One foot.

In front.

Of the other.

Her world is crumbling, like the dust upon her feet, a heart crushed beneath the boots of lost years, stolen moments, the smear of still-warm blood across her cheek.

One foot. Then another.

It is the only way she can function.

...

She expected it to cripple her. For the pain to put her on the ground, screaming with the agony of it, writhing at the magnitude of her loss. But there is only this deep and dizzying darkness, a pit so full of nothing that all within her freezes.

...

She is broken. Ruined. Splayed to the four corners and laid open for the winds, the beasts, the birds. Even the sun wakes up to see. No clouds about today. No. Everyone must see Olivia Bishop and her tearless grief.

Everyone.

...

Step. Step. Step.

...

Etta. Etta, I love you.

So.

Much.

She is trembling. Trembling, and the back of her hand pressed to her mouth. She cannot fix this. It runs too deep, too wide, is too broken. A chasm has split her chest in two, and she's falling.

...

Peter. Peter, I'm pregnant.

Twenty-one years in amber and not a moment passed when she didn't think about her daughter, her beautiful, amazing little girl who'd stolen her heart the day she found out about her.

...

The chain bites into her skin, saws deeply. The brazen summer sun beats down upon her, the leather of her jacket like the maw of a raging furnace. Sweat trickles down – slowly, then all at once, raining upon the chain-shaped furrows in her skin. Her knuckles sting.

Her eyes sting harder.

I wanted so much to be a mother.

...

The sky is blue. Etta's eyes are blue. Were. Were blue. Where is she now? Did it hurt?

You're even more than I imagined.

...

The sun is hot. It burns her scalp and laughs at her helplessness. Its fingers tangle in her hair like a lover's. Like Peter's the night they made her. Made Etta.

I love you.

Suddenly she wants to cut it off. All of it. Strip it away from her skin and leave it burning in the dust.

Burning, like her eyes.

...

"Olivia," he says. She jerks her head. No. No, Peter. Don't try to talk. Words don't work. Words never work.

She's amazing, Peter. There's just so much I want to tell her and so much I want to ask.

Too late now. She'll never know.

...

The crunch of rocks beneath her feet now. She walks, walks hard. Feels the earth's bones grind down like the skin against her ankles.

Etta, where did you go? Who took care of you after I lost you? Did you love them? I saw the pictures in your apartment. They got you a dog. I would have gotten you a dog. Walter could have made it anti-allergenic, and your dad would have been okay. Any dog, Etta.

Any dog.

...

Walter is beside her. And Astrid. They don't try to touch her. They're smart. She's not sure what she would do at the kiss of skin on skin.

Hey, baby girl. Shh, don't cry.

Who held her when the monsters scared her? Did she finally pull her own teeth? And had she ever fallen in love? Did she know that she was beautiful? So beautiful.

My incredible little girl.

...

The blood on her cheek has dried. Her eyes have stopped stinging.

But I can't feel my heart. Why can't I feel my heart.

...

Peter, it's coming. The baby's coming. I'm scared. What – what if I'm not a good mom?

...

She can feel her. Etta. In her arms. Warm and tiny and squiggling, like a kindergartener's first attempt at a question mark. Those wide blue eyes looking up at her, waiting.

Hi, baby girl. Welcome to the world.

You have my heart.

...

To tell you the truth, all you have to do is love them.

She doesn't know where she's heard that before. Maybe she's making it up. It's hot. There are still rocks beneath her feet, growling all around. But they've walked far. Very far.

And still, there is no pain.

...

He's beside her again. Has he ever left? No. She's always done the leaving. (It was raining in New York that day, and she stood on the curb for an hour before trying to hail a cab. Punishment, she'd reasoned. Penance for your cowardice.)

We weren't what we needed to be for each other.

I don't want to lose you. Again.

Her fingers are slick. She thinks it's from blood, but she can't be sure. He won't care though.

She reaches out.

...

He is here, solid and sweating and salted with blood. She shudders up a breath. Holds it. Their fingers tangle, this time in grief, deep grief.

But there is love.

Always, there is love.