*I do not own NCIS. But, technically, I'm owning your brainwaves for the time it takes to read this, yes?

In Observance of the Pieces.

She used to be a very different person. Weaker, he supposed. No, weak wasn't the word... wounded was perhaps the better term for what he had seen, when he had looked into her eyes, all those years ago. Crawling onto his porch in the rain, her mascara running down her sweet face.

"Ducky," she had choked.

He had accepted her with open arms, letting her stain his shirt with her tears in silence.

Ducky had been quick with a cup of tea and a dry towel, he hadn't let her have enough time to herself to think and close up her wounds. Very gently he'd begun to clean and bandage her with words, "Where is he, Jennifer?"

"I don't know. He-he just left..." she took a drink of her tea, and winked away another tear in her eye, "he was so angry, and I got so angry, I thought that if... if he could just leave, so could I, I didn't have to wait for him..."

Ducky took a seat beside her on the sofa with a quiet sigh, situating the towel around her shoulders and damp hair, the normally ginger color a dark, red-brown in the wet, and he began to gently trace away her ruined makeup with his handkerchief, "I see."

"It isn't fair. Since we got back, it's like he's a different person... or, he's just hiding who he is, shutting me out..." Ducky carefully pulled the diamond studs from her cold ears, folding the jewelry into his handkerchief and he rubbed her ears dry with the towel, and her eyes caught him, making him pause, and Jenny bit her lip, "I love him so much, Ducky."

Ducky smiled sadly, warming her ears with his palms, "I know, darling heart. I know."

Jenny hung her head with a dry sob, and Ducky gathered her to him, pulling her cold, bare feet onto the sofa and wrapping them with a throw. He took a drink of her tea, and managed to make her take a few more sips, before she buried her face in his neck and continued to shiver.

He breathed another small sigh and tried to ignore his own wounds.

"Is it the illness?" Ducky questioned at last, "Have you told him?"

"Yes. I don't know, things didn't change, after I told him, but he's just gotten farther and farther away from me, since we got back the states. Like I... like I mean nothing to him...!"

"Shh," Ducky quelled her welling hysteria softly, "not at all, Jennifer. You mean the world to him, but Jethro... he's a very complicated man. Very much a mystery."

"But why does he have to be a mystery to me, Ducky?" Jenny questioned hoarsely, "I don't understand it. He keeps blocking me out, at every turn, like he's afraid I'll use it against him."

Ducky nodded, "Perhaps he is afraid."

"Of what?"

"Of your illness, Jennifer."

She bit her lip again, "I didn't ask-"

"I never said he blamed you for it. Men are complicated creatures. Often times, whatever we can't change, things we refuse to face... all of that can become hate. Fear may be so affecting Jethro that he's trying to get away, trying not to find something to hate, to blame..." he brushed a stray lock of hair back from her eyes, glossy and watching him, and he smiled, "He's so scared of loosing you."

Her brows knitted on her forehead, "Why is he punishing me for it?"

Ducky lied. "He's not."

The hour had grown late, and Jenny had fallen asleep on him, her trembling, exhausted form at last growing still, against his chest. Stray drops of rain battered the windows every now and again, behind the curtains, and Ducky was staring, unseeingly, into the empty fireplace, and he took a drink of the now cold tea, swallowing it and ignoring the bitter taste in his mouth.

"You're a madman, Jethro," he whispered to himself. He shook his head, "I'm a madman."

He placed a kiss on her forehead, his arms tensing around her thin form as he shifted her on the sofa, and his heart broke again as he laid her out to sleep, tucking the throw around her and leaving the study.

Ducky was quietly sipping a glass of scotch in the kitchen when the front door creaked open, and Jethro's footsteps fell in the entryway, "Where is she?" he had questioned gruffly.

"We need to talk, Jethro," Ducky replied.

"Where is she?" Jethro demanded again, a little louder.

"Sit. Down." Ducky hissed, his eyes sparking behind his glasses.

Jethro let out an agitated sigh, and crossed the kitchen, having a seat opposite. Ducky took another drink, watching the amber-colored liquid for a few moments before he returned the glass to the kitchen table. He propped his cheek up on his knuckles tiredly, "I don't expect you to open up to me."

"Good," Jethro retorted.

"Right now, I couldn't care less just what your problem is," Ducky replied acidly. He breathed for a moment as shock, followed by aggression, crossed Jethro's features, "but there is a woman in there that is quite sick. And your bedside manner needs a whole hell of a lot of work."

"It's none of your business," Jethro growled, rising from his chair.

"It most certainly is. And you need to realize quite quickly that it is very much your business, as well. She can't be alone, Jethro. It isn't fair, your abandoning her."

"I'm not abandoning her!" Jethro spat.

"Then why is she here?" Ducky hissed, "Why do I have to keep picking up the pieces of a broken woman every time you get scared of loving her too much?" he had risen from his own seat, gaze locked with his friend.

Jethro glared across the room at nothing.

"She's in the study." Ducky avoided his look by finishing off the drink, and Jethro had reached the doorway when he stopped him, "Jethro."

His threat was quiet, "If you break her heart again, I won't give her back to you."

The two men watched each other for a few moments, before Jethro swept into the darkened entryway without a word. Ducky watched the moths batter at the light outside the kitchen window for so many heartbeats of silence, before he poured himself another drink, taking it with him into the hall.

He sipped as he watched them, Jenny crying quietly in Jethro's embrace, Jethro's eyebrows drawn in a mixed visage of relief and distant pain. It was terrible, how perfect they were, for one another. Ducky shook his head and smiled to himself, ignoring the tar-like turmoil welling in his chest, "I don't suppose that you two would care to stay for dinner? No? I'd figured. But you're missing out, I have an excellent recipe for Cornish stuffing..."

The wounded got stronger, if they survived. Her heart had a limp nearly as noticeable as his bad knee. Jethro had kept his word- he had never broken her heart again. Years had passed, and at last, it had been Jenny that had chosen to fly; perhaps it was she that had broken Jethro's heart. The matter had silenced itself, over the passage of time, he had watched as the wounds in her eyes had faded, hardened into scars she wore with pride. Ducky was unsure if there would be a time when she needed him ever again, if he would ever find the right time to let his heart find the surface. Or return those damn earrings.

She was strong, now.