Felt like writing some Zim fanfic & wanted to do something a little more on the serious/darker side of things, while still keeping them all as their wonderful selves. Decided to go ahead and do the whole thing at once, since I'm notorious for leaving ongoing fics unfinished. Heh, still ended up being on the open-ended side, but I think that works okay. Quite a few episodes ended that way, so what the heck! It is done, though! On a separate note, I'm eternally amused that Zim is like over 200 years old. XD

Dib stuffed his hands in the pockets of his trench coat, fingers warm beneath the leather gloves. The winter wind nipped at his cheeks as he trotted out toward the neutral area of the park, while the stun gun hidden on the back of his belt tapped against his side. It was a welcome comfort when walking around after dark, though funny enough, Dib had to worry more about other people trying to mug him than monsters or aliens.

Though it worked on them, too.

He yawned into his hand, before checking his watch. Zim had said he wanted to meet at the dog park at eleven. At the rate he was going, Dib would arrive a little early, which was fine for him. Zim was often sporadic (or rather, when was he not?) and often either forget his own meeting times and showed up an hour late, or the little runt jumped the gun and would have been there for an hour before Dib arrived.

Dib hoped it was the latter this time around. Despite the fact Zim was always a hundred times more annoying when he was eager and raring to go, Dib wanted to at least attempt to be in bed before two in the morning tonight. They both had exams in the morning, and frankly, Dib didn't want to fail because he hadn't gotten enough sleep. His dad was already on his case about forgetting to apply for early admission to college, so his grades slipping was unforgivable.

"I know you have a fun time with that alien friend (you really think he'd have gotten citizenship by now!) of yours, but your grades come first, son!" His father had exclaimed, face buried in his lab work.

Dib had long since given up explaining, and just took the lecture, ending it with a neutral, "You got it, dad."

The park was coming up in the distance and Dib turned his attention back to the present. Zim wanted to meet up, and that was usually nothing good. Sometimes the alien wanted to brag about his latest plans (more often than not, this was what Dib could expect at one of these things), other times he wanted to borrow something (which usually dealt with a world domination plan he was trying to hide), and there was the rare occasion that Zim called Dib up to find out what their homework was because he hadn't been paying attention in class. That last one was always sort of amusing in that it was so…normal, if that was even a way to express it.

As Dib rounded the corner, he spotted GIR chewing on a stick, wearing his green dog costume. The little robot seemed enamored with his dog-act, despite missing his fake leash, and Dib couldn't help the tiny smile. He could hate Zim forever, but it was really hard to hold anything against GIR. The stupid little thing even got along with Gaz!

When he looked up, Dib froze in place.

Zim was out of his disguise, standing still and his face was drawn into a pensive glance. He was there on time and calm. Dib's stomach churned in an awful way and he approached slowly.

Over the years, he'd noticed that Zim had two modes: Extraordinarily stupid, or oddly intelligent. There was almost no in between for the small alien. He was dangerous both ways, but it was that second one where Dib always came closest to dying, and received unwanted reminders that his thing with Zim wasn't a game. He'd made the mistake of treating it that way as a child, but no longer.

Tonight, Zim was intelligent.

Dib approached with care, his feet digging into the gravel of the dog park. He stopped next to GIR, a few feet away from Zim. The small alien hadn't grown so much as a millimeter since they had met. He claimed his lack of growth over the years was part of his skin condition, and it fooled everyone. Just like always. However tonight, even towering over Zim with Dib's newly gained six-foot height, Dib felt very small.

Something about Zim had changed, and it made Dib itch for his stun gun.

"So, what is it this time, Zim?" Dib asked, keeping his voice light. The last thing he wanted to do right now was let Zim know that he was scared. "You woke Gaz up when you called, so I hope it's something good. Though I'm not really complaining. It always saves me a lot of time figuring out how to stop you when you tell me what your plans are."

"That is true," Zim said, oddly thoughtful. He turned his head slightly and hummed. Zim's smug tone irked Dib to no end, but it was better than the dangerous aura he'd had earlier. "Giving the enemy a handicap was part of fair play, after all. It's hard to expect a smeet to compete with the Irken Elite when he has nothing to stand on."

"Smeet?" Dib asked, blowing out a breath of white in the cold air. "That's a new insult."

"On the contrary, Dib," Zim said. He held his hands up and shrugged. "It's the first time I haven't insulted you. Smeet are children, and you were a child. So I think it's a fairly accurate term, don't you?"

"And the reason you're playing nice tonight?" Dib asked, narrowing his eyes. GIR abandoned his stick and fell against Dib's leg. He hugged it, squeaking softly. "You sick or something?"

"No, you're not that lucky," Zim said. He crossed his arms and kept his head facing slightly to Dib's left. It was hard to tell where he was looking through his red eyes, but Dib kept his focus ready. "The fact of the matter is, I guess you deserve a little credit. All considered, you've been a fairly worthy opponent in all this."

That was Dib's cue to make a sarcastic comment, or insert a bit of self-praise, but something about Zim's tone made him keep his mouth shut.

"Somehow, even as a child, you managed to foil quite a few of my brilliant and ingenious plans to take over your planet," Zim said. He held his arms out and laughed. "It was even fun! For the record, that worthiness is one of the reasons that I always made sure to play fair."

"Play fair?" Dib asked. Memories of getting tricked out of his room by robots, or having his life flash before his eyes in holograms came to mind. Though, he wasn't wrong. In all fairness, Zim never out right stabbed Dib in the back, and there were multiple opportunities where he could have just killed Dib out right but didn't. Dib shrugged, "Yeah, I guess you did."

Dib didn't feel the Pak Leg stab through his shoulder until it was clean through the other side and he was pinned to the ground like a butterfly.

"I do apologize for that, Dib," Zim said, oddly calm.

He hovered over Dib, using three of his Pak Legs as a tripod, while the fourth remained buried in Dib's flesh. Blood leaked from the wound, but most of it was kept contained within Dib's body thanks to the limb acting as a stopper. Dib's hands wrapped around it, and his head craned to see where it impacted. The leg was nestled neatly between his clavicle and shoulder blade. The pain was surreal, and Dib was grateful for the sudden rush of adrenaline.

"What the hell, Zim?" Dib grit out, doing everything he could to remain calm. This was new. This was different. Their meetings sometimes delved into fights, but nothing like this. Never a sucker punch in the dark. Dib counted to ten in his head; ignored the pain. "I thought we were talking?"

"We still are, technically," Zim said, sighing. He rubbed the underside of his chin, and Dib watched as his antennae laid flat against his head. He almost looked upset. "As I said, normally, I find you enough of an opponent to avoid resorting to such underhanded tactics, but sadly, I'm out of time."

Dib considered his options. His arms and legs were free, but the one arm was useless with his shoulder pinned. With Zim on his Pak Legs, Dib doubted he could move fast enough to hit him before he moved out of the way. Those stupid scurrying things were always the worst pain to deal with, and now it was literal.

GIR made a whining noise, distracting Dib and he watched as the small robot walked away. He sat next to a tree, his ears down and strangely quiet. Even GIR was upset and serious. Dib couldn't shake the sudden jolt of realization that he might actually die tonight.

No, no! He couldn't give up. Focus, Dib! FOCUS!

Maybe he could yank the leg out, or distract Zim. If he could just get off the ground, maybe Dib could just flat out run. Zim wasn't himself tonight and Dib had long, long since gotten over being ashamed of running away if it meant he could regroup and survive.

"I can see you're upset," Zim said. He tilted his leg to the side, stretching the ripped flesh. Dib barely clenched his teeth together in time to avoid screaming. "But that's no reason to ignore me."

"What is wrong with you tonight?" Dib yelled, against his better judgement. "You're acting weird!"

"I told you, Dib," Zim said. "I'm out of time."

"Time? What time?" Dib asked, trying not to squirm. The urge to wriggle away clawed at him, intense enough he considered risking his arm getting ripped off. His dad could build him a robot one. It'd be fine. Dib shook his head, and held to the leg, his fingers shaking. "What are you even talking about?"

"Operation Impending Doom II is coming to an end, and I haven't conquered your planet yet!" Zim shrieked. His voice raised in pitch, his ranting coming full force as he hung above Dib and growled. "All of the other invaders have already overthrown their planets, and either destroyed them for scraps or enslaved their populations! There's only three or four left who've yet to complete their assignments, and they're all in the wrap up stages! I'm the only one who hasn't made any real progress and as much as I hate to admit it, that's your fault."

""Of course it is," Dib grunted. His anger was starting to override his pain, and Dib reached for it. Dib stopped. Reach. He snaked one hand under his coat, as he egged Zim on to distract him. "I'm not going to let you take over my planet, Zim!"

"Yes, yes, and you've been very adamant about that since you were a smeet," Zim growled. Had his human disguise been on, Dib would have seen his eyes roll. Zim huffed. "And that's been fairly admirable, considering you're the only one who's even bothered to try, save for maybe your sister on occasion."

"As much as I'd like for people to take me seriously and stop calling me crazy," Dib said, his hand wrapping around the stun gun. "That doesn't mean I'm going to sit back and let you take over just because they're not asking for help."

"Which is why you're pinned down," Zim said. "The time for playing fair is over, Dib. You're in the way, and I need to expedite my mission."

"Forgive me for not playing along," Dib said.

He flipped the stun gun on, the end of it crackling to life in a flash. He jammed the live end into Zim's Pak Leg, and screamed right along with him as the electricity shocked them both. Zim yanked his leg back and away, a gush of blood leaving the wound. Dib held to the stun gun and rolled up and away. He turned just in time to see Zim shake off the shock, and turn toward Dib with a murderous glance.

Dib did the most logical thing he could think of: He ran.

"Please still be up, please still be up!" Dib chanted to himself as his chest pounded. He pulled his watch up and activated the communicator while still running. He refused to look behind him, and instead listened for the sound of Zim's Pak Legs. "Gaz! Wake up!"

"What do you want, moron? It's after midnight," Gaz answered through the small vid window. He could hear her Gameslave buttons clacking away and sucked in a breath. She was up! "It better be good."

"Zim's gone crazy, more than usual I mean!" Dib said, rounding the corner onto the main street. He slowed to a quick walk, hoping that the other people milling about might deter Zim for a straight up attack. He stuffed the edge of his coat into the wound on his shoulder, but remembered the wound was also open on the back. He could feel the blood soaking into his shirt and when he looked down he saw the blood spatters. "He stabbed me. I'm bleeding and he's still mad. I don't know where he is and I could really use some back up right now, Gaz. Please!"

There was a slight hesitancy over the other end of the line. The deadpanned response screamed of disbelief. "He stabbed you?"

"With his Pak Legs, look, Gaz, I'll explain everything later but right now I really need you to get the car," Dib said. "I don't think I'm going to make it home before Zim catches up with me."

"You're right about that, Dib," Zim said, the snarl coming from the bush to his right.

Dib didn't manage to turn in time to avoid Zim's grip as the Irken grabbed his injured arm and yanked him through the bushes. Dib rolled as he was tossed into the grass on the other side of the sidewalk, unable to stop from crying out in agony as his wounded arm hit the ground.

"Dib? If you're playing around I'm going to kill you!" Gaz called through the other end of his watch. Dib pushed himself up, and screamed as the Pak Leg pinned him to the ground again, this time with his stomach done. It dug through the same wound, and Zim leaned over Dib, ripping the communicator off his arm. "Zim?"

"Hate to cut this short, but I've got unfinished business with the Dib. He won't be calling you back," Zim said. The Irken crushed the device in his hand and looked down at Dib. "Now then, where were we?"

"Thinking up a new way to stop you," Dib said, glaring up from the ground.

"Good luck with that."

Dib was unconscious before he even registered that Zim had slammed his head into the ground.