Disclaimer: I do not own NCIS: Los Angeles.
The first month is dry and leaves her with the taste of oranges on her tongue.
Nate told her to take things slowly. Hetty gives her a week off of work and pretends not to notice when she shows up every morning anyway. Callen comes to her apartment for dinner and does not leave until nearly midnight and they spend the whole evening in silence, but it is nice to be with someone who understands how much it hurts to be the one who walks away.
She dreams of Dom.
Dreams of tiptoeing around his empty desk for months while they waited for a phone call that would change their lives. She cleaned his dishes before she cleaned his desk before she cleaned his blood off of her hands and it got easier before it got harder before she realized it was never really going to end. She remembers how little he knew and how much he wanted to. She remembers how she never got to say goodbye.
She only called his family once but the number is etched into her heart and when she closes her eyes she can hear his mother wailing from the terrible finality that grief brings. Kensi buried her face in her hands and slid down the kitchen wall and she cried for the first time since Jack vanished without as much as a goodbye.
"I'm sorry," she'd whispered into the line, because she was supposed to bring him back, supposed to keep him safe.
"I'm so sorry."
Deeks has two more surgeries before they let him go home. Monty stays are her house while he's in the hospital and he sheds all over her furniture and makes her laugh. She lets him sleep on her bed and he puts his nose on her lap when she wakes up crying for the third night in a row. She drops him off at Deeks' apartment on the morning he's due back from the hospital and they both watch her drive away.
She takes a pottery class because Nell said it might be cathartic. Learns what the clay should feel like when it's ready to be shaped and how the slightest shift of her fingers can transform something ordinary into something beautiful. For the first time she sees fire as something meant to restore and this hits her hard enough that she nearly breaks down right there, in the middle of a crowded high school art room. She makes Hetty a cup and she makes Nell a vase and she tries to make something for her partner but everything she thinks of tastes like smoke and salt and she doesn't want to give him something empty. The class has four more lessons but suddenly it's the middle of June and she feels like she should be better by now so she never goes back.
The second month is cold cases and petty crimes and empty seats.
Callen gets to work by seven every morning and she brings him coffee that she knows he won't drink. They work in silence most of the time. Hetty's desk has been untouched since she was called off to Washington nearly three weeks ago and all the important cases are going somewhere other than OSP. If either of them notices the sympathetic looks or the compassionate silences that have taken over the office, they choose not to mention it. Kensi walks in on Eric playing video games on the job more than once. Nell finishes seven crossword puzzles in one afternoon but they all refuse to go home before five.
She calls Deeks once every two days. Counts the number of rings she gets through before he sends her to voicemail (three, always three). Counts the number of times this happens before it stops hurting (she never gets there).
The first week of July passes without fanfare and somewhere in the middle of it she finds herself at the beach in the middle of the night with Nell and Eric. She sneaks off when her position as a third wheel becomes too uncomfortable to ignore and finds a spot in the sand where she can finally clear her head.
The fireworks sound like gunshots. She wishes she could go back to a time when she wasn't so worried about losing things, losing people, but this is the life she's familiar with and deep down Kensi is scared it's the only life she'd be any good at. Exactly one year ago she was sitting next to Deeks while watching a marathon of Top Chef and eating takeout.
She hasn't seen him in two weeks.
She hasn't seen him conscious in three.
He wouldn't even look at her. So she held his hand and pretended like that didn't make her want to cry.
Jack's therapist once told him to keep a journal and it seemed to ease his mind just a little in the months before he lost himself to a life that didn't include her. So she scratches her thoughts onto old newspapers in red ink, writes in the margins of books from her local library and returns them in the drop box. But the things that scare her the most, the thoughts that paralyze her, never make it past her pen. She's drowning in her own skin and the fear that things have been irreparably broken makes her sick in the mornings.
She flips through scrapbooks in her mother's living room on a Wednesday morning. She drives past her partner's apartment once a week but never stops. She stops watching reality TV and starts watching documentaries instead.
It's when she finds herself crying to a National Geographic special on dolphins that she suspects she might not actually be okay.
The third month is baby steps and fireplaces and road trips.
Sam comes back on a Friday and Callen's mood changes instantly. Hetty comes back less than an hour later and Kensi starts to wonder if maybe she was just waiting for the fog to lift before braving the storm that OSP has become. There is laughter and lightness that none of them have felt since before this all started (but her partner's desk is still empty and sometimes she adds paperwork to his pile and imagines the incredulous look he'd get on his face if he was around to notice).
She runs on the beach and watches her mother bake cherry pies for her book club. Sometimes the fire that burns in her heart stretches out beneath her skin and she wakes up with scars. Her mom opens the blinds and plays the piano sometimes when she thinks her daughter is sleeping and things become a soft sort of normal that weighs unsteadily on both of their hearts.
Sometimes she imagines the things she would say to Deeks, if he were here.
'I feel you in the loneliest parts of me.'
'I've let the dishes pile up because I keep hoping you'll come over and remind me to clean them.'
'I haven't moved the extra key in two months because if you come over you'll still know where it is and I wake up hoping you're there but you never are anymore.'
They make her ache and she takes the rest of the month off because she can't breathe just right anymore. The ocean reminds her of blue eyes and slow smiles so she takes off for the desert in the middle of the night with the windows rolled down and her phone in the backseat with the battery disconnected.
It takes her eight hours to get to the Grand Canyon and the first thing she does after checking into a motel is walk right up to the edge and look down. It's just after sunset and the cliffs stretch down into shadows so dark she cannot see the Colorado River. All of her life Kensi has believed that she is a forest fire; an unstoppable and misunderstood force destined to consume itself. She watches action movies where Manhattan is destroyed by flames and imagines that she is the ashes. She drives past a car crash in Pasadena and wonders if it's possible for people to be collateral damage.
The motel only had cold water in its shower and there are only two channels on the TV and even though Kensi falls asleep shivering, she hasn't felt so alive in nearly three months.
She contemplates never going back.
She pretends that she won't for a week before finally heading home.
The fourth month is fresh air and greasy food and the start of the longest goodbye she's ever said.
Deeks comes back in a rush of gunpowder and hesitation and she wants to hug him but stops herself before she scares him away. He comments on the vase she made Nell and tries to read her journal (which is stuffed under the driver's seat of her car) and asks why she was in Arizona when he finds her motel bill in her wallet and there is so much she wants to tell him but it all wells up in her throat and she can't do anything but laugh.
The journey they undertook back in the early weeks of May is far from over. But the past four months have been hell and it's so easy to pretend that they'll always be together, getting hamburgers from boardwalk vendors after chasing down suspects. He falls asleep on her couch three nights in a row before he starts bringing Monty over after work. She presses her fingers against his wrist while they watch Top Gun on a Wednesday and his heartbeat makes her want to cry.
One day things will change again and Kensi knows this better than anyone. Hetty sends her calculating looks from across the bullpen and she feels like she's back in her high school history class and never knows the right answers but always gets called on. Deeks smiles at her when he thinks she isn't looking and it makes her feel soft and scared because this will probably not have the chance to become normal but she wants it so badly that nothing – not fireworks or road trips or History Channel binges can erase him from her skin.
She is a forest fire and she is a volcano and she can feel what's coming but doesn't know what it means.
Once upon a time she sat at the edge of world and whispered her deepest secret down into the dark, where it might finally be safe.
'I love him too much to lose him.'
She's beginning to believe that this means she cannot keep him either.