The fire cackled; its light shone throughout the room, and the warmth exuding from the pit was just enough for me not to need a blanket to stay warm. I was home, with nothing to do, so sweatpants hugged my legs and a baggy T-Shirt made certain I not be accused of indecency—Jenks' kids had a tendency of flitting through the house, even passed their bedtime, and I was sure their father wouldn't be impressed if they returned in tears after having seen me topless. I took another sip of white wine, and placed the glass back down onto the table when the flames rumbled with what could almost be perceived as aggression, demanding sustenance.

I reached over to where I has placed the stack of a month's-worth of newspapers so I wouldn't have to get up every single time, and threw the headline of "Were couple gives birth to litter of sextuplets!" into the fire. I stumbled a little when my spine met the back of the chair once more, and I attributed the unusually prominent clumsiness to the fact that I'd been drinking alone for what was now a good three hours. I sighed, my mood creeping more and more towards utter boredom as the grandfather clock in the other room ticked continuously. Jenks was asleep, along with his brood, and Ivy was out on a run. Again. God, I need to get a job.

I had no current job, no obligations whatsoever. In addition, however, I didn't have a boyfriend, a life, or motivation to do anything—so did that mean the lack of pleasure neutralized the lack of responsibilities? The more I thought about it, the more my existence seemed a waste of oxygen on this Earth. I went to take another sip of wine, oddly enough to find the glass empty. So, I did the logical thing and reached for the bottle. Also empty.

I finished the entire bottle? The thought hadn't occurred to me that I could have finished the expensive liquid in such a short time, but I'd had a lot on my mind these past few days, and I needed something to make me forget. The clock ticked louder, mocking me; I stuck my tongue out at it. Stupid clock.

I stood up, stabilizing myself against the wall as I did, and managed to get to the end of the room without that much difficulty. I felt a pounding in my head; not anything painful, a simple throb of blood pulsing against my temples and creating the most beautiful of melodies. The ceiling descended towards me with contemptuous ease, and I pointed towards it in warning. "S-stop. Don't make me…come up there."

My words slurred, though I couldn't help but giggle at how swiftly the ceiling obeyed.

"Umm…Rachel?"

I turned. Too fast—tripping over my own ankles and falling to the floor. I squeezed my eyes shut, expecting to smash the back of my head against the hardwood floor. Instead, I found myself holding my breath for no reason when I fell into a strong pair of arms. I opened one eye first, unsure as to whether it was safe or not. A figure was above me, brows creased in worry and lips parted in a quizzical manner. I reached upwards with my hand, palm cupping a cheek and thumb creeping lower to brush over the texture of that silky bottom lip…

My breath rushed out of me when the arms embracing me let go, and the back of my head did, indeed, end up smashing against the hardwood. I gritted my teeth, hissing in pain and bringing that same hand to the back of my skull to rub the throbbing away. The shock of falling had jarred me into mild coherency, and I sat up, crossing my legs beneath me to create a better balance. I looked up, finding that same figure about eight feet away: crouched low and back arched in defence. Her raven-black hair partially covered her unblemished visage, messed and matted to the sides of her face. In any other circumstance, the vampire would have taken a few seconds to re-arrange her coiffure, but in this instance, she seemed otherwise preoccupied.

I stared into those black depths; her pupils having taken up the entire space of her irises and most of the white in her eyes. And yet, despite the lack of precision coming from those black orbs, I knew Ivy Tamwood was staring directly at me. Her gaze dropped, noticeably, to my neck. Despite this very obvious portrayal of hostility, however, I found myself unafraid. The palms of my hands found the floor, and I hoisted myself upwards with success on the third try.

I took a step towards her, and the vampire stumbled backwards. It's interesting—was all that went through my mind, despite the visible fear present within the abyss of her dangerous glare—the way I can make her lose control. All I have to do is this…

I took another step, and so did she stumble again.

"Rachel, stop." She had fallen on her backside in the process of trying to get away from me, and now had her hands curled into fists at her sides. "Please. Don't."

I sat down in front of her and placed both my hands on both of her knees and leaned forward. My words were strung together, almost incomprehensible. "We n-need to…talk."

"Have you been drinking…?" Her voice was still a little shaky, and she had begun to breathe at more of a human speed, but I could tell the vampire was still controlling herself. I didn't blame her—I was pushing way too many buttons. "You smell like—"

"I want to share blood," I cut her off, looking her in the eyes and expecting a smile to form upon her delicate features. I knew she wanted this, and I did too. This was to make her happy.

"Rachel…" her voice was full of worry, even though it took her a few moments of deep breathing to be able to utter my name. "Please don't do this, now. Let me put you to bed, and we'll talk about this tomorrow. Okay?"

"Do you want to?" I asked her.

"Dear heart…"

"I want to." I spoke the words as if it were a sin to voice them aloud. "I really do."

Her jaw clenched in irritation, and she lurched forward to push at my shoulders with the open palms of her hands. Her brows were creased with an intense hostility, and it didn't take much for her to curl her lip upwards, aggressively, to reveal the glistening surface of canines. Her teeth were white, inhumanly so, enough to be presented in a toothpaste commercial. For a reason unknown, I couldn't help but to ogle those pearly whites—they were almost mesmerizing.

"Is this what you want?" She was screaming, and I saw a glistening moisture form over the cornea of her eyes: pupils only slightly dilated and chocolate irises shining with emotion—she was trying to scare me off. "I could rip your throat out before you even utter a word, Rachel. And you know that."

My lips were parted and my shoulders began to throb where she pushed at them. I was at a loss for words, and in my incoherent state all I could offer as means of interaction was the twitching of my lips as if I were gasping for air.

"God," she breathed in a mix of frustration and exasperation, releasing her hostile grip, "you're such a fucking idiot. Why do I even bother loving y—"

She let out a cry of surprise when I interrupted her with my own lips upon hers, the vampire jerking backwards. Her bottom lip was swollen and red where my teeth had caught onto it, and her eyes were wide in astonishment. My mind was racing, my thoughts were scattered where they shouldn't be wandering, and my skull still throbbed because of the impact upon hardwood. It was difficult to focus, and I eyed the heavily-breathing vampire sitting not but a few feet away from me. What did I just do exactly?

"You…" the woman was at loss for words, the lump in her throat bobbing up and down every time she swallowed because of an emotion unknown. Was it fear? Anxiety?

I licked my lips and caught my bottom lip between my canines, smiling like a complete idiot. I had just kissed a girl. My thoughts were still coherent, I realized after a few moments of watching her wide eyes dart across the room before falling once again upon my features. I could still think for myself at this point; I was still very much aware of the danger that this entailed. I knew I had pushed Ivy to the point of no return with such an action, and I knew that there would be no one to help me survive if I chose to scream.

However, I didn't feel the need to. It was the prospect of consequences that eluded my entirely at the present moment—the menace that the vampire posed was nothing compared to the thrill of excitement coursing through me. There was a faint buzz in my head warning me of my previous intake of alcohol, but nothing mattered right now at the exception of the weight and feel of her generous breasts within the palms of my hands. I stared at her chest for a good while, mouth agape in slight awe and not really caring what she thought of me right now as long as she didn't prevent me from ogling her.

"You k-kissed me."

She finished her sentence after what seemed like too long passed the appropriate length to repeat a phrase without sounding strange. I didn't even look up and into her eyes when I shrugged and pouted my lip in a silly manner. "And now I'm staring at your boobs. Big whoop, Captain Obvious."

The vampire instinctively folded her arms across her chest, probably not realizing that the pressure simply duplicated the effect of a push-up bra. I looked up despite the alluring picture, the sudden change of stance snapping me back into a mild coherency and therefore politeness. It isn't appropriate to stare at your best friend's knockers, Rachel, I scolded myself, she can prrrobably tell you're taking her nipples as substitute for her eyes.

"What are you doing, witch?" Her voice was devoid of emotion, holding nothing but raw inquisition. There was no hope, fear, or anger present in her words. She was tired of being struck down, therefore kept her walls high and her expectations low. "Just what, exactly, are you trying to accomplish."

I stated it simply: "I want to share blood."

"Fuck you." Her nostrils flared and she narrowed her eyes. "I'm tired of your games, Rachel. What do you want?"

My eyes drifted once again to her chest, and I smiled. "I want to share blood and sex."

Ivy's features were still devoid of any emotion as she eyed me for lies. It was understandable that the vampire be defensive after all this time, but because I knew her so well—probably better than anyone ever had—I saw passed her solid fortress and into the desperation lurking beneath her flesh. Her visible reaction was minimal, though she chose her next words carefully and with deliberate hesitation.

"You're...not sober, dear heart."

"No," I blinked a few times to set the blur that was my vision into focus. "And you're attractive. Two plus two equals four."

Her lips parted and she inhaled, her mind prepared to spit a retort from the tip of her tongue—but the vampire stopped herself, brows coming together in inquisition. Her weight shifted, and I could see her every thought cross those pitch-black pupils. She wanted to kiss me again; I could almost smell the desire coming off of her in waves. Her hands were still fisted at her sides, her generous chest heaving as she eyed me from between the stray strands of ink-black hair that had fallen into the path of her vision.

Without giving it thought, I leaned forward to press my lips to hers—well aware that if I didn't make the first move, there would be no progression at all. Ivy's open palm came up between my breasts, keeping me at an arm's distance even as her eyes begged for me to come closer. She breathed my name—

"Rachel…"

I hit her arm away with my elbow, and flung myself towards her: lips locking and twining my fingers in the darkness of her hair. The vampire let emit a small whimper of surprise, before sighing and wrapping her strong arms around me as her mouth moved against mine. She fell limp beneath me, letting my hands grope at her with aggression and little-to-no respect for her well-being. I huffed, intensifying my actions to try and pull something, anything from her. My hands wandered without hesitation towards her bra, her delicious waist, and the apex of her thighs. Her eyes squeezed shut as I hit that last spot, and she threw her head back to expose her bare throat: an act of vampire submission.

No!

I cupped her harder, and sent my free hand flying across her cheek with an audible smack. The vampire gasped, moving away from me with a sudden urgency in her wide eyes. I watched, in a mixture of fascination and accomplishment, as Ivy's pupils shimmered into emphasis, engulfing the entire whites of her eyes. Her red, swollen lips curled back, and the gleaming danger of her fangs was placed into evidence once more. A low growl rumbled in her throat, and she rose up off of the ground to come face-to-face with me in a way that I hadn't seen her move at all.

I inched forward, unafraid. "If I wanted to fuck a ragdoll, vampire, I would have bought one at the store and gone to my room with it."

My tone was harsh, domineering, and my words were slurred—as if attached together with a string that was strung too tight. The taste of alcohol was still very much present upon my taste buds, and the heat of my breath was disturbing even to my own nostrils. The vampire before me was breathing heavily, eyes dilated and livid.

"You don't know what you're doing…" Her voice was hoarse, raw with need. My stomach tightened at the mere sound of it escaping her lips, and I felt my pulse skip a beat.

I suppressed the urge to reach forward and remove the untamed strands of hair from her eyes, and bit my lip to keep from giggling. The fact of the matter was that I was very much aware of what I was doing to her; it was merely the notion of repercussion that eluded me. As if on cue, my smile grew wider to show the top row of my teeth, bottom lip still firmly held between their maws. I let escape an excited titter; "Kiss me again?"

Ivy's lips softened, parting and giving her face an expression of intrigue. She didn't stop to think, and her touch was in no way hesitant, as she pushed herself forward to capture my lips between her own, hands on either side of my face and nails digging into my cheeks. The vampire quite literally stole my breath away, pressing her body upon mine and claiming my lips as her own as she ravaged me in every way possible. Her hands roamed my body, and I almost squealed when she trailed them up the hem of my shirt to graze her nails upon my bare stomach.

I may have had no idea what I was in for, but she knew exactly what she was doing.

"Mmm…Ivy," I spoke her name, pushing upwards into her to soak in as much of the vampire as I possibly could, but felt the air escape my lungs in a huff of exhale as Ivy Tamwood pushed me down.

Her touch was harsh, her eyes completely black, and her posture feral. In a slow, torturous motion, one of her hands crept upwards to my neck, fingers curling around my throat. Her movements were measured and deliberate, even as she let her head drop next to mine, lips barely inches from the shell of my ear. She held me submissive, allowing only a hot and moist breath to tease my ear when nothing else showed sign of movement. Then, she spoke:

"Do you want to know how long I've been waiting for this, Rachel?" The words escaped her in a raw whisper. "Can you even begin to imagine how many times this exact scene has gone through my dreams, waking me up with a damp heat pooling between my legs?"

For but a moment, I forgot how to breathe. "N-no…"

"Look where it's lead us, dear heart. See what you've done? I'm out of my fucking mind!" She pressed her body harder against mine as a fit of misplaced laughter burst from her, altering too rapidly from hysterics to an aroused moan. "God, you don't even know what you do to me."

Her whispers, her tone, and the placement of her gorgeous figure were the perfect variables of an equation to produce the result of an unbearable tension at the apex of my thighs. I pushed up against her to attain some sort of release, but she pulled away, a malicious smile curving her lips. She was teasing me.

I pushed upwards into her, but the vampire's hand came down once again on my chest to hold me back. I didn't let her push me directly onto the floor, however, keen on making my dignity evident. She raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow at my resistance, and I saw a smile twitch the corners of her lips. She spoke to me in a soft, but hard tone: "You cannot best me, dear heart. Despite what you might think, I will always be smarter, stronger, and smoother than you."

"Oh yeah?" My slurs became more pronounced as I raised my tone, breath coming in a rush out of my lungs as I pushed harder against the weight of her arm against my sternum. "Well you just think you're all high-and-mighty, don't you, Tamwood? I think you're all bark and no fucking bite. Hmm? That's what I think. I think that you pretend to be fucking perfect, but in truth, all you are is push-up bras and layers upon layers of fucking make-up."

Her eyes narrowed, lips curling upwards to form a full smile. "You swear too much when you're drunk."

"Well you're changing the subject. Just admit that you're a fu—"

Her open palms came down painfully on the muscles of my shoulders, and my back hit the ground with an unhealthy smash. Her entire weight fell upon me, chest against mine, and the zipper of her jeans rubbed against the crotch of my loose sweatpants. This time, despite me, I could not even inch upwards a millimetre closer to her figure, since she was making a conscious effort. I realized that before, she had simply been lazily holding me down, letting her natural weight fall upon me. Now, she was trying. And she was strong. So. Goddamn. Strong.

"What. Did. You. Say?" Her every word was emphasized and harsh; each one owning its own sentence. Ivy's pupils had engulfed the chocolate of her irises, and her eyes were swimming with a hostile glint. "What did you say to me?"

I licked my lips. "You're a fucking fake."

The vampire growled, pressed downwards and crushed her lips to my own. She was rougher than before; her touch was hard and forceful, and I could not help the aroused exhale that tore its way from my lungs. Her teeth caught at my bottom lip, and I felt a pulse of heat pass like a wave through my body as the tips of her canines dug into the fleshy tissue of the inside of my mouth. I arched my back, the muscles of my jaw tightened, and my legs rose to wrap themselves around the curve of her hips. She didn't bite down to break the skin, but, God, for a split second I wished she would have. I could feel the thrum of my own breath and pulse against the drums of my ears, and the rhythmic tattoo alone was enough to drive me to the brink of insanity.

Ivy Tamwood pulled away, taking a rush of air from my lungs along with her. I couldn't decipher her expression. Her jaw was obviously clenched, brows creased together in an unkindly manner, and lips swollen red. If I didn't know the vampire personally, I'd have pegged her dominant emotion as anger as opposed to the arousal she exuded in scent and the flare in her pupils. She was straddling my hips, pinning me down and looking undeniably sexy all at once.

I was at a lack of words upon seeing the way the dark-haired Goddess trailed her hands from her hips, brushing the underside of her breasts, and coming up to stroke her flawless neck. Her movements were fluid, her eyes closed as she took the time to bask in her own fucking gorgeousness. I fisted my hands at my sides, not trusting those fingers not to grab at her in an impatient hurriedness to sate my own growing desire.

She looked down at me, hands massaging her own shoulders as she spoke almost sarcastically, "What did you call me, dear heart?"

"Faaa…"

A part of the reason I was unable to speak was because of my previous intake of alcohol, but I had to admit that the larger part of the reason was due to the gorgeous woman atop me, practically pleasuring herself solely on the feel of her hands on her own breasts.

"Fake." She corrected me. "That's what you said."

It was then that Ivy Tamwood—Ivy. Fucking. Tamwood.—straightened her spine and pulled that nicely-fitted shirt up over her head. The room was suddenly spinning, and I blinked a few times to focus. What little coherency I had left barely had the time to register the glory of Ivy's black-lace bra before this was unhooked and also pulled up over her head.

I felt my face burn, a redness spreading across my cheeks that I had not felt there in a very long time. In an almost nonchalant fashion, the vampire grabbed one of my hands and placed the lace of her undergarment into my palm.

"I…" My mouth was open, my eyebrows up to the hairline of my scalp, and my gaze focused on the generous mounds of mammary glands that my roommate and best friend seemed to have attached to her sternum. My fingers didn't close upon the material of her bra as she placed it hurriedly into my open, twitching hand, therefore it fell onto the floor next to me. She followed it with her black eyes, a malicious smile creeping its way onto her features as she reached over to pick it up and place it within my reach once again.

"Feel it." She practically spat the words, seemingly unfazed by her partial nudity.

I didn't close my mouth or take my eyes off of her perfect chest, but I did close my fingers around the comfortable garment simply to please her. I was earnestly surprised when I felt the unbelievably thin material…it might as well not even have been there, it was so fucking thin. I actually had to tear my gaze from her breasts to watch my touch finger the bra, my thoughts shifting from its thickness to the warmth it was exuding and the fact that this was actually what Ivy Tamwood used to hold those perfect boobies of hers in nice round cups.

Lucky son of a bitch…

"What?" Her quizzical tone sliced through my teenage-boy rationality, and I turned my head to stare once again at her breasts.

"What?" I repeated, tranced.

"What did you just say…?"

I then realized I had spoken aloud. Fortunately, my inebriated state was enough to save the shame and embarrassment, that a situation like this would normally elicit, for a later date. "Oh. I was talking to the bra."

"Of course you were," she chuckled, perhaps amused at my stupidity.

The sultry vampire scooted her perfect butt backwards to straddle the lower part of my thighs, and stretched her torso along the length of mine in much the same way a cat would. I shivered at her touch, the feel of her bare chest pressing against my clothed one. Once again, I was at a loss for words as we came face-to-face, her dark eyes piercing into my soul, and that glorious beaming smile of hers sending my heart pulsing like a jackhammer. Ivy held this position for what seemed like forever, before emitting a soft tsk tsk tsk.

"It's all me, baby."

I swallowed hard. "Yes. Yes, it is. I-I'm sorry."

"I like your manners." She whispered the words in a tone that was sexy and confusing. I couldn't tell the vampire's concrete intentions and feared I'd be left in sexual limbo, all until she inched forward and pressed her lips to mine once more. I melted within her touch, my limbs going numb as I simply basked in everything that was purely Ivy. Her scent, her taste, and the beautiful soft sounds she would emit when I would take the effort to slip my tongue between our lips to meet hers.

Neither of us was in control of the kiss, we each had out little ego trips where we would push forward that much more to direct the other's lips exactly the way we wanted it. Ivy kissed differently than I had thought she would, however. Her rough, domineering exterior seemed almost forceful, frightening. But I realized that no matter the mood or current state the vampire was in, the touch of her lips was always soft, inviting, a swell of flesh that could not be ignored even for a second. When her mouth came down upon mine, my mind shifted to paste. I couldn't think. I couldn't breathe. No matter how hard I pushed her face with my own, brought her towards me with the harsh scratch of my nails, or brought my pelvis up to meet hers, she mirrored my actions in quite the opposite manner. Our kiss was almost akin to a synchronized dance, making it hard to decipher who was, in fact, leading the entire ordeal. She was calm, collected, smooth and warm, when I couldn't help but be hard, impulsive, clumsy and hot.

I wanted her.

There was nothing more that I desired at that very second than to have every inch of Ivy Tamwood covering the entire expanse of myself. The leisurely pace the gorgeous woman had decided to settle upon was not one I agreed with, and despite the forceful and ineloquent shoves I gave her every now and again, she didn't comply with my greed.

"Shh..." Her lips left mine for a few seconds simply to emit that soft, soothing shush.

Afterwards, the warmth of her mouth was upon me again, as her hands expertly descended to the hem of my baggy shirt, pulling it softly upwards to reveal my bare stomach. I felt goosebumps course over my body almost instantly, as the cold of the air around us washed through my figure, the hardwood against my back not helping my corporeal temperature. Her cool hands were suddenly upon me, my flesh, nails scratching intricate patterns against my ribcage as her touch rose to arouse my breasts.

I arced into her touch, a soft sound coming from my lips as Ivy pressed her fingers harder onto me, almost the way one would massage another. She was not soft. Unlike the feel of her lips, my best friend seemed to consider it a necessary evil to keep my toes curled as she roughly explored my body for the first time. Her thumbs pressed into my and felt their way under my ribs; she examined me, pressed against me, letting the tips of her fingers find every single nook and cranny that would make me buck and beg her for more. She was a quick learner, her hands coming around my waist to grab at my hips and pull me closer into her body, her mouth still firmly pressed to mine and her tongue finding it's way between out lips to teasingly flirt with the inside of my mouth. No man had ever touched me like this before, and I couldn't believe the way Ivy was taking ownership of me in such a smooth but forceful manner.

The tug-of-war-like push and pull of Ivy's greedy desires to see me plead for my pleasure was drawn out over the course of what seemed like hours on end. Long enough, in fact, that I slowly felt my coherency swimming back to me as time progressed. The faster I felt my rationality sweeping through my mind, the more it became confusing to me how Ivy hadn't even hinted at venturing towards my nether regions since this whole ordeal had first begun.

My head automatically tilted upwards as the vampire nuzzled my neck, demanding access, and before I was aware of it, my best friend had begun to kiss a trail from the line of my jaw, down my jugular, and finally planting a genuine kiss upon my clavicle. Her touch had since become softer, more pleasant, less arousing; almost a massage upon my suddenly sore muscles and a calming presence for my throbbing head. The palms of her hands were still directly upon my bare flesh, beneath the over-sized t-shirt that I had thrown on what seemed like days ago.

Ivy pulled away suddenly, propping herself up on her elbows on either side of me, and resting her chin in the palms of her hands as she stared at me as if I were the light of the world. Her eyes had come back to their natural chocolate colour, and there was a faint smile curving her beautiful lips.

I couldn't help the stretch that my shoulders began, the rest of my body following in a not-so-smooth fashion, until I heard a satisfying crack at the base of my spine.

"Welcome back, love." Ivy breathed the words, a soft expression crossing her features.

"Hey, there," I responded, perplexed at the sudden change in ambiance. "What's, umm…what's going on?"

The vampire reached over to give me a quick, chaste peck on the cheek, before she rose to a seated position. The gorgeous woman was still sitting on me, of course, but there was something about the scene and the way she was acting that seemed…off. I didn't dare sit up myself, as I knew that this would bring us both to eye-level and she might do something both of us would regret. Instead, I remained lying down, with Ivy straddling my hips, and a worried expression slowly creeping it's way upon my brows.

"Kiss me?" The enquiry surprised me, and I simply lay there, mouth open and uncanny thoughts racing through my mind at a speed I was not at all used to.

Ivy let out a soft sound of acknowledgement, and pulled one of her legs up and off of me, so that she was seated at my side. As soon as she did this, I pulled my body upright to sit beside her, crossed my legs, and folded my arms across my chest. It was then that I noticed Ivy Tamwood still wasn't wearing a shirt; those dark, succulent nipples still very much in evidence as the vampire made no conscious effort to hide them.

"What?" I asked, "What is it?"

"How are you feeling?" She asked the question as if I wasn't the most perplexed living thing on this planet, and she was the only person that could help me understand just what in the hell was going on. When I didn't answer her, she simply looked even sadder than she had before.

She stood, grabbing her shirt in the process, pulling it over her chest in one, swift motion.

"Ivy!" I called out after her when she began to walk away, and she turned, her eyes a cheerless mixture of chocolate and dark desire. "What happened?"

She took a deep breath, as if trying to hold back what may have been a livid anger, or a heart-breaking sadness. "I wasn't going to fuck you when you were drunk, Rachel. It didn't matter how hard you pushed me, it wasn't going to happen. I didn't want to be hurt again."

My pulse began to pound when I felt my body slam back into the plane of conscious reality, the pheromones Ivy had been pushing out suddenly miserable and tasteless. As soon as the alcohol had begun to wear off and I had become inebriated with the presence of Ivy Tamwood, my mood had shifted. She, on the other hand, had expected me to react the same way as I had before. I had proven once and for all to Ivy that all she was, was a tool to me. One I used for protection, company, and now…pleasure.

"I'm leaving, Rachel." Her words were pained. "Hope isn't even enough anymore."