Oh my... Sorry this took so very long to update.

I don't have much to say at the moment other then to apologize for rarely finding writing time for my own projects anymore.

As usual, thank you all SO MUCH for the loving reviews, and any constructive criticism. It means a lot to me. ^^

Read and review please! Enjoy!~

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After a long silence, Zim finally, hesitantly spoke up.

"Gir?"

It was.

At least, it was nightmare-Gir.

But was that a good sign, or a bad one? Could anything here be trusted? This could be no more then a disguised curse that could spell death or insanity...

When the robot simply dropped the can he was holding to perform a salute, Zim found himself relaxing; almost smiling. Yes, this seemed like a good sign.

They had help! An ally was here! At least it seemed that way. This was almost TOO nice of a turn in fortune.

Dib however, was still... not exactly paying enough attention to rejoice with his alien protector. He was still clinging to Zim, trembling as if ready to go into a horrendous seizure from simple terror. He'd been minding his own business and then something had leapt up I his path screeching like a tormented soul, enormous, emotionless red eyes fixed on his. He was already unstable. That could have traumatized anyone!

Only with Dib, was Zim so patient, and he himself hadn't even realized it yet.

"It's alright human, Gir is a freind."

The Irken treated Dib practically like he was his own smeet. The sympathy he displayed towards the earthling, the undemanding kindness, it was ridiculous, and would be seen as disturbing by any normal Irken. What strange instincts had Dib triggered? And Zim was hardly even realizing it!

The invader tried to pet his Dib, who'd buried his face in his neck. The clawed hands offered comforting back rubs and petting to the human's hair, and Dib whined softly but began to slow his panicked breathing rate.

Zim couldn't allow Dib to be in this state. If his imaginary world was built on fear and anger and pain and sadness, then drowning Dib in those feelings really wasn't going to help them get out any time soon. They needed to find a way out.

Very slowly, Dib began to more fully relax. The gentle talons against his scalp and combing through his hair felt VERY nice... He did not look up though, fear still impairing his logic and keeping him from seeing any reason to analyze his surroundings. In his mind he was still waiting to hear sounds of fighting when the thing-that-had-screamed attacked.

The more angular, thinned and stretched looking Gir, watched with red eyes and no signs of intelligent feeling. Little movement. Cold.

He appeared to be simply awaiting orders.

Even if this android looked like it would be a lot more help in a fight... Zim found he still liked his Gir better. His Gir tried to offer emotional support, and a small green puppy would doubtlessly be better for Dib's mental health right now then... This... Piece of machinery.

The alien didn't dwell on that for too long though. He was just boundlessly grateful that they would have help now. He'd take what he could get, and time was a-wasting. The alien quickly put Gir to work.

"Fetch us the things my Dib-pet dropped back there. The foodenings... And... Such."

Zim emphasized his words with some vague hand gestures as was habit for him.

Flashing his eyes a brighter red for a second, Gir obediently zipped off, and Zim heard sounds of the cans bumping together as they were collected. He smiled. Yes. This was most definitely a turn for the better.

"We will be alright Dib. Calm down."

The future tense there was key though. Sitting up was causing Zim less pain after this long wait... But he still couldnt do it without help from his spider legs supporting him.

The two of them, human and alien, WOULD be alright if Zim was given enough time to heal. His muscles were still quite torn.

But they were being hunted. They couldn't have much time left. Sooner or later something would track them down to this very shop and they'd be trapped and captured, or worse. They were losing the distance between them, any head-start they might have gained, and they probably wouldn't get it back.

Morbidly, Zim was surprised they hadn't been found already. Leaning around the corner of the check-out counter shielding them, Zim looked across the dark store to the cracked and broken windows. The wind whistled softly and the night shadows were always shifting in green glow of not-moonlight, but Zim still sensed no organic beings.

However as Gir had proven, that might not mean they were alone.

The little android returned with the cans and water bottles in both his arms and stuffed in his head-container, just as Dib was calming down enough to lift his head and look up at Zim, expression signifying confusion at the fact that everything was alright. Zim offered him a slightly forced smile, but Dib didnt return it right now, instead turning his head to look around nervously.

He jolted with a sharp gasp at seeing Gir, pressing himself as close as he could to Zim and almost pushing the alien backwards in fright, whimpering out some non-sensical insistence like begging.

"Ack! Shush! Dib-human! Shush!" The invader hugged his human tighter and raised a hand to pet through his hair yet again, finally looking a bit annoyed at Dib's insanity, but again, the petting calmed the boy down.

Gir held out several cans and water bottles and Zim took one can, and set it down next to him to open in a minute, then took a water bottle, and opened it now, carefully. His hands shook slightly, and he winced at the thought of spilling any of that death-liquid on himself when he was already still pulsating with achy hurt.

"Here Dib, you need to drink this."

Dib just stared at the bottle for a few seconds.

... What was Zim handing him? Why? Oh! Oh right! Thirsty, and hungry. VERY. It was so bad it hurt. But usually if he consumed anything here it's effects on him were something from a horror story. The food might even eat him from the inside out.

He didn't trust anything here- except for Zim. And Zim was the one giving him the water... That meant it was safe right?

He would trust anything Zim told him... Zim was perfect. Zim was amazing. Zim cared about him! Zim was a... A space angel! From space-heaven!

He adored Zim. He couldn't upset Zim.

So cautiously, he reached up and took the open, plastic bottle, sitting up more on Zim's lap.

His hands shook worse then those of his still tired protector, and Zim made a face and flinched as Dib almost spilled water on him.

The earthling lifted the container to his mouth and took a cautious sip. Amazingly, it did not hurt him; as if simply by being touched by Zim, the beverage had been cleansed of all evil.

That sip was all that was required it seemed, to assure Dib that the water was good. Better then good. Immediately after that he began chugging it as if his life depended on it... Which it very well might have.

Oh yes! Sweet, cool, life sustaining water! It felt so good on his dried up throat. The action of swallowing hurt but he found he literally couldn't stop himself. He gulped down the entire bottle in under a minute, then stared at it sadly once it was empty, his unstable hands unintentionally shaking it.

Zim was both mildly amused but also concerned by Dib's show of desperation. It was kind of cute in some strange way, but at the same time, when Dib looked to Zim with a begging expression; big, wide, auburn eyes seeming to portray the human would keel over and die if Zim refused to give him more water, the Irken felt as if he'd been hit right in the heart. The figurative heart humans were always talking about that was their center of emotion and feelings and intuitions anyway.

Gir was arranging the bottles and cans in neat organization beside them, all standing upright, as if placing them was like some sort of game for the robot; Zim noticed there was at least one object that didn't belong in each pile. Zim smiled when he saw that. Perhaps nightmare-Gir still had some Gir-ness in him. That simple knowledge relaxed him somehow.

Zim gave in to Dib's begging face and offered him another bottle of water, but didn't hand it over without a warning.

"Dont drink too much or you'll be sick, we have soup to eat here too!"

Reaching for one of the cans, Zim picked it up and used his spider legs to start cutting off the lid while Dib gulped down the second allowance of water. It took some trying; his spider legs certainly weren't made for such precise, controlled actions, but eventually Zim got at least a good sized hole in the top of the can. They could pour the soup out through that into their mouths, or better, into properly civilized bowls.

"Gir! Find us two, clean bowls for eating. If there are any in the store..."

The android had zipped off before the irken had even finished talking, and now Dib had just finished his second bottle of water and was giving him that begging look again.

"No more water or you'll be ill Diblet!"

The alien scolded. Dib looked like he'd just been condemned to death and whimpered desperately, pressing forward to forcibly nuzzle his face into Zim's chest, hands clutching the sides of the red uniform as he made a series of very plaintive noises.

What on earth Dib was trying to communicate with this display, Zim wasn't sure, but it almost knocked him backwards until he got his balance more secure. The alien growled softly. He was still supporting himself with the spider legs, but by now he was aware of his strength returning.

Good. Soon they would leave this store and find a way out of Dib's head. Zim would fix it from the outside. It was too dangerous in here. It was no good for Dib's health for him to be here so... Physically. At this rate they could both wind up dead.

Sighing, he hugged the human close for a moment, and again, such affection from him seemed to calm the earthling... And Zim felt some sort of return wave of comfort. Well, that was certainly appreciated. This affection stuff could certainly be pleasant.

Dib had stopped whining and squirming to press closer into his alien savior, and was just laying still pretty much on top of Zim by the time Gir returned with two bowls.

It wasn't until the Irken had set the bowls next to him that he suddenly wondered if he could even eat the soup. He looked at the can to see what it was, and Dib looked up sadly to see why Zim wasn't hugging and cuddling with him anymore. Had he done something wrong? How could he have though? He hadn't done ANYTHING- OH! Soup! Zim had soup!

Chicken noodle. The picture was faded and torn but the colors and letters were still comprehensible. Dib lit up instantly, mouth watering, and Zim looked like he wanted to puke. Gir; his Gir; had prepared this for him once, and he'd thought it was one of the most rancid things he'd ever eaten.

However Dib was already grabbing at the can, trying to take it from Zim greedily since the alien wasn't doing anything with it. Instinct drove him to it. He NEEDED food.

"Alright! Alright! Calm down earth-monkey!" Zim scolded and Dib hesitantly stopped his desperate attempts to snatch the meal.

Fine. At least Dib could eat it. He was the starving one anyway. Zim could use something too, but Dib, in this dimension, hadn't eaten anything in who knew how long.

Zim poured the soup into one of the bowls, then handed that to Dib. He didn't want his charge cutting himself on the can after all.

Dib snatched up the bowl and almost spilled half of it in his eagerness to wolf it all down. It was cold, and the tiny amount of fat in the particular kind of soup almost made it a little slimy, but the poor human didn't notice. Hunger turned it into a delicacy.

Zim flinched and grumbled when any of it spilled, though none got on him thankfully. Curses, he should have asked his robot for spoons, not that Dib would have the mental capacity to use them anyway... But still..

Gir currently stood at attention a few feet away, but Zim could think of no orders for him just yet. He just watched Dib eat the soup, and eventually got frustrated enough to hold the bowl for Dib to drink from, so less of the precious food was spilled and dirtied the earthling's clothes. Dib held no complaint to basically letting Zim feed him, and went right along. Since his hands were no longer holding the bowl he could use them to cling to Zim again! Bonus!

Mmmmm, wonderful nourishment! Food and water! Dib felt so, so much better. At last his stomach was full. With the bowl now empty, he wiped his mouth off on his sleeve, and smiled at Zim with most adorable sincerity before again cuddling into and hugging the green one, making a sweet humming noise of contentment. While Zim hugged him back and patted him, the Irken was far less content then Dib. Zim could use some fuel too, and he was getting anxious. They really couldn't afford to stay still here much longer. He knew they were being hunted. He could just FEEL it now.

He told Gir to search the shop for cookies, crackers, or chips; something he could eat, and as the robot ran off on his orders, the alien let himself lay down on his side, just holding Dib and relaxing, just focusing on healing.

Dib seemed to approve greatly of the cuddles, if more of his murmured, pleasant, nonsense noises were any clue. He pressed his face into the alien's chest again, breathing warm against the barely protected ribcage. He tightened his arms around the skinny Irken waist, and even wrapped a leg over Zim's he nuzzled his way up so the alien's chin rested atop his head in his messy hair. With a sigh, Zim found himself combing his claws through the fuzzy mess of head-fur again. Something about was simply so calming...

Never before had Zim allowed anyone this much physical attention. Not even his-world-Gir required so much hugging. Why did it seem so natural? Was Dib perhaps triggering pak-repressed parental instincts in Zim? Other instincts perhaps? ... Did irkens have any instincts? They were such a far advanced, superior race after all...

Zim laid there, continuing to groom the hair of the young male he still considered practically a smeet, as Dib just clung to him like a parasite.

Eventually Gir came back empty handed. No unspoiled crackers, cookies, or chips to be found. Zim cursed quietly. It would take even longer for him to heal without food. But fine. Be that as it may. At least if they were ambushed now, Gir could hold the attackers off for at least a little while. Zim would just have to take his time resting and regaining his strength for right now.

\\:\\

Fifteen more minutes passed. Zim would have liked more time, but they didn't have it, he knew. It might be a matter of just a few more minutes until something came after them. He was surprised nothing had tracked down and jumped out at them already. As far as the battle-hardened invader was concerned, he could now walk without pain. The majority of his exhaustion and injuries had healed via his natural Irken abilities. He'd want to take it easy, but they needed to get moving. To where, he didn't know, but they'd find something sooner or later. They needed a way out. What was the best way to do that?

It was hard to push Dib off when the human was clinging to him so sleepily; earthlings needed more rest to recuperate then irkens did, and Dib had grown drowsy by the time Zim was waking.

As the irken expected, the human whimpered and tried to cling tighter when Zim squirmed out of his hug. They'd laid nestled up together on the hard, cold floor for a while now. While the body heat of his charge was difficult to resist, Zim knew that both of their bodies could become stone cold and unmoving if their enemies caught them now; they could be killed. They NEEDED to move.

"It's time to go Diblet."

With a sore groan the boy sat up and rubbed his eyes, mumbling something Zim interpreted as either 'why?' or 'where?'

"We need to find a way out before anything terrible happens." Was the green one's response, as he looked through the soup cans one last time to ensure he hadn't passed over one that might possibly prove edible to him. He hadn't. There was no fuel here for him, But Dib could eat them, and he'd need to drink water. Who knew when they'd find more of such recourses for either of them? So Zim hurriedly grabbed a few cans and several water bottles, and began shoving them into his pak's storage.

Seeing what the irken was doing, and after a moment of difficult thought, Dib began searching his torn coat for pockets that might fit water bottles or cans, wanting to help.

It was then that Zim finally sensed a presence. The alien froze up like a terrified animal, staring blankly down, in the middle of picking up supplies, as his antennas twitched. Something big, something strangely familiar smelling, something furious; the scent was getting clearer as its owner was getting closer much, much too fast. It would be on them in a minute and Zim's still rather sore midsection tensed at the prospect of having to flee or fight.

Zim shoved a last water bottle into his pak, and stood up immediately. Dib was trying to fit a soup can down his sleeve alongside his arm when Zim grabbed his hand and pulled the earthling after him in a fitful rush. Dib squeaked and stumbled after the alien nervously, dropping the can.

"Gir! Come!"

Zim bolted for the entrance door as Dib stuttered out a complaint of confusion.

As soon as Zim reached the door, and stopped cold where he stood. His antennas shook at what he was sensing.

The knowledge hit him like a boulder with a sick feeling dropping into his spooch.

It was too late to leave this way now. Whatever he was sensing had advanced so fast that it was now right around a corner. They wouldn't even have time to run across the street for cover by the time it was upon them.

Cursing through his gritted teeth, Zim swung around and ran for the back of the store as fast as he could while still sore from earlier.

Gir followed along obediently and Dib whimpered, stumbling in his attempt to keep up, failing to understand what was happening.

The most they could hope to do now was hide. There was no escape...

Unless there was a back door.

At that thought, Zim turned sharply and ran past the shelves toward the only part of the shop he hadn't been able to see earlier. He passed the shelves and there, to his intense gratefulness, was a door saying 'employees only.' It led back to a storage area.

That would provide better hiding spots, maybe even a way out if they were particularly lucky.

There was a lock on the door. Zim swung out a spider leg and it broke easily with a tiny crack. Even that noise made Zim flinch and he grabbed the lock, not letting it fall and hit the floor. Even the tiniest noise might give them away. If their pursuer saw a broken lock on the floor, it would be a clear clue saying 'we went this way!'

Zim opened the door, and pulled Dib inside with him, ensuring Gir followed before closing the door after himself. He set the lock down on the floor as quietly as he could.

It was pitch dark. Zim's eyes adjusted to night vision more slowly then they would if he'd allow them to glow like normal, but Gir's eyes gave off the same sort of red light anyway; something that could easily betray their position to hidden enemies.

Dib whimpered loudly and clutched at Zim, hands fisting and unfisting on the invader's uniform.

Heart thumping wildly in his chest, the Irken could only shush him gently. Slowly, he began guiding his little group with him, in search of a hiding spot among the rows and rows of shelves here.

A moment later he heard shattering glass and a roaring snarl. Zim had to clam a hand fiercely over Dib's mouth to keep him from screaming.

Swiftly Gir reached into his head and pulled out a pair of torturous looking guns with jagged bits and knives sticking out, and he readied them. Even Dib found that action strangely comforting, and Zim certainly felt better upon seeing the weapons offering to protect them.

Their pursuer had broken the shop windows and was in there now. If it had tracked them this far it would be on them in a minute. Zim silently backed into a row of shelves that would hide them for at least a moment, but it wouldn't last more then that.

Silence ensued. If the nightmare was searching the shop it was doping so very, very quietly.

Zim waited, looking around desperately, trying to control his heavy breathing. They needed a way out! A better place to hide! Anything! Please!

Dib was in a panic. He was in pitch darkness with no clue what was happening. If his scent was anything to guess by, Zim would say his Dib was about to cry. He was shaking and clutching at the alien with a growing desperation. If his insanity progressed much further he'd be on the floor having a seizure in seconds...

Something prodded his leg and Zim jumped with a gasp, looking down only to see Gir poking him to get his attention, then pointing up.

Up. Up above them was a small window, a skylight. The glass was so dirty it had allowed in no light so Zim had missed it completely.

It was perfect. It would just fit them. Zim grabbed Dib and hugged him to his front tightly, pulling out his spider legs, and he began to climb the shelves, carrying Dib with him.

It was a horrible strain after his previous exercise, and Zim had to restrain several noises of pain, but it was nothing like the ladder he'd climbed to get out of the sewer. He could do this. It wasn't like he had a choice though.

Gir stayed down on the ground with his guns ready to provide cover fire to distract from master and his pet.

From the top of the shelf Zim reached up and grabbed the window, barely managing to slide it open without falling, spider legs braced carefully to hold him up as he pulled at the frame with one hand. The other arm clutched Dib to him, and the human clung to him tightly with both arms and legs, silenced by simple terror, shaking, gripping the invader so tightly Zim couldn't breathe yet he raised no objection as long as Dib was secured to him.

It creaked and cracked but the dirty glass gave in to Zim's force at last and moved, the greenish light spilling in.

As soon as there was room, Zim gripped Dib with both arms, pried the human's grip off him as quickly as he could, and tossed him up through the opening.

Dib yelped and flailed as he tumbled through onto the roof, and looked around in absolute terror.

Where was Zim? Why had Zim thrown him? WAS HE BEING ABANDONED?! WHY? WHAT HAD HE DONE?! WHATEVER IT WAS HE WAS SORRY AND-

Zim's head popped up through the hole a moment later as he hoisted himself up and Dib cried out in relief. Scrambling over, the human grabbed at the alien, trying to help pull him up, terrified anew at the thought of losing his only friend and protector.

Zim was up in a moment, and he looked back down.

"Gir!" He called in a hushed voice. "Come!"

The robot looked up, nodded affirmatively, and with a sharp blast of the rockets on his feet, he was up.

Zim began to close the window, leaving no trace of their escape. Dib was right behind him, practically climbing on top of the poor invader in his desperate need for reassuring physical contact, needing to press into his warmth in the chill air. Gir was still ready to cover for them, guns at the ready.

The window was half-way closed when the storage room's door was blown open harshly, an enormous shape leaping into the room with a yowl of rage. Zim reeled back, falling onto Dib, his breathing quickened.

The beast hadn't looked up that Zim had seen; hadn't noticed them, but it was right there underneath them. They had to move. The building beside this one was a hotel or one of those earth 'apartment' things from the look of it, the irken thought.

He could hear whole shelves being torn apart below them as the monster searched, metal screaming and tearing. Zim ground his teeth as the sound drove against his antennas, and Dib covered his ears securely.

As Zim tiptoed, guiding Dib to the edge of the roof to climb onto a tiny porch from one of the apartments that stuck out, almost touching the roof, Zim was stuck going over what he'd seen of the horrible creature in the dim light from the half-open window.

Red alien eyes and greenish skin on a huge, horrendously mutated form.

Even it's scent was familiar... More so then just simply being an irken scent...

But... But it couldn't be...