A/N: Last time I checked, I was still not a native speaker and I didn't live in an English-speaking country. Feel free to point out any mistake I may have made.

A huge thank you goes to Chezchuckles whose inspirational writing and kind words a few weeks back encouraged me to write and post this.

Disclaimer : Anything you recognize is not mine.

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

Dr. Seuss

From the Best

She didn't see the knife as much as she guessed its presence, but for someone as trained as she was in the ways of the street, the gleam of the sun on a metallic surface was a tell-tale sign of possible danger that she could not overlook. She stepped backwards and adopted the defensive stance she favored at the start of a fight.

Sure enough, the thug drew the knife out from behind his back and lurched himself at her in a drunken fashion. The sun caught the blade again as he threatened her with it and she was blinded for a second. It temporarily gave him the upper hand and he advanced on her again, certain of his strength, his power and his delusional immortality. He had that mad glint in his eyes that spoke of alcohol and illegal substance. He was desperate for a fix, she knew, and the chance was he wouldn't elaborate much on the subject of murder, weighing pros and cons in a mental philosophical essay, before actually committing it. His skilled eyes had seen her gold chain earlier and had followed its line greedily down to where it disappeared within the hollow of her neckline, under her V-neck.

She should have run when she had the opportunity but she refused to be bullied. Some called her headstrong. She preferred strong willed. He had grabbed his weapon, all action, no brain.

He was a slasher, not a stabber, which she was more comfortable with. Stabbers were faster and more opportunistic somehow, while slashers liked to play with their food before going for the kill, they enjoyed seeing the fear in their victims' eyes and the taste of their abject terror at the first contact of blade against flesh. As he kept rounding on her, she eluded the knife easily enough, assessing his moves and learning how clearly he telegraphed every single one of them to the observant eye.

She didn't attack immediately and was just content to avoid being sliced open for a while, letting him wallow in the illusion of superiority and wanting to tire him out before taking him down. If the sweat running down his face and dampening his grisly shirt was any indication, her strategy was working. Breathe. Assess. Act. The words of her once personal combat trainer turned friend repeated themselves in her head like a mantra.

Suddenly, the sun licked at the blade again, but they had literally been dancing around each other for a while now and this time round, it targeted his eyes and blinded him. It caught him off guard and he lost just enough focus and balance to give her the opening she was waiting for.

She shifted her body weight onto her right leg while lifting the knee of her back leg up and twisting to the right about ninety degrees with the ball of her foot. Her opponent never saw it coming. It didn't take her more than a split second to snap out her leg and hit him with her ankle right into his solar plexus, bring back her kicking leg and resume a defensive position.

She took in the man lying out cold in the curb ‒ Caucasian. Thirty something. Difficult to say ‒ and pushed the knife away from his supine body with her foot. Then she knelt down next to him and checked his pulse. Still beating. She heaved a sigh of relief. The blow she had dealt him had been strong and she was aware that such powerful kicks landing on the chest could stop the heart of a person. This man, with his probable history of drugs and goodness knew what else, sure was a likely candidate for cardiac arrest.

She felt a twinge of compassion for him as she bent over the sorry shape, a refuse of humanity sprawled in the dirt. What tragedy had led him to this New-York back-alley between two smelly dumpsters? What was the story behind the sordid dénouement?

She smiled slightly as the word had her thoughts drift towards the very person who would jump at the occasion to tell the man's story, spinning a tale of drama and unspeakable miseries ‒ with the CIA and a couple of aliens thrown in for good measure.

The feeling didn't last long, however, as anger took over and coursed through her system at the thought of her attacker's likely previous victims, and of herself. To hell with it! Her encounter with that jerk could have had a totally different outcome! She could very well have been left wounded on the grimy sidewalk, her life seeping away from her veins, alone, unattended, dying… Stabbed like… Stabbed to death in an alley. Found by some unsuspecting stranger. Cut open on an autopsy slab. A number on a case file.

The bile rose up to her mouth, her heart pounding so hard in her chest she felt it might implode. Her vision blurred.

No. She couldn't. Go there. She couldn't. Not now. Not when she needed her wits about to deal with the situation.

She forced herself to breathe deeply and take a grip as she relaxed her uncooperative muscles and willed her traitor mind back to the present and the problem at hand. Slowly, although she reckoned her near panic attack couldn't have lasted more than half a minute, she regained her composure, checked on the thug who, she was relieved to note, was still out cold on the ground, reached down for the phone in her pocket and dialed 911.

And then, on impulse, she speed dialed another number. She knew she could always count on her friend for help and support and right here, right now, she figured she could use a little bit of that.

Lights painted the sad walls of the back-alley an angry red as the paramedics bustled about the perp who had been restrained against the gurney before they set up a drip.

The purple hue was soon enlivened by shades of blue as a Crown Vic pulled over in the main street, careful not to block the way out of the alley, where the bus would shortly be driving through to the hospital.

Elle ran up to the two figures getting out of the car, silhouetted against the garish rainbow of city lights.

"Kate!" she said as she enveloped the detective in a warm, heartfelt hug. "Thanks so much for coming even though it wasn't your call."

"No problem at all, Elle. I'm so glad you came out of this unharmed. Don't apologize for being alive."

Elle let herself be hugged back, comfort and relief seeping into her blood, then turned on her heels to greet Kate's plucky sidekick of a husband, but she stopped short in her tracks as she took in the unfamiliar man next to the detective.

"And you're… not Rick," she stated the obvious, raising her eyebrows to Kate in a question mark.

"Elle, this is Detective William Logan, who's riding shotgun with me while Rick's away." Kate introduced the dark-haired young man whose megawatt smile ended in dimples on each side of his mouth.

Right. Cute, he knows it and acts like the whole world should drop at his feet, fanning themselves in the face of such irresistible boyish charm.

Not usually one to pass judgment so fast, Elle felt immediately guilty at the thought, but there was something deeply annoying about the man that she couldn't quite figure out yet.

"And Logan, this is Elle King, who, from what I could gather, has been efficiently kicking someone's ass in this alley," Kate continued as she caught sight of the gurney being pulled up onto the bus. "Now, I'll just go and have a word with the medics before they rush Elle's victim off to hospital," she added with a wink in Elle's direction, and walked a few yards down to where the paramedics were getting ready to drive off.

Left to her own device, Elle reluctantly turned her attention back to Detective Logan, to be met with the Cheshire cat grin and a fully extended arm, which she shook as a concession to good manners.

There was something way too keen about that guy. A homicide detective, hey?

"Lovely to meet you, Miss King. Elle." He totally ignored her frown at the familiarity he showed with the use of her first name. "Always a pleasure to come pick up a perp who calls you straight after the deed. It speeds up interrogation and arrest procedures a fair bit. Might even be home for dinner."

"I wouldn't be so sure, Detective. Beckett here," she gestured in the general direction of the bus, which was coming their way, "likes the paperwork to be done by the book. Plus, there's the visit to the hospital to look forward to. From what I've been privileged enough to witness, your actual perp might qualify as an awkward customer. And a smelly one too".

Ha! Smug look successfully wiped off annoying detective's face.

They moved off a bit down the sidewalk to let the bus through and were soon joined by Kate, who was carrying a knife Elle recognized all too well in a kind of transparent zip lock bag.

"Looks like your friend will pull through Elle," she motioned to the bus. "He is conscious but refusing to give his name. ID's not a problem, though. We'll run his finger prints in the system. He probably has a record."

Kate unsuccessfully tried to suppress a tired little yawn and moved her hands from her hips to the small of her back which she started to massage unconsciously with the tips of her fingers.

"Logan," she commanded, "Stay here and don't let anyone through while Elle shows me the, er… 'crime scene'."

Elle smirked, acknowledging the gallows humor for what it was – an attempt at deflecting her attention from what Kate knew had to be a seriously stressful situation for her.

Detective Logan didn't seem too cheerful at being ordered to do a job that was usually delegated to uniforms, but he did well enough, Elle noticed, schooling his features in front of his immediate superior, though she didn't miss the pout he reverted to once he knew Kate was no-longer looking his way."

He stayed behind anyway, sulk and puppy-eyes notwithstanding, and let the women walk away from him while Elle was giving Kate an accurate albeit colorful account of her encounter with the thug.

"Don't feel you have to entertain me with your story, Elle," Kate laughed. "I just want facts, and the way you're telling it, I'm half expecting to see dragons and unicorns joining the party."

"Oh sorry, perks of the job, I guess. I suppose you're used to better story-telling skills though. Rick kinda spoils it for the rest of us." She sighed dramatically.

"Don't be daft," Kate gave Elle one of her signature eye-rolls. "I'm sure the Harlem kids love their kickass story-teller of a teacher."

She caught Elle's doubtful expression.

"Well you know, deep inside? They're just good at hiding it?" Kate amended with a rueful smile.

That they were. Aggressive and raw and spiky on a good day. Living the rough life. Being a grade school teacher in Harlem was a tough job, but she figured she could make a difference if she could have a positive influence over her young charges when they were still malleable, flexible, permeable, before the joint damages of poverty, dysfunctional family life and negative role models could take their toll. She wasn't so naïve that she believed she could save all those kids. Saving. The mere thought brought a silent snort. It was more about making a difference in a few lives. One life even. It wasn't enough, but somehow it would have to be. For now.

It was her stand. Her way of coping with her own personal tragedy and give it meaning. If anybody could understand, it was Kate.


Well, Kate had once taken a vested interest in a young girl, in whom she saw strength and a capacity for resilience behind the rough edges, the self-destructive behavior and the abyssal well of hurt. An eighteen-year-old Elle, with a grim outlook on life. Bitter, raw and broken. Weighed down by unspeakable anger and drowning in an ocean of grief. Her world a place she could no longer handle. The blunt, naked reality of her younger brother stabbed to death in a dark alley.

Kate had come across Elle's brother's case one slow day as she was shuffling through the cold case files, her heart breaking in compassion at the thought of all the loved ones left behind, going through the motions of life with nightmares in tow and a big empty place in their chests.

Knowing the truth was no consolation, but it was closure, and although it was something Kate didn't have for herself, it was what she did best for others, offering whatever comfort she could and somehow making a difference.

A death by stabbing was something she would be immediately drawn to, the word sticking out like a sore thumb on the page, her trained eyes almost pathologically attracted to its protruding double 'b', familiar and offensive all at once. The death by stabbing of a fourteen-year-old. She instantly noticed some leads hadn't been followed through. She got permission to re-open the case and did some proper investigating work. She put the puzzle pieces together and cracked the one-year-old case in a week.

That was six years ago but Elle could remember with painful accuracy the day Kate showed up on her doorstep, accompanied by a man with the name of a famous writer. Kate's words, precise and to the point, felt like so many needles under her nails. Your brother fell victim to another fourteen-year-old who had been persuaded to rough up a random person to earn his way into a street gang. Your brother fought back and the other panicked and used his knife against him. I'm sorry.

From the time of the murder up to its resolution, Elle had carried herself pretty much like the agonized figure on that expressionist painting by Munch – The Scream, was it? – Excruciating pain oozing through every pore against a background void of meaning. But somehow, Kate's quiet tone and obvious empathy acted like a soothing balm to her wounds. She let go. Then came the offer for combat training classes and the address of a grief therapist who was really good, according to Kate. Yes, she was broken, but she would get better.

And she did.

"Elle?" Kate's voice calling her from the past, grounding her. "You seem to have gone away somewhere."

"Oh sorry." She gave Kate a wan smile. "Rough day you know?"

Did she ever. Words were redundant.

Elle felt the need for a change of subjects and focused her attention on Kate, who, she had noticed earlier, looked tired and a little peaky.

"Are you okay, Kate? You're a bit pale."

Kate unconsciously moved one hand to her slight baby bump and caressed it gently.

"I'm fine, really," she assured. "Just a few bouts of morning sickness. But I'm reaching the three-month mark next week, so I should be alright."

Knowing Kate and how she played down anything to do with her well-being, Elle figured she had been emptying the whole content of her stomach every morning since the beginning of her pregnancy – but Kate would never own to nor compromise to physical weakness.

They were walking back towards the Crown Vic – there was not much left to see or do in the alley – but Kate caught sight of Logan, who was pacing and looking distinctly bored in the distance, and she stopped in her tracks. Some conversations, Elle silently agreed, you just didn't have in front of guys, especially when they were of the deeply irritating kind.

"Where's Rick anyway?" Elle finally gave in to curiosity, since Kate, private as ever even with her close friends, wasn't forthcoming with the information.

"He's on a two-week book signing tour on the west coast. But he's coming back tomorrow – one day early," she paused for the length of a breath, flushing a little in pleasure at the thought of being reunited with her husband soon. "And then he won't be going anywhere in the foreseeable future. Says he wants to take care of me and the baby. As if I needed him to fuss more than he already does. I'll be on desk duty by next week anyway" Kate shrugged and rolled her eyes in annoyment, but Elle was no fool. Her newly glowing cheeks, her sparkling eyes and animated speech gave the detective away better than a polygraph. These two needed each other more than their next breath, their bond so strong that everyone around them had picked up on it long before the parties concerned put their feelings into words and acted on them.

Love. Total and all-encompassing, ardent and soul-searing. The kind of vibrancy Kate and Rick shared, that transpired in so many subtle ways.

Hints of emotions in their eyes holding a silent conversation, in the little butterfly touches they couldn't refrain from and seemed to catch them unawares, in the mysterious sixth sense which somehow tipped them off of each other's presence before their sensory organs could even click in.

Oh, to have this word-eluding connection with someone, this bond of infinite trust and tenderness – because how could one witness this, have a glimpse of heaven and not want to taste its perfection?

And she – Elle – craved it, needed it, in a way she could not begin to fathom. No concessions, no half-ways, all or nothing. All in. Everything pure and beautiful to counter the evil of an imperfect world.

But how did one even find love? Did she have to embark on a crusade? Wait patiently for a sign? Incantations? Love potions? Oh God. Crazy ideas. The truth was, she didn't have a clue, but she did have a headache of titanic proportions building up and –

– she just couldn't cope with these thoughts. She might have survived the assault, but this emotional overload of a day was going to be the end of her.

Elle. Go back to Earth.

"So," she forced herself back into the conversation, "is that why you've been sidled with Detective Smartass?"

"What? Logan?" Kate looked vastly entertained at the moniker. "He might have the arrogance of youth," she shrugged, "but he cares, and he's quite astute and perceptive, despite appearances. Not to mention his excellent physical aptitudes," she grinned. "You should have seen him in that biker's bar yesterday. He can certainly hold his own in a brawl."

Elle raised an eyebrow and ventured a furtive glance at the young detective. Not that she was curious at all about the possibility of a chiseled chest behind his shirt…

They had resumed walking, having run out of excuses for lingering, and they soon reached the Crown Vic and a not so patiently waiting Logan.

"Speaking of which," Kate added as an afterthought, "have you been sparring lately? I'm not exactly up to it at the moment, but I wouldn't want you to slack up and start losing fights…"

"Well, I wouldn't have pinned you down as the type to pick up fights," Logan butted in before Elle could even shape the words around an answer.

He smirked as he reclined against the Crown Vic, dark and suave rakish cheek, a waggle of the eyebrows.

"But if you're looking for a new sparring partner, you'll find I'm more than up to the task."

Oh, right. Innuendo.

Elle didn't miss a beat. She advanced on him with a sway in her hips and a full arsenal of feminine assets, crowding his personal space until her thighs brushed his and her extended arms circled his chest against the car, practically pinning him against it.

From the corner of her eyes, Elle took in Kate's amused expression. She was studying the scene unfolding in front of her with undisguised interest, and something else too, a certain wistfulness, like the ghost of a fond memory.

Oh yeah… She had learned from the best.

"You may, or may not, be up to the challenge," she whispered in his ear. "But you don't. Get. To pin me down."

She deliberately shaped the words fully, with determination, tinting them with a slow sensual drawl that she knew would likely leave him speechless. So much meaning delivered in so few words.

Elle watched unwaveringly as Logan gulped down his surprise and she let him digest the subtext before dealing the coup de grace.He had pegged her down as a type, for God's sake! She cringed again at the reductive word. She was a woman, multifaceted, smart and passionate, fierce and beautifully complex.

"I transcend categories."

Thoughts ?