A/N: Chapters 10 and 11 act as denoument chapters, so I’ll post them together.
Five hours later, Diego had eaten, bathed, dressed in clean clothes that didn’t stink of the jail, let his father fuss over him, and was now sitting patiently at his desk in the cave as his watch ticked away the passing minutes. He had filled Toronado’s feeding trough with hay, the grain bag with a small mix of oats and corn, and the water bucket with enough water to satisfy what had to be a thirsty steed after all this time, but not so much that it would hurt the horse. He had made sure that his championship saber still hung in its place on the coat rack, then polished it till it gleamed. The sharpening stone was now silent and still, but the sword was so sharp that it sliced the hair that Diego pulled from his scalp into two lank pieces. Still Zorro had not returned.
Diego was now reduced to running his fingers over a book from top to bottom, then flipping it over to run it through his fingers again, over and over. He did that for
fifteen minutes, but the pulley system at the other end of the cave remained still. Fifteen more minutes passed. He tried reading the book rather than fiddling with it, but the words refused to hold his attention, and he returned to his fiddling.
Ten minutes later, the pulley system finally moved, heralding Toronado’s return. Diego sat back, refusing to budge from his seat at the desk until he actually laid eyes on Zorro’s black clad form. Once he did, he still refused to rise. He would wait to see what this other Zorro might do.
It was like watching himself ride into the cave. Toronado knew just where to go, only coming to a halt when he’d reached his stall and the small bag of grain that Diego had provided for him. Not wasting time, Zorro swung off his mount the second the black stallion came to a stop and began untacking him. First he pulled the bridle off the black head, hung it up on a peg on the wall after washing the bit in a bucket and straightening the reins, then pulled the heavy saddle from the horse’s back and slung it over the stall’s wooden gate for later cleaning. He began to run a brush over the horse’s sweaty flank, but Diego decided that he’d prolonged the silence long enough.
Maintaining the almost reverent hush that had fallen over the cave, he quietly asked, “Where have you been?”
Zorro paused in his brushing duties to stare thoughtfully at the opposite wall. “I’ve been around,” he vaguely answered, then admitted, “Out riding. I wanted to see for myself what Toronado can do.”
Diego was hardly a sympathetic listener. “I’ve been waiting for over an hour.”
Zorro removed his gloves to rub at a particularly stubborn section of dirt with his nails, smoothing out the black fur before saying, “Waiting isn’t fun, is it?”
So, Zorro wasn’t going to volunteer any details. This wasn’t going to be easy. Diego sighed in resignation, and resumed his book fiddling. Five more silent minutes
passed before Zorro was satisfied with the state of his horse, and backed out of Toronado’s stall. Only then did he rip off the black mask to regard Diego out of his familiar brown eyes.
“What did you want me to do?” Felipe rhetorically asked as he pulled the fake moustache from his upper lip and wiped away the glue used for Pueblo dramas that still clung to his skin. “Let the Alcalde hang you? Let Bishop run free to terrorize Señorita Escalante some more?”
“Tell me one thing, Felipe,” Diego demanded instead of answering. “When did you learn to speak?”
Felipe gushed out a breath of air like he was about to enter the lion’s den. “I haven’t been waiting each time you rode out all these years.” Then he rolled his eyes and conceded, “Well yes, I was waiting, but that wasn’t all I was doing. I passed the time by reading up on the throat muscles, on tongue movement, on lip movement, on pronunciation technique, on articulation and emphasis, and above all, the importance of breath support. Then I practised… and practised, and practised.” Suddenly, he grinned. “There’s nothing like a good speech session to really get the blood flowing!”
Diego again grew flabbergasted. “But you sounded just like me! You had the same speech patterns, the same inflections, the same tone, the same voice…”
“Of course I did,” Felipe explained when Diego trailed into silence. “What if I had to be you someday, for when you got into trouble and only I could get you out of it.” He began changing his clothes as he spoke, and now looked wryly at Diego over his shoulder as he once again donned his own shirt. “Toronado won’t let just anybody ride him.”
“True, but--” Diego cut himself off to stare at Felipe in amazement. “Why did you never let me know? I would have been so pleased for you… am so pleased.”
Felipe pulled on his pants, his wry smile turning rueful. “You have this way about you, of… sort of taking over,” he apologetically said. “Kind of like your father.”
“Oh,” Diego thoughtfully replied. “I’m not sure I like the sound of that.”
Felipe put out a placating hand. “Don’t think of it that way. Both you and your father go about taking control in very different ways. Don Alejandro bursts in and takes over because he thinks he can do a better job. You take over because you can do a better job.”
In spite of the complement, Diego just looked sad. “But you didn’t want me to help you regain your voice.”
Felipe looked abashed instead of sad. “It’s my voice.”
“And that’s why you worked so hard at sounding just like me, right?”
Despite the serious nature of their discussion, Felipe grinned. “That was an afterthought, though a good one.”
“Yes, especially for me,” Diego dryly responded.
Felipe couldn’t quite hide the grin on his face. “Look, Father, we can go--”
“Say that again,” Diego demanded.
But Felipe was mystified. “What did I say?”
“You called me ‘Father.’” Diego smiled now in wonder. “Nobody’s ever called me that before.”
The grin on Felipe’s face was completely genuine now. “I’m happy to call you that for the rest of my life.”
The answering smile on Diego’s face faded. “After today, that life may be somewhat shortened, unfortunately.”
Felipe’s regret showed on his face. “I’m sorry about today. But I couldn’t let either of them kill me… kill you.”
“They weren’t trying to kill either one of us,” Diego corrected. “They were trying to kill Zorro.”
“And now neither of them ever will again.”
Diego knowingly eyed his son. “The Alcalde will try if I know anything about Ignacio De Soto.”
Felipe shook his head and argued, “I don’t think so.”
Diego argued back, “The Alcalde hates to be made to look foolish.”
“Well, he is foolish. He was working with Bishop.”
Diego glanced sharply at Felipe. “Don’t underestimate him.”
“The danger isn’t that I’ll underestimate him, but that he’ll underestimate me.”
“You mean Zorro. He’ll underestimate Zorro.”
Felipe didn’t have an answer to that.
Diego sighed again, and sat up. “Felipe, about what happened today…”
Felipe’s face turned hard. “Today Zorro ensured two wonderful people can be together without danger of interference on Bishop’s part, or prejudice on the Alcalde’s. How he accomplished that should be put down to differences style. You have your brand of justice, I have mine.”
“But Zorro never kills. You know that.”
“And so does every bandit this side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.”
Diego couldn’t argue with that. “Bishop did say something similar.”
“Yes, I heard him. I also heard you talking to Señorita Victoria.”
Diego slowly stood. “That was you?”
Felipe grinned again, clearly not realizing what he was confessing to. “Private Peralto and I were ordered to ‘listen for the prisoner’s confession.’ The Private was listening; I was trying out my new lancer uniform.”
“Felipe!” Diego was gently incensed. “That was during daylight hours. What if you’d been recognized?”
The rude sound Felipe made was full of innuendo. “De Soto and his lancers only see what they want to see. And as I’m technically only a servant, and a deaf/mute one at that, the Alcalde doesn’t see me, and never has. Even after two years, he has no clue what I look like.”
“Again, don’t underestimate him,” Diego cautioned. “He’s a much worthier adversary than--”
Felipe made the same rude sound. “He may be a worthy adversary to you, but to me, he’s been a thorn in the side of the people for long enough. I’ll do my best to keep him alive, but I can’t and won’t promise anything.”
Diego’s brows went up. “So you plan to ride out as Zorro again?”
Felipe gently touched Diego’s arm. “Father, you got the girl. It’s time you enjoyed that for a change rather than just pine after her.”
“I don’t pine.”
Felipe grinned. “You forget who you’re talking to. It’s time to let someone else be Zorro now.”
Diego sighed sadly once again. “Perhaps you’re right.” He recalled the vow he’d made to himself in the tavern to put an end to Zorro’s adventures. Now he amended that vow to end instead his role in the Zorro legend, not the legend itself.
Suddenly curious, he asked, “How did De Soto learn about Bishop, anyway? The last time he came to Los Angeles, Alcalde Ramon was still in office.”
Felipe’s expression turned grim. “Bishop told me that De Soto read about him in Ramon’s pueblo accounts and tracked him down. He offered all 6000 pesos of the reward money if he could bring Zorro out in the open. How he did it was up to him.”
Diego sat for a frozen moment, baffled. “I’m astonished at the lengths Ignacio is willing to go just to capture Zorro.”
“I’m not,” Felipe brusquely announced. “When it comes to Zorro, that man is just this side of insane. If he was willing to kill you to capture Zorro, he was certainly willing to work with someone like Bishop.”
“I guess I have you to thank for convincing him otherwise.”
Felipe was again unapologetic. “I did what I had to do.”
Diego remembered saying something similar just the day before. He could hardly fault Felipe for doing what he had done in a similar situation. Suddenly he smiled a proud smile. “You really were marvelous today. When did you get such good reflexes? Your defensive skills are impressive.”
Felipe smiled the same embarrassed smile that he’d been using for years. “I had a good teacher.”
“Though I did notice that you never dismounted from Toronado.”
Felipe shrugged. “I’m not quite as tall as you are. Besides, I still can’t make that whistle to call Toronado like you do. And it was important that the Alcalde see both you and Zorro together at the same time to really believe that you aren’t Zorro.”
“Though I am… though not anymore,” Diego stated. He shook his head to shake away his confusion. “Where’d you get the sword?”
Felipe brightened. “Isn’t she a beauty? I saved any money I got from you or Don Alejandro for years before I had enough to have it commissioned in Monterey. I just got it last month.”
Diego swatted him. “You told me that was a present for Father!”
Felipe grinned. “And you believed every word I didn’t say.” And he waved his arms right under Diego’s nose in his typical gestures. “Now all I need is to learn your whistle and to grow a mustache. And I ask that you don’t say a word about how I can talk.”
Diego looked at him reproachfully. “Is this like the way we kept your ability to hear from my father?”
Felipe solemnly shook his head. “No. But...” His voice trailed off, then he grinned. “What an excellent way for Zorro to hide!”