Author's Note: Sorry this chapter took so long. I was working on other fics and stuff. Okay, it was mostly slacking off. My apologies that it's been about two years.
Chapter 4: Welcome to the World
Smog. A smothering cloud of nauseating pollution restrained me with unforgiving pressure.
That's all I remember from the restless hours of that night that were spent in the most fitful sleep of my life. When it all finally subsided, I felt like I was surfacing from a deep, placid ocean. When my still twitching eyelids opened, I squinted at the prison that I had, only two days ago, called my world. A new day had begun. Nothing had changed. I got up slowly out of my brother's bed and trudged to the closet in my own room to get dressed.
A less intense sun fell through the windows as I ventured into the kitchen for breakfast. After halfheartedly composing a bowl of stale cereal and milk due to expire in the next five days, I took it to the table where I suddenly noticed Dad and another man, who wore an old pair of overalls and a stained plaid shirt. The two men were sipping coffee nervously.
"Hello, honey," Dad motioned me over to a chair. He turned to the other man. "This is my daughter, Gaz."
I sat down with my cereal and eyed the other man, having never seen him before but making a heart-sinking prediction.
"Daughter, this is the driver of the sem—" Dad paused. "Well, you know."
"I'm so sorry, kid," the large man in overalls was in tears. "I didn't…mean to…"
I nodded again, glancing at my cereal and realizing I no longer had an appetite. The truck driver took the hint and saw himself out as Dad reached towards me.
"Gaz…I…" When he found himself at a loss for words, we just sat there in silence. I whimpered a little and buried my face in his chest.
"He was…a...really…good kid," Dad said understandingly, and ran a hand across my back.
"I…shouldn't…have…" I couldn't finish, feeling the hot tears streaming out.
"It's not your fault, sweetie," he said softly, hugging me closer, but my stomach turned and I felt lightheaded.
"It's notthat," I said in a squeaky whisper, "I shouldn't…have…treated…him…like
Dad lifted my face towards him. "Like what?" he asked, very confused.
I stared into his eyes for a long time, heart pounding…hands shaking…shoulders heaving…Dad stared back at me, and I thought I heard faint words like "Daughter, are you alright?", but his voice was distant, as if I was far away from him while still sitting on his lap. His words were drowned out by a stabbing, intrusive voice searing through my mind.
'It's time, Gaz…it's far past time…'
It's time? Time…to…I shuddered at the thought...I swallowed with my raw throat and cradled my ice-cold hands…
For years I had panicked at the striking idea that I might one day have to…confess. It was my worst nightmare, the kind of fear that occasionally woke me up in the night sweating. Though I worried about it less and less as time went by, it had still haunted me whenever Dad took a second glance at his kids, thinking he'd heard Dib sobbing, but all I had to do was put an arm around my brother, and Dad, satisfied that there was nothing to worry about, would leave. Then my nightmare would end, and Dib's would begin again.
"Dad, I…" I swallowed. "There's something I should have told you years ago."
"Gaz," my dad said very softly and gently, "you did nothing wrong."
"Dad," I said very shakily, "you don't know the half of it."
"The half of…what?"
I took a deep, audible breath and wondered where to start.
"Remember those…well…those red marks…on Dib's face and neck?"
Dad nodded very slowly.
"I did that to him."
"I'm sure you didn't mean to, honey," Dad placed a hand on my shoulder. "Accidents happen."
"No." An icy chill raced up my spine. "No. I meant to do that. I forced him into hot water, almost scalding, in the bathtub. And it was because he was trying to do something nice for me. To cheer me up."
Dad was frozen in place and silent. I wanted to leave it at that, but something urged me to continue. This had to be said.
"And when Dib's leg was broken in three places when he was ten—"
"That was because he was using his telescope on the roof and fell off," Dad interrupted me soothingly.
"I pushed him."
My father said nothing. My gaze fell to my fidgeting hands, not understanding how I had the courage to admit anything more…
"And the black eyes and the bruises and the scrapes he had that one night five weeks after Mom died…"
"No…" Dad said in a barely audible whisper.
I squeezed my eyes shut. "And when he had to go to the hospital for that dislocated shoulder and it was swelled up for days…"
I heard a faint sound escape Dad's lips, but he was obviously struck speechless. I opened my eyes and looked back up at him.
"Half of the injuries Dib has ever had…"
My dad only stared at me for a moment, and then imprinted three words in my mind forever.
"I trusted you."
Noon took its own sweet time arriving that day. While Dad occupied himself in various tasks such as canceling appointments that had been scheduled for the next couple of weeks and settling his son's affairs, I assigned myself to exploring my brother's possessions, in hopes I would, in some way, begin to feel closer to him. I went through countless solar system maps, cryptozoological field guides, and scale models of spaceships-and those were only the contents of his shelves. What he had accumulated in his file cabinets was a staggering amount of portfolios, data charts, photographs, scientific samples for examination, copies of correspondence letters with the Infected Eardrum Network or whatever that stupid club of his was called, newspaper clippings, scrawled notes from his studies of Zim, and many other categories which would surely take me months to fully explore.
I closed the drawers, pressed my lips tightly together and took a good, long look at the cabinet. Where to begin?
Finally, I held my arm in the air towards the file cabinet, shaking it rapidly up and down before stopping in front of some random drawer, labeled "WXY". I pulled it open and was met with a few hundred folders about werewolves, wyverns, x-ray goggles, and the Yeti, just to name a few subjects. I sighed and took hold of the first folder my hand gravitated towards—only to find it was stuck. I was never one to shrug such a thing off and leave it be, so I tugged a little harder. It refused to budge, which drove me to recklessly yank it with both hands, uncaring whether or not I harmed any files; I just wanted it out. With all my strength I fought with it for all of two minutes before it gave in. I flew backwards from the force and dropped to the ground. I looked and saw that I had clung to the released folder, but its contents had escaped my grasp. I glared in annoyance at the many documents littering the floor; but the one nearest to where I had fallen-a photo with a scribbled caption attached via paper clip—caused my expression to lighten to curiosity. Picking it up, I stared on in great interest, not necessarily at the odd subject, but at the professional focus and clarity of the snapshot. The image depicted a shaggy, bipedal canine, large arms lashing out towards the camera, and it was incredibly easy to see all of the dirt and twigs clinging to the matted fur, the infernal ferocity emanating from its eyes, and nearly each of the dagger-like teeth. My eyes widened. Even the most skeptical of zoologists would be rendered speechless. Personally, I had never believed in werewolves, but this photo had changed my mind in an instant. I soon realized—despite Dib's obvious foolishness in having ventured close enough to the rogue monster to photograph it in action—I admired the quality photograph. I had never truly…admired anything he'd done.
But…why hadn't he shown this to anyone? If he had intended to, I would have been the first to know. He had always come to me with plans first—apparently spouting them off to me gave him some boost in confidence. I ridiculed him, I repelled him, but I was the only one ever around.
I was slightly startled by a knock on Dib's door.
The addressed stepped in.
"Gaz, I want—" he stopped short upon seeing the mess of papers and folders I had made on the floor.
"Dad, have you seen this stuff?" I asked.
He picked up the nearest paper and began to read aloud.
"Wyverns—two-legged dragons usually pictured in medieval coats-of-arms, but I'm entirely certain I saw one in my backyard…" Dad dropped the file and sighed. "My poor, insa—"
"He wasn't insane, Dad!" I surprised myself by exclaiming.
My father sighed. "Oh, Gaz, you don't really—?"
I held up the werewolf picture. "Look!"
Dad took the photo from me, studying it intently. "What…?"
"A werewolf, Dad," I smiled, "Dib was never crazy."
"But all those other bizarre things he said," Dad looked at me baffled. "They can't all be true."
"I mean, he said some very off-the-wall things," he took on his science-professor voice, "Dib swore up and down that his foreign classmate was a space alien."
I looked him deeply in the eye. "Dad…Zim is a space alien."
A gloved hand, still holding the photo, raised to my father's forehead and began to smooth through his single lock of hair. "Come now, Daughter…"
"No, really Dad, it's true. I can show you sometime. He has a very simple disguise."
Dad glanced back at the cryptid photograph. "Okay, so if I just give you the benefit of the doubt, why has he never shown this to me?" He waved the photo in indication.
"Everyone either thought he was crazy or didn't care. Must have gotten to him, I guess."
Dad said nothing for a moment, just tilted his head downwards. He finally breathed audibly and looked back up at me.
"Daughter, I…I came in here to give you something," he lifted the hand that wasn't holding the photo. In it was a small, folded black shape. "I was thinking that maybe you'd like to go to Bloaty's in a minute, to cheer both of us up."
I took the object. It was of sleek cloth. I bit my lip and looked back up at my dad, who seemed to wink behind his goggles.
"It's supposed to start raining soon."
I half-smiled, unfolded the trench coat, and put it on.
"I'm sure he wants you to have it," Dad placed his fists on his hips in that classic proud pose of his.
It was only then I remembered: I had given the coat to Dib years ago. It was a beautiful Christmas, probably my happiest one. Dib, at the age of eight, had been so thrilled to open that gift box to reveal the jacket of his dreams. And I had gotten Dad's help in stitching a message into it that told my brother how much he meant to me. I now lifted my arm to peer into the left sleeve. There it was, in royal blue thread—
I'll always shelter you from the rain.
I smiled as I recalled the doctor saying not too long after that Christmas that Dib wouldn't get his growth spurt for a while, so that jacket should fit a couple more years. And now, four years later, it still did.
I turned my gaze down to my own prized possession. My necklace. A skull on a gray ribbon. That same Christmas, I, going on the age of seven, had happily unwrapped the jewelry of my dreams. I now turned the pendant over to see the small message engraved on the back—
I'll always love you for what's deep inside.
Dib had certainly kept his promise—and gone so much further than that—so why hadn't I kept mine?
As I hugged the jacket tighter around me, I suddenly was stricken with the oddest sensation. I felt as if something much warmer than the trench coat was wrapped around me.
A voice whispered in my mind. "Now I can always shelter you from the rain."
I smiled. Brushing away a tear, I looked back up at Dad.
As we left the house, I looked back over my shoulder. "Thank you. Thank you for everything, Brother."
It had started raining, but for whatever reason, neither Dad nor I had felt like taking the car. So we walked down the sidewalk, sharing his umbrella. We talked, we laughed, we reflected.
"Remember when Dib and I were really little, and Mom made Dib an alien-shaped birthday cake, and he thought a real alien was attacking her?"
"Oh, how could I ever forget! He flew to his mother's rescue. That's my boy. Oh, and do you remember when you were a baby, and often you couldn't fall asleep without your brother?"
"Uh, no, Dad, I don't remember when I was a baby."
"Oh. Well you would cry and throw a fit until we brought Dib in to talk to you. Of course, he was still a baby, too, so it was just babble, but it soothed you and you'd be out like a light in no time."
"He did that?"
I glanced away to notice that the rain had subsided. Noticing as well, Dad closed the umbrella. My eyes happened to fall on the sidewalk, where the shower had left several large puddles.
I grinned and did something I never thought I'd do. Stepping ahead of Dad, I plunged into the nearest one, soaking him.
"C'mon, Dad!" I laughed, "Splash me back!"
Author's Note: Hope you liked it. I'm sorry again for taking so long.