Echo in Time

Author notes: Like my Faith/Giles story "Progression," this is a series of related sentences that trace Paul and Echo's relationship over the course of the series.

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.

1. The first time that Paul held her picture in his hands, gazing at the black and white image of the beautiful, smiling young woman before him, he felt a sense of determination settle even more deeply at his core, a sense of purpose, of conviction, to save not an array of nameless, voiceless victims, but one person, one woman, the smiling girl whose name was neatly printed on the back of the image in his hand: Caroline.

2. Watching the video that had been so mysteriously sent to him, the video bearing Caroline's name and image, Paul did not realize that he was holding his breath as he took in her every word, her every gesture, her every inflection, unable to look away; without intending to he was praying to a God he did not believe in, praying that she was still alive for him to save.

3. The more Paul searched for proof of the young woman Caroline's existence, the more walls he hit and dead ends he stumbled into, and the more determined he grew that he would find her, that he would not let her down. He could not rest if he gave up on her.

4. Lying awake at night, Paul's mind ran without his ability to stop or control it, replaying Caroline's smile, zooming and pausing on her carefree, playful words, and he kept his eyes open, almost convinced that as long as he saw her, remained hyper-conscious of her existence, that Caroline, wherever and whoever she was now, must sense his existence too.

5. Paul wondered about Caroline's past, about her family and friends, her goals in life, and what could have happened to make her give them all away; he wondered about her present, where she was and who she was with, what she had to do every day without consent or awareness of her deeds; but mostly he wondered about her future, what would happen when they met, when he saved her, and if she would grow to care for him as much as she always did in his fantasies.

6. Unwillingly Paul's mind often drifted to imaginings of Caroline in her enslaved status, creating envisioning of the wild, frequent, even sadomasochistic couplings that she must be forced to undergo; he pictured these and told himself that he felt only rage and indignation at the thought of her abuse, that he did not envy those clients who were lucky enough to be able to afford to even touch her.

7. Paul knew that if he were to save Caroline- to free her, to bring her back into her former life and world- that she would be grateful, that she would be overjoyed to have her identity back where it rightfully belonged; it never occurred to him that she no longer wanted it, that she had given it up as quickly and fully as was possible for reasons he could not have understood.

8. If Paul saved Caroline, just Caroline, then all his efforts, all his searching, all his life would be worth something, mean something…all of the others, they could be gotten to later, but Caroline, Caroline was the one that would truly make him the hero he so needed to believe himself to be.

9. Mellie was funny, sweet, adorable, and very, very enthusiastic…but somehow Paul knew that Caroline would be even more, and he could not lie to himself that he was satisfied.

10. He saw her image on the news, her lovely features drawn and tensed as she fled with the other cult members in her modest peasant clothes, and Paul froze, his stomach flipping over, his heart quickening its beats in excitement with his realization that Caroline was real, Caroline was alive, and his renewed conviction that he would find her and bring her home.

11. He looked at her that first time in her feminine flowered dress, with her hair pulled ack and her personality firmly and entirely not her own, and Paul loved the idea of Caroline and all that she stood for more than ever; he did not realize that this did not yet mean that he loved Caroline herself.

12. As Echo- and it was clearly Echo, and not Caroline- fought him in the Chinese kitchen with a strength and ferocity that belied her smaller size, then chased him out into the alley, assaulting him with skills Paul could only barely counter, he could not entirely deny that the racing of his heart and the excited adrenaline coursing through his veins was due in part to arousal.

13. Paul dreamed of Caroline in his arms, in his bed, her strong hands massaging the bare muscles of his back, her mouth hungry, insistent upon his, and when he awakens he is short of breath, unable to believe for several moments that he is alone in the room.

14. As he pins Mellie down, aggressively seeking release in her body, it is not her face, but Caroline's, that he sees under his, and Paul knows that he is no longer merely a hero, but also a customer, a client…and not even one who can walk away satisfied at having got his money's worth.

15. As he enters the Dollhouse for the first time, Paul does not notice its open, spacious physical appeal, nor does he truly see the gently smiling Actives that amble aimlessly about; his eyes are focused only to see one woman, and all others do not matter.

16. Drawing back the cover of the pod and seeing the lovely, relaxed features of his sleeping beauty, Paul cannot help but smile, vicious sense of triumph uncoiling in his chest; how was he to know that his beautiful princess would not want to be rescued?

17. As the precious disk hurtled to the ground, it flickered hurriedly into Paul's consciousness that this piece of technology was everything; Caroline's life, Caroline's soul, Caroline's being, and along with it, everything that now mattered of his own, and it was with controlled coordination and contrasting panicked thought that he caught the disk, briefly meeting and marveling at the look of Echo's eyes above his.

18. The very organization that he had hated so intensely, that he had destroyed the remnants of his life for, that he had tried so righteously and with such zeal to take down…this was the same organization that Paul now got his paycheck from, but as long as he still saw Caroline, as long as she was so close by, he did not care, for he still had a chance to save her.

19. Discovering the truth of the Dollhouse with Echo- not Caroline, but Echo- at his side did not validate Paul in his former assumptions, but rather horrified him, for its purpose was far more devious and all-encompassing than even he had ever dreamed.

20. Watching Echo grow in her sense of self-identity, strength, and awareness under his observation, Paul began slowly to let go of his ideals of what Caroline could be, and instead to love the woman that Echo was.

21. He was her handler, and when Echo came to him, in need of his help, Paul handled it; hiding her away, having her company all to himself for three months, was hardly a sacrifice, even in the face of the danger it invited for them both.

22. In the warehouse there was only one bedroom, and the only way that Paul could have been more tortured was if there had only been one bed.

23. Echo looked him in the eyes, one hand slowly stroking up his thigh, her voice low, steady, and very sure as she told him that she wanted him; his heart thudding, his mouth dry, skin heating with his involuntary reaction, Paul was amazed as he told her that he would not have sex with her…and meant it.

24. He has seen her showering, while in her doll state; he has stripped her to her undergarments as quickly as he could, his hands touching even her usually hidden parts, in order to bandage her injuries, and felt very little sense of arousal at the sight of Echo's body…so why when does the simple act of watching Echo undress for sleep cause Paul to swallow hard, his face heating as he cannot tear his eyes away from her?

25. She tried to kiss him once; she crept into his bed, her nearly entirely bare skin warm and entirely tantalizing against his, and as she turned his face towards hers, eyes lowering in seductive intent, it took all of Paul's strength to gently extract her body from his, to take her fingers into his to squeeze, and to tell her no…and later, he could not remember why it was that he continued to resist her endeavors.

with her to the Dollhouse, Paul worries not for himself, or even for the world, but for Echo, that the woman she is and is still becoming will be destroyed even despite their tireless efforts to preserve her.

27. Watching Echo tremble on the floor, her features distorted with agony at the sharp pain afflicting her head, Paul clinches his fists, his jaw tightening, aggression, rage, and ferocious desire to protect, to comfort her, course through him, and it dawns on him as he fights for control that he loves her.

28. Paul finds himself eyeing her with Boyd, seeing the intimacy of their relationship, the total trust Echo places in him, and as much as he likes and respects the man, sometimes watching her with him makes his gut twist with intense jealousy.

29. she never said that she loved him- perhaps out of fear, perhaps simply because she felt there was no need, but when Echo turned to him with the usual hardness in her eyes softening, relaxing, Paul knew the words she would not say.

30. He did not remember dying; he did not remember Echo's stricken face, the violence of her tears, her fumbling hands on his cool skin, the way that she sat beside his body for hours, not sleeping, not eating, as machines kept him just barely alive; Paul did not remember, and when he was restored, nothing in Echo's eyes told these truths.

31. He did not love Echo, when he came back, but then, he did not realize what it was that he now lacked; Paul could not see the sense of grief in her tightly controlled expressions, could not interpret the change in her tone when she addressed him, and he was none the wiser for the rason for the distance she deliberately now inserted in between them.

32. As Echo lies with the others in the attic, negotiating a mission impossible to others, but merely a challenge to herself, Paul is anxious, even terrified, but he cannot quite comprehend the reason for the degree of his fear not only for all, but for her…for Echo.

33. He believes they have won, he and Echo, that with Boyd/Clyde's death everything can only take a turn for the better…Paul had never before realized that he was in fact an optimist.

34. Living on the run with one person for ten years under ever present threat of death, in dangerous, cramped, often nearly deadly conditions, one learns quite a lot about one's companion…but Paul never did learn why it was that Echo never fully let him in.

35. Watching Echo run ahead of him in her bulky protective gear, tangled hair flying behind her as she fired, Paul kept on her heels, on his guard, but even in the adrenaline of the moment he had a fleeting thought that even in violent or aggressive acts- or maybe especially during them-Echo moved with a confidence that was beautiful, a poetry in movement.

36. When anxious Echo grows very still and focused, concentrating on what it is she must do; she does not pace or tap her fingers or fidget, and never has Paul heard her express her fear or doubt…and sometimes he almost wishes to see her break, to see her cry, just so he knows that she does in fact fear.

37. It's the little things about her that make him feel close to her even as she tries so hard to keep him away; only Paul knows that Echo takes her left shoe off before her right, that she dreams without moving a muscles of her body but with vivid expression to her face, that her right shoulder is stronger than her left, and that she really dislikes the color yellow, and each day Paul tries even in chaos to find something more to know.

38. A few times on the run, when there was no other option, Paul and Echo have had to share a bed; although Echo lies still, showing absolutely no inclination to do so much as to brush her leg against his, Paul often wonders if she wishes for more, even as she tenses and rejects even his attempt to take her hand.

39. It is only Paul who ever sees Echo's eyelids twitch, her features tensing in the grip of nightmares, the only release of her anxiety she seems given to, and it is only Paul who can with a simple hand on her shoulder soothe her unconscious mind into more pleasant images.

40. On a few occasions Paul has massaged Echo's shoulders, working out the tight knots and kinks caused by years of pent up stress and repeated injury, and he is always startled yet pleased when she eventually yields to his touch, allowing herself, if only for the moment, to totally relax against him.

41. It is rare for her to smile, but when Paul sees it, his heart lightens, and he cannot help but smile back.

42. Paul has watched how far Echo has come, how much she has grown, and it comes to his mind one day that he loves her, that he no longer cares for or about his idea of Caroline, but instead for the woman Echo.

43. He never felt death strike, never had the time or awareness to face it head on; one moment he was alive, blood pumping, adrenaline at its highest peak, memory and emotion combining to make him a person, to make him Paul…and then, one bullet later, there was nothing.

44. He was glad later that he did not see Echo afterward, the determined stoicism she displayed, her ferocious denial of any attempts of others for comfort, but most of all Paul was glad he had not seen the intensity of her agony as she crumpled to the floor, sobbing her regrets in a tone that broke and shivered with pain, her whole body shuddering as she voiced her anguish that she was now alone.

45. he was inside her now, a part of her as much or more than the rest, and it did not matter how or why…it only mattered that Echo wanted and needed him, that she had finally decided to let him in.