Part VI: Diego

Diego tried to sleep - he really did. He lay down on his bed with a grateful sigh, arranged the blankets and the pillows just so - and then stared at the ceiling for the rest of the night. He simply could not shut off his mind.

de Soto knew... Victoria knew... the Padre knew... his father knew... Felipe had known for years... Did anyone not know? Sergeant Mendoza doesn't know, his mind whispered in the dark. But with his luck, the Sergeant was just waiting for daylight to tell him that he too knew all about Zorro's secret. Maybe he shouldn't have lunch with him tomorrow - he didn't want to tempt the man too much.

Diego rolled over and tried to sleep, but rolled back again fifteen minutes later to stare at the ceiling and think some more. Echoing through his mind over and over again was the voice of Padre Benitez innocently asking the question: Why are you making her wait?

It was a true pity that Diego had no idea how to answer that question. The closest he came to an answer was simply repeating the question to himself, his mind whispering that it was Victoria the priest was referring to, then inevitably embarking on a long list of reasons to maintain his and Victoria's status quo that seemed more flimsy than substantial. The most important reason he came up with was that it was too dangerous for Victoria to know of his identity... and there he paused every time, and the self-directed arguments began.

Victoria already knew who he was, he reminded himself. Admittedly, she thought it was her fault that he hadn't known that she'd known for years, but he was sure he'd been able to set her straight on that point before siesta had ended that day. The important thing was that Diego could no longer blame the possible danger to her as a reason for not furthering the relationship between the two of them. She knew, and had known for years. The danger to her because of her discovery had actually been relatively minimal, something Diego had never foreseen. Instead, it was her connection to Zorro that caused more danger to her than the discovery of Zorro's identity ever had.

That was a sobering thought, the obvious solution being that he needed to stay far away from Victoria so that she would no longer be connected with Zorro. But he discounted this idea before it had really found form. It was impossible to even consider staying away from Victoria now, no matter how much it would protect her from governmental retribution. Even if he didn't truly know her as well as he should considering the two of them were engaged to marry, he instinctively knew that she completed his future, she was his other half, his heart. He couldn't stay away from her now any better than he could not breathe the dusty California air. He figured that during all this time, he and Victoria had been together anyway, though not in the traditional sense of the word. Just because dealings with her had moved in an unexpected direction was no reason to abandon her to the vagaries of fate. She was him as much as he was her.

His next argument was, and always had been, that if Victoria knew his secret, then she could never hide that fact from de Soto, and therefore, he should never tell her. This, however, was untrue, as Diego well knew. de Soto had never known that Victoria knew all about Zorro's secret identity. Zorro had never known that she knew, either. To be completely honest with himself, this notion rocked Diego's natural self confidence. He had always assumed that he would know if she knew. The fact that he'd had no idea for years said a great many wonderful things about Victoria's acting abilities, but very little about Diego's ability to read people. It was a blow to his ego, as little as he liked to admit that.

Diego had also always assumed that if de Soto ever figured out who Zorro was under his mask, he would then hang the bandit and be done with it. The fact that de Soto had known all about Zorro's identity and hadn't done anything about it... for a whole month!... forced Diego to call into question many of the things he had taken for granted over the years. That alone caused Diego enough discomfort to make his ears burn.

Then Diego had another thought: he'd always assumed that if de Soto ever discovered him, it would only be a matter of time before he figured out Felipe's part in Zorro's story. The assumption that Don Alejandro knew all about the deception, too, would soon follow, and before Diego could say 'Toronado,' the entire de la Vega household would be facing the Alcalde's firing squad.

But that hadn't happened, either. In fact, nothing that Diego had always assumed would happen had come to pass. So again, begged the invisible Padre to Diego, what was the problem? Why was it that he was making Victoria wait rather than snatching her up as soon as he possibly could?

He'd always assumed that Victoria would be angry if she ever learned Zorro's secret... but she hadn't been angry at all. She'd been far more upset at herself than angry at him.

He'd also assumed that Victoria would want to give his ring back if he told her his secret because she would inevitably think that he really didn't trust her. But Victoria had been much more concerned that Diego would ask for his ring back because she hadn't told him sooner that she had figured him out.

He'd also assumed that his father would hate him for not telling his secret to the very man he lived with. But, actually, his father was more worried that he might have hurt his son because he'd known about that secret much sooner than Diego had anticipated, and thus took appropriate actions to further his disguise.

And most surprising of all was de Soto's very nonchalant attitude about the whole Zorro affair, claiming that he and Diego/Zorro were now both alive, and therefore even.

And Felipe... the boy was depressed because he couldn't be any help in this situation? That idea simply amazed Diego. Felipe had been so much help over the years that Diego owed him at least twenty times over at this point. Felipe shouldn't have to feel that he must be of help to Zorro now. This truly was Zorro's problem - Felipe had been right about that. In fact, Felipe was often right about most things. It was no surprise at all that he was right again this time.

However, all this rumination, remembering, arguing, and soul searching didn't bring Diego one bit closer to a decision about what he was going to do now. All he could do was ask himself over and over again why was it that he was making Victoria wait? Why hadn't the Alcalde decided to kill him no matter how even they were? Why hadn't his father been angry enough to hate him at the way he'd tried to fool him for years? Why was the Padre being so condemnatory towards Zorro where Victoria was concerned?

Then he was back to thinking about Victoria. It was a long shot to argue that they could still be hurt by the Alcalde, and therefore Zorro had to be continually cautious where Victoria was concerned. So what, indeed, was he waiting for?

Diego had never been so unsure of himself as he was in those dark hours before dawn.

The next day, a bleary-eyed Diego sat at the tavern, watching Victoria while waiting for Mendoza to join him for lunch, and still thinking.

So why was he making her wait?

Truly, Diego still had no idea. The only thing he understood was a sudden feeling of terror burning up his insides every time he even looked at Victoria.

But, for heaven's sake, why was he scared of Victoria? They were engaged! She'd made him so happy just the day before by telling him that she'd said 'yes' to him and not to Zorro when he'd proposed. He could marry her now and...

Abruptly, his stomach writhed; the thought of being married was truly terrifying, though he understood why that thought was simultaneously highly ridiculous. Victoria had never scared him in his life. There was no reason that he could think of to be afraid of her. But he also couldn't deny the icy fingers of dread clenching his insides every time he considered marriage, either. So what was the problem that caused such dread? Was it marriage to Victoria? Or marriage in general?

Marriage to anybody signaled the end of Zorro, didn't it? How could he be married and still be Zorro? So much of Zorro's work happened after dark - a wife would hardly be understanding of his need to chase bandits around in the dark.

And what of de Soto? Would Diego ever be able to completely trust him not to hurt a future de la Vega wife, whoever that may be? Could he be happily married knowing that it might be his fault she was someday killed... or widowed... or her child was kidnapped... or killed?

At the same time, how could he ever just decide to no longer be Zorro, but be known as the man who was Zorro? It would be folly on his part to think he would suffer no reprisals for his law-breaking activities of the recent years. If nothing else, hotheads would hunt him down for duels no matter where he went or what he did.

For the first time, Diego realized that Zorro would be part of his life forever, even if he moved as far away as Spain. His was a life now belonging to a legend. He would never know what any day held for him: a bounty hunter not up on current affairs, a hothead, a man looking to boost his own reputation by killing the man known as Zorro... he could be fighting for the rest of his life! How could he lead a wife to that kind of transient lifestyle? He couldn't do that to anybody, least of all Victoria!

So, what could he do, now that so many knew? Wasn't this the end of Zorro? How could Diego go on if Zorro ended?

Diego's head fell into his hands; this situation was truly horrendous! He'd rather face lancers and bandits and the Alcalde armed to the teeth than be caught in this miasma of indecision. He just didn't know what to do, and that was an unfamiliar feeling: Zorro always knew what to do!

Just then Diego heard the familiarly soft tones of Victoria speaking quietly into his ear. “Diego, is something wrong? My customers are beginning to ask me what's bothering the calmest man in the pueblo.”

The question and following commentary kissed Diego's ear like Victoria's breath. His head shot up so fast that he almost clobbered Victoria's chin with the top of his head. His eyes settled on her friendly, welcome features, and in a split second, knew exactly what to do: in spite of the panic squeezing his heart, a sudden rush of wisdom showed him that Felipe really was prophetic: his words resounded again and again in his mind - 'let Victoria help.'

And why shouldn't he discuss this with her? Victoria had as much at stake in this situation as he did. Plus, she was aware of almost everything that he was. It actually made a lot of sense to open himself up to her unfamiliar perspective, though the thought of opening himself up to anybody was an agonizing one.

Before the agony could swamp him, he quickly said, “Victoria, we need to talk.”

Victoria's face instantly blanched at his demanding tone. He could practically read her mind just by the expression of fear in her eyes: she instantly thought that he wanted his ring back.

But despite Diego's own fright at this situation, he was no more ready to ask for his ring back than she was to give it. Besides, he wouldn't voluntarily hurt Victoria no matter how afraid he was.

Given that, Diego modulated his tone. “I'm sorry - we don't need to talk. I want to talk... to you,” he hastily added. “Are you free during siesta today?”

Her immediate alarm was beginning to dissipate, her eyes now blazing with worry instead. “Yes, of course,” she replied quickly enough, “But are you sure...?”

“I just have a few things on my mind.” Diego smiled disarmingly at her, doing his utmost to set her at ease while acknowledging that his comment had to be the understatement of the century. “If anyone asks what we're doing at siesta, tell them I'm giving you the English lesson you asked for yesterday.”

“English,” she dubiously repeated, then gave a wry grimace. “Nobody will ever believe that I'm smart enough to learn English, including me!”

“Then I'll prove them all wrong,” Diego firmly announced. “You're not only smart enough, but I'm surprised I haven't suggested this sooner.”

Victoria balked again, in spite of his estimation of her intelligence. “But I don't have time!”

“Which is why we're meeting during siesta,” Diego politely argued. “Say what you will - I won't be swayed.”

Victoria looked pleased in spite of the fear still lingering at the edges of her expression. “Alright, I'll be there at siesta. Where? The Guardian office again?”

Diego's brows wrinkled. “No, that will make what we do become too much the focus of the pueblo's citizens. How about the top of the rocks at that group of boulders about half a mile to the South of the pueblo? The rocks should be cool enough this early in the year to sit on. I prefer for us to be completely alone while I... teach.”

With those few words, Diego was able to let Victoria know that he wanted to talk about his alter ego, something most of the pueblo's citizens couldn't hear. The fearful emotion left her eyes then, crowded out by the worry that had firmly taken up residence. “Alright, I'll be there,” she promised just as Sergeant Mendoza appeared at the table.

“Don Diego, Señorita Victoria!” he jovially greeted. “Are you ready for lunch?”

Diego grinned, “Of course, Sergeant!”

“Excellent!” The Sergeant beamed. “I've been looking forward to this all day!”

“Well then, pull up a chair, Sergeant!” Diego invited, equally as jovial, pouring on the charm to conceal his earlier anxiety. “The Señorita and I were just discussing her English lessons, but that can wait. What shall we order for lunch?”

“Ah,” Mendoza beamed again, rubbing his hands together this time as he turned to Victoria. “What have you prepared?”

Victoria told him, dutifully repeating herself when Diego filled in the English words after she had spoken in Spanish. At least she's willing to further this charade, Diego thought. Now, all he had to do was eat an excellent lunch before wandering in the direction that the citizens seated in the nearby vicinity would expect of him. Things couldn't have worked out better than if he'd spent the last week planning them.

Go on to part 7.

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