Authors' Note: This is the first fic co-written by Sketchy Ghost and StrawberryFinn. Will get into some touchy subjects, but we hope you like it. At least read it and please review to tell us what you think. Also note: The twins are fifteen in this fic. I'm kinda lazy, so you can do the math to figure out the other characters ages.

--Sketchy

Disclaimer: Neither of us own The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.

Chapter One: Choice

Championship. That's all that anyone could think about in that gym – championship.

Zack was thinking about it… Max was thinking about it… Tapeworm was thinking about it… even Cody, Zack's twin, was thinking about it, from his usual perch on the bench.

There were only forty-two seconds left in the last quarter of the basketball game. Zack and Cody's team was down by two, and the winner would go home with the big trophies.

"Tapeworm! I'm open!" Zack shouted from under the basket. No one was near him. Tapeworm realized it was a golden opportunity and passed it to Zack.

A little too hard.

"Oof!" Zack grunted as the ball slammed into his stomach. He doubled over and the ball rolled right under an opponent.

"Time out!" the boy with the ball called. Both teams came to a circle around Zack. Carey, Zack and Cody's mother, was standing up in the bleachers looking frantically at the growing crowd on the court.

"I'm okay," Zack groaned from the floor. He was holding his stomach in pain. "Just… just got the air… knocked out of me…" He stood up slowly, bent halfway over.

"Cody!" Arwin called, knowing enough about basketball to know that Zack couldn't play.

Cody turned away from his twin to look at Arwin. "Yeah?"

"You have to go in for your brother."

"WHAT!" Cody exclaimed. "But… but… the championship! I can't go out and PLAY during the championship!"

"Cody, honey, don't be nervous!" Carey called from her seat in the midst of parents. "Just do your best!"

"You can do it, Cody!" Zack said weakly as he took a seat on the bench.

Cody gulped. He was going in.

"Okay, guys, huddle," Max called at the bench. "Okay," she started once everyone was there. "Thirty seconds on the clock, down by two, their ball. You know what we need to do? Get the ball back." She continued to explain an extravagant play that everyone seemed to understand – except Cody, who just stood there mystified. He had no idea what he was getting into.

"And for the win, we line Cody up with a buzzer beater," Max said. Oh no, Cody thought.

"I do what?" Cody asked, more than nervous.

"You heard the play," Max said. "Now lets get out there and KICK SOME –"

"Fun," Arwin cut in, motioning to Carey in the stands.

"Whatever. Let's go guys!" Max continued. "Champions on three… one, two, three, CHAMPIONS!" The whole team ran out onto the court. Cody walked nervously to a random spot in the middle of the court.

"Cody!" Tapeworm warned. "Over there!" He pointed to a position in a rather empty part of the court. Cody hurriedly jogged to where his friend was pointing and when he turned around someone was barreling at him with the ball.

"Ah!" he cried, jumping out of the way. He was worried he'd get chewed out big time by Max, but luckily – BAM! – Tapeworm easily blocked the shot and Max recovered it. Cody spared a quick look at the clock. Fifteen seconds. He ran as fast as he could down the court.

Over the course of ten interminable seconds, Max, Tapeworm and the others passed the ball randomly about, thankfully avoiding Cody. With three seconds left, Max barreled in, intending to draw a foul.

She did. "Ow!" she cried, over-exaggerating to get the referee to notice. The whistle blew shortly and the team lined up along the paint as Max warmed up for her free throws.

She carefully tossed the ball toward the basket and made the first one. As the referee passed it back to her, she winked at Cody.

"What?" he mouthed wordlessly. Max didn't notice. She simulated warming up just as she had before and lobbed the ball up.

It bounced off the backboard and directly to Tapeworm.

"CODY!" he shouted. He tossed the ball to the tow-headed boy. Cody found himself with the ball in his hands and one second on the clock.

With no time to think, he shot the ball as accurately as he could manage and let go just as the buzzer went off. He stared after it hopefully for a few nanoseconds.

It sailed directly over the basket and onto the fiberglass floor on the other side.

Cody stood numbly, listening to the mixed hum of his celebrating opponents and the sighs from his teammates. He didn't take his eyes from the basket for fear of the dirty looks he might receive.

"Nice goin', loser!" a particularly evil teammate of Cody's said. "You just gave them the championship!"

Cody remained staring at the basket.

"Hey, thanks, kid!" an opponent taunted. "You should win an award!" The kid walked away laughing.

Cody kept his gaze on the basket.

It wasn't until he heard something particularly hurtful that he took his eyes away from it.

"Code, that was pretty sad."

Cody tore his eyes from the hoop to stare at his brother. The look he got was unemotional.

"You just lost us the championship. Nice job." Zack walked away sighing loudly. Cody continued staring after him, hurt and ashamed.

"Don't worry, kiddo," Carey's voice appeared above his head as she wrapped her arms around her son's shoulders. "You did your best."

"That was my best!" Cody exploded painfully. He tore his mother's arms from him and ran away from the gym, away from the taunts, away from everything.

---

Zack sat at the kitchen table with a soda, skimming through a comic book as he waited for room service to come with the pizza.

Finally the doorbell rang and Zack looked up, expecting Carey to answer it. "Kinda busy here!" she said as she struggled with soapy hands and dozens of dirty dishes.

"Alright, alright," Zack sighed as he stood up and trudged to the door. He opened it to find a teenage boy with two pizzas.

"Thanks, man!" Zack said joyously, grabbing both pizza boxes.

"The other one's for next door," the teenager said, grabbing the top one back.

"Zack, tip him! There's money on the counter!" Zack walked around, grabbing the five dollars and replacing it with the pizza on the counter. He walked back to the door and handed the teenager the money. Wordlessly, he continued on his journey delivering pizzas along the halls.

"Cody, pizza!" Carey called. She received no answer from the closed door that led to the twins' room. "Cody! Pizza!" she repeated, louder this time.

"Not hungry!" Cody shouted. Zack just shrugged and eagerly opened the pizza box, quickly grabbing a piece and dropping it on his plate. Carey, however, looked worried as she examined the twins' closed door.

"Mom, he said he's not hungry," Zack said, digging in to his food. Carey ignored him and started toward the room.

"Cody?" she said, knocking softly. "Can I come in?"

"No. Go away." His voice cracked and sounded weak.

"Please, Cody, I just want to –"

"GO AWAY!"

Carey sighed and walked back to the table.

"Zack, would you please talk to your brother?"

"Mom, I'm eating."

"Zackary… I think what you said to him at the game really hurt him."

Zack sighed. Wiping his mouth hastily with a napkin, he rose reluctantly from his seat and walked toward his room.

"Cody, I'm coming in," he said. He just heard a sniffle in reply.

Zack pushed open the door and saw Cody sitting on his bed, facing the wall.

"Cody… you okay?"

His brother turned and stared at him with red, tear-brimmed eyes. He whispered, "Why, Zack?"

"Why… what?" Zack asked stupidly.

"Why can't I do anything right? Why couldn't I have made that one stupid shot?"

"Look, Cody, I'm really sorry about what I said –"

"Zack, that's not it," Cody insisted, the lump in his throat threatening to produce tears again. "No matter what we're playing, I'm never any good at it! Remember when we played baseball when we were eleven and my first pitch broke the O'Leary's window?"

"Yeah," Zack said, smiling slightly at the memory. That had been one wild day.

"I wasn't smiling, Zack," Cody said. "I hated myself that day." He turned back around and stared at the wall again, tears welling up in his eyes.

Zack sighed. It was true; Cody wasn't exactly an athlete. He was pretty much the opposite. He must've hated being in Zack's shadow.

"Look, Code… you're better than me at a lot of things!" he tried. Cody turned around and stared at his twin, with an odd look of both disbelief and hopefulness.

"Like what?" he said, showing the disbelief in his voice.

"Well, like…" Zack trailed off, thinking. "School…"

"Yeah, and what else?"

"Um…" Zack tried as hard as he could to think of something else.

He couldn't.

After about ten seconds of silence Cody collapsed onto his pillow. "School…" he whimpered. "That's all I'm good at! All I'm good for!"

"Cody, that's not true!" Zack said, sitting down next to his brother. "Don't ever think that!" But Cody didn't seem to hear him. He rose slowly, his cheeks wet. But he had stopped crying.

"You know what?"

Zack looked back at him, waiting.

"I will become a good athlete."

"What do you mean by that?" he asked.

"From now on, I vow to become a better athlete… in fact, I devote myself to it," Cody said bluntly. He stood up and walked out into the kitchen.

"Oh, hey, honey!" Carey said immediately. "Pizza's on the counter!"

"Not for me," Cody said, eying the pizza hungrily but not moving toward it. He shortly returned to his room.

Carey looked at Zack questioningly, and he just shrugged.

"He said he wants to become an athlete."