Written for the NFA Autopsy Men Challenge. In this case, Jimmy is the central character but Ducky helps out a lot. It's casefile which is rare for me and not particularly funny, because I'm not in that sort of mood.

Challenge Details

Write a fic in which the work of Ducky/Jimmy takes center stage. Both must appear in the story. One, or both, of them must be the central character(s) in the fic. It doesn't have to be a casefile. There are other ways of showcasing them. The story doesn't even have to concern an autopsy. If you can find another way to put the spotlight on one or both of them, you can do so.

Word count: 1500 minimum, no maximum.
Due date: 17 May 2008

Chapter 1 – Lost friends

The Navy Yard was particularly bleak this time of year, Palmer thought, eerily illuminated in the late afternoon sun with the wind whistling through bare trees: more so with the body lying secreted in the corner behind the row of dumpsters that lined the back wall.

Ducky was already fussing with the preliminaries: waiting patiently for his liver probe to estimate the time of death.

Palmer scanned their latest customer. For a moment it looked like any other human corpse: casually clothed, it sported a single gunshot wound to the shoulder and its neck was comprehensively broken. Then he came to the face and the corpse smiled brightly at him: the eyes crinkling in an open, friendly, warm and welcoming manner.

The temperature went up a few hundred degrees causing him to sweat profusely as the world spun around him in shuddering quarter turns.

"Are you feeling unwell, Mr ……?" Ducky's distant voice faded out.

"I'll thank you to keep your school boy teasing to yourself, Antony," Ducky's sharp retort cut through the air like one of Ziva's dagger, drowning out the tinnitus screeching full bore in Palmer's ears. "Mr Palmer is one of the best up-and-coming MEs with whom I've had the privilege to work. He is either unwell or just plain exhausted from extensive medical study combined with the workload we have been thrusting upon him: Unlike you... " Ducky's voice soften abruptly, "Jimmy: Jimmy are you with me?"

Belatedly, Palmer realised his eyes were open. He wasn't sure when that had happened but from what he could see though half a pane of warped glasses, the NCIS agents were all staring at him from beyond some magical, invisible force field that Ducky had set up around the two of them. He was in the recovery position – an uncomfortable configuration that he might have altered had his body not felt like a lead weight.

The ground was hard: gritty cold cement that broke loose and scraped against his face as he turned his head. His cheek hurt – he was going to have a great bruise tomorrow that he could never hide from his mother.

"Your blood sugar is fine," Ducky muttered.

Palmer felt Ducky slide the glucose meter back into his pocket. He was thankful the experienced doctor had thought to check but he was pretty sure his diabetes was not at the root of this particular problem.

"Let's get you more comfortable," said Ducky soothingly, rolling him gently onto his back.

Embarrassment urged him to bound to his feet but logic told him the result would only be another fall straight back on his face. So he acquiesced to Ducky's request and lay on his back with his knees up, trying to encourage the blood back into his head.

"You're hyperventilating," Ducky confided in a low doctor-to-doctor conspiratorial tone. "Can you get that under control?"

Palmer nodded: he hadn't been aware that his shock was so obvious. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing. There, cocooned in his own world, he could not believe how bad he felt: nauseous, dizzy and sweaty. His sympathy for all the Probies who had ever passed out or thrown up at their first autopsy in his presence increased ten fold.

"How's that body going, Ducky?" Gibbs called.

Palmer's eyes flew open and he saw Gibbs hovering in the distance: even he didn't dare breach Ducky's perimeter.

"Your John Doe isn't going anywhere," Ducky snapped.

"OK," Gibbs backed off with his hands aloft in surrender.

"Jonstone," Palmer heard the name rasp from the back of his own throat reflexively.

"What was that, my boy?" Ducky inquired benevolently.

Palmer squeezed his eyes shut but could not stop the hot tears from welling through the lids. "His name is….was Matt Jonstone."

"Ahhhh, Palmer: I'm so very sorry." Ducky's voice was full of warmth and understanding.

Ducky settled himself on the ground: folding his arms thoughtfully as he leaned his back against a convenient dumpster and stretched his legs out before him. "I remember my first time," he said quietly, "as clearly as if it were yesterday."

It was rare that Palmer found Ducky's anecdotes comforting but this one he truly wanted to hear.

"I was in Vietnam. You got to know all the soldiers there. They came to you with everything from cuts and abrasions to genital Herpes." He paused for a solitary humourless chuckle. "Then they started coming in body bags. People only days before you'd been sending off with a sticking plaster were coming back with half their heads blown off. It was demoralizing, confronting and simultaneously the best and worst time of my life." He paused to look off into the distance to the agents prowling around the crime scene. "They don't understand, that lot. They see the bodies but not as we see them. Don't let them bother you. Shock is a very natural reaction. You can see hundreds of bodies and be fine and then one day – boom, it just hits you. It happens to all of us and it never stop happening. We're only human."

Palmer looked up at Ducky and found a kindred spirit. Sometimes it was difficult to believe someone as experienced and, let's face it, downright ancient as Ducky was ever a young raw ME like himself.

"At first you never think it will be someone you know," Ducky continued almost wistfully. "Then after a while, you think you know them all." He looked down at Palmer and said gravely, "I'll do the autopsy."

"No!" Palmer utilized the excess adrenaline to hoist his body to a slouching sit. He realised his tie had been pulled loose and his top three shirt buttons were undone: the dishevelled attire mirroring his hassled state.

"Are you sure?"

Palmer nodded. There was always the chance that he would know the victim whether it be an agent, a co-worker or a friend. This was part of his job and he had better find out if he could cope now. "I need to do this," he said simply.

"That's my boy," Ducky smiled.

Palmer looked over at the body of his friend once more and found the face lifeless, expressionless and tinged with blue. It was still surreal but the initial shock was fading. Matt was gone – and he had a job to do.