Note: Brain: It's been three years since you finished Mekrelmar. Me: Yep. Brain: Wow, now you have like five writing projects going at once. Me: Mhmmm. Brain: You know what you need? Another one. Here's an idea for the third installment in this series. Me:…fml… Brain: You're welcome.

So yeah… third in the series. It goes Maneem, Mekrelmar, and now… Fareto. I thought we were done after Mekrelmar. I suppose not. Usual disclaimers: Only romance that will be happening is between Membrane and Gloria, Della and Tom… there might be one more but I'm unsure at the moment. But it's not Zim and Dib. Never. Ever. Ever. Nor is it Zim and Mikko, or Tiana.

….

Dib stared at the tool in his hands, a confused expression on his face. "A… hacksaw, Zim? Really? What's this for?"

"Your legs."

"My… Oh come off it Zim, really?"

The alien scowled upward, tilting his head back too many degrees for his comfort. "It's not fair!"

Grinning, Dib stuck his hands in his pockets. "Look, Zim, I won't make short jokes. Well, not many. But it's just the way it is. Most Irkens are short, right? Well, most humans get growth spurts. Mikko's growing pretty fast, and I don't see you handing her sharp objects."

"That's different!" Zim stomped his foot. "Della would kill me if I even suggested it."

"Oh come off it Zim. Just get used to it. Why now, anyway? I've been growing like a weed for the last five years. Besides, you're taller than most Irkens I've seen, just shorter than a lot of humans too. Five feet is pretty good for an Irken."

Zim crossed his arms, glaring at the ground stubbornly.

Sighing, Dib plopped down on his rear in the middle of the sidewalk, resigning himself to a lost afternoon. Grabbing Zim's hand, he yanked him to a sitting position as well. "Zim, what's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong."

"My foot nothing's wrong, you've been acting weird for a few weeks now, and don't think I haven't noticed." Dib poked him in the forehead, prompting a flurry of furious swats from the Irken. "You look like you haven't slept in awhile either. What are those, shopping bags under your eyes?"

Zim glared. He'd managed to learn most of the idioms of the English language at this point, but they still annoyed him. "I've been busy," he snapped.

"Doing what? Fending off the paparazzi?"

The corners of Zim's mouth pulled down further. "They're still stupid, you know. Very annoying. But at least they don't carry lasers."

"Lasers?" Dib homed in on Zim's slip. The alien winced, shifting. "And what IS bothering you that's carrying lasers?"

"None of your bee-wax."

"Zim," Dib was losing patience fast. All the signs said something had been rattling Zim, and nobody was allowed to do that on his watch. "If you don't talk, I swear I'll post photoshopped pictures of you in little girl's clothing all over the internet. And you won't be able to say it's a lie, because Tiana said it really happened. And you wouldn't like to call Tiana a liar, would you?"

Zim lashed out with a booted foot, catching Dib's shin. He yelped, clutching it as the alien glared.

"I've been getting… visitors."

Dib rubbed his shin gingerly. "What kind of visitors?"

"Bounty hunters."

Dib's eyes widened. "Bounty… but—"

"They aren't sponsored by Tallest Purple, as best as I can beat out of them." Zim rubbed his antennae tiredly. "They aren't really bounty hunters either. There isn't a bounty, just a few overzealous Irkens who think that if they bring my head back with them, then they'll be famous."

Dib's eyes strayed up to the bandage Zim wore around his forehead. Quietly, he asked, "Is it because of…" He trailed off, uncomfortably.

"Yes." Zim stated flatly. He no longer bothered with disguises, now that the Earth authorities treated him as a respected visitor, but this was the one vanity he kept. That the brand marking him as the worst traitor Irk had ever seen remained covered, no matter what. "If they can erase the only 'Mekrelmar' that ever existed in the history of Irk, then maybe they can be famous."

Dib's fist flew before Zim could react, catching him in a sharp right hook. "You idiot! How long has this been going on? And why didn't you tell me?"

Zim sprawled back for a moment, before pushing himself back up. Sourly, he responded, "It's not your fight, Dib. I can deal with them myself. I don't need your help for this."

Stung, Dib glared at him. "Did you ever think, insect brains, that I might want to help you? That I, oh I don't know, care that Irkens are trying to kill my best friend? What the flirk is wrong with you?"

Zim snickered a little at Dib's use of the Irken curse. Five years had done a lot to tie them together since he'd returned to Earth, and Zim hadn't been the only one to acclimate to an alien culture. Sobering, he sighed. "I didn't mean it like that, Dib." He shrugged his shoulders, mustering as close to an apology as his pride allowed. "I don't want anyone else involved. I make sure all fights happen far away from the town, and if they happen in town, I guide them away from my home."

"You mean away from your house," Dib rubbed his forehead, "Away from your sisters and your parents."

"Away from anyone who might get hurt." Zim stared hard at Dib.

"Yeah, I get it, but you're still an idiot. It's not like I didn't know what I was signing up for by being your friend, you know." Dib rotated his shoulder, where Red's spiderleg had run him through. "Look, Zim, I know you're trying to keep us safe, but you forget, it goes both ways. You're not alone anymore, you know. This isn't training. You have people who'd do anything for you, to make sure you're safe."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Zim muttered.

"Huh?"

"Nothing. Look, if you want in on these stupid little fights, that's your choice. But don't you dare tell my family. Understand? Irk only knows it would set Mikko off and she'd never speak again."

Dib's expression softened a little. "Understood."

Zim shifted a little. "And Dib?"

"Yeah?"

"If you are going to help me… I guess you should know… I've been getting…"

"Getting what?"

Reaching into his pocket, Zim produced several crumpled sheets of paper. Dib took them, carefully smoothing them out. There were roughly four sketches, depicting the Irken body and its organs. A few spaces had been left in the drawings, with question marks drawn on them. Above each diagram had been drawn the symbol of the Swollen Eyeball.

Gripping the papers with both hands, Dib tore them apart, furious. "Idiots!" He exclaimed. "What's their problem? At this point, they could just ask you the answers!"

Glumly, Zim replied, "I'm still a hostile alien threat in their eyes, and nothing will change that. You should know. Some hyumans refuse to accept what they see."

Dib ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "Yeah, I'll put the word out to keep a watch on any Eyeball activity." Because of his connection with Zim, Dib had been appointed Zim's official Earth guide, as well as his diplomacy aide during official government visits, as diplomacy was something the fiery Irken desperately lacked. He had also been given resources to form a protective surveillance network around Zim, to ensure his safety.

Zim glanced at the boy—no, not a boy anymore. Dib had just recently celebrated his adult year. He glanced at his friend, and dropped his gaze a little.

"That's not all that's bugging you, is it?" Dib prodded.

Pausing a moment, Zim weighed whether or not to put it into words, then gave up, realizing Dib would find some way to pester it out of him eventually.

"I miss being around my own kind." Zim's voice was uncharacteristically quiet. "They're cruel, stupid, and destructive, but they're… like me. Everywhere I go, people stare, and point, and want me to sign some stupid piece of paper, and take pictures like I'm some freak. Or they want me dead." His claws traveled up to touch the bandage. "But then, my kind want me dead too."

Dib's throat tightened a little. It was hard to see Zim like this. He knew the little alien wanted acceptance more than anything else, and that he'd found a sort of acceptance here on Earth was no small feat. But Dib knew what it was like to be ostracized by everyone around him, to be made fun of and rejected all the time. And all that wasn't even a tenth of what Zim had experienced in his life. Nobody had wanted to kill Dib, after all, or said that he never should have been born.

Scooting over, Dib gripped Zim's shoulder firmly. "Not everyone wants you dead you know." He squeezed. "Some people would, in fact, fight very hard to make sure you stay alive. I know we're not your kind, but we're still family and friends." He grinned wryly. "So maybe you can forgive us for not being Irken, right?"

Zim grinned weakly. "Yeah, maybe someday you'll be forgiven for that horrendous crime against the universe."

Dib glanced up, then back down at Zim. He released his shoulder and shoved the alien a little. "Anyway, stop moping, your sisters probably want a hug."

"They what? OOOMPH!"

Dib grinned as two girls crashed into Zim, crushing him with hugs. "Neeeeeever gets old."