A/N: This quick little story was uploaded to dA and AO3 back in November of last year. I really have no idea why I never put it on ffnet, but, well, here it is now. Uh, Merry early Christmas!
Three sharp raps on the door with his knuckles, then he withdrew his hand. She didn't like any more than three. She didn't like the doorbell, either. At least he remembered that. Maybe it would somehow do a little to make up for the fact that he had found her again.
There was a pause. A long one. He stood out there with his hands stuffed in his pockets, shuffling his booted feet back and forth, little clouds appearing under his nose in the frigid air. He wondered if she had gone somewhere. But she couldn't have, the car was parked outside. She still had the car. Heh, so she hadn't gotten rid of everything from her "old life." But what would she say when she found out that that her past had once again turned up on her doorstep?
"Cold," the little bundle standing by his feet cursed. "Much, much too cold." The tiny thing stood up only at about knee-height. It looked exceptionally fat with its layers of sweaters and coats and who knows what else.
He nudged it with his foot. "Sh."
The thing fell silent. Normally it would have grumbled… perhaps it was just too cold to speak.
He wondered if they should go. Maybe she wasn't home, after all. Well, that would render this entire trip pointless.
But then the door did open. With the amount of time it had taken he had somehow half-expected that she would crack the door open only partway, peering outside like a timid creature that was ready to flee at any moment. Instead, she flung the door open and barred the entrance, a baseball bat clenched in one thin hand. Huh. Perhaps his sister hadn't changed as much as he thought.
At the sight of him her already pale face drained of color even more and she fell against the doorframe, eyes wide. The baseball bat slipped from her hand.
He stepped forward in alarm. "Are you okay?"
"Dad?" Her whisper was shocked, horrified.
He stopped, not daring to go any closer to her, and shook his head. "No! No. It's Dib."
Her face darkened and she gripped the edge of the door tightly as if she wanted to slam it in his face. "Oh. I thought you were someone else."
Yes. So she had. He pushed aside the queasy feeling that thought produced and decided not to bring it up.
"What are you doing here?" Her voice was still hard. Then her eyes, narrowed but not squinted closed as he had always been so used to, flicked to the little figure standing next to him and her voice grew even harsher. "What is he doing here?"
His heart thumped against his chest. He knew it had been a bad idea to bring him! Why had he been so stupid? He tried to block the little figure from view. "Gaz! You have to—it's not—"
She took one step out the door and shoved him. He tumbled backwards, landing hard in the snow. His hands stung.
"How dare you bring him? It's his—fault—"She lunged for the little figure, but it slipped away and darted back down the walk, taking care not to go near the snow piled up in the yard. Someone must come by every once in a while to shovel snow off the walkway.
"I'm sorry I brought him." Dib picked himself back up and faced his little sister once again. "He wouldn't stop screaming. You… you know how it is."
"No. I don't." Gaz retreated back into the doorway and crossed her arms. She was standing in the shadows now—the inside of the house was dark. There must not have been any lights on inside. "Go away, Dib."
He'd worked up the courage to come this far to see his sister again. He wasn't going to leave now. The little creature that had come with him was standing near the side of the house, visibly shivering even from this distance. He was probably staring at them. Dib shifted slightly so the figure was blocked from his view. "I'm not going just yet. Come for a walk with me?"
She looked at him stonily. It wasn't exactly a glare. But she didn't exactly seem overjoyed to see her brother again, either.
"Come on, Gaz. We won't be gone long." Dib moved aside. Gaz remained silent and her expression didn't flicker, but she stepped outside, closed the door, and started down the walkway ahead of him. As they left the house the little figure trotted after them. This time, Gaz ignored him. Dib quickened his stride slightly until he walked next to Gaz and matched her step for step.
"Someone told me you were dead," Gaz said flatly. Dib glanced at her but didn't otherwise respond. Gaz continued gazing straight ahead. "I didn't believe them. You always were too annoying to just die."
"I came close a couple times," Dib muttered.
Gaz snorted. "Still messing around with that stupid paranormal junk?"
"Zim is not paranormal junk!" a voice said from behind them. "And Dib has nothing to do with me!" The little creature was still following them.
"I kind of thought he was dead, though," Gaz remarked without looking around. Dib shrugged.
"He really is too annoying to die," he said.
"And he's just taken to following you around?"
Dib sighed. "Everything he had is gone, Gaz. Even his stupid robot blew up years ago. He'd probably have succumbed to some sort of disease or burned up in the rain by now if it wasn't for me."
Dib kicked at a loose clump of snow on the ground. "Why? He still hates me. He still thinks that his friends from Irk are going to come for him—if he had friends, anyway. I doubt it. No one's coming for him. I don't really have a use for petty grudges anymore."
"So what is he, your pet?" Gaz still didn't look around.
Dib frowned. "Don't be stupid, Gaz. He just tags along with me sometimes—he still lives in that old base of his. He's had to gut it over the years for different things, though. I think his leaders cut off his supplies ages ago."
"The Tallest are merely busy," the little figure behind them said. Apparently he was listening to everything they said. So they fell silent for a while. Dib's nerves twisted in his stomach. And along with them, sorrow. It had been so long. He barely knew what to say to his own sister.
"Looks like something got you," Gaz noted. Dib looked at the back of his hand, which she must have meant. There was a dark scar on his knuckle where a deep cut had once been.
"Yeah," he said, putting his hand back in his pocket. "Werewolf. Luckily they only pass on their curse through their teeth, not their claws." He swallowed. "So… how have you been?"
Gaz only shrugged slightly. Dib attempted to cover up his question with a cough.
"Why did you come back?" Gaz said in a quiet voice. Dib noticed that she had never asked where they were going. He knew that it hadn't slipped her mind. She probably just didn't care.
"Well, it's… been fifteen years since we all last spent Christmas together," Dib said. Gaz raised an eyebrow. "Yes, I kept track. Haven't you? Since…?" He cut himself off. Gaz's face had turned stormy again. Why did he keep saying the wrong thing? "I just wanted to have another Christmas Eve all together. Maybe for the last time."
Gaz scowled. "We can't have a Christmas all together, you idiot, Dad's—" She stumbled over her own words and froze. They were standing outside the gate to a cemetery. The cemetery.
Dib suddenly took an interest in his boots. "Did you… ever know you lived so close to it?" he asked. His voice had dropped. It seemed no louder than the shifting sounds of the fallen snow.
"…No," Gaz said, equally as quietly. She was staring at the gate.
The little figure that had followed behind them the entire time came up then. He had discarded several of his coats and scarves somewhere along the way, revealing honeydew-green skin, glittering reddish-pink eyes, and thin black antennae. At one time he had worn a disguise to hide his extraterrestrial features. He hardly ever bothered with that, now.
"Zim, can you get the lock?" Dib asked.
The little figure scowled. "Of course I can get the lock." He stepped over to the gate, taking the heavy padlock in a hand covered with multiple gloves and examining it from all angles. Then he stripped off the gloves on one hand, glaring at Dib and Gaz as if they were invading his privacy by watching, and stuck the claw of one finger into the keyhole in the lock. He twisted it back and forth a couple times, his dark red tongue poking out of his mouth. In seconds the padlock clicked open and fell to the ground.
Dib raised his eyebrows. "How long have you known how to do that?" He'd been expecting the alien to blast the lock with a laser or something.
Zim didn't reply to the question. He just pulled all the gloves back over his hand, looking pleased with himself.
Gaz pushed on the gate, swinging it open with barely a creak. The graveyard was eerily quiet in the winter afternoon. Without a word, the three headed inside. It suddenly occurred to Dib that they could have brought flowers. Or perhaps that would have felt too weird.
The sun was setting but there was still enough light to see the names on the headstones. Gaz walked quickly through them, scanning each one as she passed. Her pace quickened with every row of headstones she went by. As soon as they had stepped through the gate, Gaz had taken over the trip. Dib hurried to keep up. He could hear Zim hopping after him, avoiding the snow as best he could. Dib didn't turn to look at him.
Gaz was almost running now and was far ahead. And suddenly, she stopped. And just stared downward, for a long time. A cold hand closed over Dib's heart and dug claws into it. He slowed, barely able to move himself forward when at last he ended up by Gaz's side.
There was silence. They both watched the headstone without speaking. Neither of them could tear their eyes away from the one name at the top—Membrane.
Zim didn't appear next to them. That was good, at least—he knew better than to get within Gaz's range of sight at the moment. She had made it quite apparent earlier that she still blamed him for the… for the incident. Dib turned his head slightly and out of the corner of his eye saw Zim sitting on a headstone, tracing something (probably the person's name) with his finger.
"I'm sorry, Gaz," Dib said, turning back to look at his father's grave. "I should've been there."
Gaz didn't answer.
Dib reached into his pocket, running his finger along the edge of the wrapped package the pocket contained. "I've been meaning to give you this." He pulled it out, and handed it to her.
Gaz knew what it was as soon as she took it from him. He could tell. She slit open the wrapping paper carefully with her nail and peeled the paper away. Silence.
"It's my old Game Slave 2," she said at last.
Dib hesitated. Then he nodded. "You left it behind. I… thought you might want it."
"That was stupid of you," Gaz said. But she didn't look angry. She didn't seem affected at all by the return of the one object she had once cared about more than anything in the world. More than the world. There was a beat. "I don't have anything for you."
"I didn't expect you to." He spoke truthfully. Gaz nodded in acceptance. "…Merry Christmas, Gaz."
All of a sudden Dib couldn't stay here any longer. He whipped around, rubbing his arms under the sleeves of his long trench coat. All right, he'd done what he came for. He needed to get out of here.
A hand tapped his arm. He turned, surprised, to find Gaz looking at him. "Hold on. You didn't give me the chance to say 'Merry Christmas' back, you moron."
The corner of Dib's mouth twitched. "I thought you didn't care about that."
Gaz shrugged with one shoulder. "I don't have a problem with wishing you Merry Christmas once every fifteen years."
She gave his arm a squeeze. It was likely the closest Gaz would ever come to giving someone a hug. Then she did something even more rare—she allowed a small smile to pass briefly across her face.
"Thanks for coming, Dib," she said. "Now… go back home. And take your dumb alien with you."
Dib smiled back at her. This hadn't been much of a Christmas celebration, of course. But in a way, he had spent it with his broken family again, and that made it all worthwhile.