Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.

Author notes: Takes place season two, Epitaph Two. Echo's thoughts after Paul has been shot.

They say that when something catastrophic happens, something that will change your life as you know it forever, that you freeze, stricken with shock, grief, and emotion, as the impact of what you have lost overtakes you. They say your mind shuts down, that you can't think or breathe, that all logical courses of action and the ability to carry them out flee you. They say that your entire world stops, and there is nothing left but you and the horror of that moment, in that space of time.

The horrible thing about knowing what they say, what was supposed to happen, was that for Echo, none of this was true. For Echo there was no shutting down, no ceasing to think or function; instead, her thoughts grew sharper, clarifying so that she could focus entirely on what must be done, what had happened that she must do it, without shock or emotion hindering the facts. Instead of shutting down, she shut off, binding all emotion deep within until she felt nothing. No grief, no sorrow, no fear or anger or loneliness, only numbness, numbness so deep it was nearly pain, and a driven determination to do what she must.

And she did. Echo left Paul's body where it had fallen, lying on the filthy street, uncared for and unclaimed, and did not look back. She gathered those lingering and urged them on to safety, and once this relative safety was assured and the questions began, she walked away without providing any answers. She had none to give. Paul was dead. What more could be said, what reasons could be given for this beyond the expression on his face as the bullet struck, the stillness of his body as he lay on the street behind her?

Some of them tried again to talk to her about it later, but Echo would not let the subject come to pass. They could not bring him back or find meaning in his death by talking about it, so there was no reason to do so. They had lives to focus on, their lives, other lives, danger constantly surrounding them at all sides, and this, Echo told herself, was what was important. Self-protection came first, and she employed this with forceful concentration, protecting herself emotionally as well as physically by continuing to do everything she could to lock away any acknowledgement of what had happened.

Even as she did this, even as she fiercely tried to oppose the nature of the grief and guilt, the self-loathing and anguish building slowly but strongly inside of her, Echo knew that it could not work, that she could not forever maintain this stoicism. One day, she would have to break. But for now, for as long as she was able, she kept herself tightly controlled, sharply focused on anything and everything but Paul…even as he remained stubbornly in the foreground of her mind, her focus, and even, however strongly she tried to force him away, her heart.

She didn't eat more than was necessary; she could not taste the food, and every time she swallowed she felt like she was choking, like each mouthful may be her last. She could not sleep, not when she was so used to Paul in the same room with her, if not the same bed, to the slow exhalations of his breathing as he drifted to sleep. Every time Echo closed her eyes she felt her heartbeat speed up until its beats seemed to pound directly in her ears, resonating so strongly she was afraid that her body would begin to shake with its vibrations.

She told herself that she was fine, that she felt nothing, and to some extent she believed it. But then why did she find herself unable to think of Paul's name, even as she was unable to stop picturing his face, conjuring to her ears the sound of his voice? Why was it that every time someone touched her shoulder or laid a hand on her back, she pulled away, her stomach twisting, because their touch did not come from Paul?

Echo couldn't look at Alpha without her heart wrenching, without averting her eyes from his sympathetic smile, without flinching away from his gentle touch. She couldn't see him without a part of her being acutely aware that Paul also resided inside him, without a part of her wanting desperately for him to take over so she could talk to him, apologize, explain, to tell him all the things she'd never realized that she hadn't said.

And god, there was so much Echo hadn't said to him. So much she had taken for granted, that she had just assumed he knew, but how could he have known? How could Paul know she needed him, wanted him, how could he know that she likely wouldn't still be alive without him, that he was the rock of her existence, the center of her life? How could he know how proud she was of him, how beautiful she found him, how deeply she loved him, when she had never said a word? Why the hell hadn't she said a word…why hadn't she told him everything that mattered when she still had the chance?

On her hands and knees she weeps, her head bowed to the ground, hair falling forward, her features twisting with the agony of her pained regret as her chest heaves with her tortured cries, her sobs sending shudders through her back and spine that make her appear truly on the verge of physically breaking apart. Even as Sierra kneels beside her, biting her lip, her own angst halting in the face of Echo's raw emotion, even as she attempts to comfort her friend with soft words and gentle touch, Echo barely feels the other woman's hands. They are not Paul's. Paul is not here with her, Paul will never be here with her, and this means that no matter how many others stand beside her, Echo will always walk alone.