A/N: This is a non-linear one-shot collection featuring snippets from Rayna and Deacon's past. Everything included here will occur in the same universe. That universe, it must be said, leads to the timeline that ends with them together and happy. As all of my stories do.
"My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step, they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder."
― William Golding
She will never forget the smell. No matter how hard she tries to scrub it from her memory, no matter how many coffee grounds, flowers, pretty things she smells. It's like the scent crawled up her nostrils and buried itself in her brain, right in the grey matter, so she can never forget. Even thirty years later, she'll be standing at the kitchen sink, washing a popcorn bowl, and it'll invade her memories - conjured up from some odd combination of dish soap and old glass; she'll nearly drop the bowl as a wave of nausea washes over her, rolls her back into that odd room with its strange-blue light casting ominous shadows over everything. It's a color that doesn't even exist in nature, and every time she closes her eyes for a good six months that's all she will see. She will visit the room in her sleep sometimes for the rest of her life.
The room is cold, colder than any room she's ever been in or will be in again. It's filled with hard metal and it is painted stark white – the walls might be starting to yellow, but it's hard to tell with all that blue glow. She sees it first through a small window before she actually enters it as a man with messy hair, a short white coat, and thick glasses is leading her down an empty hallway. It is what she is sure will be the longest walk of her life. She doesn't want to look through the window, but she can't look away as she passes the room, her eyes not really making sense of what she's seeing, unable to process the unfamiliar sight. Her eyes are protecting her heart, she knows, from what is to come. She can't take in too much too fast or she won't survive. She still might not.
"This way," the man says, clutching a metal clipboard in his right hand, his left hand on the doorknob as he inclines his head toward the thick grey door. "You ready?" He asks her, scrunching his nose to adjust his glasses upwards on his face. He asks the question as though any person might actually be ready for this moment. Maybe some people were, she didn't know – but at 18, she certainly wasn't.
The thoughts race through her head, fast and furious, fighting for top billing over a chorus of no, no, no, no, I'll never be ready for this. She wishes she had called someone—Tandy, Bucky, hell, even her father—anyone so she wouldn't have to do this alone. So she might not have to do this at all. The thoughts taunt her: you'll have to do everything alone now. The man's hand is turning the doorknob, and it's the slowest turn she's ever seen. He told her his name when she first met him, when he led her to the bowels of the building, but she can't remember it now even if remembering it meant raising the dead – I want my mom, she thinks, and the sobs bubble up to the surface as the man cracks the door open.
The call woke her up from a dreamless sleep, the ringing echoing around the tiny bedroom. She fumbled for the phone and nearly dropped it. "Deacon?" She mumbled into the receiver, her voice full of hope as she switched on the light and hurriedly pushed her tangled hair out of her face. "Babe, is that you?"
It wasn't Deacon, and as the words tumbled down the line from some stranger's mouth, Rayna felt the air being sucked out of her lungs, so when she offered a meek "I'll be right there," she wasn't sure where the words had come from. When she heard the click on the other end of the line, she dropped the phone, her body too weak to hang it up. She looked at the red glow of the bedside clock – 3:06am – and she felt like she was in a movie, like this wasn't happening to her, like it was happening to anyone but her.
When the phone started to make that incessant beeping noise, she grabbed it and slammed it on the base. Then she picked it up and slammed it again, and again – over and over she slammed it until she could feel the hot tears rolling down her cheeks, until the sound she made from the back of her throat was so strangled and raw she didn't recognize it as her own voice anymore.
Then she stood from the bed, walked to the front door, grabbed her keys from the table, and quietly made her way to her car; the November air was chilly, and her thin pajamas offered no protection from the cold, but Rayna didn't feel a thing, not even as her feet carried her across the asphalt, tiny little rocks digging into the soles of her bare feet.
She would never remember the drive to the hospital. For years she would try to recall it, but she couldn't. Her memory only picked back up when she was walking down that hallway, the man whose name she'd never know leading her to what she was sure would be one of the worst moments of her life.
She doesn't answer when he asks if she's ready—she isn't, and she will never be. But that won't stop the moment from coming, so she just crosses her arms over her stomach in a futile attempt to quell the nausea. The door cracks open and the smell is what hits her full-force. She was bracing herself for every conceivable thing, but the scent never crossed her mind, so it nearly knocks her back when it hits her. It smells like the saddest day she's ever had – like death and decay mixed with antiseptic. It's unlike anything she's ever experienced, and it sends a fresh wave of sobs through her body. She doesn't move. She can't, not yet. Going over that threshold means never being able to turn back. The thought makes her cry harder, and she swipes at the tears as they stream down her face.
The man clears his throat and looks uncomfortable as he clutches his clipboard in his hand, his knuckles turning white with his grasp. He pushes the door open further, trying to make her walk through it. His voice is quiet, "I'm sorry, Ms. Jaymes," He says, "I know this is hard."
Rayna looks at him, tilting her head to the side – she wants to scream at him, to yell at him until her vocal chords go bloody. No you fucking don't. He doesn't know how hard this is, he doesn't even have the beginning of an idea of how hard this is. Instead of screaming at him, though, she just nods at him and finally, slowly, steps further into the room, desperately fighting the urge to slam her eyes shut. She focuses her blurry gaze directly ahead of her, where she sees a metal table with a still human form on it covered by a thin white sheet. It's a vision that will haunt her dreams for years to come. Then she sees a tag – it's peeking out the bottom of the sheet, and it's connected to a toe – it's a toe tag and someone's name will soon be written on it in thick black marker. It would bear the first name she ever said in ecstasy. The reality why she's there washes over her all at once; it unnerves her and suddenly she can't look anywhere else, she can't take her eyes from that toe, even as they inch closer and closer to the body, her feet feeling like they're wading through concrete.
Deacon's father had shown up – unexpectedly, and out of the blue. He just appeared after one of their shows, and was gone just as fast – leaving after a screaming match in the parking lot of the Broken Spoke. Deacon was quiet the rest of that night; he didn't say a word to anyone—not even to her. She tried to talk to him about it back at their apartment, but he'd growled at her: let it go, Rayna. He didn't come home the next day, and in the morning she called every bar on Broadway until she found one that had seen him—he was on a bender, she knew, not his first since they'd been together. But soon, it had been five days, creeping into six. He usually always called when he was on a bender, his slurred voice letting her know he was at least alive, that he was at least okay, that he was always sorry. This time, she hadn't heard from him, so on the third day, she called the police, hospitals, jails—anywhere she could think of. She called the hospitals, all of them, so many times that by the fourth day the nurses knew her by name—they would speak to her in kind, dulcet tones, telling her she would be their first call if anyone matching his description came in, if they heard anything at all. That if a sweet boy with brown floppy hair came in with sad blue eyes she would be the first to know.
But it had been silence. That is, until 3:06am on the sixth day when the call finally came through. A sweet nurse had called and told her that someone matching Deacon's description had been brought in, but that he wasn't in a room. That he wasn't alive at all.
Now she's standing in a morgue, about to identify the body of the only boy she's ever loved—the only boy who had ever loved her so fiercely, so selflessly on most days that the way she saw herself when she looked in the mirror began to change—she saw herself through his eyes. They quickly became the only ones that mattered—he became the only thing that mattered. And he had his demons, lord knows he had his demons clawing at his back, asking for more than a pound of flesh—but so did anyone. So did she.
She doesn't want to see him like this—the boy she loves—the man she loves; who loves her. She wants to remember him the way he was when they first met: so full of life, so vibrant and beautiful, so enamored of her, of life, of the guitar he always had in his hands.
The man is staring at her, his hand on the sheet—he wants to ask her if she's ready again, she can tell. But she's not, and the question will send her plummeting over the edge, so she's relieved when he doesn't ask it. She closes her eyes and remembers Deacon's voice, remembers him whispering in her ear: no one's ever been loved like this before, baby, like I love you; no one ever will be again. She remembers the gravel of his voice in the first song they ever sang together, how their voices melded together perfectly. She remembers the feel of his palm in hers, warm and rough, his fingers gliding over her skin—baby—how any time he rasped that word she came undone in all the best ways. Baby, baby, baby.
Her eyes flicker open, and through her tears she watches the man pull the sheet back. She doesn't look down yet—she can't. She stares at the man, watches his eyes as they dart around the room, trying to land on anything but her. Finally, with a knot tied so tightly in her gut she feels like she can't breathe, she drops her eyes down to the face revealed. She takes in the features, the shape of the nose, the eyelashes, the once-pink mouth, the brown hair, the day-old stubble, the chiseled chin. Adrenaline rushes through her body; she can hear her blood in her ears and she feels like she might throw up, like her knees might give out and drop her right down on to the cold, hard tile.
She shakes her head slowly at first, and then rapidly as the sobs come. "That's…" She trails off, swallowing a sob, "That's not him." She shakes her head, whispering, "That's not Deacon."
The man nods once, showing no emotion, and Rayna wonders if he feels any. Or if this is just his job and he's seen a thousand wives, husbands, children, siblings, lovers, friends at their worst moments. He covers the body with a sheet, and leads Rayna out of the room. It's as though she's floating when she walks down the hallway, as though she is watching herself from a screen somewhere. She feels relief, and then a brief flash of shame because that man in there isn't hers, but he still belongs to someone.
She takes a cab home, too emotional to drive, and she sobs all the way back to their apartment, so thankful that she can still call it their apartment. The cab driver doesn't ask what's wrong, doesn't ask if she's okay, just hands her a box of tissues and tells her she can keep them. The box has little yellow ducks on it, most of them smiling, one sneezing, and one very worried momma duck handing the sneezing duckling a tissue. The situation suddenly strikes her as funny, and she tries to laugh, but nothing comes out except a strangled sob that makes the cab driver jump in his seat.
When she is home, she sets the ducks on the coffee table and she lays down on the couch. She thinks of Deacon and she hates him for a second, hates him for disappearing, for making her walk into a morgue and look at a dead body that wasn't his, thank every god she could ever possibly begin to believe in. But the second passes, and she is overwhelmed with love for him—with worry, with the dread and hope for the future his, hers, and the one she hopes they'll share. She falls asleep on the couch with one thought: she can't live like this—she won't live like this. Except that she will; she will for no one but him. For the sweet boy she met who taught her how her heart works: how it swells, how it breaks, how it feels when it burns.
When she wakes, it is morning. The sun is dripping through the curtains of the living room, bathing the room in a natural glow. He is there, freshly shaved and showered, sitting across from her in a chair, watching her while she sleeps. When she sees him, when she registers that his presence isn't a mirage, the tears come immediately, and he moves to her, dropping to his knees in front of the couch. He pulls her head into his hands and kisses her forehead, his lips moving against her freckles as he speaks.
"I'm so sorry, baby," He breathes heavy and hard, tears invading his eyes, too, "I'm so sorry I was gone."
"Deacon," She says his name like a meditation, like she just spent the night imagining how her life would be without him, "Where…?" She starts to ask, but it's distorted by her tears. She thinks about trying again before she decides it doesn't matter, because he is here now. He is not in a morgue, he is not dead in a ditch somewhere. He is alive. And right now, that's all she ever wanted him to be.
She scoots up on the couch and wraps her arms around his neck, pressing her forehead into his. "You're here," She touches his arms, feeling his muscles through his shirt, running her hands over his body like he still might disappear.
"I'm sorry, baby," He says again, dipping his head to nuzzle her ear. "I'm so damn sorry."
"Shhhh," She says, running her fingers through his hair. "I know," She nods, whispering, "I know."
"I love you, baby," He says, "I love you so much." He kisses her on the lips, his tongue gently dipping inside her mouth.
He tastes minty, and she moans against him, "I love you too, Deacon." And it's true. Despite everything, or maybe because of it.
She kisses him back, and he sits on the couch, pulling her into his lap. He just holds her like that for a long time, his hands idly caressing her arms—she doesn't tell him about the night before, she doesn't tell him about the smell of the morgue, about the man with the glasses who showed her the first dead body she'd ever seen; she doesn't tell him how grateful she is that it wasn't Deacon's, how she will have to ask Bucky to bring her car back, how for a whole hour last night she thought Deacon was dead—how that thought redefined the term alone for her, how she finally knows what it means.
She doesn't tell him any of it, and she won't for six months—when she'll blurt it out in the middle of a drop-down drag-out fight—instead, she stays in his arms, presses her head against his chest, and listens to the rhythmic heartbeat of the only man she will ever love enough to let a night like the one she just had go.