Balance

By Shakespeare's Girl

A/N: Written as a companion piece to "Requiem for Winifred Burkle."

I knocked a beaker over as I lost my balance, and had to step around the shattered glass. Which was hard because I kinda had to cling to the lab tables for support. Behind me I heard a gasp. Damn it. Wesley.

"Fred, you can't be doing this," he gasped, coming toward me.

"Please, Wesley," I begged, stopping and turning to face him. "I am exactly the person to be doing this. Something could've been missed." I stopped, then put a hand to my head. My entire body hurt, but there was something terrifying to me about my headaches. I'd never liked them.

"Whatever it is that's happening, we will stop it, I swear to you," Wesley promised, rounding the corner and putting his hand on my elbow.

"I have to work," I tried.

"You have to lie down," Wesley corrected.

"I am not--I am not the damsel in distress," I snapped. "I am not some case! I have to work this! I lived in a cave for five years in a world where they killed my kind like cattle. I am not going to be cut down by some monster flu! I am betterthan that!" I stopped, knowing from the look on Wes's face and the lump in my own throat that it was pointless. "But I wonder . . . how very scared I am." I was going to cry any second now. I had to hold myself together.

"I swear on my life, we will stop this," Wesley tried, pulling me toward him, "but you must be back in bed. That's where I need you to fight."

"Like I'm six years old?" I asked, needing him to understand something even I didn't understand. I took a step toward him, but my knees collapsed, and I fell forward into Wesley's arms. I leaned on him for support, my hatred of this whole place washing over me in a sudden wave. "This is a house of death," I shuddered. Wes adjusted his grip on me, and I spotted one of his source books over his shoulder. "That can call up any book you need?" I asked, just to be sure.

"Every one," he nodded.

"Then bring it," I told him. "Take me home."