Zim watched Dib's face contort into a wince of pain for a moment before settling back into the slightly strained look it adopted whenever he did this. The chilly room the Irken and human resided in was a sharp mix of sterile alcohol, leather from the chairs, and cigarette smoke from one of the employees- a combination Zim had initially abhorred before adjusting to it and learning to ignore the scent. The incessant jarring buzz of the machine was a usual and expected thing by now, simultaneously nerve-grating and tempting.
Zim doubted he'd ever do it himself, but he freely admitted he never tired of watching his once hated rival sit willingly through hours of pain.
What an odd ritual tattooing was.
"Does it hurt yet, Dib beast?"
A honey colored eye cracked open and glowered up at the smug voice overhead, seeming brighter and more dimensional without the usual layer of glass it hid behind.
The response was tight with suppressed discomfort. "Of course not, Zim. What would ever give you that impression?"
This was the sadistic game they played whenever Dib went to the parlor on Aves Avenue and Zim tagged along (which was almost every time.) Both would coerce the other into either admitting pain or giving up, respectively, and the one to break first was also the one who paid tip to the pizza delivery man.
And Zim did not feel like paying tip tonight. Not after Gir had used a large chunk of the fake money he printed regularly to get into a "Loded Potatows" concert on the 17th.
Dib let out a long, slow breath, careful not to move too much as he buried his face in his balled up trench coat serving as a makeshift pillow.
Zim watched with almost sadistic pleasure as the tattoo artist's - Jerry, was the man's name? Jimmy? The alien could never remember - gun made its way painstakingly slow across Dib's jaunty shoulderblade. Hmm, right over the bone; that had to hurt.
And so, Zim immediately seized the opportunity. "And how does that feel, Dib monster?"
Dib relaxed once the man picked the gun up momentarily to dip it back in the dark blue ink he was using.
"Totally fine, Zim." Dib said with a proud smile despite the twinge his face betrayed when the artist resumed his work.
"Hm. We shall see." Zim muttered, tapping two of his fingers across his chin while he watched Dib's tattoo progress with interest.
Unlike some of the other nonsensical things the Dib meat ranted about, Zim had actually chosen to pay attention when the human spoke of this new tattoo he was getting. All it took was the mention of the word "mother" to grab the Irken's attention. Dib had seldom spoken of his late mother, the topic seeming to be a touchy one at best and depressing one at worst. The human had garbled aimlessly about the tattoo in incomplete snippets of thought, as though speaking to himself rather than to Zim, but the alien had deduced this much:
The tattoo was of a bird (a sparrow or jay or some such thing) because Dib's mother had loved birds, it was a deep blue because she had always liked the color blue, and it was to be flying against a canvas of stars due to his mother's love of space.
A trait her large-headed progeny had clearly inherited. Dib's other various tattoos were small and inconspicuous enough (save a large Loch Ness monster that actually looked far better than Zim had anticipated it would) ranging to a few well-done planets. This bird was smaller than the sea creature and larger than the planets, but even though it was the size of a palm and would only take an hour and a half or so to complete, even the Irken wasn't so dense as to miss the meaning behind it. Despite not having parents, Zim did understand and empathize somewhat with Dib's lack of mother unit and lack of father unit in all but death.
The young adult's unexpected voice broke Zim's ruminating thoughts. "You know Zim, getting a tattoo really isn't as painful as it looks. Haven't you even considered it?" Dib asked slowly, careful not to breathe out too much and bump Jerry-or-Jimmy's work.
Zim squinted at the man's nametag- so it was Jerry- before answering. "Zim has given it minute consideration, but feels as though there is nothing he wishes to have permanently placed onto his already perfect body."
Dib rolled his eyes at the typical statement, seeming more relaxed as Jerry worked on the outline over the flat muscled part of his shoulderblade rather than the point of it. "You'd probably have some weird alien reaction to the ink anyway." Dib muttered, giving his old enemy a once-over.
Zim propped his head in his hand lazily, leaning his elbow on his knee as he slumped in the chair nonchalantly. "I have no clue what you're talking about, Dib filth. I simply have no wish to be "inked", as you call it."
The latex of Jerry's glove stretching a part of his skin taut had Dib fighting off the natural urge to tense as the humming of the machine started up again after a merciful intermission. Though he'd never let the alien know, half the time with their little game Dib admitted pain to allow Zim to win simply so the Irken wasn't stuck paying tip time after time. In reality, even the worst parts of his tattoos hadn't been bad enough to make him cry out. The pain became a tolerable thing almost immediately, the body adapting to the expectation of pain and naturally making the overall experience less intense.
Zim returned the favor and broke in on Dib's thoughts this time. "I think it is as painful as it looks, Dib, if your face is anything to go by." He commented sarcastically as Dib only halfway succeeded in hiding a grimace.
"It's really not." Dib retorted, enjoying the irritated look on Zim's face at his refusal to crack. Maybe he'd let out a short "ow" of pain at some point just so the megalomaniacal Irken's poor pride wouldn't be wounded. "You just have to focus on something else- I doubt you've noticed, but I hold onto the metal bar beneath the chair here and focus on gripping it rather than doing nothing."
Zim's contacted lavender eyes drifted down to Dib's hand which was indeed wrapped around the aforementioned bar. Idly observing the human hand's muscular structure as tendons stood out when Jerry went over a particularly sensitive spot and Dib squeezed the metal in reaction, Zim reflected on the time he'd seen Dib's first tattoo.
It had been an accident really, just a simple removal of a sweatshirt while playing Zombie Squid Apocalypse II that had Dib's tank top riding up with the clothing as he tugged it over his ginormous head.
Zim had practically pounced on Dib at seeing the well-inked likeness to Jupiter just below the human's ribcage on his side, more towards the back. How long had that been there? When had he gotten it done? Where? Why? How? What the hell was it, anyway?
"Human? Why have you drawn a picture of Jupiter on yourself?" Zim had asked blankly, getting Dib's attention by holding the hem of the tank top just above the tattoo. Respecting Dib's personal space but still nosy enough to impose to the point of keeping the oddity in view by touching his shirt, Zim leaned a little closer and peered at it.
The Dib was no artist. Surely he couldn't have done that?
"It's a tattoo. I didn't put it there, someone else did." Dib had answered boredly as though planets appearing on his torso were an everyday occurrence.
"Why would someone want to draw a planet on your body?" Zim's nonexistent brow furrowed. "I was under the impression that when humans chose to draw things upon their companions, they were usually inappropriate things meant for temporary entertainment like peni-"
"NO!" Dib had immediately interrupted, hotly snatching the bit of shirt Zim was loosely holding away from the Irken. Humoring his nemesis-turned friend, however, Dib kept the tank top pulled up enough so Zim could continue to observe the work. "Haven't you ever seen humans walking around with pictures and stuff all over their bodies?"
Zim nodded, extending a hand as if to touch the inked skin curiously, but thought better of it and retracted his claws. "Of course. You mean to say what you have is the same thing?"
Dib rolled his eyes. "Duh. You don't have to get giant tattoos, you know. They can be any size."
Zim blinked, making a noncommittal "Hm." Finally overcoming his dislike of touching humans after a short internal battle, Zim let his interest get the better of him enough to give the tattoo a quick touch with the tip of a sharp finger (carefully curved outward to avoid slicing Dib's art up.) The skin felt no different from the surrounding unaltered flesh, which led the alien to assume Dib must have had the piece for at least a month. "I'm insulted you never thought to inform me of this addition, Dib stink. How very un-friendly-like of you."
Dib again rolled his eyes, letting the shirt fall back down into place as he picked up his controller. "I just didn't think you'd give two shits is all."
Zim hummed another ambivalent "Hmm", grabbing his own controller. "Fair enough. But if you decide to get another, I wish to accompany you."
Dib hid his exasperated smirk as he unpaused the game. How typical it was of Zim to disguise a request in the callous form of an order.
Very well. He supposed bringing Zim once wouldn't hurt… he had been looking at getting Saturn done next anyway…
The two returned to the present, Dib because of an extra-painful stretch of outline and Zim because of a victory.
"Ha HA! You hissed in pathetic pain- Zim heard you!"
Dib turned his head to face the direction opposite Zim to hide his smirk. "Yeah, yeah. I pay tip, I know."
Zim leaned back in the chair triumphantly, placing his arms behind his head. Victory for Zim!
An hour later, Dib heaved himself off the chair with that un-sticking noise humans made when peeling their bare skin off leather. He was always stiff after sitting still for long tattooing sessions, and today was no exception. Zim, slouched in his chair in the corner (having gone into hibernation mode to pass the time), blinked open an eye at the noise and stood.
Dib's new tattoo had come out quite nicely. The artist had refrained from making it feminine in the least, but it still had an elegance and sense of meaning to it that Zim grudgingly admired. Too bad he wouldn't get to mock Dib for having a girly bird on his shoulder- that had been his original plan all along.
Dib rolled his shoulders slowly, loosening up the muscles as he craned his head around too see the work in the full-length mirror in the back room. A nostalgic smile spread across his face and Dib nodded, immensely pleased.
Mom would have loved it.
"Thanks a lot, Jerry. It looks great." Dib thanked the artist enthusiastically, eagerly shoving the man's cut into his hand after shaking it.
"Heh, no problem kid. I'm glad you like it." Jerry responded with a smile of his own, pocketing the money and spinning Dib around with his other hand. Taping a folded clean paper towel over the tattoo, Jerry launched into the usual "take this off after an hour or so, wash the tattoo with cool water, apply nonscented lotion to keep the skin moisturized, ect." speech he gave Dib every time despite the boy being a repeat customer. Safety first, Dib supposed; fresh tattoos were open wounds, after all.
Waving goodbye to Jerry as the man turned to clean and store his equipment, Dib slung his shirt and jacket over his forearm before exiting the shop. The click of Zim's boots proved the Irken was right behind him, and Dib dug out his car keys from the depths of his pocket.
Immediately they left his hand, and before he could blink Zim was already at the driver's side door opening it and stepping inside the car. Dib steeled himself and got in the passenger side without argument, debating whether he should be grateful to Zim for wordlessly offering to drive them home (thus allowing Dib as a passenger to lean forward and keep the seat from pressing against his new tattoo) or scared that Zim was driving them home.
The engine rumbled to life as Zim twisted the keys, and Dib triple checked his seatbelt before the silver Toyota Corolla peeled out of the lot and shot across two lanes of traffic onto the highway.
Dib removed his clenched hands from the upholstery, not missing Zim's evil grin at the maneuver only an alien with reflexes like his could have judged and safely pulled off.
"Zim… you're an asshole."
The Irken snickered, missing a red light by a few seconds as he gunned the engine impatiently.
"I know, Dib. I know."