It was morning, the air was crisp and cool; November had fully moved in to the city, about to make way for December, its blustery winds already settling in ahead of schedule. Rayna Jaymes had her hair pulled back from her face, she wasn't wearing makeup; she was tired, and she looked it. She parked her car a few blocks over from her intended destination—this whole 'Ruke' thing made it so she couldn't go anywhere, and she found the paranoia growing deeper each day. She didn't want to be in tabloids, she never had, but she especially didn't right now. She was convinced someone would find the lie in her smile, how it never quite stayed long enough when she looked at him, how it never quite reached her eyes.

Shaking her head, she pulled her coat tighter around her, adjusted her scarf to better block the wind. Her old worn-in blue jeans offered her little protection against the cold. Her cheeks were turning pink, she could feel them starting to burn as she walked, but it felt good. Woke her up.

She hadn't slept very well last night. She'd been tossing and turning, trying not to disturb the man sleeping peacefully next to her. She should have been happy—she should have been elated, her six statues sitting in the guest room, waiting to find a permanent home. It was a big night for Highway 65; it should have been a big night for her. And, in the end, she supposed it was a big night for her—just not in the way she had hoped or imagined. Not in the way everyone else probably thought it was.

She rounded the corner, and put her head down as a brisk wind picked up, rattling some leaves in the distance. She saw the little house unassuming in the middle of the block. The asphalt beneath her feet felt hard, and she was thankful for that. How many times had she walked this path, she wondered, how many times had she come to this door engaged or married to some other man?

She braced herself as she climbed the stairs to the front door, the porch swing swung on a breeze, and Rayna tried to tell herself that the ice she felt in her veins was just a by-product of the cold. She raised her hand and gave a gentle knock. She heard shuffling around inside, heard something fall over and break, followed by a curse; she bit back a smile.

Her stomach shifted as the door swung open, and there stood Deacon Claybourne in jeans and a blue waffle-knit Henley, scruff dotting his face. It was still early, he was just waking up. When he saw her, his eyebrows shot up.

"Hey, Rayna," He said, the surprise making its way into his voice.

"Hey," She said, and waved a little.

Deacon peeked his head out, scanning for her car before he leaned casually against the doorjamb, and the smell of coffee hit her nose. "What're you doing here?" He asked.

She shrugged, "I just… wanted to say thank you." At his furrowed brow, she explained, "For your text last night."

Deacon crossed his arms over his chest, "You came all the way over here to tell me thank you for a text?"

When she just looked at him, he pushed himself up from the doorjamb. "Come on in." He said, swinging the door open.

Rayna smiled, and walked past him, enjoying the warmth of his house as it slowly worked its way into her body. She unwrapped her scarf, and set it on a chair, her eyes automatically scanning the place. She laughed when she saw the subject of his ire—a potted plant had fallen from the coffee table, broken terracotta and soil decorating the hardwood. She quirked an eyebrow at Deacon, who was watching her.

He sighed, "Scarlett." He said, looking around, his palms up. "If she weren't gone right now, I'd be yelling at her again about all this stuff."

Rayna's eyes fell on to the feminine touches throughout the abode.

Deacon waved his hands, walking towards the kitchen, "It's all Scarlett." He said, grabbing a broom and dustpan.

Rayna nodded, "I like it." She said, "It feels homey—I always just considered your place the ultimate bachelor pad."

Deacon stopped midway to the plant and stared at her. "And me the ultimate bachelor?" He asked, his voice soft.

She flushed, realizing her mistake. She, more than most, knew why Deacon Claybourne remained a bachelor. "Sorry." She cleared her throat and shrugged her jacket off, laying it on top of the scarf.

He smiled, and made his way to the plant. Dropping the dustpan, he started pushing the broom around. A sharp laugh came from Rayna, and he stopped his movements to look at her, "What?" He asked, a smile playing on his face.

"You never did know how to work a broom," She said, stepping forward and grabbing it from him.

"You don't have to…" He started, trailing off as she eased the broom out of his hands.

She laughed again, "I do. Or else Scarlett will just have to do it all over again later." She said, working the terra cotta and soil into the dustpan.

"Well," He said, as she swept the last bit of dirt into the dustpan. "I can now officially say that the Queen of Country cleans up my messes." He reached down and picked up the dustpan. He carried it over to the kitchen and emptied it into the trashcan. After he put the dustpan and broom away, he turned to look at her, "Course, you been cleaning up my messes a long, long time."

Rayna glanced down, his meaning clear. She sat down on the chair beside her.

Deacon pulled two mugs down from the cabinet— "Coffee?" He asked.

She nodded, "Please."

He brought her a mug, and sat down on the coffee table, close to her. She wrapped her hands around the mug, and inhaled the scent before she took a sip. "You've always made the best coffee," She said, taking another swallow.

Deacon sipped from his mug, and then set it down on the table next to him; he fixed her with his gaze, "Why are you really here, Ray?" He questioned.

She tapped her fingers against the mug, the sound of her fingernails tapping against ceramic loud in the quiet house, "I told you already. To say thank you for the text."

Deacon chuckled, "Let's just say I believe that," he tapped his foot, "You're welcome. Now what?"

Rayna took another swallow of her coffee and then set it on the end table next to her chair. She smiled. She really had come here to say thank you, that was the truth. But, the real reason she came here was the why of it.

She smiled a little, "It was just…nice to have someone on my side, I guess." She bit her lip, wondering how much to give away, "It was nice to have someone tell me how much I deserved last night."

Deacon crossed his arms over his chest, "Ain't you got a fiancé to tell you that?" Deacon had always been very good at cutting right to the chase.

Rayna cleared her throat, and gave a little laugh, "You'd think." She shook her head, "But, as it turns out…"

"The male ego can be a tough thing," He said, laughter in his voice. She'd said that to him so many times when they were starting out, surrounded by all the big-hat country acts. She'd said it to him the night she won her first Grammy, when one of those big-hat country boys tried to suggest she didn't deserve it.

She chuckled, "Not for you."

He shrugged, "I ain't got much to be proud about these days, I guess." He uncrossed his arms, and stared at her, "There was a time I did."

"Stop." She said, unwilling to read into his meaning, "You've always been one of the humblest people I know—and you've got a real right not to be, all your talent."

"You come over here to compliment me?" He grinned, "The truth comes out."

She leaned back in the chair, "No." She considered it again, "Well, maybe. But not like that." She drummed her fingers on the arm of the chair.

"What's going on, Ray? What's on your mind?"

"You." She said, simply. When he looked at her, she continued, "That text you sent last night… it just made me think. You're the only one who's never tried to take credit."

"Credit?"

"For me." She said, bringing her legs up underneath her, "And it's really funny because you're the only one who has a right to." She tipped her head back, "Even Teddy, on some level, tried to take some credit for my success. And he's just the tip of the iceberg." She laughed, "God, Liam—we have a misunderstanding and the first thing he says to me—the first thing he reaches for—is that I have a career again because of him." She rolled her eyes, and sighed, "Last night, with Luke, he stands there telling me the only reason my album went gold is because of him. Because he proposed to me when I dropped it." She was staring at her mug on the end table as she spoke, "And I swear to god, you hear all that, and even though you know… sometimes you do wonder, you know? Are they right? I'm sitting there last night wondering 'is Luke right?' And then…" She trailed off before bringing her eyes to meet his, "You." She leaned forward. "Your text."

He shook his head, "They're not right. You deserve it. You did this." He leaned forward until their knees were almost touching. "None of them are right—everything you've done with your career, everything you've done with your life… it's all you, Ray." He reached a hand out to touch her knee. "It's all you."

She considered him then, and pressed her lips together. "Well," She said, covering her hand with his, "That's not all true. Without Deacon Claybourne, there would be no Rayna Jaymes," She dropped her voice, "Without you, there would be no me." Her eyes were serious.

Deacon reached his hand to her knee, gave it a little squeeze. "Well, without you, there'd be no me." He knew he'd probably not have lived past 35 if it weren't for her, "So, I guess we're just about even." He knew they weren't; not even close. Not until he'd saved her life as many times as she'd saved his.

Rayna watched his hand move in circles on her knee, she licked her lips and nodded, "Mmhmm, I guess we are."

Suddenly, before either of them knew what was happening, their lips were crashing together. Deacon was standing over her, bent down, his lips moving against hers. She untucked her legs from underneath her, and he pulls her up by her hand, until her body is flush against his. His hand tucked into her lower back as he presses her to him, never taking his mouth from hers.

Somehow, clothes come off, and Deacon can barely register that they're standing in his living room naked. Rayna reaches up to pull her ponytail free, slipping the elastic around her wrist.

"You're beautiful," Deacon whispers, "So beautiful."

Rayna glances to the side, and he bringst his finger under her chin, forcing her to look at him.

"I have loved you so many ways, Ray, but I swear to God," His eyes drift over her form, landing on her face, open before him without a stitch of makeup, "This is my absolute fucking favorite."

She reached her arms around him then, and kissed him, hard. She's always enjoyed the feeling of her bare chest against his, enjoyed the taste of his tongue on her own, enjoyed the way he takes a sharp intake of breath as she kisses him. He's always done that, it's always sounded to her so much like a prayer—so much like a thank you. This morning, it feels like exactly what she's needed.

He lays her gently down on the couch, reaches down to touch her, and she tilts her head back. When his fingers find her, she turns her head into a throw pillow and cries out.

"You're already ready," He says, watching his fingers move against her, and then looking at her face.

She laughs, "I was ready the minute you opened the door and I saw how well your jeans were working for you."

He throws his head back and laughs, positioning himself. And suddenly, he's there—he's exactly where she needs him to be; she feels herself surrounding him, and it's exactly like it used to be, but still so new, so fucking new. He moves, and she cries into the pillow again, repeating the same word over again. It's his name, he knows, and he thinks it's the sexiest thing he's ever heard—and somehow, the sweetest.

When she comes, she cries out, her voice mirroring the guttural release, and then as Deacon follows her over the edge, she whispers 'thank you.'

He collapses on top of her, and she enjoys the weight of his body against hers. She remembers a time she thought she'd never feel it again, and she snakes her arm around him, drawing light circles on his back with her painted fingernail.

"So, turns out, you did come over here to thank me." He smiles, placing a kiss on her neck.

She swats him, "Shut up." But she's smiling, her face flushed, glowing.

"That," He says, running his hand down her side, "I will take credit for. At least half of it."

"And it's well-deserved credit," She whispers, her eyes growing heavy, fluttering closed.

Deacon leans down to kiss her on the mouth. He wants to ask her what this means—what this means for them, for her relationship with Luke; he wants to know where they go from here, what happens today, what happens tomorrow. But right now, her eyes are closing, and she's smiling, and above all else, Deacon Claybourne has promised himself he'll spend his life trying to give Rayna Jaymes whatever she needs. Right now, what she needs is clear.

He bends down to kiss her again, then stands, pulling a blanket over her. "Sleep, baby." He smooths her hair as he tucks the blanket up under her chin. He makes a mental note to thank Scarlett for teaching him how to text.

Her eyes flutter open, and she stares at him—"Thank you." She says, her voice suddenly serious. And then she closes her eyes, and her breathing evens out.

He knows what she means. He can wait for tomorrow; he always has been able to, for her.


A/N: I've always loved the CMA episode, and the way Deacon is juxtaposed via a simple text message against the men in Rayna's life who try (and have tried) to take credit for her success/life/career. Specifically, Liam and Luke. I thought it was a brilliant way to show the difference between Deacon and these other men. I wanted to play with that a little bit here; I might eventually come at it from a different angle, too, but this felt right for now. (tense shift at the end was intentional, if not grammatically correct).