Nero Wolfe has put a great deal of effort into spinning stories to web over the truths of his past, the corroding events that still bleed into his dreams. On too many nights, memories wake him to lie staring at the darkness thickening beneath his bedroom ceiling. He hears the roughness in his breathing at such times, smells his own sweat.
Most of these nights, an hour spent with one of the cherished books he keeps in his bedroom is enough to ease him back into slumber. He pays no harsher price the next day than a slightly humiliating over-attentiveness, an annoying succession of urges to hover around Fritz in the kitchen while futilely arguing flavorings or to court Archie's would-be wit with possibly excessive demands about eating well and avoiding bad weather.
Only the worst dreams defeat him, the ones where screams, filth, and gore mar the features of those still living. After such nightmares he is fated to lie awake for hours, twisting the silk of his sheets between his fingers as he tries to reason with his fears. When he loses this struggle, as it seems he always must, he turns off the alarm that blockades the corridor outside his bedroom. Then he patrols the brownstone from basement to roof and back again, prowling as he learned to during the bad times, while using the soft-footed tread Archie always claims to be surprised by in his case reports. Each door has to be quietly opened and closed to assure no horror lurks within, waiting in ambush.
Up in the small room within the rooftop greenhouses, Theodore snores as irritatingly as one might predict. Down in his spare but elegant bedroom in the basement, Fritz sighs out breaths with a quiet harmoniousness that is likely much appreciated by his dear friend the cellist. Archie Goodwin shifts in his sleep with a vigor so characteristic as to be soothing. Often it is only after shutting the door to Archie's bedroom that urgency finally departs and weariness at last returns.
Perhaps he anticipates fatigue too eagerly during that night, makes some careless sound in his need. A sudden, sleepy question startles him.
Archie has never awoken particularly swiftly. "My apologies. No, not an emergency."
"Sure." The words are thick and slow. "So y'r just taking a little look-see. Creepy from most, usual obnoxiousness from you." Archie's yawn is audible. "Too bad it's nighttime. Makes for a lousy show. And on both sides, since I'd bet you're as shame-faced as a fan dancer right now."
Archie is mistaken about shame. Embarrassment is what forces truth. "A nightmare. I needed to...check."
"Oh. One of those." The bed creaks. "Yeah. Okay." Archie's breathing can be heard in the dark. At last he says, "I'm still here. It's also still my bedroom, so goodnight."
Wolfe pauses in closing the door when Archie ambushes him by adding, "Go ahead and make sure when you have to. I'll know it's you." As evidenced by the sounds, Archie rolls over and pulls his bedclothes up. Then his breathing slows and smooths.
After hesitating, Wolfe shuts the door even though he somehow knows Archie hasn't truly dozed off. There is, after all, nothing else to be said that they could bring themselves to say.
At least it is no longer fear that keeps him awake for the remaining hour before he sleeps that particular night.