Summary is from the end of Elie Wiesel's "The Perils of Indifference," and the title comes from a different Wiesel quote: "There are victories of the soul and spirit. Sometimes, even if you lose, you win."
The words stop.
He can't catch why, the middle of the chapter, paragraph, word suddenly trailing into a white oblivion – Ni and then nothing, the letters stuttered out, the rhythm of his fingers tripped and fallen.
His eyes are still bumping over the screen, trying to latch back onto the fast-unraveling thread, but he can feel her stillness beside him. It's that – the absence of the fluid shift of her thigh against his, the loss of the soft shuffle of her breath across the air in front of him.
"What," he starts, turning at her, but her eyes are vacant and shadowed, her gaze latched onto the television.
He barely sees the end of it – a serious senator with his arm wrapped around a middle-aged woman who gazes at him with too-bright adoration, three children beaming up at him, the echoing voiceover – Senator Bracken, fighting today for a peaceful tomorrow.
His laptop almost crashes to the floor as he lunges forward – too late, far too late to do anything about it; there's an exuberant puppy bounding across the screen now but the reflex is still there. He gets a hand on the back of the computer and a thumb on the remote's power button and he stabs down violently, lets the quiet darkness blanket the room, but then of course he's just left starting stupidly at her tense, brittle profile.
"Shouldn't have had food from the new Thai cart for lunch," she says, her voice perfectly even, her eyes still fixed on the black screen, and then she's pushing up smoothly from the couch and walking with slow and measured steps over to the bathroom.
He stays frozen for one beat, two, three, before he follows her. What else can he do?
She sits on the ledge of the tub, back bowed, eyes closed, chest slowly collapsing with a too-careful inhale.
"The revenge of the drunken noodles," he says lamely.
It's only been three days for them. Two spent plowing through the case, so one day, really, one slow and easy day at his loft, Martha and Alexis back at the Hamptons for an impromptu female bonding session, the lazy, sun-soaked angles of the living room, kitchen, bedroom all stretched out before them, limitless planes and corners where he has found new ways to learn her body again and again. One day for her to find her equilibrium, to seek a way to thread her unwavering ideals into the politics of lives strung onto tenuous deals.
Her hands are twisted together, clenched into a tight ball and pressed between her knees. She swallows convulsively. "Want me to hold your hair back?" he offers gallantly, but it's flat. It's all flat.
"Well I can't be sick with you in here," she husks, her voice tight, trying. Trying so hard.
"You can be anything with me in here."
Her body curls down, twisting in until her forehead presses hard against her knuckles. He drifts toward her, folding down on the floor at her feet, propping himself up against the side of the tub.
"We'll figure it out," he says.
"You don't want to," she murmurs, still curled up into herself, her voice hoarse.
"That's not –" he starts, because of course he wants justice for her, he wants justice for her more than anything. But the thought unwinds. He doesn't want justice more than anything. He wants her life first, and then her happiness. If her happiness is inexorably wound with justice then he'll still choose her life, he'll still choose her life every time.
"I thought I knew how to live like this," she says.
He thought she did, too. But – how could she? A lazy evening leaning against him on the couch, only to see man who had Johanna Beckett murdered in an alley smiling out at her from the television. Hugging a mother, the narrator booming reassuringly about a peaceful future. How could she?
His own stomach roils, a sudden, violent lurch against the injustice of it all.
"Is it worse this way?" he rasps. He needs to know, suddenly. Needs to know if it was worth it. If the name without the justice can possibly have any value.
She slits her eyes open, turns so she can see him, her temple pressed against her knuckles, her eyes still stormy with hurt, with anger. "I keep thinking I'm stronger. Strong enough. But I feel it. Seeing his face on that screen, and all I want is to sink back down. There's something out there that will get him behind bars. Somewhere."
He makes an involuntary noise in the back of his throat, a sharp, desperate sound, assent and denial both.
"I know," she says. "I know it would pull me under and I wouldn't even notice. I'd drown before I'd realize there wasn't enough air."
"I wouldn't let you," he says reflexively. Like he would have a choice. Like he'd want her investigating, like he'd do anything but rail against her throwing herself into that dark and edgeless danger.
She gives him a small smile that's not entirely broken. "You don't have to worry about that." She must see something in his face she doesn't like. "Not now."
Even like this, brittle and fragile, she's giving him so much. Trying so much harder than he ever thought he could expect. "I keep thinking about it," he says. "Finding you. Like we found Smith in his office."
Her eyes close and open, a slow, surprised blink. "Because of the file."
His throat constricts against the words. He can't change that the beginning of them is twined through her mother's murder, tangled into the precarious balance of her life on a rooftop, but he can keep them talking, keep them honest. Keep them from crumbling and breaking like they'd been about to, before. "They found out who he was and a day later he was dead. And they – they know you. Where to find you."
It jolts through him at the oddest times. Standing in the kitchen, making a sandwich today, suddenly overcome by the image of her body, cracked lips, swollen eye, bloody face, tied to a chair for him to find. Without Smith's tenuous grip on life.
She lets out a breath, her body sliding off the tub and onto the floor, turning and pressing down against him, the jut of her hip digging along his side and then his thigh, the heat of her breath skirting across the front of his throat. "I don't know what else to do, Castle. I wish…" She trails off, lets her head fall into him, her mouth press against his throat. He turns into her, pulling her into an awkward hug on the cold bathroom floor, drawing her into him too tightly.
"You'll be safe," he whispers, vehement. As though all she needs for protection is that file and the sheer force of his conviction.
He feels her head shake against his neck. "That doesn't scare me most," she murmurs, the bass of her words vibrating against his larynx.
He waits. Forces himself to be content with the rise and fall of her body against his chest, with the crackling life of her. "What does?" he finally asks.
"That they'll leave me alone. That I'll learn to live with it. Seeing him on the television. Watching him gain power. Falling into this life with you and then one day it doesn't make me nauseous, the thought of him free out there. The thought of never getting her justice."
"You wouldn't." He knows it all too well, the slow, sweet suck of indifference, just as he knows that she would never let it pull her down.
She drags herself away from his neck, pulls back until her eyes meet his. "And where does that leave us?"
"It leaves us angry," he says, leaning and twisting so that his lips meet hers, his hand dragging over the waistband of her jeans, down the jut of her hip. "And scared," he whispers into her mouth, grabbing the hem of her shirt with his other hand, tugging it up, up and over her head, letting his fingers revel in the still-new lines of her torso. "And hopeful."
She surges up against him at the last words, her mouth clashing harshly into his, her hands winding around the back of his neck. He can taste it on her, the fear and the hope, the ragged salty current of this case and her fight to channel it around her, her unceasing struggle to drag herself away intact.
As she slides liquid into his lap, he leans back against the tub, already aching in a thousand different ways, bones crackling and heart stinging and blood singing with a throbbing desire as her fingers slip under his shirt, up over the skin of his abdomen. "It leaves us here," he says, pressing his forehead against hers.
She closes her eyes as his hands find their way to the zipper of her jeans. "I can live with that," she says.
With the way she breathes the words, the fierce tide of love and determination behind them, he can almost believe her.