Part VIII Reality - the de la Vega men

The moment Diego got home later that afternoon, he went straight to the bookcase in the library to return one of his English books that he had used in Victoria's lesson and grab a harder one. Victoria had already made it through the easier book, and he certainly didn't want her growing bored with English... or her teacher!

Thus, he was very surprised when his father's voice slipped around him like a cloud in the library's gloom.

“Good to see you again today.”

Diego whipped around, momentarily startled, then relaxed when he realized who was talking. “Oh.... yes. It's good to see you, too, Father. What did you do all day?”

Don Alejandro stretched in his armchair fronting the windows, a book at his elbow. “Oh, you know, the usual. We had to find Cimarron's lost colt.”

“Did you find him, and was he alright?”

“Yes, on both counts. He was in Perdito Canyon, but he was hard to find. We really could have used your help.”

“Sorry - I was giving an English lesson to Victoria.” That comment brought to Diego's mind the activities of the afternoon that had accompanied the English lesson, and in spite of the emotional turmoil of the day, had to smile.

Don Alejandro, on the other hand, wasn't smiling. “No need to ask you how 'the English lesson' went - I already know.”

That statement startled Diego out of his reminiscences. “How could you know?”

Alejandro sighed in response, once again appearing deeply disappointed in his son, even though he now knew who he really was. “Honestly, Diego, you must have left your brains with Sergeant Mendoza: meeting Victoria outside where just anyone can watch?”

A cold chill snaked up Diego's spine. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Alejandro began, his voice sounding tired now as it became soft as a whisper, “it's a good thing I already know who you are, or I would be taking a switch to you for messing around with another man's girl.”

Diego scowled. “I wasn't 'messing around!' I told you - I was giving Victoria an English lesson.” There was more 'Zorro' in his response than 'Diego.'

Alejandro was unused to his son defending himself so roundly. His second sigh wasn't any more encouraging than his first, however, showing how Diego's defensive words wouldn't deter him. “An English lesson wasn't what I saw going on at the top of Seventh Heaven... all afternoon. The Alcalde didn't see any lesson going on, either.”

“The Alcalde?” Diego's sharp inquiry filled the room.

His father eyed him, severely irritated. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

Diego's expression went from 'pleasant recollection of memories' to 'defensive' in a heartbeat. “Of course not,” he whispered in a tone matching his father's. “Victoria also told me yesterday that she knows everything... and that changes some things between us that we needed to discuss.”

Alejandro gave a sarcastic groan. “Your discussion was quite emotional, wasn't it?”

Abruptly Diego scowled again. “You don't seem very worried about the Alcalde knowing everything, too. Being this calm isn't like you.”

His comment caused Alejandro to give a sardonic bark of laughter. “You mean, I don't seem like a father worried that his son was so stupid that he's now on the verge of being discovered, captured, and hung?”

Diego nodded, too stunned to hear some of his basic fears so baldly stated by someone else to respond more verbally.

Alejandro gave a reluctant huff before admitting, “I know all about how much de Soto knows - and how he promises not to do anything because you saved his life.”

“Yes, that's what he...”

“But that doesn't mean he's the only person in the pueblo smart enough to watch the doings of every man with a mustache!” Alejandro interrupted Diego to remind. “We were both rather surprised at how you behaved right out in the open like that, especially considering how careful you've always been.” The silence that settled over the library then was like a black cloak, heavy and smothering.

Don Alejandro casually broke that silence in a voice thick with innuendo. “I take it you decided to tell Victoria.”

Uncomfortable, Diego winced at Alejandro's strident whisper. “Uh... no.”

That statement surprised Alejandro. “What?”

Diego quickly glanced at his surroundings, dropping the English book to a chair to be retrieved later. “I'll tell you - but not here.”

His father's surprise could not have been more complete if he'd streaked naked through the room. “Not here? Then where? Not on top of a pile of rocks, I hope!”

The corners of Diego's lips lifted in spite of the unpleasant situation. “No. There's a...” Instead of explaining, he just crossed to the fireplace, once again looked furtively around, then touched the hidden spring on the mantel when he saw no one. The secret door swung silently open wide. “Go on in - I'll meet you there in a few minutes.”

Alejandro jerkily rose and crossed the room, staring warily at the opening he hadn't known existed five seconds before. “Where are you going?”

Diego distractedly replied, “To find Felipe.”

Alejandro startled again. “Felipe?”

But Diego was already gone.

A second later, Alejandro vanished through the door, walking into a world that was so different from the one he'd left that he did a double take when he saw the cave. He was amazed it had always been right under his nose in his own hacienda, and he hadn't suspected a thing. The laboratory/hideout was so Diego and so Zorro at the same time that Alejandro had to give another blink of astonishment to make sure he was seeing things right. Diego must usually be much more careful than he was this afternoon to keep this from me so successfully, he ruminated, admiring his surroundings, noting all the scientific paraphernalia right next to the weapons, and seeing the power of the black steed up close for the first time. The horseman in Alejandro immediately appreciated Toronado's muscular frame. The Alcalde never stood a chance.

Just then, Diego appeared, Felipe at his side, both of them looking for too comfortable in this secret cavern buried under his hacienda. “I'm not interrupting anything important, I hope,” Alejandro sardonically quipped. “Another English lesson, perhaps?”

Diego didn't like the condemnatory expression that flitted across his father's eyes, but he ignored it in lieu of discussing things that were far more significant just then. “You can say anything to Felipe that you'd say to me... exactly as you'd say it to me.”

Meaning that Felipe would hear it...

This was another surprise for Alejandro, but one tempered by his own long standing suspicions. “As I thought.” At Felipe's own look of surprise, added, “Truly, this delights me, Felipe, even if I thought I knew.” Then he purposely studied the two men in front of him. “It appears that more than one of you knows how to keep a secret.”

“We'll discuss that idea all you want at a later time,” Diego said, and instead fixed his petulant glare on Alejandro. “Right now, I just want you to yell at me and get it out of your system.”

Alejandro was only too happy to give in to his son's request, speaking at his normal level now that they were so well concealed. “What were you thinking, Diego, giving such ammunition to the Alcalde, even if he does know?!”

“I had no idea you were spying on us!” Diego exclaimed. “You had no business watching any of that!”

“Of course it was my business!” Alejandro retorted back. “Zorro belongs to me as much as he belongs to Victoria, and as a citizen of Los Angeles, she's as much a public figure as he is! Her behavior...”

“... has always been beyond reproach, and you know it!”

“Perhaps,” Alejandro conceded, hands on hips in remonstration. “But her behavior today was...”

“Don't say a thing about Victoria!” Diego hotly demanded. “If you're going to say something, then say it about me.”

Alejandro's hands fell. “All right, fine. You were seen, Diego! If the Alcalde could watch you through a spy glass...”

“I thought that glass was destroyed long ago,” Diego interjected.

Alejandro didn't look happy about the interruption. “Then he ordered another - as you should have anticipated!”

“I did!” Diego defended. “I looked, everywhere! But I haven't seen anything that even looked like a spy glass belonging to the Alcalde for months, so I assumed that he didn't have another one! I would never have put Victoria in jeopardy if I thought...”

“What was to keep anybody else from seeing everything you did?” Alejandro stridently pointed out. “Zorro is known for his cool head, but this...”

Diego's voice dripped with atypical sarcasm when he noted, “Remember, I left my brains at lunch with Mendoza.”

Alejandro was not amused. “Are you sure you didn't leave them at dinner, too?” He then fell into the desk chair in defeat. “I can understand not taking into account the danger to you at this point...”

“I'm always thinking of the danger.”

“No, you're not, or you wouldn't be stupid enough to lure Victoria into it, too!” Alejandro's renewed anger snapped like a whip across the cave. “Are you so cavalier about what can happen now that you..?”

“No!” Diego firmly retorted, then his voice fell till he hissed, “I'm more frightened now than I have ever been!”

“You should be frightened!” Alejandro snapped back, unwilling to feel sympathy at this disclosure. “You're going to get killed, and take Victoria with you!”

Diego instantly refuted, “I don't..!”

That was when Felipe stepped in between the warring pair, hands held out to stop any more angry retorts. The shocked expression on his face showed his amazement at the two of them. *No fight!* he ordered.

Diego wilted, the anger leaving him in a whoosh as his hands threaded through his hair in despair. “You're right, Felipe. I don't know what's wrong with me. I usually have much better control than this.”

Felipe grabbed his upraised arm in a sympathetic grip to get his attention, then signed, *How much sleep last night?*

Diego winced as his hair swung over his hand. “I didn't sleep last night,” he replied, surely confirming Felipe's suspicions.

He was right, but the set down didn't come from Felipe. Don Alejandro exclaimed, “You didn't sleep!?”

“Not so loud!” Diego immediately ordered. “These walls are thick, but not completely soundproof.”

“Diego,” Alejandro said, lowering his voice, but chastising all the same. “When was the last time you slept?”

Diego had to think - by now, his most recent past was growing slightly fuzzy. “I left last night around midnight to catch some bandits... then ran into the Padre... then couldn't shut my mind off to sleep... I don't think I slept before going out... then I must not have slept since the night before that... so that makes it... 36 hours?” he guessed. “Maybe more?” Victoria would laugh at his feeble attempt at addition, something she could do in her sleep.

Felipe whacked him on his arm, his features fierce, letting Diego know exactly what he thought of him for going so long without sleep. He slashed a 'Z' into the air, then his sign for 'bandits,' then he pantomimed getting stabbed, all the while glaring straight at Diego.

The tall man was oddly contrite; Alejandro somehow didn't expect Felipe to show so much equality with Diego to feel that he had the right to yell at him. The truly startling thing about this scene was that Diego clearly assumed that the younger man automatically had that right. It was an interesting piece to note about the puzzle that comprised Diego and Felipe's complex relationship.

“You're right, Felipe,” Diego was apologetically saying now. “I shouldn't have gone out as Zorro to chase bandits on so little sleep, but I didn't even think about that at the time. I'm sorry. I won't do it again.”

Don Alejandro jerked around the desk. “You're right, you won't do that again!”

But Felipe was already ahead of him. He had already turned to the experiment table and poured some liquid into a bowl that he thrust it into Diego's hand. Then he stood, arms crossed on his chest while tapping his foot on the floor. His eyes told Diego that he wouldn't let him leave the cave until he had drunk all the liquid in the bowl.

Diego gave his charming smile. “Felipe, this really isn't necessary.”

But Alejandro backed Felipe. “If that's something to make you sleep, then Felipe's got the right idea. No wonder you behaved the way you did with Victoria - you were stupid for lack of sleep. Drink it, then go to bed.”

“No, wait.” Diego tried to marshal his thoughts into a semblance of order. “First I need to tell you...”

“It can wait,” Alejandro firmly said. “Drink.”

Diego was getting desperate. “Please! You know all about Zorro's identity, and Victoria, and the Alcalde, and the Padre do as well! I don't know what to do about that fact, or what it all means! Besides that, I'm afraid to get married.” His eyes beseeched his father, as if simply stating these fears would make them disappear under his father's unending wisdom.

Alejandro heaved a great sigh filled with reluctance. “What exactly frightens you about marriage, Son?” Before Diego could formulate an answer in his exhausted mind, Alejandro blanched. “Did Victoria say something - like she wants to marry Zorro, not you?”

Diego groaned. “Of course not. You saw us today at the rocks - she doesn't mind marrying Diego de la Vega one bit.” Then his expression grew chagrined. “But I had never really thought about marriage - to anybody. It always seemed like such a long way off.”

Here, Alejandro groaned, but didn't comment.

Diego continued, “I know that having concerns isn't being fair to Victoria, but I can't help it.”

His father sighed again, world-weary now. “That's what you and Victoria were discussing out on the rocks today, wasn't it?”

“Yes.”

Alejandro thoughtfully eyed Diego for a minute, then shook his head. “None of this matters, really, Diego - you and Victoria aren't even engaged yet... unless you intend to marry some other girl?”

Diego scowled. “Don't be silly, Father! Of course I'll marry Victoria... and we are engaged.”

Alejandro looked astonished. “And you say you're afraid to marry her?” I'll never get any grandchildren.

Diego winced. “She said today that I'm subconsciously worried that I'll get bored with being married, with regular life - that's what I'm afraid of."

Alejandro blinked his surprise. “Hmmm.... Zorro's afraid of the life of the little people.”

“Father!” Diego muttered in irritation. “You've been married - you know what it's like. Is she right? Am I going to get bored with the reality of marriage?”

“Bored - being married?” Alejandro's splutters of laughter filled the room, the incredulous sound giving the impression that Alejandro thought Diego was loco if he thought 'marriage' was synonymous with 'boredom.'

Diego gave him a look of annoyance. “I mean...”

“I know what you mean,” Alejandro interrupted before Diego could explain any further. “But I thought Zorro wanted to marry Victoria!”

“He does - I do!” Diego protested.

Alejandro turned his sardonic expression to Felipe. “Tell me Felipe: the man can finally get what he wants... and now he's worried about growing bored?”

Felipe threw up his hands in an excellent show of his extreme frustration.

Diego didn't blame him for feeling so upset. Felipe had spent the last several years listening to Diego expound on how much he wanted to be with Victoria, and now when he could, said he was too scared to finally accept her. This must be maddening to him.

It was maddening to Diego as well. At his wits' end, he took the bowl from Felipe. “Is she right? You both think while I sleep.” Then he drank the bowl's entire contents, grimacing at the awful taste of his own sleeping potion. The bowl had been at least half full - he would sleep for hours. “I'll let myself out. Good-night.”

Feeling lighter now that he'd managed to unload his problems and fears onto somebody else's shoulders for awhile, he quickly glanced out the peephole, then left the cave.

Go on to part 9.


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