Dib lifted his head, glancing across the Skoolroom at his most hated enemy. The Invader that had wrecked his life and threatened everything he'd sworn to protect. The shrieking bald-faced truth that the whole world turned a blind eye to.
And the sole reason he was still alive.
Zim was watching him back. Surreptitiously, of course, out of the corner of his eye, but Dib could tell. The alien was measuring him, taking in his state, just as Dib was making note of his.
It had been three days, and they were both still alive.
Most people would not peg Dib as depressed, and that was mostly because he never shut up, and was always chasing something, or trying to get someone to join in his avid obsessions. If you gave him five seconds, he'd cram as many words in as he could, and if you gave him more, you had his undying loyalty until he figured out you weren't really listening to him. Or worse, didn't believe him.
Even alone he was always talking to himself, something he only acknowledged when it got embarrassingly obvious.
But the truth was, every day that went by only added up to the weeks that he had been unable to persuade anyone of what lay right under their noses. Every week that went by only stacked up into the months that he continued to be ridiculed by the very people he was trying to save. And every month rolled into the years that had begun to feel like hundred pound weights sitting inside his chest.
He'd tried to speak to his father about it, but the scientist had just laughed with that forced fondness of his, telling him he was too young for depression, and to wait a few decades. It would come soon enough, but not now, he was assured.
It reached a breaking point the day Zim came to Skool, having forgotten his costume. Dib seized the chance, shrieking at the top of his lungs, "LOOK EVERYONE, SEE? ZIM IS AN ALIEN, DO YOU SEE?"
"Eh? Oh. OH! Costume!" Zim cried, putting up his hands, realizing his mistake.
"Yeah, Dib, he's just wearing a stupid costume," Zita sneered. "Halloween's a few weeks away, he's just testing it out."
"Yes!" Zim recovered, coughing. "Just my, eh, Halloweeny outfit, scary isn't it?"
Dib felt like the floor had crumbled under his feet, plummeting him to the legendary underground classrooms, or worse. They would never believe him. They'd probably find reasons to disbelieve even as Zim slave-chipped them all like experimental animals.
He sat in his seat for the rest of the day, eyes locked on his textbook, mouth shut. Ms. Bitters droned on and on, something about how the plastic landfills would eventually gain sentience and rise up against humanity, cleansing the planet, but Dib barely heard her.
He was done.
When the Skool bell rang, he gathered his things, cleaned out his locker, and left Skool grounds. As he walked, he wondered briefly if he should tell Gaz. He dismissed the thought. She would barely notice, and if she did, it would be to enjoy the peace and quiet so she could play her stupid videogames.
He walked. Past city blocks and garbage dumps, past strange leering clowns and hobos who muttered at him. He walked all the way to Membrane Inc, and then, flashing his ID, he entered, taking the elevator up.
The elevator wouldn't clear him past level 29, but he'd hacked his father's pass long ago, and coded the request that took him up to the roof, all the way up on level 45.
He stepped out, glancing around. Nobody was there. Perfect.
Again, a question crossed his mind. Should he leave a note?
Why bother, came the answer, if they can't figure out why they can go to hell. It's not like I didn't try.
He walked up to the edge. The building had a raised lip up to his waist with about six inches of concrete separating him from thin air. Swinging his legs over, he sat on the edge. He didn't look down, he wasn't ready to look down, and maybe he shouldn't at all. He did want to look around though. It was filthy, smelly, and ignorant, but it had been his home. Tears stung his eyes as the ache in his chest spiked hard. His home wouldn't even care he'd gone.
He'd go with eyes closed, he decided. Maybe, for a few seconds, he could pretend he was flying. He shut his eyes, breathing in slowly and exhaling. He lifted his arms, stretching one out to either side…
"What exactly do you think you are doing?"
Dib fell over backwards in shock, his head thunking against the roof of the building. That voice…
Zim followed, up over the lip, standing on it with his hands on his hips and his PAK jets glowing. "I asked you a question!" He demanded, eyes burning. "What exactly do you think you are doing?"
"Zim!" Dib squeaked, scrambling to his feet. "What are you doing here?"
"I was in the alley behind this filthy place," Zim waved a hand in disgust, "And happened to look up and see your filthy boots. Now answer me!" He demanded, stomping a foot imperiously, his jets keeping him from losing balance on the edge.
Dib glared, opening his mouth to shout that it was none of Zim's business, when he saw it. His eyes widened, and he launched up, grabbing Zim's arm.
Zim's free fist slammed into the side of Dib's face, sending him sprawling, but Dib had recognized it. He'd seen the device only once, the first time he'd met Zim. The alien must have thought he was about to be exposed as Dib pointed him out, and for a few seconds, a small wrist device with the words "Self Destruct" appeared on his arm. The same device Zim now wore.
There was silence for a few moments as Dib picked himself up, rubbing his jaw gingerly. Then, without turning around, Dib answered hollowly, "Same as you, looks like."
The jets died away, and Dib heard the sound of Zim's boots hitting the roof. "They finally called back, didn't they?" Dib asked, dully. He'd had a spycam in Zim's house for awhile. He knew Zim had one in his too, he just couldn't find it. Each had hidden their spycams well enough that the other had difficulty locating it. Zim had been calling the Tallests non-stop for weeks now, attempting to get approval for his latest plan. Dib had started to work out that the Tallests didn't think much of Zim, but he never said anything.
"Yes." Zim's voice was unusually tight. "They called back."
"I'd say I win," Dib folded his legs, sitting with his back to Zim, "But obviously nobody's winning here."
He felt Zim settle down next to him, and snuck a glance sideways. The alien stared straight ahead, his body rigid and his expression grim. "So," Zim posed, "If nobody's winning, what do we do?"
Dib hadn't expected that question from Zim, but really he didn't have an answer, and shook his head to indicate it.
Zim turned his head to stare at Dib intently. "What would you do if I killed myself, Dib?" He asked, searching the boy's face.
Startled, Dib turned the question over in his mind. If Zim lay dead at his feet, what would he do?
Then he realized, Zim wasn't asking what he would do. Zim was asking him for a reason to stay alive. Zim didn't want to die, but he no longer had a reason to live.
If he died, Earth would be safe. But if he lived… maybe he would return the favor… and give Dib a reason to live.
"I'd take your corpse down to the Swollen Eyeball." Dib said harshly. "We'd find out all the secrets of your race, we'd use it to bring down the whole Irken empire." Zim's expression remained flat. That wasn't enough, in fact, it might be preferable for him at the moment. Dib paused, searching for something that mattered more. "I'd find GIR." He said.
Zim sucked in a small breath.
Dib pushed on. "I'd find GIR and unscrew every bolt and figure out how he worked, then put up all his parts in a museum, for people to laugh at."
Zim's jaw tightened, his eyes burning at the picture Dib painted for him. Dib fell silent, unwilling to push further. Zim might kill him on the spot if he continued.
"Zim," Dib returned the question, "What would you do if I killed myself?"
Zim's mouth twisted in a cruel smirk. "I would lay waste to your planet, obviously. Level every mountain, fill every valley, and drain the flirking planet of all water. We'd ship out slaves to every quadrant of the galaxy for entertainment, servitude, and experimentation. Your Swelling Eye-people would be sent straight to the laboratories, and I'd oversee it. Your sister? We'd transfer her brain into a battle drone to fight for Irk, I'm sure she'd love that. I'd make sure everyone knew the planet fell because the only person who stood between Invader Zim and planet Earth's conquest gave up."
"I'm NOT giving up!" Dib snapped, bolting to his feet. "I was just asking what would happen IF, and it's not going to happen!"
Zim stared up at Dib for a moment, before rising to his feet. "Then it won't happen." He replied smoothly. "Make sure it doesn't, Dib." He turned toward the edge of the building, his Self Destruct mechanism vanishing. He took three steps, vaulted over the lip, and jetted off in the direction of his home, leaving Dib standing alone on the roof of Membrane Inc.
Three days, and both of them were still there.
Somewhere inside, Dib knew that Zim was lying, just as much as he had lied. The truth was much more anticlimactic. If one died, so would the other. But they needed reasons to keep going.
If Zim really wasn't a threat, Dib thought, maybe there would be a time when they could talk about what happened. Maybe they could sort out other reasons to keep living. And if he really wasn't going to destroy Earth, Dib thought, it might be nice to have an enemy who wasn't really an enemy.
But for now, Zim's threats were enough to keep him going. And that was what mattered.
Note: I wrote this for a different reason than most. Yes, I'm processing out feelings regarding this topic. I have been through this topic, and I have watched friends feel out this topic also. Now someone very close to me is feeling it out, and I am scared. I would implore you, if you who are reading this are in this situation, please find a reason. Find a reason to hang on, and then reach out for help. If family isn't safe, if you don't have friends, there are support groups online and hotlines all over. Therapy is helpful, I've been in it for about 9 years now, and even on medication when I needed it. Please find a reason, and then find someone to reach out to. If that someone isn't the right one, and if that reason isn't enough, keep trying and don't give up until you find the right person and the right reason. I know it hurts, and you've been strong for a very long time, but please keep being strong. Please.