Author's note:
I know, I know, what the hell am I doing starting a new story when Bruised & Battered isn't finished?
I can't help it, I totally got side-tracked by last week's episode!
I promise I'll go back to B&B now! Well, soon, anyway... :)

The Art of Denial,
Chapter
One

"We're home," her partner said as he pulled up to her building and killed the engine. Annie started to point out the fact that this was her home, not his - his home was a few miles away, and came complete with a most-probably-fiancée by now - but the words died on her lips before she could get them out. Bringing up the ring would only lead to a conversation she wasn't in any shape to handle right now.

Hearing Nathalie say she was about to propose had shaken her pretty badly. The conversation - and the realization that her partner might actually say yes - had forced her to take a hard look at her life, and at Jimmy's role in it. Her captivity affording her plenty of time alone with her thoughts, she'd eventually had to face the fact that she harbored some not-so-platonic feelings for him.

She knew they needed to talk, but it just wasn't going happen tonight. She was a mess - both physically and emotionally - and she wasn't about to have a conversation that could potentially change both their lives until she'd had some rest.

Sighing, she unbuckled her seat belt, fishing in her right pocket for the house keys she always kept there.

"They were still in the ignition when you were... taken..." Jimmy said as he materialized to her right, familiar keychain in hand. "The only prints on them were your own, so I pulled a few strings to get them back."

"Thanks," she replied as she took the proffered keys from him. She knew the gesture wasn't really about the keys themselves; Jimmy had a spare key to her place, just like she had one to his. No, what really mattered was the keychain they dangled from, a patch of worn brown leather adorned by a tarnished silver Texas star, a gift from her father on her tenth birthday.

"Come on," her partner gently said as he helped her out of the truck, "let's get you to bed."

She didn't miss the touch of his hand on her lower back as he guided her up the stairs, or the way his fingers lingered as he took the keys from her to unlock the front door. The six-hour drive back to Houston had been filled with moments like this, fleeting touches and stolen glances, all serving to further reinforce the fact that they needed to talk.

She'd actually hoped to use their time on the road to do just that. For one thing, she needed to find out exactly what he'd done to secure her safe return. Judging from the arctic chill between Luke and her partner, and the way Daisy and Marco had kept stealing glances at the two of them, she figured it had to be pretty bad.

And then there was the not-so-insignificant matter of the marriage proposal, the even-more-not-so-insignificant matter of Jimmy's answer, not to mention the definitely-not-so-insignificant matter of her own feelings for him.

The rational part of her knew he'd probably said yes - she couldn't think of any reason why he'd say no, really - but she couldn't quite bring herself to believe it. Yes, he'd been with Nathalie longer than with anyone else before, but that didn't necessarily mean he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, did it?

Besides, he wasn't wearing the ring...

Unfortunately, any hopes she'd had of having an extended heart-to-heart with her partner were dashed when Tim insisted on riding home with Annie, and no amount of bribing by Daisy and Marco could convince him otherwise. She's hoped he'd at least fall asleep at some point, affording them some degree of privacy, but no such luck. The boy had stayed wide awake the whole time, listening to every word they said, forcing them to stick to safe - and impersonal - topics.

By the time they'd delivered him to his waiting mother back in the city, Annie was exhausted, and wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and forget the last couple of days had ever happened.

"I took Fifty-Nine to that place you usually board him at," her partner said just as she was about to call out to the dog. "I wasn't sure how long you'd be gone," he explained, tossing the keys onto the kitchen counter, "and since I didn't know if I'd be around to take care of him, I thought it would be better this way."

"Thanks," she mumbled. Not that she wasn't grateful, but she'd kind of been looking forward to cuddling with her dog - puppy therapy, you might call it - and now she felt strangely bereft. "I'm just gonna go to bed," she said tiredly as she made her way into her bedroom. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah, right," he scoffed as he locked the door behind him, sliding the deadbolt home. "I'm not going anywhere."

"Fine," she shot back as she rummaged through her drawers, pulling out sleep shorts and a t-shirt. If he wanted to spend the night on her couch, she wasn't going to stop him, though he'd probably regret it come morning.

She made quick work of changing into her night clothes, then crawled under the covers with a sigh of contentment. She was just about to doze off when she felt the bed shift under the weight of her partner climbing in behind her.

"What are you doing?" she asked as she turned around to face him.

"Nothing," he replied as he pulled her close, tucking her head under his chin. "Just go to sleep."

She knew she should protest, should send him marching out to the couch in the living room, but she just couldn't muster up the energy. Besides, if she was honest with herself, she had to admit that she wanted him to stay right where he was.

Tomorrow they'd talk, and things would probably get... difficult... and certainly awkward... but for now... For now she could pretend that she hadn't waited too long, that there was still a chance for them...

Just for one more night, she could pretend that he was still her Jimmy...