Disclaimer: ::to the tune of "You Don't Own Me" by The Blow Monkeys:: I don't own it, it's not one of my many toys, I don't own it, don't say I can't go with other shows. . . okay, enough ridiculousness. Invader Zim is copyrighted by Nick, Jhonen Vasquez and the Irken Empire. Okay, I made the last one up. Lyrics are from "Angel" by Sarah Maclachlan.

A/N: Guess what. Raina the Hypocrite has struck again. I have an excuse though. I'm creatively stuck in my novel The Lone Dissenter (as of this author's note) and I'm close to finishing it but I don't want to give it a crappy ending. So it's going to sit on the backburner until I can make the climax more climatic. Meanwhile I got another Zim fic idea leaping out of my brain. The characters are somewhat OOC but due to the circumstances in the story, I think it's justified.

Summary: This one picks up after Zim's monologue "Maybe One Day It Won't Hurt Anymore." The death of Dib has taken its toll on those who were closest to him. Zim is struggling with his own radically changed views on the world while trying to make sense of his own diminished life in the darkness of his rival's demise. Meanwhile, Gaz has become withdrawn and reclusive, trying to cope with the loss of her brother. Trying to keep a promise he made to his dead enemy, Zim tries to reach out to Gaz. He's unaware of the affect he'll have on her life and ultimately, he'll discover he has a power he never realized he had. . . . Each chapter has at least one song.

***

Walking In the Light

By Raina

***

It's been a month. Sometimes I look back and can't believe it's been that long. The whole thing doesn't feel very real to me. I feel . . . disconnected. It's like every day I get out of bed and start living only I'm not living, I'm watching. I'm watching myself live a life I don't want to live, one I can't seem to live. The house is quiet and, except for the insane cackles of Gir, lonely. I used to hate to go to skool but now I find it a refuge. In skool I can absorb myself in skoolwork and not have to think about the end of the day where I'll have to leave and go back to that quiet, lonely house. At lunch I have to watch someone pick at her food listlessly, turn on her video game and not play it. Then I have to watch her catch me looking at her and suffer the pain of her glare.

How much longer will this last? I want to leave this wretched planet. I can't. I'm stuck here. I have no one chasing me so I can feel important. I have no one to create classroom dioramas with. My schemes aren't fun anymore because there's no one trying to stop me.

No one talks to me. No one looks my way a second time. None of these earth-stink act like there's an alien invader in their midst. I used to prefer this but now. . . It's like I'm dead.

I want them to pay attention to me. I want someone to point me out and say, "Look an alien!" or ask five billion inappropriate questions. I want someone to poke holes in my ego. I want someone to break into my house and take pictures. I want to be bothered. I want to be inhibited. Oh God, I just want it all. I want everything I hated back. But that will never happen because Dib is dead and nobody cares anymore.

***

One Week Later

I can't eat this stuff.

He stuck his fork in the mass of white noodles drowned in red sauce. He twirled a length and lifted up to smell it. By reflex, he gagged and dropped the fork. "Horrible!" he muttered and shoved the offending tray away. "What sentient being eats this crap?"

He rested his chin on his hand and let his gaze drift around the cafeteria. As usual the lunchroom was bustling with the voices and bodies (not the mention smells) of human children. Most sat together in close-knit groups, heads bowed together to commune in their own little worlds. The other stragglers, branded by their own outsider status, merged together at their own select tables and engaged in conversations concerning their woeful place in society.

He sat alone. I've always sat alone. I think that's the one thing I'm really good at above all else. Being alone. I excel at it. Somebody give me an A.

Nonsense.

He sighed and his eyelids dropped in boredom. They snapped open all the way when he saw Gaz walk in. She picked an empty table and sat down. She didn't even have a lunch to pretend to eat. By force of habit, he kept watching after her expectantly. Reality sank in immediately and he shook his head. He had to stop doing this to himself.

He got up and went over to her table. She was dressed no different than usual and beside the glaring obviousness of the missing GameSlave, everything about Gaz was normal. Except her hands just laid there in her lap uselessly and her eyes were downcast.

Zim cleared his throat.

Nothing. She didn't move.

He shrugged mentally and sat down carefully. Zim didn't want to disturb her from her self-possession although he longed to reach out and shake her out of it. Talk to me I'm sitting right here, don't ignore me, I'm right here, please talk to me, there's no one else to talk to please talk to me.

But instead he said nothing. Like he always did. And she didn't move or make any sign he existed to her. Like she always did. It was their game. She would come in and sit down. Zim would come over and sit across from her. Then she would get up and leave.

There. She just left.

Zim put his elbows on the table and propped his head up. Every single time. He was getting sick of it. Yet he did nothing to change it. He never spoke. She never spoke. She would get up and leave and he would let her. Every time he was left feeling like he'd failed in some way. Every time he felt her hatred burning him, felt her silent unspoken animosity. She had his number and when the time came for it, she would make him pay. She would make him pay for something he hadn't done. There was no one alive to blame.

No one alive to blame except Zim.

The alien brought both fists down with a double thunk. No. This must not be. I cannot let things stand like this. I am Zim.

With a sense of resolve he hadn't experienced since the beginning of last month, Zim got up and marched after Gaz.

He found her sitting outside on a bench, zoning out. Her eyes were glazed over. When the alien approached, they cleared and fixed upon him. Zim winced as he felt waves of revulsion wash over him like water.

"Gaz." He ventured uncertainly. "I. . . Hey, wait!" She got up and started walking across the black top. He hurried after her. "Gaz. . ."

She slowed and stopped. Since her back was to him, Zim couldn't see the girl's expression. Taking that as a hopefully good sign, he continued guilelessly.

"Can we talk?"

Her shoulders hunched. After a bit, she slowly shook her head back and forth.

"Why not?"

Gaz turned around and looked right at him. Then she drew back her fist and punched the Irken soldier in the face.

Startled more than hurt, he fell back against the black top. The next thing he knew, she was standing over him, fists at her side. Zim covered his face with both hands and braced himself.

The attack did not continue. When he peeked, Gaz's eyes were still full of black heat. When she leaned over to speak, each word dripped with acid mockery.

"Did that hurt?"

Rather meekly, Zim nodded.

"Good."

Then she was gone. Zim sat up fast and extended a hand out to her retreating back. "Wait! I need to talk to you."

"There's nothing to say." She kept walking.

Uh-uh. I am not letting her win. Ignoring the stares of their peers, he caught up with Gaz. "Please, let me. . ." He made the mistake of touching her shoulder.

Gaz whipped around and grabbed Zim by the collar. "What part of 'there's nothing to say' didn't you understand?"

He was puzzled. "Which part?"

Gaz made a low threatening sound and let go of the alien roughly. "All right, if you want to be an idiot, fine. Let me say it to you plainly: LEAVE ME ALONE. Leave me alone or you'll need a dictionary to tell you what peace is." She made a fist and rested it between his eyes. "Do I make myself completely clear?"

"Yes." He squeaked it.

She lowered her fist, searching his face for any sign of a lie. Apparently she found what she was looking for because she gave a little nod and went on her way.

Zim couldn't resist calling after her. "How long do you want to keep this up, Gaz? You can't ignore me forever!"

No answer.

"YOU CAN'T!"

She was gone.

***

Gaz walked home slowly, carefully placing each foot forward. Her lips moved as she counted each step under her breath.

(Spend all your time waiting for that second chance

For a break that would make it okay)

"Stupid Zim," she muttered kicking a rock out of her path. "Stupid, brainless, green alien."

She came to the curb and stopped. The intersection was clear. It was safe to cross. It was safe enough for a whole herd of elephants to cross. Gaz anxiously looked around, searching. No one. This side of the street was completely deserted.

(There's always one reason to feel not good enough and it's hard at the end of the day)

Gaz swallowed and went to the edge of the curb. Tentatively she teetered back and forth, feeling her body get hot all over. She started to lift a foot. A flash of memory so intense swept across her psyche, punching the air from her lungs.

A small sound escaped from her and she backed away. "There has to be someone," she murmured, desperately searching her side of the street. Usually there was someone she could ask or a group she could pretend to be a part of. Unfortunately not many kids took the route she had to take to get home. In the past, it wasn't a problem because she had. . .

(I need some distraction

Oh beautiful release

Memory seeps from my veins)

Her nose itched and she swiped at it roughly, angrily. I promised myself I wouldn't cry today. . .

After a short, unsuccessful inner battle, Gaz moaned and sat on the edge of the curb, resting her forehead on her knees. A deep sense of shame filled her.

(Let me be empty and weightless and maybe I'll find some peace tonight

In the arms of an angel, fly away from here)

"What's the matter?"

She lifted her head, prepared to snarl "Go away" when she saw who was peering down at her. The usual rage that rose within her whenever he came around didn't come this time. Composing herself, the little girl stood and folded her arms to feign indifference.

(From this dark cold hotel room and the endlessness that you fear)

Zim eyed her for a few seconds. "All right, I see. Perfectly fine, nothing at all to worry about." He looked very angry though, despite the light-hearted tone. He started to the other side of the street after a cursory check of the road. Then someone reached out and caught him by the elbow.

"Huh?"

Gaz didn't let go. "Cross me."

"Cross you?"

She nodded.

(You're pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie

You're in the arms of an angel, may you find some comfort there)

Zim considered her. The poor creature's blank expression was enough for any adult human to take pity on her. Wordlessly he held out his hand to her. After a second of hesitation, she took it.

(So tired of the straight line and everywhere you turn

There's vultures and thieves at your back

And the storm keeps on twisting)

When they made it to the other side, she immediately let go and hurried in the direction of her house.

(You keep on building the lie, that you make up for all that you lack)

It took the alien a little while to comprehend what all of that had meant. Then he knew. Gaz, who always seemed a distinct loner, Gaz, who never seemed to rely on anyone or anything, needed someone to walk with her across a street. Unbelievable.

(It don't make no difference escaping one last time

It's easier to believe in this sweet madness)

You never realize how much you need someone to hold your hand until there's no one around.

"But I am," he said aloud quietly. "I have to make her see that. Somehow." He glanced up toward the sky. "I could use some help."

(Oh this glorious sadness that brings me to my knees

You're in the arms of an angel)

But it wasn't God he was talking to.

(May you find some comfort here. . .)

***

Two Months Later. . . . .

***

Thunk. Bang. Smack. Thunk. Bang. Smack.

That was what the sound of a ball hitting the bumper of a car, the pavement and the palm of the hand was like.

It was a satisfying sound.

Zim drew back his arm for a particularly hard throw. The aim misfired, bounced off the windshield and struck him between the eyes. With a startled grunt, the alien was knocked backward. The blue rubber ball stuck to his forehead, giving him a comical appearance.

No one was around on this hot summer day to witness the Irken's foolishness in action and mock him for it. A heavy, humid silence in the absence of laughter hung over him instead.

The ball lost its sticky hold and rolled off his face. Zim turned his head to the side, watching it roll down the sidewalk. It fell into the street gutter and made its way rapidly toward a storm drain.

"Oh no." He jumped to his feet and raced after it. Too late. The ball fell down between the iron grating and got carried away by the sewage passing below. Zim sank to his knees and let his head drop. That had been Gir's favorite ball. Stupid robot and his precious comfort items. He growled angrily, more angry at himself for being so thoughtless than

at Gir's penchant for placing human sentimentality on mere things.

Still, he couldn't resist muttering, "Curse you," before rising to his feet with effort. Sweat poured like rivers from his brow. It was horribly, insanely hot today. A human weather man on the TV had said it was supposed to go as high as hundred degrees. And that was just in the shade! He wished he could find the relief in water like the humans did. Unfortunately it only made his skin burn.

Giving up the ball for lost, Zim trudged his way toward home. Repeatedly he drew the back of his hand across his brow. Why had skool been let out for three months? Were the humans truly so dumb to think children would prefer to play out in the heat?

But I'm not a child. I haven't been a child for over a hundred years now.

About halfway home, he decided to take a break in the shade of an oak tree. While he rested with his back against the tree trunk, he watched a squirrel knaw on an acorn. It noticed the alien staring at it, chattered agitatedly and threw the thing at him. Zim only flinched slightly when it hit him on the arm and listlessly called after it as it scurried away. "You'll be sorry you did that, evil rat creature."

For about fifteen minutes he sat there, wishing he had the energy to make it back home where it was much cooler. The way things were going, though, he'd have to wait until the evening.

I hope I'm not in anyone's yard, he reflected sluggishly. The last thing he needed was some human running outside and screaming at him to get off their precious grass, which at moment was looking kind of yellow and dry.

"Humans and their stupid grass," he murmured. "Their stupid overappreciation for outdoor home décor and their stupid attachment to their stupidness. . ." He stretched lazily and crossed one ankle over the other. Yeah, he'd wait until it got cooler or got his energy back. Whichever came first.

Zim napped for a little while in the silence of the hot afternoon. When he woke to the sound of a car passing, he started counting how many passed by. Then he went on to size, shape, color, company, year and make. He learned more about human automobiles sitting there in two hours than it took for Henry Ford to come up with the letter T.

". . . . 2001 Ford Protégé, green, pretty silver hubcaps, going 30 miles per hour, the owner is a little old lady." He continued on boredly. "Who probably shouldn't be driving because it's hot and it's stupid to drive when it's hot and I'm bored out of my mind and I've lost all feeling in my lower back because I'm cutting off my own circulation, and there's a little girl walking by and now she's walking toward me and now she's staring at me funny because I'm sitting here talking out loud to myself so I should probably shut up now before she calls somebody . . . "

"Calls somebody?" the little girl interjected. "Why call somebody to shut you up when I can easily do that with my fist?" She made one to prove her point.

Zim snapped out of his monotonous, heat-induced drivel. He shook his head hard. "Oh, hello Gaz."

She appraised him lackadaisically. "Nice to see you too. Have you cracked?"

"Cracked?" Zim looked at himself and felt his head. "No. I don't believe so."

Gaz gave a little shake of her head and obliquely waved it off. "Hot out here isn't it?" She rubbed the sweat off her brow to demonstrate.

"You noticed."

The little girl smiled slightly at Zim's rather scathing reply. "Get up."

"Why?"

"'Cause you're coming somewhere with me."

"Where?" After the last two months of total silence and the healthy dose of the cold shoulder, whatever that came out of the blue with this human girl would always be suspicious.

Gaz appeared annoyed he'd bother asking. She was. Mostly it was the heat irritating her and it made for a fuse shortener. "Just get up."

"No." Zim glared her at to prove to her his resolve would always be intact. "Not until you tell me where we're going." As an afterthought. "And what we're doing."

Gaz eyed him, somewhat impressed with his shrewdness. "You don't trust me." It was a statement.

Zim just watched her quietly. Let her decide for herself.

After a few seconds, she sighed. "Okay. We're going to my house. I need someone to help me clean out a room. . . it's for a yard sale." Guiltily she looked to the side. "I-I don't have anyone else to ask."

Wearily, Zim climbed to his feet. "Is that all? What is a yard sale?"

"It's. . ." Gaz made herself think about it. "It's when you have a bunch of stuff you don't want or. . . or don't have room for anymore and you can't keep it because. . . Well, it doesn't make sense to keep it, you know? You price them and then you put the stuff outside your house and hope someone wants to take your old stuff off your hands."

Off your hands? Zim looked at his own for a second then back at the girl. She just smiled half-heartedly and put her hands behind her back. "Yeah, um, there's a lot of stuff to go through." The little pack rat, she thought in sad affection. It wasn't Zim she was thinking about either.

Well, it doesn't sound dangerous. I can't imagine what sort of scheme she's planning with this 'yard sale' however this is the chance I'm getting.

"All right," he agreed. "I will help you with this 'yard sale' thing." He followed her back out into the sun toward the Membrane home. Gaz tried again to smile and almost made it this time.

"Oh yeah," Gaz began when they reached her home. "If you see anything you like, um, you can have it. Although I don't think there's anything you'd want." She was thoroughly uncomfortable, and she knew it was showing. Zim almost knocked her over getting in the house.

"Coolness! The wonderful coolness!" he exclaimed racing by her and standing in front of the stairs. "Victory for Zim!"

It's nice to see someone hasn't lost his edge. The human girl refrained from commenting and started up the stairs. "Follow me."

Zim broke pose and did.

Feeling very nervous, Gaz kept on talking. It was unlike her to talk so much but she had to do something to keep her mind off what was seething underneath the surface. "Uh, you haven't been here before, have you?"

"Not upstairs." In the hallway between two rooms, Zim spied a goldfish bowl with an orange fish with wide fins swimming around a stone castle. "Ooo, pretty."

Gaz paused in front of the second room. "That's Tak."

"Tak?!" Zim's eyes went round and wide. "That is NOT Tak!"

The human rolled her eyes. "No, stupid, that's the fish's name. Di. . . I mean, we named her after Tak."

Zim was confused. "Why? She tried to destroy your world."

Gaz shrugged. "That's what I wanted to know. But my broth. . . I mean, never mind." She opened the door to the room. "Coming?"

Zim nodded and tore his gaze away from the fish. He followed her up to the entrance to the room and halted. His mouth fell open. "This is. . ."

Gaz went to the window, tore back the curtains to allow sunlight to pour in. "I don't know why he always kept it so dark in here." She noticed the alien remained on the threshold, looking rather uncertain. "It's okay."

Zim entered the room and looked around. The walls were covered with every bit of paranormal memorabilia anyone could think of. Bigfoot, The Jersey Devil, Mothman, aliens, the Loch Ness Monster, banshees, ghosts, vampires, human mutants, dubious photos of UFO's. When he closed the bedroom door, a huge poster advertisement for ALIEN greeted him. It had a picture of an egg with green light coming out of a crack. Underneath it was the tagline: IN SPACE NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM.

Despite himself, Zim chuckled. "I like that."

Gaz glanced up from where she knelt on the floor by the bed, which had little flying saucers all over the bed sheets. "You want it?"

Zim frowned. "Um. . . I'll think about it." Curiously he came to stand beside her as she pulled out a cardboard box from beneath the bed. "What's that?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. Probably a whole bunch of magazines or something." She opened it, waving away the dust bunnies. Inside the box was a few neatly labeled notebooks, a couple of roles of undeveloped film and a leather-bound book entitled DIB'S JOURNAL: IF YOU TOUCH THIS I WILL KILL YOU. But in tinier print it said: Who'd Want To Touch It Anyway?

Both alien and girl laughed. Gaz gently picked it up and laid it aside. "I'll keep this," she said quietly, absently running a finger down the leather binding. "He probably would've wanted me to have it."

Zim reached down and picked up a notebook. "'Poems'?" Zim read aloud, his forehead furrowing. "What are those?"

"You're kidding." Gaz gently snatched the notebook out of the alien's claws. "Dib wrote poems?!" She shook her head and flipped through it. "Wow, he's got a table of contents and everything. Never knew he was so organized." Her curiosity piqued, Gaz plopped on the bedspread. Zim slowly eased beside her, glancing over her shoulder. He hadn't the slightest idea of what they were doing but if it was enough to fascinate her this much, it had to be worth a look.

For a few minutes, she simply flipped through it.

Zim spoke up. "Read one."

She glanced up questionably.

"I'm not very good at your language." Zim admitted sheepishly.

Gaz nodded. "All right." She picked one at random. "It's called Walking In the Light."

Stand still while I pour this water over you.

You're too much into the dark art of paroxysm.

Enough is enough.

I'm not here to blow sunshine in your face.

Or hand you a pair of rose-tinted glasses.

I just want you to crack a smile

Say something untinged by enigmatic mutters.

From where you come from I don't see.

We're two separate entities.

You see your sunless path and I see mine.

But I can let the light in when I can.

Where is yours?

I wait for it, watching while you stand in the shadows.

Understand I can't be here forever.

I have a life too.

Watching you drown in your own self-importance drains me.

See here this path?

I will walk it alone if I have to.

Hey, it doesn't bother me.

Not at all.

I'll take what life hands me and I don't care what kind of platter it's on.

As long as I can go out there and find it I'll take it.

Touch it with my hands and hold it up to the sky.

You see your sunless path and I see mine.

Stand still while I pour this water over you.

Let the light in when you can.

I'd so much like to walk with you in the light.

I can walk it alone.

But it would be even better if we could do it together.

Gaz closed it. For a long moment she sat there, staring straight ahead. "It was about me."

She sniffed. "I-I had no idea that's what he thought about me." A new levy of tears threatened her and she fought them back for the sake of pride.

Zim took the notebook and squinted at the poem. "You? But he didn't say your name."

"That's the beauty of poetry." Gaz said quietly. "He didn't have to."

Zim narrowed his eyes at the notebook suspiciously. "I wonder what he wrote about me?" It sounded selfish the second it left his mouth and he regretted the way it came out.

Gaz pretended not to notice. "If he can write like that about me, I shouldn't be surprised of what he'd write about anyone else." She closed it and put it back in the box, nudging it back under the bed with her toe. "I'm going to keep these things." Taking a deep breath she indicated two large empty cardboard boxes lying beside the open closet. "The one marked YARD SALE is what we're going to sell and the unmarked one is what we're going to keep."

Zim merely nodded. Best let her make all the decisions. He still had no idea what cleaning out a room involved. However he sensed that cleaning out this particular one was going to be the most difficult experience he'd ever have to go through. He could see how much Gaz was suffering. Ever since. . . IT happened, Zim found it hard to bear. For himself and in others.

Gaz pointed to the closet. "You clean out the closet. Um, the clothes go in the marked box. Anything else, just ask me." She pointed to the furniture. "I'll-I'll do the rest." She bit her bottom lip and forced herself to meet his gaze. I hate the way he's looking at me. If I look any harder at his eyes I'll see what I look like to him and there'll be no turning back from there.

Silently Gaz went about her self-assigned task, pulling out dresser drawers and riffling through them quietly.

Zim shrugged and stood before the open closet. Unlike most closets, this one was impeccably clean. A huge white plastic bin was the sole thing sitting on the floor. Curiously, he pried it open. He felt like an intruder and not in a good way. In another time, he would've mowed over entire earth neighborhoods to be where he was now. Here he was, finally, in the very place he longed to be and he couldn't enjoy it.

The lid came off easily. Casting it aside, the alien knelt down and perused the contents with his eyes. Video tapes. Probably twenty or thirty of them. All were labeled and stacked neatly. He picked one up and held it up. "Gaz?"

"Mmm?" The girl didn't glance up, preoccupied by a collection of CD's, mostly store bought blanks people usually purchased to burn music off the internet.

"I found a bunch of video tape things."

Gaz put aside the CD's and came over. "Wow. Where'd all those come from?"

Zim squinted at the labels hard. "I think he made them."

She took the one he held and read the label. "Old House: Haunted? Or Not?" Unexpectantly she chuckled. "Okay, I know what these are."

Zim made his face ask the question. She answered. "Dib liked to go to these weird places with his video camera. I think he fancied himself a documentarian."

"You think?" Zim sniffed. "Usually whenever I turned around he was standing there holding a video camera up to his face."

A knowing silence passed between them. Then gradually they went back to their rummaging. For the next hour and a half, no more conversation passed between them except the occasional question from Zim about certain items, what they were or if they held any significance. Most things like the clothes, the posters, dubious snapshots of blurry objects, magazines, curtains and bed sheets easily found their way into the YARD SALE box. Other things, like the computer, notebooks, TV, VCR, picture albums, the videos and a few CD's stayed behind.

Over the past hour and a half, Gaz noticed Zim seemed ill at ease. Most likely he felt uncomfortable moving about in his former enemy's territory. He almost never met her eye when he asked her a question. If he misspoke and angered her, he mumbled an apology that sounded sincere enough. Constantly he readjusted his wig, more out of habit than out of need and the whole time a blank expression remained on his usually anti-passive face. Any residual hatred she felt toward the alien who sometimes flinched whenever she came near began to subside. He's not like Dib said he was, she thought. It was hard to believe this creature was once a power mad idiot who couldn't find his, ahem, with both hands.

"Do you still hate him?" Gaz heard herself ask, busily by closing the cardboard boxes. There was no real need to do that, it was just a way to cover up the shaking in her hands.

Zim looked up from where he'd taken to perching on the edge of the bed, staring out the milky glow of the window. "Huh?"

Gaz folded her arms and waited.

"Oh." The Irken enmeshed his fingers together, eyes fixed upon them. "I guess maybe. . . not. No."

A dark look came out over the Membrane child's face. "I guess it's easier to say that because he's dead."

Zim's face blanched white. He got ready to scream denial but he just couldn't. Slowly he nodded, not trusting his voice.

Gaz came and stood before him. "Zim."

The alien looked away. She reached out and touched his face, bading him to look at her. She dropped her hand when he complied. "Look, it's okay."

"No, it's not." Zim's eyelids drooped. "How can it be?"

Gaz sat beside him and put her hands around her knees. "It will have to be, Zim. You can't change the way you feel. I can't."

"But it's WRONG." Zim paused, surprised at how importunate he sounded. "It's wrong, isn't it? To stop hating someone after they're dead because you realized you never wanted them to die in the first place?" A deep, dark look came out on his face. "Do you have any idea how that felt? That still feels?"

Wordlessly Gaz nodded. "Yes. I know."

Stubbornly the Irken shook his head. "No, you don't. I actually wanted him to die. With a passion. I wanted to see him die. And I did. I got my wish." He sighed. "It was only after it was granted I knew in my heart it wasn't what I'd wanted at all."

The girl just kept nodding. Tentatively, she laid a hand on his shoulder. He jerked back and made a point of scooting away some. "Gaz," Zim said helplessly. "I know you hate me. Stop pretending you don't."

Gaz's mouth dropped. "Zim, I. . ."

He shook his head.

His former enemy's sister made two fists of rage. "Zim!" When he flinched, she eased off. "Zim," she said more gently. "I don't hate you."

The alien drew himself together and shivered. "I-I want to believe that. But I don't think I can."

Gaz shrugged. "Whatever. You want to wallow in that lie, fine." She stood up. "It seems like that's the way you prefer to live anyway."

Zim's mouth fell open in shock. He couldn't process what he'd just heard. "The way I prefer to live? Hey, wait, you think I live in a lie?"

She nodded, although it wasn't a happy admission. "Yeah, I do. You pretend all the time. Pretend you're superior. Pretend you're all big and brave. Pretend you're smarter than everyone else. In reality, you're just this little coward that's afraid of his own feelings. You keep demanding praise because you don't believe in yourself. That's what I think."

Zim made two bunches of the mattress material when his claws gripped it.

"I'm like that too. I live in my own lie. We all do. But I've never seen anyone cling as determinedly as you do to yours." Gaz backed down when she saw the blind rage fill behind the contact lenses. "Look, Zim, I'm not trying to make you feel bad. I'm just. . . . I just want you to move on."

Zim covered his face. He peered at her between his fingers. "What about you?" He waved at the now mostly stark and empty room. "Does this help?"

"Some." Gaz sank down on the floor and sat Indian style, her back to the bed. "It's part of it. It's always going to hurt but it makes it easier to bear."

Zim laid down and peered over the edge at her. For a few minutes he just watched her. "I'm sorry."

Huh? Was someone else in the room? It sure didn't sound like some self-centered alien. Gaz turned her head toward him. "For what?"

"I don't know. For whatever I did. That I'm doing. That I might do." Zim exhaled loudly. "I've changed a lot. I don't know if you noticed that but. . ."

Gaz had to smile. "I did."

The alien kind of colored red. "Well, I'm glad you did." He paused. "I regret we had to get to know each other like this."

Gaz shrugged. "Grief brings people together. But I'm not sorry for it." She rocked back and forth gently. "No one's ever tried to be my friend before. Not as hard as you did anyway." She stopped rocking and shifted around to look at him. "Thank you."

"You're, uh, welcome." He didn't think it needed to be said. It just felt good to say it.

Suddenly what she'd been dreading came up in her mind and knew the time had come to ask. "Zim?"

"Yes?"

"What happened?"

Zim peered at her closely. "Happened?"

"Between you and my brother. Before he died. Did he say anything?"

A long silence passed.

"Well," Zim said slowly, struggling, forcing his memory to surrender the information. "He kept asking for you. . . and he cried when I told him you couldn't come because you were in another ambulance." He stopped.

"Go on." Zim gave her a sad look. "Please. I want to know."

"Then," he went on slowly still, meticulously going back in time. "Then he kept crying. The paramedics tried to give him this morphine stuff but he wouldn't let them. 'No drugs, no drugs.' He said it while staring straight at me. I think he was afraid if he was unconscious I might try to do something. I don't know. But," Zim kept his gaze focused out the window. "His hands kept grabbing at the stretcher. That's how bad the pain was. So I took one of his hands and he held it so tightly it hurt me. I wanted to yank away but he kept saying, with this huge mess of tears coming out, 'Don't go!' I told him I wouldn't. I couldn't anyway, we were on an ambulance and I don't think I would've if even if we weren't." Zim faltered and stopped to get himself back under control. Deliberately he focused on the windowpane to keep steady. "Just before we reached the hospital, he let go. There was this kind of peacefulness on his face. The last thing he said to me was, 'It doesn't hurt, Zim.'" His voice started to go a little higher as he tried to fight back sobs. "Th-Then this insane, shrill noise filled the ambulance. The humans made me move out of the way while they tried to revive him. One of them had to restrain me. I went crazy, Gaz. I said a lot of things I shouldn't have said. 'You fool! You can't die! YOU CAN'T DIE! Do you hear me, miserable flesh creature? YOU. . . YOU CAN'T LEAVE UNTIL I MAKE YOU LEAVE!"

Zim couldn't go on anymore. He shut his eyes and listened to the quiet sounds of Gaz. She'd starting crying in the middle of the story but he'd continued on, like he'd been possessed. Had to finish it. Had to.

But now he stopped. The past had let him go.

Gaz looked up, her small face tear-stained. She reached up and touched the alien's hand, resting her own lightly over it. Zim put his other hand over it, permitting her to sob.

After a bit, her sobs subsided. She wiped away the remaining wetness and grabbed a nearby box of tissues. Neither said anything for a long time after that.

Zim moved to go, feeling horrible at having reopened a wound in the young girl he'd been trying so hard to shield everyone, including himself, from. I never wanted to tell that story. I never wanted to relive it. Even though I always will. Every day.

Instead Gaz held his hand, making him stay put for a moment longer. "Don't go."

Zim sat back down.

"Just stay until you really have to go. Please?"

Zim saw the desperation in her eyes and realized her feelings mirrored his own. Leaving her alone in the misery he'd rained upon her was exactly the last thing he wanted to do.

And to be alone for him . . . . that in its own way, was even worse.

A/N: "Walking In the Light" was a poem I wrote some time ago about my brother who I always fight with and have never gotten along with. I decided to use it for this story because it reminded me of the way Dib might feel about his sister.