Coop walked slowly and he tried his best to avoid any sticks or twigs that would alert anyone else to his presence in the dark woods surrounding the cat's former landing site. It was 10pm and this was his fifth day patrolling the surrounding forest in case their mystery thief decided to make another appearance.
He knew that he and Dennis had promised the cats that they would lay low and not go anywhere near the forest until they could figure out who the thief was, but after a week of just playing errand boy for the cats he couldn't stand sitting around anymore. If they were going to find the thief they couldn't just wait around and do nothing while whoever it was was using the cat's tech to do whatever the hell they wanted with it.
So, with little else to do, he decided to start a nightly patrol of the surrounding forest, just in case someone or something showed up looking for more tech. Of course, there wasn't anything else to take as far as Coop knew, but it was the only thing he could think to do.
Besides, it gave him the perfect opportunity to get out of the house for a while. Getting all those cans of food and random gadgets for the cats had felt like the longest and most annoying game of keep away in all his life. Whenever he tried to look for something the cats would need in the house he'd run straight into Millie and have to make up some random excuse for why he definitely couldn't talk to her right now and how he was definitely too busy with… stuff to be bothered. By the time he and Dennis had managed to get everything to the cats he had been running out of excuses, and Millie had been getting more and more persistent until he just couldn't stand hanging around the house anymore.
Even without his sister constantly trying to get his attention, this stupid heightened hearing was making staying at home almost unbearable. He could hear practically everything going on in his house and the houses on either side of him and it was making him crazy. Each little thing seemed to set these new ears off, and it was annoying having them move back and forth under his hat with every little noise he heard.
So, being out here in the forest was honestly a godsend. Everything was so quiet and the only thing out here to bother him was the sound of crickets, sleeping animals, some distant coyotes, and-
Suddenly he heard the sound of a snap and he felt the ears on top of his head swivel to catch it. Turning, he only saw the glint of a flashlight before he ducked behind a tree and dropped low to the ground behind a bush.
Peeking from behind the bush, he could clearly see someone with a flashlight walking beside a bike a few yards away. He couldn't see their face just yet because of the brightness of the light, but as they moved the light to look in another direction he could just make out...
Coop slapped his hand over his mouth as Millie turned and pointed the light in his general direction.
What is she doing here?!
"Hello?" Millie said, her voice trembling. "Did… did someone say something?"
Millie, obviously hearing his stupid call, must have thought some creep was out in the forest with her.
No, just your dumbass of a big brother.
Coop stayed low to the ground with his hand over his mouth as he watched her reverse course and go back the way she came, looking over her shoulder as she went. Coop watched her from the ground until she was barely out of his sight, and then proceeded to follow her from a distance until she had pushed her little pink bike all the way to the edge of the forest and was on her way home.
The whole time every little snap of a twig or look over her shoulder made him flinch. He was just waiting for her to somehow notice his presence and start accusing him of something, but that never happened.
He stayed on her tail until she made it safely back home. He listened closely to her footsteps until he heard her bedroom door close and was sure that she had actually gone to bed. Finally, after what must have been almost an hour of inner panic, he rushed out into their backyard and practically leaped up the wooden ladder and into the treehouse.
"Kat!" He hissed as he clawed his way up the last step. Kat, who had been completely focused on twiddling with the piece of equipment in his hands, flinched so hard he'd nearly dropped the thing on the floor. The girl cat, who had been asleep, was now wide awake and bared her fangs as she looked around the treehouse in confusion.
"What?! Who's attacking us?!" The girl said, barely able to stand as she gripped the blankets around her body. Her claws were still bared as she looked around for a threat.
Kat stood tensely beside her as his eyes scanned the surrounding area.
"No one" Coop hissed slowly, moving further into the room. "I want to know why I just saw my sister out in the forest by your landing site!"
Whatever Kat had been expecting, it wasn't that. His eyes went wide and he blinked owlishly at him. If not for the current situation, Coop would have laughed at the dumbfounded look on his face.
"What?" Kat said slowly, as if he was sure Coop had lost his mind.
"My sister was just out in the forest by your landing site and I want to know why." Coop repeated. He could feel his temper rising as Kat continued to look at him like he was insane.
"I repeat. What, in the name of Bastet, are you talking about?!" Kat whispered urgently as he stepped closer to Coop.
Coop was so close to smacking the cat that he had to take a step back and clutch his hands together before this turned into a brawl.
"My sister, Millie, was just out in the forest with her little pink bike. Near your landing site. An hour past her bedtime. And I. Want. To. Know. Why." He forced each word through clenched teeth as what was left of his patience started to dissipate.
Kat, seemingly past his confusion, took a step back and his eyes darted around the room as he mumbled to himself.
"Why would she…?" Coop heard him mumble. He was about to forcibly snap Kat out of it when he turned to him suddenly with a suspicious glare.
"Why were you out there?"
"I was following Millie."
"No you weren't." Kat said with certainty. "If you were you'd have started with that, but no, you said she was out there, like you had just happened to run into her."
"What does it matter?" Coop said, glaring back at him.
"It matters because we told you not to go back there and to lay low until we could find out who or what this thief is."
Coop rolled his eyes, bouncing on the balls of his feet. They were talking in circles and he needed answers NOW.
"Okay, fine, I was patrolling the place, but can we please focus on my little sister who should have NO REASON to be out there?!"
Kat put a hand over his eyes and groaned.
"How long had you been doing this?"
"Oh my god, will you get off that?! It's a good thing I was out there otherwise I'd have never seen Millie!"
"She was probably out there because of you, you idiot!"
Coop stopped bouncing.
"What the hell are you implying?"
"I'm stating that you're an idiot who can't cover their tracks!" Kat said, turning away from him and going back to his little gadget. "She likely followed you out there and was trying to figure out what you were doing."
Coop's face heated, because one, the possibility had never occurred to him, and two, there was no way she would have been able to follow him to begin with. He always made sure to go out after her and their dad were asleep, and he left a decoy with a voice recording in case either of them walked by his door at night. Even if she had gone into his room and found out he had left, there was no way she could have known where to find him.
"And how do we know she wasn't following your tracks?" Coop said, pointing at Kat. Kat let out something between a puff of air and a sigh as he put his gadget back down.
"And how, exactly, would she have been following my tracks, Cooper? Unlike you, I've been following the plan and staying out of sight."
"What about before all this happened? You obviously had to have been sneaking out of her room to get to the forest. Maybe you're just not as sneaky as you think you are."
Kat's raked his claws irritably against the wooden floor as he glared up at Coop.
"I am an elite soldier trained in surveillance and stealth. You are a loud mouth ape child with a nosy little sister. Please, do tell me how skilled you are that you managed to get caught outside twice by two of the most unobservant humans I've come across since landing here?"
Coop could feel his face heating further as Kat continued to glare at him like a puppy who'd wet the floor.
"Listen here you stupid rat-"
"For the love of Bastet, will you two shut up?!" Megan hissed, rising slightly from her nest of blankets. "I swear if you two don't stop talking and deal with your issues I will claw you to death!"
Seemingly satisfied with the shocked looks on their faces, she lied back down, turning her back to them with a huff.
They both stared at her for nearly a minute, scared to say something lest they tick her off. Finally, Kat broke the silence with a sigh.
"She's right…" He said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Listen, just… watch her for a while. Millie, I mean."
"Yes. If she's onto something, which I doubt, she'll probably make it obvious eventually. Just watch her and try to figure out what she knows."
Kat stood up and put his hands against his lower back as he tried to stretch it out. He let out a little grunt as he back let out a loud crack. It was only now that Coop noticed the heavy bags under his eyes. He glanced over at the gadget Kat had been working on and noticed half a dozen similar bits of tech scattered around him. Whatever they had been doing, it must have been a few all nighters.
Kat must have noticed where his eyes had gone because he decided to answer his unspoken question.
"We've been working nonstop since you got us the parts a few days ago." He took in a deep breath through his nose as he seemed to be considering his next words. "It's a... delicate process, so I'd… appreciate it… if we weren't interrupted."
"I'm sure that whatever's going on with Millie will be a minor issue at most. Besides, you've lived with her your whole life. I'm sure you would have noticed if she were acting any differently."
With that Kat returned to his gadget and continued to fiddle with the pieces. Coop, more shocked than anything by the almost polite request, left the treehouse as quietly as possible.
As he snuck back into the house, then laid across his bed to go to sleep, his mind wandered back to Millie.
Had she been acting differently lately? He's been so busy with the cats and trying not to get caught that he's been practically avoiding her for the past two weeks. Sure, she'd been trying to get his attention lately, but that could have been for anything.
Could she have found out about what happened to them and have been trying to ask him about it? No, that seemed a little far fetched considering how big of a tattletale Millie was. If she had gotten even a whiff of Coop doing something bad she'd have immediately told their dad.
Then why was she out in the forest so late? As much as Coop hated to give Kat any credit, maybe he had been right about Millie following him? What if she had just followed him and was wondering what he was doing? But Millie knew he was grounded, so wouldn't she have already told dad?
Coop raked his fingers through his hair in frustration, making sure to avoid the ears.
Fine. Maybe the cat's right. He thought to himself with a groan. It's too early to just assume things right now. I'll just have to watch her and see how things go.
The next day Coop kept a very close eye on his sister, who'd seemed to have given up on talking to him. He'd have welcomed it in any other case, but not now when he needed answers from her.
In fact, Coop thought as he sat across from Millie at the breakfast table. Millie wasn't talking to him or their dad today. Usually Millie would be the first one to say something, being the loud morning person that she was, but today she was as quiet as a mouse. She didn't even enter the kitchen with her customary yell of "Good morning!". Now that he'd noticed it, the absence of her usual morning chatter made the room seem deafeningly quiet. Coop glanced over at his dad, who answered his unsaid question with a shrug.
"So… You're quiet today" Coop couldn't help commenting as the silence of the room started to feel suffocating.
"...Oh" Millie said, not looking away from her cereal. She had an almost dazed look on her face, and her head kept dropping as she fought to keep herself awake.
She must have stayed up after getting home from the forest.
"Millie, are you okay? Did you get any slee-" Mr. Burtonburger began asking but was cut off by the sharp ring of his cellphone. He mumbled a little 'excuse me' before leaving the table to answer it. That left Coop and Millie alone.
"So… Are you okay?" Coop asked as he watched Millie barely stop herself from falling asleep into her cereal. Millie lifted her head to look at him.
"Why should you care?"
Coop sat there in shock as his sister leveled him with a weak but very cold glare. He tried to wrack his brain for just what he could have done to deserve it when their dad came back in.
"Sorry kids, gotta head into work early today to help appraise a new shipment of antics. A buyer has been bugging us for nearly two weeks for these in particular and he wants me there to prove their authenticity."
He quickly circled the table as he placed a kiss on each of their heads and quickly made his way towards the door. With a shout of "I'll be right back!" he was gone.
The sound of their dad's car starting snapped Coop back to their conversation, and just as he was going to ask Millie just what he had done, she pushed herself away from the table and started heading towards the stairs.
"I'm not hungry" Was all she said before the sound of her door slamming pierced his ears.
Coop sat at the table with a sinking feeling in his stomach. He wasn't able to finish his food after that.
After that morning Coop tried getting Millie's attention all day, to hell with being sneaky, and was 100% sure now that the girl was avoiding him. Every time he tried to talk to her she either ignored him by putting on her headphones or left the room entirely. By the fifth time she'd done this Coop decided to just try waiting for her to go back into the forest.
That night, just as Coop had been getting ready for his nightly stake out, he heard a sob coming from Millie's bedroom. He quickly put down his supplies and started to sneak over to her door to investigate.
He'd sat by her door for a few minutes without hearing anything. He'd almost thought he'd imagined it, but sure enough, more sobs joined the first as Millie continued to cry.
Unable to stand the sounds of her crying anymore, Coop softly knocked on her door.
"Millie? Are you okay?" Coop whispered, trying not to wake up their dad. Whatever was going on with Millie, he doubted she wanted their dad to know about it too.
"Go away…" She sobbed out.
Coop, unable to help himself, slowly opened the door and stood in the doorway.
Millie sat hunched over on her bed, her arms wrapped around her knees as her little body shook with each sob. He hadn't really noticed just how little Millie looked until now. The last time he had seen her cry, actual cry, was when they were really little and it was usually their dad who would be there to comfort her.
Coop, despite opening the door, had no idea what he was supposed to do in this situation, and so stood there awkwardly trying to come up with something to say. Unable to come up with words, Coop slowly walked up to the bed and tried to put a hand on her shoulder. That's when Millie let out another loud sob.
"Millie, what's going on?" Coop said, trying not to sound as awkward as he felt.
"Go away, Coop!" She yelled, between sobs. "It's not like you care anyway!"
Coop felt something cold and sharp twist inside his stomach as she scooted herself further away from him.
"Of course I do…" Coop said, sitting beside her on the bed. "Millie, I don't know what I did, but whatever it is, I'm really sorry."
He placed his hand on her shoulder and she let out one more loud sob before suddenly wrapping her little arms around his torso. Coop sat there stiffly as she cried into his chest. Still confused, he hesitantly wrapped his arms around her. His stomach felt tighter and tighter as her sobs shook her little body.
Coop could tell this would take a while, so he scooped her up into his lab and scooted them both up the bed until he was able to rest his back against her pink headboard. He let out a little sigh as he started to rub Millie's back.
They stayed like that for nearly 15 minutes before Millie's breathing became easier and her sobs started to die down. He thought she might have fallen asleep on him when she started to speak again.
"I-It's… It's been almost 2 weeks now and they still haven't come home…" Her voice sounded wet and croaky as more tears slid down her cheek.
Coop nearly asked who she was talking about when Millie's little sobs of "Mr. Kat" met his ears. That twist in Coop's stomach now felt like ice. An unexpected wave of guilt washed over him as she continued to cry.
"I-I wasn't a good owner and now they're g-gone!" Millie cried.
"No, no! You were a great owner Millie! Sometimes…" He racked his brain to come up with something. "Sometimes cats just go off to explore and don't come back for a while! I'm sure they'll come home soon!"
"Don't lie to me!"
"I'm not! Look it up! There's tons of videos about people's cats going off on their own! It's like their thing!" Millie's hitched sobs started to come out softer as Coop started to softly rock her back and forth.
"And," Coop continued, his mind going to the cats sitting in their treehouse. "I'm sure they're looking out for each other, so they'll be just fine. There's a ton of town and forest area for them to explore. They're probably just taking their time getting back."
"B-But, what if they're hurt? Or lost?" Millie croaked.
"Oh please, I wish the naked rat would get lost, but he's too smart for that. We found him at the edge of our yard and the forest, remember? Maybe they've got a whole family there that they're visiting!" Coop said, turning Millie around to face him. He forced a smile on his face as he started to pat her back. Internally, the thought of a whole group of the cats was making him feel nauseous.
Millie continued to let out little sniffles, but she nodded nonetheless.
"M-Maybe?" She said, wiping at her wet face.
"Yeah," Coop said, "And if it helps, I'll go with you to hand out some posters and hang them up around town."
Millie's face lit up with hope.
Coop lifted one hand in a pledge and used the other to make a cross over his heart.
Millie let out another little sniff and hugged him as tight as she could.
"Thank you, Coop! Thank you so much!"
Coop nodded as she buried her face into his shirt.
"Millie… Is this what you had been trying to talk to me about?" Coop asked. Millie lifted her head from his chest and nodded to him. Coop, seeing her face was still wet, started to wipe her cheek with his sleeve.
"Daddy's been so busy with the store lately… I didn't want to bother him so I tried asking you, but you were busy." Millie said, not meeting his eyes. "I… I know you don't always like spending time with me, but I thought…"
"I'm so sorry, Millie. I… I've just been working hard on some assignments." Coop said. "I barely passed last year and my teachers told me I'd got to work extra hard to keep up with everyone else. I was just avoiding you because I didn't want dad to know how bad I've been doing in school."
"They gave you extra work during the break?" Millie asked. Coop shrugged his shoulders, inwardly praising himself on the quick save.
"Yeah. I've been doing so bad they figured I needed it." Coop said. His straight C and B average wasn't a secret so he figured having extra credit wouldn't seem too out of reach. Millie, who'd always gotten straight A's looked at him incredulously. Coop felt himself starting to sweat as she stared him down, her eyes still red from crying. Eventually she just gave him a nod.
"Okay…" Millie said, obviously doubting his excuse, but seemed too tired to question it as her head started to drop back down onto his shoulder. She let out a yawn and Coop glanced over at the clock Millie had on her wall. It was 1:03 in the morning.
Coop scooped Millie back up again and laid her back down on her bed.
"I promise, Millie, after breakfast I'll help you start on those posters for the cats. We'll be able to hand them out by lunch time." Coop pulled her blankets up to her shoulders and gave her a little peck on the head. Millie, smiled and gave him a sleepy nod as he backed out of her room and softly shut the door.
Coop, finally out of the room, let out a soft sigh. He never even considered how the cats disappearing would affect his little sister, and he'd been so busy trying to get his body back to normal he'd practically forgotten all about her.
Some big brother I am.
Coop knew that in the grand scheme of things, his little sister being upset wasn't the biggest issue, but it didn't stop him from feeling like crap anyway. Before all this stuff with their bodies happened, him and Dennis had been spending more and more time with Millie in order to spy on the cats. After the cats disappeared and he and Dennis stopped hanging out with her, she must have felt really… alone.
He'd never really thought about it anymore, but he'd been spending less and less time with Millie since starting high school, and this spring break, he'd been spending spying on the cats that Millie kinda faded into the background. It's kind of a shame, really. When they were having those tea parties together, if he ignored the cats, it was kind of fun.
And technically, Coop thought, there isn't anything stopping me from spending time with her now. I don't have to check on the cats every day anymore, and I only do my patrols at night, so it wouldn't hurt to just hang out with her…
Looking back at Millie's door, he heard the sound of her soft breathing and nodded.
He'd do better by her.