Fragility – There is that one moment when the glass meets the ground, the first cracks breaking through the surface. Then it shatters; a silent scream.
A/N: Hey guys! Sorry for not updating earlier. School just started (first day of college!) and I couldn't find time to do this. Excuses, excuses… Anyway! Thank you for those who reviewed! :) Replies are at the bottom of the chapter.
I'd like to warn here and now that the characters may be OOC. I have not watched Suite Life on Deck, so I am merely predicting how they would act. So…do tell me where I went wrong. In any case, enjoy the chapter! :D
Summary:The S.S. Tipton docks at England. For once, Zack is compassionate for one other than himself. A car. A collision. When tears fall and a cry so haunting echoes in his ears, one of the twins learn that time will not always be on their side.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Suite Life Series nor any of its characters.
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"Time is always relative... For the terminally ill, six months are a lifetime, and not a very long one. To a three-year-old waiting for Christmas, it's an eternity so distant it's not even worth thinking about." -JOHN SAUL, Midnight Voices
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Zack froze. He raised his hands slowly.
Not amused. "Turn around."
Zack swallowed nervously. He lowered his head and turned. His eyes meeting a pair of stern ones, he quickly jumped to his defense. "I didn't do anything, Mr Moseby!"
Mr Moseby eyed the young teen critically at the answer. "What didn't you do, Zack?"
Zack opened his mouth and paused. What didn't he do? A sheepish smile crossed his features as he scratched the back of his head. "Uh…Nothing?"
The older man inwardly sighed. Both he and the young Martin had fallen into this cycle too many times. Zack would immediately deny having done something, while he had to be the adult. His lips thinned, though he felt more amused than anger.
"Zack, I'd just like to tell you to behave" – Mr Moseby glared at the teen – "when we dock in the afternoon."
Zack started to mouth his protest when Mr Moseby raised his hand authoritatively.
"I will not stop you from getting off the ship," he continued slowly, as if afraid Zack would be unable to grasp his words. "But I expect you to be back by eight tonight since your brother will not be going with you today."
This time, Zack stared at Mr Moseby in disbelief. By eight? He's got to be kidding me. And what's this about Cody not coming with me?
"Mr Moseby! You can't do that!" he exclaimed loudly.
Mr Moseby cleared his throat as the people around them turned to stare curiously at them. He smiled graciously at the other passengers and waited patiently until they had turned away. Shifting his attention back to Zack, his stare hardened almost instantaneously. "Zack," he began warningly. "As manager of this ship, I will act as your and the rest of your classmates' guardian for as long as need be. And for that I find it within my responsibility to ensure you do not misbehave while you are under my care."
Zack rolled his eyes exasperatedly. "You never do that to Cody!" he protested.
Mr Moseby shrugged. "Force of habit." He eyed Zack firmly, noting the gleam of defiance in the teenager's eyes. "Your brother is more responsible than you are and you know that, Zack. Besides, the only reason he gets into trouble so often is because you drag him into it."
Zack curled his fingers into a fist as a spark of anger flashed in his eyes. He had never been the ideal child and he knew that. He has always known that, out of the two of them, Cody was the better student, the more likeable one, the nicer one, the forgiving one… The ideal one. He had never hated Cody for that. They were who they were. But damn it if Zack had to go through this…this lack of faith every day, especially in the light of his flaws in comparison to his twin's.
"Fine," he snapped. "I'll be back so soon you won't even know I was gone."
Part of him wanted to say that he wouldn't even leave the ship, but Zack knew that he'd regret it if he did. Ignoring the look of surprise that crossed his 'guardian's' – he mentally scoffed at that – features, Zack turned on his heels and walked off to his cabin. His footsteps rang loudly in the silent hallway. Good. It's better that way. Who wants to bump into Zack anyway? He sneered silently to himself.
What's the point? Everyone would always compare them. Did they ever notice him? Of course they do, Zack scolded himself. Who never notices the troublemaker? Gosh, Zack was sick of this. He loved his brother dearly, but it could be so frustrating. Cody, his friends, and even his mother are constantly bugging him to be nicer to Cody. Zack ran his hand through his hair and tugged hard, glaring hatefully at the floor.
Don't they know how hard it is to be Cody's twin?
One more corner and he would be seven seconds away from his room.
Zack hoped that he wouldn't meet Cody somehow.
I shouldn't be mad. I shouldn't be mad. I shouldn't be mad. He repeated the phrase over and over in his mind.
I shouldn't mad.
I shouldn't be mad at Cody.
Zack rubbed his temple with his forefinger wearily and groaned. But I want to. He lowered his gaze to the floor. He wanted to be mad at someone. It wasn't Cody's fault that he was so perfect. It wasn't Cody's fault that others compared them always. It wasn't Cody's fault that Zack was who he was.
And it wasn't fair of Zack to blame Cody for something he didn't do.
Zack glared at the floor. Stupid – stupid – sense of guilt. His footsteps became increasingly louder as he walked down the hallway to his room. Before he could slip inside the blissful confines of his room, the door across his opened with a click.
The said person internally cursed at his luck. Taking a long, calming breath, he tried to plaster a smile on his face as he turned. "Hey, Cody," he said smoothly. He carefully avoided meeting his brother's eye. Say hi. Be civil. End conversation. Go to your room.
"You're going offshore with Woody, right..." Cody trailed off. He raised an eyebrow curiously when his twin made a point to stare somewhere above his head. "Zack?"
"What?" he muttered gruffly.
"Are you okay?"
"Of course I'm fine," Zack answered, his voice a bit strained. Be civil. Be civil. He's not the one you're supposed to be angry with. Zack's gaze traveled to meet Cody's and the annoyance in his stomach fluttered wildly. His eyebrow twitched. Zack realized that, even so, seeing his brother certainly didn't help quell the fire that licked at his heart. Next part. End conversation.
He sucked in a deep, steadying breath. "Look, I'm just really tired. And I have to pack some stuff for the trip offshore later so…see ya."
Cody stepped forward. "I can help –"
"No!" Zack snapped. Both of them paused at this, Cody surprised and a little hurt at the quick rejection; while Zack mentally kicked himself for having said that. The older Martin cleared his throat loudly. "I mean, you're busy and everything. Wouldn't want to trouble you," he mumbled. Well, that was pathetic.
A frown fell into Cody's features. He could see clearly that Zack was irritated. That it was directed at him. Silently debating for a moment whether to push his brother further or to let it go, his thoughts were interrupted when the door behind him opened to reveal Woody.
Woody stared at the twins for a moment. "Am I interrupting something here?"
"Nope. I was just going into my cabin."
Cody turned to Zack and saw with unease that any form of expression had fallen off his complexion. Their eyes met for a moment before Zack tore his gaze away. He turned around and waved to them.
"See you guys later."
Cody stared silently as the door closed behind his brother's back. He turned to Woody. "Something's up, don't you think?"
Woody eyed him in confusion and looked up at the ceiling. He noticeably frowned. "Nothing's up there, Cody. Are you okay?"
Cody paused and wondered how they were even in the same class. Scolding himself for thinking that way, he rolled his eyes and smiled. "Nothing, Woody. I'm going to meet Bailey." He waved and walked off down the hallway, leaving a baffled Woody behind.
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"Hey, Bailey. Did you see Zack?"
Bailey looked up and smiled at her boyfriend. Jumping lightly to her feet, she walked over to Cody and held onto his arm. "I didn't see him. The ship docked hours ago. Maybe he's…" she trailed off thoughtfully.
Cody nodded slowly. "Perhaps." Taking her hand, he pulled her towards the side of the ship. Both of them leaned on the railings as the cool air brushed their faces smoothly. Cody allowed the peaceful silence to fall over them for a moment.
"I think something's wrong with Zack."
A look of confusion fell into Bailey's features. She tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "What do you mean?"
"I don't know. Everything was okay yesterday." Cody paused and amended, "Perfect even." Faint traces of worry weaved itself onto his forehead. "But when I saw him this morning…"
Bailey touched Cody's shoulder soothingly. "What happened?" she asked gently.
Cody shrugged carelessly. "Nothing happened, I guess. But he seemed angry at me." He let out a frustrated sigh. "I just don't get him."
Bailey let his words slip though silently. She glanced over at him and noted the lines of worry. She suppressed a sigh. Zack had always been unpredictable. She wasn't surprised that Cody had a hard time understanding him, even if he was Zack's twin.
"I'm sure he's fine. You know how he is. He's never mad for long."
Cody looked doubtful. "You really think so?"
Bailey smiled reassuringly. "I'm sure."
A small smile cracked at the corners of his lips. The doubt cleared. Bailey was right. It wasn't like Zack would remain mad at him forever anyway. They did have their ups and downs. And Cody guessed this fell under the category of 'downs'. Somehow, he didn't know why he was so worried. Zack hadn't yelled at him (and hadn't for a long time. He barely took anything seriously.), nor did he strike up an argument. But Cody just had this bad feeling.
He turned his gaze towards the sea unfocusedly.
I certainly hope so, Bailey.
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Zack took off down the pavement, his sneakers clacking noisily against the gravel floor. He barely took in his surroundings, only taking care enough to avoid slamming into people. That would be a pretty bad mistake, especially when alone.
He hadn't wanted to take Woody with him.
Tucking his hand into the pocket of his jeans, the other clutching the sling of his bag closer, Zack ambled through the near heavy crowd. He picked up bits of random conversations as he walked pass, all of it bundling into one meaningless bunch of words that didn't seem to end.
"Where is he? He's so late!"
"..know. It tastes so…"
"Hey Tim! Over here!"
"Stay close to me!"
"What did I say about you…"
Zack rubbed his forefinger against his temple wearily. Maybe he should have stayed in the ship. He wouldn't have had to deal with this influx of nonsense if he had. He swept his gaze through the area in resignation. Strangers milled around the place, some laughing, some sporting pretty, bright smiles, some staring at what Zack thought to be a map. Everyone seemed so happy.
He sighed. Glancing at his watch, he lips curled down in disappointment. 17:42. Not time to head back yet. Not time to go back to that ship and its perfect passengers.
Annoyance churned angrily at his insides. Zack hadn't forgotten his anger.
More responsible than you are…
…because you drag him into it.
"Yeah, well, I'm sorry for not being perfect," he muttered. He scowled and kicked a loose pebble angrily, venting whatever pent up emotion he could on the rock. He was about to walk away when he heard a small cry, followed by a loud wail.
His head jerked up and the glare fell off his face instantly. Oh no. A girl, about the age of seven, clutched at her elbow, where beads of red liquid slipped between her slim fingers. Light, blonde hair framed a childish complexion that had tears streaking down its cheeks. Zack felt a rush of guilt and horror. The pebble must have hit her. Ignoring the whispers that had started around him, he ran quickly to her side.
He bent down before her slowly. "I'm so sorry. Are you okay?" he asked, his voice hushed and afraid. Mr Moseby was right. He was trouble. He warily looked around her and waited in trepidation for the rush of a panicking adult in the form of her parent, but none came.
The child blinked up at him, deep green eyes glistening with fresh tears. Caution lit up in the pair of orbs and she took a step back away from him. Zack understood this and nodded calmly. He raised his hands in reassurance.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you." He glanced at the pebble and cursed it silently. He saw the girl's confusion and he was quick to explain. "The pebble. It hurt you. I mean, I kicked it. But I didn't mean to, I swear! It just went flying and you got hurt and I didn't think it'd hurt anyone and I…" Zack trailed off stupidly. He sucked in a deep breath. "I'm sorry."
He waited for the girl to start crying or run away – he had never been good with kids – when she smiled, showing him two rows of perfect white teeth, except for the missing one near her upper lip. Unable to help it, he smiled hesitantly. Zack couldn't remember the last time someone offered him such a raw, bright smile. Cody had.
"Is your arm okay?"
The girl stared at him for a moment then nodded vigorously.
"That's great." Zack looked around again. "Where are your parents?"
The calm expression on the girl immediately cracked as more tears spilled onto her cheeks. She shook her head in distress. Zack took this in slowly, his forehead creasing into a slight frown. He stopped for a moment to think.
"Are you lost?" he guessed.
Why wasn't she speaking? His gaze traveled down her arm and lingered at the two streaks of blood that clung to her skin. His smile dimmed. "Does it hurt?"
The little girl seemed to think about it, then shook her head. Before Zack could react, she reached out her hand and touched his cheek softly, her head tilting to the side curiously. She pressed slightly as her eyebrows furrowed in concentration. Unable to help himself, Zack let out a soft laugh at the serious expression that donned her childish features.
The green eyes noticeably brightened.
Okay. So now I'm laughing 'cause a kid poked at my cheek.
Zack realized that it felt…good. Content. It wasn't like the laughs that came out of his pranks, or the hollow ones because of another's joke. He smiled to himself. When her arm fell back to her side, Zack did a quick sweep of the area again before his gaze fell on the little girl again. She looked at him expectantly. Uh oh.
What should he do now?
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[At the meantime]
Cody knew it was stupid to be excited. But he couldn't help it. Homework with Bailey just made things so much more…amazing. He didn't even know how to describe it.
Their arms linked, both of them walked through the Sky Deck, fully intending to head to his cabin to look over some theories that they thought deserved to be discussed deeper. He glanced at his girlfriend out of the corners of his eyes and a small smile played on his lips. Everything was…perfect. Except for Zack. At the stray thought, Cody felt his good mood plunge into nothingness.
It wasn't like he spent a great deal of time worrying about his brother. If he had to be honest with himself – though he felt guilty for even acknowledging it – he didn't really think much about Zack in the first place. Sure his twin was always in one trouble or another, but it was normal. It was Zack.
But he had the nagging feeling that something bad was going to happen. But what?
Cody shook his head violently. No, no. He was just thinking too much. As usual. Better to look over some stuff that actually makes sense. Like formulas. And theories. Zack isn't something we can discuss rationally about. Or logically.
Cody stared at his watch and noted with slight apprehension that it was only 17:54. He made up his mind.
There's still time. I can spend time with Bailey, then talk to him when he gets back.
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[2 and a half hour later]
Zack smiled cheerfully at Amanda.
"Do you like it?"
Amanda jerked her head up and down happily with an innocent gleam in her eyes. Zack's smile widened. The kid didn't talk much, and it was with shock that she had said 'Amanda' in a timid voice when he kept calling her 'kid'. He held up his ice cream and took a big bite out of it, shivering slightly when the cold melted in his mouth.
Zack pretended to put on a stern expression. His mouth still partly full with ice cream, he tried to say "What are you laughing at, kid?" but failed miserably.
She giggled again.
Zack swallowed and ruffled her hair almost fondly. When he found her parents, he'd miss this kid. She may be a kid, but…he saw a potential friend in her. Someone who saw him for who he was and not as Cody's twin. Zack rubbed the back of his neck dubiously. Don't think about him, Zack. Just think of now. Think of finding her family.
He had been trying to locate her family for nearly three hours now – plus buying food and water for her, playing some games and carrying her on his back so she had a better view, and teasing her and laughing and smiling and…having fun. A slight ache formed in his chest. This really just sucked, though he wouldn't trade in having had met her for anything.
Zack glanced at his watch. He should have headed back already. But he couldn't leave her. Especially not in the dark. Alone. He pictured her standing in the streets and his mind screamed a complete no at him. He didn't care if Mr Moseby threw him off the ship. The little girl came first.
There was a tug at his hand. "Yeah?"
A pair of dimples greeted him, followed by a finger pointing to the right. Zack followed her excited gaze and arched an eyebrow.
"More ice cream?" he asked in amusement. He slipped his hand through his back pocket for his wallet and grinned affectionately. He mock-saluted. "Yes, ma'am."
As he paid for the ice cream, this time opting not to buy one for himself, he heard someone shout in apparent relief. He turned in curiosity. A man with dark brown hair had run to his side – no, Amanda's – and picked her up in his arms.
"Oh, sweetie. We were searching all over for you!"
Zack frowned at this. How would he know that this man was related to her? He could be some random stranger off the street. The worry disappeared as quickly as it had arisen when his eyes met another pair of brilliant green eyes.
Zack swallowed nervously. "Sir."
The said green eyes narrowed and stared him down carefully. He glanced at his daughter before switching back to Zack. "And who might you be?"
"Uh…" How was he to explain? Cody would know how to. Zack mentally slapped himself. Stop thinking of him! This is you! Do it your way! Your brother isn't here, so stop relying on him!
His thoughts were broken when Amanda spoke softly with her father. His cold stare slowly melted as he put her down, though he was careful to hold her hand tightly.
"My daughter says you have been of great help. I'm Wilson." He lowered his head in grateful acknowledgement. "Thank you…Zack?"
"Thank you, Sir. I'm glad we finally found…I mean, that you found us." He laughed uncertainly.
There was a twinkle in the man's eyes. "You are indeed welcome. Do you live around here?"
"No… I'm just a tourist, I guess." At the lifted eyebrows, Zack rubbed at his cheek. "I'm attending a school onboard the S.S. Tipton. And since we stopped here, I thought I'd take a break."
He nodded in understanding. "It is rather late. Should you not head back now? It is not safe for a boy as young as you to be out alone at night."
Zack gave a small smile. He realized then that he didn't want to go back. Something about that man seemed so…warm and kind. Like family. He inwardly sighed. The perfect family that he pictured for himself was never going to come true. So why bother to even hope?
"I'll go back soon. Not ready yet, I guess." The moment the words left his mouth, Zack literally stepped on his foot. What was he saying?
There was a flicker of understanding in Wilson's eyes as he took in the downcast form of a teenager before him. "Had an argument?"
Zack stole a glance at him and muttered, "Not really."
Zack hesitated, then sighed. "My brother."
"I may not know what's truly going on, but you should work it out with him. He's family. And I'm sure he cares about you. Don't you ever forget that," Wilson said kindly. He looked at his watch and shot Zack a genuine look of regret. "I'm afraid we have to go now. My wife has been frantic about the loss of our little one here." He glanced at his daughter warmly.
Zack nodded. "Of course."
They shook hands and Wilson was about to leave with Amanda in tow when Zack called out. "Wait!"
Zack ran forward and handed Amanda her ice cream. He bent down and touched her hair lightly. "Live a beautiful life, Amanda."
Before Wilson or Amanda could respond, Zack had jumped to his feet and walked quickly away.
That was his greatest mistake.
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Mr Moseby walked onto the Sky Deck impatiently, the stern frown that was norm on his features. "Where is your brother? I told him to be back eight! It's nearly nine thirty!"
Woody laughed. "Like Zack would actually listen."
Cody looked up in surprise. "Woody? Where's Zack?"
Woody popped a candy into his mouth. "I don't know." He continued chewing. "Mr Moseby was asking you, not me."
Cody slowly got off the seat, his stare locked onto Woody's. The bad feeling returned. "But…but Zack said he was going with you."
Mr Moseby rolled his eyes. "So now you're telling me Zack Martin went off the ship without anyone to see to his behavior?"
Cody moved his wide-eyed gaze to the older man. Oh. Why hadn't he seen it? Zack had been angry. Of course he would have gone alone. He never liked company when he was down. Sixteen years of being his twin and I only realize it now? Cody could have slapped himself. His brother always did stupid things when he was mad. But…I didn't think he was that angry…
Cody remembered the look on his brother's face and made his decision. "I'm going to search for him," he announced, already walking out of the Sky Deck.
Before anyone could protest, there was an announcement on the news report that caught their attention.
"A tragic accident off the street near…"
Cody flicked the television a glance.
"At 9:07 pm, just mere minutes ago…"
Cody stared at the grim expression on the newscaster's face. A chill went through him.
"…according to witnesses, the car had tried to swerve but had hit the side of a metal fence before overturning…"
His eyes grew wider. A thought occurred to him and he brushed it off almost wildly. It's just a news report. Of an accident. In England. Nothing that concerned him. He would listen to the entire report, and then search for Zack. Everything was fine. His heart rate sped up as the reporter handed the report to some witnesses.
"…was horrible. Just a kid, blonde hair. He was walking away when…Gosh. There was all this blood…"
Cody felt his insides grow still. There was a loud, resounding gasp. No, it couldn't be. No. No. His heart pounded against his chest. Thud. Thud. Thud.
"…A life may have been lost. A tragic event that…"
Th-thud. Th-thud. Th-thud.
"Oh my God."
Blood rushed to his ears. It was so loud. Th-thud. Th-thud. Th-thud.
That bad feeling… No, please. No. Th-thud. Th-thud. Th-thud.
"Cody! Breathe, Cody!"
Th-thud. They were supposed to have a long talk when his brother came back.
Cody felt the air forced out of him when someone – Woody, he later realized – smacked his back. He sucked in a quick, shallow breath as he stared wide-eyed at everyone. He wondered briefly if they could hear the frantic beat of his heart. Why was it so hard to breathe?
"Are you okay, Cody?" Mr Moseby.
Cody could have laughed sickly. Didn't they realize that his brother could be…?
Th-thud. Th-thud. They were supposed to have time.
"Zack," he whispered.
That was the last thing he remembered before his vision flickered and turned black.
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"There comes a time when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you'd better learn the sound of it. Otherwise you'll never understand what it's saying." - Sarah Dessen, Just Listen
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Thank you for the reviews! I really appreciate it! :D
To tiger002: Thank you for your review! I really appreciate it. I hope they aren't OOC here. To be honest, I've never watched Suite Life on Deck. So I'm more or less guessing how they would behave. I hope you enjoyed this chapter!
To ViperElle: Thanks for your review, reviewer, whoever you are! :D I had this sudden want to put in quotes. I'm glad you liked it! The one thing that really captured me about the twins is the sense of…family. I love how they – Zack, Cody, Carey (and sometimes Kurt) – show that, in the end, they do care for each other. I hope you like this chapter!
To Friedchicken23: Thank you for your review! I hope I didn't go OOC here. Hope you like the chapter!
To flufflekinz8188: Thank you so much for your review! Makes me so happy. :) I tried inserting more thoughts here. Do you think it's better or..? May be my fic, but I gladly welcome and suggestions on how to improve. If you have anything to say, just say it~ I will try my best to reflect and work on it. :D I hope you like this chapter!
To emilylake90: Thanks for the review! Hope you like the chapter!
To ilovesprouse: Thank you for your review! Hope you enjoyed the chapter! :)
Next chapter: A twin is shattered. Thoughts of 'Why' and tears tear through the night. As he questions reality, can he come to terms that maybe…maybe his life would be empty after all? Why did someone so important have to die?
So…if it isn't too much, could I get 7 reviews before I update next please? Feel free to offer constructive criticism. :)