SO HERE IT IS GUYZ. The final chapter in this lovely fic that was one supposed to just be a one shot and somehow became a huge 22 chapter long thing about learning to be yourself and learning to not take orders from evil alien overlords a trillion light years way. Or something along those lines. Not sure at this point. Anyway rather than ramble on here I'll let you guys sink your teeth into the chapter.
SO SINK AWAY DEAR READERS.
The hall seemed far smaller than how Dib remembered it. However back then he supposed he was standing much further down, where the other students now stood. He was sat up on the stands this time, looking down over the others with a calm smile. Most of them looked nervous, others just happy to have actually made it this far. A rare few even looked sad. One by one however they were called forth to accept their high school diplomas from Principle Folsom, who had come out of her office to so graciously head the proceedings.
More like stroke her own ego. Dib seriously disliked that woman. She was always playing politics, trying to find ways of making herself look good while cutting corners on every bit of funding she could. It was only thanks to his own smarts, and perhaps his family name, that he had managed to keep any funding for student counseling services at all.
As students continued to come up and take their diplomas there was movement through the shadows beside him and the stadium chair was pulled down. Gaz slid into the seat with a tired grunt.
"Has he come up yet?" She spoke in a hushed tone, after all, there was supposed to be no talking during the ceremony.
"He's one of the last ones I think. He did skip a year after all."
"Only because you told him he could."
Dib let out a small grunt of a laugh. Five years since that day in PEG. Five years of Zim's slow, careful but steady development. Even after he had left middle skool and went into high skool Dib had kept the meetings going, though their meetings had become less in-office and more in-Bloaty's. Zim actually hated the place but Gir loved it, so out of some bizarre sense of duty he kept taking the little robot there, dressing him in a terrible child costume that somehow managed to fool people.
"You know I'm kind of surprised you came." Dib half-whispered back to Gaz without looking over to her.
Gaz gave Dib a slight frown and a raised eyebrow. "You thought I'd miss this?"
"I wasn't sure you'd find a sitter for Raz." She gave her brother a frown. Dib caught the look and shrugged at his sister. "What? You are kinda picky with them."
"The Mystery Skulls passed the test."
"The Mystery Skulls?"
"They're a three person team. Four if you count their dog. I checked their background against the international criminal database as well as downloaded every document I could find on them, including all medical, school, passport and bank documents. They have extensive combat experience in both physical and paranormal situations. Raz is in safe hands."
"You hired a three person team, plus a dog, to babysit your child for two hours."
There was a pause.
Silence fell across them again as they continued to watch the ceremony unfold. After another couple of names, Gaz spoke again. "It's kinda hard to believe he got this far. Considering."
"Yeah, I know." Dib nodded in agreement, again his eyes fixed on the ceremony. "Considering."
Considering at one point he almost killed everything on earth. And now, well, he'd managed to survive the American skooling system for one, which was a feat all in itself. Now he had his entire life open to him. He could go to any university in the country, heck any university on earth would be lucky to have him. And that's even if he wanted to go. Dib had asked about it before but Zim had given only cryptic answers. He always did seem to enjoy the fact that he could now chose his own fate.
Both adults sat up a little straighter as the name rang out across the hall. From within the vast see of blue robed students one bobbed out of the crowd and walked up the platform steps. His green skin stood out rather garishly against the blue but it didn't seem to bother the young man one bit. He strode across the platform in a military stride that he'd never quite shaken and grabbed the diploma from the hand of Principle Folsom's hand. He then thrust it into the air, loudly cried out, "ZIM IS THE BEST! BOW BEFORE THE MIGHTY BRAIN-POWER OF ZIM!" And then added a loud, maniacal laugh before striding off stage while Principle Folsom simply shook her head in embarrassment.
Dib snickered. She totally had that coming.
"Never could kick the ego trip, could he?"
"Yeah, I stopped bothering with that one in the second year."
The show went on for a little while longer with all the bells and whistles that a graduation ceremony ensued before finally the eager families and watchers in the stands were allowed to clap and cheer for the child they'd come to see graduate. Dib rose and clapped along with them and to his surprise even Gaz joined in. But then again he was always surprised at how Gaz had taken the whole 'Zim is an alien' thing.
The explaining had taken a while and had cost Dib a large four cheese double stuffed crust pizza from Bloaty's but when he had finally given the whole story Gaz had said something he'd never thought she'd ever say in a million years. 'You're not doing this on your own. You've already screwed up once. I can't let you do that again' and that had been it. Whenever Dib couldn't be there, Gaz had stepped in. She even let Zim in on her gaming clan and online live streams. At first Dib wasn't sure how much he agreed with all of it but it became apparent that by having someone else in on the secret, someone else Zim could actually be himself around, he could continue to improve as a person. He'd become that bit more social, that bit less angry at the world.
That desire to see the world burn had finally vanished and had been replaced by a desire to learn. Zim was like a sponge at absorbing information, or at least, the information that interested him. He was a true genius creator. Absent minded, easily distracted and hardly ever finishing one project before moving onto the next. But even so his desire to keep proving himself was impressive, especially now he was free to learn and do the things he wanted to do.
He'd also learned how to game from the best, which meant Dib now regularly lost to two people whilst playing online instead of just one.
They moved on from the stands and into the large open entrance area where, through the throngs of families and students all greeting one another and talking loudly, the two Membrane siblings found a pillar to lean on. It didn't take Zim long to find them, he emerged out of the horde of teenagers glaring at his fellow graduates and brushing his arms while muttering something about them being dirty, hormone-filled sacks of zits.
Zim was no longer the tiny alien he had been when he arrived. He had grown taller, though how Dib never found out. He was still a little shorter than average human though, some five-foot something or other, but at least he looked the part of irritated teenager. Within a second he had pulled the gown and cap off to reveal his usual black panted, black booted, red shirted self, along with his disguise of course.
"This ceremony is absolutely pointless." He growled as he approached the siblings. "Half of these stink-pigs will probably find work as manual labor drones in some... manure factory or whatever it is people do these days."
"Yeah but look on the bright side, you're a fully graduated student now. No more skool!" Dib laughed a little and began following Zim towards the outside as the alien stormed past him. "Aren't you happy about that?"
Zim turned his head just before he opened the doors to the stadium and grinned, "Finally not having to meet you every Thursday at Bloaty's? Of course!" He paused, resting a hand on the door. "Though... that doesn't mean Zim won't sometimes show up there. To make Gir happy of course. And if the Dib-stink or Gaz-Stink happened to also be there than that'd be of no consequence. Obviously."
Dib only smiled as he looked to his sister, whose mouth twitched a smirk. "Obviously."
Outside wasn't much less crowded than it had been inside but at least there was more breathing room. The three of them quickly found a place where they weren't constantly bumping elbows with everybody and their grandmothers, literally, and Zim took a large breath as if in celebration. Then he turned on Dib and pointed a sharp finger at the far taller man. "You could have told Zim if he ace'd their tests I could leave that dirt-prison earlier!"
"It's skool. You really should have been trying your hardest anyway." Dib announced with a teacherly fold of his arms.
"Did you? 'Cos I sure didn't." Gaz cut in with a smirk. "I got what I needed and left."
"See! Gaz-beast gets it!" Zim waved a hand at her as if she validated every point he made. "And she's not even a genius!"
Gaz gave Zim a look that would tear a lesser being apart.
"Erm-I mean, you know, erm-"
"SON!" Zim's head was saved from vanishing off his shoulders by a sudden loud, baritone voice and as the group looked up, Dib was almost completely lost for words.
Striding towards him, flanked by two men in dark suits and sunglasses, was a man who looked almost exactly like Dib except older, with more crows feet, worry lines and far grayer hair. The top of his coat was unbuttoned so that they could see his mouth, however he still had his goggles around his eyes. He claimed in interviews that they were for always keeping in touch with his labs via an in-built feed screen but Dib knew it was because his dad was almost completely blind without them. Something Dib was sure he got to look forward to as he got older.
Gaz spoke first but even she couldn't stop the surprise from entering her voice. "Dad? What are you doing here?"
"Daughter! I didn't know you'd be here. I thought you'd be at home looking after my new grandson." Professor Membrane stopped just in front of the three and put his hands onto his hips. Dib always wondered why his father had to always seemed to strike poses whenever he stopped moving.
"I got sitters. I wanted to see Zim graduate."
"Ah yes!" Membrane's eyes turned towards the alien, who was looking up at the loud man with wide, amazed eyes. "The young prodigy I've heard so much about!"
"You've... heard about me?" Zim's eyes widened possibly even more for a second, then they narrowed as they looked over to Dib. "Only good things, Zim hopes."
There it was. That tone that was always slightly accusatory. No matter how many years went by Dib was always sure that every now and then Zim would bring out that tone. Dib suspected it was just to keep him on his toes and remind him what happened the one time he slipped and broke the bond of trust. That was fine though, Dib was pretty sure that sometimes he needed that reminder.
"Yes, only good things, Zim. My father always looks for the most promising students in every graduating class in the country. Usually it's only university and college students but your grades were pointed out to him and, well, I kind of recommended you." Dib rubbed the back of his head and grinned nervously. "You didn't say where you wanted to go after you graduated and dad's lab is the best in the country-"
"World. Dib." Professor Membrane tapped a foot. "Best in the world."
Gaz smirked wickedly. "Didn't Black Mesa beat you for government funding this year-"
"AB-BA-BA. We don't mention them in my presence! Dr Breen can kiss my-"
"-Right, world. Well, anyway, you could do amazing things there, Zim." Dib let his smile become less nervous and more encouraging. "Really. It might have a few things there that even you'd be impressed at."
"I doubt that."
"DOUBT?!" Membrane reeled back as if he'd been slapped across the face with a big rubber glove. "DOUBT?! My boy, Membrane Labs is working on things that would blow your mind! I know you kids are all about your metubes and your jerk streams and your crystal gems but I am a man of SCIENCE!" And again, Membrane struck an overtly dramatic pose with his hand raised high above his head, much to the head shaking and eye rolling of his children. "And SCIENCE is more important than any passing fad! IT IS A WAY OF LIFE!" He paused and then looked down at the irken. "Ahem- that is of course, if you chose to join us."
For a moment, Dib was positive that Zim was about to laugh at the old man and march away shouting about how he was far superior and he'd carve his own path. However as Dib turned to look at the alien he saw not a look of amused mockery but wide eye'd entrancement at Membrane's over-the-top antics. Dib now suddenly wondered if introducing the overly dramatic old man to the overly dramatic young alien was such a good idea.
"Would I get my own lab coat?"
"And a name tag. I want a name tag. A flashy name tag. And I want access to my own home AI."
"After what Dib told me about you, you can have anything you want, young man."
"AND. I want Thursdays off."
"Abso- wait, Thursdays? I'd have to, well, hum." Membrane looked to Dib and Gaz, who both fixed him with hard looks. Dib loved his dad, he really did, but sometimes he needed a little reminder that not everyone worked on the same break-neck schedule that he did.
"... alright, fine. Thursdays off." Membrane sighed in defeat, much to the shared look of success between his two children. He stuck out a hand to the small alien, who for a moment, recoiled back in surprise. "It's a deal then, Scientist Zim."
"Scientist Zim. I like the sound of that." Zim looked at his hand a moment longer and then gingerly reached out to shake it. Of course the moment the shake was over both of them quickly brought out their own brands of anti-bacterial hand gel and rubbed it on their hands.
Even though both of them were wearing gloves. The irony was not lost on Dib.
Both however seemed to notice this and the Professor grinned. "Ah! A man after my own heart! Zim, I like you already." Suddenly his view was pulled to one side by something happening at the entrance to the stadium and he frowned. "Oh great, Professor Utonium's here. If he sees me he'll be going on and on about how well his Powerpuff Girls are doing until I die from the heat death of the universe. Dib, give the boy my facetime contact and have him call me to iron out the contract details. The two of you keep safe and I'll see you soon. I think. I certainly know I'll be seeing you soon, Scientist Zim! G'bye, kids!"
And with that the Professor turned and began striding away towards the car park, waving over his shoulder as he did so.
Zim seemed to watch the man go with a sense of awe. "Dib-stink. Your father-unit is so cool."
"No. No he isn't."
"You've finally done it. You've created a monster." Gaz actually face palmed. "And I thought a screaming child was irritating enough."
"I apologize in advance." Dib replied quickly, though he couldn't help but smile to himself. The Zim who arrived here five years ago would have never in a million years agreed to work for a man like his father. And now the teenaged alien was grinning at the prospect. He had found his place in the world and Dib really couldn't have been happier for him.
Zim seemed to pause for a moment, then turned to look at Dib. "Dib-stink. There is, well, something I should say... about all this." Suddenly the irken looked sheepish and turned away. "I, well, erm..."
"What?" Dib raised an eyebrow at the irken. "What is it?"
"I wouldn't have had this chance if... if you hadn't talked to me for all this time. If you hadn't cared and given Zim your... friendship. I guess. I wasn't truly happy until, well, you told me I could be so... Zim thanks you." He finally glanced to the man. "I thank you."
Dib was a little overwhelmed to be honest. He couldn't deny it felt amazing for Zim to actually be saying this to him, after all the irken was usually so against showings of mushy feelings like this. However he knew that to even utter the words meant that Zim truly meant it. This was as close to a heart felt thank you as he would ever get.
The counselor put a hand onto the irken's shoulder. "Well thank you for actually listening, Zim. You've come a long way. I'm proud of you."
Zim grinned to himself, though it was cut short by Gaz.
"Yeah, yeah, we're all proud and happy and whatever. Look I gotta get home and feed Raz." She paused. "I also have the number for Bloaty's home delivery."
"Zim does not eat that disgusting pile of grease you call-"
"I also have a lot of sugar and waffles."
"VICTORY FOR ZIM!"
Dib had to chuckle at that and together the trio began walking over to the car park. As they did so however, Zim suddenly asked. "Question. Now that Zim has left prison-skool, who will challenge your counseling skills now?"
"Oh, I already have one lined up."
"WHAT? Who dares replace Zim?!"
Dib rolled his eyes as he opened his car door. "You're not being replaced, Zim. But I do have a new one o'clock on a Thursday now. And yes, they're just as challenging to my skills as you were."
The irken frowned as Gaz stood beside him, giving Dib a wry look. "Oh? And who could possibly be as bad as Zim?"
"She's a new girl, her name's Tak." He paused, "Actually she kind of reminds me of you, Zim."
Zim only smirked as he walked around Dib's car to climb into the passenger seat. "Yeah, right. Like there's ever going to be another irken on this ball of smelly garbage you call a planet."
Dib only rolled his eyes as he got into the driver's seat. "Please, the last thing I need is another irken with anger issues."
Did you get it? Cos Tak is an irken! Spoiler alert btw.
ANYWAY THAT WAS IT. All wrapped up in a nice bow and everything. Before I ramble I'll quickly get the references bit over with and then the RAMBLING will begin. Oh such rambling will happen.
Principle Folsom – A Filmore reference! What you guys don't know what Filmore is? Okay well it was an awesome little Disney cartoon that had only one season and was criminally underrated. It was about a kid named Filmore who, along with his partner Ingrid, were hall monitors. Sounds boring, right? Well the entire show was set up like a FREAKIN' 70'S COP DRAMA. It was really pretty awesome.
Raz – From the video game Psychonauts! Now this is one I hope really shocked you guys cos GAZ IS A MUMMY WHAT? Yeah a lot can happen in 5 years. I was actually gonna mention more about this little twist but I thought... eh, no. But anyway yes. If you've never played Psychonauts GO AND PLAY IT RIGHT NOW. PC version is the best version. Raz is the main character who is a kid at a summer camp for psychics and is training to become a psychic agent, aka, a Psychonaut. Now Raz does have parents in the game, but seriously go look at some concept art of him and he LOOKS like a freakin' IZ character. In fact that entire game could be dropped into the IZ universe and it'd fit in so well you'd not even noticed. AND ALSO PSYCHONAUTS 2 IS COMING SOON YESSSSS. So yeah in this universe Gaz's son is called Raz and is probably also a psychic but whatevs. Who's the daddy? HA I DUNNO and probably neither does anyone else in the fic other than the lady herself.
Mystery Skulls – THE MYSTERY SKULLS. Included because of two reasons. ONE is that the Mystery Skulls are awesome and TWO cos I know at least one reader (you know who you are) should have grinned their face off at that reference. Also yes Gaz is SUPER protective of her little kid so a whole team is needed. Also she's a single mum btw in case that didn't come across and with a psychic child she needs supernatural-experienced babysitters. It makes sense in my head, okay?
Black Mesa/Dr Breen – Half Life 2. Black Masa are basically the guys who cause everything in the series to go the way it does and Dr Breen is a GIANT EVIL BAD GUY. No wonder Membrane hates him.
Crystal Gems – Steven Universe. I don't even watch Steven Universe but I wanted to make at least a nod to it because I'm pretty sure a lot of you would have got a laugh out of Old Man Membrane complainin' about them.
Professor Utonium - Powerpuff Girls. Yeah in my head these two are like, rival cartoon labs or something. Membrane Labs and Utonium Labs. Utonium is all happy and cheerful and GUSHES about how great his girls are. Probably wants to set Blossom up with Dib or something. Membrane is like 'SHUUUUUUUT UUUUUPPPPPP'. Probably were collage roommates together I bet.
SO ANYWAY THIS IS THE END. And of course I gotta end it on a Tak-based cliffhanger of sorts because duuuuuh I gotta do that. But yeah there's no sequel in the works, sorry if that makes anyone sad. But really I want to focus on finishing other works before I even think about sequels and things like that. For a while I was very down on this fic, though now I read over it I wasn't sure why. I think it's because at one point I felt like it could do with some serious trimming down, which I still do. Certain chapters could vanish from this entirely and not change anything, the one with the Tallest is one that stands out to me as very pointless. The knowledge of Zim's mission never really played into the fic as much as I thought it might. Still, by the end I think I wrapped up enough loose threads to pass.
So yeah, the ending message was also something that I really liked. As I said to one reviewer the message of 'being yourself is okay, no matter who you are' is one I wish I had learned as a kid cos wooooweee I needed that one. But there are other themes in here too. Learning to be yourself, learning to trust others after being hurt, growing as a person and learning to get past mistakes in the past. It's a fic about personal growth I think. It's also a lesson in learning to really sit and edit properly because those early chapters HAAAA wow I gotta go fix some of that some day when I'm not busy with, you know, life.
Anyway this is the end, dear readers. I hoped you all enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. I thank you all for your patience and reviews and just everyone for being here and reading and hopefully I put some smiles on some faces because at the end of the day, all I really wanted was to make people sit down for a bit and smile.
So until next time, whenever or wherever that next time is, PEACE!