Second Chances

by Linda Bindner

Chapter 12 - Diego

Oh, my head... Diego lamented in a low voice that was much more indicative of Zorro than of Diego, followed by a few more moments of quiet. Then, he softly called, Victoria? Are you there?

Yes, she said in a whisper that was so soft, she suspected that even Diego had trouble hearing her, and he was lying right next to her. I'm more than glad to hear another friendly voice with me in this room!

Again he writhed back and forth, trying to loosen the bonds that held his wrists. But then he groaned, and Victoria knew...

Diego, are you all right? she asked in some concern; maybe he had been hit harder than she had thought.

I'm... He paused and breathed heavily. I think I'm... Again come a groan and a sound like his teeth rubbing back and forth as he clenched them together. I'm... I'm gonna be sick.

And he was, right there on the floor, with his head turned the other direction from Victoria. The stench was as unmistakable as the sound of his quiet retching.

After a moment, he was quiet again. Instantly worried, Victoria whispered, Diego? How do you feel now? And, then, when he didn't answer quickly enough to suit her, asked again, Diego?

He could hear the concern in her voice. His silence ended on a hurried tone. I'm much better, actually, he answered, sounding a bit surprised. I think I can sit up now... There was some scuffling sounds, then a moment later, Diego asked, You're tied too?

I can only assume that you're in a sitting position now by all the noise you made, she said. I can't see a thing in all this dark. But yes, I'm tied, too. Or, at least, my hands are tied, she reported in the same whispered voice she had used before.

A minute of silence passed, then Diego whispered, What happened? The last thing I remember is looking through the curtains with you.

What's happened? Victoria grimaced to herself in humor; So much has happened in so short a period of time that I don't know where to begin telling you of it all. So I'll be as brief as I can be. One man was left behind in the tavern as a lookout - he hit you on the head. They caught us. That's how we ended up in here.

Stronger than before, Diego's whisper came to her out of the dark. And where are we, exactly.

Victoria breathed a sigh. If you're asking for locations, does that mean that you have a plan to get us out of here? she hopefully asked.

Perhaps, was all he would say. Actually, he didn't like to commit himself to having a plan for their escape, or for having anything, for that matter.

Victoria went on in a whisper, The hideout - that's where we are now, in the outlaw's hideout - is in a northern sort of direction from the pueblo. Specifically, we're in an old pantry closet with a door that doesn't lock, but the outlaws have guns... Personally, I don't want to see if they'll fire them off or not.

Assessing, Diego asked next, And how many outlaws are there?

Three, she answered readily.

Three, he echoed in a thoughtful tone. He had handled several more adversaries than three before as Zorro. But during those times, he'd had his sword and his whip with him to help, he reminded himself.

The discouraged silence that followed made Victoria say, Talk to me, or I get too worried that you've slipped unconscious again! To her relief, he answered with a sigh a second later.

There's not much to fear about that, he assured. I won't fall unconscious again, but I wish my hands and feet were untied. The defeated sound of his sigh sliced into the darkness that surrounded them. I know this will be difficult or you, but every way of escape that I can think of needs us to work together, or we risk being at the hands of our kidnappers until... He paused, and took a deep breath. Well, until whatever they decide to do with us, be that good or bad. Can you do that? Can you work with me, even though... No, he couldn't put words to what she had done several days earlier! To put words to her actions made them more real. So, he only asked, Please?

Silence greeted his question, then Victoria sighed a laugh. Hearing you 'requesting' my help is so strange! she whispered. It's very surreal to me; it's exactly like Zorro asking for my assistance. But, it's not Zorro, it's Diego... only it is Zorro... It's all very confusing if I dwell on who you are for too long.

Out of the dark came his small voice in agreement, I don't doubt it. He was silent again, then, as his thoughts turned to another matter that had been laying heavily on his mind, but he was loathe to mention it. Yet, he knew that to disregard it was as unwise as asking... Victoria, I have to inquire of you... Did they... Did they... hurt you... in any way?

Victoria smiled, despite the grimness of the situation, and the sound of the gesture came out in her voice. No... Well, that mean one, the one they call Luis, the one who hit you... He slapped me on the cheek once, but they haven't done what... what you're thinking about.

Diego exhaled a breath of relief, and he whispered, Good, almost to himself, but Victoria apparently heard him in the silence of the pantry closet.

Why do you care what happens to me? she had to ask in what sounded like her old, irritated self.

There was more silence for a moment before Diego's voice again snaked out of the black, I care very much, he admitted on a soft breath of air. I can't seem to help myself, even if you're not pleased to hear it.

I mean, Victoria relentlessly went on, it's true that I behaved abominably that morning at the hacienda, but it's also true that it's not like you came into the pueblo for three whole days to see how I was doing, either. She ended on a note of slight anger.

Her attempt to make him feel guilty didn't seem to matter much. Diego made a sort of grunting noise, as if he were holding back his natural response to her comment, but he was certainly not feeling guilty. Instead, he sounded angry as he emphatically whispered, And why didn't you come out to the hacienda to see me, how I was doing after you..? He didn't finish that comment, either.

Victoria bit off a reply, Because I didn't want to miss you in case you rode out to see me. She breathed back her displeasure. I had something I wanted very much to explain to you, but now, I don't think that you want to listen!

There was silence again, and then suddenly Diego laughed quietly. You were waiting for me to show up at the tavern?

Only you never did! Victoria didn't quite keep the accusation out of her voice.

No, Diego replied on a sigh. That's because I was waiting for you to ride out to talk to me at the hacienda.

Just as suddenly as Diego had laughed earlier, Victoria also laughed in comprehension.

It seems that we've been at crossed purposes, Diego went on in a lighter tone than he had used so far in their whispered conversation. We've both been waiting to talk to the other, just in the wrong places.

Victoria paused, herself, for a moment, as if she wanted to more fully understand what he was implying. Do you mean that we both had the same idea..?

Just in different locations, he finished for her.

Victoria breathed in a relaxed manner. What would you have said if we had seen each other? she finally inquired.

He answered her question with another question. What would you have said?

Victoria quickly answered, That I'd made a horrible mistake... She stopped, then continued in a halting way, That it wasn't supposed to happen, that... that I was so confused by... by my returning memories... that I just needed some time to sort them all out...

Time? Diego responded with a note of derision in his voice. And you couldn't tell me that? You couldn't stay engaged to me for that?

Victoria sighed once more. I know that it sounds like I'm just making excuses...

His soft confession interrupted her, You hurt me, Victoria, a lot, and I'm not sure if...

Diego, I'm sorry! she said then. Even if she didn't yell her apology, the emphasis on her feelings of admission was unmistakable. What more can I say but...

You apologized again, Diego noted, cutting her off in mid sentence. His tone of amazement continued. That's one thing that stayed with you from earlier when you couldn't remember anything.

Victoria was getting desperate, now, and she sounded it, but she also sounded as if she no longer cared. I can remember everything from that time as well as from before... You have to believe me when I say how sorry I am! If I could do it all over again, I would never be so... so...

Panicked? he ended for her. Oh, yes, I wasn't so hurt that I couldn't see that something was causing you to worry a lot more than normal.

Victoria tried hard to keep the sound of her crying from reaching her voice. I know how you must feel...

I feel worse than you know, he interrupted again, his own voice accusatory, now, too.

I said I was sorry and I've never meant something more than I mean that! she whispered in hopelessness. She had to sniffle before she could go on. But you have to admit that you could have told me the truth about you being Zorro a long time ago! So then I wouldn't have been so confused by memories from before and memories from after... Her voice trailed off into the dark.

The admission that came from him was so soft that she almost missed it, You're right.

What? she asked, and her voice sounded like the crack of the whip he used.

A little louder, he said, You're right, I should have told you from the beginning.

What? she asked again, only softer this time. It made a world of difference to him. It caused him to hope again.

Diego smiled a bit wryly, and the gesture seeped into his voice when he said, You're right, I should have told you so you could have known all along...

But I did know, Victoria whispered. Then she shook her head and explained better, I mean, I suspected. That's why I said those things to you when you were Diego... It was to help you in your disguise, if you had any... Then, her voice turned glum. But I expect you don't want me to even talk to you at all anymore, and I can't say that I blame you.

Diego breathed quietly in the darkness. You knew? he asked, his astonishment clear in his whisper. And you never thought to tell me?

You never thought to tell me, either! Victoria was quick to say.

Diego remained silent for a moment. He blinked at the truth the accusation made him acknowledge in himself; it was true, bald fact, even, that he had never told her of his secret identity as the man she was in love with. He had to allow that. Finally, he said, That's true. I was so frightened that you would... Well, you know what frightened me so much. He was quiet for a moment, and Victoria could hear their raspy breathing in the quiet of the closet. I guess we're both frightened, and that makes us even.

And that means..? Victoria hazarded to ask.

That means... Diego began to say, then stopped himself. He sighed again. I guess it means that we we're both right and both wrong... that we should concentrate more on getting out of this mess than on what we did or didn't do to each other in the past.

Victoria gazed into the dark, thinking. So what you're saying is, basically, that we should forgive and forget? she asked at last.

Yes, basically. I will if you will.

She paused as she digested his overture. It's probably the most generous offer I'm ever going to get after what I did to you...

Remember, no worries about what happened... It's fairly useless to spend time on recriminations.

I'm sorry..., she said anyway. I want you to know that.

He sighed again. I do know that. And I want you to know that I apologize, too. Things could have been so different if I had just... He didn't finish, but the meaning of his statement was clear; if he'd just trusted her with his secret, none of this estrangement between them would have happened. She wouldn't have been compelled to run from him, wouldn't even have been single for the marriage law to upset her so much, and then, none of this might have mattered in the end...

Agree to disagree? she inquired. To realize that we hurt each other, even if we didn't mean to, and just go on from there?

Diego heaved a breath. Yes.

A moment passed, then she said, Agreed, in a whisper. Now, what did you have in mind for how we should get these knots untied? My hands are going to sleep.

His bark of a laugh cut through the darkness surrounding them. You take 'forgive and forget' quite literally, don't you?

Diego! she whispered loudly. Be serious!

I am being serious... very, he answered quickly.

Then what's your plan? she asked back just as quickly. I'm sure the man who is Zorro has a plan?

His answering whisper came close by her as he scooted nearer to her. I do. Turn around and let me feel the knot that has your hands tied so tight. Perhaps I can loosen it, if nothing else...

She wriggled and scooted some more until he felt her hands and back against his. He fumbled with the knot for a moment, but her fingers wrapping around his made him pause in his task. Another moment went by, and his hands closed over hers. I'm glad you're all right, he whispered next, and the smile he was wearing came through in the sound of his voice, even lowered to a whisper.

So am I, Victoria responded, and simply gripped his hand all the harder.

It was immensely comforting to feel her in his grasp again. Both because of the situation they were in, and because it was simply good to feel her again.

A moment later, his hands squeezed hers one last time, and he fumbled some more with her bonds. A second went by, and then he exclaimed, Why, these are just square knots! So simple...

Another second later, Victoria bonds fell away.

Oh, my fingers tingle and hurt, she said.

That's your blood moving again as the circulation increases in your fingers, he told her.

I don't care what it is... I just know that it feels good! she whispered back.

Maybe you can untie my hands, now? Diego half asked, half suggested.

Victoria complied, then softly grazed his ear in the lightest kiss she had ever given him.

What was that for? Diego asked.

Victoria couldn't hold back her smile, then, for he felt it against his hair. Just because, she said.

A thrill coursed down Diego's spine at the way her breath felt on his neck in spite of the way his feet and hands were still roped together. You can 'just because' me any day, he suggested. She untied his ropes, and the thrill he was feeling in his spine moved to his feet, making them ache. He ignored the sensation as he said, Now here's what we need to do...

Go on to Chapter 13

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