Needless to say, I don't own Annie, Jimmy, or anything else Chase-related. I'm just borrowing them for a while, and promise to return them in mint condition when I'm done. Well, mostly mint-condition, anyway... :)

Bruised & Battered,
Chapter 1

Annie Frost had a secret.

The woman who had taken down more hardened criminals in her ten-year career as a U.S. Marshal than the average big-city cop would in his lifetime was a closet romance novel addict.

It wasn't that she believed the fairytale-like stories; she knew from bitter experience that even if you did find your prince charming, it didn't mean you got to live happily ever-after. Life just didn't work that way.

Nonetheless, after spending her days dealing with the worse that society had to offer, she found the simplistic stories and happy endings - as unrealistic as though they may be - to be oddly therapeutic. For just a little while, she could immerse herself in worlds where nothing really bad ever happened, where arguments never degenerated into violence, where love did conquer all...

Considering the day she's just had, she certainly deserved an hour soaking in the tub with a glass of white wine and her latest acquisition. Turning on the faucet, she checked that the water was as hot as it was going to get, then poured some eucalyptus oil into the tub, sighing blissfully as she inhaled the relaxing vapors.

While the tub filled with water, she made a quick trip to the kitchen, pouring herself a generous glass of wine from the open bottle in the fridge, then grabbed a book hidden under a pile of dishcloths. While this might seem an odd place to keep reading material, she knew it was the one place her team mates would never go near - god forbid they should do dishes! - so it was as safe as it got. She knew she'd never live it down if they ever found out her predilection for bodice rippers.

Jimmy knew her secret, of course.

Then again, Jimmy knew pretty much everything about her, secrets and all...

She made her way back to the bathroom, depositing both the wine and the book next to the tub before quickly shedding her clothes and throwing them into the laundry hamper.

Deciding the water level was high enough, she turned off the faucet and stepped into the tub, slowly lowering herself into the piping hot water until she was completely submerged, save for her head.

"This," she said to Fifty-Nine, who'd come to investigate the splashing sounds, "is life." The dog, seemingly indifferent to his mistress' epiphany, turned around and padded out of the bathroom, presumably in search of something more interesting to do than stare at her sitting in the tub.

She'd just cracked open her new book - entitled "Love Unchained," of all things - when there was a loud knock on the front door. She briefly considered ignoring her uninvited guest, knowing that someone would have called her if it was a work-related emergency, but she just couldn't do it in the end. Whoever was there might need her help, and she couldn't just ignore that.

God help whoever was on the other side of the door if it turned out to be a salesman or someone looking to save her soul, however...

"Coming!" she yelled out as she got out of the tub, grabbing her terrycloth robe from the hook behind the door and hastily pulling it on. She winced as she caught her reflection in the mirror, acknowledging that the finger-shaped bruises around her neck had gotten even nastier-looking in the thirty minutes since she'd gotten home. She'd definitely made the right choice in skipping drinks with the team; if there was even the slightest chance of keeping Jimmy in the dark about this, she was going to take it...

She made her way towards the front door, cinching the robe tightly around herself, making sure to cover the neck area as much as possible. She wasn't really in the mood to explain the finger marks to whoever was now banging non-stop on the door.

"Hold your horses!" she shouted out as she undid the deadbolt and yanked the door open, finding herself faced with a very pissed-off looking Jimmy.

Oh crap...

"Jimmy?" she asked, trying to sound normal but not quite succeeding. "What are you doing here?"

"Show me," he said as he walked past her into the apartment.

"Show you what?" she asked as she shut the door and turned to face him, knowing she was only delaying the inevitable, but not willing to give in without a fight. Why the hell couldn't Luke have kept his mouth shut?

"Don't play dumb," he replied through clenched teeth. "It really doesn't suit you."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Show me," he repeated, not fooled for even a second.

"No," she said stubbornly.

"No?" she repeated, eyes narrowing.

"It's none of your business."

"You're my business," he reminded her, taking a step towards her.

"Not anymore, I'm not," she snapped back. "Go home, Jimmy. Go home to your girlfriend; go home to Nathalie."

She regretted her words as soon as she said them. The problem with knowing someone as well as she knew Jimmy was that you knew exactly which button to push to cause the most damage. While he wasn't able to suppress his reaction at the mention of his girlfriend's name - guilt and pain, all nicely bundled together, thank you very much - he still stood his ground. "I'm not going anywhere until you show me."

"I'm fine," she told him. "Besides, I've been through worse."

"I'll be the judge of that, if you don't mind."

"I do mind, actually," she replied, unconsciously pulling the robe tighter around her neck.

"Don't think I'm above ripping that robe right off you either," he warned her. "You really should know better."

She quickly squashed down the oh-so-very-not-the time, not-the-place thoughts his words brought to mind. That was definitely not a road they could go down on, especially not tonight.

Not after she'd seen how he looked at Nathalie in the hospital parking lot...

"So?" he asked, thankfully stopping her from going any further with that particular train of thought. "Should I just pick the self-service option?"

"Fine," she sighed, releasing her grip on the collar and letting the robe fall away from her neck. "Have it your way..."