A.N.: Well, readers, this is it! The last chapter of our story, Zach and Ana. We'd like to thank everyone who read, reviewed or even just checked out a chapter or two of this story for fun. This is one of our many labors of love and we're glad we were able to share it with all of you! As with our other finished stories, when one gets finished, another soon begins! We may run a poll in the near future asking you guys what kind of story you'd like to see us write so check back our profile page. Either way, this is definitely not it from us. As always, we love hearing from you and we'll see you soon! (In the meantime, check out our other current story: "Boundaries"!)

Zach and Ana – XXXVIII.

Ana was finishing turning down her comforter and sheets when the sound of her door creaking open faintly caused her to look back over her shoulder, smiling instantly at the sight of Zach. "...I really didn't expect my dad to agree when I asked if you could start staying over once in a while," she quickly spoke, quietly through a laugh. She turned before taking a seat on the edge of her bed, relieved to once again have Zach near her; she had since pushed Shane from her mind completely. It was simply easier to pretend it never happened than to try to make sense of it and dwell.

Zach felt no need to disclose what happened with her father moments ago and he nodded a little absently, stepping into her room and out of his shoes as his hands slipped out of his pockets. He reached for the light to turn it off, wanting to hide both his throbbing hand and whatever emotion remained on his face. "Surprised me too," he replied, though it took a bit of effort to pretend as if he was fine.

The faint glow from the TV still served to illuminate the room as Zach flipped the light switch off and closed the door behind him after Ana offered a brief gesture for him to do so. "Where were you tonight?" she questioned quietly out of curiosity, waiting where she sat in her pajamas for him to come closer. She respected his need to spend time with his guy friends without her, of course... she was just... curious.

"Drove around with Cameron," came Zach's rather quick reply. He reached for the fly of his jeans, stepping closer to the bed as he undid them and found that with the television on, she might be entertained without him. He was happy to be there, happy that Scott had agreed to let him sleep over, but it had come at a bad time, when he was unable to fully appreciate it.

A brief moment of uncertainty passed through her at the quickness of his reply yet she remained silent and shifted back more onto the bed, drawing her legs up and under the covers. "Oh..." she finally answered, watching him still. "Okay." She knew him long enough and well enough to know that something wasn't right with him... but she knew even better not to press him on it.

He abandoned his jeans to strip himself of his shirt, dropping it to the floor as he next pushed his pants from his hips to step out of them with a brief look behind him at the closed door. It felt weird to not have to hide in the closet or wait outside until her parents fell asleep, but he welcomed the change. "This is nice," he commented briefly as he reached for her covers to lift them and slip in with her.

"Zach..." Ana began, a bit embarrassed to have to call it to his attention as he reached for the covers. "...your clothes..? Sorry..." she practically mumbled, wishing they didn't have to follow such an agreement.

Zach had come straight from the fight, so his mind was elsewhere, and he hadn't brought any clothes to change into. He didn't have any desire to put his clothes back on and he watched her seriously for a moment until sighing quietly. "Please don't ask me to change back into them."

A knock at the door made him uneasy, however, and he turned his head rather quickly to see her father standing in the doorway. He felt he would be asked to leave when it appeared he'd disobeyed one of the few requirements, but was surprised when nothing was said, just a pair of old pajama pants were thrown at him. He watched Scott leave in silence and blinked a few slow times, lowering his stare to take note of what had been tossed to him.

Ana was just as surprised as Zach and as the door was closed once more, she managed a faint smile. "He's really okay with things now, I think..." she commented simply, shrugging up her shoulders as she watched Zach calmly. "...oh, I told him about my possible birthday present," she mentioned with a short laugh, glancing aside for a moment. "He didn't seem too cool with it, but I'm sure my mom'll say yes..."

After slipping on the pants given to him and climbing into bed with her, Zach reached for her side to pull her closer, offering no explanation as to his sudden closeness as he burrowed his face into her neck and sighed heavily. He simply wanted to enjoy that night with her without any interruptions or unsettling thoughts. August was not for a few months and he hated how his consciousness had decided to focus on it so early.

Ana stared ahead across the room, surprised by his sudden movements as she allowed him to pull her close and tuck his face into her neck. It took a few moments of adjustment before she relaxed in his arms and letting her eyes slip partially closed, she eased an arm over his side. "...Zach?" she simply questioned, quietly beside his ear.

He hadn't been trying to hide anything from her necessarily, Zach just... thought it might be better for her not to know. When she questioned him, however, so innocently and with slight worry in her tone, Zach simply had to tell her so she understood what was bothering him. If she remained clueless, he wasn't sure she would understand why he needed her to comfort him.

"We went to see Shane."

Ana felt a drop in her chest and her brow slowly tensed as her arm grew still over his side, her fingers against his back. Shane..? she silently questioned, silent for the moment as she struggled to keep her thoughts from trailing back to the previous night. She realized a short while later that she had no idea what to say... Zach and Cameron had gone to confront Shane and part of her didn't even want to know what had occurred between them. All she could do as she lay there with him was tighten her hold on him slowly in silent acceptance for whatever he'd felt the need to do that night. Please don't leave me... she wanted to suddenly beg him, reminded once again of his plans to leave in the fall. Yet she knew she couldn't be so selfish...

Her reaction was one with he appreciated and when he wasn't prompted with an accusing and pathetic, ''What'd you do, Zach?" he felt more relaxed than he had. He was there with Ana now and though Shane was still in his mind, he was just a small part of his thoughts. He would be able to push him from his mind, at least, and not have to worry that something similar may happen again. He was fairly sure Shane was uninterested in another meeting from himself and Cameron.

"You don't have to worry anymore," he whispered to her as his hand slid into her hair to keep her close, gently moving his fingers against her scalp as he enjoyed the feeling of having her so close to him and know that he could stay beside her even when the threat of her parents across the hall loomed over them.

Ana's body instantly relaxed as Zach's fingers moved within her hair, her eyes closing as a deep breath passed her lips. She trusted completely that she had nothing to worry about any longer, not even in the school year to come, but she didn't dare bring up such thoughts. Couldn't she just... pretend he wasn't leaving in August? Was it really as big a deal as she was making it out to be? He would only be gone a few months- Ana's thoughts couldn't continue. Of course it would be a big deal. She had spent practically every day with him since she was born. The longest they'd gone without seeing one another had been a week; the longest they'd gone without speaking, a few days.

But she knew he had to go to college. It would all go by so quickly and by her own third year of college, they could even be married and living together near whichever college she decided on, couldn't they? It wouldn't be long at all...

"...night Zach," she whispered, turning her head faintly to kiss his cheek before letting her weight settle heavily against his side.

Unlike Scott, Ana's mother was far from uncomfortable with Ana and Zach spending the night in bed together. She knew Scott had made immeasurable progress with their daughter's relationship and in accepting Zach as more of a future part of their family than when he was younger, playing together with Ana day in and day out, but Alex could simply... relate to Ana better than Scott could. Turning the knob of Ana's bedroom door and pushing it open slowly, Alex caught sight of the two, tangled in the sheets of Ana's bed and apparently lying comfortably with one another though the sight suggested otherwise. Zach's arm lay extended over the edge of the bed, the blankets only covering his waist due to Ana's apparent burrowing within her covers, her face nestled into his neck. Alex could only smile as she eyed the two, shaking her head as she recalled the naps the two used to take when they were children - they slept the exact same way.

"All right, you two. Time to get up for breakfast," she abruptly spoke up, causing Ana to groan and disappear further within the mess of blankets.

It was instinctive for Zach to shake awake, his disoriented state causing him to feel caught since it hadn't fully sunk in just yet that he was allowed to be there and sleeping with her. "I- I just-" Yet the sluggishness of his girlfriend beside him and the calm smile he saw on Mrs. Aston's face made him recall the fact that he'd been invited to stay and welcomed by her parents. A long breath left him as he calmed, his head falling back to the bed for a moment as he reached up to cover his face and yawn. He nodded to signal he'd heard her, but for the moment felt no real motivation to get out of bed with Ana such a warm and heavy weight against his side.

"You're lucky I didn't let my husband come wake you. You probably would have had a heart attack," Alex laughed amidst addressing Zach, disappearing from the doorway and calling from the hall, "You've got five minutes before breakfast is on the table." The sound of her footsteps as she descended the stairs followed moments later.

Ana reluctantly pulled her face from against Zach's neck, yawning as an arm snaked out from within the covers to rake her hair back with her fingers. "It's morning...?" she questioned through her yawn, breathing in deeply just afterward. "Mm... I smell bacon," she laughed lazily, pushing herself up with a weak smile upon staring down at Zach in her bed. It was strange to see him there, hearing her parents talking and even laughing down in the kitchen, knowing she and Zach were upstairs in bed. It truly did feel like she was still dreaming.

Getting up on cue was a small price to pay for spending the night with Ana and he let his hand fall away to weakly stare up at Ana where she sat with a low smirk. "My dad is not gonna believe this," he groggily commented in regard to being allowed to stay over her house. He doubted it could be an every night thing, but he was willing to take what he could get.

He slipped out of bed with her and changed, briefly considering changing in the bathroom as to not get caught half naked in the room with her. Scott was safely downstairs, however, and Zach took the chance by changing with her, grabbing her whenever he could get away with stealing a short kiss or two.

The strangeness of it all definitely began to set in for Ana as the two headed downstairs together toward the kitchen for breakfast. Yet as they reached the bottom, Ana couldn't help herself in turning around to meet Zach with a surprise kiss since he was just behind her, laughing quietly as she did so. It was still a little weird to kiss in front of her parents after all...

As Ana pressed her lips to his, Zach couldn't help himself as his attention lifted over her head to watch Mr. Aston at the counter, busying himself with buttering some toast after taking it from the toaster. He smiled to himself, lifting his hands to her shoulders as he smiled and pushed her from him with a playfully measuring stare. Did she want to push her father's buttons?

Rolling her eyes with a heavy sigh, Ana stepped away from him at the push he offered and turned to head into the kitchen, smiling to herself. Things seemed to have turnedaround completely from the horrible start of the weekend and she was merely glad she had Zach with her throughout it all.

Zach stood at the open window, staring down at the side street as he waited. A long sigh left him as he rubbed his palms against his jeans, waiting anxiously to see Ana's car pull into the driveway. He was in her room (having been let in by her father to 'set up' her birthday present in her room).

They hadn't again talked about the dog and Scott had done quite a good job at avoiding the topic in order to let it be a true surprise when she did receive it. He felt something on his leg and glancing down, he saw the small puppy rolling onto its back over his shoe and he let his features wrinkle with a pathetic laugh. "Don't get all dirty..." he complained with a sigh, stooping to scoop up the dog and set it on its feet so it would run off again. It was more hyper than he'd expected and he found himself a little uncertain if she would be able to keep it, but 'Zach' simply stood out to him.

His beige color and floppy ears were just the features to set it aside from the rest of the dogs and he confidently forked over the money he'd saved up and borrowed from his dad to purchase the puppy for Ana. He knew the dog was perfect and though it'd costed nearly a forth more than he'd come to expect, he couldn't regret the purchase.

The collar and matching leash sat in a wrapped box in his car with the picnic supplies, the inscription reading 'Zach' as the dog's name and Ana's address on the reverse side. He'd spent nearly two hours with the dog, having picked him up early after choosing the puppy nearly a week earlier and visiting him every other day at the pet shop.

He didn't think it was right to put the dog in a cage or make him sit somewhere to appear presentable and so he simply let the dog run around her room as he spotted her car from the window. A thick red bow was gently tied around his neck, yet Zach was far too eager to give Ana her gift to notice that he'd chewed up a decent portion of it.

Ana, on the other hand, was slightly frustrated as she closed her phone for the fifth time that hour - why wasn't Zach's phone on? She replaced her hands on the wheel as she turned the last corner before her house and within a few minutes time, she had pulled into her driveway, a bit faster than her father usually allowed. She had almost decided to stop at Zach's to see where he was but she decided against it. It was her birthday... she wasn't going to go seeking him out. Especially when he hadn't mentioned anything as far as what they were doing (aside from the obviously planned picnic). She also had no idea if she was even getting the gift she wanted - her father had avoided any and all conversations about it and strangely, her mother as well. It was just... not turning out to be a good day. He'd better call me soon... she sighed to herself as she climbed from her car and started up the walk to her porch, checking her wristwatch briefly.

Zach grinned as he watched her, aware just by her mannerisms that she wasn't happy. He was amused by how seemingly annoyed she looked and he turned from the window when she was no longer visible. Unable to decide where to stand or how to surprise her, Zach decided to remain where he was with his hands in his pockets. The dog looked busy sniffing an article of clothing and rather than hold it and risk the dog barking and giving away her gift, he decided to let it continue whatever it was doing.

Ana climbed the stairs to her bedroom, sighing quietly to herself as her purse hung heavy by its straps in her fist. She could only hope Zach had planned a picnic nothing short of amazing to make up for whatever stunt he was currently pulling; maybe he had some sort of surprise planned? Maybe he was trying to get her to think he forgot her birthday somehow? It would be impossible, after all. There had been years when even she had forgotten her birthday and Zach would remind her before even her parents could.

She reached her bedroom and carelessly turned the knob, opening her door and heading in right for her desk to set her things down. Zach happened to be standing just enough out of view for her to miss his presence completely yet in the corner of her eye, she caught something moving on the floor and she froze in place as she realized what exactly it was. Uncaring of the fact that it had half of the sleeve of Zach's sweatshirt hanging from its mouth, Ana could only stare in disbelief at the puppy she saw, her arm still raised in midair in effort to set her purse down.

Zach found it amusing that she'd yet to take note of him and he followed her with a silent smirk until his eyes turned to the dog and he took notice of his sweatshirt which was apparently the dog's new chew toy. "You mutt, that's mine!" he grumbled, failing to even greet Ana as he pulled his hands from his pockets and let out a grunt of annoyance as he hurried over, watching the dog playfully scramble away, dragging the sweatshirt as best as the small puppy was able, thinking it a game when Zach took hold of the other end of it.

Instantly, Ana jumped at the unexpected sound of Zach's voice, yet she was still too stunned to think of yelling at him over his phone. Yet all she could do was laugh as her disbelief remained with her and she watched Zach hurry after the dog as it tried to drag his sweatshirt away until the other sleeve was caught. She didn't bother to say a word as she carelessly dropped her bag and let it fall over the edge of her desk to the floor, her excitement obvious by her smile, and within moments, she'd scooped the puppy up and held him at arms length for a moment before pulling him into her chest, the sweatshirt abandoned on the floor. "Zach," she began, turning to face him with a still-widening smile, "He's perfect."

Zach was left hunched over with the sweatshirt in hand, sighing as he stood and kept the sleeve dangling at his side. A slow grin appeared on his face at the compliment and he watched her hug the small animal, finding that she might've actually had a point. The dog might have been the perfect distraction while he left for college.

He stepped forward slowly, dropping the sweatshirt finally and he reached up to gently rake her hair back from her face and lean in to kiss her cheek as she played with the dog. "Happy birthday," he sighed, simply happy she was happy.

"He's the cutest thing I've ever seen!" she laughed, jostling the puppy gently in her arms and watching him look around curiously. "Kinda looks like you," she teased, looking away from the dog only briefly to grin aside at Zach where he stood. "Can we take him to the park with us?" she questioned as she continued to smile, for the moment unwilling to set the puppy down even as he began to strain in her arms toward the abandoned sweatshirt on the floor, his interest in it quite obvious. She knew it would be a stupid decision, one that would serve as an unnecessary distraction during her birthday picnic, but... she simply couldn't resist.

Zach had been expecting such a thing and he easily nodded as he watched her struggle, reaching out to take him off her hands as he nodded for her to move. "Go get your stuff," he smiled, only taking him to put him back down since the squirming was something he cared not to deal with. He did jump, however, when he realized the door was still open and closed it just in time before the pup attempted to run out and try the stairs. Zach wasn't used to animals and he found himself unsure of what it could and could not do.

Fortunately, Ana didn't need anything but her purse and as she slung it over her shoulder, she crouched and easily held her arms out for the puppy to come back. "I think it's funny that I'm going to name a dog after you. That doesn't say much about you, does it?" she laughed, making a few brief kissing sounds as she waved the dog closer, "...come here, puppy! Come on!" Surprisingly, the puppy scampered back over and allowed Ana to swiftly lift him back into her arms. "Okay," she continued to laugh as the puppy strained to lean up and lick her face, "I'm ready."

Apparently Zach had chosen an attentive dog and he was all the more glad for it. He knew Ana wouldn't be satisfied with a dog that wanted to sleep all the time and he was increasingly pleased with his choice as puppy-Zach quietly yelped and strained to get free or play with her.

"Ana- Ana!" Zach laughed, sighing as he slowed the car and raised his brows upon looking over at her. "Hold onto him," he stated as he felt a paw at his elbow and the dog struggling to climb into his own lap. He'd offered to set the dog down in the back, having put the air conditioning on rather than opening the windows so the dog wouldn't get hurt or scared (as per Ana's request).

"I'm sorry, he's just- Zach, stop," Ana laughed in the midst of scolding the puppy, finding it would be difficult to address her boyfriend and the puppy clearly when they were in the same space as one another. She held the puppy closer into her own lap, gasping as his paw managed to press the seatbelt buckle and unfasten her belt.

It was a long twenty minute drive, Zach slowing with every scold from Ana since she'd borrowed his name for the puppy. When they finally parked the car, Zach told her to hold still while he fished out the additional gift. He handed her the box with a sigh, taking the dog in his own lap and smirking as it easily quieted down and grew still under Zach's hand as he petted him. They simply couldn't go to the park without having the dog on a leash.

"See, now why can't he do that for me? All he wants to do is squirm and lick me!" she protested with a smile, reaching out to brush his nose with her fingertips even as she held the box she'd been given. In response, he licked at his nose and upon seeing Ana's attention shift to the box as she began to unwrap it, he strained forward in Zach's hold this time, his nose sniffing at what it was she was opening.

Inside, the collar, i.d. tag and lease were perfect additions to her gift and instantly, she reached out with the open collar and carefully fastened it around the puppy's neck. She fluffed his ears just after and laughed as he simply looked up at Zach as if confused over what Ana had put on him.

"You'll get used to her," Zach said flatly to the dog, grinning as he lifted his attention to Ana and leaned forward to kiss her. The feeling of the dog pawing at him and climbing from his lap to hers made him sigh as he pulled back to comment. "Don't even tell me this dog gets jealous," he joked.

"I wouldn't be surprised," Ana answered quietly, reaching out to draw him back to her lips with a smile as her other arm reached to hold the puppy closer. "His name is Zach," she added against his lips with a quiet laugh, quickly ducking away from the kiss with a quiet shout of surprise as the puppy leaned up enough to lick at her neck. "Yeah. He's jealous..." she sighed, returning her attention to the puppy before leaning down to kiss his head.

"I get the bed," Zach stated defensively at the idea of the dog attempting to take his spot when he (if ever) slept over. He assumed Ana would be bringing the dog over to his extension a lot and the idea of him getting comfortable in his bed was on he playfully disapproved of. "No moving in on my woman," he clarified upon opening his door to get out and gather the picnic basket and blanket.

"I think he's jealous too," Ana playfully whispered to the puppy in regard to Zach as she continued to pet him where she sat for a few moments before carefully going about attaching the clasp of his leash to the link on the collar. "Okay, ready? You can't run off now..." she sighed and held him against her chest with one arm, opening the door and crouching to carefully set the puppy down on his feet. Instantly, he began to look around, yet surprisingly, he didn't pull against the leash or Ana's hold and she smiled at the fact that he seemed inherently obedient.

The puppy couldn't have been more than a handful of weeks old and Zach lowered the basket to his side, the blanket over his arm as he eyed the unmoving dog expectantly. "C'mon," he stated, trying a lighter tone this time as he waved the arm with the blanket briefly in the direction they were about to go. "C'mon, Zach," he sighed, rolling his eyes a little at the ridiculousness of having the same name as the dog.

Ana merely smiled to herself as she watched the puppy on the end of the leash as Zach addressed it, partially unable to believe it was really hers. "This is the best present ever." They began to walk, and Ana found herself utterly amused that the puppy walked at the same pace as she and Zach. "...and he's definitely the best dog ever." Switching the leash to her other hand, she slipped her now-free hand into Zach's to hold it. "I feel like such an old couple. We're so retarded," she laughed.

Zach took a moment amidst his short laughter to contemplate her statement. There the two were, hand-in-hand walking their dog as they made their way to a familiar tree for a picnic. Gently pulling his hand from hers, he slowed to give her a stare of disbelief. "When did you turn me into such a wuss?"

Ana let out a sound of disbelief as well, eyeing the hand Zach had pulled away from her hold before reaching out abruptly to take it again, instantly causing the puppy to offer a quiet whine. Apparently, it seemed to the puppy that the two were fighting. "Hey! Uh, why does it matter?" Ana challenged, smiling faintly as the two stopped and Ana continued to eye him expectantly. "Who are you trying to impress, huh?"

Zach took her hand again with a sigh as he stared away. Cameron might've made some comments to tease him, but he knew his friend was longing for a steady girlfriend. Kyle, too, had taken his fair share of cracks at Zach and Ana's relationship, yet he was no better with his new girlfriend, practically blushing any time the two were around other people.

Once they reached the familiar tree, Zach set down the blanket and the basket, dropping to sit as he called to the puppy as he reached into the basket for the box of treats he'd bought as well. It might've been a lot of money to spend, but Zach knew this was Ana's dog and she didn't have the money to feed and properly take care of the dog on her own.

Between the puppy, the accessories for the puppy and the ring she wore every day, Ana couldn't believe how much money Zach had spent on her throughout the course of their relationship. The puppy obediently took a seat beside Zach and Ana easily dropped to sit as well, the loop of the leash still around her wrist securely. "You really did a lot..." she commented quietly, taking a moment to absorb all of the effort Zach put into making her birthday a memorable one. She easily shifted closer on the blanket and leaned across the basket to offer him a real, sincere kiss, ignoring the sound the puppy offered as attention was once again diverted from him.

Zach felt the puppy taking the treat from his hand, a quiet laugh leaving him at the cold and wet feeling of the dog's nose as he sniffed for more and began to lick Zach's hand. Pulling his hand away and wiping it against his jeans, he leaned into the kiss with a small smile. "You happy?" he questioned quietly against her lips. It was all that mattered to him.

"You have to ask..?" Ana answered with a helpless laugh, pressing her lips firmly to Zach's just afterward. "It'll still be hard to let you go though... but he helps," she added quietly, pulling away slowly and reluctantly for them to be able to enjoy their picnic.

Pulling back as well, Zach offered a small smile as he nodded just faintly. He'd begun to accept the short references to his leaving- they simply couldn't be helped. There was no ignoring that he would be gone in only a matter of weeks and he found he could no longer refuse to discuss it. There was still time to spend together and Zach knew that without the quiet and short-lived reminders, he would never be able to pull himself from her. It seemed that although it hurt, he was finally beginning to address it. They would be together again for all major holidays and any weekend one of them could spare, but Zach knew he had to accept the reality of leaving her.

Thankful that she was able to dismiss the topic as easily as it was brought up nowadays, Zach felt more relaxed with mentioning any school-related material he received in the mail or his roommate-situation when the guy called to discuss who was bringing what.

It seemed things were falling into place and with one look at the puppy who shared his name as Ana smiled and held him, he knew he was making the right decision. It might hurt to leave her, but absence would make the heart grow fonder. He had nothing to be worried about.

- The End -

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