This was written for Fandom Stocking 2012. It's set during "Caroline and the Wayward Husband," between Caroline's conversation with Del and the scene where she leaves her message on Richard's answering machine.

She thought about Del's words all the way home from the hot dog stand. He'd said that she and Richard spoke the same language, something private between just them, composed of references and jokes and ideas that made outsiders of everyone else. It was true, she realized; of all her friends, Richard was the only one who gave a damn when she mentioned that there was a new Dutch Renaissance exhibit at the Met, or who cared when a book on Fantin-Latour came out. Richard not only knew the difference between burnt sienna and burnt umber, he had an opinion on which to use for Caroline's shirt in the latest Sunday strip.

(Sienna, for the record. "It looks better with her hair," he'd said last week. "And if she had eyes that were more than two dots, it would go better with them, too. It does with yours."

"You've looked at my eyes enough to know what colors go with them?" she'd asked, something nervous beginning to flutter in her stomach.

"I'm an artist," he'd said with an air of taxed patience. "Noticing colors is in the job description.")

As a fellow artist, she understood Richard's need to create far better than she had ever grasped Del's obsession with the gym, or Joe's with the extreme measures he'd gone to for animal rights. She and Richard both had the same urge to put the pictures in their heads onto paper or canvas. Granted, she never quite knew what his pictures were supposed to be, and hers generally featured people with giant heads, but still. She'd been to the art supply store with him enough times to recognize the light in his eyes as he reverently ran his fingers over the little white tubes of oil paint. It was the same glow she felt when grasping a fistful of new colored pencils.

So it wasn't completely crazy, she thought as she trudged up the stairs from the subway station nearest her apartment. If she could just figure out how to tell him, then maybe...

A trip to the Met was her first thought. They could walk out on the front steps, wide-eyed and sated from Picasso or Titian, and she could tug on his hand and ask if he wanted to do this again next week, and the week after that, and maybe every week for the rest of their lives.

No, appealing as that was, it was too public. If he thought that sounded perfectly awful, she didn't want a hundred pairs of eyes watching him shoot her down.

A letter? Telegram? Send Annie over with a note that read, "Do you like Caroline? Check yes or no"?

Definitely not.

Some deranged part of her offered the idea of a bouquet of paint brushes, those Kolinsky sables he coveted every time they went to DaVinci's. That had possibilities,, it still wasn't quite what she needed.

Hours later, she sat in her pajamas, phone in hand. She'd just dialed Richard's number and gotten his machine for the fourteenth time, not that she was counting. She took a deep breath as she listened to the message she'd memorized twelve calls ago. This was it. If he didn't want to be with her, then he could delete the message, and they would never speak of it. It was the perfect out.

And if he did want this as much as she did...

"Hi Richard. It's me. Uh, Caroline. You probably already knew that..."