A/N:  I wrote this very quickly after watching the second season episode ‘Broken Heart, Broken Mask’ this afternoon.  This isn’t beta read, so all mistakes are mine!

                                        A Brain Fully Fried

                                         by Linda Bindner

Diego rolled to his side on the wall, ungloved fingers clinging to the crumbly adobe.  His sword made a slight scraping sound as he wriggled over a protruding rose vine decorating the wall surrounding the de la Vega courtyard, but he was sure the sound wasn’t louder than the thundering of his heart.  He’d just lived through what could possibly be the best moment in his entire life.  He closed his eyes for a second to savor the memory one more time.

Victoria had kissed him.  One instant he had been staring at her, lost in her dark eyes, and the next, she had simply leaned forward and kissed him.  It was exactly what he wanted to do more than anything in that one moment, and exactly what he had warned himself against.  He had come here tonight as Zorro to urge her to marry Diego, but he couldn’t help admitting that he had feelings for her just as she had feelings for him.  When she had kissed him, the sensation of her soft lips had gone straight to his head, and before he knew it, he was kissing her back.  It was already becoming the best single few seconds in his life, a stolen sliver of time that he would treasure forever.

Then of course he had run away as fast as his boots could carry him, but that wasn’t the point.  The point was…

Diego’s face dissolved into another sappy smile.  The point, he reflected, was that Victoria was fine, and if the last few minutes were any indication, he was fine as well.  Life at this very moment was simply glorious.  No, it was better than glorious.  It was perfect.

Perfect didn’t mean free from danger, however.  With an iron grip on his careening emotions, Diego forced himself to recall that he was now a masked bandit without a mask.  Victoria had his mask after he had rashly laid it over the rose vine for her to find.  Now that he had time to reflect on it, perhaps it had been a completely impetuous, reckless act, barely thought through.  But it had also been very romantic.  It was probably the most romantic thing he had ever done.  It was also the most daring.

And maybe the most stupid.  Now he was without a mask.  He could just imagine the delighted grin on the Alcalde’s face right before he hung him for being an outlaw wanted by the Spanish crown.  Felipe would never let him hear the end of it if he ever found out about this maskless escapade.

But if things went according to his hastily concocted plan, Felipe was never going to find out a thing.  All he wanted was one quick look around the courtyard in case Victoria had left anything for Zorro the way Zorro had left something for her, then he would be gone, back to the safety of the cave.  He knew it was silly to hope for something to commemorate this moment, but he figured that a first kiss was a good excuse for being silly.

Except everything was as it should be.  Diego, dressed as Zorro, swiftly crossed from one side of the courtyard to the other, his gaze piercing each crack and crevice of the tiny space set aside for the family’s relaxation.

But it all looked the same as it ever did.  The iron of the chairs and table winked in the moonlight, the rose trellis cast wavering shadows in the dust, the roses trembled on a slight breeze.  The open door and glass paned window beside it were dark stains in the moonlit courtyard.  Nothing seemed amiss.   Nothing seemed out of place.  Victoria had taken his mask, a huge smile on her face, then obviously retired for the night.  Clearly she had left nothing for him.  He was wasting his time.

But he couldn’t help it!  The memory of the kiss accosted him yet again, making his heart race so fast in his chest that he swore his black shirt moved with every beat.

The thundering of blood in his ears turned suddenly into the sound of a shoe scraping on the dirt that often collected just inside the hacienda door.  Someone was coming.  If they saw him without his mask..!

Quick as a blink, Diego leaped straight up to cling precariously to several poles that stuck out the side of the hacienda’s adobe walls.  Hopefully whoever was coming to the enclosed courtyard at this late hour wouldn’t see him hanging above them.

There was just one thing wrong with this plan. He was up and out of sight, but his cape wasn’t.

Zorro’s long black cape gently flapped in the breeze just as a jubilant Victoria emerged from inside the hacienda.  She looked carefully but quickly around, only missing seeing the swaying cape because she stood just inches in front of it.  Diego held his breath, hoping beyond hope that she wouldn’t look behind her.

She didn’t.

The lonely hoot of an owl cut the silence in the courtyard.  A breath later, Victoria crept to the same hanging rose vine where Zorro had left his mask only moments earlier.  Reaching beneath the brown belt she wore with her skirt, she deftly drew forth a white monogrammed handkerchief, spread it wide, smiled, kissed it once, then laid it carefully across the roses.

Just as Victoria’s attention was focused on draping the material across the flowers, Diego slowly drew his cape up one-handed, inching it into his fist until it was wrapped securely in his hands and legs.

Just in time, too.  With one last grin, Victoria gave a quick spin, then gasped.  Her hand flew to her front to cup the light shirtwaist she was wearing.  She drew a rugged breath,  then slowly massaged the spot she’d been shot, kneading the fingertips of her left hand again and again into the muscles surrounding the place where Bishop’s bullet had hit.  More of her ragged breathing split through the courtyard, rasping into the night air.

Each huff of breath cut through Diego like a knife, shredding his heart in seconds.  Pain that had nothing to do with his precarious position numbed his mind, and before he could stop it, guilt roared along behind it.  Her pain was all his fault.

But a moment later, it was over.  Victoria calmed, and took one last deep breath.  She glanced surreptitiously around once again, then crept slowly back towards the open door.

When she was near the door but still several steps away, a horrendous crash that came from the hacienda shattered the quiet.  Startled, Victoria jumped.  Diego worried she might have hurt herself again, but she hurried into the hacienda before he could be sure.  The door slammed shut behind her.

Quiet reigned once more.  Five minutes crawled by, cut only by muffled voices coming from inside the hacienda.  Diego clearly heard his father say something, answered by Victoria, then silence again, then his father’s voice, followed by more silence, what sounded like several footsteps, then a broom brushing over the floor.

“No harm done,” Don Alejandro insisted in a loud, penetrating voice.  “I’m just glad you weren’t hurt.”

That was Diego’s cue to drop to his feet beside the darkened window.  Good, he thought.  Someone had the foresight to draw the curtain across the opening.  Dimmed light still suffused the material, but it was better than being highlighted by what was obviously several candles set just inside the door.

Diego suspected he had Felipe to thank for his dark deliverance, but he didn’t have time to contemplate that more completely just now.  He hurried across the courtyard, grabbed the handkerchief in one hand, the branch of a nearby tree with the other, then hauled himself up onto the edge of the wall without a noise.  He tucked the handkerchief beneath his black sash before vaulting over the wall and out of sight.  The dark of night swallowed him up, the black cloaking his stealthy movements.  A second later, Diego had disappeared.

The courtyard was silent once again.  An owl hooted very close by now that there was no one to disturb his nightly visit.  The roses rustled in the night wind.  The moon burned bright with white light.  Someone blew out the candles inside the hacienda.  Quiet reigned once again, and the world slept.

The End