AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
CHARACTERS: Donald 'Ducky' Mallard & Jimmy Palmer
SUMMARY: Jimmy is using the x-ray machine for a rather strange reason. Ducky wants to know why.
WORD COUNT: 3,225
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for spikesgirl58: X - X-Ray
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
6:30 A.M. MID-DECEMBER
Jimmy hurried into autopsy and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Dr. Mallard wasn't already there. He hadn't seen the Morgan in the car park and Dr. Mallard had said he might be a little later in than was usual, thus Jimmy hadn't expected to see his boss already hard at work or enjoying a cup of tea while doing the crossword, but he had learned it paid never to assume when it came to the good doctor.
Stage one completed.
Swiftly he paused for along enough to fill the kettle with water and turn it on, before he hurried from the room and, foregoing the elevator, ran up the stairs to the squad room. He had thought to bring a clipboard with him and now as he walked swiftly and determinedly towards Gibbs's area of the squad room, he kept his gaze firmly fixed on he clipboard in the hope it would dissuade anyone from talking to him. Thankfully, apart from two male agents whose names Jimmy couldn't actually remember, no one else was in the room and neither of them paid him any attention at all.
He arrived in Gibbs's part of the squad room and glanced around him, going so far as to actually peer under the desks - it paid never to assume when it came to Gibbs either. No one was there, and the two agents who had been in the squad room when he had arrived seemed to have left. He breathed a deep sigh of relief and for a moment sat on the edge of McGee's desk.
Stage two completed.
The rather lopsided Christmas tree stood between McGee and Gibbs's desk and a pile of gaudy wrapped gifts nestled beneath it. Asking himself for a final time if he really did intend to do this, he glanced around him once more. Still no one was in sight.
Hands trembling just a little bit he slid off of McGee's desk and crouched down in front of the tree and hastily began to look through the parcels. Muttering under his breath he pulled four from the pile, carefully rearranged the others to ensure it didn't look as if any had been taken, piled the gifts onto his clipboard, stood up, looked around him again and hurried off back across the squad room.
Stage three completed.
Once more he took the stairs rather than the elevator back down to autopsy. He moved carefully towards the door, ensuring he stopped far enough away from it to prevent it from automatically opening. He crouched down, put the clipboard with the gifts on it onto the floor, stood back up and once again made his way to the door.
This time he let it swish open and he looked around him; the jaunty 'Good morning, Dr. Mallard' was already on his lips. However, he didn't need to speak the words; the room was just as empty as it had been when he had left it some ten minutes ago.
He hurried back to the pile of gifts, picked them up and all but ran into autopsy with them and put them beneath one of the tables. Once that was done he leaned back against the table, wiped his forehead, took his own pulse, gulped slightly at how fast it was beating and sighed with relief.
Stage four completed.
He sat for a moment, just getting his breath back and letting his pulse return to normal before he moved onto what was probably the most risky part of his plan. For a moment he hesitated; did he really have to do this? He wasn't ten years old any longer or even sixteen. He was a grown man; a medical student; he worked for a Federal Agency; he was respected - well, Dr. Mallard seemed to respect him - he had a good future ahead of him; friends; coworkers who he got on with; he really didn't need to do this.
Unbidden the image of the ten year old boy standing in the classroom flashed into his mind; it was instantly followed by the sixteen year old in homeroom and he groaned softly. He did have to do this. He had to - he couldn't go through all that again.
He stood up and grabbed the red sign which would indicate an infectious body in autopsy and put it out in the corridor. It wouldn't prevent Dr. Mallard from coming in, but it would stop anyone else - maybe even Gibbs, although with Agent Gibbs he wasn't completely certain.
Stage five completed.
He wiped his hands on his jacket, hurried back into autopsy, paused for a moment to think one last time as to whether he really needed to do it. He decided he did and hurried towards the portable x-ray machine. He guided it from the corner and pulled it across autopsy towards the table under which the gifts he'd taken from the squad room sat.
TEN MINUTES LATER
Humming to himself, Ducky exited the elevator and came to an abrupt halt at the red sign in front of him. He frowned; they hadn't got any active bodies, let alone an infectious one- at least they hadn't when he had left for the previous evening. He was quite certain that had anything happened overnight to change that, had there been a new body, Jethro would have called him.
Just for a moment he hesitated and remembered he had been playing in a bridge tournament the previous evening, and he had turned the ringer on his phone down so as not to interrupt anyone but him if it had rung. Was it possible he had failed to hear it? Had Jethro tried to call him and upon failing to get him had given up and called Mr. Palmer instead? Surely not - that wasn't the kind of man Jethro was; he would want Ducky, not his assistant.
Nonetheless, he quickly pulled his phone from his pocket and checked it. No, there hadn't been any calls. So why on earth was the sign indicating there was an infectious body in autopsy in the corridor? Had the cleaners for some reason moved it? Ducky couldn't think of any logical or, come to think of it, illogical reason for them to do so. But for what other reason could the sign be in the corridor?
Deciding rather than standing there staring at the sign, waiting for inspiration to hit him, he should go into autopsy, Ducky walked purposefully towards the doors. They obligingly swished open for him and he went into the less brightly lit than normal room. He came to an abrupt halt as he stared at his assistant and the x-ray machine.
"Mr. Palmer!" he exclaimed. "What on earth are you doing?"
Jimmy jumped, yelped and spun around. In one hand he held a very garishly wrapped gift; in the other than cable with the button on the end of it which allowed those taking an x-ray to stand some distance away from it when it was being taken.
Jimmy stared wide-eyed at him. His face had turned ashen, apart from his cheeks which were bright red. His mouth fell open and for a moment he resembled a gold fish as he tried and failed to speak.
He closed his mouth and bit his lip as he continued to stare at Ducky before finally, sounding like a strangled dog, managed, "Do . . . Doc . . . Doct . . . Dr. Mallard. You're . . . You're . . . You're here." His breathing began to grow faster and for a moment Ducky was concerned; his concern grew when for a moment Jimmy staggered, knocking against the x-ray machine and pushing it to one side.
Ducky's initial anger began to diminish as he told himself this was Jimmy and not Tony and that he would have an explanation, hopefully a good one, for what he had been doing. He couldn't imagine what that explanation might be; he had no idea why Jimmy had been using the x-ray machine to x-ray gifts, but he assured himself there would be an explanation.
"I can . . . I can . . . I can . . ." Jimmy gulped. "I can explain, Doctor," he finally managed.
Ducky sighed. "Can you? Can you really, Jimmy?"
Jimmy glanced at the x-ray machine and at the cable he still held in one hand and the parcel which was still clutched in his other hand. "Yes?" he said. He looked like a frightened young boy, caught with his hand in the cookie-jar and Ducky sighed as the last remnants of his anger faded.
He sighed again, walked towards Jimmy, took the x-ray machine cable from one hand and the package from the other. He looped the former over the machine and put the latter down onto the table and patted Jimmy's arm - he couldn't fail to notice how taut it felt.
"Go and take the sign down, there's a good boy. Then make us a pot of tea - don't forget to warm the pot - then we can sit down and you can tell me why you were x-raying presents. Off you go, Jimmy," he said, when Jimmy just stared wide-eyed at him.
"You won't tell, will you, Doctor? You won't tell Agent Gibbs or Agent DiNozzo or Director Vance? You won't tell them I used the agency's x-ray machine to . . . To . . . To . . . Oh, Doctor, I'm so sorry. So very sorry. I'm -"
"Go and do what I told you to do, Jimmy. Then we'll talk about this; I'm sure we can sort it out without Jethro or Director Vance ever having to know."
"And Agent DiNozzo?"
"Certainly Anthony will not need to know. Now off you go, Jimmy." Ducky smiled in what he hoped was an encouraging way at Jimmy, and after a moment or two Jimmy nodded, managed what Ducky believed to be was meant to be a small smile, and hurried off to do as Ducky had bid him.
TEN MINUTES LATER
They sat side by side at Ducky's desk, sipping their tea. Jimmy wouldn't meet Ducky's gaze and Ducky had never seen his young assistant look so miserable. "Now come along, Jimmy, drink you tea and tell me what possessed you to x-ray Christmas presents? I assume they are for you?"
Jimmy swallowed some tea and began to tremble a little. "Yes, Dr. Mallard," he said. "Oh, Doctor, I'm so sorry, I've let you down. I never meant -"
"For me to find out?" Jimmy nodded. "Well, now, I'm sure you didn't. However, I do know, so you had better tell me the whole story. However, before you do, let me assure you that you have not let me down. You never could do that, Jimmy. Never, do you hear me?"
Jimmy stared at him, his expression one of surprise; he gulped, flushed and finally nodded. "Yes, Doctor. Thank you, Doctor."
"Good boy. Well?"
Jimmy sighed. "You know how everyone decided that rather than have a Secret Santa for the entire agency this year, that each team or department would do their own gift exchange?"
Ducky nodded. "Yes, of course I do. I bought my presents three weeks ago."
Jimmy nodded. "I know." He flushed and glanced away from Ducky for a moment. Ducky just waited in silence, sipping his tea and recognizing that for an American, and a young American at that, Jimmy actually made a rather good cup of tea.
"Well," Jimmy said, "that was the problem."
"What was?" Ducky paused and then asked, his tone gentle, "Can you not afford to buy presents for the entire team, Jimmy?" He was aware that Jimmy sent a proportion of his salary home to his mother each month, and had it not been for Ducky himself insisting upon paying Jimmy's medical school fees, that Jimmy would not have been able to have afforded to have gone to medical school, but surely he wasn't that badly off - was he? It wasn't as if he had to buy expensive gifts; surely he knew the members of 'Team Gibbs' would be happy with whatever he gave them, simply because it was the thought not the gift that mattered.
"What? Oh, no, Doctor. I can afford to buy gifts. It's just . . . It's just . . . Well, I didn't know what to buy for people."
"I know that can be difficult at times, Jimmy, but I still don't understand why that necessitated you x-raying the presents people had bought for you."
Jimmy sighed. "I didn't want to get it wrong."
Ducky frowned. "Get what wrong?"
"The gift. I always get it wrong." The last words were said in a soft whisper, and to Ducky's surprise and horror he saw moisture form in Jimmy's eyes.
He patted Jimmy's arm. "I'm sure you don't, Jimmy. Why don't you just tell me the whole story?"
Jimmy sighed again. "When I was a kid each class used to do a kind of Secret Santa thing. Except it wasn't secret. We all had to buy a gift and then the teacher would do a lucky dip and we all had a gift, which we had to open there and then." He fell silent.
Ducky sighed softly. He thought he knew what was coming; children could be so cruel, so very cruel; often far crueler than any adult. "Go on, Jimmy," he said encouragingly, and again patted Jimmy's arm.
"Well, we didn't, mom and me, have much money, certainly none to spare. And each year I had to give up my comics and sweets for a month before Christmas so that . . . So that . . ."
"So that your mother had the money to buy a present for you to take to school?" Ducky spoke gently.
Jimmy nodded. "Yes," he said. "And it was always the cheapest gift. Always, Doctor. I didn't blame mom, really I didn't. I . . . I . . . I hated it," he whispered. "Every year I hated that day; the day we'd all open our gifts and whoever got mine would . . ." He trailed off and bit his lip and began to tremble a little.
Anger rose within him and Ducky again patted Jimmy's hand. "It's all right, Jimmy. You know, don't you, with hindsight, that the children who passed comments were spoilt and selfish? You do you, do you not? You know the true meaning of present giving, don't you?"
Jimmy nodded. "Yes, Doctor. But when you're ten . . ."
Ducky sighed. "I know. I know," he said. He could only begin to have the faintest idea of how Jimmy must have felt. Brought up with money, brought up needing or wanting for nothing, he would never have had to experience such pain and anguish. And even though he had seen much, seen poverty and deprivation throughout his life, he still couldn't totally understand not fully, given he had never experienced it.
"And then when I was sixteen . . . We were in homeroom, Doctor and . . . I've never, never been so . . . It wasn't mom's fault, Dr. Mallard. I never blamed her. Except . . ."
"You went home upset and undoubtedly your mother knew why you were upset and blamed herself?"
Jimmy stared at him. "Yes, Doctor. How did you -"
"Know?" Jimmy nodded. "Because it is what parents do. My mother once blamed herself for me breaking my wrist whilst trying to catch a cricket ball, that in truth even the best fielder in England - in the world - couldn't have caught."
"I couldn't bear for it to happen again. The Secret Santa was okay because I just made sure I bought something expensive,; anyway no one would have known it was from me. But this year . . . I didn't know what the others would spend and I didn't want us all to open presents and mine to be . . . I didn't want to be laughed at again, Doctor. I couldn't bear to have been laughed at again. So I thought if I x-rayed my gifts I could see what they'd bought for me and find out how much it cost and then I could spend the same or more. I couldn't be laughed at again," he repeated.
"Now listen to me, Jimmy, no one, no one I tell you, on Jethro's team would have laughed or said anything other than 'thank you very much, Jimmy'. I give you my word on that; they would have been happy with whatever present you bought for them because you bought it. That's what matters, Jimmy, not how much you spend."
Jimmy didn't look entirely convinced. Given how often Tony went on about the cost of a new tie or suit or how much he spent each weekend, Ducky couldn't really blame Jimmy for being dubious. However, Ducky knew Tony far better than Jimmy did, had known him for much longer, and that knowledge told him many things. The most important, as far as Jimmy was concerned, that even had Jimmy given him a cheap mug, Tony would have thanked him and would not have laughed or made any kind of derogatory comment. For all his faults, he was far better than that; he'd been brought up far better; not to mention the impact Jethro had had on him. Even if he had considered laughing, he wouldn't have done, given he would have known exactly what Jethro would have done to him.
Finally Jimmy said, his tone belying his words, "If you say so, Doctor."
"I do," Ducky said firmly. "However," he added, knowing that as much as Jimmy respected him, idolized him even, he still wasn't completely convinced by his words. "As we aren't actually doing anyone any harm, why don't I give you a hand to x-ray the gifts?"
Jimmy stared at him. "Doctor? You'd . . . You'd do that? You'd do that for me?" He sounded stunned.
Ducky nodded. "Yes. But only for this year, Jimmy. This year I will permit you to find out what your gifts are. However, after this year you must trust in your colleagues, in your friends, Jimmy. So, do we have a deal?"
Jimmy beamed and nodded. "Oh, yes, Doctor. Thank you, Doctor."
"Good boy," Ducky said, patting Jimmy's arm. "Right, well let's get on shall we? We'll move the x-ray machine across to the other side of the room, that way should anyone disturb us, they won't actually be able to see what we are doing. Well, for what are you waiting? You move the machine and I'll bring the presents."
Jimmy beamed. "Yes, Doctor," he said, standing up and tripping over his own feet as he tried to move in two directions at once. "Thank you, Doctor."
"Yes, Dr. Mallard?"
"It's Ducky. Ducky - it's well past time you called me Ducky."
Jimmy once again resembled a gold fish for a moment or two. "Yes . . . Yes . . . Do - D . . ."
"Ducky," Ducky said firmly.
Jimmy swallowed hard. "Ducky," he said, and beamed.