One of my friends made me realize that in Damon’s toast to Alaric “here’s to the women in our lives making crazy screwed up decisions and loving them more for it”, while he kind of was making a general statement even referring to everything Elena’s done since he’s met her(including her decision to be with him) but also her compelling away her memories of them.
He hates that she did that.
(because he never would and there’s that sting of betrayal. Though he would make another screwed up decision or a series of screwed up decisions to cope if she died on him)
But he loves her more for it.
He tries to get her to just see him again and try their luck at it again because she did love him once and erased him out of that love. And it’s not an action that harms him that makes him step back but when she crosses the border because she can’t remember, risking her life that he decides to step back and let her go because at least she’s alive.
(I’ll even let her hate me for it. But I’ll be the one to keep her alive)
And then he distracts himself from thinking about everything he’s lost with her by focusing on trying to save a friend who is also her friend and someone who helped him hold onto Elena all through his time away from her, when he thought maybe there was no way, even if he didn’t completely.
(“She’d listen for hours and hours and when the opportunity presented itself, she made sure I took it.”
"What did you talk about?"
"What do you think?”)
And when she tells him she broke up with Liam, there’s this treacherous hope that maybe it’s because of him but he brushes it aside and throws a jab about how “Dr Humantarian award not good enough?” before he asks with more concern “What went wrong?”. He loved her anyway. There was no fighting it.
(“You love Elena. You always will…You’ll never know peace(without her)”)
And she implies it’s because of him by repeating his words “What do you think?” and that treacherous feeling of hope shows up on his face and when she says “I don’t know”, he kind of expected it but he’s been down that road too many times. And then she takes his hand and asks him if he can help her find her best friend so that she can ask her advice and he says “sure” with just as much love as before, and it’s not about him saying that because he’s doing that for her(Partly he does. He does do it for his bond formed in the prison world but it’s an unconscious thing, like an extension at this point where Damon wouldn’t do that to make Elena fall in love with him again but he would do it for her too.) but the “sure” is about him accepting her needing time and needing him to understand that she does.
(“I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness. But I need it” “And I need time. Maybe a lot of time”)
And he loves her more for it.
When they’re on the porch of the Gilbert house in 1994, where she tells him out loud without looking at him how she had so many good memories in that house and after one bad memory she burned it down because she couldn’t bear looking at it again, there’s a sense of regret and longing on her face, and looking at her falling into silence because she’s beating herself up about why couldn’t she not do it, he asks her in a casual, trying to make her feel better way if she wants to go inside.
He knew why she did that but even if she’s not saying anything about her memories of him, he draws a connection there even if it’s not the forefront of it all. He knew why she did that too but hearing her say it, even if not directly made it more “clear” and so when she tries to apologize, making that connection herself, he doesn’t accept or reject it because she doesn’t have to apologize.
(“I’m sorry I compelled away the memories. They were only half mine”
"We’ll make new ones")
He doesn’t agree with what she did and yes, he lost a life he had with her but he knows why she did it and he loves her more for it.
And as he sits there taking splinters out of her chest and she pulls a prank on him that she’s dying on him(her “If there’s anything you need to say” was the biggest give away because no one says that. no one.), giving him one of the biggest scares in his life, and he looks away thinking she’s insane(that’s the point. Hence the “I’ve never felt more alive” apart from the parallels before) and then she calms down and continues to stare at him while rubbing his hand and holding it with the weight of the moment settling in even more before. He loves her more for it.
She doesn’t remember what they were, but he does.
But here’s a simple fact he now knows and realizes, despite everything they’ve done and do, despite every mistake, this is them. Screwed up, reckless sometimes even in being cautious and complicating what’s simple.
And he loves her more for it.