The first time it happened, the world ended.

At least, the world should have ended, because over the last few months, her world, her life, her entire being – had been narrowed to this tiny spark, this new life, this new flare of joy in their world of happiness. The first life in their new family. It was her world. It had been her world.

But now –

The spark had died, the life had burned out – the short life; did it even get a chance to start in the first place? But those stirrings inside of her; they were life – and the world had turned to ash around her.

So why did the sun still shine, why did the wind still blow, why did the flowers still bloom? It should have all been gray and dead, cold, not even winter, not even a season at all, because – because –

Because how could the world still exist anymore? How could life of any kind go on?

But there was still a tiny ember of hope, a tiny green leaf on the burnt-up olive tree of Athens, another chance –

They could try again. It would never be the same, because it wouldn't be the first one, it wouldn't be this one, but it would be different and equally beautiful, and maybe it would give her the will to live again.

So they stirred up their remaining ember of hope, carefully, carefully added dried wood in the hopes that it would catch, hoping that maybe, maybe this time, they could make it, maybe this time, it would catch fire –

And it did, it did – one day, the flames blazed up just as brightly as before, and there was light, and hope, and once again their hopes and their universe narrowed down to this one spark of light, because it was their world, it was their life, and this time, this time, they would be able to keep it –

Except they couldn't.

They couldn't, they couldn't, because for some reason their world was never meant to stay bright, their olive tree was never meant to bloom. Once again, they had leaned their whole universe on this tiny pinprick of hope, and once again – once again – it had fallen away.

They didn't want to hope again.

Hoping brought nothing, so it seemed, but disappointment and devastation – although those words paled in comparison to the crashing down of their entire world – nothing but false expectations and cosmic lies and pain.

So much pain.

She didn't want to go on, didn't want to look for hope anymore – because now she knew what it had brought her, and what it would continue to bring her, and she couldn't keep opening herself up, and praying that someday, the universe would decide to fill her.

So she shut down. She closed off her openings, refused to keep trying. Refused to keep hoping. Because optimism, after all, brought nothing but misery.

But then . . .

The third time.

She didn't want to hope this time, didn't want to risk the same pain she'd had the last two times. Just a few short years ago, she would have been so happy to feel this spark flare up inside of her, but this time, she cried. Cried because she knew now what opening herself up to hope brought. Cried because she knew that she wouldn't be able to help but fall in love, and because she knew that that love and that hope and that world would be ripped away from her anyway.

Again.

But she couldn't help it. Hope began to bloom again.

Hope, though, with a rawness to it. Every time she felt a jolt of love, every time a friend congratulated her, she would be overwhelmed with a moment of bliss – and then she would fall hard to earth again. She would remember that the universe's goal was to steal her happiness. She would remember that she'd opened herself up again, only to more certain pain.

But there was nothing she could do about it. Every day, every hour, she felt with an awful jolt that she was making herself so vulnerable – she was only inviting pain; here I am, universe, here is my joy, please rip it away from me – but then she would feel the flutterings of life inside of her, and that hope would fill her again, raw and delicate but there all the same.

Months – months – passed. She was waiting. Waiting for the moment of devastation, the moment when she would know that her life was for nothing, that her hope was for nothing, that she existed only to be torn down, again and again and again. She wondered if it would break her this time.

Months, and the tantalizing hope grew ever stronger. Perhaps this time it would work out. Perhaps this time she could hold through. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps

They even started looking through books of names. Girls and boys. They didn't know which it would be – hadn't dared to let themselves imagine it so far.

And then the night came.

It was painful, and long, the labor – agonizing, even, the pain and the fear, the fear that maybe this time the universe had allowed her to get this far just to take her last hope away again. Again. And if that happened, she didn't think she would survive it.

But – but –

But it didn't.

Because when it was over, she opened her eyes and the doctor came over to her, holding a tiny – tiny – bundle in his arms, and he asked, "Would you like to see your baby daughter, Mrs. Desmond?" and she couldn't speak, couldn't choke out a word, just let the tears fall from her eyes and nodded.

And her daughter – her daughter – fit perfectly in her arms, so tiny and light and pink, with the biggest blue eyes she'd ever seen and the softest skin and just the faintest hint of pale hair on her delicate head –

She turned to her husband, and they shared a look – that look that she loved, where they just seemed to be synchronized, understanding everything perfectly that passed between them –

"Hope?" he asked, his voice shaking, his eyes watery.

She nodded, her eyes – and her heart – spilling over. "Hope."