I don't know how to do anything other than write fic, apparently. Dark-ish!Caroline in the beginning.

Title from The Long and Short of It by Richard Siken.


here is a place for it to happen,
a place where i can love you.

Caroline is ankle deep in a lake outside of Knoxville, throwing arms and legs into the water, when she feels him standing behind her. She tosses the last limb into the water with a small smile on her face.

"Well, well," she says as she turns around. The smile is evident in her voice.

She turns and he's standing five feet away with his arms crossed over his chest, a smirk on his lips. He chuckles softly, once, before breathing out her name, "Care," and walking towards her. His arms come out to embrace her, but she puts her hands up in front of her.

"Bloody, sorry." She smiles, looking to the blood caked on her hands.

He shrugs, "it's been a while," motions for her to come to him. She rolls her eyes, but steps out of the water and walks to him. He wraps his arms around her shoulders and squeezes tight. Her arms wrap around his middle, fingers tightening in the material of his leather jacket.

He pulls away, asks without a drop of disappointment in his voice, "Hungry?" He nods towards the water where he sees body parts floating.

She follows his gazes, watches a foot bob at the surface, before turning back to him with a shrug. "Starved," she smiles.

"Come on," he motions back to the edge of the woods, "we can eat, catch up."

Caroline rinses her hands off in the lake and when she flips her hair over her shoulder, a streak of blood transfers to her golden locks. Damon toys with it as they walk back to his car in the dark.

–;

In the passenger seat, Caroline toes down the ends of her jeans that were rolled up from earlier; the whole time, her fingers run over the back of Damon's right hand in a way that's all too familiar.

She looks out of the corner of her eye and she sees a smile stretch across his face. His fingers catch hers and he holds on until they reach a 24-hour diner. He releases his grip when he parks. They get out like nothing happened.

Once inside, they steal a booth by the window, fluorescent colors from the sign outside catching the irises of Caroline's eyes. Damon smiles when he notices, Caroline doesn't say anything about how it's far less menacing than she remembers.

Damon orders a burger and fries with a diet coke. Caroline steals fries from his plate, tells him she forgot to order some when he chastises her. She has a cute grin on her face when she dips the fries into her milkshake, so Damon can't really be mad at her. Not that he was in the first place.

–;

"Where are you staying?" He asks as they pull out off the parking lot. Caroline is sitting comfortably; her legs pulled up in the middle of the seat, her head against the window.

"The Holiday Inn. Though, technically, it's really a downgrade—dust on the sheets and spiders in the shower type of place. I honestly don't know why I'm—"

He cuts her off like he used to do, so she's used to it.

"Stay with me." He says casually, but seriously. This she isn't used to.

Caroline's eyes slip closed for a moment, a small smile dies on her lips. "I couldn't." She says softly, suddenly too tired for this conversation, for it's implications.

"You can. I want you to. I know you want to. I know you, Care." His eyes move from the road and trail up her body, before he turns back to the road with a sigh. It sounds like longing to Caroline, but she isn't really in any place to say anything.

"You know me, huh?" She pushes her hair out of face, tucks it behind her ear, so she can see him when she looks over. She gives him an expectant look, a smile on her lips.

"Don't I?" He gives her a quizzical look.

"Maybe you do," she thinks about it. The way he sounds when he laughs against his pillow, his hand trailing down her spine, fingers spreading out over her ribs in a way that leaves her breathless. It's been so long. After a moment, "Maybe you do," she repeats herself with a sigh that sounds sad to both of them.

Damon ignores it because this is what they do. "So you'll stay with me."

Caroline knows he has her. Knows that she'll end up at his place tonight, falling into his bed, and he'll kiss up and down the column of her neck, and she'll knot her fingers in the hair at the base of his neck. Caroline knows where all of this will go, knows what will happen, and that she'll be the one to grab his hand because it's never him making the first move. She knows how this ends.

But still, "No." She drags out the end of the word. "Think I'll stay in my raggedy motel room." There's a smile tacked onto the end. And he'll catch it and he'll chuckle, move his hand over until it's wrapped around her ankle, and he'll squeeze it once, twice, three times, and say good in a voice that knots up Caroline insides.

Caroline knows him too.

–;

Damon is making a mental list of complaints to hand over to the management of the motel Caroline's staying at while she gathers her belongings. She laughs the entire time and her eyes crinkle at the sides because she's smiling so much when she looks over and sees his face contorted into a disgusted expression.

"How long have you been here? My God." This is the Damon she knows too.

"Too long. Too, too long." She says, standing in front of the mirror, as she complies all of her makeup and hair products into one bag. Shortly after speaking she feels the mood change completely, so suddenly that she can't figure out why. She looks up and oh, that's why. Damon's standing right behind her. She tries to catch his eye, but can't, he's looking at the back of her head.

She feels his right hand slide into her hair. The way his nail trails over her scalp for half a second sends chills throughout her body.

She looks up again, catches his eye this time. They stare at each other and there's a moment where Caroline feels like this is it. This is all they are. But then she looks down to his hand; in between two fingers, he's holding strands of her hair that are red with blood and she knows now. She gets it.

"You can shower at my place." He looks at her again, smiles a little even though Caroline doesn't know how, pulls his hand from her hair.

She feels two-thirds like someone has taken her insides and completely sliced them to pieces and one-third like she's just been put back together.

This is a cycle, Caroline thinks. "Yeah," she musters along with a smile. The absence of his touch weighs heavy on her.

She clears her throat and he steps away. When his back is to her, she hurriedly throws everything in the bag and announces that she's ready.

He turns around quickly, suiting his casual smile that she's seen too much of but not for a long time. "Let's go." He grabs her bags for her.

(He does fill out a comment card while Caroline turns in her room key, makes her wait so he can finish. She sighs, rolls her eyes, stands with her hand on her hip. The man behind the counter gives her a confused look and she simply shrugs. "There," he says, standing up straight. He holds the card in front of her so she can see, she laughs. He hands the comment card over to the manager and grabs her hand to leave. It's warm and fits around hers perfectly. Caroline thinks she is absolutely screwed.)

–;

Damon's apartment is in Georgia. Which, Caroline thinks now, she should have inquired that information beforehand.

She only finds out because he's talking about how he went to an Atlanta Braves game last week and found an entire row of people who looked tastier than his seven dollar hotdog. Caroline snorts when she laughs because it's funny and it's Damon and of course that's the first thought he had.

"It's true!" He laughs, then starts talking about something as mundane as the traffic—Oh! The congestion in the city, Caroline!—he encountered on his way home from the game.

Something clicks then— "You live in Georgia?" The expression on her face is one of shock. Just after she asks, they pass the sign that says "Thank you for visiting Tennessee!"

Damon just looks at her for four whole seconds before turning his attention back to the road, a chuckle brewing in his chest.

"Seriously?" She asks again because she wants to be sure. And how did she not know, seriously?

"You didn't have something tying you to Tennessee, did you? I sure hope not because now is a little too late to mention it, Care." He taps his fingers against the steering wheel once, twice, three times.

Caroline thinks of the lake and the body parts and the part of her that's menacing and a little bit evil, thinks of the blood under her nails. Thinks it's time for a fresh start. "No, nothing at all." She says with a sigh. "I've always loved Georgia." Smiles.

"Good," he singsongs.

–;

They get to Damon's place by three in the morning and Caroline is complaining about being on the road forever and Damon chuckles, tells her forever is a long time, the drive was only four hours.

Anyway.

So Damon lives right outside of the city, in a very nice townhouse surrounded by domesticity—a dog walker lives two doors down, he is on a first name basis with the couple living to his right. Caroline is shocked by this.

"You have a life here." She says as she walks up the steps and through the front door. He smiles in response.

He gives her a tour of the house; a nice living room and kitchen on the bottom floor, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the upper level.

He shows her to her room, says she must be tired from the lack of sleep. Before he walks out of the room, he turns back around to her, "This is your home now too, Caroline. Treat it like that, okay?" He smiles at her, warm but tired, and closes the door behind him.

–;

Caroline showers before going to bed. She stands with the water pelting down over her chest. She watches the blood from her hair slide down her skin, then swirl down the drain. She rubs her skin a little raw because she can smell a distant hint of blood, picks it from underneath her nails.

Hates it.

–;

Caroline's in bed with the covers pulled up around her shoulders and the sheets smell like lilac scented detergent and it's too clean.

Caroline will say she left the bed because of the sheets—they just weren't sleeping material—not because she knows what she's doing.

Caroline will play this card as long as she can. They both always do.

–;

Damon's room is across the hall from hers and she doesn't see a light on, but she doesn't care if he's sleeping. She taps lightly on the door before pushing it open.

Damon is lying on his back in the middle of the bed, the sheet falling somewhere around his hips. He hears her, she knows, but this is what they do. This is always what they do, so Caroline tiptoes over to the side of the bed, pulls the sheet up, and slides in next to him.

Her fingers are cold against his bare skin as she splays them out over his ribs; index finger drawing continuous circles. "Scoot," she whispers because she knows he hears her. A small smile appears on his lips and he opens his eyes a little. He looks at her, too blue eyes roaming over her features: the light freckles on her nose, the way her eyelashes fall against her skin when she closes her eyes. Damon thinks she's beautiful, scoots over without a word.

This is what they do, because this is what they have always done. Caroline knows where this begins, can't really pinpoint where it ends. Only knows that the beginning and the end are maybe two entirely different things now. Because before, they matched up. Caroline knew.

Damon's hand finds Caroline's at his side, he intertwines his with hers, turns on his side to face her. She looks at him and he watches the way her eyelashes ghost over her skin in the second that she blinks, then she's looking at him again.

He leans over and peppers kisses along her jaw, frees his hand from hers so he can skim over the soft skin of her cheek. He kisses her everywhere but on the lips and Caroline releases this achingly soft groan, pushes her lips to his, knots her fingers in the hair at the back of his neck, pulls him until he's hovering over her.

This is soft and slow and Caroline likes the way Damon always nips at her lips a little rougher every time she tugs on his hair.

His head dips down and he's leaving a trail of kisses up and down her neck and Caroline remembers this from last time, doesn't think she will ever forget it.

–;

She wakes up because the sun is shining bright through the window. She groans and rolls away from it. Her face runs into Damon's chest, arm wrapping around his waist, and this is new, but okay. She presses a kiss to his skin.

Falls back asleep before she can really think at all.

–;

This is the beginning and the end of the last time Damon found her: she was in Oklahoma flirting with a brunette who didn't remind either of them of any other girl. She'd pulled away, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and said something like, "About time."

He had laughed, hoisted her up, and kissed her quickly on the mouth, blood smearing against his lips.

–;

This time is different. They don't go a killing spree. There's no one at the bottom of a lake or burning in a pile of wood. There is Caroline and there is Damon and there's the dog walker next door.

She wakes up around ten to Damon kissing a line up her inner thigh. Her toes curl into the sheets, her fingers rake through his dark hair. Right there, she tells him.

She comes minutes later. He kisses her for the longest time, pulls away and tells her the living situation isn't working out.

For a moment Caroline freezes, the high she just received already plummeting and she feels knots in her stomach.

"I'm really going to need you to start sleeping in here." He smirks down at her, leans in to kiss her before she can protest.

Oh, well, in that case. "My pleasure," she says against his lips.

–;

This is different. This is what they do:

Caroline befriends the neighbors next door, tells them her name so sweetly that she thinks they'll be very good friends.

Argues back and forth with Damon over whether or not it is appropriate for them to buy a dog. Ultimately they do because Sharon said she'd walk him and give them a discount. So, Damon can't really say no.

This is the end. Right here where Damon pulls Caroline to him and kisses a line from her ear to her mouth, tells her he loves her so much that something pushes and pulls in her chest, and she says it back.

This is what they do.