Note: You all can thank Nyan. Cat. And. Bacon. Soap for this epilogue. (S)he asked what would happen to Zim once Dib died, since Zim would outlive him by hundreds of years. I kind of shrugged it off, figuring Dib would figure something out. "But what?" My brain nagged at me. And nagged. And nagged. Until finally this chapter hit me. This is THE LAST one in this story.
Red eyes watched Dib as he carefully pulled a pizza out of the oven. Something wasn't right. He couldn't put a claw on it, but something hadn't been right for awhile. It had been nagging him in the back of his mind for a long time now, but he couldn't figure out what it was.
"Pizza's almost ready, Zim, better clean up." Dib flashed a smile at him.
Zim turned and pattered into the bathroom Dib had built for him, the one that ran only cleansing gel instead of water, and stuck his claws under the faucet. He could feel it, slowly building in his chest. He didn't like the feeling. Whenever he had it, he was pretty sure he fell asleep, and then when he woke up, Dib looked sad. He didn't like it when Dib looked sad. Maybe he could make the feeling go away by thinking of nice things.
So many nice things. He missed the important man, but he could barely remember him now. It was always Dib now, Dib and the purple girl. The purple girl just stayed on the couch. He wondered sometimes if she ever left the couch, but Dib said not to bother her. Dib would bring him all kinds of nice things from outside, like chocolate and toys and puzzles. Puzzles were fun, they took a really long time, but Dib was always patient, helping him with them. Sometimes they got to go outside, but only at night. Dib said it wasn't safe to go out in the day, and even at night Dib would only take him out if he wore a mask and hat. But he loved to see the stars. They made him happy and sad all at once, and he had no idea why.
Why does she never leave the couch?
He shook his head, drying his claws on the towel. He didn't have to think about that, he could think about the time Dib stayed up all night with him after he had a nightmare, watching funny movies with him and dumping popcorn over his head. That was fun, especially when they threw it at each other.
The metal bowl hit his head. He didn't even blink.
"Stop it," He said out loud. He stared at the mirror sternly. "I don't wanna go to sleep."
He put his hands to his head. "No."
His claws dug into his scalp.
How long has it been?!
He only caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror, the one twisted by rage and fury, before he slipped away.
Zim stormed out of the bathroom, up to the kitchen table. Dib had already seated himself in front of a plate of pizza.
"Hey Zim, I was about to start…without… you…" Dib swallowed a little. "Hey, Zim. You're back. You're, uh, early." Dib's eyes darted to the side, away from the seething alien. "I was going to give you an update next week."
"How long has it been?" Zim's voice was low and dangerous.
"What do you mean?" Dib forced a smile. "It's just been a few months since the last time I made you mad."
"LIAR!" Zim pointed an accusing claw at him. "Does not the calendar you gave to Zim tell the right year?"
Dib's expression froze. "Um…"
"If the calendar you gave to Zim tells the correct year, then you have not angered Zim in ten years. Although how you managed that is a miracle in and of itself, Zim demands to know why. And Zim demands to know other things as well."
"Other things?" Dib gulped. "Like… what kind of food I've been giving you?"
Marching over, Zim grabbed Dib's shirt, yanking him down to eye level. "Zim is not stupid, EARTH WORM. The last time I saw you you had gray in your hair."
"Oh, that," Dib grinned. "I dyed it."
"And you had trouble bending over, like you did when you just took the pizza out."
"Um, I had surgery."
"You looked older, Dib."
"Plastic surgery does wonders for—"
"You WERE older, DIB!"
Dib fell silent.
"I'm not stupid Dib!" Zim shouted, banging a fist on the table, and jerking on Dib's shirt with the other. "Tell me what's going on!"
Dib's shoulders slumped, and his entire face drooped as well. Zim paused for a moment.
"You really want to know, Zim?" He whispered. "I don't want you to know. I want you to just keep living like this. Please don't make me tell you."
Zim stared at Dib, shaken. "Tell Zim. Tell Zim NOW."
Silently, Dib stood, and took Zim's hand in his own. Zim started a little. He had vague impressions that Dib often did this for him when he wasn't himself, but he'd never dared do so to his conscious face. But something in the defeated manner of Dib's walk kept him from protesting.
Dib took him downstairs, where he'd often said his father used to work. Shivering, Zim drew a little closer to Dib in spite of himself. I'm glad that horrible man is gone.
Dib swung open the door. All around were machines whirring, and lights flashing, and electricity thrumming. Several bits of machinery and scattered robotic bits littered the floor. An arm there, a leg there. Half a head in the corner. But it was the center of the room that caught Zim's attention.
In the center of the room was a white hospital bed. A large machine protruded from the ceiling, reaching down to cover the eyes of the form in the bed. A thin, tired voice issued from the bed, coming from the mouth of Dib beside him at the same time. "Computer, disengage."
Dib released Zim's hand, and his head tilted slightly to the side, eyes dimming. Frightened, Zim backed away, snarling, "What is this?"
"It's all I could do, Zim."
Zim whirled back to the bed, facing the owner of the thin voice. A pair of tired brown eyes met his, and a regretful smile crossed over a pale, wrinkled face. A gray scythe of hair drooped back over his shoulders, and a rather lengthy gray beard covered most of his chest.
It was Dib. But not Dib. How did this happen?
Dib's eyes lowered. "I'm sorry, Zim. I didn't want you to know."
Zim's mouth opened and closed. "Kn-know? You didn't think it was important that Zim know that you got old? That you're getting even older? You didn't think that maybe there was something Zim could figure out? No, instead you build this…" He glanced contemptuously at the younger version of Dib. "This thing! This robot! How dare you!"
Dib stared at him sadly. "I had to, Zim. You wouldn't understand in your other state, and you know it. I built this robot so it would learn from my personality, copy my memories, and treat you like I would, for as long as you live. It's not so bad, I control it, and it learns really fast."
Zim froze. "Dib… you control that thing?"
Dib grimaced, realizing his slip up.
"Dib," Zim's voice was low, but not angry. "How long have you been down here, controlling that thing?"
"Zim, don't ask. Please, it's been fine, I see everything, it's not like I'm missing any—"
Dib paused, then said softly, "Ten years. The last time I made you mad."
Zim's knees buckled. He hadn't thought anything could hurt as badly as losing his identity, but he had been mistaken. He saw it all now. Dib, realizing he was aging fast, much faster than the Irken ever would. Dib, slaving away, spending months, years building the perfect replica of himself, then locking himself away in a basement so he could continue living to protect Zim, even after he had died. And he had intended to die down there, alone, leaving Zim the closest thing he could ever give of himself.
"Zim, don't," Dib's voice cracked. "Please, I can't get down there to hug you."
Zim sucked in a breath, pushing himself to his feet. He walked toward the bed.
"Zim, what are you doing?"
Zim reached out, grabbing the edge of the thick blanket draped over Dib's form.
Dib's eyes widened. "Zim don't, please!"
Ripping it back, Zim stared down at Dib. His muscles had atrophied so much from lying in bed, his body had shrunk back to the size of a child's. His ribs stuck out in stark relief from the rest of his body, and every joint was visible under nearly translucent, wrinkled skin. Zim glanced up at the machine over Dib's head, and noted a series of wires leading from them to Dib. Reaching over, he took Dib's head, and very gently turned it.
There, at the back of his neck, were a series of wires, piercing the skin and connecting with the base of the brain.
Dib's eyes were squeezed shut, as if trying to block out the shame of being discovered. "I… I figured I could use what Purple did to remote control the robot. It was really just like being there, I didn't miss anything, I swear, I was there the whole time."
Zim turned Dib's head back, his eyes shining in the flickering lights. "Dib. Why? You never owed Zim this much. This is more…"
Dib looked up at Zim, as if the alien were stupid. "Why do you think, idiot? You're more family than anything I ever had."
Zim started. "But Gaz—"
"She's been gone for decades, Zim. I built a low level replica of her too. It just didn't have the ability to learn from her like mine did from me."
She never leaves the couch.
Dib lifted a hand shakily, and Zim caught it in his.
"Zim, you were there for me. Even when you hated me. You were my friend, and then you were my brother." Water trickled from Dib's eyes. "And there isn't anything I wouldn't do for you."
To his shock, Zim felt goop running from his eyes, as the pain in his spooch sharpened. "I can't leave you down here."
"You have to, Zim. You know you can't take me up there. Once you slipped back, there'd be too many questions, and it would just hurt you to watch me die."
Zim gritted his teeth, swiping his hand across his eyes. "There has to be something."
Dib's eyes wandered to the robot, then back to Zim. "Zim. The machine I'm hooked to… it's not just controlling the robot." He took a deep breath. "It's also my life support."
"The robot has absorbed enough of my personality and memories to function on its own."
"All you need to do is cut the wires-"
"NO!" Zim shrieked. "I'm not killing you!"
Dib looked at Zim sadly. "Zim," He said quietly, "I'm tired. And I'm not going to have the child-version of you watch me gasp out a few more years."
"There has to be something else!" Zim groaned, feeling like his spooch was full of broken glass. But even as he said it, he knew there wasn't. And he knew Dib was right.
Dib brought up his other hand to cover Zim's. "Zim, I'm gonna be with you. You know I will be. Just not like this."
The goop just kept coming out of his eyes, he couldn't make it stop.
Dib turned his head. "Computer, initiate final phase."
The robot Dib raised its head, the eyes flickering. It blinked a few times, looking a little confused.
Zim choked, reaching behind Dib's head to where the wires were and grasping them in shaking claws.
Dib smiled gently. "I'll see you, Zim. Thank you for being my brother."
With a sob, Zim wrenched the wires free from Dib's neck. Dib gasped at the pain for a moment, then relaxed. His eyes lost their focus, and his body went limp.
Zim stared down for a moment, then gently reached over and closed Dib's eyes. Quietly, he whispered, "I will never be angry again."
With that, he turned inward, reaching for the void between selves, the place he always fought to escape, he now welcomed. He had had his time. It was up to his other self now, and from now on.
Zim shook his head, wincing. Dib was going to look sad now, he knew it. Dib always looked sad after he fell asleep. He looked up. Where was he? There was somebody lying in a bed. He looked old. Really old.
Before he could get a good look at him, strong arms picked him up, and turned him around. It was Dib, and he was smiling.
"Hey Zim, what are you doing down here? I told you this place is off limits."
"Sorry Dib, I think I sleepwalked." He grinned, relieved to see Dib smiling.
"Yeah you did, but you're back now. Hungry? The pizza's getting cold."
"Real hungry!" Zim chirped. "Can we do puzzles after?"
"As many as you want."
"Ok Dib! Put me down, I wanna race you upstairs!"
"You know I have longer legs."
"Yeah, but you're nice an' let me win all the time."
"True. Race you upstairs."
Note: The real end.