Zach's voice was rough with dread. "Kendall…what this article is implying…it isn't true." Kendall snatched the newspaper from him. "I don't care about implications, I care about facts. Did you go to Port Charles to meet with Sonny Corinthos?" Zach took a deep breath. "Yes, but it's not what you think." Kendall threw the paper on the bed and started pacing around. "Not what I think? I don't care how much this guy pretends that he is a model citizen, everyone knows that he is a criminal. Everyone knows that he gives orders and people die. This man right here," She stabbed her finger at the picture of Jason Morgan, "is his enforcer. He is a murderer, allegedly." She spit the last word out. "What the hell were you thinking going to see these people? You could have been fitted with cement shoes and thrown into the harbor and I might never have known what happened to you. You would have just disappeared."
Kendall sat down on the bed, her voice starting to wobble, her eyes filling with tears. "I might have assumed that you decided to fake your death again." Zach grabbed her shoulders. "Kendall, I was never in any danger. Sonny Corinthos had no reason to kill me. He owed me a favor. He held me in regard, for what that's worth. I certainly didn't go there planning any sort of criminal activity." Kendall wiped her eyes and then looked skyward. "I know that, you idiot. Corinthos does own some legitimate businesses, including a few casinos. I know you're no mobster." Zach felt dizzy with relief. She believed in him. "I wonder who took these pictures, and why they would be following me." Kendall rolled her eyes. "I know exactly who. Donald Steele has the byline, but this has my mother's stink all over it. I'm so sorry, Zach. She must have had a PI following you."
Zach realized that Kendall needed to be brought in on this. He didn't want to keep secrets from her anymore. "I went to Corinthos to ask for information. When I was at the Miranda center, there was a woman there that I recognized as someone who shouldn't be in Pine Valley. Someone who was supposed to be in the Witness Protection Program. The crime family she implicated in her testimony have recently killed her husband, and she wants to find out who is responsible before they go after her son." Kendall's eyes widened. "Are you kidding me? This woman just spilled all this information to a stranger in one afternoon?" Zach shook his head. "I knew who she was from seeing her picture. Maria showed it to me. It was her sister, Julia."
Kendall stood up, her jaw dropping. "You met Julia Santos at the Miranda Center? She's the one who got you to go to a mob boss and put yourself in mortal danger?" She started pacing again. "I don't believe this. I just cannot believe this! That insipid little…" Zach stared at her, wondering at her reaction. "Do you know Julia?" Kendall laughed unpleasantly. "Yes, very well. I'm not very proud of my misspent youth, and she knew how to push all my buttons. We were both after the same guy, and I was the one who finally married him. What a booby prize that was." Zach wasn't sure how to take all this in. He decided to get back to the point. "When I saw that Maria's sister was in danger, I decided to call in a favor I had done for Corinthos once. He's going to find out some names for me."
Kendall stared at him. "And then what? What are you going to do then? Confront these people? Call the feds, I hope." Zach shook his head. "Julia doesn't want the feds involved. She feels that they were responsible for her husband's death." Kendall threw up her hands. "I'm sorry for Noah's death, really I am. But if these people can kill him, they can certainly kill you." Zach looked grim. "They can also certainly kill Julia and her little boy. I can't sit back and do nothing." Kendall sat on the bed and put her face in her hands. "I don't believe this. I don't believe this is happening again." Zach was bewildered. "Again? This has happened to you before?"
When Kendall looked up, she was crying again. "It's Ryan all over again. He started hanging out in Greenlee's pocket because she was dating some guy who's brother had a price on his head. No matter how many times I told him to mind his own business, he wouldn't leave her alone. He was with her all the time. He finally chose her over me. I can't do this again." She stood up, a wild look in her eyes. Zach tried to touch her, but she leaped back. "Kendall, I'm not Ryan. I'm not going to leave you for Julia. I'm just helping her out." She shook her head. "In a situation that could get you killed. I can't do this. You don't understand what it did to me last time. I lost control of myself so many times. I hate what I became. This time it would be much worse." She turned and fled from the room.
Zach called out to her. He ran after her, but when he reached the living room, the door had slammed. He opened the front door, but she had reached her car and was starting it. Damn, she was fast. He saw movement at the window across the way, and went back in and slammed the door before he succumbed to the urge to give Mrs. Kravitz the finger. He heard a noise in the bedroom and realized his cell phone was ringing. He ran to get it. It was Corinthos. "I was alerted to the article in the local tabloid. Someone really doesn't like you." Zach sighed. "My girlfriend's mother. She is very influential and very nasty. I didn't realize just how nasty until now." There was a chuckle on the other end. "I've heard enough about Erica Kane, that I'm not surprised she's behind this." Zach felt dizzy and sat down. "You know who I'm dating? How? Never mind, this is not good. If you know about Kendall, then they know. This gets worse and worse."
Sonny cleared his throat. "Well, at least you will know who 'they' are. I got the information this morning." Zach grabbed some paper and wrote down what Sonny told him. "I will be happy to send you some guards until this is over." Zach rubbed his eyes. "No, thank you. I'll deal with this on my own. We're even now, and I'd like it to stay that way." There was a pause on the line. Damn it, did he really just insult a powerful crime lord? "I am glad that I could help. Good luck to you." They said their goodbyes. Zach leaned his head back. Well, at least that part of it was closed. Now he just needed to figure out for himself the answer to Kendall's question. What would he do with this information? It was clear to him now, both from Kendall's reaction and from the fact that his role in this was now public knowledge, that he should probably pass this on to someone else. After the hell she had been through, Kendall deserved to be put first. He was also very afraid that she could be in danger because of him. The question was, who should now have the task of helping Julia?
Zach pondered the problem as he got dressed. As he was putting on his shoes, it suddenly hit him. Of course. The answer was spectacularly obvious. He grabbed the vital piece of paper and his keys and set off. As he was driving he called Kendall's cell phone. No answer. He tried her office number. Greenlee answered the phone. "Greenlee, this is Zach Slater. Is Kendall there?" He heard a scoff. "Of course not. She quit yesterday. Made one phone call to me and then walked right out. In the middle of the fall ad campaign. I can't believe she did this to me, the selfish little…" Zach cut her off. "Do you have any idea where she is?" Another scoff. "Of course not. Now that I finally have her out of my orbit, I'm not exactly going to keep tabs on her." Zach sighed. "Then you are of no use to me." He ended the call.
The last thing he wanted to do was call Erica, but he had no choice. He dialed information and got the number to her new office. He dialed the number. He was almost disappointed when she answered. "Erica, it's Zach Slater. I'm not going to even bother to ask whether you've seen Kendall. I can pretty much figure what the reply will be. Instead I will tell you that if you do see Kendall, to keep her with you, no matter what. Do not let her out of your sight. Because of your raging stupidity, her life could be in danger." He ended the call on her spluttering. Zach found the building he was looking for, and pulled into the parking lot. As he entered the building, he couldn't help but think about Kendall's words to him. "This time it would be much worse." Was she actually saying that her feelings for him were even stronger than they had been for Ryan? He practically bounded up the stairs.
Kendall was back at the shelter, giving Ben a walk. She had decided to name him Ben because that was one of the names that had been used by her brother, Trey, before he went to jail. Since they were both in cages, it seemed to fit. "What am I going to do now, Ben? I've totally screwed up my chance for happiness. Instead of trusting Zach, I freaked out on him and accused him of being like Ryan. I was just so afraid for his life. He could die because he's helping that…that….well, I shouldn't use strong words in front of you, Ben. Tom says you're only two years old, so you're pretty impressionable. Miranda would adore you. So would Bianca. Binks, I need to call Binks." She checked her cell phone. Yesterday she had gotten no reception at all. Now there was a faint glimmer. As she speed-dialed Bianca's number, she heard a rustle in the woods. She looked over, but nothing was there.
Utterly relieved when Bianca answered, Kendall spilled her guts to her sister about quitting Fusion and the argument she had with Zach. "So you finally left Fusion. I was wondering when you'd get around to that. I've been wanting to make you an offer, but I wanted you to be well and truly done with that place, first." Kendall was taken aback. "Offer?" "Well, ever since I moved to Paris and mom got married, you've been out of sorts. Other than Fusion, there wasn't anything keeping you in Pine Valley. I've been wanting to offer you a job at Cambias Industries, here in Paris, but I didn't think you would take it while you still felt tied to Fusion." Kendall blinked. "A job in Paris? Working with you?" She was flabbergasted.
"There's something else I've wanted to tell you. Maggie and I have been looking for a house. An apartment is no place for Miranda. We want something like what I had bought in Pine Valley. You know, the one with the porch and the big back yard. If you come to Paris, you can live with us. We can be one big happy family. You can even get Miranda the pound puppy you promised when I was pregnant." The hairs on the back of Kendall's neck stood up. She looked down at Ben, who looked up at her with adoring eyes. "That….that sounds wonderful." Her throat started to constrict. "Kendall, I have some friends over here who have friends in the French embassy over there. They could get you a work visa in no time at all." Tears started to fall. "Oh Bianca. I accept. This feels so right, everything just clicks. But what about Zach?" There was a pause. "If Zach really cares about you, he will come with you." Kendall sniffed. "I don't want to give him an ultimatum, though. I did that with Ryan and it blew up in my face." "No, no, no. This isn't an ultimatum. You are moving on with your life. He can choose to be a part of it or not. Its not like it would be a big stretch for him. Duh, he lives in Paris. The only reason he came back to Pine Valley was for you." Kendall fought down a sob. "But what if he stays to help Julia?"
Zach threw open the door to the office, hoping that the two PIs would be in. He was relieved to see Tad and Aidan huddled around a computer. They looked to see who had entered, and were definitely not pleased to see Zach. Tad leaned back in his chair. "Well, if it isn't Pine Valley's newest crime lord. Our last one was a crazy old bitch by the name of Vanessa. Fortunately, we were able to send her down the river." Aidan snickered. Zach came over and grabbed a chair. "I don't have time for pleasantries. The reason I visited Sonny Corinthos was to find out the name of the person who was responsible for Noah Keefer's death." Tad's face went cold. "Noah's dead?" Zach nodded. "I ran into Julia at the Miranda Center. She and her little boy were hiding out from both the feds and the bad guys. Right now they are somewhere in New York City, courtesy of Maria." Zach held up the paper with the information on it. "This morning, Corinthos gave me this name. Now, I'm giving it to you. I figured since Aidan is dating Anita and Tad has been the town hero long before Ryan came along, you two would make a fine choice to pass on this information." He slapped the paper down on the desk and turned to walk out. Tad and Aidan were left with their mouths agape.
Zach climbed into his rental car and dialed Kendall's cell phone again. Still not answering. He sat for a minute and tried to think. Last night, half-awake, she had murmured something about walking dogs and petting cats. Bingo! He dialed information again. He had no idea why she would be at an animal shelter, but it had to be where she was. Having gotten the address and directions, he raced there. He went into the shelter, and asked the man behind the counter if he knew Kendall. "Sure, she brought Ben in yesterday. She's out walking him now." Zach gripped the counter. "Where can I find her?" The man pointed. "There's a path that runs along that side of the shelter. I just sent another guy to find her, they should be back any minute." Dread flooded through Zach. "Son of a…"
He tore out of the building and flew down the path. In the distance, he saw a man walking up to Kendall, who had her back to him and was talking on her cell phone. He reached the man and grabbed him from behind. Kendall whirled around and stared agog. The dog strained at the leash, barking his head off. Zach searched for a weapon, but found none. Bewildered, he asked, "Who are you, and what did you want with Kendall?" The man looked ready to rip Zach's head off. "Who I am is none of your business. And if this young lady is Kendall, I'm not here to see her. I'm here to see the dog." Zach suddenly felt like a paranoid freak.
Looking from Zach to the man, Kendall asked, "What do you want with the dog?" The man smiled at her. "I wanted to see if he was my dog that has been lost. Tom said he fit the description." Kendall's heart lurched. "Is this your dog?" The man's smile disappeared. "No, miss. I'm afraid he's not." Trying not to show her relief, she put her hand on his shoulder. "I hope your dog turns up soon." The man nodded, and with a final glare at Zach, walked back to the shelter.
Kendall wanted to laugh at Zach's sheepish look, but her nerves were too shot. "You thought he was one of the thugs after Julia?" Zach nodded. He reached out his hand, and then pulled back. "I was so afraid they would come after you and try to use you as leverage. But it will all be over soon. Corinthos gave me the information I asked for, and I turned around and gave it to Tad and Aidan. They will help Julia, now. My part in this is over."
Kendall stared at Zach. "You…you're not going to stay by her side every step of the way to make sure she's safe?" Zach smiled and reached out to touch her shoulder. She didn't back away, but the dog did move between them in the hopes of some attention. Exasperated, he scratched the dog's ear, then gently nudged him out of the way. "I can be a control freak, but I do know how to delegate responsibility. I may not like Tad and Aidan, but they are more than competent to get the job done. I wanted to help her, but not as much as I wanted you, safe in my arms. Kendall, I want you more than anything in the world. I love you." Kendall closed her eyes as hot tears spilled down her cheeks. Zach enveloped her in his arms. "I love you, too, Zach. I was so afraid I blew it this morning. I'm very good at making a mess of things."
Zach held her tighter. "You didn't make a mess, you made everything crystal clear. Now I want to make things clear. I can't stand Pine Valley. I would stay here for you, but since I heard you left Fusion, I'm hoping you would be conducive to leaving. Will you come to Paris with me?" Kendall laughed. "I think the question is, will you come to Paris with me and Ben?" Zach's eyebrows shot up. "You have plans to go to Paris? With someone named Ben?" Kendall indicated the dog. "This is Ben. Before you came, I was about to go inside and adopt him. Then I was going to take him to Paris and give him to Miranda. Then I was going to start a job working for my baby sister. And I was planning to ask you to come with me. That is, if you didn't hate me for walking out on you and wanted to stay with Julia, instead." Zach stared at her in amazement. Completely speechless, there was only one thing to do. He kissed her.
Author's note: I made the last chapter really long, instead of breaking it up, because for some silly reason, I wanted to end on 35 chapters like my last novelette. When I finished that one, I told myself I would never write another long one and stick to short stories. Zach and Kendall refused to be a short story. I never thought that while I was in the middle of this story, Zach and Kendall would come alive on the actual show. Now that I have finished, I will go back to writing the couples that (I think) will never happen.