It was coming. A storm as mighty as the worst ever seen in California was destined to erupt into full fury right there in sleepy Pueblo de Los Angeles. Felipe just hoped he had the skills necessary to weather the squall when the time came.
The boy stopped dusting the bowls, pans, and candlesticks of the laboratory to slump into the desk chair so he could better think while waiting for Diego to return from Zorro's latest adventure. With a sudden start, he realized what day it was: it was the anniversary of that first memorable sighting of the legendary masked man. On this day, Zorro turned exactly one year old.
Happiness suffused Felipe at the discovery. This event was almost as important to him as his own birthday. He couldn't fathom the fact that it had already been a year since his patrón had first donned the black outfit and begun the fight for justice. It had been a manic year, one full of learning curves, emotional highs and lows, danger, frustration, but above all, fun.
Yet, Felipe was a worry wart at heart. Concern that Zorro's constant good luck would slowly run out flooded his already anxious mind. Zorro's life, and Diego's, was like sand in an hourglass, flowing inexorably toward... something that threatened to be vastly unpleasant. Felipe tried to remind himself that this was his overdeveloped sense of drama talking, but he couldn't help worrying about this at the same time.
Right now, Diego loved being Zorro. He loved thwarting the Alcalde, loved pitting his wits against the plans of outlaws and bandits of various levels of malevolence, his skills with a sword and whip against agents of the Spanish military, and without doubt, loved saving every last one of the Los Angeles citizens from the excesses of that government. It was a game to him; a dangerous, exciting, glorious game meant to save the poor, rescue the downtrodden, champion the underdog, and protect the innocent.
And it was obvious that Diego was good at it. He made baffoons of the men in power, uncovered plots, captured outlaws, flirted with the good will of the victims involved, all the time romancing Victoria Escalante, the owner of the local tavern. To top all this off, he had so far eluded capture and eventual hanging himself, despite the best efforts of the Alcalde and the garrison of soldiers stationed at Los Angeles. Watching Diego cavort as Zorro was truly a sight worth seeing.
And yet, Felipe again felt that chill that had nothing to do with the sunny California weather. He simply couldn't help it at this point, but tried to hide his concerns from Diego. If only he could conceal them from himself at the same time.
He worried that on some undisclosed day that was (hopefully) far in the distant future, this legend that Zorro had evolved into would come crashing down around his and Diego's ears. The worry was as consuming for Felipe as the pleasure he got out of being the single recipient of Diego's most guarded secret.
He prayed that it would never come about, even as he suspected that it was inevitable. It was as clear to him as one of Diego's paintings; being Zorro would eventually become onerous to Diego. The secret he must keep for the sake and safety of others would cease to be the game it now was. Catching bandits would become a job, and thwarting the Alcalde would become tedious instead of the amusing diversion it currently was. The joy of being Zorro would turn sour, the fun slowly erode away. The exciting future chases would tarnish, the sharpening of his courage would dull until there was very little delight to be gained by impeding yet one more outlaw or preventing the wild schemes of the men representing the Provisional Spanish Government.
Felipe suspected that all this tarnishing and dullness would come about by the one thing that his friend would never be able to control; the consequences of his actions. Felipe knew that things would have to become quite untenable before Diego would even consider letting Victoria in on his secret, and that fact was sure to create a lot of frustration for the caballero. Felipe didn't want his patrón to be in pain, but didn't see what he could do to avoid it, either. As was often the case when one was the legendary Zorro, Diego was on his own in this.
But even as Diego was secretly intractable, he was simultaneously an open book to Felipe, and always had been. As if it was written in plain script for his eyes only, the future of his best friend slowly unraveled before his mind's eye. The light flirtation that Diego had so cavalierly started with Victoria Escalante all those months ago was already eating away at his stalwart soul. In spite of the efforts Diego used to conceal that fact, Felipe could tell. There would come a time when Diego wouldn't be able to deny that he was in effect asking a delightful woman to spend the best years of her life waiting for a bandit to fulfill his rashly made promise to love and marry her, all the while busily playing hero to the people.
The really sad thing about this situation was that Victoria Escalante was truly the perfect antithesis for Diego... as well as for Zorro. She had always been the center in the universe to the man in black. To Diego, she was the person who added balance to what was a life fraught with the constant danger of discovery.
But therein lay the problem. Victoria was the ending for the beginning that was Zorro... but also for Diego, and as Diego was Zorro... not that Victoria knew the legend's identity any more than anybody else did. So in effect, Diego hid behind Zorro's mask in order to champion the people, but also to further his budding relationship with Victoria. The mask protected everyone, including him, but also kept him from living his real life. It acted as a mask should... it masked. The bad part for Diego was that it also successfully masked his heart. As of now, the only part of Diego that Victoria even saw was the part with a price on his head. Diego would one day need to find his courage and let Victoria in on his secret, before that secret destroyed him, and her with it.
Felipe didn't know what he thought about that future sharing-of-Diego's-secret with Victoria. He supposed that he wouldn't necessarily like sharing the secret, no matter who that other recipient was. The fact that it would most likely be Victoria Escalante set his mind somewhat at ease. At least he liked Victoria. She was one of the few people in the pueblo who had never treated him as less than a person just because he couldn't speak. She had never been bothered by his handicap, and that meant more to Felipe than most anything else she could have done. He hero worshiped Diego, but was willing to be Victoria's slave, if she ever asked. However, she never would, and that, in Felipe's estimation, was what made Victoria a truly wonderful person.
So in essence, Diego had to contend with the coming of two future storms: the souring of being Zorro, and the limitations of what he could become for Victoria. Yes, the storm... or in this case, storms... were coming, and Felipe understood that he had better prepare himself now, while he had a chance to avert the possible disasters for a while longer yet. He realized that it would probably take nothing short of a miracle to hold that possible future at bay, but Felipe was a hopeful idealist if he was anything.
At least he wasn't yet a hopeless idealist. He idly wondered if Diego knew that he carried all his hopes and dreams with him every time he left the cave as Zorro. Would things be better if he let Diego know?
Probably not. Like Diego, Felipe was alone in this.
The story of my life, Felipe grumbled to himself as he rose to continue with his cleaning duties while impatiently awaiting Zorro's return.
As he straightened the items on the worktable, stacked the books and dried the few experiment bowls that Diego had washed just an hour before, Felipe did his best to forget about his recent concerns, doing everything he could that might distract himself. But he knew it like he knew his name; the storm was coming... it was only a matter of time.
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