In my dream, blood ran down my cheeks like tears as a shadow loomed over me and slashed my face repeatedly, creating a latticework of bloody gashes.
When I awoke my cheeks were damp, but the wetness was caused by tears instead of blood, and soft fingers trailed across my skin, soothing the phantom cuts that stung me instead of bringing fresh waves of pain.
The shadow was gone, replaced by a brown-eyed Angel bathed in warm, pale light.
“Echo,” I breathed out, blinking up into the Active’s cherubin face.
“Hello,” Echo said softly, her eyebrows scrunching together in concern as she gazed down at me, my face still cradled gently in her hands.
“What are you doing here?” I asked softly.
I’d fallen asleep in my office, and as happy as I was to have been woken up, she shouldn’t have been there.
My eyelids fluttered as I really registered the warmth of Echo’s hands for the first time. It felt nice. I knew that I should straighten up and try to make myself presentable, but I stayed slouched where I was, safe in Echo’s hands. It felt nice, and I needed to feel nice, if only for a moment.
“You hurt,” Echo breathed out, her voice cracking in sympathetic pain. “I heard you,” she continued stroking my cheek softly. “I wanted to make it stop,” she said softly, staring searchingly into my eyes.
“You did,” I murmured, feeling my heart beating calmly beneath my breast. The nightmare I’d been having was a common one, and usually left me feeling shaken for hours after I had awoken. But this time, with Echo beside me, I felt … okay.
“No more hurt?” Echo asked, her relief clear in her voice as she blinked at me.
“No,” I said, lifting my hand to cover one of the ones she had pressed against the side of my cheek. “Not right now,” I murmured as I wrapped my fingers around hers and gently removed her hand from my face.
Echo stared at me for a long moment as I lowered her hand and cradled it in my own.
“You still hurt,” Echo finally whispered. Her voice was fragile and soft, as if my pain was her own.
I winced at the words, but quickly controlled the reaction and pasted a smile across my lips. I stood, and directed my hand under Echo’s elbow, encouraging her to stand.
“You’re supposed to be swimming right now,” I said, changing the subject, knowing that Echo couldn’t hold onto threads of conversation long enough to register the evasion. Holding something shiny up in front of her and wiggling it would have worked just as well, but I didn’t like reflective surfaces.
Echo turned her head to the right, and then the left, a look of confusion coming over her.
“I’m not?” she asked, looking down at herself a moment later as if to confirm that she wasn’t wearing her bathing suit.
I smiled sadly, and placed my hand on the small of Echo’s back.
“I’ll take you,” I said gently, feeling bad for confusing her though it had been necessary for my mental health.
Echo could find her own way now that she had been reminded where she was supposed to be, but one of the Guardians was probably out looking for her, and I wanted to talk to them so that Echo wouldn’t be punished. She had just been trying to help. She was especially sweet that way.
“Thank you,” Echo said as we made our way towards the door of the lab.
“Thank you,” I told her sincerely, rubbing her back for a moment before I simply allowed my hand to rest lightly on the small of her back.
We continued to walk in a companionable silence. It was pleasant for me to feel the warmth of her against the palm of my hand, and the way she kept looking over at me and smiling, told me that she enjoyed the contact as well.
Echo smiled again, and I returned the expression.
Echo couldn’t take the hurt away like she wished she could, but more than any other person I had encountered since being attacked, she could soothe it. And that was worth thanking her for.