Pandora heard the smallest of noises and lifted her head off the table. "Oh, you." She didn't bother to brush the tears off her cheeks, but she did scrub surreptitiously at her running nose. She glared through wet eyelashes. "What do you want?"
Apparently oblivious to Pandora's disgust, Hope smiled. "I didn't want you to be alone."
"Alone!" Pandora snorted, then wiped her nose again. "I'm always alone."
"I know." Hope nodded. "That could change, though. Anytime, really. A friend, a lover, Epimetheus…"
"Stop it!" Pandora lifted her chin and stared steadily at Hope. "Epimetheus went to look for his brother, with more enthusiasm than preparation, as usual. Zeus won't let Prometheus be found, and he certainly won't let him go. Epimetheus won't be coming back." Her words sounded rehearsed.
"But he could."
"Stop." Pandora put out a hand to ward off Hope's words. "Oh, please, just stop. I can't think that right now."
Hope tilted her head. "Or you could go look for him."
Pandora laughed, a harsh sound that became harsher as she choked. "It's Epimetheus. He could have gone anywhere. If he's even still alive."
"I'm sure he is."
"Sure!" Pandora snorted. "Of course you're sure. You're always sure! Why can't you just let me let go? I can't wait forever. I can't. I just…can't." She put her head back down and sobbed.
Hope seated her tiny self on the table. She reached out and began to awkwardly pat Pandora's shoulder. Pat, pat. Pat, pat. On and on she went until Pandora shrugged her away. "Enough."
Hope rested her hands in her lap and cocked her head again. "How goes fighting evil?"
This time, Pandora's laugh was quieter. "Oh, I'm still fighting, if that's what you mean." She looked up. "I have no idea why, but I'm still fighting."
"Surely you make a difference?"
"Do I? I don't know how I'd even know anymore." Pandora nodded toward a box--the box--sitting in the corner of the room. "It's as empty as it was the day I let you go. All the evils are still free."
Hope shrugged. "It hasn't happened yet. That doesn't mean it can't be done. Maybe if you try harder?"
"Harder? How can I try harder?" Pandora looked incredulous, tears flowing freely again. "I'm so tired I can't see straight. Every part of me hurts. I fell asleep sitting right here at the table last night. I was too tired to go to bed. There is no 'harder.' I'm not sure there's even a 'more.' I've been fighting too long to have anything left."
Hope nodded. "So you need a rest. Then you can try again."
"Again and again and again! Always again! More and more and more you want from me! Why can't you just let me be?!"
"Because if I leave you alone, nothing will happen."
Pandora sniffed. "Nothing is happening now."
Hope leaned forward until she was nearly nose to nose with Pandora. Her eyes burned with the implacable fire that Pandora somehow managed to forget between her visits. Her voice was calm and quiet and as undeniable as the light in her eyes. "But it might."
After a long minute, Pandora managed to look away. Her eyes landed on the box. "I thought you were going to save us, but you're the worst of the lot, aren't you."
"Yes." Hope's voice was still calm.
"I don't know why I let you out." Pandora shook her head. "Why didn't I learn after the other evils escaped?"
"Because you needed me."
Pandora looked back into those flaming eyes. She realized her own were clear. She'd stopped crying without noticing. She took a deep breath and nodded. "Tomorrow, then."
Hope smiled. "Tomorrow."