Joy and despair fought for dominance in Gabrielle’s skittering heart and revealed themselves to her daughter’s keen perception.
Hope smiled wryly. “Father calls me that, you know; ’Despair.’ You and he have wanted very different things from me from the beginning.”
“For you,” Gabrielle corrected automatically.
Her reflection’s face twisted all the more. “What’s the difference?”
The bard opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out of it. An oddly familiar cloak of silence fell over her as she stared at her daughter. Identical though they may be to the outside world, Gabrielle found very little resemblance between them. Still, she felt that she could gaze upon her child forever.
“Oh, let me do it!” Hope cried in a mocking sing-song, reading her doppleganger’s mind yet again. “Here.” She feigned poking her mother in both eyes at the same time. The corners of her own mouth flicked up and down when Gabrielle did not retreat. Then she yanked her hand back when the woman almost leaned into her touch. “Here in your eyes,” she elaborated unnecessarily, trying to regain the hard edge to her voice. “Fear. Mine?” She twisted her wrist to make the same gesture at her own eyes. “Strength. There—” her hand rotated again as all her fingers came together, miming covering her mother’s mouth— “weakness.” She pointed at her gritted teeth. “Here; power.”
“Ah, but here,” Hope continued, patting her injured shoulder without flinching before pressing a fingertip to her black eye and relishing the pain. “Hurt.” Then bitterness filled her mouth like poison, and she shoved her mother before she could help it. “Care! Someone took good care of you. Was it Xena?”
Gabrielle once more swallowed her voice as shook her head. Who hurt you? she wanted to ask. Water filled her eyes. Was it me? she wondered next.
“No, it was me.” Hope smiled bitterly. “Bet you’re feeling cheated, huh? Perhaps you’d like to add a few more bruises.” She stepped toward her mother to crowd her against the wall. “Go ahead. Do it!”
Rooted to the spot, Gabrielle found herself paralyzed in addition to mute.
“Go on. You know you want to,” her daughter continued to try and goad her.
The bard began to shake with suppressed tears. “Oh, Hope…”
“Don’t! Don’t say my name like you love me!” The beaten girl backed away as if she were disgusted instead of affected by her mother’s emotion. “And only touch me if you’re going to hit me,” she ordered too as she knocked aside the trembling hand reaching for her. “No? Oh, that’s right.” Hope jabbed a finger into the center of her mother’s chest. “Because here beats the heart of a hero. Touching, truly.” Becoming a better and yet worse copy of Gabrielle’s likeness, she made tears well up in her own murky eyes. “That story you told Lila. I’m moved. Oh, wait. I’m not.” Hope’s waters drained inward. “I want to… What was it? ’Kill you all.’ Because while you are a hero, I am a monster. I have never tried to hurt you once, though I have had every opportunity— and father screaming in my head at me to do it each time; remember?— and yet I am the evil, murderous one. Isn’t that right, mother? You’ve killed me twice and refused to stand by my side that same number of times, but somehow you are the hallowed one.
“All I ever hear about in Potadeia is Gabrielle, the godsend. Gabrielle, the angel on Earth. Always loving, always kind, always courageous, always inspiring. Rescued this old woman’s cat from a tree. Visited that old woman daily to comfort her after the loss of her husband. Donated your winnings from the regional barding tournament to the orphans in the next town over. Organized planting contests on the lands of the farmers whose crops failed. Taught destitute widows their letters and numbers. Why, everywhere I go, townspeople fall on their knees to kiss my feet. Little birdies weave flower crowns for my hair.
“Is there any good deed Saint Gabrielle can’t or won’t do? Oh, yeah! Let her child live. Well, isn’t that astonishing? The great Gabrielle who loves her friends and family with all her big, beautiful heart– led her sister through a snowstorm and pulled her drowning neighbor from the river by her house— left them long ago, just like she abandoned her newborn in a different river across the sea. Ah, but at least she leaves good things behind too, yes? The saint always gives away her winter solstice gifts to the less worthy! Lila got your doll”– Hope indicated the toy Gabrielle held in her limp grasp— “and I got your lamb figurine. And now we are all together. It’s turned into quite the family reunion…”