Seven hours out of Mystic Falls, Caroline slumped down in the seat of Tyler's car. Dawn was beginning to creep up around the edges of the sky, setting the pavement gleaming. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. It was going to be a perfect day—warm but not too hot—which only made her feel worse. "I'm a terrible person."
She could feel Tyler glancing over at her. She couldn't manage to look back. He pulled the car to the side of the road and then reached for her hand, wrapping his fingers around hers. "Caroline, look at me, please."
She managed to look up and meet his eyes. They were as soft and warm as ever.
"Was I a terrible person for leaving you before, when I was under the sire bond?" he asked.
"No," she whispered. "You needed to leave."
"This is the same," Tyler said, resting his other hand over both of theirs. "We can't stay in Mystic Falls. Not with the whole council knowing the truth about us."
"I know," she said. "It's just that matter how I turn it over in my head, I still feel like I abandoned my friends."
"Damon and Stefan will look after them," he said. "Can you guarantee they'd look after us?"
Caroline bit her lip. "Stefan would."
"Look, you know the guy better than I do, I guess," Tyler said. "But even if you're willing to put your life in his hands, I'm not. I don't trust him. I don't trust either of them. I know he's your friend, Caroline, but he's never been much of one to me."
Caroline pulled her hand out of Tyler's and stared out the windshield. The highway was straight here, went on for miles and miles, and the curve that she could see was one that wouldn't have been visible to her eyes when she'd been human. Every color and every hue was vibrant and real. She didn't want to lose it. That was the worst part, really, that she so desperately wanted to live. She'd chosen herself over Bonnie and Elena and her own mom.
Except this is what her mom had wanted. God, the thoughts just chased themselves round and round in her head, never quieting down.
She unclipped her seatbelt and got out of the car, leaning back against the door. Breathing hard, wondering faintly if a vampire could hyperventilate. She heard Tyler get out of the car, too, but he didn't come too close.
"I feel like a coward," Caroline said. "This doesn't feel like an adventure, Tyler. It feels like I'm running away."
"We are," Tyler said. "We're being selfish, Caroline. But it's okay to be selfish sometimes. I know... I know that you're worried about our friends and I love you for that. You've got more heart than anyone else I know. But you have to worry about yourself sometimes. This is for us. This is because I want you to keep breathing. Or, well... you know what I mean."
Caroline traced her fingers over the handle of the car door, black paint and smudged silver. She sneaked a glance over at Tyler, who was waiting patiently as always. "When we get Columbus, I'm calling home. Just to check up. See if..."
"Of course," Tyler said, coming closer. He framed her face with his hands, giving her a gentle and reassuring kiss. She clung to him, kissing deeper. When she was kissing Tyler, when he was holding her, those were the moments when it was easiest to imagine living out forever with him by her side. She stroked her fingers through his dark, thick hair and pressed her hips up against his. His hands slid up under her shirt, giving her all kinds of thoughts that she wasn't going to act on while they were out in the open.
A car passed by with a loud honk and she could feel Tyler startling under her hands.
She sighed regretfully when he pulled out of the kiss.
"There's a pack in Wayne forest, just a couple of hours out of the city," Tyler said. "They'll be able to help us out if we need it."
"Klaus doesn't know about them?" Caroline asked.
"I don't think so," Tyler said. He tugged lightly at the front of her red jacket, his knuckles brushing against her stomach. The touch sent a warm rush all through her body and she swayed slightly into him. "Thank you, Caroline, for coming with me. I know it was a lot to ask."
"Thanks for putting up with me."
"There's nothing to put up with," Tyler said, with that earnest, soulful look that melted her down to the bones. He brushed his lips against hers. "Ready for more driving?"
"I think I want to watch the sunrise," she said. "With you. We've got enough time for that, don't we?"
Tyler nodded with a tiny smile. He got a blanket out of the trunk of the car and settled it on the grass at the side of the road. She snuggled up with him, settling in between his legs, her back against his chest. She could feel his mouth against her hair. She reached for his hand, holding it against her stomach.
The sun rose, bringing more color to the sky and the trees. The stars faded and more cars began to pass them on the highway. Caroline put her other hand on Tyler's knee, rubbing gently with her thumb. From now on, this would be their life. The two of them doing whatever made them happy.
She'd feel better once they were able to check in back at home but this was... it was nice.
The sun was all the way over the horizon now. If she were human, she wouldn't be able to stare at it and if she didn't have her ring, she'd be dead. She had the best of both worlds.
She turned her head so that she could kiss Tyler, squeezing her hand around his.
The best of all possible worlds.