“And like a prize idiot, I ran away.” Diego dropped into the cave's desk chair to bitterly add, “Could I have possibly done anything worse for the sake of my secret identity?”
Felipe listened with great sympathy as Diego's story of Zorro's most recent adventure with Padre Benitez continued. “Really!” he now expostulated to the patient Felipe. “I am such an idiot!” Diego let his head fall to the desk with a thud. His following groan of frustration made Felipe give a jump in the solitude of the cave, even though it was currently in the middle of the night, and the possibility of discovery was slim.
Now that he thought of it, Felipe wasn't sure that discovery mattered all that much any longer. It was one of the few things that Diego had always feared over the years, but now...
Felipe now knew for sure that Victoria knew of Zorro's secret identity. Diego had told him all about it before he and Don Alejandro had left for the tavern for supper. In fact, Felipe had been fairly certain of Victoria's unvalidated knowledge before she had revealed herself to Diego. There had just been too many side comments from her over the years for him to feel certain about any lack of knowledge on her part, too many pained looks at Diego after he'd turned away from her for Felipe to be at ease.
Now that he knew for sure that she knew, he couldn't decide how he felt about it. He had never really made himself consider what he would do if anyone ever discovered Diego's secret. He knew that he should have, but it had seemed like such a remote possibility, especially as the years had gone by and no one had ever solved the puzzle of Zorro's identity. Now, however, people who had solved the secret of Zorro's identity seemed to be surrounding them, and he still didn't know how to feel. He mostly just felt helpless.
To make matters worse, after Victoria had divulged that she knew Zorro's secret identity, de Soto had done the same in an astonishing act. The fact that he had chosen to do nothing about it was a veritable miracle. Siesta that day had been anything but restful for Diego.
Then came Don Alejandro's confession. And only a few hours later came the Padre's. Felipe found himself sharing the knowledge of Zorro's identity with at least four other people all in the same day! Discovery had always seemed like a dream that would maybe happen in the very distant future, not all at once!
But that future was now, it would seem. Felipe still didn't know how he felt about that. He knew even less what he was going to do about it.
Not that it truly mattered what he did at all. It mattered what Diego did. Oddly enough, Diego now had everything he'd ever wanted handed to him on a mythical platter of gold. Victoria knew, and hadn't rejected him. The Alcalde knew, and hadn't hanged him. Don Alejandro knew - Diego would no longer have to make those stupid, pathetic excuses as to why he needed to remain at the hacienda when trouble started brewing, which was a relief in itself.
And as to the Padre? It was unlikely that the religious man wanted anything but the best for one of his flock. He wouldn't tell, Felipe was sure. Without a bit of help from his main helper, Diego was in essence a free man.
That main helper grimaced at how superfluous he had suddenly become.
Diego had just lifted his head from the desktop, and saw his expression. “What is it, Felipe?”
Felipe grimaced again, but refused to say anything more. He wouldn't add to Diego's worries by telling him what was on his mind - it wasn't important enough to bother him with it now.
However, Felipe hadn't taken into account how dogged Diego could be when he felt someone was withholding information from him. “Felipe,” he gently admonished, “you might as well tell me now - you know I'll just become more paranoid if you don't.”
Felipe almost smiled at just the thought of a more paranoid Diego. If he didn't want Diego to shrivel up with worry, then he would have to open up to the older man.
Easier said than done.
Felipe rubbed at the back of his neck in an indication of how very much this situation bothered him. Then he waved his arms through the air, speaking in brusque, choppy gestures.
“Slow down, Felipe,” Diego immediately said. “I can't follow you.”
*That's the point,* Felipe waved.
Diego's forehead furrowed in confused wrinkles. “What is?”
*You can't follow my speech, and I can't follow you!*
Diego's confusion remained. “I'm not asking that you follow me. I'm asking that you tell me what to do.”
A somber look carved into his face, Felipe shook his head back and forth.
“What do you mean 'no?'” Diego was hurt at his friend's reluctance, and his tone expressed that hurt.
Felipe grimace again. *I can't help you.*
This unexpected answer took Diego aback. “Can't, or won't?” came the suspicious question after a quiet moment.
Now it was Felipe's forehead that was wrinkled with worry lines. *Can't,* he instantly replied. It figured that Diego would not understand this one thing. *This is about your life, not mine. You must decide.*
As answers go, it was short and to the point. It was also clearly not to Diego's liking. “I don't know what to do,” he reiterated. “That's what I thought we were discussing.”
Again Felipe shook his head, and again Diego scowled.
“Felipe,” Diego said, “I'm beginning to feel like you won't help, not that you can't.”
Felipe definitely didn't want him to think that way. He finally settled on saying, *Victoria loves you, not me.*
*No good if I say what you must do,* Felipe pointed out. *She will know.*
“But you know how much I value your ideas,” Diego replied, almost whining.
Again, Felipe gave a ghost of a smile, but remained firm. *I can't help,* he said again. *I wish I could.* Then he repeated the phrase, *Your life.*
“It's your life, too,” Diego argued, his tone gentle in spite of their disagreement. “Whatever I decide to do has just as many repercussions for you as it does for me.”
*But you're the only Zorro.*
There was no way Diego could argue that irrefutable fact. Yet he sighed in aggravation. “It's a pity that Zorro doesn't know what to do, either, or I would just ask him.”
Felipe couldn't help it - he grinned, but said once more, *I wish I could help. I always help Zorro. But Zorro must do this alone.*
Diego's second sigh in as many minutes bounced off the cave walls. “Zorro doesn't like being alone.”
Felipe now flashed a 'Z' in the air, shook his head, then pointed at Diego.
It was a gesture that made Diego sigh for a third time. “Diego doesn't like being alone any better.”
Felipe scowled, then couldn't resist shaking his head to indicate that Diego wasn't alone. He waved another gesture into the air, this one with a definite feminine quality to it.
Diego swatted at him, but Felipe jumped out of his reach at the last minute. “Stop teasing.”
Felipe pointed at himself, and shook his head, then pointed at Diego, and nodded. His sign for Victoria rounded out his argument. *Let her help.* Then he made his signs for Don Alejandro, for the Padre, and added, *Let them help, maybe even the Alcalde.*
Diego's nod was full of disbelief at the Alcalde doing anything that might help Zorro. “I'll think about it,” he said as he stifled a yawn. “Why don't we both go to bed and sleep on this. Things always look better in the morning.”
Felipe hoped that morning would bring enlightenment to his friend, but doubted that Diego would know what to do any more in a few hours than now. Yet he agreed anyway, knowing that if he agreed with Diego's suggestion, he would have hope, which was more than he had now.
The two men trudged out of the cave after seeing to Toronado's water and food needs.
Felipe still keenly felt his lack of ability to help in this instance. He couldn't even really offer his friend any advice. Zorro was truly on his own this time, which meant that Felipe was on his own, too.
And just like Diego, he didn't appreciate it one bit.
Go on to part 6.
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