Note: This is an AU expansion of the episode An Explosive Situation. In that episode, we never saw what it was that Diego fantasized about, his 'hopes and dreams' of the future. This story is just one attempt to answer that intriguing question.

Diego's Dream

by Linda Bindner

Diego watched the smoke curl around the three people held prisoner with him in the supply room located behind the bar of the tavern. They were all growing sleepy from the dangerous amount of smoke that they had been forced to inhale, but that was the least of his concerns at the moment. If they somehow managed to get out of this situation alive, it wouldn't take too much to jar these people's imagination until they asked themselves why Zorro hadn't come to their rescue, and then they would begin to surmise that Zorro hadn't rescued them because Zorro was a prisoner as well as they were, and that he couldn't come to their rescue because he was one of them. Then, it wouldn't take much stretch of their minds to project an image of Zorro in the area behind their eyes, letting their minds see what their other organs hadn't seen as of yet, and find a match in the unlikely form of the well-known caballero Diego de la Vega.

They were all conceivable future identifiers of him. Especially Victoria, who was always much closer to him than the others, would be able to bend her sharp mind around the puzzle of his identity. She wanted to know who he was the most, so it was only common sense that it would be she who figured him out sooner than the others. It was rather amazing that she hadn't already discovered his true identity in the first place. Perhaps she didn't really want to discover his secret, and had therefor not paid very close attention to his looks during all those times when he had thundered into town on Toronado. It was possible.

But all of this hypothesizing would prove to be moot if they were blown to smithereens by Ricardo Quintana's crude but effective bomb. Diego had bigger problems than just smoke inhalation and identity detection. If he didn't do something, and soon, they would all be nothing but smears on the tavern's walls. It didn't concern him overly much in Luis Ramon's instance, but he definitely didn't wish an untimely death to be Victoria's fate, not when he could do something about it.

He deduced that they had about a half an hour left. Thirty minutes wasn't much time in order to think of some way that would save them all by extinguishing the gun powder flame, but that would also be something that would hide his secret identity as Zorro. That identity must be protected at all costs, especially considering that Alcalde Ramon was detained, much like himself, on the other side of the room. He, too, was tied by rope to a ring linked to a hook, which had then been firmly impeded in the wall, as were they all, completely, if crudely, immobilizing them. The large cabinet that his father and the Alcalde had tipped over about fifteen minutes earlier in an attempt to distinguish the flame kept reverberating in his mind, but that attempt had failed in its job as the cabinet had proved to be about a foot too short in reaching its goal; the flame had easily passed by the downed cabinet, unharmed.

Still, tipping over a piece of furniture had been a good idea, and Diego mentally applauded their effort. It was only bad luck that it hadn't worked. There must be some other way to douse the flame that he had overlooked. In haste, now, Diego panned his gaze around the room, trying to catalog everything he saw.

But that phrase that Quintana had uttered right before he had left the back room kept getting in the way of Diego's organizing chore. The ex-criminal had said something about future hopes and dreams, specifically, their hopes and dreams. He had an idea of what Luis Ramon's dreams were about; he wanted his post as alcalde of the Los Angeles pueblo to prove to be a stepping stone in his political career; he saw himself as a commandant, at least, on in charge of a cadre of soldiers in a pueblo that was more aesthetically pleasing than Los Angeles had proven to be. He obviously hadn't considered that being in charge of a cadre of soldiers also meant that he was very likely going to be posted near a war zone where all those soldiers would be the most useful. But if he had a death wish, it was hardly any of Diego's business; he simply wanted the military man to leave Los Angeles and not look back. He didn't particularly care if that man realized his dream.

And Diego's father; what did he dream about? Diego had the answer to that question as soon as the thought had formed in his mind. His father wanted grandbabies, plain and simple. But in order to get those grandchildren, he would have to live through this farce of a birthday party and preside at his son's wedding.

And the good sergeant; what was his greatest desire? Diego also had the answer to that question as soon as he asked himself; Sergeant Mendoza was a simple man who simply wanted beans, more and more beans, with which to fill his stomach. That was all it would take to achieve the sergeant's greatest desires.

Victoria dreamed about Zorro, Diego knew, but he didn't allow his ego to get too carried away with that knowledge. Diego reminded himself that Victoria was in love with Zorro, and not with Don Diego. The fact hat he was the masked man mattered not a jot. Unless Victoria somehow discovered his secret identity, and accepted that it was he who had declared his intentions towards her in front of everybody in the town plaza, he didn't see how that lady could possibly accomplish her dream and turn it around to become more reality than fantasy.

That left him. He tried to avert his wandering attention, but the idea of his dreams coming true was too strong to avoid them forever. Although there were very pressing matters that were also very real at the moment, he couldn't ignore the attraction he found in those dreams of his concerning the future. Diego had always done his best to not look too far ahead for himself, as he never knew when he might become an unlucky mark for some bandit's sword or pistol. But now, he almost couldn't resist the allure of giving in to the hopes and dreams that Quintana had been referring to when he had said his goodbyes thirty minutes before. He did his best not to give in to those dreams' incontestable magnetism, but he found that he couldn't quite disregard them any longer. Before he knew it, Diego found himself in the shrouded mists of a future that had as of yet not unfolded. Depending on a particular person's views, that was both a good thing and a bad thing. He gave in to the pull of the good and found himself contemplating his future for perhaps the first time ever.

The first thing he wanted to do, assuming he lived to see the next year of his life, was to tell Victoria everything if she hadn't already somehow managed to discover his dark secret on her own. Since this was his dream, and events had to transpire as he ordered them to, Victoria would accept the fact that it was him playing the part of her hero in a sort of unconditional glory, without question. He didn't actually know how that 'without question' would come about... He sort of skipped over that part in his mind... but he only had to know that it had happened and he almost fell pray right then and there to her fantastical acknowledgment of him and began planning the wedding. Because, of course, she was as in love with him as he was with her. It was an incontestable fact that he wished to marry, and and that he wished to marry her in particular, a dream that he had proclaimed to himself in the quieter moments of his life, the few quiet moments that he'd had, he added with a wry mental twist.

Of course, Victoria would immediately become pregnant, as he wanted a baby almost as much as he wished for a wife, he admitted to himself. He also skipped over the part where Victoria gave birth to this imaginary baby, as her face contorted by the pain of labor played no part in his mental embellishments. Instead, he moved instantly to the few moments following the birth, when a miraculously cleaned and content newborn... boy or girl... he didn't have any exact wish to have a son over a daughter at this juncture, so he neglected to pinpoint the gender of the baby, settling on a neutral gender in the meantime... snuggled up in his arms and yawned right before falling to sleep. Nowhere in these dreams did a crying baby deviled by the curse of colic have any role, so he ignored that possibility, choosing to zero in on the best possible outcome for his dreams instead of the most realistic one. That could come later, when the events that he was dreaming about had had a chance of actually coming true. Now was not the time for reality, he firmly told himself; now was the time for wish fulfillment, no matter how incredible those wishes were. In fact, he decided, the more unlikely, the better. After all, if he was going to cut loose and dare to dream, then he was going to make those dreams turn into darned memorable ones.

So, how many children did he want? Was there an actual number? Two, three, four? The only thing he knew for certain was that he did not want to have an only child. He had never been blessed with siblings, and his baby sister had died at birth, along with his mother, so he had lived the solitary life of a single child. He only comprehended the fact that there had been times in his childhood that he had been so lonely, he had physically ached. He did not want any child of his to experience such a condition. So, he planned for a small family, of a large one, but not just one child. That was his only adamant criteria that he had for his dreams.

But, it was when he reached this undeniably enjoyable crossroad of his dreams that real life broke through his haze as the sound of the popping of the gunpowder flame imbeded itself in his mind. Try as he might, he could not relax enough after that to recapture the seductive stream of his fantasy, and he suddenly and quite abruptly found himself staring at the flame as it aimed for a moment at the tavern room's ceiling. It was with a start that he realized that the flame had traveled a considerable distance while he had been lost in daydreams, and it was now directly in front of him. Its location was both good and bad. It was good, because as it had come nearer to him, he could potentially do something about it. It was bad because as it drew ever nearer to him, and as he was the prisoner closest to where Quintana had left the overturned barrel of excess gunpowder, it became his responsibility to do something about extinguishing the flame and saving them all. The need to protect Zorro's identity in the midst of that rescue was becoming less and less important as time went on, and it eventually burned completely out as the flame grew stronger.

Thus freed from the need to act as protector, Diego was able to think clearly for the first time since Quintana had started the flame with his pistol. Growing desperate, realizing that the time that had been allotted to them was disappearing, he glanced around the tiny room once more, and it was then that his sight landed on an open bottle of wine sitting, forgotten, on top of a table. At first, he tried to catch the edge of the cascading tablecloth with his boots, inconveniently recalling how he had fallen into trouble when he had been a child and tried to pull a cloth exactly like Victoria's out from under the supper dishes without breaking a dish, just to see if he could (he couldn't). Then, when he couldn't quite reach the edge of the table cloth, he aimed for hooking his boots around the table leg. All the while, he was acutely conscious of the flame drawing nearer and nearer... It grew in his mind until it filled up his consciousness, crowding out the dreams and hopes that Ricardo Quintana had mentioned them as never being able to realize now. He succeeded better at hooking his boot around the table, drew the table closer to him, then kicked for all he was worth. That table scooted across the floor until it collided with a second table that the wine was resting on... and the wine bottle wobbled and toppled over, spilling its contents, thoroughly dousing the flame, until the conflagration had become nothing but a wisp of steam in the after math of the wine's fall from the bottle.

Diego instantly closed his eyes in gratitude and breathed easier. Actually, all of them, had been fortunate that the bottle had been almost full at the time he'd kicked the table, spilling the wine. Any less, and the flame might have spurted back to life. But, in this case, the liquid had completely drenched the trail of gunpowder as it snaked across the floor, making it impossible for a spontaneous relighting of the flame. The stench of wet gunpowder and steam took the place of smoke in the room as he yanked experimentally on his pin stuck into the wall over his head. Belatedly, he realized that the pin holding his wrists captive and attached to the wall was loose, showed signs of hurry in its installation, and if he had spent the entire fifty minutes working on the pin instead of daydreaming, he might have forced it to slide out of its hole in the wall. But he only thought of that after the fact, after he'd once again saved them all from utter ruin, saved them to live to dream another day.

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