Diego spent the day editing articles for The Guardian, but in reality he was getting more and more nervous by the hour. The fact that Alejandro had reminded him that he only had one day left - today - hadn't helped any. Even less help had proven to be the jailbreak that happened in the early evening; now Diego had nothing to look forward to but tracking the escaped criminal, Lopez, for the night's adventures. As he had already tracked criminals who had broken out of the jail, and as he had already tracked Lopez, he was getting a bit irritated at the Alcalde for making it so easy to break out of prison.
As it turned out, Diego did spend all night as Zorro tracking Lopez, who, in the end, wasn't very smart as he had built a fire to warm himself in the early Spring air, and had unwittingly led Zorro right to him with the light while he slept. The capture was easy from that point on; Zorro poked Lopez in the back with the end of his sword to wake him, and led him to Los Angeles tied to his horse, ready to stand trial for petty theft and pick pocketing. It hardly seemed worth breaking out of jail for, but then he'd led his chief tracker on a merry chase that lasted all night, leaving Diego tired, hungry, cold, and sore, even though the eventual capture had been simple.
Except today was the day of Alejandro's 'deal,' and Diego couldn't help ruminating the subject to death the second he reached the cave and safety, but he still saw no solution to his predicament in his tired mind. The fact that Alejandro had grabbed a book and was reading in the library, thus preventing him from escaping the cave to his bed the easy way through the library fireplace, made his mood even more sour. Diego turned and walked in an exhausted haze out of Toronado's larger entrance and around to the front of the hacienda, noticing that the carriage was out and waiting for something, all the while thinking on what excuse he could offer for his seemingly early rousal. Grooming the horses in the stable was appropriate, but he had only passed Major hooked up to the carriage, still dreaming of his bed, when Alejandro suddenly opened the front door, apparently to greet him.
Only Alejandro didn't bother to greet him at all.
Son, let's get going. He walked over to the carriage in
Diego stopped abruptly, confused in his exhaustion.
where? he asked.
To town. To the mission, Alejandro explained, now
irritated himself if Diego could judge by his rising voice.
Diego was really confused now.
What for? Is it a
special holy day? He searched his memory for any mention of
a day of special observation, but he wasn't even sure he knew
what day it was.
For your marriage to Teresa, Alejandro said, clearly
You're beyond hope. But come on, Diego, we
shouldn't keep a lady waiting. He grabbed Diego by the upper
arm and propelled him into the carriage.
Diego had no trouble staying awake any longer.
Now, wait a moment, Father.
Alejandro was insistent.
I've given you five years and
one week. You knew if you hadn't chosen a wife for yourself by
now, there would be an arranged marriage with Teresa. Paco,
the chief stable hand and driver, arrived and climbed into the
Drive on, Paco, Alejandro ordered, and practically
pulled Diego to sit across from him as the carriage jolted
Thoughts of Victoria immediately barraged Diego's mind. He
just couldn't get married!
Wait a moment, please, Diego
No. And no more of your excuses. Alejandro suddenly
Where were you this morning, anyway? I was
waiting for you to wake up.
Diego fumbled for the excuse that he had prepared.
I was out grooming the horses. he said, attempting to
distract his father from his purpose in going to town.
what's the rush?
Alejandro was undistractable.
Rush? he repeated
There's been no rush. I've waited for almost five
years. I want grandchildren, Diego, and if this is the only way
I'm going to get them, then this is what I will do.
Desperate, Diego tried again.
But Alejandro cut him short.
No! he said, finally
None of your excuses. Not this time! Now,
you're getting married, Diego, even if it's the last thing you
want, or... He paused, but forced himself to continue,
you can leave the hacienda today. It's your choice...
Except there was no choice. Diego felt his stomach role at the thought of such a choice, and he spent the rest of the way to Los Angeles concentrating on not throwing up as Paco seemed intent on hitting every pothole in the road, bouncing the carriage unmercifully. Diego was in no shape to protest, and they were inside the mission before he had regained any amount of strength.
The wedding ceremony was all prepared. The Martinezes were already there, Teresa looking properly nervous in the long, tight, fashionable, white wedding dress she was wearing for the occasion, and even though it was early morning, appeared wide awake and ready to fulfill her father's wishes. She smiled at Diego, invitingly, though she appeared not to be a blushing bride at all, as she didn't blush and didn't seem even remotely shy. Why would she, as she was getting the business deal she had anticipated? Don Alejandro and Don Jose were prepared to act as the necessary witnesses, and Padre Benitez had his bible already opened to the appropriate page, waiting for the groom to take his place beside the altar, when Diego finally realized that he had to say something or commit suicide, and that was not ever an option he had considered.
Padre Benitez was already softly intoning the Latin call to
marriage before Diego could yell
Alejandro looked angrier than his tone indicated. In a
smooth, overly polite voice, he asked through tightly drawn lips,
What is it, Diego?
Diego's voice was much calmer, though he insisted,
can't get married. He was coherent enough not to say 'right
now,' as both Alejandro and Teresa could misconstrue his words to
mean he could get married at a later date, when that wasn't what
he had in mind at all.
The anger leaped through Alejandro, but he attempted to
control it for the other parties' sakes. Unfortunately, such
concentration left his lips even more drawn and thin.
mind telling us why that is, Diego?
Diego hesitated. He would have to tell his father
everything, unless he wanted to give up his dream of Victoria and
marry Teresa here and now. That wasn't an option he wanted to
Can I have a word with you, Father, in
private? he muttered, then motioned for Alejandro to follow
Clearly bewildered, and also clearly still angry, Alejandro rose quickly enough to accompany his son out the back door of the mission.
What is the problem, Son? Alejandro asked, not so
angry that he didn't notice Diego's obvious agitation.
In a moment, Diego promised in a low voice, looking
furtively around, heading for the swinging sign bearing the name
of the pueblo and out to the open land beyond.
When they had walked for five minutes, and Diego was
satisfied that there weren't any eavesdroppers listening from
around the pile of large rocks they'd chosen to halt beside,
Alejandro leaned against a convenient boulder and crossed his
All right, out with it. What's your excuse this
time? Now he sounded more tired than angry.
Diego heard the sound in his father's voice, and tried to be
quick in his confession. Without any prevarication or excuses on
his part, he blurted,
I love only Victoria and I'm the outlaw
known as Zorro.
Alejandro pushed himself from the rock, his mouth hanging
open as he slowly uncrossed his arms.
What? His voice
was deceptively soft, as if he'd just received a blow that he was
Diego hung his head, his hair swinging across his forehead in the breeze, and repeated his statement.
Alejandro fell back helplessly against the rock, and any spoken reaction was swallowed up by his cold surprise.
Diego reached out his hand.
I know this comes as a shock
to you. I've put you in the greatest danger just by telling you,
but this 'deal' leaves me no choice. He sighed.
you know why I can't possibly get married today?
Dazed by the news and suddenness of the disclosure,
No, of course you can't.
Relief poured over Diego.
I'm glad you think so. I was
worried that you would be stubborn about this. He smiled,
though the gesture was a bit wan.
No, of course I'm not, Alejandro insisted, still a
Diego scratched his eyebrow, looking at his parent in some
You can't tell a living soul what you know, he
The danger of hanging is still very
Of course, of course. I won't tell
anyone. Suddenly, the haze seemed to lift, and Alejandro
smiled, the endearment slow and creeping across his face.
think, my son is Zorro!
Father, please, Diego said, embarrassed but accepting
of the prideful look, anyway.
Alejandro was pushing himself away from the boulder, losing
the prideful expression to be replaced by a look of apology and
Then, Son, this 'deal'... I've made your
Diego raised his eyebrows in comprehension.
Hopeless? he finished, interrupting his father's
Alejandro truly appeared regretful now.
That was never
my intention... Not the point I wanted to make at all... I only
wanted grandchildren... His voice faded away.
Diego wanted to feel anger, but the sense of forgiveness was
much stronger in his heart. He sighed, trying hard for animosity
and getting compassion instead.
You have to understand; I
love Victoria so much...
Victoria? Alejandro interjected, remembering with a
sudden flash of insight who he was talking to.
marriage to Teresa, to anybody...
Was unthinkable, admitted Diego, and a great weight
that he'd felt all week lifted from his mind with the
Unbearable, incomprehensible... impossible,
he ended on a sad note of admittance.
Then the reality of the situation struck Alejandro. He
began to speak, slowly.
If you love Victoria, and you're
really the masked legend, then...
Father, Diego finished, somewhat regretfully.
She doesn't know? Alejandro repeated incredulously.
Diego shook his head.
In all these years, you haven't told
her? Diego shook his head again, reluctant now that the
subject close to his heart was being addressed.
I thought sure...
No. The danger to her is too great. I couldn't force
myself to tell her about... Diego's head again hung down,
and his voice, what had started out so strong and confident, now
became hesitant and sad.
Alejandro looked at his son, his capable son, he reminded
himself, feeling the consternation mixed in with something like
But, Diego, what are we going to do?
Diego was bewildered even as he was sad. He held out his
hands, palms up.
About your problem, Alejandro insisted.
problem. About grandchildren!
Diego smiled in amusement. He couldn't help himself.
Yes, that, Alejandro repeated, irritated despite what
he had just learned.
Diego studied his father's features.
Is it really that
important to you? They had never actually discussed
Alejandro's desire for grandchildren before.
Alejandro blustered, a little embarrassed.
Well, yes, I
suppose so. He stopped and regarded his son.
have a price on your head, but I'm not getting any younger!
he exclaimed, now thinking of an unexpected marriage between his
son and Victoria.
Well, I... began Diego, when he was interrupted.
Alejandro snapped his fingers.
I've got it!
Diego felt really nervous now. His father had that familiar
gleam in his eye that meant he planned to do something either
foolhardy, dangerous, or both.
An idea, Alejandro explained. Excited, he could
barely contain his waving arms as he spoke.
Listen, you want
to marry Victoria, right? he asked.
Diego shrugged, appearing nonchalant, though his heart
flipped over at the mention of the culmination of a frequent
Eventually, yes, that's the plan.
Alejandro continued without missing a beat,
And I want
grandchildren before I die...
Diego rolled his eyes.
Father, you're not going
I know, Alejandro also interrupted.
At least, not
until... Or, at least, I hope not until you have... But the
subject of having children proved to be too delicate for the
conservative caballero. Still, he attempted to explain,
I mean is, we have the perfect excuse to convince Victoria that a
marriage is necessary to...
Father... Diego warned.
But Alejandro ignored him.
Hear me out, Diego. What we
have here could potentially be a gold mine worth of reasons... if
you're willing to explain the same thing to Victoria that you did
Diego looked exasperated.
Father, please, I
But you can, Alejandro asserted.
Diego decided to admit everything then, and in a beseeching
But I'm afraid.
Alejandro wasn't so quiet.
Afraid? Of what?
That she'll abhor me, Diego admitted, and to the
doubting expression on his father's face, explained further,
I've lied to her for years.
She'll understand, Alejandro insisted, though in
extreme irritation with his son. He tried to be more patient.
What worries you the most, Son?
That she'll never agree to anything as long as I'm
involved, Diego persisted.
After all, the person you've
known as Diego is very different than... the outlaw, he said,
reluctant to speak the name that could in any way link himself to
Zorro. Old habits died hard, he realized.
Alejandro only eyed his son.
You should tell her
Desperate again, Diego said,
I'm afraid she'll stop
loving me, and I can never live with that.
Alejandro was not sympathetic.
Love is forever, he
Stop making excuses, Alejandro said then, fully
Just tell her. Not knowing is much worse. I
can attest to that!
Knowing may get her killed, Diego warned.
Not knowing may get her killed, too! Alejandro
Diego's head hung low.
I know. And that idea terrifies
me, he admitted, his hands on his head, his fingers laced
through his hair.
Alejandro was slowly comprehending how much of a burden his
son had carried alone for so many years. It made him depressed
just thinking about it, but it also forced him to renew his
I'm sorry to hear that. But don't you think she
should die knowing who she might be dying for?
I'd rather she not die at all!
Diego, Alejandro gently urged,
you have to tell
her. She deserves that you tell her.
I know, he whispered, but his answer
was carried away by the wind.
Come on, Alejandro entreated with a hand on Diego's
shoulder, gentle yet compelling him forward.
Let's solve both
of our problems. I'll tell the Martinezes everything... not who
you are, he rushed to say,
but that you plan to get
We do, announced Diego suddenly, still feeling sad,
even with his father's hand still on his shoulder.
This news obviously stunned Alejandro. He brought them to a
Planning to marry. Engaged, Diego explained
Alejandro was silent for a moment as he digested this news.
Yes. Seņor Zorro... asked her to marry him months ago,
and as I'm... Again, Diego couldn't finish the
Alejandro was too surprised by this divulgence to act
anything but delighted.
You are? he asked once more.
You're engaged? He smiled.
Why haven't I heard of
this before now?
Diego heaved yet another sigh.
We haven't told anyone,
couldn't tell anyone. Do you realize how that knowledge could be
used against..? Perhaps the spontaneous proposal had not
been such a good idea.
Well yes, but engaged! The
last he said in amazement. His son had found the courage to
See, a marriage should not be any problem
Victoria hasn't agreed to anything, Diego warned.
You're assuming an awful lot.
I am, agreed Alejandro,
But I know Victoria;
she'll agree, when you tell her.
Father... Diego protested, feeling the same old
reluctance he'd always felt.
But Diego's protest was useless.
And in another year or
so, we should have grandchildren in the hacienda. Both our
wishes will be granted in one fell swoop.
Diego could hardly resist the persuasion in his father's
voice, but resist he did.
I haven't said a word to her
But you will, Alejandro predicted.
Now, as soon
as you can get to the tavern.
As if it heard his father speak, Diego's stomach growled very audibly. Even as Diego's empty stomach protested, he felt his will cave in, felt himself soften.
Where else can you get a descent breakfast? Alejandro
continued in the same tone.
Diego may be softening to his father's persuasion, but he
still rolled his eyes even as he helplessly followed Alejandro
back in the direction of Los Angeles.
Where else, indeed?
he mumbled, powerless to control the ball of his life now that it
had been set in motion. In fact, the pueblo was coming into
sight and growing by the second.
They had reached the mission before Diego knew it.
Alejandro spoke, keeping his voice low.
Don't worry, Son,
I'll speak to the Martinezes and to the padre... I have
everything under control.
That's what worries me, quipped Diego, but he made
his way across the plaza to the tavern, avoiding the chickens set
loose to roam in the dust. The lure of a free breakfast was
almost too tempting to his growling stomach. The mighty
Zorro, felled by free food, he thought sardonically as he
climbed to the porch, thinking about the dejection that Teresa
was probably too realistic to feel and the love he automatically
experienced every time he saw Victoria, and entered the
Victoria greeted him instantly from her usual place behind
the green counter.
Don Diego, you're in here early. What can
I do for you?
That was a loaded question, given the circumstances.
Despite his thoughts, Diego's heart swelled. He couldn't help
himself; he was becoming such a softie where she was concerned,
he thought ruefully, and shook his head. Diego knew she was
talking about breakfast, but he intentionally leaned on the
countertop first. There was no time like the present. His heart
full of love, and fear, and his father's words ringing in his
mind, he asked,
Breakfast, please, though I wondered if I
could speak to you before you get it?
The request surprised Victoria, but she agreed.
Certainly, Diego. Anything for my best friend in the
He gave a grimace at her smile and wondered how long such
cheerfulness would last.
You're rather chipper this
morning, he commented.
Victoria continued to grin.
The sun is out, it won't be
too hot today, and Mendoza just told me that the Alcalde plans to
go out of town next week.
That is good new, Diego enthused honestly.
Perhaps now so many criminals might not escape from jail.
She smiled again.
There's a lot to be happy
Diego grew grave.
You might change your mind when you
hear what I have to say, he predicted, his voice soft and his
attention turned inward.
Questioning, Victoria's eyebrows met together.
Diego straightened, now being purposefully vague.
just speak to you a moment, Victoria, please? I have...
something to tell you, he finally settled on.
She looked even more puzzled, but agreeable.
We can talk in my kitchen. She moved hesitantly out from
behind the bar, then preceded him through the curtains and into
the warmer room. Food smells instantly assailed them, and
Diego's stomach growled just as quickly.
Victoria whirled at the sound.
Are you certain I can't
get you something, Diego?
In a moment, said Diego, taking her hands in is and
rubbing their warmth.
Victoria continued to stare at him in perplexity. He's
never touched me so much before, with such... tenderness, she
decided. Wondering what he could possibly have to tell her that
would leave him looking so serious, Victoria sank down onto a
convenient bench shoved against the kitchen wall and tugged him
down with her.
It's all right, she encouraged.
can tell me anything. And you don't have to worry about
interruptions... I'm the only one working today.
He was glad to hear it, but her first comment made him bark
a short laugh.
I'm not sure you'll want to hear this.
Concerned now, she could only ask,
What is it?
Diego inhaled a deep breath of the aromatic air, then smiled
as he enfolded her hands with his own. He looked at her. Her
own dark gaze stared back.
Victoria, we've always been good
friends, haven't we?
This was odd. Suddenly nervous, a chill snaked up
Yes, was all she could say, and that
she said in a whisper. The noise of the breakfast crowd, small
though it was, peeled much louder than her voice in the
Diego continued to rub her hands, though he hung his head so
low that she could no longer see anything clearly but his hair.
He looked much more vulnerable that way, much more haunted.
Victoria, he said to the floor.
I'm going to tell you
a few things, then ask something of huge importance, but you
shouldn't feel pressured in any way to say that you agree to
it. He lifted his head and turned those haunted eyes on her.
I don't think I could stand it if you feel coerced.
Victoria's brows drew down again as she frowned.
happened? she asked, sounding curious, now, and slightly
Diego took a deep breath, then just plunged on.
you to know that I'm the outlaw, Zorro, and also that I want to
marry you, for real this time. Today, if possible.
Predictably, Victoria was highly indignant. She jumped up
in spite of the fact that he had a tight hold on her hands.
Why did no one ever believe him? Had he acted that well over the years? Diego heaved another sigh, then quietly repeated what he'd said. It wouldn't do to be overheard now.
Victoria sank down beside him once more, stunned.
what I thought you said.
Swiftly, Diego cautioned,
Don't say anything yet. You
should know all the circumstances before you make any
Dazed, she nodded once, and Diego commenced to tell her his story, starting with the inception of Zorro and ending it with the events of the previous week. She listened, unusually quiet.
That's it, Diego said when he was done, still hushed,
though he'd often shown his anger as he spoke. He couldn't mask
Now you know everything. Victoria
remained mute until Diego finally said,
Victoria? What are
Slowly, as if she had suffered a severe illness to her
throat, Victoria said,
I knew there had to be a reason why I
didn't like Teresa Martinez. Now I know why. She was my
You should never think like that, Diego was quick to
She was never competition for anybody, especially not
for you. How could she be? No one can compare to you.
Briefly, Victoria smiled.
That's... that's very nice of
you to say, Diego.
She thought he was giving her a compliment when all he meant to do was tell her the truth.
He was about to say so, but she cut him off.
me this... this story explains a great deal.
It was his brows that were puckered now.
The watching, the looking after me, the daily visits, the
hastily covered affection... Oh, don't think I didn't notice.
Any woman would. Diego remained quiet this time, not knowing
what to say.
But it also explains why you were never around
when... Her voice broke, but she cleared her throat and
forced herself to continue.
... when Zorro was here.
That confession made him say,
I wanted to tell you,
Victoria. I wanted to so badly! But I was afraid that you...
that you wouldn't like me anymore. His own voice broke on
I don't think I could have born that. I
don't think I can bear it now.
She turned towards him on the bench.
Then why are you
telling me at all? Why not just let things go on as they always
have? she asked slowly.
A silent moment went by before he said anything.
I promised my father I'd tell you at last, because he's waiting
to hear what you have to say, because you have the largest right
to know, though this puts you in serious danger, and most
importantly, because I love you, and have always loved
Still too surprised by his admissions to move or speak much,
Victoria just sat, seemingly frozen to the bench. Yet she
managed to hold on to those three words.
You love me?
Diego could do nothing but nod.
Victoria looked at him, then looked away, then back at him
again, too jumpy to settle on one thing.
marriage? she asked, to be sure.
Diego nodded bleakly, miserable at the thought.
Though I had no intention of ever going through with it, he
promised, then smiled wryly. Promises were a big thing with
Victoria missed his ironic smile. She sat on the bench and just stared.
Her inaction was beginning to unnerve him. She was
typically such an active woman, such a fighter, that this silence
was frightening. Perhaps he shouldn't have explained the whole
story all at once?
Victoria? Are you all right? he
Victoria nodded almost out of habit, looked away again, thought for a moment, then without a word of warning, threw herself at him.
He caught her in strong arms, but was surprised by her
seeming acceptance of everything.
Sh! It's all right. You
don't have to say anything if you don't want to.
Her arms grew tighter around his middle.
kidding? Of course I want to say something, anything. Dios,
I've been looking for you for so long that I'd almost given
Sh! Diego soothed.
Now Victoria was crying, her broken sobs coming to his ears from somewhere over his shoulders. She clung to him and cried in relief, her tears mixing with his sounds that were meant to soothe. There was a great need in him that he didn't understand that commanded him to comfort a crying woman. So he made the hushing sounds, even though he knew it would have little effect, and Victoria continued to make soft crying sounds that carried to him easily enough, though he doubted anyone else in the tavern was aware of what was going on in the kitchen.
Then, not even knowing or caring how she got there, Victoria
was sitting on Diego's leg, her face only inches from his as she
stared. She looked as if she had never seen him before. Her
fingers reached up to trace his high forehead, his ears, his
cheeks, everything that was typically covered by the mask. Her
face held an expression of discovery.
I'm sorry, Diego,
It's just that, half the time, I didn't know
it was you, and the other half I rarely looked. I saw, but
didn't know what I was looking at.
I didn't want you to know, he said by way of
absolution. Victoria's look of wonder dissolved into a huge
smile, and she embraced him again. Diego reveled in the
closeness they were sharing, in the unanticipated feel of her in
his arms, the smell of her hair and skin. However, as nice as it
was to feel her in his arms, he had to ask her one more thing.
There is something else I have to know, he said by way of
Victoria leaned back and looked at him.
You're going to
ask if I can not react to you in such a manner, if it's possible
not to look like I've found something I've been searching years
He glanced at her in surprise even as he knew he was
beginning to react to her closeness.
How did you know? he
I could say that it's woman's
intuition, but I would be lying.
We've had enough of that.
Victoria shook her head.
It just makes sense. I can't
appear too happy, to keep away suspicion, and for that same
reason you haven't told me the entire story. I suggest you start
over, and this time, don't leave anything out.
Diego gazed at her, unblinking, and asked,
How did I get
someone as smart as you?
She smiled again.
Luck. Now start talking.
Diego chuckled, and said,
I would love to tell you
everything, though what you don't know acts as a protection for
you, but I've been in here long enough; I'll tell you later.
However, I really do have to know what your answer is; what
should I tell my father?
Need you even ask? she chided, still speaking softly.
Diego held her out so that he could see her.
Victoria's answer wafted like a sigh to his ear.
Yes. She touched her forehead to his.
I think we
have some babies to make.
* * *
Diego slid calmly onto the bench across the table from his father, noticing the smells from Victoria's kitchen wafting even as far as the main room of the tavern. It was amazing that he noticed anything, however, after the kiss Victoria had just given him to seal their 'arrangement.'
Well? prodded Alejandro, unable to contain his
Still remembering, Diego seemed to wilt right into the table
She said yes.
Alejandro smacked the table and then laughed and rubbed his hands together in glee. The noise he was making caused quite a few customers to stare at them in abject curiosity.
When is the happy moment?
Diego wished he could calm down his exuberant parent, but he
understood only too well what his father must be feeling.
Today. At noon, replied Diego, and at Alejandro's
surprised look, explained,
We thought we'd better stick to the
original... uh, 'deal.'
Alejandro comprehended perfectly.
I'm glad things have
worked out so well, but I want you to know that if it weren't for
me, you would never have been pushed to bring up this
Diego was so tired and hungry by then that he just said,
Oh, shut up, Father.
Alejandro simply laughed.
* * *
So at noon, in a small ceremony, with Padre Benitez officiating and Alejandro acting as the only witness, Diego and Victoria were quietly married without any fanfare, coercion, or fuss. The kiss at the end would have made an innocent man wonder about the couple, but Padre Benitez, who was always the recipient of anyone's Confessions, was fully aware of who he had just married, and only looked at Alejandro, winked, and smiled.
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