Setting up the lab was done very quickly and after barely a few hours, it was good to go and able to accommodate two or more 'guests'.

They had modified one of the already existing cells – or was 'cage' a more appropriate name for it? - to be secure even from an Irken's abilities. Despite Zim's claims that Skoodge was a rather useless specimen of his species, they figured it was better to be safe than sorry.

There was no need to bother much with higher security or strengthening the restrains for a human. No human being would be able to break out of the highly advanced Irken technology. Leave some damage? Maybe. But not enough to bother with.

An Irken invader, however, no matter how incompetent, would have the equipment to break out of a simple cell. So in order to prevent that, there were some upgrades needed. Dib had his doubts that the minor alterations Zim made to the cell's programming and the odd little device he had placed just outside of it would suffice, but the seriousness the alien displayed during the installation quelled his worries.

When Zim held such an expression, it usually meant that he knew what he was doing.

It was done soon and with their work done for the moment, there actually was some time to spend at leisure. It was a little strange, but a welcome change for the both of them.

Afterall... there really wasn't anything big left to do. The 'grocery shopping' could wait another day and Zim called it a well-deserved reward for the efforts and the results they had achieved. Also, there really wasn't much else to do, other than relax for once.

And a proper break was admittedly needed, too.

Dusting his black-gloved hands off, the alien raised his eyes up to his companion. "Do you want to go up for a little while?"

"Up?" There was genuine confusion on the taller's face for a long moment. They already were on the upper level of the base. Only then, it clicked and honey-colored eyes lit up instantly.

"Oh! Oh, you mean up 'out'! Yes! Yes, I'd really love to go outside! I haven't been outside since you left." The alien just nodded, trying to ignore the strange little pang his middle gave at the excited expression on Dib's face.

"And it was probably for the best. Even when there's no human dwelling around for miles, there's still the danger of one coming too close. Or of some vile earth beast attacking you." It probably could have been purely for the sake of insulting or teasing, but Zim was serious with his meaning. It even sounded like a tiny, but genuine, bit of worry and Dib smiled.

"Well, now I have you to protect me, so I'm not worried about anything. I want to get some fresh air... see whether it's day or night out, even." Or what the weather was like... or even – and the human felt a hint of resentment at his lack of knowledge about this – what season it even was.

"The air in here is much fresher and much cleaner than outside." the alien replied dryly, but Dib wasn't fazed.

"You know what I mean. Can... we go right now?" Almost, just almost, Zim could swear he could see the human bouncing up and down where he stood, even though he didn't move at all. Shaking his green head, he just nodded.

"Very well... let's go, stupid human."

The route to the hidden exit was short and with a few button presses, a small hatch opened, creating a spacious manhole to climb through.

Zim went up first, automatically, to check the situation. Dib didn't mind much. In fact, the moment the hatch opened and the slightest of cool breezes entered the still atmosphere of their base, he was completely focused on the world outside that came into view, even while he climbed up to follow his companion.

Before he even reached the top, he could tell it was daytime. Either it was dawn or dusk, golden light falling at an angle into the hatch and Dib felt an excited knot forming in his belly.

Then, finally, he reached the top and climbed out, staring wide-eyed at their surroundings.

It was autumn.

Everywhere around them were brightly colored leaves, on the trees, on the ground, some occasionally drifting through the air as they fell from the branches above. There was the intense scent of earth and nature and after all this time inside, it was overwhelming.

Dib had spent the last three, almost four years mostly in the base. And within the last two years, he had only left the alien habitat only once, when they had moved the base.

There were just so many scents in the air and the human took deep breaths through his nose, closing his eyes tightly, just wanting to savor them all. The slightly sweet, earthen scent of moist autumn leaves, the first, delicate crisp of frost,

It was overwhelming.

It was dizzying and after another, deep breath, he heard Zim make a noise next to him.

"You're hyperventilating, Dib-thing. Stop that and sit yourself down or we will head back right now. Zim will not drag your unconscious meat-sack of a body back inside."

Figuring that the alien was right, considering that his fingers and toes WERE turning numb and tingly, the human moved to sit on a dry, mossy spot, willing his breathing to return to normal.

Once done with the scents, Dib had time to concentrate on all the other things he hadn't experienced for far too long.

It was cool. Not unpleasantly so, just enough to send a light shiver down his spine and raise the tiny hairs on his skin into little goosebumps. His feet were bare and he wriggled his toes against the tickly, slightly moist blades of grass and slightly crunchy leaves. His fingers did much of the same, just running through the flora around him, brushing over soft moss, lightly prickly fir needles and the occasional twig or pebble.

Dib smiled and did not care about the strange look he received from his companion. Instead, his smile only widened, beckoning the smaller male over with a slight wave of his hand. "Come, sit with me... it's really nice..."

"...It's wet and dirty.

Laughing warmly, Dib shook his head. "No, it's not. Come on. Just sit with me a little."

Trying to look as put-off by the concept as possible, the slim alien moved over to where Dib sat, eyeing the mossy ground suspiciously, as if there were some unsavoury substances that would subsequently lead to filthiness.

The human just sighed and shook his head, reaching up to take a small, three-fingered hand into his own to pull Zim down next to him. Surprisingly enough, there only was an annoyed huff and no further protest, as he gingerly settled next to him on the soft ground.

"It's cold and wet and filthy."

"Oh, come on... it's really not so bad. Just look at all the colors. Besides... if you get dirty, you can still just take a shower later. It's not that horrible to get a little mud on you. And I don't see you starting to sizzle or reacting to anything. So it can't be that bad."

His good mood thoroughly indestructible for the moment, Dib leaned back on his arms to watch as the setting sun painted everything in a lovely orange-golden hue. It just added to the wide range of bright colors on the trees and fields in the distance.

The alien didn't hold the same appreciation for the colorful nature around them, instead rather watched his human companion as he stared into the distance. He seemed so at peace right now, that Zim didn't feel like destroying the moment for him.

Plucking at a few blades of grass near his hip, Zim cleared his throat. "It's somewhat less horrible than that stinking home city of yours." It was a compliment, really, even if an awful one, and Dib smiled.

"It is, isn't it?" Though, he sobered a little, never taking his eyes off the scenery before him, but his voice dropped to a low whisper. "Though it's not my "home". It hasn't been my home for years... if ever." Finally turning to the smaller male beside him, glowing, honey-colored eyes met magenta and Zim stiffened at the intensity of the human's stare.

"My home has been here, with you." There was a short pause, as if Dib was searching for the right words for whatever he wanted to say next, and Zim felt himself tense even more. All too suddenly, the alien became aware of how close they actually were. Their shoulders were nearly touching and while he hadn't paid the fact any mind, he now became incredibly aware of just how warm the human's body was in comparison to his own, the warmth radiating from beneath Dib's thin shirt.

Zim swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat, just when his companion seemed to find his voice again, their eyes meeting once more.

"I know that I cannot... that it won't stay like this forever. And, even if you think it's stupid, but I don't want to think so far ahead. Farther than finally getting that cure. I know... at some point your mission will force us to change how things are, I know that... but until then..." His voice cracked and Dib took a shaky breath. "Until then I want to stay here, with you, where I actually feel like I belong."

Before Zim had time to fully let those words sink in, the human leaned in closer, resting his forehead against the alien's with a soft nudge.

Immediately, large, magenta eyes slid shut, head tilting to the side to turn the touch into a soft nuzzle and there was a quiet, simultaneous sigh, the sound causing them both to chuckle.

"Heh... too bad you're from such a pathetic species. Under different circumstances, you would've made a passable irken. Maybe not an invader... or even an elite... but still."

Surprised eyes opened to regard the smaller alien and Dib was honestly stunned by what he heard. So stunned, actually, that he felt his cheeks heat from the unexpected praise. "Zim..." He lowered his head, turning slightly to let his lips brush along high cheekbones.

"Too bad you're from such an overly sensitive species, Zim... Under different circumstances I might've... I..."

He was blushing now, glad that the alien likely couldn't see, with their cheeks resting against one another. Zim was silent, either waiting for him to continue or already trying to make sense of his words.

After a calming breath, Dib continued in a quiet whisper, trying to get over his timidness. "I wish... I could kiss you. Without causing you pain." Instead of a kiss, he gently nuzzled at the smooth, cool cheek before pulling back, straightening a bit to hide his now embarrassed blush.

And still, the smaller male remained silent. Dib didn't dare look at him, not wanting to risk seeing any kind of rejection or disgust on the smooth face.

It couldn't have been more than mere seconds, but time had this awful tendency to draw itself out into infinity whenever it pleased to do so. Most often in moments where everyone involved just wanted it to run by faster.

Finally, though, Zim took it upon himself to break the silence and the human saw a quick movement from the corner of his eye, right before a three-fingered hand smacked into his forehead.

It wasn't very hard, the shock of the action itself far more impacting than the faint throb of pain accompanying it, and Dib's hand shot up to rub the spot in irritation and confusion. "Zim, what the h-Mn-"

Before he could even finish his question, full lips sealed his own in a firm kiss. The awkward angle and sudden weight leaning against him unbalanced him enough to flop back onto the soft ground.

Their contact was never broken.

Zim followed him down and gave a soft noise when warm, human arms came to lightly wrap around his smaller body.

It took a moment for Dib's brain to actually compute what was happening. But once it did, he tightened his hold on Zim, pushing his mouth a little firmer against the alien's. Despite his own intention to keep the kiss as painless for his companion as possible, there was the not-so-subtle touch of alien tongue, trying to worm its way into his mouth.

With a tiny gasp, pink lips opened, allowing that thin tongue entrance and reciprocating the attention by running his own, wider tongue against Zim's.

The touch, along with that wonderfully sweet taste filling his mouth created a excitingly warm sensation that pooled in his middle, making him shiver. Only vaguely, he recognized the sound of quiet sizzling and he forced himself to pull back, casting a worried glance up at Zim.

"Zim..."

"Don't think Zim's afraid of a little pain!" His speech was a little slurred and it was easy to see how he was fighting the urge to just spit out and rinse his mouth of the burning liquids there.

Sighing, Dib opened his own mouth, fully intending to apologize, but he didn't even make it to the first syllable before that punishing hand smacked into his forehead once more.

"Do not even THINK about apologizing, Dib-thing!"

"Bu-" Another, harder smack.

"NO BUTS!"

"Ow! Alright already! Man, Zim, that hurt!" But he was already grinning, mirroring the alien's toothy expression. Reaching up, he pulled at the alien's head, pressing another, slow kiss to his lips.

"There. No apology."

"Stupid human..." Shaking his head, Zim flopped down next to the taller male and allowed himself to wipe his mouth with the back of his gloved hand.

"Still..." Dib started quietly, casting a look towards the sinking sun, where it plunged the world around them into vivid, red and orange hues. "Even without apologizing, I... still wished kissing me wouldn't cause you pain."

A green head came to rest lightly against his shoulder and the little affirmative hum that followed was answer enough.

"It's not as if we have any time to waste, anyway. There's lots to do, humans to catch and experiments to prepare, gross human foods to stock up on and a mission to be finished."

Dib smiled, feeling the smaller body huddle closer with the next, now admittedly cold breeze. Zim didn't deal well with the cold temperatures on earth, and Dib supposed his human body was a welcome heat source for the alien. Golden eyes slid closed in relaxation, once more simply enjoying the crisp air and the scent of nature all around them.