It was a normal summer day in Los Angeles; hot already, even though it was only noon. Dust devils swirled in the wind that scoured through the plaza, children yelled happily in their game of tag played energetically around Padre Benitez, who tried to wend his way to the back of the mission where he planned to tie up his grape arbor again, and Sergeant Mendoza strolled leisurely from the tavern into the Alcalde's office, his red and blue uniform gleaming in the sunshine that washed the plaza into a hard bowl of clay. The only odd thing happening was an unknown man wearing an obscure uniform, riding an unfamiliar horse who burst into the plaza at a gallop, passing the de la Vegas as they rode under the weathered sign bearing the town's name and into the pueblo. The unknown soldier came to an abrupt halt from his gallop, spraying dust and debris everywhere, and disappeared into the cuartel.
Well, that's something new happening, commented Don
Alejandro to his son and Felipe, who were riding their own horses
at a respectable, controlled canter in the plaza to avoid any
unwary children who might get underfoot.
I wonder what he
Diego shrugged towards his father.
Maybe he's from the
Territorial Governor. Whatever it is, we'll surely find out what
he's doing in Los Angeles; Mendoza just went into the Alcalde's
office. He grinned at Felipe, enjoying his own little joke,
but secretly wondering if the man's mission was something
nefarious. If so, then Zorro would have work to do that
The three men carefully crossed the dust in the plaza and tied up their horses in front of the tavern. Intent on eating lunch, they entered the public establishment and searched for an empty table. Victoria smiled at them and came around the green bar to take their order just as they stood near a suitable table. Diego pulled a bench out with his foot.
Victoria! Hola. Hot day, he said in greeting as the
beautiful tavern owner met them at the chosen table.
It is hot outside. Can I get anything for you? A cool
drink, perhaps? she asked pleasantly.
Even at just the sound of her voice, Diego longed to take her in his arms and never let go. The feeling was so strong, so sudden, barraging his insides so unexpectedly, that he had trouble hiding it, and some of the emotion leaked into his eyes before he managed to bury it deep in his mind. He was fairly certain that Victoria, always observant, saw the sudden love and desire in his eyes, but she chose not to say anything about it for the moment. Instead, she waited patiently while Don Alejandro mentioned their burning hunger for lunch, explaining their appearance in the pueblo, though it was hardly anything distinct; the de la Vegas often rode to the pueblo during the day.
The emotion continued to accost Diego while his father spoke to Victoria. He knew he would have to tell the seņorita of his secret identity soon, or risk exploding. Only fear of her reaction held him back, fear of her expected anger at the divulgence. Her temper was as well-known around the pueblo as Zorro's exploits were. Diego worried that once she knew his secret, knew that such an unassuming man as Diego was in reality the masked bandit, she wouldn't want to have anything more to do with him, and he was certain that he couldn't withstand that.
Understanding the strain Diego was putting himself through, Felipe sidled up to the man who had saved him from a battlefield during the August Revolution, lending his silent support as best he could. Alejandro was oblivious, of course, as he fortunately had his back to the whole affair while his attention was riveted to the object of his son's desires. One thing Diego didn't want to do was explain away his behavior to his father. At least Felipe knew of his tender attraction for Victoria, and Diego could count on his support in anything, as he was displaying right now.
But Diego's feelings were interrupted by the sudden
appearance of Sergeant Mendoza as he skidded through the tavern's
double front doors.
Seņorita! Seņorita Escalante! You have
to read this document! He ran over to them at the table,
panting for breath in his haste.
Sergeant? What is it? Diego questioned, his
apprehension and curiosity instantly evident on his face as his
brows furrowed to his eyes. The previous burst of emotion was
forgotten in the excitement.
The sergeant thrust the document at Victoria, who took it
from his trembling fingers.
You have to read this, said
Even Victoria was amazed at the sense of urgency in his
voice. She didn't think she had ever seen the sergeant so
All right, I'll read it. Would you like a
glass of water to help you calm down?
Mendoza sucked in air.
No thank you. But you have to
read it right now!
He was insistent, arousing Diego's curiosity and concern even further. Diego held the top half of the curled scroll and began reading while a surprised Victoria held the bottom half of the scroll and read also. Felipe and Don Alejandro crowded around them, but were unable to read as fast as Diego.
Diego announced the short contents of the scroll for those
who couldn't read it yet.
This is a document noting that
Mexico has won their independence and that King Ferdinand has
sold all of the California territory to a man named Iturbide, the
president of Mexico. As of now, we're Mexican citizens and
should abide by the laws of that country. His voice trailed
off as he wondered what kind of effect this news would have on
his father, who was loyal to Spain, but who had been living in
California for decades. This kind of transition would have a
much greater impact on the older caballero than on his son, who
had really very little connection to Spain.
Diego glanced at the scroll in his hands once more.
Wait, there's more here at the bottom. It says that...
Suddenly, he stopped reading, and a free hand went to his mouth
as he gasped in a breath of air. He looked at Felipe, who was
looking back at him, the same incredulity mirrored on the young
Oh my god, he whispered, awash in sudden
Diego! admonished Alejandro automatically.
But Diego wasn't listening. His son had dropped slowly to the bench behind him, his mouth hanging open in amazement, his sense of incredulity barely diminished as he lowered his head until it touched his hands. Then he did something that would have stunned even a complete stranger; he burst into tears.
Felipe was instantly concerned, sitting beside Diego and putting a comforting hand around his shoulders. But Diego's relief was so great that it couldn't be stopped by a single arm. All Felipe could really do was hand Diego his white linen handkerchief and hold on.
Diego! expostulated Alejandro, somewhat embarrassed
by his son's obvious feelings. Victoria looked equally as
surprised. He asked,
What's wrong now?
Diego couldn't talk beyond saying,
I'm sorry, Father,
Victoria. Then he pointed at the scroll in Victoria's hand,
hoping it would explain everything.
Trying to understand this abrupt and extreme outburst from
his son, Alejandro took Diego's place beside Victoria, who was
equally astonished by Diego's display of emotion, and held onto
the top of the scroll as he read the rest of the words.
says here that this document should also be considered as... a
pardon for Zorro, Alejandro finished in a quiet, stunned
Yes! said Sergeant Mendoza, pointing at the document
still in the silver-haired caballero's hand.
That's why I
wanted the seņorita to read it so badly.
But this still doesn't explain why Diego
is so... overcome. Alejandro gestured towards his son.
Diego was calming down from his barrage of tears, but that did
nothing to mollify his father. Actually, Alejandro felt at his
wits end to fully understand his heir and progeny.
like he's... Alejandro stopped short of what he was going to
say as his face went white, the blood congealing. Then quite as
clearly it fell to his toes. The older man sank onto the bench
at the next table over. He didn't notice that the occupant of
that bench quickly vacated it before the don had the chance to
sink onto his lap.
Oh my god, he whispered, echoing his
son, the sentence still ringing in the suddenly silent
Victoria was as white as Alejandro. She couldn't stop
staring at the man sitting at one of her tables, but she remained
mute as she too fell onto a conveniently empty bench across from
him. She only whispered,
Dios mio, to her hands. The
scroll fell unheeded to the scarred surface of the tabletop.
Thinking of the poems he had quoted or misquoted in the
past, Diego swiped one last time at his right eye with the
borrowed handkerchief, then whispered to both of them, though he
aimed his words mostly to Victoria,
I tried to tell you. I'm
This public confession shocked and stunned both Alejandro and Victoria. Neither of them knew what to say. They were both too busy feeling astonished.
Diego suspected that this was the only time either of them
had been speechless before. He smiled to himself as he set the
handkerchief on the table, a white, soggy stain on the wooden
surface. In his true, lower, voice he asked,
Felipe, can you
watch over my father for a moment? Victoria, can I please see
you alone in your kitchen? There was nothing he wanted more
after that very public announcement of his identity than to have
a private fallout. Because there had to be some kind of a
reaction to this news, or he didn't know the two people who were
dearest to his heart. However, he knew them both well, and
realized that this stunned silence wasn't going to last
Somehow, Diego rose, then led the way to her kitchen. He didn't even look behind to see if Victoria was following. He was aware only of the sudden and intense pounding of his heart in his chest as it tried to beat a hole right through his skin. She followed more slowly, still stunned.
The second she parted the curtains and entered, she saw Diego standing in the center of her kitchen, next to the old chopping block, and she wondered how it felt to be so exposed all of a sudden. Usually Zorro... no, Diego, she reminded herself.., stayed to the side of the curtains, hiding in the shadows, making certain no one saw him. Now he didn't have to hide any longer. That thought made her draw in a sharp breath.
With that breath, he knew that the silence was ending. He
I'm sorry, Victoria. I should have told
you years ago. I see that now, but I was too afraid to say
Afraid? she asked in a squeaky, tinny voice that
didn't sound like her own. Self-conscious, she cleared her
Yes, Diego answered.
You always were the only
person I was afraid of.
Me? Her voice now held some sense of surprise, too,
in its emptiness.
Yes. You are the only person who can hurt
me. So I was afraid, he explained. The tear stains had
dried into salty tracks on his cheeks as they spoke. It all
sounded so logical, so cold, Diego thought.
That's why you never told me of this before? You were
I thought you would be angry at such
knowledge. And there was a very real possibility of
Rejection... Victoria physically shook her head to
clear it of the fog that had descended on it, and that helped to
disperse some of the haze so she could think. And just as
suddenly she knew that she wasn't angry, could never be angry at
him for protecting her from the truth. Flashes jumped around in
her mind, images, of Diego in her tavern every day, of Diego in a
windmill where he quoted beautiful lines of poetry to her, of
Zorro telling her that he couldn't remain in the pueblo for a
quick visit because of the danger, of Zorro sneaking into her
kitchen at night for a kiss that turned into so much more, of the
emotion she had seen in Diego's eyes just that morning... The
emotion she had seen in his eyes...
Tell me one thing,
she said, her voice only breaking a little.
What? Diego was confused by her question.
Were your feelings real, or were they
a sham, too? She wouldn't or couldn't look at him, as she
continued to let the chopping block act as a barrier between the
Diego was a little amazed by her question. He thought his
endearments had made his feelings abundantly clear to her, but
even she had said it was always nicer to hear him say it, and he
had never allowed himself to say the words to her, as an outlaw
with a price on his head shouldn't be allowed. Now, however, he
spoke the words out loud, and gladly.
You have to believe me,
Victoria, that I could never have lied about my emotions for you.
I love you, and have since I returned from the University.
He was amazed at how easy the words came to him now that it
Victoria listened to his pleading tone, and heard the words
she had always wanted to hear, and it was like her friend had
proposed a food fight in her best room; unthinkable, incredible.
Still feeling somewhat vague and foggy, she did manage to grasp
onto those three little words.
You love me?
Diego looked like he was full of anguish, doubt, fear, hope,
and love, several emotions all at once.
Yes. Oh yes. I love
you with every grain I have inside me.
Again she thought about the passion she had glimpsed in his eyes just that morning. But she had thought she was engaged to another man, and she couldn't afford to take note of what she considered the crush of her friend. Now she knew the two men were the same, a friend, a man of flesh and blood, and the black, mysterious hero who had protected her for years by withholding his identity. They were the same man... He loved her... Diego loved her...
Suddenly, as abrupt as the announcement from the document, she was barraged with sensation, with tingles, all for him. He had made sure to visit her every day, whether she knew of his true feelings or not. He had risked discovery at the Alcalde's hands, every day, where he would face jail or worse, just to see her. He couldn't even touch her, like he must have wanted to. Then, when he couldn't stand seeing her, but not touching, any longer, he would come to her as Zorro and kiss her senseless. She didn't think she had ever heard of such a strange courtship before. But it had been a courtship, of a sort, one that had left her either ignorant or full of tender feelings, depending on who she was with at the time. Yet it had been a courtship, and the engagement...
Was the engagement real, too? she asked after several
heartbeats of quick thinking.
Again Diego couldn't follow her furious thoughts.
A bit irritated now at his apparent inability to read her
mind, she said,
Yes, the engagement. Do you want your ring
back, or did you ask me to marry you that day?
Diego made a carnal sound that came from the very back of
his throat. It sounded like a groan. He whispered,
was real; I dream of marrying you. No, I don't want my ring
back. Victoria, I know this is probably difficult for you to
accep... He was cut off by the unexpected kiss she gave him,
experimental and testing the until-now unknown waters of his
love. But Diego didn't want to test any waters; he wanted to
show the full intensity of his love, and he wanted to show it
He deepened the kiss. Passion mushroomed instantly. He was immediately on fire, and his skin turned hot as a steadfast reaction to her closeness that he couldn't help if he wanted to. He traced kisses down her exposed neck to her shoulder, inhaling the scent of her hair and lacing his fingers through the curly strands as he held her tightly lest she disappear, letting him know that once again he had been dreaming.
Victoria's hands felt his chest audaciously through his shirt, frantic in her sudden desire to touch him everywhere, sensing muscles that she didn't know existed, but were apparent once she knew what to look for. Her hands crept around to his back, also running over the shirt there as she embraced him equally as tightly, also seemingly afraid he would disappear if given the opportunity. She didn't plan to give him that chance. Not this time.
The kiss ended, but the passion and love remained. Diego leaned his head down to her upturned face, resting his forehead on hers. He squeezed her hard, his fencing arms able to wrap firmly around her tiny frame, even when she stood on tiptoe to reach him. Their harsh breathing was the only sound in the kitchen besides the bubbling of the sauce she had simmering on the fire for lunch.
Diego was the first to recover from such a passionate kiss.
Victoria, he said, his eyes closed as he hung onto her, as
the feelings roiled inside of him,
I love you with all my
heart and want you to be my wife more than anything in the world.
You have to believe that now.
I do. I do believe that. I love you. Have I said that
In spite of his incredulity, Diego laughed softly.
in the last thirty seconds. Then his laughter ended and a
serious tone invaded his voice. His arms squeezed even harder.
I'm not a swearing man - you know that - but, God, I love you,
Then we shouldn't wait. We should talk to Padre Benitez
Diego lifted his head to better see her.
Victoria smiled coyly, the first flirtatious gesture she had
ever given him, then whispered,
Yes. I want our wedding to
happen quickly. You have a promise to keep, Seņor. And if you
think I'm going to let you out of it...
I would never think that. I don't want to think
Victoria laughed softly this time. She whispered,
lead the way, Seņor Zorro.
Not Seņor Zorro. It's Diego de la Vega, he whispered
And I'll never forget that, she said with a kiss to
his cheek. Then together, holding hands, they left the kitchen
and the tavern, searching the pueblo for the priest.
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