Disclaimer: Echo and co are Joss's.
Author notes: Takes place during the time period of "Man on the street" before all the action.
Echo lay quietly, staring across the four walls of her sleeping quarter tranquilly as her mind wandered in slow idleness. Curled up like a child, her body relaxed, feet bare, she snuggled her head deeper into her pillow, her loose blue dress spreading out about her. As peaceful as she felt, she did not yet close her eyes, but only waited patiently for sleep to come to her.
It always did come, if she simply waited long enough. Echo liked sleep. Sleep was good… refreshing. Eight hours of sleep helped her to be her best, and Echo always tried to be her best. Sleep had not yet come to her tonight, but that was okay. Sometimes it took longer than other days, but it always did come if Echo simply waited.
Her eyelids were drifting shut, her breathing beginning to slow, when she heard it. Soft sounds in the sleeping quarter near her, faint at first to her ears, but as Echo grew more alert, began to rouse herself from her sleepiness to listen, she realized that it was slightly more clear now than it had been at first, just a little bit louder too.
The noises were strange, almost like the person making them was breathing hard, or else having trouble breathing at all. They sounded sad…something Echo did not understand, was not used to at all. They made her feel funny to hear them.
It was Sierra, making those strange sounds… Sierra's sleeping quarter was the one beside hers. But Echo could not quite comprehend what she was doing, what it meant. She frowned faintly, her eyes entirely open once more as her mind struggled to explain what was happening, what she was hearing. She felt somehow that she had heard it before, that she knew what it meant…
And then it came to her, slow, distant… crying. Sierra, those noises she was making, she was crying… and that must mean she felt bad, that she was not resting. She must feel hurt, or sad…why did she hurt? Echo's stomach tightened, and she realized that she herself felt bad now.
Echo had never before gotten herself out from her sleeping quarter before she had rested eight hours. The thought had never even occurred to her as a possibility. But Sierra felt sad, and Echo wanted to know why. She wanted to make her feel better.
Slowly she moved her hands to the partition over top her sleeping quarter, a thin plastic riddled with breathing holes at each corner. Usually it made Echo feel safe to be closed in as she rested, secure and protected…but now she frowned up at it faintly before pushing it back, slowly pulling herself out of her in-ground sleeping quarter and up onto the level floor of the room. As she stood, she could see that all the other Actives were asleep, eyes closed, bodies positioned much as her own had been…all, except Sierra's.
Sierra was curled up in her sleeping quarter, but her body was drawn together much more tightly than Echo's had been, her face up to her knees. Her eyes were closed, but as Echo made her way toward her sleeping quarter, she could see that the other woman was shaking, tears slipping down her cheeks. Echo's eyes widened as she knelt beside her; she did not open the panel overtop her, but rather looked through it down at Sierra, her stomach feeling tighter and funnier than ever. She didn't like this… she didn't understand…
"Sierra…are you sad?" she asked her hesitantly, soft, and she tilted her head to the side as she regarded her.
Sierra did not answer her, did not even open her eyes. Her eyebrows drawing down just a little further, her lips parting, Echo leaned close to the panel separating them, watching Sierra with a slightly helpless intensity.
"You're sad…do you hurt?"
Still Sierra did not answer, did not even open her eyes to look at her. As Echo continued to watch her, eyebrows knitted, features slightly tensed even as her eyes remained wide, wondering, a thought came to her that maybe Sierra needed her to help her. Maybe she didn't know how to open it…but if she was hurt, didn't' she need to feel better?
Echo reached for the panel, looking down at Sierra with her features smoothing out a little now that she had an idea of what was the right thing to do. "Friends help each other…"
She began to pull the panel back…but as she did, strong hands wrapped themselves around her shoulders, roughly pulling her back. Echo cried out softly, her eyes widening, but as she turned, she saw that it was Hearn, Sierra's friend, who was holding her.
He didn't look at Sierra, he was only looking at Echo, and he didn't look like he felt good either. Echo frowned, blinking as she tried to understand the way his eyes looked, why he was holding her so hard…
"What are you doing out of bed, Echo?" he demanded, his eyes boring into hers hard. "Go back to bed, you know it's time to sleep."
"She…she cries," Echo stammered, her eyes drifting back to Sierra, who still ignored them, eyes closed- more tightly now than ever, and she seemed to be shaking more too…
"She cries…why does she cry?"
Hearn recoiled slightly at that, his eyes going now to look over Sierra as well with a jerky strangeness that Echo blinked at. His hands on her shoulders tightened, and Echo flinched, making a soft noise of pain.
Blinking quickly, Hearn hurriedly glanced from Sierra to Echo, then to his hands on Echo's shoulders. Seeming to realize just then how harshly he was gripping them, he loosened his hold quickly, giving her a gentle pat instead.
"I'm sorry, Echo… you need to go back to bed now though. Rest to be your best… Sierra will be fine, she's just dreaming. Now go back to bed…"
Echo allowed herself to be led, but her head was still turned back toward Sierra's fetally coiled form, her forehead wrinkled. As Hearn drew back the panel to her sleeping quarter, gently but firmly pushing her into it, Echo's eyes probed his, still puzzled by what she saw there.
"Are you hurt too?" she asked him, blinking. "Do you feel sad?"
It was the only words she could think of that might describe the way his face looked to her, but it seemed that they were the wrong ones. His face stiffened, and he gave her a little push to lie down.
"Go back to sleep, Echo."
As the screen closed overtop of her, Echo curled up obediently, but she could not yet sleep. She could still dimly hear Sierra's soft sobs, and the bad feeling in her chest and stomach only grew.
Sierra was sad, and Echo didn't know why… and it made Echo sad too.