For the umpteenth time, Zim found himself sighing as he tried to concentrate on the checkups he wanted to do, on the station's operating system. Concentration was hard to hold on to, however, when he found his eyes drifting over to where Dib lay, on one of the padded, pink benches to sleep off the stress. The boy had cried for nearly an hour straight, only stopping when exhaustion got the better of him and the alien had to help move him to a spot where he could rest.
Shaking his head, Zim tried to go back to running system checks while the human slept. There was nothing else to do for the alien.
He managed a full five minutes more before he threw up his arms with a frustrated huff, simply switching the station's main computer on to run a standard diagnosis instead of making a more thorough, manual checkup. Slowly and stealthily, as not to rouse the resting human, Zim drew closer, taking a seat just next to Dib to watch him instead of the screens.
Even in sleep, the boy's face was drawn into a frown, breathing steady and deep but Zim could still see that this sleep wasn't very recreative. And Zim could understand. Even though humans, their customs and sometimes strange emotional reactions were still a mystery to him, even after all those years he had spent trying to figure them out, he could understand what the Dib-thing was experiencing right now.
Dib had been repudiated. His schoolmates and most of society had been shunning him largely since the beginning, but now his family, too, had forsaken him. Zim understood what it must be doing to him. If it was anything even remotely close to what irken society was like, being cast out was like dying.
The alien frowned. Humans were very different from irkens, in just about every aspect, but he guessed that the basic act of belonging to a collective and then losing that connection was the same in every species. It meant losing one's identity, one's home and one's purpose.
For an irken, being ostracized equaled death. If there was no purpose, no chance to serve the empire, there simply was no reason to exist.
But humans were different, right?
Again, narrowed magenta eyes fixed on the sleeping human. The Dib still had purpose. Afterall, there were still things he needed to do.
The pale body gave a sudden jerk and Zim jumped, startled from his thoughts when the human sat up, golden eyes wide and disoriented and when Zim reached out to touch at his shoulder, Dib gave an angry hiss before he even grazed him, slapping at his hand. The alien suddenly found himself pinned by a furious glare, and frowned in confusion.
"Dib-thing, what the..." The moment he heard his name, Dib blinked, the anger in his expression dissipated like fog in the sunlight, leaving only confusion and returning sadness. Slowly, the boy relaxed, lowering his head.
"Shut up, Dib-thing. We will head back to earth in half an hour, now that you are finally awake." Zim stood, stretching a bit and trying to pretend that his hand didn't still sting from the impact of the larger, human hand. "I'll go prepare the voot and we'll be back at the base in a few hours."
"What for?" There was no need to look up to know Zim stopped dead in his tracks. Dib didn't need to see the confusion in magenta eyes to know it was there. He bit his lip until he felt the skin start to break. "What should I go back to earth for?" Pale fingers twisted into useless fists. "There's nothing I-" The sound of the impact made it through first, the pain shooting up from his cheek followed just a second later. Zim had slapped him again.
"Would you just STOP doing that?!" Dib's hand went to cradle his still-bruised cheek. "I-"
"No, YOU stop it, filthy human worm-baby! Zim'll tell you what for! You, Dib-thing, will go back to earth with Zim and finish finding the cure! And you will not let something as silly as that bother you. Understood?!"
"Zim..." He wanted to protest. Dib wanted to scream that it wasn't just something silly. That it was, in fact, anything BUT silly. But he couldn't. The sheer determination in those large, magenta eyes, the finality of the alien's words, they were incontestable in their simplicity. Zim said Dib would go back to earth, so Dib would go back to earth. He deflated, lowering his head in defeat. There simply was no strength left in him to argue with the only being that he still had left.
"What for, Zim? So... we head back and find a cure... then what?"
"We'll see. Zim's always busy. The Dib can be my minion. You're at least halfway useful, unlike... Gir. Come now, silly human. Get up and we'll return to the base." The alien grinned and Dib was left to shake his head in disbelief as he watched Zim turn his ever-straight back to him and march out of the room in his unique, irken version of a goose step, back to the hangar where the voot was waiting.
Heaving a weary sigh, Dib pulled his heavy body up from the pink bench he was sitting on, feeling some regret at having to leave the soft padding and subsequently having to leave this quiet place in space. Almost on their own, honey-colored eyes shifted to one of the large windows through which there were countless stars sparkling back at him. A soft sigh. It was so peaceful out there...
Slowly, almost inertly, Dib moved to follow his alien companion to the hangar. Zim was quick to find, entering some sort or other of data into the larger station's computer. "Zim? Do we have a little more time? There... is something I'd really like to do before we leave."
"What is it?" There was a hint of annoyance in those words, but not enough to signal that he was not going to listen. Magenta orbs met with honey and Dib strangely found himself smiling the barest bit. "I want to look at the stars for just a little longer. Can we just.. stay a little longer? I promise I will come with you without a word,then. Please."
Confusion and the barest frown etched themselves into the smooth, green face, but Zim found himself unable to deny such a simple wish. Especially when there was this strange glow in the human boy's expression. "Tch, fine. I guess we can stay another hour."
"Can you shut off the lights?"
"What for? Dib-thing, what is this-"
Once more, Zim found himself giving in and he rolled his large eyes at his own, apparently growing softness that he showed the human. At the same time, there was the acknowledgment that the Dib probably deserved something to cheer him up after this whole ordeal. So if looking out the window for a while did the trick, who was he to complain?
Another sigh. "Fine. You can go up to the cupola over there. Lots of glass and I'll dim the lights when you're there."
The smile that met him caused a frighteningly warm little pang in his 'spooch. Zim frowned more, turning away again to busy himself with... something while Dib climbed up the short way to the station's large cupola. "Computer, lights off." Almost instantly, everything was dipped in darkness, only the dull glow of the computer screens provided the barest amount of light.
It was glorious.
Dib had found the way up easily enough and sat down on the ground in the center of the observatory-like room just when the lights went out. It was blissfully dark here, no screens and no blinking buttons to interrupt the impenetrable blackness within the ship. The sun was to the other side, so all illumination there was, were the tiny specks of light dotted above him. As his breathing evened out in relaxation, sound, too, was swept away and slowly, Dib leaned back to lie prone on the cool, metal ground.
This was good. It felt wonderful. No light, no sound, only nothingness around him. At least he could *pretend* there was nothing anymore. Just the vast expanse of space all around him. Again, there was this feeling... It felt like he could just disappear, become one with the nothingness and the calm that settled over him was overwhelming. Above him, the stars continued to sparkle in their timeless beauty, leaving the human feeling small and insignificant.
It was perfect.
Back in the glaring white cell in the asylum, he had felt incongruous, unable to adapt and impossible to fit in with his surroundings. But this...
This felt natural. Dib fit right in with the dark and quiet around him.
It was pure bliss.
Dib looked up through the near invisible glass of the cupola, smiling in the darkness around him. Here, he was nothing. Here, it didn't matter if nobody cared. Here, it didn't count anymore. He was melting into the blackness around him, he vanished in the vastness of space around him, his thoughts calmed and it was as if he could just become one with the nothingness, the everything.
A small part of him laughed at him for how ridiculous he sounded, even to himself, but the far bigger part wished it could just be like this, forever. That he could become one with the universe itself, become one tiny, tiny part of a bigger whole, to finally belong with something. The stars above him continued to glitter, beautiful and beckoning... He wanted to be there with them, even more than he already was right now.
Dib didn't know how long he had been lying there on the floor, but suddenly, there was soft noise and the barest hint of movement close to him. He didn't bother looking for the source, he knew who, it could only be one and just a moment later, Zim was lying down next to him with a little sigh. For a short moment, Dib was startled with the sudden closeness. Their heads were almost touching, Zim's feet pointing the opposite direction as Dib's. The boy knew his dark hair was brushing against Zim's cheek and shoulder, while, in return, he felt the alien's thin antennae rest on his his own shoulder ever so lightly. For a second, he wondered how Zim managed to lie on his back like that when there was the large PAK in the way... but the thought went as fast as it had come, to join its brothers in oblivion.
"What do you see up there, Dib-thing?" the alien's voice was calm, uncharacteristically so and Dib felt his lips spread in a gentle smile.
"Nothing.... and everything. I love space. I have loved space for as long as I can remember. I... I feel like I don't belong to earth any longer... I want.. to be a part of this." He lifted both arms to make a slow, wide gesture at what lay above them, beneath them, all around them.
"If I could wish for something, I would wish to leave earth forever and just... be a part of... all this."
Zim was quiet. In a way he understood that desire. Understood well. But it was still hard to fathom what exactly was going through the boy's mind. "I don't want to be on that planet anymore, but... I guess... it's still my duty to protect earth from you regardless. Spaceboy."
The grin in Dib's voice and the sudden change of mood came quite unexpectedly. But it was not unwelcome and before Zim even knew what had gotten into him, he started laughing, almost instantly joined by the human. Zim was tempted to grace Dib's words with an answer, but he knew that no more words were needed.
Besides, the unexpected laughter that seemed to shake both of their bodies felt much too good to interrupt. Whatever had befallen them, it felt good.
Dib started to ache from the unusual exercise, but he had not a care in the world for the sore burning in his middle as bouts of laughter continued to make him quake and gasp, tears springing to his honey-colored eyes.
The alien wasn't much better off. Zim held his belly, never having experienced such intense laughter out of mirth, rather than loathing or gloating.
When it was finally over and their gasping chuckles died out, both slowly fell back into a now much more comfortable silence. One of Dib's hands rose, rubbing at the lingering tears of laughter, giving a soft sigh.
"...Thank you. For everything"
Instead of an answer, Dib received a soft bump of head, when the alien shifted his head to knock it lightly against the boy's temple.
They simply stayed like that a while, and even though Zim was a little worried about the havoc his little minion down on earth would wreak, he didn't feel like moving away just yet. The human next to him seemed so relaxed and it was too rare a thing to just rob him of.
Dib continued to watch the stars around them silently, feeling a soft warmth build where their heads touched. With all the awful things happening, he felt incredibly relaxed, warm, calm and of sound mind. Right now, he didn't want to think.
Zim was here with him, in this lightless silence, and for reasons he couldn't explain, he found it was enough. Turning his head a bit, without taking his golden eyes from the distant stars above them, Dib nudged his temple more against the alien's, unable to feel the green skin through his hair, but just a little more of the faint warmth radiating from it.
It was enough.