I never had to walk like this before,
I never had to hide away;
I don't really wanna talk like this no more,
I will walk until the night turns to day… and you.
-"The Only Boy Awake," Meadows
The plane touches down in Charleston at nearly 2am. The airport is quiet, only a few people stranded for the night huddling themselves into uncomfortable airport chairs. Airports, Rayna thought, were always bordering on creepy when they weren't bustling hubs of intersecting travelers. As she stands by the luggage carousel, she wonders if places retain energy from the people who pass through—if the walls are some conglomeration of sadness, joy, anxiety, and anger.
It wasn't the first time she'd wondered that about a place. When she stood in the middle of the first apartment she'd ever shared with a man, she wondered what stories the walls would hold on to long after the holes the size of a fist were re-plastered. She'd cried that night so hard the world around her blurred; after she'd made Tandy leave, she sat down on the tile in the kitchen and sobbed so hard she felt unable to catch her breath. If Deacon was gone, she thought, she didn't much care if her breath ever came back—living without that man back then felt like the absence of air. He felt so essential to her survival that she couldn't imagine her body even functioning without him.
On days she is honest with herself, she still can't.
She looks at Deacon, standing across the room, his guitar case propped under his arm and feels simultaneously thankful and some combination of sadness and anger as she looks at him. She is so thankful for his sobriety—for the fact that he is alive, that his heart beats in his chest and carries blood to his organs. She remembers the two minutes that it didn't with startling clarity. But she feels sad (or mad, depending on the day) because she can't help but wonder why he couldn't get himself sober while they were together—maybe, she thinks, things wouldn't have turned out the way they had. Maybe his arm would be slung around her instead of his guitar case, maybe they'd have a daughter between them, instead of secrets and lies.
The carousel groans to life and the sound of the metal clacking against metal startles her, and she shifts her gaze to watch the empty carousel turn. How many years did she feel like that? Like an empty carousel waiting for something to change? The luggage begins to drop onto the carousel and Rayna looks around for Bucky; spotting him in the corner talking on a payphone, she turns her attention back to the luggage.
For some reason, catching the tour buses in Charleston for the first leg of the tour was exponentially cheaper than catching them in Nashville, and since Edgehill was under new management—some MBA guy interested in pinching every penny possible—everyone had agreed that they'd fly commercially out of Nashville and catch the buses in Charleston. Bucky had broken the news gently to Rayna, but of course she hadn't minded. Rayna wasn't interested in being a diva—she never had been—and she certainly wasn't going to cry about flying commercially to start one of the biggest tours of her entire career on the heels of releasing one of the best-selling albums on the country charts in a decade.
Bucky appears next to her looking grim, "Shit," He says, then offers her a small smile, his deep dimples pressing in.
Rayna quirks her eyebrow at him, unused to hearing him swear.
He sighs and runs a hand over what's left of his hair, "Your bus isn't ready." He says, shrugging, "Just the one for the band. Yours will meet us in Raleigh."
"Why do you look scared, Bucky?" She asks, turning to fully face him. At his sheepish smile, she laughs, "You keep thinking I'm going to morph into some insufferable diva, don't you? Even after all these years?"
Bucky smiles, "It's a lot of fame that came for you." He tucks the manila folder he's been carrying under his arm.
"It is," Rayna says, slinging her arm around him, "But that humbles me, Buck." She gives his arm a squeeze and then lets go, "So, we'll share to Raleigh." Rayna smiles, "I'll sleep in a bunk – it'll be like that two weeks I spent singing backup."
Bucky laughs and then nods, "Okay," He shakes his head, "Don't know why you ever thought you'd be content standing in the background."
Rayna throws her head back and laughs, the sound bouncing off the sterile walls of the empty airport, "Yeah," She says, "It was something I was trying. Obviously, that didn't work out."
She smiles at him and shakes her head before she turns to the carousel only to see Deacon watching her. His hand is resting on the top of his guitar case, his black shirt is stretched across his muscular chest, and her smile disappears as she registers the intensity of his gaze on her—it's how he used to look at her and it takes her breath away before it disappears from his face as he lifts his hand to wave to her, smiling a little awkwardly. She lifts her hand to wave back, her black painted fingernails wiggling a little bit before she wrenches her gaze from him and brings it back to the carousel.
It takes her a minute to realize that the luggage has stopped pouring on to the carousel and that there is one lonely bag circling round and round and it's definitely not hers. "Shit," She mutters, watching the bag drop area hoping for some sign of life. The hope is short-lived because a buzzing sound echoes through the baggage claim area and the carousel grinds to a halt. Rayna lifts her eyes to Bucky, her eyebrows raising higher as she lets out a small sigh.
Bucky shakes his head and chuckles, "Rethinking that whole 'not being a diva' thing right about now?"
Rayna nods once, "Little bit."
Bucky gently taps her on the arm with the manila folder in his right hand, "I'll go talk to them."
Rayna nods again and then presses her back into the wall, the cool tile feeling good against her back through her blouse. She looks around at everyone grouped off—crew and band members alike standing around chatting. She feels out of place—alone—and that's not a feeling she's used to having on the road; the road always felt like home. It's her first time back out since having Maddie, since the time she took off while she was pregnant and while her lead guitarist was trying to get his head back on straight. There are new people on the road with them, some she's never met. In the past, she'd use this time to go around and introduce herself to people, to say thank you, to ask about families—but tonight she's too tired; she misses her bed, and she misses her baby.
She senses his movement before she sees it out of the corner of her eye, and when she looks, he is headed towards her with his signature swagger. She feels butterflies in her stomach, the same way she did the first night he approached her some twelve odd years ago. She curses her response, especially when she feels the color rise to her cheeks—she tries to suppress it before he reaches her side, but when he arrives she sees the spark of curiosity in his eyes and she knows she hasn't succeeded. Thankfully, he lets it drop—like so many things between them these days.
"Hey," He says, leaning against the wall. Their shoulders are almost touching and she can feel the warmth through his shirt. His muscles look more defined than when last she saw him.
"Hey," She says, thankful she could get the word out.
"Thank you." He clips the end of the word, the Mississippi in his accent coming through.
Rayna smiles—she's always loved his accent. "For what?"
"For having me back." Deacon's voice is matter of fact, but he clears his throat, his voice dropping lower. "For everything." The moment feels serious—like the weight of what he has said is slipping into every pore, into every crack between them. "For the royalty checks." He lightens the mood, and the tension alleviates slightly, rises back up and out.
Rayna laughs, "You're welcome," She nudges his shoulder with hers and instantly regrets it—it's the first contact they've had in nearly a year, and the spark that shoots through her entire body is unmistakable and inappropriate. She turns to look at him, to see if he felt it too; he isn't moving, he's staring straight ahead and breathing slowly and steadily through his nostrils. It's the only confirmation she needs and she closes her eyes, opens her mouth to speak, but no words come out.
Exasperated, she opens her eyes, but before she can try again, Bucky appears at her side and gives a small nod to Deacon. "Well, it's lost." Bucky tucks the manila folder under his arm, "I've given them the address of our hotel in Raleigh—they've promised to send it there."
Rayna has never been so grateful for an interruption to deliver bad news in her life. "Thanks, Buck," She gives him an exasperated look but she smiles, slings her purse over her shoulder, and heads out into the Charleston night.
She's the second one on the bus after Bucky, and she looks around, taking in the sight—everything at once foreign and familiar to her. Much like the man who enters the bus behind her.
"It's smaller than I remember," Rayna says, scooting in to the kitchenette area so the other members of the band can find their spots. She sits down, slinging her purse on the dining table.
Deacon stops and shakes his head, "You've been livin' in that big house of yours too long now—" His eyes roam around the walls of the bus, "This bus is huge." He slides his guitar into the carriage space above the seats and slides in to sit next to her, allowing the other guys to slide past him and promptly into their bunks—the last real night of sleep before the tour kicks into gear.
"Is it?" Rayna asks, arching her eyebrow at Deacon, a small grin working its way across her face.
"Oh yeah," Deacon says, shouldering his bag and heading back to the bunks. Rayna watches as he tosses his bag onto the last open bunk.
"What're you doin'?" Rayna stands and joins him, "You know you get the master suite."
Deacon turns to look at her, a look of amusement dancing across his face, "Oh, you're gonna sleep in the bunks?" Deacon slides into the bunk and props his feet up, kicking his boots off and shoving them to the side, "I don't think so."
Rayna considers him for a moment, searching his face for any sign that he thinks she won't sleep in the bunk. Finding none, she smiles, grateful, "Thank you," She taps his foot with her hand and slips into the master suite. She looks at him once more before she closes the door.
Sighing, she throws herself on to the bed—she's exhausted and exhilarated, the perfect combination which, for her, usually meant no sleep was to be had at all. She slides out of her jeans and under the covers, but the temperature isn't right. Frustrated, she tries again, but the truth is she's never been good at sleeping without some form of pajamas. She slips her jeans back over her hips, forgoing the button. She slides the door open and peers at Deacon's bunk, willing him to look out of the curtain.
When he doesn't, she whispers – "Deacon?" She thinks he might be asleep and is just about to give up when she sees him slide the curtain back, his eyebrows raised. "Hi." She says, offering an awkward wave.
Deacon slides the curtain further back and sits up, chuckling a little, "Hi, Ray."
"Soooo…" She starts, unsure how to ask. Eventually, she figures that there is no good way, "You know the airline lost my luggage and… can I borrow something to sleep in? Please?"
Deacon momentarily stills and then smiles, "Sure. Of course." He fiddles with his bag and pulls out a pair of boxers and a t-shirt.
"Thanks." Rayna whispers, taking them. "Well. Night."
"Night." He clears his throat and then closes the curtain just as she closes the sliding door.
Rayna slips her jeans back off and pulls Deacon's boxers on—it's a movement she's done hundreds of times, but this time it's different. This time he's not standing there watching her, he doesn't dip his thumb into the waistband of his boxers and run the pad of his thumb against the tender flesh of her hip and gravelly whisper 'I love when you wear my clothes, baby.' The absence is stark and she feels the emotion build up in her throat. She throws her shirt over her head, unclips her bra and tosses it on the small table, then slides Deacon's shirt over her head, the fabric billowing around her.
The panic hits her all at once when the realization strikes her: it smells like him. Like pine and some indescribable thing that she's always only been able to identify as uniquely male.She lifts the collar up to her nose and inhales, letting the scent of him mixed with laundry detergent fill her lungs. How she'd missed that smell, that feeling of being enveloped by his things, by him.
The ring on her hand catches the dim light and she sneers at it for taunting her. Doesn't it know that this is hard for her? That things have been hard for her? With another heavy sigh, she falls onto the bed and adjusts herself, the lumpy mattress oddly comforting to her, though the prospect of sleeping on it alone for the first time in years is not.
She tosses herself aggressively onto her side where the red numbers on the clock glare at her—minutes pass, and she can't sleep. She can barely close her eyes. The tour starts tomorrow and she needs sleep, but after an hour of pleading with it, begging for it to come for her, it still refuses. She sits up, gets out of bed, and slides the door open just enough to poke her head through.
"Deacon?" She whispers softly, so as not to wake the other band members—though, with how loudly everyone is snoring, she very seriously doubts that a whisper would be the thing to wake them. "You up?" She's holding her breath, and she can't tell whether the part of her that wants him awake or asleep is bigger. She's at war with herself, and she briefly wonders if the day will ever come when she won't be. When he slides the curtain back, she smiles and knows the answer to both of her questions—the answers should make her sad, but they don't. She's spent too much time being sad lately.
Deacon's expression is one of annoyance mixed with bemusement.
"Hi." She says, waving again.
"Can't sleep, Ray?" He asks, but it isn't a question. He knows her too well for that. He knows she hasn't ever slept the night before starting a tour—instead, they'd sit up in her room talking, laughing, sharing—doing other things he and she would both be wise to not think of now.
Still, she shakes her head. "You?"
Deacon shakes his head and swings his legs over the bunk so they're touching the floor, "I don't sleep much these days."
Rayna's gaze focuses on his bare feet for a moment and she remembers how he didn't sleep in the early days, before they got together; he'd be awake for days, sometimes, trying to catch naps here and there, never knowing what it meant to rest. He'd told her once after they were together that sleeping with her was the only time he felt safe—he could close his eyes and fall asleep; the demons that kept him awake had no hold over him compared to the dulcet tones of the lullabies she would quietly sing him while stroking his hair.
And now he's not sleeping again. The thought makes her sad and she bites her lip to keep from asking the question they both know the answer to anyway.
He reads it from her face, anyway. "Not everything is about you, Rayna."
Startled, her eyes snap up to meet his—"No, I know that."
Deacon arches one eyebrow at her, curiously. "Do you?" His tone is not unkind, but it's closer to that territory than she would expect. She'd been a lot of things in their relationship, but selfish was really never one of them, and he knew that. At her wounded look, Deacon runs his hand over his face. "Sorry. That was mean."
"It's okay." And it is, because it has to be. She sighs, "Do you want to… talk?" She asks, tentatively, as she pulls the sliding door open a bit more. It's an invitation. A peace-offering. A way to move forward, she hopes, because they certainly can't go back.
Deacon considers her, considers his options—as though he has any. As though he has ever had any real choice when it comes to Rayna Jaymes. Because of course he did. Of course he wanted to talk. Well. What he really wanted was to pull her into his arms and kiss her senseless, to make her forget that a man by the name of Teddy Fuckin' Conrad ever existed. What Deacon really wanted was to make her scream his own name over and over again in ecstasy until it was the only word she even remembered. But that wasn't his place—not anymore.
So, yeah, he wanted to talk.
He stands up, "Sure, Ray."
She smiles and pulls the door all the way open. Deacon steps in and shuts it behind him. Turning to face her, his breath leaves him. Standing before him is the woman of his dreams – literally. He has dreamt of her like this lately; she is not a temptress in his dreams, she is the real girl he fell in love with—the one who ran from his demons with him until she just couldn't run anymore. His demons, he knew, were persistent; they could find you anywhere, no matter how hard you tried to hide—he couldn't fault her for giving up, he could never begrudge her that, as much as he wanted to sometimes.
I love when you wear my clothes, baby. Is the only thing he can think when he looks at her—but he doesn't say it, and she is grateful. She couldn't survive this if he did.
She sits on the bed, and Deacon gingerly lowers himself on the other side of it, looking at her cautiously. He is unsure, which is something he never had been previously with Rayna on a bed. He always knew just what to do with her—truth is, he still does. He just can't.
"So…" Rayna shrugs.
Deacon exhales, "So." He hates this—it shouldn't be like this between them; there shouldn't be this uneasiness, this discomfort. He's never had to act like this around her—cautious, as though anything he says or does might be the exact wrong thing; and he's never not been able to touch her if he wanted to. She hasn't always belonged to him, but she damn sure never belonged to anyone else. He's never had to hide that he belongs to her; that he will always belong to her.
"How're things?" Rayna ventures, picking at a piece of invisible lint on the bedspread.
"Fine," Deacon answers, watching her delicate fingers sweep across the bed. He sets his jaw, feeling the awkwardness in the space between them.
"Deacon." Rayna fixes him with a hard look, "Come on. It's me." She tucks her hair behind her ears, "Right? I'm still me." Deacon remains silent, and Rayna's face falls—disappointment filing in to her features. She's about to tell him to go, that it was a stupid idea, but as she opens her mouth to speak, he lays down on the bed, kicking his feet up, his arms supporting his head. Rayna does the same.
"You'll always be you to me, Rayna," He whispers, and they both know what he means. "I'm just not sure how to do this. How to… shift gears with you." He offers, looking at her.
She ignores the first part of his sentence, doesn't tell him what she desperately wants to tell him—one of the first instances of what will become a years-long pattern for her. "I'm not either, but can we at least try?" She asks, hopeful.
He smiles at her tenderly; he will always try for Rayna. "Yeah, Ray, we can try." He sighs, "How's Tandy?"
Rayna laughs, a deep hearty sound that nestles itself in Deacon's stomach and he immediately realizes how much he has missed it—Deacon and Tandy have never gotten along, and they never will. They're simultaneously too different and too alike, though they'd both balk at that assessment, true as it was. Rayna finishes laughing and shakes her head, "You asked that like you almost care." Rayna turns on her side to look at him, "She's… good. Same as ever." She rolls her eyes a bit, thinking of her last conversation with her sister which left her, as usual, exasperated.
Deacon grins, "I bet." His eyes drop and his voice along with it—he clears his throat, building up the courage. He doesn't want to ask, but god how he wants to ask, "And Maddie?"
Rayna swallows around the lump in her throat, "She's… oh, she's amazing, Deacon. She's so little, and when she smiles she…" Rayna trails off, a sudden sadness sweeping over her at the words she can't say: I think of you. She shakes her head as though that will clear the thought, as though it won't haunt her. She speaks around tears that threaten to fall, "God, Deacon, I never knew I could love anything that much." She shrugs, laughing a little as she makes a face, "I don't know how I'll be as a mother, but…"
"Hey." Deacon cuts her off but his voice is gentle, reassuring. "What're you talking about? Come on. You'll be a great mom."
Rayna smiles—Deacon has always thought the best of her, even when she can't quite bring herself to think the best of herself. "Thanks. I just… I didn't have mine for very long, and my father is not," Rayna laughs, "the paragon of parental figures, as you well know."
Deacon nods, chuckling lightly as he thinks of Lamar Wyatt, "Oh, I do know," Deacon agrees, "But you'll be a wonderful mother, Ray, and there's not a doubt in my mind about that."
"Thanks, Deacon," Rayna smiles at him, at his uncanny ability to make her feel better about anything, no matter what the situation. Even motherhood, apparently. "Hey, how's your mom?"
Deacon smiles a little, "You know… she's good. She's real good." Deacon turns on his side and smiles at her, "Feels weird that she's in my life now, you know. She wasn't for so long." Deacon's eyes go a little glassy as he speaks, "Even as a kid. She was there, but she wasn't really there. I never felt like I had a mother. It was just me and Beverly."
Rayna nods, "I know—but it's good you got your momma now, right?"
Deacon smiles, "Yeah, it is. She's gonna come to our show in Jackson in a few weeks. She wants to see you again. She's always asking about you. Calls you my girl, even though I told her…" Deacon stops and clears his throat.
Rayna lets it drop, "I'm really happy you've got a relationship with her now, Deacon."
"When she popped back into my life that last time in rehab, I just kept thinking with my daddy finally dead what did she want? Money? And I felt bad thinkin' that, but it's all I could think. But no," He shakes his head, "She just wanted me."
Rayna smiles; she knows the feeling.
Deacon's voice is raw with emotion—he hasn't had anyone to talk to about this, not really. He hasn't even brought it up at his AA meetings. He's never been able to talk like this to anyone but Rayna, never wanted to open himself up to anyone but Rayna. "Feels weird. Good, but weird. And I can't help but think what if I'd had a mother all along? How different would I have been?" Would we still be together, would I still be the same damn drunk who ruined everything between us? These are the questions he doesn't ask.
"You can never know that, Deacon. We can never know who we would've been if we'd had our mothers." Rayna shrugs, "Maybe the same. Maybe different."
"I know. I just can't understand why she stayed with him." Deacon shakes his head, "Why in the hell she stayed all those years in that dingy, dirty run-down house with my son-of-a-bitch father, one beating away from death."
Rayna stares at him, her eyes gentle, searching, "You know why." Rayna says, and her voice envelops him like every soft blanket he never had as a child.
"Why?" Deacon asks, his throat suddenly dry. He needs to hear her say it, needs to hear the words fall from her lips. After all this time, all the things he's done, he needs reassurance.
She offers him a small smile, "Love," She says it simply, matter-of-factly, and she reaches out to brush her hand down his shoulder. "We do lovely, terrible, breathtaking things for the people we love. And to them."
Deacon's eyes bore into hers and his gaze is heavy under the weight of all the history between them, "Do we?" He whispers.
Rayna shrugs, "Don't we?" She knows he thinks she is talking about him, about everything she did for him, about everything he did to her – about how she stayed with him even when she knew she shouldn't, even when there was nothing between them but poison and the last vestiges of love. But this time she is talking about herself; she is thinking about her sweet little girl at home with her big eyes and silly smile – Rayna's mind is running a tally on all the things she never told him, all the things she probably never would, and all the things he wouldn't ever forgive her for even if she someday did. Like how she pretended it was his arms around her at night, like how she cried herself to sleep wishing for a family he just couldn't give her, like how he is a father, now, and forever, even though he is without a daughter.
Deacon nods, biting his lip, "Yeah," the word comes out on a sound that is stuck somewhere between a laugh and a cry. "Yeah, I guess we do." Deacon drops his shoulder in something that resembles a shrug, "Well. Forgiveness is a helluva thing." He looks at her somewhat pointedly—"I do, you know." At her look, he whispers, "Forgive you."
Rayna's heart is slamming in her chest, the color rising in her cheeks. You wouldn't, if you only knew. She doesn't want to speak, doesn't trust herself, but he's staring at her expectantly and she knows what comes next: "I forgive you, too." And she thinks she will someday mean it, someday when she is so far past this moment, when the regret at night stops eating at her, when it turns to a dull ache she has to fight to remember instead of a constant that steals her breath unexpectedly. They've made amends so many times, but this time feels different.
"Deacon…" She whispers. Rayna looks at him, takes in all the lines in his face – marveling at how they would someday become a roadmap to his life – her hand reaches up by rote, longing to feel his warm flesh on the pads of her fingers. She hasn't felt his skin against hers for so long that she's starting to forget what it feels like. The thought scares her, and she moves her hand closer, never taking her eyes from his.
But Deacon grabs her wrist with his hand, stopping her fingers just inches from his face. "Rayna," He says, and closes his eyes, as though he is guarding himself against some sudden onslaught of pain. It takes Rayna only a moment to realize that he is. His eyes come open again, and it's there: she can see it all, plain as day. Every single thing he has ever felt for her laid bare—it's there for only a moment before it's replaced with an unbearable sadness that feels like it's suffocating her even as she looks at him. She knows it well – it's what she's seen every time she looks in the mirror for months. Her fingers curl against his, and he shakes his head once, as though it takes every ounce of willpower he has, "Don't."
She knows what he is saying—what he means—that if she touches him now, there will be no going back. They will tumble down the slippery slope and never be able to climb back up. She will be an adulteress, and everything will change between them forever because she's not his anymore.
Except that she is, which is exactly the problem.
She opens her mouth to speak, and just then the bus lurches to a halt. Deacon immediately drops her hand and steps away from her as though she has burned him. He does not look at her, instead he pokes his fingers through the blinds, and moves closer to the door. "I gotta get some air," he says, and before she can protest, he's out the bedroom door and off the bus. She sees his form walk toward the brightly lit gas station, watches as his shadow gets smaller, until finally he is gone, disappearing behind the building.
Rayna flops down on the bed, heaving a sigh as she wonders how many times she's watched that man walk away from her. As she wonders how many times she'll have to watch that man walk away from her, like she hasn't had enough to last this lifetime and any that may come after it. Her brain doesn't let her get away with this, though, try as she might: 'you've walked away from him, too.' It reminds her. She hastily rolls on to her side, trying to quiet the voice down, but it won't go away: 'into the arms of another man, no less.'
She wants to argue with the voice of her conscience, but she can't, she doesn't have the energy tonight. She looks at the clock and it reads 4:46am, nearly dawn wherever they are between Charleston and Raleigh. Rayna wonders if she should get a snack, get a soda, get her favorite candy bar (and his) like she used to do in days gone by. But these are not days gone by, she reminds herself, and she is at once grateful for and saddened by this.
She is a whole different person from the girl who, in days gone by, used to bring back two Butterfingers and pretend they were both for her. Who would hide the candy bar somewhere on her person after reluctantly agreeing to share and make Deacon find it with his hands, his mouth, his tongue. She is no longer the girl who would find crumbs of Butterfinger down her bra at rehearsal later and smile even as they grated against her skin because he was the one who'd put them there.
Still, something sweet would be nice. Something sweet is always nice. Rayna sighs and rolls off the bed, grabs her coat, and heads out the door of the bus, not caring that she's clad only in Deacon's boxers and her travel flip-flops. The warm air surrounds her – it is light and smells sweet. She doesn't know exactly where they are, hasn't paid attention to anything but Deacon for hours (years if she's honest), but local flowers must be in bloom because it isn't a smell she recognizes, but it is pleasant all the same. She walks into the store, gives a small nod to the young man behind the counter before she makes her way down the candy aisle. She's always had a sweet tooth, and having a baby has only intensified it. She runs her fingers along the candy, enjoying how the wrappers feel under the weight of her fingers. She stops when she gets to the yellow wrapper, her fingers running over it reverently. She eyes the candy bar next to it, trying to decide between chocolates—between past and future, convinced she shouldn't have both. Through the glass windows of the store, she can see the brilliant hues of the sunrise beginning. She makes her selections, heads to the counter, and pays.
The pinks and oranges are beautiful, breathtaking, as a little blue mixes its way in. Rayna stands near the door of the bus and watches as the sun slowly, painfully, beautifully rises, bathing everything in its gentle glow as if to say hello, I'm back now, darlings. I've missed you; I'm so sorry I ever had to go. And everything seems forgiven—everything seems all the better for it, the sun's apologies, even though everything knows it will have to leave again in a matter of hours. This time is precious.
With a sad smile and the sun still rising in the sky, Rayna gets back on the bus.
It is quiet, save for snoring, and she sits on the edge of her bed as the sunlight streams into the small room. She contemplates closing the door, trying for sleep again, but before she can take action she hears his heavy bootsteps on the stairs of the bus. The door to the bedroom is open and Deacon freezes when he sees her, holding her gaze. Tentatively, he takes a few steps forward until he is in the doorway.
"Nice walk?" She asks, arching an eyebrow.
Deacon nods, "Beautiful." He shrugs, "Sorry, I had to…" Get away before we both did something stupid. "I had to think."
"Deacon," Rayna's voice is firm but gentle, "Stop apologizing to me."
Deacon nods again, and looks as though he is choosing his words very carefully, "I can't do this, Rayna."
Fear floods her face, and Deacon rushes in, "No, I mean… I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to be… this." Deacon says, his hand gesturing between them. He wasn't expecting it to be so difficult, he hadn't really thought about how they wouldn't be picking up right where they left off—not this time.
Rayna knows what he means. They've never been on the road and not been together. At least, decidedly not together. "I know," Rayna sighs.
"So, I can't…" Deacon trails off, not wanting to finish the though, not liking the finality of it all. "I can't talk to you like that, not if we aren't… at least, not yet." Maybe not ever, was on the tip of his tongue, but it hurt him too much to even think it. The heart to hearts like tonight would be their unravelling, if they allowed them to be—Deacon Claybourne was many things, but he wouldn't allow himself to be that, especially not to Rayna who would never survive the guilt of it all.
"I know." Rayna says, because it's the truth, and because it's all she can say. She's asked enough from him already, and she can't ask him to give what he can't. That isn't her place anymore.
Deacon stares at her, watching her carefully, watching the pain etched into her face spread and bloom until the tears well in her eyes. "Rayna," He breathes, and starts to step forward.
"No," She says, holding her hand up to him, "Don't." She swipes hastily at the tears that have begun to fall, "You're right." She smiles then, and it's genuine even if it's tinged with sadness, "Bet you never thought you'd hear me say that."
Deacon smiles, then lets out a laugh, "If I weren't an addict, I could have made a killing on that bet – enough to retire on, at least."
Rayna's eyes sparkle with laughter for a moment, before they turn sad again, "I do understand, Deacon. I don't want you to think that I don't. I just…" Rayna brushes her hair back from her face, "I've missed you. And that just isn't your problem. Not anymore." She offers him a meek smile, "And it's just not fair of me to ask for it to be. I'm sorry."
Deacon blanches a little – fair. No, he supposed, it wasn't. But then, not much in Deacon Claybourne's life had ever been fair. No one except Rayna had ever really cared what might be fair for him, and he knows it. He loves her for it, really.
"What I did to you wasn't fair, either, Rayna." Deacon pushes himself from the doorframe, "Don't think I don't know that." He stares at her for a second, then whispers, "Night, Ray." He closes the door behind him, the soft click sounding strikingly, painfully final. There's too much and not enough to say to her tonight.
He steps toward his bunk and pulls the curtain open, the sound familiar and comforting, the first safe space he'd ever known. He's remembering the first time he ever heard it when he notices something on his bed, catching a bit of the hallway light pouring in. He smiles. There's always tomorrow.
Directly in the center of his bed sits a single Butterfinger.