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Not Just For Hallmark Specials Anymore

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Outside the café windows, snow’s coming down in huge heavy flakes that melt when they hit the ground. The streets are mush – icy, sloppy mush that’ll turn dangerously slick if the temp drops even a half a degree more. Danneel doesn’t want to think about what driving would be like right now, and takes a moment from chopping tomatoes to appreciate that she doesn’t have to.

The breakfast crowd has trickled out, and the lunch crowd hasn’t yet trickled in. Given the weather, Danneel isn’t anticipating much of a lunch rush. At the moment her only customer is Mr. Budziszewski, who’s sipping his third cup of coffee and ruminating moodily over his sudoku puzzle. He’ll want at least one more refill, plus a Danish if he’s feeling extravagant, before he makes his way slowly back down the sidewalk to Silverwood Luxury Living, one block over.

The bell over the door rings, and Danneel calls out, “Be right there.”

“Okay.” The voice is male, a little hoarse. Danneel doesn’t recognize it – not one of the regulars, then. This doesn’t really seem like the kind of day for trying out new cuisine.

Danneel washes tomato juice off her hands and comes around to the front. The guys looks about like she expects someone to look, coming in on a day like today: damp, bedraggled, and wrapped up tight. She can’t make out much of him under the hat and scarf. “What can I do for you?”

“Um.” Now that she’s closer, his voice sounds worse. Nasty cold, she thinks. “I, um. I’m from out of town. My car broke down, I think. Out front.” He points a thumb behind him. “It’s okay, I have Triple A, but my cell battery’s dead. Could I use your phone?” The caution in his voice sounds like more than mere politeness; it sounds like her answer is actually in doubt.

“Yeah, sure, of course.” She waves him down to the other end of the counter and hands him the cordless phone. When he reaches for it, she catches a glimpse of the silver cuff on his wrist. Omega. Huh. She wonders where his alpha is, and then chides herself. Supposedly she learned better than that at college, but the thought is habitual, ingrained.

Just for that, she makes a point of trying not to eavesdrop. The café isn’t large, though. She hears his sharp, disbelieving, “How long?” and the hard sigh that follows. When he hangs up, she comes over to take the phone from him and put it back on the hook.

“Bad news?”

“Tow trucks are all out. Weather, I guess.”

“It’s pretty gross,” she agrees. “Lots of people sliding off the road.”

“Right.”

“You getting it towed to Williams’?” He starts, and then his eyes narrow in suspicion. Danneel shrugs. “It’s the closest place. Steven’s a friend.”

He seems to relax a little. Uptight, this one. “Yeah. That’s the place.”

“So in the meantime, you should sit and eat soup.”

His eyes crinkle with a hint of humor. They’re nice eyes, Danneel thinks. “I should?”

“The first batch of tomato won’t be out for an hour, but the minestrone’s nearly ready.”

“Awesome,” he says, like he almost means it.

So she sits him down in a booth and brings him a bowl of minestrone – he might have said he just wanted a cup, and she might have misheard him – and then watches with some satisfaction as he unwraps a bunch of his outer layers and sips on his soup. He’d be kind of hot, she thinks, if he didn’t look so tired.

Then she loses track of him, because enough people brave the weather to keep the café hopping. Marta, the usual lunch help, comes in half an hour late, flushed and apologetic, and Danneel tries not to roll her eyes and sets her to work.

When there’s finally a lull, though, Danneel looks for him, and there he is, still. His bowl’s empty and set to the side. He’s slumped against the back of the booth, and he’s so still she wonders if he’s asleep.

Danneel has a tiny internal voice, prone to swearing, that knows her really, really well. Very quietly, it says, Damn it.

--

Danneel leaves the lunch mess to Marta – serves her right – and takes two mugs of coffee out to the booth where her stranded omega stranger is still sitting. She slides into the opposite seat and sets one of the mugs in front of him. At his questioning look, she says, “On the house.” He starts to say something, and she talks over him. “I called Steven,” she says. When the guy looks unenlightened, she adds, “From the auto shop. He says he’s still got at least an hour before any of the trucks can get to you.”

The guy snorts. There’s no humor in it. “Figures.”

“And I’m closing up here soon.” At two o’clock, technically, in twenty minutes, although Danneel doesn’t start actively kicking people out before half-past two. This guy’s the only one left, though.

“Right.” He nods. “I’ll just, um. I’ll go find something that’s still open, and, uh, hang out.”

And, okay. Danneel runs a café in a town small enough that she knows two-thirds of her customers by name. She went away to the big city for college; she has enough perspective to know that Hilldale is old-fashioned bordering on quaint, and that what works here doesn’t work everywhere.

But she is here, and there’s this guy in front of her who’s working on at least a seven-day cold, with a defeat in the slump of his shoulders that she thinks might be a lot older than a week.

The fact that he’s omega doesn’t hurt, either. He doesn’t feel in any way a threat, not like an alpha might. She doesn’t like it, buying into the sexist stereotypes, but instinct runs on stereotypes, and instinct says she needs to do something here.

“I have the apartment over the café,” she says. He looks at her, blank, clearly not understanding where she’s going nor able to work up the energy to care. “I’ll ring Steven, tell him to give me a call when it looks like the tow truck’s coming. And you can come upstairs and, I don’t know, nap on my couch? Take a shower?”

“A shower?”

She shrugs. “It might be good for your sinuses.”

“You don’t know me,” he says.

She lifts an eyebrow. “You don’t know me, either.”

And if he said no thank you, he’d manage, then she’d believe him. Guy’s an adult; he’d figure it out. She’d send him to Traci’s coffee joint down the street, and Traci’d send him along to a hotel if he ended up needing one, and that would be that.

It’s when he drops his gaze and nods that her heart starts to break for him a little. Never let it be said that Danneel Harris isn’t a sap.

--

As they climb the stairs, Danneel calls back, “I’m Danneel, by the way.”

There’s no answer. When she gets to her apartment door, she turns around, lifts an eyebrow, and waits. Omega or not, she’s not sure she’s cool with letting a guy into her apartment if he won’t even give her a name.

He stares back for a little bit, and finally he offers, “Jensen.”

Or, he could make one up on the spot. Which it kinda sounds like he did. “First or last name?”

“First.” There’s another pause, shorter this time. “Jensen Ackles.” He looks defiantly up at her, like he’s daring her to believe him. Or maybe to go turn him in.

Danneel manages a grin. “Nice to meet you.”

“Uh, yeah.” His eyes drop. “Thanks, I guess. For having me up.”

“No problem.” Danneel turns her back and unlocks her door. Her instinct about him hasn’t changed; if it does later, there’s always Google.

Once inside, she offers him more coffee, which he turns down; her guest bed, which he wavers on; and a shower, which he accepts. “You get so grimy on the road, you know?” He offers the words like an apology, but Danneel’s pretty sure it’s the first thing he’s volunteered since he first walked into the cafe this morning.

She wishes she’d thought to follow him out to his car when he got his suitcase, so she could see where his license plates were from.

Twenty minutes later, Jensen is back out of the shower. He walks into the kitchen, and Danneel’s train of thought stutters to a halt. He looks younger than before; she’d figured him for mid thirties, but now, refreshed and clean-shaven, he’s clearly no older than she is – late twenties at most. More to the point, he’s very pretty, even in a faded old hoodie two sizes too big. He’s a pretty, pretty man.

Ideally, Danneel will get him out of her apartment before she does anything inappropriate, like try to mack on him, the guy she meant to help. The omega guy, she reminds herself, which helps some. Omegas don’t have much use for betas, at least in the sexual sense. She tries to work up some enthusiasm for that fact and then pushes the whole topic aside.

“Steven called,” she says. “He says he thinks there’ll be a tow for you by four o’clock, but that there’s no way he’ll be able to do anything useful on your car until tomorrow.”

She watches as all that new energy Jensen got from his shower just drains out of him. “Damn it,” he says softly.

“You could call around, try some of the other auto shops, but this late in the day, I doubt they’ll be able to get you in any faster.”

“Yeah. Figures.”

“So you have a couple of options now,” she says. “I can drop you off at a hotel after your car gets towed.”

He’s already nodding.

“Or you can stay here.” She can see his protest already forming on his lips. “I have a spare bed just waiting for weary travelers like yourself. I have wi-fi and cold medicine and leftover tomato soup – or more minestrone, if you’d rather have that.”

“It’s okay,” he says, shaking his head. “I appreciate it, but a hotel sounds fine.”

No lie, she’s a little disappointed, but it’s his prerogative not to pander to her care-and-feeding fantasies. “Sure. In the meantime, you want something else to eat? A nap? You’ve got an hour or more. I can wake you when they get here.”

“I...” He’s going to turn her down, and that’s fair. There’s something weirdly intimate about the idea of it, giving a stranger her bed, even if it’s her spare one. Finally Jensen nods, though. “A nap would be awesome, actually.”

--

Jensen looks a lot better when she knocks on his door to wake him. Soon he’s got his bag all packed again, and she promises to drop him off at the hotel of his choice after he finishes overseeing the towing.

He looks less perky when she picks him up from Steven’s an hour later. He opts for the Super 8 just three blocks over, two up from Steven’s place, which is convenient. Well, it’s convenient right up until they turn out to be full. The weather’s stranded more people than just Jensen.

“There’s a Sheridan down a ways,” Danneel says. “Or my spare bedroom is still open.”

“I—” Jensen’s words are lost in a harsh, rasping cough. It sounds like it hurts. He’s paler than he was earlier today. He’s used up everything he gained from the nap, it looks like; he’s just used up, period. In Danneel’s entirely nonprofessional medical opinion, this is a man who needs to sleep for a week, preferably accompanied by lots of soup.

When he’s recovered enough to speak, he asks, “And you’re sure? Weird guy in your house? Just for tonight. I swear I’ll get out of your hair tomorrow.”

“Very sure.”

“Then yeah. That’d be... Thank you.”

“Cool,” Danneel says, and turns the car around.

--

Dinner is quiet. Jensen clearly doesn’t have the energy for conversation, and Danneel figures it’d be pretty crummy to lure a guy from the promise of a quiet, private, extremely impersonal motel room just to pester him with personal questions.

She tells him a little about Hilldale, because she can’t help herself; it’s too quiet otherwise. She explains about her mom dying when Danneel was fifteen, about coming to live with Bertie in Bertie’s house a few blocks over and working in the café after school most days. “It’s her café,” Danneel explains. “I think she was just keeping it going until I got back from college. Now she spends all winter knitting and all summer poking at azaleas and dahlias and things. Says she has some little little-old-ladying to catch up on.”

Is she a little old lady?” Jensen asks, sounding genuinely curious.

Danneel snorts. “She’d like you to think so. She thinks looking innocuous is good camouflage.” When Jensen just looks confused, Danneel adds, “She’s eighty-four and shorter than me, so technically yeah, I guess so.”

“Alpha?”

Danneel blinks. He’s an omega; of course he wants to know these things. Danneel always forgets. “Beta,” she says. “Like me. Which you knew, because you can smell me. And now I’m embarrassed, and I’m going to go get dessert.”

When Danneel gets back with two squares of raspberry crumble, Jensen’s got the sleeve of his hoodie pulled up just enough for him to fidget with his silver bonding cuff. It’s not like Danneel’s spent a ton of time looking at those – rings are metal enough for betas, thanks - but Gen demanded that Danneel appreciate every detail of hers and Jared’s when they first got them. The workmanship on this one looks less careful, though, and also less sturdy. Not to mention...

“Your cuff is turning your wrist green,” Danneel says.

Jensen glances down and immediately thrusts his cuff back under his sleeve. Defiantly he meets her eyes. “It’s fake,” he says. “I’m not bonded.”

“I figured.” Danneel waits. When Jensen just keeps staring at her, she adds, “In college I used to go clubbing sometimes – which I was really bad at, by the way. And a lot of the time I’d wear a ring on my ring finger, so guys wouldn’t hassle me.”

“I... yeah. That’s what it’s for. Omega on a cross-country road trip? I figured I could use the, um. The camouflage.”

Danneel nods. She has trouble imagining he’d actually get hassled much – he’s a decently big guy, broad shoulders. Then again, Jared’s made faces a couple of times when she’s made comments like that around him, and he’s built like a tree. Maybe it’s one of those alpha/omega things Danneel will never get.

“I’m going home,” Jensen says suddenly. “My alpha kicked me out, and I quit my job, and now I’m going home.”

Danneel can’t really stop to appreciate that Jensen’s just spilled his guts to her. Her brain is still stuck a few phrases back. “Your alpha kicked you out?” Distantly, she recognizes the tone in her voice. It’s the one that used to clear the café when Bertie used it.

“We weren’t serious, apparently,” Jensen says. Danneel can hear that his voice is on the edge of breaking. “And he never wanted...” Danneel waits, but Jensen doesn’t finish. Finally he shrugs. “I just, I was going to get away, carve my own life out, do something. Instead I screwed up my entire life, and now I get to go home and tell my family about it. And probably take the same job my dad offered me before I left, if he’ll let me have it.”

“Well, a job is good,” she says, trying to find the bright side. “And you have a family at home that cares about you...?” She trails off; it’s hardly a safe assumption.

Jensen nods, though. “They won’t even tell me I told you so. They’ll just think it.”

“So that’s good.”

“Yeah.” He sounds unconvinced. Danneel supposes she would be, too.

“It doesn’t sound like anything’s broken that can’t be fixed. Except your heart, maybe.” She offers him a sad little smile, trying to convey that she doesn’t mean to make light.

His expression only turns bleaker. “Yeah. It sounds like that, doesn’t it?”

There doesn’t seem to be much to say to that. Danneel hesitates, and then she leans over and rubs his arm, like she would Jared’s if he were having a really awful day and Gen wasn’t around to kiss it better.

Jensen’s next couple of breaths are shaky, and then he swallows, and he returns that sad smile she gave him earlier. “Thanks. For listening and everything. I guess everyone needs someone to tell, right?”

Why don’t you break my heart a little more, Jensen Ackles?

“No problem,” Danneel says.

--

She isn’t snooping. She’s aware she has a weakness for it, and she tries hard to rein that weakness in. She’s legitimately checking the guest bathroom to make sure her shampoo and towel supplies are holding up, and there they are, two little bottles of pills sitting next to the sink. Even then she maybe could have escaped from the bathroom still ignorant and unsnoopy, except Jared used to take exactly those two brands of pills, and Gen made it her job to take them with her every time the two of them went anywhere.

So Danneel recognizes the bottles and what they mean, and a lot of things come clear. She’s dumb, maybe, that this didn’t occur to her before. She doesn’t see what the knowledge is going to do for her, though, so she tucks it away and goes looking for fresh washcloths.

--

This time of year, there’s still a couple of hours of night left when Danneel gets up. She spends a few moments with her email and her Earl Gray. Hilldale has accustomed itself to espresso, but the delicate pleasures of loose-leaf tea are still beyond its collective grasp; for now, Danneel only drinks it outside of work, which is nice in its own way.

When she’s put on her apron and sturdy work sneakers, she pauses by the guest bedroom door. Jensen’s snore drifts faintly through it, and Danneel winces in sympathy. Then she writes him a note - Help yourself to breakfast, or you can come get something downstairs - and leaves it on the kitchen counter, tucked under an oatmeal canister. Then she goes down to start opening the café.

When the a mid-morning lull hits, Jensen has yet to make an appearance. Aaron, the kid who opens with Danneel, is still on the clock for another fifteen minutes, so Danneel takes the opportunity for a bathroom break and a peek upstairs. She opens her door to an empty apartment and wonders if Jensen gathered his things and went out the back way without ever saying good-bye. It seems unlikely, though; he doesn’t seem like the cut-and-run kind. Except for how it sounds like that’s exactly what he did when he started this trip. Not that Danneel can blame him for it.

There’s a dirty dish in the sink, however, and Jensen’s door is once again firmly shut, though she can’t hear any snoring now. His coat is still hanging on the coat hook, which seems to settle the question. Quietly, Danneel goes back downstairs to work.

When the café is closed for the day and she returns to the apartment, he’s awake, hunched on her sofa. There’s a mug of steaming something in his hands. He looks up as she opens the door; he isn’t quite so pale as yesterday. “Hey,” he croaks.

“You look better,” Danneel observes, “but you sound worse.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m going to take a shower,” Danneel decides. “I smell like beer cheese soup.”

Jensen’s still in the same spot a few minutes later, although his drink - chamomile tea, says the tag hanging over the side - is mostly gone. Danneel puts on the kettle for a cup of tea of her own and slumps down at the other end of the sofa.

“Did you hear from Steven?” she asks.

“Yeah,” Jensen says gloomily. “He had to order a part. He thinks the car might be ready tomorrow. Or Friday.”

“Ouch, that sucks.”

“Yeah.”

“So,” Danneel says, “am I taking you down to the Super 8 in a little while?”

“Uh,” Jensen says. “Yeah, definitely.” He sets his mug on the coffee table and starts to stagger to his feet, and he looks so reluctant doing it that Danneel wants to laugh at him.

Instead she catches his arm and tugs him back onto the sofa - not hard; his balance doesn’t look to be all that great just now. “You don’t have to go.”

Jensen opens his mouth to protest, and starts coughing again. Ouch. No wonder his voice sounds so bad. Eventually, though, he manages to say, “You don’t need some sick stranger huddling on your couch for the next two days.”

“Well, I don’t not need one, either. It’s not like you’re putting me out.”

“Right,” Jensen says doubtfully.

“If you think you’d be more comfortable someplace where you don’t have to, like, make conversation or see anyone, then go for it. But if you’d rather be here, where leftover soup magically appears daily and there’s plenty of tea, then stay.”

“You don’t know me,” Jensen says. The fact seems to frustrate him.

“I know you haven’t been able to catch a break lately. I just want to offer you one, if you want it.”

“Well, don’t you have all the answers.”

Danneel doesn’t dignify that with a response. She waits.

Jensen snorts. “You’re a cannibal,” he says finally. “You’re going to cut me up and put me in a stew and serve it to your customers, and no one will even know to ask what happened to Jensen Ackles.”

“It is a risk,” Danneel agrees gravely.

Jensen blows out a breath, which brings on a couple seconds more coughing. When he recovers, he says, “I guess it’s a risk I’ll take, then.”

--

Jensen spends all the next day in the apartment, too. From his comments when Danneel comes home with a soup pot of chicken and wild rice, it sounds like he spent most of it asleep, which Danneel approves of. He stays awake long enough that evening to watch an old Sandra Bullock movie with her and argue its merits - “Nobody gives her enough credit as an actress. There’s no way you’d guess she’s an omega playing against all these alpha co-stars.”

He argues quietly, though, which Danneel doesn’t think can be entirely blamed on the cough, and once he’s made a point, he’s not willing to push it. Danneel wonders how much of that reserve is native to him and how much is learned. Bit of both, maybe.

Danneel turns in at eight, as is required for getting up at the hour she does, and she doesn’t think it’s much later that she hears the door across the hall pull softly shut.

--

Danneel doesn’t really expect Jensen to ever venture down into the café. That he does the next morning around nine-thirty is in no way a disappointment. “Hi,” she says, grinning widely.

“I didn’t really want more oatmeal,” Jensen says. His voice is raspy, but much improved over yesterday. “I figured I could probably do better down here.”

“Oh, you can do much, much better here,” Danneel promises. Thinking back, that sounds a lot sexier than she meant. Drat. “What can I get you?”

“I’m not sure yet,” Jensen says.

“Hot or cold?”

“Um. Hot? And relatively healthy?”

“If you don’t mind cholesterol, then what you want is an omelette – they’re our specialty. You should order the veggie delight. It has vegetables in it,” she adds helpfully.

He laughs, and Danneel’s suddenly a little glad that he won’t be around much longer, because a girl could spend a lot of her life working on getting him to smile like that. “A veggie delight sounds great,” he says.

Outside, it’s snowing blankets again, and all but the die-hards have stayed home today. When everyone’s immediate needs are taken care of, Danneel leaves the kitchen to Aaron and sits down in Jensen’s booth.

“And?” she asks, nodding towards his rapidly disappearing omelette.

“You were right,” Jensen says.

“Of course I was.”

“It’s hot, and it has vegetables in it.”

“You jerk,” says Danneel, too startled Jensen’s teasing to even try and hold back her grin. “I’ve bestowed my hospitality on a jerk.”

Jensen grins back, looking faintly pleased with himself.

“Speaking of,” Danneel says, “your car’s almost fixed, right?”

Jensen’s pleased expression falls away. “This afternoon, I can pick it up. I thought maybe you could give me a lift?”

“No problem,” Danneel says. “As soon as we close, I’ll run you over there.” She considers his expression a little while, and then she asks, “This is good, right? You can finally go home.”

He tries to fake a smile. It doesn’t work very well. “Yeah. Vacation’s over.”

Danneel snorts. “Seriously? It’s snowed every day since you got here, and you were hacking up your lungs most of the time.”

“Good food, though,” he says, but he looks uncomfortable now, embarrassed. Crap, she’s embarrassed him.

Danneel lowers her voice. “Is it so awful, going home?”

He stares down at the half-empty coffee mug between his hands, and she thinks maybe he won’t answer. She wouldn’t blame him; Steven would tell her she’s prying again. Eventually, though, he says, “It’s nice not having to think about things for a while. There’s nothing I have to do here, no plans I have to make. I can just... sit.” He glances up at her, his expression turning wry. “Or hide, I guess.” He laughs. It’s a thin, brittle sound. “I saw that sign on your door, you know, help wanted? I’ve never worked in a café, but I did a Starbucks stint once. And I thought, I could just stay. I could brew coffee and learn how to make veggie omelettes and...” His shoulders hitch, just once. “And not have to deal.”

The first response Danneel can think of to this confession is, “Omelettes aren’t hard. You’d be surprised.”

Jensen laughs again, a little less thinly this time. “You say that. You probably have the omelette-making gift.”

“You could learn,” Danneel assures him, unsure exactly what point she’s trying to make.

Just then, the bell over the door rings, which means Danneel has to go do things. When she has time to look for Jensen again, he’s gone.

--

Danneel is distracted the rest of the work day. Marta – seriously, Marta - points out a mistake in Danneel’s figures for the next week’s dairy order.

She’s having an idea, is Danneel. This rarely bodes well. At the very least, it results in people questioning the soundness of her judgment and the validity of her life choices – not that that’s new, exactly, but it’s a little harder to deal with when she knows she’s taking a gamble.

Bertie always backs her play, though, and much as Gen rolls her eyes and makes dire pronouncements, she never, ever says I told you so. That’s some comfort.

In the end, it’s instinct. It’s what Danneel’s been running on this whole time – never mind that bullcrap about betas having no instinct, only brain – and she doesn’t see the point in stopping now.

--

As soon as Danneel’s flipped the sign to CLOSED and locked the door, she heads back upstairs. Jensen’s on the couch, eyes fixed on some daytime talk show program that she’s sure he isn’t watching. As she shuts the door behind her, he gets to his feet and starts moving in the direction of his suitcase, repacked and waiting at the end of the couch.

“Wait,” Danneel says. Jensen pauses. “Could you come sit down for a minute?”

Frowning, Jensen returns to his seat. He looks anxious, unsettled. That’s fair, because she’s pretty sure that’s how she sounds. She sits down at the other end, leaving lots of space between them. The silence drags out, because now that Danneel’s sitting here about to say this, she’s not quite sure how to start.

Finally, Jensen asks, “Is something wrong?”

“No! No, I’m sorry. I just, um.” Danneel takes a deep breath. “Look, you mentioned I’m looking for help in the café. Well, I am. I’m basically a whole person short, all the time. Aaron has school starting mid-morning, so he can’t come on full-time, and Marta...” Danneel pauses. Possibly this is not the right point in the relationship to describe the many and varied flaws with which Marta is blessed. “Marta’s not suitable.”

“Okay?” Jensen looks mystified.

“I can pay decent wages, though. I mean, relative to the cost of living here.”

Jensen blinks at her. “Are you offering me a job?”

“A job, and a place to stay, if you want it.” Danneel’s sweeping gesture takes in the whole apartment. “I mean, there are other apartments in town, but until you got something else, you could stay. Here.”

Everything in Jensen’s expression has already turned her down. “I can’t ask you to do that.”

Danneel steels herself. “You didn’t. I’m offering.”

Why?”

Danneel tries to remember that the air of pleading in his voice is as likely to be because she’s being weird and overhelpful as because his life has been just that devoid of kindness. “It’s what I do,” she explains. “I take in strays. I’ve had teenagers stay in the spare room a couple of times, when they decided they wanted to run away. Eventually they decided they’d rather go back home again, but it’s nice that they were somewhere safe in the meantime, right?”

Now she’s pleading, but she wants him to understand. For reasons she doesn’t care to examine, she’d rather he didn’t think she was some kind of creep. Besides, even if he turns her down, she wants him to know that someone genuine and non-creepy cared enough to want to help.

“So I’m the latest in a long line?” He’s smiling, but she doesn’t think he’s making fun.

“Something like that.”

“I guess I get that.” He licks his lips, and stares down at his shoes a moment before swinging his gaze back up to her. “So you’re serious.”

“Hey, I seriously need the help. You have no idea. I mean, if you’re interested, we can talk specifics - wages and hours and stuff.”

“That sounds...” He rubs the back of his neck. “That sounds kind of awesome, actually.”

Danneel tries to keep her expression from being too hopeful.

“There’s something you need to know before you make me an offer like that.” Jensen pauses. Danneel’s pretty sure she knows what he’s going to say. She lets the pause draw out; he can take all the time he needs. Finally, he drops his gaze and says, “I’m... I’m pregnant.”

“I know.” Jensen’s head snaps up. As gently as she knows how, Danneel explains, “You left your pre-natals out on the bathroom counter.”

Just like that, he wilts, right before her eyes. “You knew?” He looks some awful combination of betrayed and defeated. “Is that what this is about? Is that why you asked me?”

“I’m pretty sure I’d have made the offer either way. Except if you weren’t...” She pauses; the word seems so heavy, to lay on shoulders already so weighed down. “If you weren’t pregnant, I don’t think you’d have needed me to.”

He laughs, sharp and humorless. “Probably not. It’s why we broke up, you know? Todd never wanted kids.”

That’s a whole world of pain right there, and they don’t have the space - or in Jensen’s case, probably the heart - to deal with it just now.

“Anyway,” Danneel says, “the offer’s still open. However long you want to stay.”

“You don’t really want that. You don’t want a pregnant unbonded omega living in your apartment, working in your café.” His smile is gentle. “What would the neighbors say?”

Danneel snorts. “Whatever the heck they want. What do I care?”

Jensen looks startled, but he lets that pass for the moment, though he doesn’t look like he really believes her. “You do realize that eventually there’s going to be a baby. You’re not asking me to raise my kid in your apartment. Are you?”

“I hadn’t planned that far ahead,” Danneel admits. “But look, Jensen. I grew up here. I know half the apartment managers in town, or their kids. My friend Julie’s a midwife. If this is something you want, to make a fresh start here or just take a break from all the yuck you’ve been dealing with, we can make it happen.”

“I... I don’t really know what to say,” Jensen says. “I need to think about this, okay?”

“Sure. No pressure.”

“For now, can we go get my car?”

“Yeah. Of course we can.”

--

The short drive to Steven’s is quiet. Jensen stares out the window, caught up in his own thoughts, and Danneel leaves him to them. When they arrive, Jensen asks, “Can you hang on a few minutes?”

“Sure,” Danneel says. She’s not certain what she’s waiting for, other than a yay or nay, but she’s got nowhere in particular to be.

She watches through the window as Jensen listens to Steven, nodding occasionally. Finally he walks out the door, keys glinting in one hand. He catches Danneel’s eye, holds up a finger, and mouths, Just a minute. Then he makes a phone call on his cell. His back’s to her, so she can’t tell his expression. It’s maybe five minutes before he jabs a finger at the phone and sticks it back in his pocket. Then he strides over to her car, opens the door, and slides into the passenger seat.

“Everything okay?” Danneel asks. From the look on Jensen’s face, everything is not okay. In fact, things might be pretty darn bleak.

“Just, my dad. I guess Mom got him up to speed since I talked to him last.”

“And?”

Jensen looks down at his hands, folded in his lap. “You’re really serious.”

“I really am.”

“Then... then okay. If the offer’s still open, then I’ll take it.”

Danneel lets out a deep breath. She didn’t realize she was holding it. She reaches across the car and takes Jensen’s hand. As she curls her fingers around his, his breath gets shakier.

“It’ll be okay,” Danneel promises. “We’ll make it be okay.”