henry asked. "Asking gets you a lot further than demanding. Something I employ in my job daily. People liked to be asked, Jason. Remember that. No matter what the situation. Whether you're asking them for a favor, a personal courtesy, or a date, people like to be asked."

The young teen still scowled, watching his father cook in silence. "So … how do I fix this?" he finally asked.

Henry smiled, "The good news is, your sister is a reasonable individual. I'm sure if you sat her down and explained what was going on, and asked her to let others talk at all about Natasha, she would listen. Tell you what," Henry said, holding the spoon and looking diplomatic, "I'll even sit in and listen and make sure she's hearing what you're saying- but. Only if what you're saying is a genuine ask, not a demand."

Jason perked up, "And you'll make her take it down?"

"I will make sure she listens to your reasoned arguments," Henry said. "And if I have to have a separate conversation with her, I will."

*

"Minister Melo, pleasure," Elizabeth said, beaming in the reception room at her office. "I'm so glad you could make it to DC. Maria must be devastated you've left her alone."

 

Hector laughed, "I am glad of the break, but Maria understands what this job is about. She understands why I stayed."

Elizabeth laughed, "Well, come on in, can Blake get you anything?"

Hector shook his head, "No, I'm fine, thank you. Well, maybe … tea? Your American coffee-"

"Oh, we have Brazilian coffee. Blake?"

"Right away, ma'am," Blake said, hurrying off.

Elizabeth smiled, "We know how to take care of our guests. Besides, you produce a third of all coffee, so we had a decent shot of getting it right."

Hector laughed, relaxing under Elizabeth's light mood.

"I am sorry the circumstances that brought me here," he said gravely as he followed her into her office. "I do wish it had been under better circumstances. I love Washington. Such a microcosm."

"A highly selective microcosm," Elizabeth laughed. "Go to Montana and you'll get an entirely different one."

"I also love the plates on the cars," Hector continued. "Taxation Without Representation. Such an undermining of the American doctrine of Manifest Destiny, is it not?"

Elizabeth waved her hand, "Oh, trust me, they benefit greatly without needing the representation. Ah, here's Blake with the cafezhino." To herself, she muttered, "Thank goodness," as Blake brought a tray containing two cups and a coffee carafe, alongside small bowls of cream and sugar.

"Thank you," Hector said. "Do you know the proper ratio of cream and sugar to coffee?"

"No," Elizabeth said, her eyes bright. "Blake, thank you. Tell me, what is the correct ratio?"

"No cream," Hector instructed, as Elizabeth reached for the cream pot. She pulled her hand back and grinned sheepishly at the Foreign Minister. "Sugar," Hector said. "Elizabeth, all the sugar you can manage, that is the secret to cafezhino."

"I look forward to it," Elizabeth said, following Hector's lead and spooning massive amounts of sugar into her cup. "As much as I look forward to discussing opening up your Halal meat trade. We have a way to open your markets with Saudi Arabia."

Hector looked sad as he put down his cup, "I must decline, Secretary McCord. Officially, from Minister Schmitz and President Morais."

"Will you tell me why?" Elizabeth asked, he voice tight. "This will stop the destabilization of the entire region, Hector. Please. Tell me what it is we need to do.


Act Four


Elizabeth sat on the bed, pouting. "He said he won't even consider it unless the trade deficit is addressed," she said, picking at the duvet. "We've been friends for so long now, and until this election of this maverick, we had - we had been able to talk to each other. Now he's toeing the party line and I understand why, I just … anyway, how are things with Ali and Jason?"

Henry was brushing his teeth and came to stand in the alcove. "Still WWIII," he said. "But we're working on a peaceable solution."

"Alison will back down?"

Henry finished at the sink and came over to the bed. "Only if Jason asks nicely," he said, fluffing the pillows before climbing into bed. "Alison deserves the opportunity to turn him down."

"The curses of being diplomatic," Elizabeth sighed. "But you'll get her to back down, right?"

"I will give her every opportunity to do the right thing," Henry said, turning over to wrap an arm around Elizabeth. "Have you given Melo every opportunity? You know he wants to back you."

Elizabeth sighed, and flipped onto her back, "The only thing to do is agree to a reduction of the trade deficit. We don't need anything of theirs."

"Maybe it's not about need, and maybe it doesn't have to be large," Henry suggested. "She just wants to be able to be effective, right? Even small victories can have big impact. Why not try the little things?"

"Yea," Elizabeth said, still staring at the ceiling. She rolled over to face Henry. "I really can't come home to WWIII and a vegetarian dinner tomorrow."

Henry leaned over and kissed her, "I can only help with the former. I thought you bribed Jareth?"

"I tried. Best coat LL Bean had. Still unedible tofu chunks."

Henry snuggled closer to her, "You're telling me Melo came all the way here and didn't bring you any steaks?"

"Good point," Elizabeth said. "I just need to convince him to give them to me."

"And a meat-hungry family will thank you," Henry teased.

"Oh, hush," Elizabeth laughed. "You encouraged her."

Henry shook his head, "No, I had none of that first quiche. That was all you."

Elizabeth groaned, and shifted back over. "Always my fault, isn't it?"

*

"Steaks," Elizabeth said to Russell, in his office. "We buy steaks."

"We can't just-"

Elizabeth shook her head, "No, no. Just us. Just the State Department. We've been saying our cafeteria needs to reflect the world we serve, right? Two birds, one stone. Halal meat, Brazil goes home happy, we avert catastrophe."

"And you fire that nitwit?"

"Russell, she's just trying to-"

"It's bad press. Fire her."

"She's great at her job, I can't-"

Russell looked unconvinced, "She made us look bad. Now it's going to look like we're buying Brazil's meat just to piss her off and I don't want to read about how pissed she is in the paper. I already don't want to buy their meat, so I definitely don't want to defend buying their meat."

Elizabeth pounced, "Aha, so I can do it? I can take this to Melo?"

"Regrettably."

"You know you're doing the right thing," Elizabeth teased. "And you know you secretly feel good about averting a potential global depression."

Russell gave her a stern look. "I admit nothing. And I would like to know how much this is going to cost us down the line."

Elizabeth shrugged, "We'll have to give Germany a favor later, and I'm sure we can wriggle something out of China for keeping India at bay."

"We didn't keep India at bay."

"China doesn't know that."

"Fair. And Japan won't seize upon us for something?"

"Contrary to popular belief, it's not the overwhelming opinion in Japan to join the P5. They don't want to be a global superpower. They have enough domestically. We'll worry if they get their birth rate stabilized, but until then, nothing will make it through their official channels," Elizabeth said cleanly, keeping herself composed as Russell paced behind his desk.

"I don't like what this means for relations with Brazil," Russell said. "How in the hell did that celebrity Morais win? Weren't we all convinced she had no chance?"

Elizabeth nodded, "Their economy is shrinking, the real is decreasing in value, corruption still hasn't been weeded out, and the population is desperate for a change. They grasped at the most obvious example of that. I understand it, they want what they've been promised."

"Buying their steaks won't help," Russell pointed out. "It's a drop in the bucket."

"It's a start," Elizabeth said. "We'll take it one day at a time with them. This also, I can't stress enough, gives Melo the cover he needs to stay in his post. We need Melo. He's on our side."

Russell sighed, frustrated. "Fine," he bitterly conceded. "Fine, but eventually we're going to have to play hard ball."

Elizabeth nodded, "Fine. But at least for today …"

Russell waved her off, "Yea, yea, at least for today. Go get it done."

"Thank you, sir," Elizabeth said, gratefully.

*

"Now," Henry said, seated at the dining room table with Alison and Jason. "I'm only here to observe and to make sure each side is heard. I'm not offering advice, or taking anyone's side. Alison, why don't you start."

Alison looked confused, "Start? Start where? I make videos about fashion and fashion choices." She shot her next comment at Jason, "I wasn't the only one criticizing her choices."

Henry held up a hand to stop Jason. "Alison …" he warned.

She let out a low grumble. "Fine," she said. "I make these videos and I didn't know that it was going to take off or that Natasha Evans' cousin was at your school."

Jason hunched his shoulders defensively, but Henry placed his hand on his shoulder, and Jason leaned back. "It's not just that I like Natalie," Jason said. "Everyone already knows I'm the son of the Secretary, so any other publicity just gets more attention, and you attacking Natasha just makes her cousin mad and her cousin makes sure that everyone knows who was behind it."

"I never meant to make it harder for you," Alison said. "I didn't even know Natalie Evans went to your school, or that she was related to Natasha Evans. I wouldn't have been reviewing her at all, if I'd known."

Jason looked at Henry, who nodded encouragingly. He bit his lip and looked at Alison, "Do you think you could, please, take them down?"

Alison thought about it, even looking to Henry, who looked back at her, impassively, refusing to take a side. Under his neutrality, she broke down. "Okay," she said, but she was looking to see how Henry reacted. "I'll take them down. And … and I'll stop reviewing Natasha Evans while you're still going to school with her cousin."

Jason smiled and Henry nodded. "I think it sounds like we have an equitable solution," Henry said.

Alison nodded and laughed, "Yea, I guess we do."

"Thanks," Jason said.

"Yea," Alison said. "Sorry." She quirked a smile at Jason, who smirked back at her.

*

Elizabeth and Hector sat in her office, both on the sofa, both looking relaxed, both staring at a box marked 'Brazilian Prime Steak'. Both were sipping coffee.

"You know," Elizabeth said, curling her feet under her, "I'm pretty sure I came out ahead here. What did my staff give you? Blake give you anything?"

"Jay asked me for lots of advice," Hector said. "But yes, Blake gave me a home security system. He said it was top of the line."

"He's a good egg, that Blake," Elizabeth said. "You know, I could have picked anyone for my Executive Assistant, but that man … I've never met anyone who is so steadfastly dedicated to his position without wanting to seek any higher power himself. All of the work, none of the glory."

"He picked it himself? You didn't …" Hector trailed off, looking amused.

Elizabeth shook her head, "I haven't had time, honestly." She furrowed her brow and nodded, "I should tell him that more often. Like you. I really do appreciate you and your steadfastness in keeping relations between our countries as stable as they can be."

Hector nodded, "I will see what I can do, going forward. This will help, I think."

"Minister or not, you can always send a Christmas card of those adorable twins," Elizabeth said. "And, you know, send steaks."

"No more Meatless McCords?"

Elizabeth laughed, "No, no more Meatless McCords. In fact …" she put down her coffee cup, "I hate to cut this short, but I have to tell the staff what's happening, and … some other unpleasant things."

"Of course," Hector nodded and took one last gulp of his coffee. "For Americans, you do a passable cafezhino."

*

Sarah sat at her desk, typing from a document in front of her. She didn't look up at the knock at the door, and Elizabeth, the knocker, smiled to herself. She knocked again, "Ms. Madden?"

Sarah looked up and her jaw dropped in shock. "Ma'am, I mean, I, um, Madam Secretary," she said quickly, standing. She smoothed out her suit, and held out her hand, "It's an honor."

Elizabeth didn't take her hand. "This is going to be short-lived and simple: You're fired."

Sarah's jaw dropped, but she quickly recovered, "I speak Arabic, Mandarin, Farsi, and Persian. I'm a valuable asset to-"

Elizabeth shook her head, "No, no. Valuable assets understand that both at home and abroad, diplomacy is our bread and butter. You decided to take a totalitarian approach. Now I'll admit, Blake might have taken my instructions a little too literally, but when I send Blake-"

She stopped and laughed, "I mean, honestly, I sent my Executive Assistant. Did you think you were playing at the kid's table?"

Sarah swallowed hard, "I didn't think-"

"No, you didn't," Elizabeth said. "You didn't think at all. And while I admire what you got the staff of this building to do, I disapprove of the tactics, especially going to the press after my Chief of St-" Elizabeth did a timeline motion with her hands, "Can we talk about how, if you didn't think sending Blake was me taking it seriously, me sending my press secretary and my Chief of Staff should have maybe clued you in that what they were asking was a direct order?"

"I'm sorry," Sarah said. "Please-"

Elizabeth shook her head, still smiling. "Please nothing. Security is outside. You have ten minutes and they'll escort you out. And in ten minutes, an email is going to go out, announcing that in the spirit of practicing what we aim for around the globe, the State Department will host a different country's food exports each year. Starting July 1st, all of the meat served here will be US-certified halal meat from Brazil." She leaned in towards the stunned Sarah and whispered, "And it's such a shame you won't get to enjoy any of it."

Then she straightened up, leaving a stunned Sarah to stand there as two security officers filed in behind Elizabeth. One of them held a ream box and offered it to the former employee, who took it, nodding and sniffling.

*

Elizabeth walked through her front door, the agent closing the door behind her, as she had her hands full with the box from Hector. "Hello!" she called into the house. "Hello, I have dinner!"

Two heads poked into the foyer, Stevie and Jareth.

"Hey, Jareth, how's the coat?" she asked, slipping out of her own as Jareth helped her with the box.

"Mom. We talked about this," Stevie said. "Stop buying Jareth things."

"He needed a coat," Elizabeth protested, but half-heartedly. "And he came to the dinner and helped with the German Minister."

"Yes," Jareth called back from the kitchen. "Where should I put these steaks, Mrs. McCord?"

"Steaks?!" Stevie cried, looking from the kitchen towards Elizabeth. "You have steaks?!"

"Brazilian steaks," Elizabeth whispered. "I would be sorry, but …" she practically skipped to the kitchen. "Leave some out for dinner tonight, Jareth, and you'll stay, yes? I'll cook up steak like you've never had it before, I have a recipe from the Minister and everything."

"Mo-om!" Stevie protested, running towards the kitchen, where Elizabeth and Jareth were eagerly unpacking the box.