Questionable. Mostly Caroline centric, but my Damon/Caroline heart would not settle itself, so of course they're in it.

Title from Burn by Ray Lamontagne. Beginning lyrics from Almost Lover by A Fine Frenzy.

it's just this heart on my sleeve that's bleeding.

So you're gone and I'm haunted, and I bet you are just fine. Did I make it that easy to walk right in and out of my life?


Caroline's the child at Christmas that doesn't get a gift while everyone else gets five or six. Sometimes people just forget she's there.

(Relatives tell her later oh, Carolina, we're so sorry.)

She doesn't mention that her name's not even Carolina.


Caroline remembers her eleventh birthday (dad gone, mom at work), and having to bake her own birthday cake.

She makes a mess of batter and flour and when she takes the cake from the oven, it's scorched, too burnt to eat.

But Caroline doesn't cry about it, just gets a couple of cookies from the cookie jar and watches reruns of her favorite cartoons until her mother comes home annoyed and exhausted and Caroline, did you have to make a mess?

She hears curses, not ever a happy birthday, darling.


When she's thirteen she starts to notice guys noticing her, but it's never quite like she expected it to be. It's not sweet smiles and hey, care nor is it sandy blonde hair and deep blue eyes – it's not Matt Donovan. He is Elena's always and forever and care, aren't Matt and I perfect together? It's the first time she hates Elena; even if it's for a short moment filled with jealousy and let me have him, please.

It's Tyler Lockwood and his enormous ego spitting foul phrases at her that she's sure not even he knows what they mean, because surely she doesn't. It's boys in science class trying to sneak a hand under her short skirts. She always slaps their hands away and scoffs, I'm not a slut, Brad.

Even though she pushes them away, it ends up being her fault their hands got so close in the first place. Caroline, you should know better. And Caroline, do you know what guys think of girls who wear clothes like this?

She could retort with if you paid any attention to me at all, you wouldn't buy these skirts, mom but she doesn't.


Even if she tries, though she never would, she can't forget Mrs. Gilbert. Right after they die – right after –when she's over at Elena's house trying to comfort her with pats on the back and I'm so sorry but can't really get through to her because her own sobs are choking her and Bonnie was always better with Elena, she gets an overwhelming feeling of Mrs. Gilbert and homemade cookies and sweet smiles.

It was always warm right when Caroline walked in the door, Mrs. Gilbert hugging her close to her body, her apron getting baking flour all over the front of Caroline. But she did not care because Mrs. Gilbert was always baking and always smiling and offering new recipes to take home to her mother. (She always declined, mom's not really a baker.) There was always candles lit and Mr. Gilbert reading the newspaper, his glasses set low on his nose, and Caroline, so nice to see you! when she walked passed to the kitchen for cookies. She'd smile and yeah, it really was nice.

Caroline remembers it always smelt like heaven and she can't forget the sound of Elena and her mother's laughter when Elena spilled flour onto the floor.

She was always jealous of Elena for that; wanted to take Mrs. Gilbert home with her just for a while.

Now, as she gets a tissue to wipe her nose and can still hear Elena's sobs, all she wishes is for Mrs. Gilbert to just come back, she won't try to take her away, just let Elena have her mom back.

It doesn't happen and she knows she's a fool for thinking it would, but she's still all the same angry when the funeral comes around.


When Caroline gets home from the funeral with her mother, who finally took a day off, she drops her purse and cardigan at the foot of the stairs and turns around to hug her mother.

It's not really a hug, more like a gesture of patting each other on the back because her mother's hands go up in front of her to push Caroline away, but then she sees the tears in her eyes and tries to comfort her. (Caroline almost begs, mom just hold me.) Caroline's head hits right on her mother's shoulder where it's uncomfortable and all she can feel of her mother's love is a soft pat on her arm before Liz is pulling away and saying it's been a long day and she should check on the deputies, see how they did without their sheriff. There's a nervous laugh at the end of it and Caroline suddenly realizes that her mother would rather have anything other than her.

She feels stupid for just realizing it. But when she looks at herself later in the mirror – tired eyes and soft skin, bruised lips and a ghost of a girl – she says, better late than never.


She's there when Elena tells Matt that she doesn't need a relationship and it's just all too much, Matt and Caroline would roll her eyes about how recited that sounds, but she knows it's true. Elena doesn't need a relationship and she does not need Matt. She needs her. And Bonnie. And Jeremy. And her Aunt Jenna. Anyone but Matt.

Caroline doesn't know if she's trying to keep him for herself or if she's trying to protect Elena from the wrath of Matt's sad eyes.

Oh, how she wishes it were the second one.


Caroline watches Matt watch Elena.

He never fails to not look back at her.

(But Care's used to not being first choice, especially to her best friend.)


She doesn't know what makes her start acting like every other teenager she knows. (Honestly, girl was going to break the mold. She was going to have good grades, come home early after cheer practice, be student council president.) She was going to be just those things, (because trust, Caroline Forbes is nothing if not stereotypical.)

But she didn't plan on her going to one party turning into going to two a weekend and she didn't plan on letting Brad from seventh grade science slip his hand all the way up her shortest skirt one weekend after one too many drinks, she didn't.

She didn't plan on disappointing her mother or herself.

But Caroline was never really good at being the best she could be.


She's always heard that two is better than one. She assumes that she's probably always believed it, but then she sees the Salvatore brothers and oh god, it's so true. Two is definitely better than one.

But sometimes a lot messier. (Then she finds out, yet again, Elena comes first always first (she is not jealous) and the mess isn't really one at all.)

The older one's better though. Darker hair, brighter eyes, smirk; she likes him better. (And it's not because he pays her attention, it's not. And it's not because Elena already snagged the other one – no, it's really not.)


When Damon's hand slides up her short skirt it feels nothing like what Brad did – Brad was nothing compared to this. Damon feels experienced and so good and the things he whispers in her ear right before she's about to come make her blush so red.

But she likes it – the attention, Damon.


She's never really given much thought to how she'd die. She didn't know she was supposed to.

But when Damon's hands are wrapped around her throat and his fangs are out, but he's still able to be charming and frightening all at the same time, she knows it isn't supposed to be this way – not so soon, not when she has been nothing but second place trophies in the back of a closest covered in dust. She's supposed to be able to make things better, even if they never will be, she's supposed to get a chance with Matt. She's supposed to make her mother proud.

(God, it's all she wants.)

Caroline Forbes – seventeen, cheerleader, student council president, best friend – is not supposed to die by the hand of a beautiful monster. She doesn't fucking deserve it.

When he lets her live, she wonders if she deserves that either.


Damon makes her forget and one day she wakes up with no chains binding her to him and she's not scared and she doesn't know where that came from. Everything's back to normal, but it's not like she knew anything had ever changed – mother still won't stop to talk on her way out the door for work.

Nothing's changed. (Except some fresh scars she doesn't remember getting.)


Until Matt. Because Caroline always knew that something was special about that boy. Something more than his hey, care and sandy blonde hair and pure blue eyes – though those are probably her favorite things.

She always hoped that he would look at her when she was watching him watch Elena.

She always hoped. (And that's the only thing she finds herself holding onto anymore, since what seems like forever.)


His hand is perfect with hers and oh god, his smile and oh god, her smile. What are you doing to me she wonders when he kisses her rosy cheek and tells her she's amazing.

Maybe she doesn't believe him, but still, it's the thought that counts.


She wonders it again when Katherine's pushing the pillow in her face and she can't breathe. But it doesn't last long.


She's always thought she'd have better control over situations. Caroline's always been independent and I'm okay, really.

Caroline's never had to be undead and seventeen forever either, though.


She can remember how old she was when her father left but she can't remember the day. She can remember everything but she doesn't know if it was a Wednesday or Thursday. She remembers that she was ten and it was cold outside all day long and when she got home from school his bags were packed by the door.

It wasn't daddy's going away for a bit, it was take care, Care. And she's always hated the way that sounded. She didn't like that her name was associated with his way of saying goodbye. She remembers loud and clear the I love you that never left his lips.

Her mother probably didn't cry. Caroline's sure she did.


"I always knew you were the good Salvatore", she jokes.

Stefan laughs.

"No, really. You're the best." She smiles. And maybe she could pull the whole I saw him first line, but she thinks Stefan is just right for Elena, wonders if she'll ever find something close to that.

Because Matt sure was a bust. But oh god, it was not for the lack of trying. Caroline tried and tried and tried but sometimes being seventeen forever and Matt's blood left things unsettled. And if anything, she does not want Matt Donovan giving her sad eyes because she's sure she'd be running back in no time.

Good to get it over with before anyone gets hurt.

(She does not know how she could be so nonchalant about Matt. Because she was always watching him watch Elena and now she's watching him walk away and it's so cliché that she can't even handle it, must run away.)


She makes it to the Grill; exhausted and sad.

Damon's there. And she thinks just her fucking luck. Stefan, then Matt, and now Damon. She wonders who's controlling her fate.

She still sits down beside him at the bar, steals his bourbon before hers can arrive, because if anything, she needs a drink.

"The hell, Blondie?" And she smiles because at least there's something she hasn't heard in a while. (It's always been never good enough and gotta go to work, honey and anyone but you.)

She laughs and downs her own drink quickly, signals for the compelled bartender to keep bringing her glasses filled to the rim.

"Oh, Damon." And yeah, maybe she should hate him and yeah, she still does a little, but god, time passes and people move on. People get over things. And most of the time she finds herself either commending herself for being so mature or hating herself for being so desperate to let just anyone back into her life.

He steals her next glass of bourbon that is set down. "It's only fair," he says when she gives him a terrible stare.

They share the whole bottle.


"You know, Damon, you should've just killed me when you had the chance all those months ago." Her words slur and suddenly she's finding some of herself again – the drunk girl at a party on the weekend letting Brad from science slide his hand over her leg.

She shivers a little at the thought that follows: Damon and his hand and oh, god.

"Yeah, probably should have." Then he's lifting her from the bar stool and taking her back to her house, always leaving the same way he came, through the open window.

Always leaving just like everyone else. She doesn't know why she wanted at least him to stay. (She thinks, maybe, it's because at least they have something in common – never enough, monster, not good enough, monster, too late, helpless, monster.)


Caroline's never been anything special. Never the girl at the party, student council president, cheerleader. Not really.

Caroline was always lost and never found. Always too late, always searching in the wrong places, always finding what she didn't need, never getting what she wanted.

Always forgotten.

Caroline was never the girl who got the guy, she was never the one who got the attention. She couldn't even get her own mother's, how was she going to get anyone else's?

(Caroline thinks maybe something's wrong with her; why else would everyone leave?)