Giving The Groom Away

Summary: It's Cody and Bailey's wedding day, and the twins have one last opportunity to hang out and talk privately before the ceremony. This is their conversation.

Disclaimer: I make no ownership claims on the show or its characters.

Warning: This one-shot focuses on a conversation between the brothers, who are both in relationships. So if you only read action-packed sagas or stories where the twins are a couple, this is neither.


"Hey, buddy," Zack greeted his brother as he walked through the front door and into their apartment. "Doing okay?"

Cody was standing in the living room putting on his tuxedo jacket and relieved that his brother, dressed in similar wedding attire, had returned.

"I'm okay, Zack. But more importantly, how's Bailey? Were you able to talk your way past your girlfriend to see her?"

"No, London wouldn't let me into the bridal room," Zack replied, having just come from a church several minutes away, where the young heiress was helping Bailey get ready. "Said it would be bad luck."

"No food or drinks until after the ceremony," Cody reminded his brother when he noticed Zack heading toward the kitchen.

"Just a little snack," Zack explained. "We've got time."

"Not enough time to adequately clean your tux if, or rather WHEN, you spill something."

"Okay, Groomzilla," he joked. "I'll wait."

"Thank you," Cody offered, now satisfied as his best man turned away from the kitchen and sat down on the couch instead. "And thanks for trying to get to Bailey."

"No problem," Zack responded. "Oh, and London also wanted you to know that she's still holding on to Bailey's phone until after the wedding, so don't bother texting."

"When I spoke to London on the phone earlier today, I wasn't too surprised when she told me she wasn't going to let me see my beautiful bride before the ceremony," Cody recalled. "But didn't you explain to her that there's no bad luck superstition about the best man seeing the bride beforehand?"

"She told me she's not taking any chances on this wedding becoming jinxed and not happening."

"That's crazy," Cody declared, shaking his head.

"That's my girl," Zack remarked, smiling. "Her exact quote was, 'If this wedding gets called off, nobody will be able to see how extraordinary I look as the Maiden of Honor, and I won't be responsible for disappointing all the guests who showed up to watch me stand next to the bride.'"

"It's hard to argue with that kind of logic," Cody responded sarcastically. "By the way…Maiden of Honor?"

"You really think London would accept a title where 'maid' is one of the words?"

"Good point."

"Anyway," Zack resumed, "she also told me that the bride-to-be is doing fine and looking forward to marrying you in a little while."

"That's good," Cody said, with relief evident in his tone.

"So stop worrying," Zack instructed. "Sit down and relax for a few minutes."

"I wasn't worried," Cody claimed, trying to sound casual. "Not in the least."

"Don't even try to fool me," Zack said knowingly.

Then, since it was apparent that Cody wasn't going to sit down, Zack stood back up and made sure his brother was looking at him.

"Cody, Bailey's not going to change her mind at the last minute and leave you standing at the altar."

"I know she wouldn't do anything like that. I was just hoping to touch base with her one last time before the wedding, either directly or through you. To make sure she's okay and that she knows how happy I am that she wants to spend the rest of her life with me. And that we're going to have a great life together."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. Anything good on TV?"

"Zack…!"

"Look, she already knows all that," Zack assured. "And you know she knows all that. Or do I need to remind you that Bailey is the one who proposed to you?"

The memory of Bailey proposing right there in the living room in the midst of a romantic Valentine's Day evening four months earlier brought a big smile to Cody's face.

"One of the best, and most unexpected, moments of my life? No, Zack, you don't need to remind me."

"It wasn't very unexpected to me," Zack remarked. "You two are usually on the same wavelength, so she had to know you'd propose to her someday. But since you take things kind of slow sometimes, she probably wanted to go ahead and be the one to ask and avoid some wacky 13-month proposal plan you'd come up."

"Since this is a special day, I'm going to ignore that sad attempt at humor," Cody said sarcastically.

"Here's the thing," Zack continued, getting serious once more, "you're just a little nervous right now since it's only about an hour til showtime. But with that oversized brain of yours, getting nervous means you start to doubt yourself and think things will go wrong. Well I'm not going to let you do that. You two are getting your 'Happily Ever After' moment today, you're going to know you deserve it, and that's all there is to it."

"Thanks," Cody offered, recognizing that what his brother said was true.

"Don't mention it. I'm actually impressed that you've been able to keep it together pretty good through this whole engagement. You didn't even try to take charge of all the wedding arrangements."

"Bailey wants us both to enjoy this whole experience to the fullest, and I agree. It's meant stepping back and letting the friends and family who volunteered to organize everything do what they need to do without getting in their way, but I'm okay with that."

"Wow, you've actually gone and growed up on me," Zack joked, while inwardly he was thrilled that Cody had chosen to sit back and just enjoy being engaged these past several months rather than stress and obsess over all the behind the scenes details.

At that moment, Zack remembered one more thing he needed to check with his brother about while there was still time.

"Cody, since this day is all about you and Bailey, and since I'm your best man, is there anything else I can help you with right now?"

"Nothing I can think of."

"Good, because now it's time for you to do something for me."

Cody couldn't help but laugh at that.

"Um, I'm a little busy today, Zack, what with the whole getting married thing."

"Well, you're not going to be able to do that until you help me, so you might as well say yes."

"Dare I ask what this big project or scheme is which can't be postponed?" Cody questioned.

"I need your help tying this thing," Zack replied, pulling a tie out of his coat pocket. "And by help, I mean I need you to tie it for me."

"Twenty-one years old and you still haven't figured out how to tie a tie without my help yet?"

"But this is a bow tie, not a regular one," Zack argued.

"Okay, that's understandable," Cody granted. "By the way, when did you learn how to tie a regular tie on your own? Because wasn't it just a couple of weeks ago when you asked me to…"

"Fine," Zack stopped him. "You made your point. I have no idea what to do with these things, no matter what kind they are. But in this case, I blame you."

"Me?" Cody asked, curious how Zack arrived at that conclusion.

"That fancy-schmancy tux store you picked doesn't sell clip-ons," Zack explained.

Cody cringed at the very idea of wearing a clip-on tie.

"Okay, Zack. Hand it over and I'll fix it for you."

"Thank you," Zack said, satisfied.

As Zack gave his brother the tie, Cody noticed him rolling his eyes.

"What?" he questioned, despite feeling certain that he would regret asking.

"Just thinking about the past and how you've always been more into getting all dressed up than me," Zack replied. "Not so much tuxes like today, but… Well, even though I'd only been alive for a few minutes, I'm positive I remember you coming into the world wearing a tie and sweater vest."

Cody glared at him as he placed the untied tie around his brother's neck.

"Brother dear, do you really think it's wise to criticize someone whose hands are this close to your neck?"

"You know I'm only kidding," Zack promised. "Besides, once we were living on the ship, you were wearing normal-people clothes most of the time. I always assumed that Bailey was the inspiration for that."

"My clothing choices have always been entirely my own, thank you very much," Cody insisted. "However, despite your shameless exaggerations, I did make mention of wardrobe considerations on Page 27, Paragraph 3, Subsection C of my 'Six-Month Plan To Win Bailey Pickett's Heart' manual."

"Say no more," Zack requested, holding his hands up as though he was surrendering. "I'll take your word for it."

"'It's important to dress to impress'," Cody started to recite from memory as he continued to fix his brother's tie.

"And he tells me anyway…" Zack remarked sarcastically.

"'But to impress does not necessarily mean to dress formally. When the one you desire appreciates a more casual look, wearing a simple untucked t-shirt and jeans does not automatically make you appear as unkempt as a hobo.'"

"And to think you not only HAD those thoughts, but you actually wrote them down," Zack commented once he was sure his brother was finished speaking.

"There's no arguing with sound logic," Cody stated confidently. "After all, Bailey's marrying me, isn't she?"

"I'm guessing that's in spite of your on-again, off-again battle with insanity."

"Very funny."

"I thought so," Zack said simply, amused.

By this time, Cody had finished tying the tie and was looking to make sure it wasn't crooked.

"Okay, it's true that you've always had your own style," Zack then continued, in a happy but decidedly more serious tone. "Your own way of doing things, even if sometimes it only makes sense to you. Believe it or not, I think that's one of the good things about you…even if it does mean you don't always listen to me. I'm glad Bailey's not the kind of girl to try to change you into someone else. It's obvious she loves the real you. Even the goofy parts. And that's how it should be."

Cody hadn't expected that. While it wasn't uncommon for the brothers to have more serious conversations while they were alone, especially as they were getting older, he hadn't expected Zack to say something so obviously heart-felt during this particular discussion.

"Thank you," he offered in response. "I really appreciate you saying that."

"And thank you…" Zack hesitated, knowing there were things he'd like to say right then, but afraid that he didn't have the words to adequately express the range of emotions he was feeling on this day. So instead, he decided to go a different way. "Thank you…for fixing this tie for me. And for not strangling me."

Cody grinned, not surprised that Zack was quick to bring humor back to the conversation.

"You're welcome."

"So how about just a little ice cream?" Zack then requested, deciding to try his luck.

"Let's see…" Cody started to reply, his tone clearly sarcastic. "Zack Martin, a bowl of chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream, a white shirt, and a wedding in less than an hour. Right, there's no way anything disastrous could come from THAT combination of elements."

"Thanks, I'll grab you a bowl, too," Zack offered as he walked toward the kitchen, choosing to accept a literal interpretation of Cody's words rather than the obvious sarcasm.

"Zack?"

The slightly older twin stopped at the refrigerator, ready to be told to leave the kitchen empty-handed.

"Yeah, Cody?"

"I've changed my mind," Cody replied, without any sarcasm. "I think you should have as much ice cream as you want."

"Thanks, man. You're the best."

"After all," Cody added as Zack was opening the freezer door, "I'm sure London won't have a problem if you show up with a few spots on your shirt and tie. Sure, there'll be photos taken that include the two of you. Not to mention video footage. But London's not one to concern herself with such minor imperfections as a few chocolate stains on formalwear. She wouldn't find it worth mentioning at all, much less complaining about. Repeatedly. For many, many years to come. Don't you agree? Now I think I'll pass on having a bowl, but you enjoy yourself."

Once he was sure that Cody was done, Zack shut the freezer door, left the kitchen empty-handed and walked up to his brother.

"You…are evil," Zack said simply.

"Who?" Cody asked, trying to sound innocent. "Me?"

"Don't give me 'Who? Me?' See, everyone thinks you're the nice one, but you're really this evil mastermind. Well, an evil mastermind who knows how to cook…and do my taxes. But that's beside the point. I… I…"

"You're going to miss me living here?"

"Now you're just talking like a crazy person," Zack insisted, even as they both started laughing.

"But okay, no ice cream," Zack gave in as the pair sat down at the small breakfast table that was against the wall opposite the kitchen. "But just for that, someday when it's my turn to get married, forget the tuxedos. You and me are going to be wearing shorts, t-shirts…and clip-on ties."

"Only if I can dip my clip-on in ice cream like it deserves," Cody challenged.

"Deal," Zack replied. "Oh, and speaking of things I haven't been allowed to do this week…sorry I couldn't get you a stripper for the bachelor party."

"Actually, Zack, I was relieved you didn't. It would have been totally inappropriate."

"More like it would have been totally unhealthy," Zack corrected. "At least for me."

"Oh? You know, before you and I left for the party last night, Bailey told me that the two of you had come to some kind of understanding about the festivities. But she didn't elaborate."

"Well, it was more like she had three things she wanted me to know before you two get hitched," Zack explained. "One, that I can trust that she loves you and will be a good wife to you. Two, that she's happy I'm going to be her brother-in-law. And three, if I had any strippers at the bachelor party, she'd go all Princess Xaria on me."

"Isn't she adorable?" Cody responded proudly.

"And a bit crazy. Which is another reason why I know she's going to fit in as part of this family."

Zack's reference to family got Cody to thinking, and Zack noticed that his brother's smile was starting to fade.

"What is it, buddy?" the elder twin asked, growing concerned.

"You think there's a chance that Dad had a change of heart and will show up at the last minute?"

"We both know that's not going to happen," Zack answered bluntly.

"Maybe he was able to rework his schedule and is going to surprise us at the church by being in the front row next to Mom when we walk in," Cody suggested.

"You don't really believe that."

"It's not likely, but it's not impossible."

"Cody, he's got his new young wife and kid out on the road with him while he's living the life of a desperate has-been, playing county fairs and showing up on those VH-1 specials like 'Top 20 Old Rockers Whose Names You've Forgotten About.'"

"Yeah, but…"

"Don't," Zack interrupted, not willing to let his more forgiving brother try to come up with an excuse for their predictably absentee father. "Since we turned 18, we've only seen that guy one time and gotten a couple of phone calls. Oh, and of course the 'Sorry I'm Not There' Christmas and birthday cards with checks inside to make up for whatever tiny bit of guilt he may have about replacing us with a new family."

Zack wasn't saying any of this to hurt Cody. But he also didn't want his brother getting his hopes up only to be disappointed again, especially after Kurt had been a no-show to their high school graduation years before, even though Cody had been the class valedictorian. It was on that day that Zack stopped expecting anything from the man he used to think was so cool.

"I'm sure you're right," Cody admitted. "And I did get a 'Sorry' card in the mail a few days ago. I don't even know his current phone number, so I guess Mom somehow managed to reach him and inform him about my getting married. Inside the card, he wrote, 'Congrats on the wedding. Can't be there, but here's a check to help you and Barley get started. Keep on rockin'! Dad.'"

Zack just sat in silence for a moment. He had to remind himself that getting angry about the words Cody had just quoted wouldn't do any good. It wouldn't jolt their father out of his permanent midlife crisis mode and make him suddenly interested in his original family. And it wouldn't help in making Cody's day the best it could be. Instead, he decided to focus on the one element of the card that was ridiculous, but didn't anger him.

"Barley?" he questioned.

"Dad's never really been a details guy," Cody reasoned.

"Take my advice and cash the check that came with that card before it has a chance to bounce."

"Yeah. Look, Zack, I know I probably should stop thinking he'll change. It's just…not easy."

"His loss, Cody. I just don't want you feeling sad because of him. Especially not today."

"Not a chance."

"Good," Zack said, relieved that his brother wasn't going to let Kurt's latest absence put a damper on the day's happiness. "Now if you want to talk about someone that's reliable, we've got Moseby. No matter how annoyed he's gotten with us over the years, he's always been there when it really counted. Sort of like a cranky eccentric uncle. And even with all that he has to do on the ship, he's taken time off to come back here for your wedding. He's REAL family. Just never tell him I said that."

Even though he couldn't quite bring himself to completely write off their father the way his brother had seemed to, Cody did share Zack's feeling that they had a true, lasting bond with Moseby and was glad that the busy man had made a point of returning for this special day.

"You know," Cody began, deciding it was probably time to change the subject, "I still can't get over London's wedding gift. I mean, she never does things on a small scale, but sending us on a weeklong honeymoon in Paris? When she first told us, I was speechless."

"Yeah…who knew you were capable of not talking?" Zack teased, feeling more relaxed now with the shift in topic. "London told me she thinks you and Bailey will be the first married couple she knows whose marriage could actually last. So she wanted to give you a good start with an extra special honeymoon."

"I remember how she explained that she wanted us to finally enjoy a fun, romantic time in Paris," Cody recalled. "That it's one of her favorite cities, and she wanted us to have a second chance there so that we'd love it, too."

"Just don't forget London's ground rules," Zack instructed, smiling as he remembered his girlfriend's presentation to the couple."

"Rule Number 1…" Cody recalled, rolling his eyes, "No asking anyone to have a practice first honeymoon night with you before the real one."

"I think that one was meant for you," Zack suggested, stating the obvious.

"Rule Number 2…" Cody continued, choosing not to respond to Zack's comment, "Don't let any creepy French guys try to hug you."

"And I'm guessing that rule was for Bailey. Though I don't think you should let any of them try to hug you either."

Such a thought disturbed both brothers at first. Then it caused them to laugh.

"Rule Number 3…" Cody resumed once their laughter died down, "Bring me back an amazingly thoughtful souvenir. Not something hideous you found at the last minute in a gas station before your flight back home."

"You have to appreciate a woman who knows what she wants," Zack joked, though he was seriously glad that among the things she wanted was to have him in her life.

"Absolutely," Cody agreed. "And finally, Rule Number 4…Make the most of your first week of marriage. Any leftover bad memories, bury them. You deserve to bring home all new, all good memories."

He sat silently for a moment and considered that last rule. This was an example of the side of London that impressed Cody far more than any amount of material wealth she possessed. He considered her the epitome of the saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover." While she liked to put on the public persona of a stuck-up, entitled princess with nothing to offer besides her looks and a healthy bank account, the handful of people London trusted enough to consider her true friends knew that she was much more than that.

As one of those friends for the past ten years, Cody recognized that though she was seldom obvious about it, London was a truly loyal and caring young woman with a big heart that more than made up for whatever book smarts she may have lacked. And seeing the current look of pride on his brother's face, Cody was happy that Zack and London had gotten together, and also that they were able to shock the skeptics who initially didn't give their relationship one week.

"You're a lucky guy, Zack."

"I'd say you and I both are," the older twin suggested.

"You'll get no argument from me about that."

Zack then looked at his watch.

"Well, Cody, in just a few more minutes it'll be time for us to get out of here and head over to the church."

Hearing this, the groom started to feel nervous again.

"Zack?"

"Yeah, Code?"

"Do you think I'll be good at this?"

"At the honeymoon?" Zack asked, confused. "I guess. I mean, you were sitting right next to me when Mom gave us that really awkward talk a long time ago, so I know you know about the birds and the…"

"I'm not talking about that," Cody quickly interrupted to stop Zack from finishing that thought. "I mean marriage. Bailey deserves the best, and I don't want to let her down."

'No one could ever accuse my brother of overconfidence,' Zack thought. It amazed him how Cody could be fearless in some areas of his life, yet still have moments of self-doubt.

During the last month of their senior year of high school, for example, Cody made the unexpected decision not to pick any of the major universities that would have gladly offered him full academic scholarships. Despite his extensive knowledge and appreciation of science, Cody instead decided to do what he knew would make him truly happy and pursue his dream of becoming a professional chef. Rejecting the Ivy League to instead undergo culinary training in an apprenticeship program after high school was a major risk, yet the young man was certain that he could succeed. And Zack had never felt prouder of his twin.

To the surprise of neither brother, the risk had paid off. Through hard work combined with his own natural abilities, it wasn't too long before Cody was able to make professional connections and get paying jobs. And now, despite his relatively young age, he was working as the head chef in a small neighborhood café.

So hearing Cody's current uncertainty about himself, Zack wasn't sure whether to hug him or smack him in the back of the head.

"Cody, trust me…Bailey IS getting the best. And I think she's smart enough to know that. So you be smart enough to know it, too."

Zack could tell Cody was listening but that his confidence level wasn't yet back to where it needed to be.

"Look," he continued, "I know a part of you sometimes still thinks about what happened in Paris, even though that was like a million years ago. But you guys aren't the same couple that acted like idiots that day. Yeah, you two had a few bad months after that, but then you worked it out. And things have been good ever since. Better than good. She even decided to go to Boston U. to get her teaching degree because she didn't want to settle for the long distance thing where you'd only get to see each other during breaks. And sure, you still argue sometimes, but that just means you're normal. Or at least as normal as the two of you are capable of being."

"Glad you added that last part because you were on the verge of sounding wise," Cody cracked.

"I know. Scary, right? Anyway, now whenever you guys argue, you always keep talking to each other until you find a way to settle it. Without walking away or letting the other person walk away. You two aren't like how you were back then. And you're also not like how our parents were before they ended things. So no, I don't think you're going to be good at marriage. You're both going to be GREAT at it. I'm sure it's going to be majorly annoying how great you are at it."

The groom felt relieved to hear the level of confidence his brother had in him, giving him renewed confidence in himself.

"Besides," Zack couldn't resist adding, "I've never had any doubts that you'd make someone a great housewife someday."

Cody rolled his eyes.

"I really should have strangled you when I had the chance."

"Even if you had, I'd just come back to haunt you and make life miserable for you," Zack assured him.

"In other words, nothing would really change?" Cody asked sarcastically.

"You got it," Zack played along, which made his brother laugh.

"Thank you for that, Zack," Cody said after he'd stopped laughing. "Not for the housewife comment. But everything else. You're not just a great best man, but a great brother."

"No problem," Zack responded, relieved that his brother's confidence was back, but also feeling like their conversation was bordering on becoming more emotional than he thought he could handle. "It's cheaper than buying you an actual wedding present."

As intended, Zack's remark made Cody laugh again.

"But you did that too, I bet," Cody said knowingly.

"I can honestly say I did not buy you a wedding present," Zack insisted, placing special emphasis on the word "buy".

"And if you were anyone else, I might believe that," Cody informed him. "But I know you, and there's something you've either done or are planning to do that I don't know about."

Zack couldn't help but laugh. His twin was the one person he'd always had the most trouble hiding something from. If not for the fact that Cody's mind in recent weeks had been filled with little else besides happy thoughts about the wedding and his fiancée, Zack was sure his brother would have figured out the surprise by now.

"If you must know, there IS something…but that's all I'm saying for now."

Zack had indeed been accurate in claiming he hadn't bought the couple a present. Instead, he had built them one. Specifically, a bookcase.

Both Cody and Bailey liked to read, a concept Zack was certain he would never fully understand. He knew the young chef had a small, cheap-looking set of shelves made of particle board, but he thought the couple deserved something much bigger and nicer, made from traditional hardwood with a sliding glass door. And though it had been awhile since Zack had crafted anything, he was pleased with the end result and was sure his brother and future sister-in-law would like it.

Though he was also certain that, as newlyweds, even this extremely literate couple would be too preoccupied with other…passions…to think about books or reading anytime soon.

"Aww, come on, Zack, just a little hint," Cody urged.

"No hints. But I've been storing it over at the hotel."

"Makes sense," Cody reasoned, "since your job is to monitor the Tipton's various security camera feeds – not to mention the fact that a lot of our friends still work there as well. The hotel is probably the safest place to store something."

"AND best for keeping something away from a certain engaged pair of nosy geniuses until the right time," Zack added with a smirk.

"That comment SHOULD annoy me, but given the situation, it's difficult to contest the accuracy of it."

"Don't worry, Code. Since the reception is in the ballroom, you and Bailey will have a chance to see it before the two of you jet off to France."

"See, that's worse than a hint," Cody complained, but in a lighthearted way. "I'm no closer to knowing what it is, but now I'm more curious than ever."

"Hey, you didn't think I was going to give up my lifelong hobby of torturing you just because you're about to sign away your freedom today, did you?" Zack kidded him.

"Perish the thought," Cody answered. "But there's one thing you won't have to torture me for."

"What's that?"

"So much was going on yesterday with the rehearsal dinner and bachelor party, I never got a chance to tell you that I went over to the leasing office yesterday morning. I went ahead and paid my half of next month's rent, and now I'm covered through the end of our lease, so no worries there. Have you decided if you're going to renew or not? Maybe get another roommate? Or perhaps find a cheaper, one-bedroom?"

"I'm going to stay here, but no new roommate," Zack revealed. "I'm doing ok at my job, so I can afford it. And honestly, the only other person I ever want to share a place with is London. And we're not ready for what you and Bailey are doing. Not for awhile at least."

"I understand," Cody said, knowing that his brother had been all about taking his relationship with London slowly right from the start. Zack had initially been cautious about exposing his heart again after his first serious relationship ended abruptly with a break-up text from Maya a week after graduation. He also didn't want anyone to get the wrong idea and think he wasn't serious about London and interested in her for her wealth.

Cody had observed over the last three years as his twin and the heiress had gradually made the journey from friendship to dating to a full-fledged loving relationship. He was impressed that Zack had become more mature while at the same time holding on to the fun-loving, unpredictable side of his personality.

"So," Zack continued, "since I'll be staying, you don't have to feel in any big hurry to move the rest of your stuff over to your new place."

"Thanks. I think you and I got most of it taken care of last weekend except for some more clothes and a few odds and ends."

With their apartment issues settled, Zack thought he might as well update Cody about various wedding-related details that were under control, though he was still wishing he could simply tell his brother everything he wasn't sure he could properly put into words before they leave and the moment is lost.

"I know it's almost time for us to go," he began after first checking his watch again, "but I don't want you to worry about a thing, Code. Like the ring. It's safe right here in my coat pocket. And the suitcase you'd packed for the honeymoon…I put that in the car before I went over to the church."

"Good to know," Cody said, enjoying a glimpse at this schedule-focused, take-charge side of his typically laid-back brother.

"And before you ask," Zack added, "there are no last-minute loose ends to tie up. London confirmed your hotel reservation one more time this morning, and her private jet is all set up to take you and Bailey there after the reception."

"You mean AFTER we get to see your present to us," Cody corrected him.

"Yeah, after that," Zack confirmed, feeling very flattered that his brother was so eager to see his gift to them first, even with a great honeymoon destination to get to.

"It sounds like you've got everything under control, Zack. I knew you would. Which is why I wasn't even going to ask about loose ends."

"This is a strange phenomenon," Zack commented.

"What is?" Cody asked.

"You're so much more at ease than I would have predicted. Meanwhile I'm looking at my watch, asking London to make confirmation calls, and the other day I even wrote out a to-do checklist."

"While it might count as interesting, I don't think it could be considered a strange phenomenon," Cody disagreed. "It makes perfect sense to me, at least the part about you."

"Yeah?" Zack sounded surprised.

"Zack, you're smarter than you ever get proper credit for, even from me. Maybe even from yourself. A dumb person could never have come up with so many different schemes and pranks over the years. So I've always believed you could be very together and responsible when you wanted to be, and you've been proving me right for quite awhile now."

"Bottom line is that there's no way I was going to have you stuck with a lousy best man," Zack remarked. He was hoping he sounded casual but was actually really touched by his brother's comments. "Anyway, I'm just glad that it seems like you're finally starting to figure out what I've always known about you, despite the way I joke around with you."

"What's that?"

Zack took a moment before answering, knowing he couldn't give his honest reply casually.

"That you can still be brilliant and have the career you want AND a great girl who's devoted to you, all without stressing yourself into an ulcer or a heart attack or both before we're even in our mid-20s. I saw you get so worked up sometimes when we were growing up, and I get it. I really do. But besides a few last-minute pre-wedding nerves today, you've been so relaxed and stress-free since you got engaged. I think it's actually been building ever since you and Bailey first got back together and then when you tossed your university catalogs overboard. It's just great seeing you really enjoy your life, Cody. It makes today even better."

Zack saw the amazed look on his brother's face and hoped he hadn't scared him with his seriousness.

"And I'm going to shut up now before this turns into a speech," he offered in a less serious tone. "After all, gotta save the really good material for the best man's toast at the reception. You know I work better with an audience."

After hearing all of this, Cody took a deep breath.

"Every time I think you can't surprise me… But you are NOT going to get me all teary-eyed, Zack. Last thing I need is you calling me Sprinkler Head at the church."

"I think I'd have gone with Faucet Face, but either one probably would have worked."

"Neither one sounds very appealing," Cody decided, though they both enjoyed a brief laugh.

After that, the pair sat quietly for a moment. Zack looked down at his watch again. It was almost time for them to leave. He was excited and incredibly happy for his brother and Bailey. His belief in this couple and their decision to get married was completely sincere. And yet there was still this small, unwanted detail that was becoming more and more common in his thoughts as the big event got closer and closer to happening. It was the unpleasant idea that once he and Cody walked out the door in a few minutes, everything was going to change.

"We've really had some great times," Zack broke the silence, catching Cody's attention. "Here. And on the ship. And back at the hotel. What other brothers can say they've had as many adventures…and as many laughs…as we have?"

"None that I can think of," Cody answered, picking up on a slight bit of finality in the tone of his brother's nostalgic comments. "Though, of course, we're far from done."

"Yeah, of course," Zack agreed, though he sounded less than convinced. He looked once more at his watch, and then, with mixed emotions, he looked back up at his brother. "I think we better take off now."

Excited at this idea, Cody quickly got up from his chair. Seconds later, Zack stood up as well.

"Cody, before we go, I just wanted…"

Cody waited, but Zack stopped before finishing his thought.

"Zack, what is it?" he asked, growing concerned by the newly troubled look on his brother's face.

The elder twin turned away from Cody and faced the door.

"Never mind," Zack replied, determined to push any less-than-happy thoughts out of the way. He took a deep breath and started walking toward the door. "It's nothing. Now it shouldn't take us long to get there, but I don't want to take any chances. After all, we want the musicians to play 'Here Comes The Bride,' not 'Hey, Where's The Groom?'"

With Cody a few feet behind him, Zack approached the door. But after putting his hand on the doorknob, he stopped.

"Don't disappear on me."

Though Zack had said the words quietly, Cody heard him but wasn't sure what he meant.

"Ignore that," Zack then added in a hopeful tone as he let go of the doorknob and turned back to face his brother.

"Why would I disappear?" Cody asked, the confusion evident on his face.

"We've got to go," Zack urged.

"Don't worry about that."

"Cody, the clock's ticking."

"Yeah, because that's what clocks do. And what you and I do is tell each other everything, good and bad. So tell me what you meant."

"It's nothing," Zack again insisted despite seeing the doubtful look on Cody's face. "I'm just being selfish and ridiculous. This day is not about me. You don't need to hear that I'm… Wow, emotions really suck sometimes. I knew if I started getting too serious, I'd say something that didn't need to be said.""

"I don't need to hear that you're what?" Cody prompted, not wanting Zack to back out of sharing his initial thoughts.

"That…that I'm going to miss you," Zack finally admitted. "A lot."

"We'll be back from the honeymoon in a week," Cody reminded him.

"Yeah, I know, but that's not what I'm talking about. It's just that…it's going to be weird not having you around after today. That's all."

"I'll be around, Zack. It's not like Bailey and I are moving away. It's only about 15 minutes between here and our new place. Okay, relatively speaking, I suppose it does seem far away. Between sharing a room as kids, having cabins right next to each other on the ship and bedrooms next to each other in this apartment, we've never really lived apart. But that doesn't mean that…"

"Cody," Zack stopped him, since now there didn't seem any way for him to prevent his concerns from spilling out. "You're starting a new life with Bailey today. Doing what you're supposed to do. And I couldn't be happier for you. But I'm also sad…and a little scared. I mean, you're my best friend as well as my twin, so it's like I'll be losing my two favorite people."

Cody said nothing in response as he considered his brother's words for a moment. Part of him wanted to shake Zack for thinking they would stop being close after he got married. The other part of him wanted to hug his slightly older brother, understanding why Zack might have such a dismal idea. Separation anxiety was hardly a new aspect of their relationship. The most obvious example was Zack's attempt to "rescue" Cody from math camp nearly a decade earlier. For his part, Cody had experienced the occasional fear of being left behind when his brother would develop a new friendship.

Still, through everything, the twins had remained close. Cody knew his marriage wouldn't affect that, and he wanted to make sure Zack understood this as well.

"Look," Zack soon broke the silence, "just forget the last minute or so."

"Zack…" Cody finally spoke, ignoring his brother's request. "I'm not going to be like Dad. Promise."

Because of his negative feelings toward their father, Zack suddenly felt guilty and didn't want Cody to think he was trying to compare his brother with Kurt in any way.

"Cody, I would never think that," he said quickly. "I didn't mean you'd be like him. He stays away because he doesn't really want to be a part of our lives. That's not you at all. But you're important to me and… well, I couldn't stand it if we become the kind of brothers who hardly see each other unless it's a holiday or somebody dies. The kind who can't think of anything to talk about except the weather."

"I know you weren't trying to make a negative comparison, Zack. Now, I want you to believe what I'm about to tell you because it's the absolute truth. I'm marrying my dream girl today. Actually, Bailey's better than any dream I ever had before I knew her. And after today, things ARE going to change, and I can't wait to start this next part of my life."

His brother nodded in response, appreciating Cody's honesty and knowing this is how a groom SHOULD feel on his wedding day.

"But what won't change," Cody continued, "is you and me. We won't share the same address anymore, but that's it. The four of us will still do things together, just like before today. And the same goes for just you and me.

"Zack, the idea of you not being part of my life is so far-fetched I can't even wrap my brain around it. Bailey is amazing and can do a lot of things, but she can't be you. You two are BOTH essential to me. And since you've always tried to encourage me not to be shy about going after what I want, I intend to be very selfish now by reminding you that the wedding tradition is that the father gives the bride away. There's no tradition where the brother gives the groom away. That means even after I'm married, you're stuck with having me as a big part of your life. It may not be quite as frequent a part, but I promise I won't disappear on you after today."

Feeling comforted by Cody's words, Zack felt like he should have some sort of witty reply, but instead he responded the only way that felt right in that moment. He pulled his brother in for a hug. And not the stereotypical "man hug" that ends quickly and generally involves little more than a few taps on the back by people expressing minimal (if any) affection. No, this was a true embrace between brothers and best friends.

Soon, however, they did release one another. And though Cody had reassured him and made him feel more relaxed again, Zack also felt somewhat embarrassed for thinking he'd lose his brother.

"Sorry about all that," Zack offered. "I should know better. Besides, you shouldn't have had to help me like that today. I'm supposed to be taking care of you."

"No apologies," Cody insisted. "If anything, one of us should have been taking notes, because you're probably going to have to repeat my words back to me when it's YOUR wedding day."

That made Zack laugh, as Cody had hoped it would.

"And you HAVE been doing a great job today," Cody added.

"Thanks, man," Zack said as he finally began wiping the tears from his eyes that had formed while his brother had been reassuring him. "And I guess I'm Sprinkler Head today, so you're off the hook."

"Don't worry. I think Mom's going to win that title later on for sheer volume of tears. You know how emotional she gets whenever something major happens in our lives."

"Yeah," Zack agreed.

"I'm just sorry I didn't realize how you were feeling before now or I would have said something sooner."

"Not your fault, Cody. I didn't really know either. Only today, with everything getting closer and closer to finally happening…I guess it all started to hit me that this wedding could be an ending as well as a beginning. Lucky for me, I've got a brother who knows what to say to make crazy thoughts go away."

"You've managed to keep me sane on numerous occasions as well," Cody noted.

"Look, obviously you and Bailey will do a good job taking care of each other," Zack commented. "But if you ever have a problem and need my help, you got it. No matter what. Whether it's siding with you in a disagreement, or…I don't know…maybe you have an off day and accidentally poison a customer with some bad meat and you need me to help you bury the body. Don't worry. I'm all in. As always, I make no guarantees that my plans won't fall apart or lead to visits from the fire department. But I'll always come up with something that at least seems like a good idea to help you out."

"You're crazy, Zack. And I love you. Always.

"I love you, too."

"I'm ready," Cody announced moments later with a confident tone that pleased Zack.

"Glad to hear it," Zack replied. "So am I."

The certainty in his brother's voice indicated, to Cody's relief, that Zack really did believe him that their close bond would remain intact.

"I think you're doing your job as best man TOO well," Cody commented. "I feel like I ought to have something to worry about, but I just don't."

"Okay, how about the fact that you're going to have all these new in-laws?" Zack joked as they started toward the door once again. "I mean, Bailey's sister Elly May seems nice enough, but somebody should take that shotgun away from Granny."

"Zack, they're the Picketts, not the Clampetts," Cody responded, rolling his eyes. "You and London have got to get this idea out of your heads that Bailey's family is a big bunch of hillbillies. They're from a small farming community, not the backwoods."

"Well, I was talking to one of Bailey's cousins at the bachelor party, and he thinks a cell phone is the telephone you use in jail to make your one phone call."

"Okay, but…" Cody paused momentarily to think. "No, I can't come up with anything to explain that away. On the positive side, they're all really nice."

"And they love living in Kansas," Zack added as the pair stepped outside the apartment. "So you don't have to worry about them deciding to move in with you guys, spending all day every day churning corn and shucking butter in your living room."

"I believe they shuck the corn and churn the butter," Cody clarified.

"I've got a hundred bucks for you if you can convince me that it matters."

"I should, but we have to get out of here."

"Now that's something I'm interested in," Zack remarked. "Let's go and get you married. You know, before Bailey comes to her senses."

By this point, Zack was certain that Cody's confidence about becoming a husband was back; otherwise he wouldn't have made the joke. And he was right, since even though Cody was shaking his head and trying to act annoyed, it was also clear that he was struggling not to laugh.

"Just lock the door so we can go," Cody instructed, hoping to sound sufficiently frustrated with his brother even though he really wasn't. "You know, you drive me crazy sometimes."

"Only sometimes? I must be getting lazy in my old age."

"How can that be possible?" Cody questioned. "You were already lazy in your young age."

"Obviously not lazy enough," Zack suggested as he locked the door, "since I was able to teach you the art of the comeback line. And now you're getting almost as good as me."

"That's high praise coming from you."

"Yeah, well…I have my moments."

"Indeed. And just so I'm absolutely sure you're okay, tell me you know that we're still going to be…us…even after today."

"I know it," Zack responded, honestly believing it thanks to his brothers' reassuring words. "No more worries about that. Promise."

"I'm glad."

The twins began walking down the hallway toward the stairwell.

"By the way, Code, as much as I love London, I'm not nearly as picky about souvenirs. There's lots of cool stuff you can find at a good gas station if you've got some imagination. You know, in case you get stumped about something to get me."

"Bailey and I will keep that in mind," Cody promised. "Though I'm wondering if I can find some kind of memory enhancer for you."

"Why's that?"

"Your recollection of events seemed to be a little clouded earlier."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Zack offered. This time he was the one hoping to sound innocent.

"You know very well that I did not, and would never, throw my university catalogs overboard," Cody elaborated. "You're the one who took them and did that."

"Only because you had just told me what you'd decided to do after we graduated, so you weren't going to need them," the elder twin explained, not surprised that Cody would call back that tiny detail that Zack had slipped into their conversation several minutes earlier just to see if his brother would catch it. "And I didn't want you to have second thoughts about doing what you really wanted."

"I appreciate the sentiment, but somebody else could have used those catalogs."

"Who are you kidding?" Zack challenged as they reached the stairwell and began walking down the one flight of stairs to the parking lot. "Except for you and your fiancée, the closest anyone from our graduating class was ever going to get to a college is watching college football on TV. Or going to a college with the word 'Community' in front of it."

"Even if nobody was going to need those catalogs, you still polluted the ocean by tossing them overboard. You could have simply put them in the ship's recycling bin."

"Okay, I've changed my mind," Zack announced. "I'm definitely giving you away today. And I'm handing Bailey a note that says 'No refunds.'"

"Perfect. Do you need me to proofread it for spelling errors? After all, one of those words DOES have two syllables."

"Thank you, Code. You're far too kind."

The lighthearted bantering continued nonstop as they reached the parking lot and started walking toward Zack's car. They had already determined that Cody would leave his car in the lot until the newlyweds returned from their honeymoon.

"Now, do you have everything?" Zack asked. "Your wallet, your keys…"

"Yes and yes" Cody confirmed. "Though I guess I should go ahead and take my key to our place off the chain and give it to you before I forget and leave town with it."

"No, you keep that," Zack said, being completely serious. "It's OUR apartment, and as long as one of us is still there, it always will be OURS."

"You really do amaze me sometimes, Zack," Cody smiled.

"Of course, I WILL be replacing your bed with an air hockey table…" Zack added.

"Of course," Cody said, laughing. "I'd be worried about you if you didn't."

Reaching the car, Zack clicked a button on his keychain to shut off the alarm and unlock the doors. He then looked across the other side of the vehicle at Cody as he replayed his brother's reassuring words in his mind once more.

"But what won't change, is you and me…You two are BOTH essential to me…I promise I won't disappear on you after today."

At the same time, Cody was looking over at Zack and remembering his brother's calming words.

"Cody, trust me…Bailey IS getting the best…I don't think you're going to be good at marriage. You're both going to be GREAT at it…If you ever have a problem and need my help, you got it. No matter what."

With both brothers feeling excited about the wedding that was set to begin in only a little over half an hour, and confident that they would be able to deal with the major life changes that the occasion brings with it, the twins got in the car.

"I can't wait to see Bailey walking down that aisle toward me," Cody said excitedly while putting on his seat belt.

"Enjoy this day, buddy. You deserve it."

"Thanks. For everything. And, Zack, about this new air hockey table you're getting… Save me a game?"

Zack smiled. Cody was already making it clear that he wouldn't forget about his brother.

"Like you even have to ask…"


Author Notes: I know this was lengthy, but I hope you enjoyed it. I'd considered splitting it into a two-chapter story, but when reading over it I felt it worked better as one uninterrupted piece. Regarding the reference to Princess Xaria from the episode "Can You Dig It," I've seen the name spelled with an X and also with a Z. So I went with the spelling I found listed on the episode's IMDB entry. There were a few elements I know I could have expanded on, but I wanted to keep most of the focus and momentum on Cody and Zack's interaction and conversation. I'm considering writing a shorter one-shot prequel centered on the Valentine's Day proposal, but I have a couple of other story ideas I'm thinking about developing as well, so I'm not certain which will come first. For now, thanks for reading this story.