The day is still burned into her memory.
It had been a hard few months. Jack had come back from Felucia sullen and angry, most of his time spent locked in the hell of his own head. That first night, she'd met him at the airport with one of those cheesy signs like in the movies. She shook it above her head with a wild grin on her face.
He'd smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes.
When he hugged her, it felt like he was doing it more to make sure it was real than because he was happy to see her. She flinched when his grip got too tight.
It felt like that most days. He had flashbacks, violent and chaotic and unrelenting. He'd get lost in them from the sound of a car backfiring, a door slamming, even the smell of gasoline. She took to filling both their cars.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, he hit her. He hadn't meant to. They'd fallen asleep on the couch to a nature documentary on TV, and when Kensi woke it was some action movie. At the sound of gunfire, Jack's eyes snapped open, his fist knocking into her cheek and causing her to fall off the couch before he'd even realised where he was. Kensi had tried to reassure him. She watched him flinch every time he saw the vivid purple bruise just below her eye.
Christmas was supposed to fix that. To take them back to where they used to be. Kensi had put a lot of effort into it. She'd decorated the tree and he had even made his grandmother's gingerbread recipe. He hadn't had a nightmare in two days. When she went to sleep on Christmas Eve, she was smiling.
Before she even opened her eyes on Christmas Day, she could feel the empty bed. She got up on trembling legs, slowly looked around the apartment to prove what she already knew. There were clothes missing from his side of the closet, his rucksack absent from its place beside the bedside table, his boots not sitting beside the front door. There was no note.
She sank to the hardwood floor. She didn't cry. She was too busy imagining all the terrible situations Jack might be in. He could be mugged and beaten, dying in an alley somewhere. He could've died of an overdose of his pain meds or antidepressants, or a mix of both. He could be sitting in a jail cell, having assaulted someone in the middle of a flashback. The thoughts came unbidden, regardless of whether she tried to stop them. She allowed herself five seconds of weakness, a trick her father taught her. Five seconds, then she would get up and tackle this. Four. Three. Two. One.
She stood. Calmly got out her phone and called all of Jack's friends, one by one. His army buddies. His parents. His sister. When none of them had answers, she drove around all his regular haunts. The bar they used to love. The gym where he played basketball. The VA, where she knew a few people would be to offer counselling. That last one was the longest of long shots, but Kensi Blye is nothing if not thorough. She dropped by three police stations to see if he was sitting in the drunk tank or reporting a robbery or, god forbid, handcuffed to a detective's desk. She checked all the local hospitals for John Does. She refused to check the morgue. Not yet.
When all that was done, it was well past noon. She returned home, perched on the couch like a stranger. She found herself looking at the ring on her finger. It was simple, beautiful, a single diamond set in a platinum band.
It was beautiful, but was it even worth anything anymore?
Kensi stared at the Christmas tree, still lit up. In a sudden fit of rage, she stood, ripping it down in a single motion. Her chest heaved as she looked at the damage. Tinsel scattered across the carpet, mixing with shattered glass ornaments and rolling plastic ones. The mess almost looked satisfying, she thought. It looked how her insides felt.
That's when the first tear fell. Soon, she was sobbing, crumpling to the floor like a dropped toy. She hadn't cried like this since her dad died, since that hellish year on the streets had her bawling into her aunt's pillowed chest. She wanted her dad. Hell, she wanted her mom.
She picked herself up, eventually. She cleaned up the remnants of the Christmas tree. She put the broken ornaments in the trash and the whole ones in a box. She dragged the tree downstairs and hoisted it into the dumpster. She vacuumed the pine needles from the living room floor. She curled up on the couch, thankful that she'd removed all the alcohol in the house a week ago, and tried to sleep.
She ended up waiting for Jack in that apartment for a month. When she went out, she always left a note, telling him where she was and her phone number, in case his phone had been lost during his travels. She left notes with all his friends and asked them to call her if he showed up there. She called his boss and apologised on his behalf.
After two weeks, reality began to set in. After three, she realised she was doing it out of habit more than anything else. She called her landlord to end her lease at the end of that month. She left a final note on the kitchen counter for the future renters, asking them politely to give Jack her phone number should he ever come looking for her. She found and moved into an apartment with the help of an agent she saw around head office sometimes, a short, assertive woman who called everyone Ms or Mr regardless of rank.
She took off her ring.
She moved on.
At least, that's what she thought, until a desert in Afghanistan and a mutual penchant for finding trouble reunited them, nine years later.
A/N: The title is from 'Already Gone' by Sleeping At Last.