In 145 years Damon has never met anyone who knows how to hurt him quite like Bonnie does. He knows her when she comes, every time she comes: she comes into his head and bursts, incandescent, like a firework — and he can't help but fall to his knees. It's not the pain: it's an act of genuflection. He will never tell her this but in these moments she shines unbearably before him, bright and terrifying, like a god — and he is overcome.
That's how he knows that there is something of Bonnie in this, when she comes to him in the forest and sets his brain on fire; that's how he knows, in the moment just before the world slips out from under him, that part of her wanted this to happen. Because it is so intimate. There is nobody in the world who could, nobody who would incapacitate him like this: it is so personal to their relationship, an act which belongs in whole to the two of them. It's her, he knows it. It's always her.
The world never feels quite so real as it does in the moments when he is coming to. He hates her for making him feel like this; — worse than the pain itself, for one intransient moment he feels human. When he wakes in the forest with a dull ache in his bones and a throbbing headache for a moment it's like he's back in the 1860s — no, earlier: he hasn't felt like this since the night he tried to run away from home, the last night he slept outside in this forest, frightened and exhilarated: full of hope and promise. Stefan came for him then, and pleaded with him to stay (Stefan is always pleading with Damon to stay) and Damon went back to the big house for his thrashing. The memory of that night, and the thought of the man he might have become, is so desperately painful he almost can't bear it — and he hates Bonnie for it, hates her for making him feel it, hates her for reminding him that there was a time when he could have been decent. There's always a choice, she had said, and she was right. There had always been a choice.
And he knows what has happened before he even opens his eyes. For just a moment he thinks he might just leave; he might just get up and turn his back on the tomb and all it contains. It needn't be his problem. He needn't be involved. He could go anywhere, be anyone, do anything — anything but what he is about to do: anything but get to his feet and go back to the place where Alaric was supposed to die. But Alaric's not here any more. (And that's Damon's fault; that was Damon's choice too.)
When he sees her body, crumpled up and discarded, he thinks at first that she might already be dead — the thought twists inside him and he can't stand it. He can't stand the thought that she will never burn through him again. It's too much. He has always felt that Bonnie — her, at least, of all of them — should survive this. She was never supposed to die: not like him, not like Stefan, not like Elena or Jeremy or Caroline. Keeping Bonnie alive has never been difficult: sometimes he thinks all Bonnie is is life.
But she is breathing.
He kneels beside her and brushes his fingertips over her eyelid and down her cheek. Her skin is still warm — but that's not why he touched her. In the half-light of the tomb, still in her 1920s costume with the red lipstick and the red tights, and silhouetted against the reddest blood, she looks almost perfect to Damon: like a painting. For just a moment he wants to leave her to die like that, to let her slip away from a world which has caused her so much unasked-for pain. It would be a beautiful death; Damon has always had an eye for poetry. But Bonnie is Bonnie — not Alaric, not Damon — and she would want to live. So he pulls her up and, sitting behind her on the ground, leans back against the wall of the tomb and lets her fall against his chest. He is overcome with feeling for her, this small but godly creature — and for a moment he does nothing but hold her close to him, one arm across her shoulders and the other, very gently, over her stomach. As he lifts his wrist to his mouth he has two thoughts at once: that the last person he held like this was Rose, on her death bed — and that this will be the last time he ever holds Bonnie like this.
He holds his wrist up to her mouth and tilts her head ever-so-gently backwards so that his blood runs down her throat. Her mouth is hot, and he is careful not to stain her dress. He breathes out: a long, measured breath, as he feels the life return to her. In a few minutes she will come to and the endless struggle for survival can resume — but for now things are calm. He feels almost relaxed, almost normal.
'Can I tell you something, Bonnie?' he says, always confessional at times like these. He lets his head fall back against the wall and closes his eyes. 'I didn't do it to make Elena hate me. Your mom, I mean.' He takes his wrist from her mouth (he gave her too much, really, but he needs her to have her strength) and lets her head fall against his shoulder. 'I did it to make you hate me.' He pauses, and looks down at her face to make sure she is still unconscious: what he is about to say next is almost too confessional even for this moment. 'Because I need you to hate me, Bonnie. I don't know what I'd do if you ever stopped.'
He knows it's true: he needs her to hate him more than he will ever need Elena to love him. Her hatred defines him, ensures that he is always reminded of who he is and what he's done. While she's here he knows exactly what is real and what is not. Without Bonnie he would lose himself entirely, become amorphous, disintegrate. He needs her to hate him — and he suspects she needs to hate him just as desperately. That's why he makes it easy for her. That's why he makes it clean. It's all he can give her; he can't give her anything else.
'Elena wanted me to apologise but I'm not sorry. I've made a lot of bad decisions in my life but I'm not sorry for that one. I'd choose the same way again, every time. But I'm sorry it came down to a choice like that at all. That was my fuck-up. That was my fault.'
He places his mouth close to her ear, not sure whether she will remember this or not but feeling somehow that it is of pressing importance that he tell her this. 'That's why I get it,' he says, his voice barely even a whisper. 'You hear that? I get why you did this. You had every right. And I know when you wake up you're gonna do everything you can to stop Alaric because you love your mom and you love Caroline, and you don't want this, not really. But right now? I get it. And I won't tell anyone it was really you.'
When Bonnie wakes it is to Damon glowering over her, and it feels like the worst thing in the world that it was him, of all people, who saved her life — the greatest insult that she should need him in any way. But of course it's him: it's always him. After everything, it's always him. She won't thank him. She won't thank him, but when he says, 'So how are we going to fix this?' she knows she will work with him, knows that he is the only one she can trust. And they walk out of the tomb in step as the sun is rising.