"You don't have a choice."

"I said no."


"Ira, NO."

Ira sighed, folding her arms across her chest and leaning wearily against the doorframe. Her single red braid laid over her shoulder, fraying around its tie, and she looked to be at the end of her rope.

Her opponent hadn't bothered to look up from the book she was reading. Her glasses were resting on the end of her snub, stubborn nose, and her gray-green eyes were scanning the letters at an intimidating pace.

The silence drew out.

Ira finally sighed again. Danielle glanced up, and seeing her still there, shut her book.

"I don't get why you think I should go. You know I will hate absolutely every moment of it, and it's more likely than not that I'll do something really embarrassing."

"It's their way of thanking you."

Dani's eyes flashed. "I don't want thanks."

The blue in Ira's eyes hardened. "This isn't about you."

"The entire ceremony is about me!"

"It's about reminding people we have a reason to celebrate!" Ira yelled, her voice climbing. She'd risen a few inches in the air; she glanced down to see her feet floating above the floor, rolled her eyes, and landed with a thump.

Dani looked down. She was suddenly back there, her eyes seeing the countdown flashing on the screen above her head, her fingers pushing the keyboard faster than she ever had. She drew again the breath of relief when the countdown froze and the computers crashed. But walking outside, and seeing the bodies of her friends littering the field with the deactivated robots...the victory was suddenly pain. Ira had landed next to her, arm bleeding, and stumbled. They'd looked together for Drake, and found him still in army gear, a massive hole in his side. She was not going back to that field. She looked back up at her friend.

"I don't care if it's an order from the president, I'm not going."

"It is an order from the president."

"I don't care."

They glared at each other. Their war broke when Dani moved, wrapping her arms around her knees and resting her head on them. She was so tired of fighting. She heard Ira come over and settle on the arm of her chair, resting an arm on Dani's shoulders.

Ira waited a moment. "Look, I know you're an introvert, and you hate this." Her arm tightened. "And that's one of your strengths, it lets you give more of yourself to our league than anyone but Drake. You don't need a break as often as the rest of us do. But Dani, much as you hate it, this is a part of our job too. We don't just keep people safe, we help heal their souls after they need us. And today, that means getting out of your library, out of our base, and with other people."

"Can't you go?" Dani asked, her voice muffled by her knees.

"I am going. But I'm not the one who whooped an entire army of robots with a single computer command."

"You would have just fried the computer."

Dani could almost hear Ira grin. "That's my specialty, after all." She moved her hand to stroke Dani's hair. Dani sighed, echoing Ira's earlier sentiments, and lifted her head. She pushed her glasses back in place so she could see her friend.

"It has to be me?" Ira nodded, still stroking her hair.

"You and Drake...and Infinity." She paused, and added hastily, "But I'll make sure you don't have to talk to him...so, please?"

Dani rolled her eyes. "Great. This just gets better and better." She scowled, thinking. Ira just waited. Dani finally looked up at her again.

"Pick me something to wear?" Ira's eyes lit up.


Dani scowled. "And get your foot off my book."

Ira laughed, moving gracefully to her feet, then reaching over to pull Dani up as well. "You got it, girlfriend." Her smile got wider as she tugged Dani towards the hall. "But we have one more mission first."

Dani looked at her warily. "And what would that be?"

"Convincing Drake to go."

"WHAT?!" Dani yelled, stopping half way through the door. Ira just grinned. "You haven't even convinced my hermit of a boyfriend yet? How are you even planning to do that? And you expect me to help?"

"I didn't have a chance of doing it without you," Ira said, shrugging. "And you've said you'll go, so you can't back down. Won't you have a lot more fun with him around?" She grinned and added, "as for plans...I have a really, really fun idea."

Dani glared at her. "I hate you," she murmured finally.

Ira just laughed and pulled her down the hall and around the corner. "Drake!" she yelled as she pulled Dani along. "I've kidnapped your girlfriend and I'm not giving her back unless you agree to rescue her at a specific time and place!"