A/N: Ok, this chapter didn't go as far as I had hoped it would, but it was getting rather wordy, so I decided to cut it off before accomplishing all of my goals. Thank you all for your wonderful response!
Shades of Grey:
Zack had feigned sleep when Cody had come in to get his backpack, knowing he wouldn't be able to fool his younger brother and not really up for a lecture on studying, lying, or both. After he heard the door shut, signaling his departure, Zack pulled out his science book, trying to determine what method of….answer recollection….would work the best for the test he'd surely have to make up in the morning. Not only would this earn him an A for the exam, therefore a passing grade for the term, but if his mother happened to walk in, she'd think he was being studious for once in his life. She may even be proud.
He had only just figured out what chapters were going to be on the test when Carey walked in, a plate and a cup in her hands, "Hey sweetie, I thought I'd leave you some toast and juice, in case you feel hungry later."
"Thanks Mom." Zack replied with a slight smile. Why couldn't she just leave? He really wanted to be alone, he wasn't in the mood to make small talk with his mom. He was fairly certain that if the topic strayed too far from a general questioning of his health, he'd find himself being compared to his nearly perfect brother once more and he wasn't sure his self esteem was up for another beating today.
Carey leaned over, kissing the top of his head, "I have to get to rehearsal soon, but I'll keep my cell phone with me and I'll be right downstairs if you need anything. Are you feeling any better?"
Zack shrugged, looking down at his comforter and resting a hand on his stomach, "A little bit. I'm sure it's nothing serious."
"Well if you start feeling worse or if you get lonely, give me a call and I'll cut rehearsal short."
Carey gave him a soft smile as she exited the room, shutting the door quietly behind her. Meanwhile, Zack opened his book and rolled his eyes, how dare she pretend to be concerned? It was no secret that Cody was the "chosen son", the one she'd much rather spend the day with if she had the choice, the one who could do no wrong and who was the apple of their mother's eye. She was probably sad that Zack was the one at home and not Cody, perhaps if her precious Cody had been home sick, she would have skipped her rehearsal just to stay upstairs with him.
He tried to shake off his own self-inflicted pity party and focus on the task at hand. He wouldn't be able to get things ready for the test if his mother was hovering over him anyway, so it was a good thing that she had gone to her practice session and wouldn't be around to interfere. Flipping through his binder, he came across the study guide they had been given nearly two weeks ago, suddenly wishing he had Cody's answered sheet. Before he even got to question number three, he had dozed off once again.
"Keep it down; I don't want you to wake up your brother."
Zack's eyes fluttered open as he heard his mother's voice through his closed door. Yawning and rubbing his eyes, he was surprised to find that he was covered, his book and binder on his dresser. A quick glance at the clock signaled that he had slept the entire school day away and the person his mother was speaking to had to be Cody.
He rubbed his eyes again, his stomach growling. The plate of untouched food his mother had brought earlier was now gone, replaced with a cup of water. He stared at the ceiling, trying to decide whether to listen to his tired body or his growling stomach. As he stifled another yawn, he decided food could wait, and he rolled over to try and go back to sleep.
He couldn't remember any other time in his life where he had slept so much as he had in the last few days. Staring at the wall, his mind foggy with fatigue, he wondered if he was actually sick. His body felt like he had been in a marathon, his mind like he hadn't slept in a month. As much as he wanted to contemplate the situation, the darkness enveloped him and he was quickly asleep once again.
In the living room, Cody was eating a sandwich his mother had prepared, filing her in on the day's events at school, "Our science test was super hard, even for me. I think I did okay, but it really challenged me. Our teacher thinks Zack missed deliberately in order to 'postpone the inevitable'; he didn't buy it when I told him he was legitimately sick. We started basketball in gym, though, so Zack will be sorry he missed it. I got his assignments for him, so he's not behind when he goes back tomorrow."
"That was really nice of you, honey." Carey replied, sitting next to him, "Zack is lucky to have a brother like you who will look out for him and make sure he doesn't fall behind."
"I'd say he'd do the same for me," Cody smirked, "but I know as well as you do that he'd probably forget if our roles were reversed."
Carey smiled, patting his knee, "Okay, you get working on your homework while I go down and get some stuff ready for my show tonight. Your brother's been sleeping all day, and he never did touch the breakfast I brought him, so for dinner you can order room service-nothing too expensive-and let Zack know he can do the same if he wakes up hungry."
"He must be really sick." Cody stated, glancing at his shut bedroom door, "You know he's going to regret sleeping the day away though when he's wide awake tonight and we're both asleep."
As it turned out, Cody was wrong. Zack slept through the night, and when Cody awoke the next morning, it was to the alarm clock screeching in his oblivious brother's ear. He turned it off, shaking Zack's shoulder roughly, "Wake up, it's time for school."
"Five more minutes." Zack mumbled, waving Cody away and pulling the pillow over his head. How could it be time for school already, it seemed like he just fell asleep ten minutes ago.
Carey looked up from the newspaper as Cody walked into the room, "Where's Zack? Is he still feeling sick?"
Cody shrugged, sitting at the table and putting a cinnamon roll on his plate, "I tried to wake him up be he went back to sleep."
"Did he get up while I was at my show last night?" Carey asked, her forehead wrinkling with concern, "It's unlike him to sleep away 24 hours straight." She hesitated before adding, "It's unlike anyone to sleep for 24 hours straight."
Cody shook his head, "I did my homework in our room and listened to the radio for a bit before bed, but he didn't even move. It sort of freaked me out, I had to check and make sure he was breathing several times, he's not usually that heavy of a sleeper."
"I'm going to go check on him." Carey replied, "Eat your breakfast and get ready to go. It's raining out, so I'm going to drive you to school this morning."
Carey opened the door to the boy's room, concern evident on her features as she sat down next to her son, removing the pillow from his face and placing a cool hand on his warm forehead. She didn't think he had a fever, it was likely that the slight warmth was a product of the pillow that had been resting over his head as he slept. With a sigh, she shook his shoulder gently, "Zack, sweetie, wake up."
"What?" Zack mumbled, forcing his weary eyes to open, "Huh?"
"You've been sleeping nearly nonstop since yesterday morning." Carey said softly, placing her hand on his forehead again, frowning as he pulled away, "How are you feeling?"
"Okay." Zack replied, rubbing his eyes tiredly, "Tired."
"Tired?" Carey questioned, raising an eyebrow, "How can you still be tired after sleeping so much?"
"Don't know." Zack yawned, "Just am."
Carey paused, evaluating her son's overall appearance. He said he was feeling ok, but the dark circles under his eyes and his pale face indicated that maybe he wasn't in the best shape. With a sigh, she tucked the covers tightly around him, "Why don't you stay home again today and get some more rest, you look like you need it."
"Are you kidding me?" Zack asked, forcing his eyes open after they had slid closed once more, "You're going to let me stay home just because I'm tired?"
"Are you complaining?"
Not wanting to push his luck, Zack shook his head, "No, definitely not. I was just wondering when my Mom was abducted by aliens and reprogrammed."
"Haha, very funny." Carey replied, "Are you up for some breakfast? You haven't eaten in almost two days."
Zack shook his head, surprising himself as well as his mother, "No, I'm not hungry."
"If you change your mind, you know where to find me." Carey said softly, kissing his forehead softly before sanding, "I'm going to drive Cody to school, want to come for a ride?"
"No." Zack replied with yet another yawn, "But have fun."
Once his mother left the room, Zack laid in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering what his problem was. While he wasn't as sleepy as he had been the previous day, his body still felt worn out and weary. He glanced at the door as it creaked open and Cody tiptoed into the room.
"You don't have to sneak in, I'm awake."
"Finally." Cody retorted, digging in his dresser for a pair of socks, "I've been worried about you."
Zack was quiet for a moment before whispering, "Me too."
The unusual twinge of vulnerability caught Cody's attention immediately and he shut his dresser drawer, sitting next to Zack, who had wearily pushed himself up into a sitting position.
"What's going on?" Cody asked, his forehead wrinkling in concern, "You've been acting really weird."
"I don't know what it is…" Zack began, hesitating momentarily as he began to feel nervous under Cody's close scrutiny, "I don't even know how to explain it. I don't know where to begin."
Squeezing Zack's hand, Cody replied softly, "Beginning at the beginning usually helps."
Zack was quiet for a few moments, trying to find a way to verbalize what he had been feeling, but was cut off as Carey called out, "Cody, time to go honey!"
"Never mind." Zack muttered, pulling his knees to his chest, staring at the green camouflage of his comforter, "See you after school."
Glancing between his obviously distressed brother and the door, Cody questioned quietly, "Do you want me to tell Mom I'm sick so I can stay home with you?"
The strength Zack had possessed moments earlier quickly vanished and he felt himself growing more and more uncomfortable with the idea of talking about this with Cody as each moment passed. Shaking his head, Zack waved him on, "No, go ahead, we'll talk this afternoon."
Both boys knew it was a lie.
In chapter 5….Zack goes back to school, Cody has another dream, something happens to drive a further wedge between the two boys.