This story takes place directly after the episode 'Kidnapped,' with a few changes made to the television show. It has very adult themes. So be warned.

Terrible

by Linda Bindner

It was over.

But that didn't mean the nightmares were at an end.

Diego woke often, the horror of that time ripe in his subconscious, the dreams much worse than anything he'd ever been forced to endure as Zorro. Watching Victoria go through that... awful... experience was more horrifying than he'd ever imagined, more harrowing than anything he'd had to live through so far. The idea that men could be that twisted, that evil, sent chills up his spine. He had to admit, even the Alcalde, in all his full-blown depravity, was never that evil.

Then the news got even worse; not only had Victoria been brutally mistreated, then raped, now it was common knowledge to the citizens of the pueblo that she was pregnant as well. Worst of all for Diego was that he'd been forced by the group of pirates to watch as a 'witness' to their purposeful brutality while his wrists were bound by ropes that were then tied to an iron peg pounded into the cave's stone wall. He'd watched and struggled until he managed to pull his iron peg from the wall and escape. But by then it was official; Victoria had been ruined by a group of men bent on violence and mayhem. It had caused Diego surprisingly little remorse to kill one of their number.

The worst part of the second news to stomach was that there was very little that even such a strong man as Zorro could do for her at this point. He couldn't spin back time so that the event had never happened, he couldn't erase the physical presence of the baby she was carrying, and he couldn't marry her due to the price on his head. No, in this instance, his hands were strung up as tightly as Don Diego's had been during the actual assault. He couldn't help her.

But Don Diego could. Since the night he'd carried Victoria's beaten and bruised body through the door of the hacienda and told a recently escaped Felipe to run for Dr. Hernandez, he'd barely let her out of his sight. The furtive watching was over. A much more open and undisguised affection had taken its place. Because after her rescue from the pirates, Victoria had to know the secret of his identity. There had been no hiding it from her that night if she'd been paying attention in that cave, even curled up on the floor as she had been. She must have recognized the swordplay that she had witnessed, the swift brand of justice that was entirely his own. She had to know.

Not that it mattered any longer. Somehow, with all that had happened, keeping the secret of his identity didn't seem as important now. So much worse had happened in the that week than his discovery would ever produce that unmasking the secret didn't have the magnitude any longer that it'd once had. There were so many more consequential things in life.

Not the least of which was Victoria's general health. She had been beaten and used, true, but her health was better than most who would have gone through such an experience. Once the bruises healed, on her face, her arms, and on her legs, she was outwardly fine, able to return to tending the tavern on a partial, then a full-time, basis.

The second news, the intelligence of her pregnancy, wasn't discovered for several weeks, and then the saying that 'all hell broke loose' in the pueblo wasn't too far from the truth. Victoria was either supported by friends or ostracized by enemies who should know better. The lack of education in the pueblo became apparent with each repetition of the news. Rumors spread around like the ripe winds of summer, and choosing sides in the issue was as necessary for the citizens as picking up food at the local market.

Except for the de la Vegas. The scion of the family remained a staunch supporter of the young woman, claiming to anybody who would listen that the attack wasn't her fault and the outcome was unfortunate at best, and the young heir who had been a party to the brutal treatment was behaving... strangely.

At least, Don Diego's behavior seemed strange until the day he proposed marriage. Then everyone understood his apparent problem, at least on the outside. The hidden secret of his identity would probably be carried to his grave.

Victoria had little choice in the matter; she already felt sorry for the baby, as she was naturally an empathetic woman. It wasn't it's fault that it's father was a rotten good-for-nothing, or that he happened to be the man killed by Diego's borrowed sword. Still, she had to do something about the situation, and Diego's proposal was the only one she was likely to get in such a stilted, unforgiving society. It looked like the rich young man was saving her from what would have been a ferociously difficult fate. Only Diego and Victoria knew the truth of the matter. Not that the truth even mattered anymore.

Diego was sitting alone in the tavern the day the one and only questioning of Victoria's current standing occurred in his presence. Not that he was alone by choice, but his father and Felipe were on the road to San Diego with a herd of malleable, expensive, cattle. They hoped to bring home more money when they sold the individual cows, and had left Diego behind with heavy hearts to watch the ranch and plan his wedding, neither activity promising to provide much enjoyment. The ranch practically ran itself, and the wedding was hard to plan as Victoria wasn't publicly very involved in it.

Privately, it was a different matter, though. She was very interested, it turned out, and her ambivalence was a performance meant to discourage the pueblo's citizens from more useless rumors. Because though she had been highly mistreated, she wasn't about to let some pirates ruin her future. She met the censure and disapproval from some of the pueblo's citizens with common sense and fortitude. Her positive attitude did more to progress the citizens' opinions of the baby than anything else that could have been done. The fact that Diego hadn't been fast enough to save her from that baby was the only point that still rankled in his mind.

But he was endeavoring to forget that point by reading his current book in the tavern over lunch, and smiling and occasionally offering a warm hand squeeze to Victoria as she hurried past. Or, at least, things appeared warm and fuzzy until the Alcalde came by.

Can I join you, Don Diego? DeSoto asked, his genial manners making him seem to be the perfect dining partner. But Diego knew better.

Still, to maintain his disguise, Diego had to ask the government official to sit, even if he honestly didn't want to. Although, he did a lot fewer things that he didn't want to do than he used to. He didn't waste the time on things he'd rather not do.

Is your father out of town? DeSoto asked next, still the polite and friendly guest.

Yes, he and Felipe went to San Diego to sell some cows, answered Diego, knowing full well that he should take this opportunity for what it was and assimilate all the information about his arch enemy that he could. Only gathering information wasn't what he was in the mood for. He smiled at Victoria as she whizzed by, a plate of food in her hands.

I'll be back to take your order in a moment, she promised DeSoto while skirting their table to enable herself to quickly reach another patiently waiting customer.

DeSoto nodded, then watched the young señorita as she went by. It's a shame, he said with a shake of his head.

His statement caught Diego's attention, though not enough to bring him completely out of his book. What's a shame? he queried, vaguely paying attention.

Señorita Escalante's reputation, DeSoto replied sadly, clearly scandalized according to his tone of voice. Everyone knows why you're planning to marry her.

This wasn't something that Diego hadn't heard before. Now that Victoria wasn't there to capture his grin, he had disappeared back into his story. Everyone can think what they like, was all he said. Reluctant to share more of his reasons for being in Los Angeles on that warm, sunny day, he took a bite of his tamale while he continued to read.

DeSoto chuckled. After all, look at the facts; she's a ruined woman, her reputation is...

That was as far as he got. The hand that snaked out to wrap around DeSoto's upper arm and yank him forward easily cut off any more words and was swiftly joined by a second. The Alcalde gasped in surprise in the suddenly silent tavern.

There's nothing wrong with Victoria's reputation, Diego reminded, abruptly sounding low voiced and horrible as he whispered through that silence. Now, don't repeat what you insinuated about her. Slurring her name will do no one any good in this situation, least of all, you, Alcalde. With that account hissed, he released the official, who collapsed on the tabletop, has hands massaging his shoulder.

DeSoto croaked, still rubbing his skin, Those rumors about how you can't stand to hear an unfavorable opinion of the señorita are true, apparently.

Not even Zorro can get angrier faster, Diego warned while he snapped his book shut and rose. In the future, leave my fiancée out of conversations. So angry that he shook, a demeanor far from his usual nonchalant self, Diego laid some coins on the bar and turned to go, suddenly losing his appetite at his enemy's comment.

You need to be more careful in the future, Diego, warned DeSoto, still irritated by the suddenness and surprise of the assault. You don't want to land in jail.

A returning threat was the last thing Diego had any patience for. Don't bother threatening me, and leave Victoria out of anything you say, Diego replied in a voice of steel. With that said, he composedly left the tavern. DeSoto and the tavern's many patrons watched him go, mystified at his sudden reversal of behavior. But it was common knowledge that Diego had certain 'feelings' for the señorita that he wasn't bothering to hide any longer. Those emotions had been as concealed as his temper had been.

It was also a well known fact that now it was as easy for the masked legend to defeat Sergeant Mendoza as it was to rouse Diego's hidden temper. Until the the pirates had come to Los Angeles, he'd been affable and charming. He was still charming, but the pirates had done more than attack Victoria on that fateful night; Diego was no longer controlling his famous de la Vega temper, as that scene with DeSoto had just illustrated to half the pueblo. He could rise incredibly fast at even the slightest offense to Victoria's name or her reputation. His feelings for the señorita no longer a secret, his protectiveness matched his emotions. Most thought Victoria was lucky to be getting such a devoted follower, especially considering the circumstances, and Diego did nothing to change that idea. His behavior in the tavern only reinforced such a thought.

So it wasn't much of a stretch to people's imaginations when Diego asked Victoria to come with him for a picnic by the beach the next clear day that was full of warmth and sunshine. She agreed, guiltily glad to get away from the curious stares of the lunch crowd for one afternoon as she hurried through her chores to be with her fiancé. No matter what the future held, she had promised not to divulge his secret identity, and he'd had no choice but to finally face his fears about that secret and to believe her. It was one of the hardest things he'd done to date, next to watching the woman he loved be barbarically attacked by a group of voracious men intent on enjoying themselves at her expense. He still did not understand such a compunction.

But pirates were far from Diego's mind as he reined his horse up beside a long stretch of unmarked sand. Gentle swells of water lapped at the land, and the sandy beach was littered with shells. How's this? he asked, certain that Victoria would agree that he had suggested the ideal spot for lunch and conversation.

Victoria absolutely agreed. It looks perfect, Diego. She slid off his horse, Esperanza, as he dismounted more conventionally, using stirrups.

The saddlebags quickly divulged their contents, and an old blanket was duly spread on the sand, followed by tamales, enchiladas, and raisins. The cooked food tasted nearly as good as if Victoria had made the dishes. A container of water completed the delectable feast. They talked as they ate, then strew the raisins between them as a dessert to the delicious meal. It was during the dessert that the conversation really grew intriguing.

Victoria, Diego asked after a fashion of suitable silence while they munched on the raisins, do you mind if I ask you a question? It's a bit personal in nature.

Go ahead, Victoria solicited. You can ask me anything. Is this about the wedding? she inquired on an offhand chance that she had guessed correctly.

In a roundabout way, Diego hedged, and reached for another raisin. I know I can ask here, as we're quite alone and likely to stay that way.

This beach is one of the pueblo's hidden treasures, Victoria acquiesced to his unvoiced comment. But that doesn't explain what your question is, or why you want to ask it in the first place.

Diego gazed quietly at the ocean that rose and died in waves that were far more compelling to the troubled mind than anybody gave them credit for. You don't have to reply if you don't want to.

What was on his mind? Honestly, Diego, ask. I think I owe you an answer, at least.

Diego laughed sardonically at her comment. You don't 'owe' me anything, Victoria. In fact, I'm fairly surprised that you think you owe anybody anything.

Victoria's gaze was drawn out to sea, too. After... what happened, she began, sounding timid and not at all like her usual fiery self, I'm much more inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Except the Alcalde, laughed Diego.

Victoria had to agree with him on that. She chuckled amiably. Except for the Alcalde.

Him we can live without. But I'm glad you brought up the... the attack, Diego said, completely changing the subject. This topic was much more difficult than inquiring if he could ask her a question. We haven't discussed the... assault much, but it's... it's what I want to talk about, he went on, determined.

Victoria swallowed audibly, though she also reached for another raisin. It had been her policy to be open about what had happened, yet to discourage too much conversation; she was getting tired of the prying of each citizen she met. Of course, Diego was different. Yes?

It's a little embarrassing... Diego started to say.

Finally, she acted irritated at his hesitancy. Just go on, she suggested.

All right, I will. Diego crossed his previously outstretched legs and regarded her honestly. I am thinking about the wedding, and wondering if I can count on having a normal... a normal wedding night. Hesitant now, he gazed firmly at a fold in the blanket.

Surprised and a little stunned, Victoria could only stare at him, too full of shock to answer at first. Then she sincerely replied, I didn't expect anyone to be interested in me, to be quite honest.

Diego played absently with the fold in the blanket. I didn't think you would want to have anything to do with me, he answered, just as honest as she was.

Because of who you are?

Diego took a deep breath. Yes. And no. Because of who you are, and what happened, he said gently.

Abruptly, Victoria dropped the uneaten raisin in her hand. All right, let's talk about this, she said in a very businesslike fashion, crossing her legs under her skirt as Diego had done with his.

Diego dusted off his hands. Anyway, that's what's on my mind, he said perfunctorily. That and so much more.

Like what?

One thing at a time, Diego said. You haven't answered my question yet. He'd been more forward since the attack, true, but he had also been more honest. That was a good thing on the whole, yet sometimes it wasn't. Can I expect to be able to hold you?

That's what I'm looking forward to, replied Victoria.

There, that answer was satisfactory. It gave him the courage to ask another question. To kiss you? he hazarded to inquire.

Mute now at the suggestion, Victoria only nodded.

The courage went a little further. To make love to you? he asked in a hushed voice.

Victoria was a bit more hesitant on this request, but eventually she nodded again. I hope so.

He was careful only to ask her, not to touch. What do you mean by 'hope?'

Now Victoria was the one who looked at the blanket. I had been hoping you would still want to, that you would still want me.

Almost too overcome with emotion to be careful, Diego looked at her in astonishment. He gasped out his surprise, then grinned. Yes, I still want to. Why would I be any different? What the pirates did wasn't your fault, he said emphatically.

Yes, you've told me that before, or at least, your father has, she reiterated. Sometimes your father can bluster so loudly that he covers up anything else. But still, I had to wonder if you would feel any different about... about making love.

Different? No. There was nothing different about the way he felt concerning her. He still had to fight the desire to touch, to stroke, to caress. Quietly, to himself, Diego just laughed in amazement at her hidden fears. Wanting to hold her, kiss her, forever, he was still cautious. Can I expect to make love to you now? he dared to ask in a quiet voice, a little frightened of her response.

Equally as hushed, Victoria gazed at the ocean, then turned to look straight at him, flirtatious now in her unrelenting stare. She leaned forward in an unmistakable request. Yes, she answered, half shy and half inviting.

That reply startled Diego, who hadn't really been anticipating it. He had expected much more reluctance on her part, and wasn't prepared for her agreement, or any agreement. Yet, he moved closer to her so fast that he took her by surprise to see that such a big man could move so swiftly. However, now that he was beside her on the blanket, he moved much more slowly, shyly, almost reverently. Knowing he had to be gentle, and still hesitant, he reached out and caressed her cheek with his hand, rubbing the skin with his thumb. The emotion that he felt glowed from him, mixed with the love that showed on his face. Victoria, I love you so much, he whispered, staring in veneration at her familiar features.

Victoria's appearance displayed a little fear, but much stronger was her returning affection for him. Affection that wanted satisfaction now. You don't have to think that I'm so fragile, you know, she teased in an answering whisper. She was suddenly fascinated by his mustache as she smoothed it down with her fingers, exploring gingerly.

Diego responded back, I have never thought of you as fragile.

Any reply she might have made was summarily halted when his lips met hers in a kiss that was at first quite mild, light as the wind, exploring, then turned insistent and demanding as the passion he felt for her automatically asserted itself. His hand had slipped from her cheek to wrap around her waist, something he had not felt since before the night of the kidnapping, as he quickly became lost in the sensation of shared desire.

For Victoria's part, she was aware of how gently he was treating her at first, but to be treated with unending kindness wasn't what she wanted. Her desire grew with his, springing to life immediately on the heals of what she was certain could only be his true feelings for her; there was no longer any holding back. A word of amazement came to her mind as the only means of describing her own emotional response. How she loved this man. He could awaken the passion inside her like nobody else could. Those pirates would never understand this, and hence could never have experienced such emotion. For the first time, Victoria almost felt sorry for them. Almost.

Diego, completely lost now in a fog as he kissed her throat, was still coherent enough to remind her, I would want to, would have to, do this no matter what happened in the past.

I know, she whispered, her eyes shut, just feeling him, sensing him as he moved to work the same brand of magic as his kisses with his incredible hands. They moved intentionally lower, in tandem with his indescribable mouth. Without a questioning thought, Victoria slowly lowered them both back onto the sun-warmed blanket.

* * *

Divested of clothes, and not desiring much to change that fact, Diego cleared the blanket of any remaining raisins before they covered themselves. Feeling the other's skin had suddenly become of vital importance to them, and they wrapped themselves up with the blanket like a tamale, warm and cocooned. But despite their apparent aloneness on the beach, they talked in hushed voices as Victoria rested her head on Diego's obliging shoulder. Idly he ran a hand through her hair and she kissed his chest.

That was much nicer than... last time, she commented absently, stretching languidly, a tired smile on her face to show her contentment. Her statement had been comparing, since she couldn't help but compare, yet her tone was always mild, even in that comparison.

Diego laughed lightly. That's not saying much, he said, followed by a gentle kiss to the top of her head.

That just goes to show what affection can do for you, Victoria commented with a tight, loving, squeeze around his middle,

Diego grunted, and squeezed her back. But he was smiling when she looked at him.

Victoria grinned back and gave him a fast kiss, then grew as somber as the next thing she commented, If you want to talk about what happened to you with those pirates, I'm listening.

Diego's hand stilled for a moment. I'm not certain if I want to talk about it or not.

Victoria asked in a very quiet voice, What were you thinking at the time?

What was I thinking? queried Diego in surprise. That the whole thing was pretty horrific. That's what I was thinking.

Victoria lifted her head to stare at his eyes. You don't have to talk about this if you don't want to.

Diego laughed a bit. Now you sound like me. His expression changed as he too grew serious enough to stop making jokes. I still have nightmares about it, he confessed.

So do I, Victoria whispered as she replaced her head to its former position. Her voice was now muffled by his shoulder.

Diego lifted his head this time. Do you? You know, nothing would give me more enjoyment than to comfort you after such a nightmare.

You might just get your chance, declared Victoria, her voice still lowered to a whisper.

Don't, Diego whispered back to her and kissed her again. Try not to have those dreams.

I try, confirmed Victoria, But, in those dreams, I can always see their eyes, filled with pure malice.

Sh. They won't be hurting anybody now, comforted Diego, alluding to the recent hanging of the pirates who had attacked the town and taken many of its citizens prisoner. You know, I have never solicited for the death of any individual, but I can't feel too badly about killing those men. Maybe they deserved it.

Do you really mean that?

Diego wriggled against her, suddenly uncomfortable. Perhaps I do, and that's completely confusing. I've never believed in a death sentence before.

What they did to you was fairly awful, she remarked, reminding him of the occurrences of that fateful night.

Diego looked as confused as he felt. Watching wasn't so awful, even though it was awful enough. No, being forced to watch as a witness, like they wanted, wasn't as bad as being helpless to stop what they were doing. I think that having the rope tied to that ring pounded into the wall was the worst part. Watching, yet being unable to do anything about it.

That must have been extremely hard for you, Victoria murmured.

Diego barked a laugh. It was much harder for you, he insisted.

She didn't say anything to answer his comment, and he suspected that talking about the assault was still difficult for her, even two months after the fact.

Finally, she said, You know, Diego, I heard that threat you made to the Alcalde yesterday. I was in the kitchen at the time, but it was so quiet in the tavern and your voice carried so well. I want to thank you for defending me so quickly, but if you're not careful, DeSoto will figure out who you are, or he'll put you in jail for disturbing the peace, or he'll make up a crime that he said you committed. I wouldn't put anything past him.

Disturbing the peace? asked Diego with a teasing lilt to his voice. I thought that was your job. He gazed again at the sky and the ocean, and when he turned back to her, the teasing had left his demeanor. I can joke all I want, but you're right, Victoria. I have to remember to be more careful around him. It's just so hard not to threaten him for his more stupid remarks after I consider what we've lived through.

Victoria lifted her head again. Yes, but threatening him may not be very wise.

Threatening anybody certainly goes against how I was raised, Diego admitted. But I was so angry the night of the assault that for the first time, I was out of control. It was a frightening feeling, but it was simultaneously liberating, if you know what I mean.

I do know, Victoria was quick to reply. And watching you kill that man was probably more frightening than... the actual attack, she said, resolved to finish her statement once she'd started.

I didn't actually mean to kill him.

I've always asserted that you acted in self defense.

What you said helped a lot to convince the Alcalde and the pueblo's citizens not to jail me right along with the pirates, and I want to thank you for that, Diego said.

I certainly didn't see the point of you rotting away in the Alcalde's prison, too. I've been there; there's not much to see, reminded Victoria.

Diego brushed her hair away from her face with his fingers. The wind instantly rearranged it. He thought back to the first time he'd ever rescued Victoria from the jail cells. I do remember that first time when you were in jail. What were you in prison for that time? I can't quite recall...

Victoria rolled her eyes. For revolutionary activities. For holding that gathering of discontent in the tavern.

Diego returned to resting his head on the sand. That's right. I remember now.

The new subject of conversation lulled them into a false sense of security, and before they knew it, they had both fallen asleep under the warm afternoon sun. Diego woke with a start, but was relieved to find that only ten minutes had gone by. He shook Victoria.

Hey, mi preciosa, wake up.

Startled awake, Victoria drew in a deep breath, and would have sat up, too, if the blanket hadn't been wrapped around them so tightly.

Dreaming? he asked.

Victoria pushed at the blanket with her feet. The blanket reminded me of those men who sat on my legs who... She didn't complete her thought. Suddenly, she went still. Diego, we haven't really talked about... about the baby before. Don't you think we should?

He kissed her on the cheek when she tilted her face towards him as she spoke. This baby will be ours; what more is there to say?

Victoria looked uncomfortable now. Some of the people are saying that you're marrying me to save the baby's reputation. And mine, she added.

Diego sighed, then said, Some people also believe in whatever others tell them to. I never realized how suspicious the people are, he commented, then sighed again. The truth is that the baby supplied the excuse I'd been waiting for so I could marry you while Zorro is still around.

That's the truth?

Diego's hand struggled out from under the blanket so he could caress her cheek again. The truth, he assured. But I will also love this baby because it's a part of you.

She asked, Even though it's being forced on you?

It's not being forced on me; it's being forced on you, Diego argued.

Victoria looked like she was going to disagree further, but then she laid her head back down onto his shoulder and sighed. At least it brought me to you.

It can't be all bad, Diego agreed.

I'm glad your father doesn't seem to have a problem with the baby.

If he did, Diego threatened, he'd have to change his mind.

But his attitude does make things much easier, asserted Victoria, hoping to banish the dark edge to his voice with her words.

Her ploy worked. You're right, he said in much lighter tones. We will be living in his house. Technically, he can do whatever he wants.

Victoria moved her head so she could see his eyes. Does it bother you to be living in your father's house?

Diego gazed back. No. Does it bother you?

No.

I would find a job if I had to, but I admit that not having one makes... certain things much easier.

She knew he was talking about Zorro. Yes, it does.

He hugged her close for a moment. And my way of life means I get to marry you, something I've always wanted.

Always?

Always, he firmly said. And speaking of the pueblo in a round about way, don't you think we should be getting back? Diego lightly, longingly, kissed her lips. You'll be missed.

I know I will, Victoria grumbled. I suppose you're right.

You know I am. We're probably getting sunburned as we lay here anyway, he said with a small smile lighting his face.

Victoria smiled, then laughed, What a great way to get a little red!

Diego laughed too, but he still threw aside the blanket and hurried to dress. Victoria had no choice but to do the same. Though I liked you better the other way, Diego teased. He slid the folded blanket into Esperanza's saddlebag. With one more light kiss, the two mounted the horse and turned her towards the pueblo. They rode while snuggled up together back to town.


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