A/N: This is it! The last chapter. The nightmares are gone and it's back to the daily routine for Dib! Except, there's one last mystery to solve…
Before we get into the epilogue though, I just wanted to thank everyone who has been reading and following this! Considering this story was a crossover/horror/mystery (with no romance), I didn't really think I'd have any readers so I was pleasantly surprised to find an amazing group of people on both FF and AO3 reading/reviewing/commenting on this weird little fic every week! You guys are the best and you don't know how much all of your kind words mean to me. Thanks for everything!
Disclaimer: I do not own Invader Zim, Squee, JTHM or any related franchises. But I do own a completed fanfic! Yay! :)
St. Elizabeth's Psychiatric Hospital
170 Forest Road
My dear partner in crime,
I cannot even express how grateful I am that you offered to be my pen pal. Your letter was like an oasis in a desert but, you know, not as sandy or imaginary. Yeah. I'm not quite sure where I was going with that.
Anyway, further letters should be sent to the address on the envelope since it is to be my new residence. You will notice said residence is a maximum security psychiatric hospital rather than a prison cell on death row and trust me, I am as bewildered as you are by this bizarre turn of events. Though I pleaded guilty to my (numerous) crimes, the court psychiatrist deemed me incompetent to stand trial. I told him that I was perfectly sane and that I had been killing people to keep an eldritch abomination sealed behind a wall in my house and for some odd reason, he wouldn't believe me. Weird, right?
This place is... actually alright. When I first heard I was coming here, I was plagued by visions of being bound up in a straight jacket and tossed into a padded cell for the rest of my life. The reality isn't as dramatic- to be honest, it's fairly boring! I do my chores, read books in my cell and suppress the urge to strangle the guard with the lazy eye who always says I've missed a spot after mopping. Sometimes, it's really only my promise to you that keeps me from doing it.
All-in-all, it isn't so bad. The psychiatrist and I have been talking through things and I guess I have a lot of shit to sort through. He gave me some medication and even suggested to the administration that I should be permitted to try art therapy once they're sure I won't stab someone in the eye with a paintbrush. I am... looking forward to that. It would be nice to paint again.
I also had a visitor the other day! Believe me, I was just as shocked as you are. Her name is Devi. She's this girl I really liked (but then tried to kill in one of my less lucid moments, long story). Anyhow, she came to show me this weird painting with a doll stabbed into it. She said the doll had been saying some spooky stuff, so I referred her to a friend of mine who happens to be a very reliable paranormal investigator. You should expect her call within the next couple weeks.
So, that sums up life here. I'm glad to hear Squee is doing well. He's a good kid and I think living with you guys is a positive thing for him. I dare say his loving parents must have put up a good fight when you suggested it, right? I am not sure if my sarcasm translates well into writing, but for the record: that was sarcastic.
By the way, how is life with that angry space mite living in your brain? I still think he's an arrogant jerk- I hope he read that- but I'm glad he's around for you. Friends are like mirrors: you need them to see who you really are. I wish I had learned that earlier in life, but I do hope it's not too late.
And the blueprints you sent me for your giant Residue Filtration System look great! I can't pretend I understand any of the mathematical equations you're using, but I'm impressed by whole the idea of the thing. If there were just a couple of those installed around the world, there wouldn't be anymore homicidal maniacs! Wouldn't that be neat?
On an unrelated note, I wanted to let you know that in your last letter, after you declared that you had finally gotten to bottom of our little mystery, your words appear to be blurred, incomprehensible gibberish. I assume someone- or something- doesn't want you to share the truth. Ah, well. I don't know what you found out, but I am content in the knowledge that you are aware of it. It's a mad world out there, but it's nice to know there's someone like you is keeping an eye on things.
With fondest regards,
"A bit to the left..." I said, though I didn't need to. The metal wires that were connected to the PAK had responded to the command before I even thought it and I shifted to the side. I hung over the worktable, suspended in the air like a demented version of Peter Pan in a low budget skool play. As I observed the prototype from all angles, I strained to hear the humming sound that it was making. "I can't tell what's causing it."
It could be overheated. Zim pointed out. Turn it off and let's get ready for skool.
"It's not that loud. Do we really need to fix it before testing?"
Believe me, human. It would drive you crazy if it was making that hideous noise every hour of the day!
"It can't be as bad as having an insane, paranoid alien in your brain 24/7."
It's much worse. It's more like living inside the giant head of a whiny, impatient baby mouth! Now do as I tell you and shut it down before it overloads!
I sighed and lifted the googles. I had only been living with Zim for a week and I was already beginning to learn when I should listen to his advice and when I should ignore it. Life choices? Ignore. Social interactions? Ignore. Advanced alien technology? Definitely listen.
Besides, I didn't want to take the chance of ruining the prototype. It had been carefully constructed from the blueprints of Zim's PAK and, while Irken technology was dependable, it wasn't exactly easy to work with. It would take days to have more parts shipped in if we fried something and I didn't have that kind of time.
Oh, you might be wondering exactly where we got the parts for the prototype in the first place? It wasn't hard.
I just asked The Tallest.
You should have seen their shocked faces- green skin paling, antennae twitching- as I calmly explained to them that I had hacked their Containment Protocol, fused myself to Zim's PAK, and unholy Zimness would soon rain down upon them. However, if they met my demands, Zim promised to remain on Earth and leave them alone- forever. They agreed before I even told them what I wanted. In fact, they declared that Earth was now a protected planet so nothing would provoke Zim into leaving for any reason whatsoever.
After worrying about an impending alien invasion for so long, it was a relief not to have the fate of the entire world on my shoulders. However, I felt Zim's pain too. I imagined it was the way a dog would feel after being ditched at the pound.
"You're always welcome here." I told him.
He said that was stupid- imagine being welcomed as a guest in a place you fully intended to own someday- but I knew he appreciated the sentiment anyway.
I lowered myself to the floor and ripped off the goggles. The heat from the welder had caused sweat to build up on my skin and I ran a hand across my forehead to clear it. Despite being warm, I pulled on my trenchcoat. It covered the PAK nicely, although I doubted anyone would notice I had alien technology embedded in my spine even if I went dancing in the streets naked.
"Do you want to check on Zim Jr. before we go?" I asked.
I could practically hear the sneer in Zim's voice. We've discussed this! The clone is called Zim 2.0! And I had Minimoose monitor its vitals this morning.
The clone, which was being grown from a blood sample we had taken from Zim's original body, had been growing steadily in a test tube all week. According to Zim's computer, it would only take two years after "birth" for the smeet to reach maturity, after which it would stop growing. Originally we had planned on waiting for the clone to reach it's full size before porting Zim into his new body, but after only a couple days of sharing a brain, we quickly decided that three months would be fine. This meant Zim would have to spend a while as a baby, but that was a sacrifice we were more than willing to make. I tried to persuade him to go earlier- you know, before the vocal chords developed- but he refused.
Oh, well. At least I would be taller than him.
Since we were finished in the lab, I cleaned off the worktable- Zim had insisted I keep his lab to his standards of cleanliness- and then started towards the elevator. As I ascended into the kitchen, the smell of sizzling bacon wafted down the elevator shaft. Once I had I risen through the toilet, I spotted GIR sucking on a brain freezy while the newly repaired Minimoose monitored a griddle of pancakes on the stove.
"Mornin', Dib!" Squee was setting the table. "Mornin' Zim!"
Hello, smeet. Zim answered, almost warmly. Squee always remembered to say hello to both of us separately- a gesture that Zim appreciated. He liked the kid as much as he could like an inferior being; y'know, the way a person might feel about a bug they don't want to squish.
"Zim says hello." I looked over the table. "What is this?"
"I wanted to make you breakfast," he glanced down, suddenly shy. "You know, to thank for letting me stay here."
I blinked in surprise. "You're thanking me? I should be thanking you!" With an alien and a conscious miasma of psychic energy competing for room in my head, Squee's gentle presence was a necessary tether to reality.
"I like it here." Squee shrugged, "It's like a family! A weird family with robots and explosions and stuff."
The heartfelt tone of his words caught me off guard. But before I could say anything, a horn honked somewhere outside.
Squee jumped to his feet. "Pepito's here!"
"Yeah, his dad offered to drive me to skool. They have an inter-dimensional portal car so it won't take too long to get there. I usually smell like burning people for the rest of the day, though..."
"Uh, okay. Just make sure you're home in time for dinner or Gaz will find you..."
He turned at least three shades paler at the thought-a normal reaction to my sister's vengeance.
"I will!" Squee slung his backpack over his shoulder. Then he dashed out the door, with a call of "bye!" over his shoulder.
I watched from the window as he clamored into a white car with horns on the front. It was nice to know after everything he had been through, Squee had come out on the other side just as innocent as ever.
He's acclimating well to his new environment.
"Yeah, I think he's happy here." I drifted back towards the green and purple living room. "Thanks for letting him stay in the base."
I didn't have a choice! You released all of my test subjects and I need someone to experiment on...
"That's not funny."
While he chuckled, I stopped at the rolling blackboard I had ordered- thanks, internet!- and examined the blueprints for the Global Residue Filtration System prototype. As I gazed at the rough pencil lines and scribbled measurements, I imagined what it would look like when it was finished: its curved silver shell glinting in the sunlight, rising above a cityscape like a chrome mountain.
According to Zim's calculations, a prototype of this scale should be able to filter psychic residue from a geographic area of about 300 miles. Like it did for the Irkens so long ago, the filter would remove the psychic pollution directly from the environment instead of dumping it on a minority of unwitting, suffering martyrs. And if we installed them in major locations all over the planet...
The wastelock system would be obsolete.
What would a residue-free world be like for humanity? I wasn't sure. It wouldn't create a utopia, not by any means- but maybe a place where people were just a little friendlier and happier. That was the sort of world I wanted kids like Squee to grow up in.
"Zim?" I asked. "Do you think it will really work?"
The prototype? Of course it will! It was designed by ZIM!
"No, not the prototype. The whole plan."
My dream was nice but it had a long and rocky road to reality. There were numerous challenges ahead of us: funding, resources and support being among the chief concerns. Dad had connections with grant committees and politicians- but would he help? He hadn't promised me anything but, considering my recent reputation as a "hero", he at least offered me a meeting and so I had spent the remaining vacation time working long hours into the night, generating pages upon pages of data for the proposal. But what if, after all of this work, Dad still didn't believe me?
Then he would be a FOOL! Zim snapped, before I could even verbalize my thoughts. He had a tendency of doing that now and I wasn't quite sure that I liked it. If we took him to the base, surely-
"No. It might threaten your disguise." I said. Now that I wasn't trying to expose Zim, I wouldn't be surprised if Dad figured out that he was an alien. I knew enough about irony to tempt fate like that. "We need to win him over with evidence. I just hope what we have is-"
NONSENSE! The confidence in Zim's voice waved away my doubts like annoying flies. Do not fill your giant head with inconsequential details!
"Stop saying my head-"
"If your father is not impressed, no matter! We have a saying on Irk: 'an invader never fails a mission'. We may fail at a plan. We may have to change strategies. However, we never fail the mission itself. Invaders fight until we succeed- no matter how many setbacks we face.
"Yeah, but you're an invader, Zim." I pointed out. "Not me. I'm just a kid."
Just a kid?! Look at yourself!
With reluctance, I lifted my eyes and looked back at the window. In the reflection of the glass, a kid stared back at me. At least, he looked like a kid in his oversized trench coat and large glasses- but then I saw his eyes. The shadows had disappeared along with the insomnia, but I spotted something different inside them.
A spark of madness- like a crack in a wall.
Do you see now, my Dib? Zim's voice settled beside me, like a hand on my shoulder. Chasing dreams is easy when you've already lived a nightmare.
And suddenly, I knew things were going to work out alright.
Now, set aside this foolishness and let's eat so we can get ready for skool! I have been absent far too long and I am eager to rejoin society!
And so, I settled down at the table and took a couple of the fluffy, warm pancakes Squee had left out for me. Zim was right- today was our first day back to skool and it was important that we arrived on time.
We still had one loose end to tie up, after all.
"Here." I handed the report to Miss Bitters.
Condensing the past two weeks into a five sheet packet seemed like an impossible task, but somehow we had managed it. After giving her the report, I also explained that Zim and I were now sharing a body and that he shouldn't be counted as absent. She told me that was perfectly normal for group projects and gestured over to Group #3, whose heads had somehow fused together.
"Of course, I'll still be expecting separate assignments from both you." She gave me a piercing look. "And since Zim can't speak for himself in class, you had better work on doing a reasonable imitation of his voice. If you could make it less shriekey and horrible, that would be appreciated."
I said I would try and then, assuming we were finished, I began to walk away.
"Dib." she beckoned me back over with a single flick of one of her long, gnarled fingers. When I returned, she said: "You took on a great burden, but I want you to know that it was the best decision for everyone involved."
At first, I thought she was referring to Zim- since he was huge burden even when we weren't fused together- but she continued.
"My grandson was so concerned when he found out his little friend had been chosen as a wastelock. And when Pepito is upset, his foolish father doesn't know how to deal with it!" She sighed and shook her head. "As usual, I have to take care of everything."
The realization took a moment to set in.
"You!" I cried, "You're Pepito's grandmother?!"
"Yes, but he would never admit it in public. It's a bit 'uncool' to have your grandmother as a teacher, I've heard. He thought the other kids might tease him about it."
"You're the one that the doughboys were talking about!" The dots were connecting so fast that I felt dizzy watching them. "You assigned the project to me on purpose, didn't you?!"
Miss Bitters interlaced her fingers. "Of course. I knew the answer was to find a better candidate to be the new wastelock. The boy was too young anyway; the creature would've had far more success manipulating him than your homicidal maniac. And if it had succeeded in breaking through to our reality, I believe it would have caused permanent damage to the entire dimension. When I raised this point to my other son, of course, he refused to get off his couch and deal with it himself! He's been so lazy since he created the universe..."
"Your other son? So you're also..." My voice faltered, "Jesus Christ..."
"Don't get me started on him! At any rate, you were a natural choice. I know because I've had you in every class since you started skool and I pay far more attention than you think I do. Why else would I insist on keeping you and Zim together, despite how disruptive you both are? Would any of the other children take on the monumental task of single-handedly defending the Earth from an alien invader? I doubt it."
My mouth hung open, wobbling uselessly, and I tried to say something but it was like I had forgotten every word in the English language.
"You're annoying, Dib." Her glasses shifted in the light as she stared down at me. "But you're also clever and determined. I knew you would stop at nothing until you solved the mystery and that you would stay true to yourself in the face of extreme adversity. As always, my judgement was correct. You should be proud of yourself."
Then she lifted the packet and flipped through the pages, sniffing something I couldn't smell.
"As for this paper," she continued, "I'm sensing APA citations, even though I specifically asked for MLA. Your grade is a C. Now go to your seat. The bell already rang and I'm not going to wait on you just because you saved the universe."
Shaking, I took a seat at my desk and I just sort of stared at her in a mixture of wonder and horror.
Useless pig! Zim complained and the sudden sound of his voice made me jump. You were supposed to get me when class started! My consciousness goes dormant when the PAK is calculating difficult- Dib? Are you alright?
"You won't believe what I just heard!" I blurted out but before I could even say anything, Miss Bitters turned in my direction.
Behind the glasses, I caught a glimpse of her eyes. They were empty black voids, spanning an eternity far beyond the lifespan of stars. Wrinkles creased around the corners but I realized that they were just for show- they were part of a mask and beyond that mask was a being so ageless, it had witnessed the big bang and called it Yet Another Day.
I knew and she knew that I knew.
A smile tugged at her weathered lips. "Do you have something you would like to share with the class, Dib?"
Silent, for perhaps the first time in my life, I shook my head.
"Very well." said the ancient one.
And class began.
A/N That's a wrap! Thanks to everyone again for reading and reviewing! :)