There's an old and wise saying: If you love something, let it go. If it comes back, it's yours. If it doesn't, it was never meant to be.
Now that he knows Elena is under a sire bond, Damon is struggling with the choice before him: Either break that bond (and lose her), or keep it -- always wondering if she really loves him.
A flashback to 1942 shows how the old Damon would've reacted -- by killing and thinking only of himself. That Damon would've kept Elena all to himself without a second thought.
New Damon, however, truly cares for her, so the right thing to do would be to let Elena go.
Well, it's always been about Elena's choice. So, what's it gonna be, Elena?
You've been sired
Damon wakes up, all afterglow-y from a blissful night with Elena. She pounces on him for a morning round of vampire nookie.
But reality soon intrudes. When will they tell Stefan? Damon wants to wait. "Can't we just let ourselves enjoy one secret, selfish day before we destroy his?" he pleads, and Elena agrees.
Damon's happiness doesn't last long when Stefan informs him about the sire bond. Damon doesn't believe it until he tells Elena to drink from a blood bag ... and she is able to.
And it turns out this isn't the first time Damon's held a sire bond! Back in New Orleans in 1942, he sired a vampire named Charlotte. He was able to break it with the help of a witch named Valerie.
Meanwhile, Elena invites Caroline and Bonnie over for girls' night, but their disapproval of Damon is clear. Caroline's vow not to be judgmental lasts about three seconds. After the girls get drunk/stoned, she can't help snarking about what a man whore Damon is.
An angry Elena declares she slept with Damon and she's falling in love with him. Caroline informs her that she's not in love ... she's been sired!
Oops! Seriously, secrets and alcohol don't mix.
Let the good times roll
Stefan and Damon's trip to New Orleans cause them to reminisce. Flashback time! And bonus: Lexi's in this flashback!
In 1942, Stefan goes to New Orleans to apologize for blaming his ripper-hood on Damon. The brothers shake hands and make up.
Stefan's going to ship out to drive ambulances in World War II, and Damon wants to join him. But Lexi privately warns Damon not to go because he's a bad influence on his brother.
Back in the present day, Damon needs Charlotte to help with their search. It doesn't take long to find her as she comes flying at Damon ... to kiss him! Apparently, her sire bond never got broken.
They soon find the witch's old shop, but Valerie is long dead and her great-granddaughter Nandi claims not to practice magic. Anyway, she says, all of Nandi's stuff (including her grimoire) was lost in Hurricane Katrina.
Back in Mystic Falls, Tyler and Hayley are still trying to break the sire bonds of Klaus's hybrids. The last one, Adrian, is proving to be a tough case and hybrid Kim wants to give him a break. Tyler tries to assert himself as alpha dog, but Kim rallies all the hybrids to invade girls' night and kidnap Caroline.
When Tyler and Elena team up to rescue her, he gives her the scoop about sire bonds. He hated Klaus but still did what Klaus asked.
"The bond affects how you act, not how you feel," Tyler notes. Aha!
They find Kim threatening to stake Caroline as a revenge on Klaus. The other hybrids are following Kim's lead. But Elena offers herself up as a sacrifice instead.
The hybrids are about to turn on Elena when Tyler gets the upper hand ... right around Kim's heart. He growls at the others to back down and start working with him to defeat Klaus. A stirring speech, Tyler! It works, and he's alpha dog.
In New Orleans, a suspicious Damon returns to confront Nandi, who is actually Valerie's daughter and a powerful witch.
Nandi acknowledges the truth to him and Stefan; then she reveals that back in 1942, Damon killed 12 innocent people for Valerie's sire bond-breaking spell.
Except there was no spell. Seems Valerie used Damon to work a different kind of magic -- something dark and powerful called "expression."
A sire bond can't be broken with magic, Nandi says. "A vampire only bonds to her sire when she has feelings for him before she turns -- human feelings."
The only way for Damon to set Elena free is to tell her to leave him, to let her go. Basically, to break up with her.
After Damon lets Charlotte off the sire-bond hook, the brothers head back home. Stefan doesn't think Damon can be truly unselfish, but Damon proves him wrong.
Flashback time! In 1942, Damon is excited to go to war with Stefan, but Lexi stops him. She asks him to put someone else before him, for once. A sad Damon lets Stefan go.
Now he has to do the same thing for Elena.
Right to be wrong
In Mystic Falls, Elena makes up with Caroline, and the two congratulate Bonnie on the new magic she tried to use on the hybrids during the attack. She says Professor Shane is teaching her something called "expression." Uh-oh.
Meanwhile, Hayley confronts the prof. All the hybrids are un-sired and she wants her prize: files about her biological parents. She's enraged to learn they're dead, but Shane says that doesn't mean she can't see them again. Double uh-oh.
Damon approaches Elena for a heart-to-heart. She tells him the sire bond doesn't affect her feelings, but he isn't sure what to believe.
Damon doesn't want to be the good guy. "I don't do the right thing!" he says. "But I have to do the right thing by you."
Does he, though? Elena puts his hand over her heart and her hand on his cheek. Does this feel wrong? she asks him.
Can something wrong feel this right?
Watch the full episode:
See what "Vampire Diaries" fans said about the episode, and then sound off with your thoughts in the comments below.
Damon always puts everyone he loves first. Why does no one see this? I'm seriously torn apart. Someone needs to put him first for once. #TVD— Madelena (@SalvatoreBH) December 7, 2012
How do S & D have such vivid memories of what happened in 1942? I barely remember what I had for breakfast. (Thank God I took pics.) #TVD— Andy Swift (@AndySwift) December 7, 2012
"The Vampire Diaries" airs Thursdays at 8 PM on The CW.