A/N: I never meant to disappear. I guess people rarely do.
The fire was crackling, wood sparking and burning as heat emanated from the fireplace, soaking the downstairs living room in a comforting warmth. Stockings and garland hung from the mantle, which was lined with several pictures of Maddie and Daphne—in one of them together, their hair was over their eyes, and they were both holding guitars that were too big for them. Daphne was biting her lip, Maddie was staring at the neck of the guitar and both of them had their palms spread out over the fretboard. Rayna shook her head, trying to forget the ghost that was sitting just off camera, instructing them in their first lesson, pride brimming in his eyes even though he didn't know back then that one of his makeshift students was his own flesh and blood.
There were empty wine bottles sitting on the coffee table, a mixture of white and red plus one half full bottle of rosé. Tandy had always been a red wine girl and she swirled the last bit of red in her glass now and tipped her head back, pouring the contents onto her waiting tongue. As though the two sisters couldn't find enough ways to be different, Rayna had always preferred a simple white wine, and she set her glass of rosé—the compromise—on the coffee table, watching as the firelight danced behind it making the color appear a brighter pink than it actually was. The color reminded her of the first time she ever had Boone's Farm; she was seventeen and Deacon tasted it on her tongue that night, shortly after she finished the glass. For years, he told her that any time he tasted anything strawberry, it brought him right back to that chilly night. She wondered if it still did. Rayna gazed into the fire now, remembering the way her bones nearly gave out on her when Deacon would kiss her back then—whenever he kissed her, really, though it was so new back then that she felt scared and exhilarated and certain she would never feel anything like it again. Turned out she was right. At that acknowledgement, a sad smile flitted across her face.
Tandy set her empty glass on the coffee table, then let her head loll to the side while she studied Rayna intently. "Whatcha thinkin' about?" Tandy asked, her voice falling loosely from her lips as the wine worked its way through her blood.
Rayna blinked slowly, "Nothin'." She said, lightly shaking her head.
Tandy eyed her little sister, trying to decide whether or not to let it go. "So," Tandy said, closing her eyes and then opening them again, "Tomorrow's the day." She tucked her feet underneath her, "Sorry I didn't throw you a bachelorette party."
Rayna grinned, "It's alright. I think you had enough penis-themed items at the first one to last a lifetime."
Tandy laughed, drumming her fingers on the top of the couch, "Back then they didn't make nearly as many as they do now, though. I had to get creative with my penises."
Rayna laughed then, a full sound that was swallowed by the fire, "Something about the way you said that reminded me of the sex talks you gave me back in the day."
Tandy chuckled as she leaned forward and poured some rosé in her empty glass. When it was half full, she leaned back on the couch, stretching her feet out in front of her, "I," She said, bringing the glass to her lips, "Was a great sex talker." Tandy screwed her nose up, "Sex giver…" At Rayna's mock-horrified expression, Tandy rolled her eyes, "You know what I mean." Tandy smiled into her rose, "Although Bucky sure hasn't had any complaints, and that man…" Tandy emphasized dramatically, "Well, he knows his way around a bedroom, let me just say that."
Rayna's mock-horrified expression morphed into a true horrified expression as Tandy spoke, "Come on, Tandy," Rayna scrunched her face up as she leaned forward to pick up her wine glass, "I do not need to know this information about my manager." Rayna looked at her sister and rolled her eyes, though she couldn't help the chuckle that escaped her, "I swear, Tandy." She sighed heavily, but a smile ghosted across her lips.
Tandy's eyebrows raised as she took a swallow of wine and then laughed, her shoulders shaking with the effort. "Speaking of…" Tandy said, "You know, you never actually told me—how was Liam in bed?"
"Tandy!" Rayna shrieked, finishing the last of her wine from her glass. Her face turned red, remembering Liam as a lover. He was younger than her, a Rockstar who had no doubt been with countless women before her. Despite that, he was surprisingly tender with her—which had surprised her at the time. She had expected frantic sex that could readily be described by another word, but it hadn't been that. It had been strangely beautiful between them—and good.
Rayna didn't typically do the whole girl-talk thing, not even with Tandy. But she'd lost count of the number of glasses of wine she'd had tonight, and suddenly the urge to talk about things she never talked about washed over her. "He was good," Rayna said, a bit of shyness creeping over her. "And there was something about his confidence that just…" She trailed off, shrugging. "Worked. For me, though, it's always been about the hands." She idly traced the back of her own hand, following it along to her palm where she felt the soft flesh there.
She'd always had a thing about hands—she knew inherently which ones she could trust, and which ones she couldn't. As a little girl, she would look at her Momma's hands and smile—they were so dainty, so delicate, but Rayna knew they were strong; she knew they could protect her from anything. They were the only hands that could make her feel better when she was scared, sad, or sick.
When her Momma died, she begged her Daddy to let her see her Momma's hands one more time—she thought that if she could see them just once more, she would be able to hold onto them, that they might be able to hold on to her. She begged in front of the closed casket as they said their last goodbyes to their Momma inside, "Please, Daddy, please let me see Momma's hands!" When Lamar didn't speak, Rayna tried to bargain, tears running down her freckled cheeks, "Just one hand, Daddy, please!" Her red hair whipped in the wind, flying across her face as the tears fell—she murmured please over and over again until the newly-hired Nanny dragged Rayna away from the casket. After the nanny released her, Rayna ran full-speed through the gravestones until she couldn't run anymore. Rayna sank down into the grass, the wetness seeping into the knees of her tights. Leaning against a gravestone for support, grass she cried into her own hands—painful, wrenching sobs that locked the sound from her throat—until she felt Tandy's hands on her arms, pulling her up and spinning her around to envelop her in a tight hug; Tandy smoothed Rayna's hair until the sobs finally subsided, even as the wind moved around them. They stood like that until all the guests left, until it felt like they were the only two in the cemetery, in the city, in the state, in the world.
Now, Tandy smiled; she'd known, but forgotten, "Oh, really?"
Rayna nodded, "Liam's fingers were calloused from the guitar, but they were still unexpectedly soft—not in an annoying way." Rayna sighed, "Teddy's were always too soft, like he'd never done a day of work in his whole life. Which," Rayna smiled, "Of course, he hadn't." She cleared her throat. "Hasn't." She narrowed her eyes, considering, "Luke's hands are…" She shrugged, "A bit rougher than Liam's and not quite as gentle… but sweet… loving." Rayna said, fixing her eyes on the fire as the silence fell around them.
The air was thick, heavy with the weight of things unsaid. Rayna had only been with four men, and the name that hadn't been said settled around them like a fog; it refused to be ignored.
Tandy considered her options. She'd spent so many years pretending that what had happened between her sister and Deacon hadn't happened. But, she knew, it had. Tandy's voice was barely above a whisper when she spoke, "And Deacon's?" She didn't take her eyes from Rayna's face.
A wave of sadness washed through Rayna, and she did her best to keep it off her face. She knew she'd been unsuccessful when she saw Tandy cock her head to the side in curiosity. Rayna cleared her throat, trying to remove the lump that had suddenly formed there—she shouldn't talk about it. She shouldn't talk about Deacon's hands, not after everything he'd put her through—not after everything she'd put him through. But as the firelight danced across the wall, she thought that after everything they'd been through together, after all these years, their memories deserved at least the truth.
"Deacon's hands," Rayna whispered, reverently, "Were calloused and rough—the hands of a man who had never had an easy day in his whole life." Rayna said, closing her eyes and trying to keep the thought of his hands on her bare flesh at bay, "Deacon's hands were safe—I'd never felt as safe as I did when he touched me, Tandy," Rayna said, painfully aware that she couldn't take this honesty back. She couldn't take these things she'd never shared with anyone but Deacon back now that they were in the air, floating to Tandy's ears. "His hands…" Rayna said, opening her eyes, not at all shocked to discover tears in them, "They knew me."
Tandy reached out and touched Rayna's arm, "Well, of course they did, Rayna." Her voice was gentle, "You were with him the longest."
Rayna shook her head, swiping at a rogue tear that had scattered down her cheek, "No," She said, turning from the fire to look at Tandy, "From the very first time he touched me, Tandy, his hands knew me." Rayna sighed, "And even after all those years I was married to Teddy," Rayna gave a sad smile, "They never forgot. Even when I did, they didn't." She let out a breath, "No one has ever touched me like Deacon."
Rayna stood and grabbed the wine glasses from the table and then scooped up the four bottles to her chest—before she could move toward the kitchen, her face screwed up and the tears came fast and heavy. She took a shaky breath to steady herself, but it had the opposite effect.
Tandy stood, "Oh, baby," She said, reaching for the wine bottles and glasses. She set them back on the coffee table, "Oh, Rayna," Tandy said, wrapping her arms around her the same way she had at the cemetery that day so long ago. She pulled back to look at her sister, at the tears rushing down her face one after the other.
"They're the only hands that ever made me feel safe, Tandy," Rayna whispered, a quiet desperation in her voice as she sat back down on the couch, swiping at her face. Wine always made her cry. "Since Momma's." Rayna leaned back into the couch.
She'd told him that once. They were in a rundown motel outside of Baton Rouge on their first tour and she'd traced his palm with her index finger, then folded her hand into his, interlacing their fingers. 'I don't want to ever forget how holding your hand makes me feel.' Deacon ran his fingers across her collar bone, 'How your hands make me feel.' She'd whispered, the dim moonlight from the window lighting her face. At Deacon's quirked eyebrow she smiled, 'Safe. Like the only girl in the world who matters.' Deacon had smiled, leaned forward, and kissed her temple, 'You are.'
The memory made her cry harder. "Sorry," Rayna said, sniffling as she shot an apologetic smile to her sister. "It's the wine."
Tandy looked at Rayna, at her red face, still beautiful despite the mascara running down her cheeks. She remembered every tear her little sister cried because of Deacon Claybourne—she wanted better for her sister back then; she wanted better for her sister now. Tandy said as much to Bucky a month or so back—they were in bed, the blankets pulled up around them. Bucky had drummed his fingers on her arm, pensively quiet. 'What?' she'd asked, knowing he had something to say. He'd raised his eyebrows, 'Safer isn't always better.' Bucky said, matter-of-factly. Tandy had looked at him incredulously and he'd just smiled, 'Love, even at its best, isn't always safe, Tandy. You know that.' And she did. After everything that had happened with Sam, she of course knew that. Maybe it hadn't been her sister's heart she had been protecting all these years.
Tandy took in the pain etched into Rayna's face, "It's not the wine," Tandy whispered, sitting next to Rayna and leaning in, "I remember that day by the river when you told me you were thinking about having sex with Deacon…" Tandy shook her head, "I was so worried about you." Tandy smiled, "But I knew I couldn't stop you. And you knew something even back then that I didn't know for years and years… that love, real honest-to-god love, can't be safe." Tandy reached out and took Rayna's hand, squeezing it briefly before letting it go. She stood up and walked behind the couch, leaning her head down, "Babe, you've always known what you wanted. And it didn't much matter what anyone else wanted for you." Tandy shrugged, "And, I don't know. Maybe that's the way to live, after all." Rayna glanced up at her, the tears still welling in her eyes. Tandy shrugged, "All I ever wanted for you was to be happy—I think we both know how to make that happen, little sis. Maybe it's time." Tandy kissed the top of Rayna's head, "Night." She walked upstairs, her footsteps light as the fire dwindled in the fireplace.
As Tandy's footsteps faded away, Rayna looked at the fire as it groaned, refusing to die in the fireplace. For so many years, that's what her love for Deacon had felt like—like a flame that wouldn't stop burning, no matter what she had done to try to extinguish it. There were days where it felt like a forest fire, rushing so fast that any living thing didn't have a moment to even think about escape; she didn't have a moment to think about escape. Her love for him was all-consuming on those days. Then there were days where it was almost gone, where all that was left were a few burning embers, on the verge of finally being snuffed. But it never happened, they were always stoked back to life by a look, a touch, a memory; fed by hope, all it took was a brief moment between them, real or imagined, and the fire was raging again. It wasn't fair to anyone in her life, she knew—least of all herself, but there was nothing she could do. There was nothing she wanted to do if she was honest with herself.
As she watched the embers glow in her fireplace now, she tried not to imagine Deacon's hands—she tried not to remember the way they touched her, the way they held her, the way they played her body like she was one of the guitars he strummed every single day. She tried not to remember the feel of his rough palm in her soft hand, the way his thumb glided over the back of her hand, soothing the same spot over and over again. She tried not to think about his fingers slipping inside her, making her feel like she herself was on fire—she knew it was as useless as it was unfair to be thinking about Deacon like that the night before she was once again marrying a man that wasn't him.
The fire sparked, giving a sharp crackle that echoed through the lower floor of her house, and she knew that of all the unfair things she was about to do, this was somehow the least of them.
Her hands reached for her phone, and she found herself dialing one of the only numbers she knew by heart anymore. She felt the nerves bundle in her stomach as it rang once, twice, three times and then a stunted fourth before his gravelly voice worked its way across the line and into her stomach where it stoked the steady burning flame—run, she told her heart. But it was tired of running; it was ready to self-immolate. She heard the beep and tried twice to find her voice before it came, fast and heavy down the line.
"Hi," She said, remembering the days where that was enough, "I just…" She breathed the word out, unsure of what should come next, "I miss your hands, Deacon. I miss… you."
With a shaking finger, she ended the call, then curled her legs underneath her on the couch, watching the light orange glow from the blackened wood. She wondered where he was, wondered if she should have said more, wondered what would be between them now—hoping this time it would be something other than a bottle, something more than secrets and lies.
Still, she knew what she had to do; she'd always known it. And in the morning light, she would-and, in time, she knew she would return to the rough hands that taught her about her body, that taught her three and a half chords and the truth: love is never lost, no matter how much time, no matter how much melancholy is piled on top of it-with enough oxygen, it will survive; it will burn.