The old car’s engine shuddered and died, and Daniel coasted out of traffic and into the parking lot. There were empty spaces close to the street, so he got out and pushed the heavy vehicle into one of them. Lifting the hood was useless but he did it anyway, peering down into the black depths of the motor, wondering what the hell was wrong with it this time.
Heat beat at him mercilessly, the July day cloudless and still, not a breath of breeze. In seconds his shirt was plastered against his skin with sweat, which rolled down his face and into his eyes. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bandana, removing his glasses long enough to wipe his face with it, then tying it over his head to keep his eyes clear. With a glance upward at the vault of hot azure sky, he knew the heat was only going to get worse.
Hell of a day to be sitting outside in the sun watching people throw a ball around and try to hit it with a stick, Daniel thought.
He sighed. Checking his watch, he saw that it was well past noon and knew Jack would be furious with him. They had been scheduled to go to a baseball game an hour ago, something fun for a change, and even though Daniel couldn’t care less about sports, the date was about the team spending time together. Sam and Teal’c were most likely already at Jack’s house, and O’Neill would be tapping his foot, waiting impatiently to leave for the ball park.
Colorado Springs didn’t have a team, so they were planning to drive to Denver in Sam’s car. Now, with Daniel’s alarm clock having passed quietly away sometime in the night followed by the apparent death of his car, it seemed they were either going to be very late or miss the game completely... and as usual, it was his fault.
Reaching into his pants pocket, he pulled out his cell phone and flipped it open to call Jack.
The batteries in the phone were also dead.
“Three strikes, and you’re out,” he said aloud. “Well, shit.” He raised his eyes from the engine and looked around at his surroundings, scouting for a pay phone somewhere.
Realizing he was standing in the parking lot for Memorial Hospital, he knew there would be banks of pay phones inside that he could use. Dropping the hood on the car, he headed for the ER entrance, smiling at the cop standing guard there, and breezed past him. Daniel glanced about the spacious waiting room half filled with people. It took his eyes a moment to adjust from the bright sunlight, but the air-conditioned cool was a relief. He might just wait for his ride inside the hospital, rather than outside in the sweltering heat… unless the team was already headed for the game or needed to get on the road. Then he’d have to call a tow truck and find a way to get home on his own.
No phones were in sight, except for the ones on staff desks. He went back outside to the policeman on watch, assigned to help out with emergencies and keep people from parking in the ambulance bay. “Excuse me, officer, could you tell me where to find the pay phones?” he asked politely.
The cop pointed through a set of double doors just past the administration desks. “Right through there, sir.”
“Thanks.” Daniel went through and searched in his pockets for change. There were neatly folded bills enough, but very little coinage. Shaking his head, he wished he’d just stayed in bed. The day was turning into a disaster and it had barely started.
He went up to one of the admission desks and was able to cajole one of the customer service reps into changing a dollar for him, then returned to the phones to call Jack.
“Where the hell are you?” came the impatient reply.
“Um, I’m stuck, Jack. You guys just go on without me.”
“Whaddya mean, you’re stuck? Where are you?”
“My car died.” He rushed to explain. “Look, I know you told me I needed to put it in the shop, but I thought I could make it another week and you were right. I need a new car and was hoping you’d go with me to look for one later on. I’ll… I’ll be fine. I’ll call a tow truck and—“
“You will not,” Jack snapped. “Just tell me where the hell you are and we’ll come get you.”
“You’ll miss the game,” Daniel reminded him.
“Then we miss the game,” said Jack flatly. “There will be other ball games, Danny-boy. If you’re stuck, we come get you. Nobody gets left behind, even when it isn’t work-related. Where are you?”
Daniel told him and promised to be waiting by the car, thinking that would be the best place to be so Jack wouldn’t have to hunt for him. Best not to try the Colonel’s patience any more than he already did on a daily basis in the field. Daniel hung up the phone and started for the exit.
An announcement over the PA system stopped him.
“Will anyone who can speak Spanish please come to the Admissions desk?”
Colorado Springs didn’t have a huge Hispanic community, so not a lot of people were bilingual. Fortunately, Daniel could speak the language fluently. He presented himself at the desk.
“I speak Spanish,” he told the woman.
“Oh, thank God!” she blurted. “Come with me.”
He followed her around the desk and went through another set of double doors into a corridor from which branched off dozens of small exam rooms. From one of the rooms he heard a commotion and knew exactly where he was needed. He rushed inside and saw a young Hispanic couple, the mother clutching a barely conscious baby girl, who looked to be about three years old. A doctor and nurse stood by, trying to get information, and the father was yelling at them and gesticulating at his daughter.
Daniel caught the nurse by the arm. “I speak Spanish,” he told her. “Let me help.” He turned to the couple and inquired what had happened to their baby. The child was pretty and petite, her face pale with a faint sheen of perspiration at her hairline, sticking a few dark curls to her forehead. Her eyes were closed and a thick fan of black lashes fluttered open as he watched. Big, dark eyes looked up at him, and he couldn’t help smiling at her.
<”Maria was playing in the yard,”> the mother said quickly, tears streaming down her face. <”She stopped playing and then she fell down. I ran to her, but she wouldn’t wake up, so we came here.”>
<”They want to take Maria away from us,”> the father said. <”Help us, señor, please!”>
Daniel nodded, patting each of the adults on the arm comfortingly. <”I will help you, I promise. No one will take Maria away, but the doctor needs to examine her. I’ll stay right here so everyone understands, okay? My name is Daniel.”>
“Sí, Daniel,” the father said with a rush of relief. He grasped Daniel’s hand and squeezed. “Muchas gracias.”
Daniel interpreted all through the examination, watching as the baby seemed to rouse a little more. She was growing more alert but still very pale and shaking, clutching at her mother. He could see this was a terrifying experience for the whole family, and his heart went out to them. Blood was drawn, blood pressure and temperature taken, yet every movement by the medical staff seemed to make both parents and child flinch. They were jumpy and scared, and after the doctor and nurse left to wait for the test results, Daniel tried to calm the family down with some casual conversation.
He asked them where they were from and how long they’d been in the Springs, what kind of work they did. Daniel couldn’t tell them about his job, but he did talk about his profession and some of the digs he’d been on in Central America. They seemed heartened by the fact that he’d been to Mexico many times and spoke the language so well.
Finally, the doctor returned with a diagnosis. A nurse with him came bearing a Popsicle for the child, who looked first to her mother, still obviously skeptical about these strangers.
<”It’s heat exhaustion,”> Daniel told the worried parents. <”The doctors must give your baby fluids, into her veins. They will not hurt her, but it will look a little scary. Is this okay with you, for them to help her like this?”>
Mother and father exchanged a hesitant glance. They nodded and handed their baby over, not to the waiting nurse, but to him. For a moment, Daniel just looked down into the little girl’s lovely brown eyes. He thought of Sha’re, and smiled, gathering her close. “Hola, Maria.”
The child just stared at him, her uncertain gaze shifting between this stranger and her parents.
He sat down on a chair and looked up at the nurse. “Um, I know this is gonna sound a little strange, but could you put an IV in me first, so they can see what’s going to happen? I think it’ll be less frightening for the whole family if you demonstrate before you actually do the procedure.”
The nurse glanced at the doctor.
“Look, I know it’s not medically necessary and I’ll be happy to pay for the kit. They’re just scared out of their wits and need to know what’s going on here. Please?” He glanced at the toddler, cowering now against his chest, and wrapped his arms around her protectively. “She might need a little coaxing with the Popsicle, too. If I have one, too, she might take it. I know we really need to get some fluids in her quickly.”
Shifting from foot to foot nervously, the doctor considered. “We’ll need a written waiver, sir. Even though it’s your idea, we need to make sure we won’t get sued.”
“Oh, of course, anything you need.” Daniel reached out to take the second Popsicle the nurse had just brought in and showed it to the baby. <”Look what I’ve got,”> Daniel teased. <”It’s a Popsicle. Mine is cherry. Mmmmmm.”> He made a delighted face, taking a bite from the side of the frozen confection, and waved it right in front of the toddler’s eyes. Daniel licked his lips and the baby cautiously took a tiny nibble.
Her eyes got even bigger and she reached eagerly for the grape flavored treat the nurse offered to her. The parents were smiling now, looking less worried but still a little on edge.
“Have you done this sort of thing before?” the doctor asked him.
“Not exactly. I mean, I translate stuff on a daily basis, but…” He shrugged. “It was just coincidence that I was here today. My car died and my friends…” He frowned, realizing how much time must have passed while they were waiting. “…are probably waiting out front. Could someone check and see? Ask for Colonel Jack O’Neill. Could he come back here so I can explain?” Daniel sighed. “He’s gonna be so pissed off at me for not waiting outside, and I want him to know I’m doing something important here, not just goofing off.”
“What’s your name, sir?” the nurse asked with a warm smile.
“Daniel. Daniel Jackson.” He held out his hand and introductions were made all around.
She glanced up at the family. “Is it all right with the Sanchez family for your friend to be back here? We have to respect patient confidentiality, you know.”
Daniel asked. The family agreed in a heartbeat. The nurse left to check the waiting room and bring the waiver while Daniel conversed quietly with the parents, Jorje and Lareina Sanchez. He found out they had just moved to the Springs from California, and didn’t realize the difference in climate. He told them ways to help adjust to the alpine desert, making sure that they drank plenty of fluids to combat the summer heat.
In a few moments the nurse handed a clipboard to Daniel, who signed the paper without bothering to read it. He grinned and thanked her, then started to tell the family what the nurse was going to do. He rolled up his right sleeve and presented his arm, and the nurse proceeded to slip an IV needle into his vein.
Daniel couldn’t help wincing. <”It just hurts for a second,”> he promised the Sanchez family. Looking at the little girl, he asked, <”Can you be brave? See, it doesn’t hurt now.”>
The toddler frowned.
<”I’ll give you some more of my Popsicle,”> Daniel offered. <”It’s really good.”> He teased the child, getting her to nip at the cherry-flavored ice until she finally got a bite. He laughed and looked up at her parents, ignoring the nurse working on the child’s arm while he distracted her with the Popsicle and silly chatter with the family.
In moments, the nurse was finished and the IV was in place.
The whole family was smiling as Maria looked down at her arm in wonder, the tube taped against her skin, leading up to a bag of clear fluids. She went back to the Popsicle again, ignoring the IV.
<”There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”> Daniel asked Maria, offering another bite of his treat. He took a bite, too.
“Thanks, Daniel,” the nurse said gratefully. “I don’t think we could have done this without you. The parents were pretty scared.”
“Glad I could help,” Daniel told her honestly. He took a bite of his Popsicle and smiled down at the child, giving her a little squeeze.
Jack looked out over the parking lot, but Daniel was nowhere in sight, nor was he in his derelict car.
“Maybe he went inside,” Carter suggested. “It’s pretty hot out here with all this concrete.”
The trio headed for the ER entrance. Jack stopped to chat with the cop at the door, giving Daniel’s description and asking if the policeman had seen him. Moments later, a nurse stepped into the waiting room and called his name.
Jack went up to her and identified himself, producing his ID for her inspection. She asked him to come with her and explained briefly as they headed into the examination room. What he saw as he stood in the doorway shocked him for an instant.
Daniel sat on a chair with a toddler on his lap, both of them strung up with IV’s and munching on Popsicles.
“Uh, Daniel? You okay?” he asked hesitantly.
Startled blue eyes shifted to his. “Oh, yeah. I’m fine, just helping out here.” He glanced at the family and explained why he had an IV in him. <”My friend is wondering if I’m hurt,”> he said with a smile. <”My car died and I called him to pick me up. When I wasn’t in the parking lot, he must have been worried.”>
Jorje Sanchez face fell. <“Oh, no, Daniel has been helping us,”> he said in Spanish, hopeful that the newcomer also spoke the language.
Daniel cleared his throat nervously. He translated for Jack and told Jorje that Jack didn’t understand Spanish. Mr. Sanchez stepped close to Daniel and patted him on the back, looking up proudly at Jack.
O’Neill smiled slightly and told the couple – in pretty good Spanish – that his friend helped people like this all the time, and he hadn’t been surprised to find him doing something nice.
“Okay, I’m impressed,” Daniel told his friend. “Yet another hidden talent.”
Jack grinned. “I love it when people underestimate me.”
Daniel looked down at the child in his lap and rocked her a little. He glanced up at Jack. “I think I should stay till they discharge the baby, in case they need me again. Okay? I’m sorry about being late and screwing everything up for everybody. Again.” He shrugged. “Stuff happens.”
Jack chuckled and patted him on the shoulder. “No problem, Daniel. I’ll go wait in the lobby with Carter and T.”
He wandered back out with his other teammates and took a seat between them.
“Is DanielJackson unwell, O’Neill?” asked the Jaffa, his golden forehead tattoo covered with a Chicago Cubs baseball cap.
“Oh, he’s fine,” Jack told them. He couldn’t wipe the ghost of a smile off his face. “Know what I saw back there? Daniel’s in one of the treatment rooms, translating for a Mexican couple who brought their baby in.”
With a sigh and a shake of his head, he thought about what he’d witnessed in that room, a touch of awe in his voice. “He’s sitting back there hooked up to an IV just like the kid, eating Popsicles with her, so he could show her it was okay. Didn’t want the family to be scared. Just like when he does that, ‘Hi, I’m Daniel Jackson and we’re peaceful explorers,’ thing, everybody’s lookin’ at him to fix things and he’s doin’ it, just like he always does.”
The trio fell silent for a while, soft smiles on each of their faces as they thought about their missing teammate.
“It seems that DanielJackson is needed wherever he goes,” the alien observed fondly.
Jack nodded. “Action hero in the field and accidental hero here at home. Only Daniel...” He shook his head, still smiling.
“Do you think he remembers today’s his birthday?” asked Carter with a grin.
“Probably not,” answered Jack, “but we didn’t forget, and that’s what counts.”
“We’re lucky people, to have him in our lives,” mused the Major fondly. “There’s nobody quite like him.”
Jack O’Neill just nodded. “He’s gonna be so shocked to find out we weren’t really goin’ to a baseball game. Won’t get it till we hit the museum parking lot that it was just a ploy.”
“He’s so clueless!” agreed Carter with a chuckle.
“Especially for one so wise,” observed Teal’c.
“Then dinner and presents.” Jack glanced at the doorway just as Daniel emerged, poking at the Band-Aid on his arm covering the IV puncture. He stopped by the admissions desk to give his name, address and insurance information, trying once again to pay for the equipment used on him, though the hospital declined his offer.
“Does he even know he’s the Man of the Hour wherever he goes?” Carter asked, a big, happy grin on her face, admiration in her eyes as she watched him come toward them, his expression both sheepish and pleased.
“Not a clue,” Jack assured her. “He never gets that, you know? Saved our asses more times that I can count and never gives it a second thought. Good guy to have around.”
“Should we tell him?” Carter rose from her chair.
“Nah. He’s just fine the way he is.” Jack settled his ball cap on his head and started for the door with Teal’c right behind him. Carter waited for Daniel to catch up and walked out with him. The pair exchanged smiles, eyes twinkling. They stepped out into the heat, hitting the wall of sunshine and stifling air without a breath of breeze.
“Happy birthday, Daniel,” Sam said softly, linking arms with him.
“I almost forgot about that,” he admitted. “Thanks. I guess we’re off to the game now, huh?”
Jack turned to glance at them over his shoulder, offering a wicked little smile. “Oh, yeah. Baseball, hot dogs and beer. Lotsa beer. We are so gonna fry out there, kids... but first, we tow this heap o’ junk back to your apartment.” He nodded toward Daniel’s derelict car. They all gathered around the ancient vehicle and looked down at it, as if their attention might jump-start it back to life.
“That was nice, what you did back there for those folks.” He turned on his heel and headed for the front of the car, ready to push it out of the parking space so they could connect the two cars with the tow cable Carter kept in her trunk.
Pride glimmered in Sam’s eyes as she nodded in agreement, smiling broadly. She patted Daniel on the shoulder and headed for her car, pulling her keys out of her jeans pocket as she walked.
“Indeed.” Teal’c gave him a slight nod of respect, and turned to join Jack at the front of the car.
Daniel smiled to himself, no longer seeing the broken vehicle or thinking about the other disasters of the day. “Thanks, guys,” he murmured aloud, though none of them could hear him. “That’s the best birthday present of all. Maybe today’s not gonna suck after all.”