Nile sat at the breakfast table, hunched over her glass of orange juice. Andy had already come through the kitchen ten minutes earlier, shrugging on a denim jacket over her t-shirt and disappearing out the front door of their safehouse on the outskirts of Chemnitz.
Joe stood at the cooker, heating water in a saucepan on one of the two ancient electric hotplates. Nicky was still asleep, but Nile expected he was about to be woken with coffee in bed.
"You want coffee too?" Joe began, then snatched his hand back from the saucepan, swearing, and stuck a finger in his mouth.
"You still do that?" Nile said, surprised.
"Do what?" Joe asked, glancing over his shoulder at her.
Nile shrugged. "I mean, you've probably already healed."
"Yeah, but it still hurt when it happened."
She'd only been mildly surprised, but Joe's puzzled tone of voice made her think more deeply about her instinctive reaction. "I thought you might become sort of... numbed to pain. I mean, your body knows it's not going to hurt for very long. Why not just touch the hot pan?" She twirled her glass of juice, thinking more deeply on the topic. "I mean, you've already been training me not to flinch when someone comes at me with a knife or a gun."
Joe turned to look at her properly. Then he switched off the electricity and came to sit opposite her.
"That is not the same thing." He was looking oddly serious. "That doesn't mean we want you to become numbed to pain. I hope you never will."
"Why not?" She'd already died four times, every one of them agonisingly painful, and the prospect of getting used to that was, frankly, appealing.
"Because your body heals and—your mind doesn't." They both winced, and Joe gave her a rueful look. "Sorry, I didn't mean that to sound as ominous as it did."
"So you mean I'm going to go on having nightmares about every single time I've died? Nightmares and—whatever it's called when you're still awake. Flashbacks?"
Joe ran both hands over his head, curls springing up after the passage of his hands, his face scrunched up in thought. "Probably. I don't know. But for myself at least, I'd rather that than the alternative."
"Which is?" The spectre of Booker was at the table with them, and Nile could already guess the answer. "If you're numbed to pain, numbed to death, then you're numbed to living?"
Joe scrubbed his eyes, then let his hands fall to the formica tabletop. "I don't want to get hurt—I never want to get hurt and I never want to die. And every time I wake, I'm happy to be alive. Relieved to have come back. Joyful. When you lose that, you lose—I don't know what. Something I don't want to lose."
Nile felt sick to her stomach. But also... glad to have stumbled into this subject. It was something like ripping the dressing off a festering wound. But it wasn't a wound she wanted to poke at any further right now.
She pushed away her glass of orange juice. "I don't think I really want that coffee you were talking about."
"Come for a walk?" Joe's gaze was warm and understanding.
The idea of getting out into the fresh air was tempting. "What about Nicky's coffee?"
Joe smiled, the expression in his eyes softening. "Let me tell you Nicky's secret. He'll stay in bed until midday if we don't disturb him. He'll still be there when we get back." He got to his feet. "Come on, there used to be a little woods with a lake five minutes from here. Let's see if it still exists."
"Yeah, how many centuries ago was that?" Nile muttered, but she followed Joe out of the house, taking comfort in the fact that whatever she'd be facing, she wasn't going to be facing it alone.