It was after Chester had been examined a second time by Dr. Greenbriar, after the blissfully uneventful ride home, and after the overexcited recounting of the Monroes’ vacation. I had tried my best to pay attention to the latter, and politely inspected Mr. Monroe’s cast, but found I was too - how had Chester put it? - mentally exhausted to really absorb the tales. It didn’t help that Toby and Pete often talked over each other.
Chester hadn’t even bothered to pretend to listen, possibly shunning them for adopting an assumed (by him only) werewolf/dachshund hybrid puppy.
As I was saying. It was after all that, and I found myself sitting alone in the living room. Well, not exactly alone, I suppose. Bunnicula’s cage was back on its table, with the rabbit himself sleeping contentedly inside. This time he had been entirely uninvolved in the ordeal. I shuddered to think what might have happened to him at Chateau Bow-Wow; the sweet little bunny was certainly unusual enough to have been a prime kidnapping target.
I was having an unusually hard time settling down to sleep, despite how relieved I was to be home. Instead of changing my position on the rug for the fourth time, I gave up and decided to check on Chester. He was usually settling down to sleep in his favorite living room chair by now, but I hadn’t seen him for a while. Perhaps part of me was irrationally worried he was gone. Seeing him again might help me sleep.
The kitchen was empty, and was probably a better place to look if I was trying to find myself. I had a drink of water to clear my head and pressed on. Instinct lead me to the study, where I really should have thought to look first.
Sure enough, there was Chester with his nose in a book. Careful not to startle him, I paused in the doorway and cleared my throat quietly to announce my presence.
Chester started a little and jerked his head up to look at me. His fur was slightly raised and his eyes were a bit wild.
“Can’t sleep?” I asked, wincing mentally. Of course he couldn’t. What a silly thing to say.
To my surprise however, Chester didn’t snark about my pointing out the obvious. Instead he shook his head tiredly. It seemed the events of the past week were weighing heavily on both of us.
“Yeah, me neither.”
Silence fell. Someone moved upstairs.
I shuffled into the room to inspect the book Chester had deemed more important than sleep. Unsurprisingly, it was about werewolves. I frowned. He was wound up enough as it was. “Are you sure you should be reading this right now?”
“I have to be prepared.” Chester snapped, but without too much bite.
“Of course,” I placated, “But I think I’ve had enough werewolves for tonight. Surely it can wait until tomorrow at least.”
Chester seemed prepared to respond with something equally grumpy as before, but was interrupted by a yawn. “Perhaps you’re right,” he sighed. “…He won’t be here for a few weeks anyway, we have time.” He stretched and stood up.
We walked to the living room in companionable, exhausted silence. I sat on my rug while Chester paused by his chair to slowly bathe his face, both of us restless still.
“Are you going to write about this one?” He asked after a moment, startling me.
I blinked. I honestly hadn’t thought about it. Mostly I was glad it was over. I said as much.
Chester hummed in weary agreement, then cocked his head to the side. “Although, it is said writing your feelings is cathartic. Perhaps it would help.”
I wasn’t so sure in this case, but Chester sounded calmer so instead of arguing I promised to consider it. It was just so nice to talk to him again. To hear him respond. To see him in front of me, in our house, and decidedly not fatally poisoned.
“Hm?” Apparently I had spaced out. Perhaps it was time to try sleeping again.
“You’re staring at me.” Chester explained patiently.
“Oh.” I said. “I’m glad you’re alive.”
Chester visibly tensed, thrown by this new topic. “Yes. So am I.” He regarded me with a curious expression for a moment, then his eyes widened in shock. “I didn’t…” Wild eyes locked on to mine. “I’m sorry, Harold. I hadn’t even considered how that might have affected you.” He sounded distressed.
I swallowed hard, turning away from him slightly. “You had a lot to deal with,” I began weakly, unsure how to continue.
If I had been looking at Chester, I wouldn’t have jumped when he rubbed against my chest on his way to my line of sight. His eyes searched mine for something. When he spoke again it was more of an urgent whisper. “What happened while I was…?”
Gladly he seemed no more willing to finish that sentence than I was; my emotions had been through enough recently. I carefully gathered my thoughts, trying not to focus too hard on any of the events. “It was…tough.” Understatement. “After I overheard Harrison and Jill discussing you I almost slept the whole day, hoping it would have been a dream when I woke up.”
Chester looked as pained as I felt.
“But when I did wake up, it wasn’t. You were still gone. My only goals were to avenge you, and to find out the truth. I refused a game of rip-the-rag. I even did some investigating, did I tell you that?”
“Well, mostly I just babbled accusingly and confused quite a few people,” I admitted somewhat sheepishly. “I was getting nowhere but wouldn’t stop. I kept thinking ‘What would Chester do? What would he,’ …you, ‘want me to do?’ Because…”
Chester was watching me with rapt attention, but I couldn’t look at him anymore. Not for this next part.
I took a deep breath and pressed on. “I knew it was my fault for falling asleep. I could have seen Harrison by your cage if I stayed awake.” I finished, head hanging slightly.
With a paw Chester gently turned my face to look at him. “No, Harold, no.” He began seriously. “I’m the jerk for saying that it was. I said to your face that you didn’t try hard enough or figure it out fast enough, but you did. You did try. You were grieving my death and still you were trying to solve things. I’m proud of you.”
I found myself unable to speak around the sudden lump in my throat, hardly able to flinch at the word ‘death’ before being hit by the rest of Chester’s monologue. He finally broke my gaze, but now I was the one staring again.
“For all I know, he drugged you too so you wouldn’t notice.” Chester added quietly.
It was possibly the most vulnerable Chester had ever sounded in my years knowing him. I had the terrible feeling that if cats could cry, he would be. I took a step closer to him.
“I did check my bowl for suspicious smells. The next night.” It wasn’t the best thing I could have said, but it was the first coherent sentence I was able to form.
Chester turned and caught my eye for just a second before pressing himself into my chest, burying his face in the fur on my neck.
I leaned my head down slightly, tucking him neatly under my chin. I closed my eyes, feeling relaxed for the first time in days.
Chester moved first, having to pull his face out of my fur to breathe. He took a step back and set about smoothing his own fur, but not for as long as he often would.
Feeling equally exhausted and as if a weight had been lifted, a yawn managed to catch me by surprise. “I feel like I could sleep for a week.”
Chester murmured an agreement. “Mind if I join you?”
“Of course not.”
When Chester settled next to me on the living room rug, I realized that this had been the source of my earlier restlessness. Over the week we had gotten used to sharing naps in my bungalow, for both protection and a sense of familiarity. How quickly it had become routine enough to cause sleep trouble when alone. I found his warm presence by my side to be doubly comforting after the last two days.
Chester, it seemed, was having similar thoughts. He stretched forward slightly to furtively lick my cheek, then quickly curled back in on himself before anything could be done about it.
Smiling slightly, I nuzzled closer to him in response. I was rewarded with a soft purr, and was lulled by it into a pleasant nightmare-less sleep.