Diego strolled into Tavern Victoria and mopped the sweat from his forehead with a small handkerchief. He glanced around as he moved to an empty table, hoping to see Victoria among those circulating the tables. His eyes found her easily as she bobbed and weaved her way through the mass of caballeros and workers who were escaping the day’s heat in the shade of the tavern.
As her eyes contacted his, he gave an easy smile, which she returned immediately with an impish grin of her own. She swung by the counter, picked up a pitcher of lemonade, and headed towards the table Diego was heading towards. Diego quickened his pace and managed to beat her to the destination, but only just so. Wordlessly she poured the lemonade, and Diego couldn’t help but admire her strong yet delicate hands manipulating the pottery. Victoria followed his gaze and mistakenly assumed that the lemonade was the object of the Don’s interest, not her hands.
"Thirsty?" She teased. Diego was startled into looking into her eyes, unsure if he had been caught in the act of adoring her fingertips -- then deciding he hadn’t.
"Parched." He responded, his blues eyes twinkling with amusement. Without Felipe around to draw his focus, he was having more difficulty distracting himself from his secret love interest. In fact, he couldn’t get his mind off her!
When he wasn’t thinking about Victoria and how to get from their present situation to a "normal life", he was thinking about how much he missed Felipe. Yes, he missed the young man; he missed Felipe’s receptivity to his teaching, his companionship at the tavern and in the Guardian’s office -- and most of all he missed the eager young man waiting at the end of every ride as Zorro. He missed having someone there to tell his stories to, his frustrations to, and he worried that if he were injured as Zorro -- no one would know to look for him. And the cave felt empty. It wasn’t until Felipe left that Diego realized how much of Zorro’s burden the young man had been carrying for him.
The new Alcalde was due any day now, and Diego hoped that this time Zorro would prove to be an unnecessary figure. Then maybe he could concentrate on other matters, like how his fingers itched to stroke the strong hands supporting the lemonade pitcher.
Victoria’s voice again started him from further daydreams about her hands. "Have you heard from Felipe yet?"
Diego shook his head and replied, "if all went well with the entrance exams, and I’m sure they did, Felipe should be registering for classes right now -- but the mail is so slow that it may be months before we hear from him."
He sighed and looked down at his own hands, now not only missing the young man, but envying him for the excitement Felipe would be feeling about his first classes in university.
Noticing the depressed countenance of her friend, Victoria leaned towards him in an appealing fashion. Victoria knew that Diego missed Felipe, and she had just the thing to make that adorable sparkle come back into his eyes.
"Don Diego," she purred, "want some flan?"
He grinned in response, his mood lightened more by the fact that she was obviously worried about him than her offer of flan.
"Oh I don’t know," his eyes beginning to sparkle just a bit, "it’d have to be a pretty big piece of flan to make me cheer up." She laughed, shook her head, and went to find the flan. Somehow, Diego always made her forget she had twenty other customers waiting for lemonade and food -- and he had a way of making her smile, no matter how stressful the day.
Felipe awoke, cold and disoriented. His first thought was of his brain trying to pound its way out of his head. He struggled instinctively against his ties, and then stopped as he remembered what had happened and remembered whose face had been behind the cloak in the darkness.
He scanned his memory, trying to figure out a motive, and realized it could only be because of his contact with Kendall unless the man had found out about Zorro.
Felipe put his mind to matter on hand and used his senses, as his father had taught him, to gather information about where he was being held. He felt in the darkness the presence of close walls; he sniffed and the scent of yeast and wine assailed him. By twisting he managed to see a crack of light coming from what must be the door behind him. He listened, barely catching the low voices traveling through the walls and floors. Voices were all he could hear, their level being too low to hear actual words.
Felipe quietly began to twist his hands to undue the ties, remembering the time he was kidnapped by pirates and his father taught him the knack of escaping from bonds. His hands were soon free, and the ties around his feet were no problem at all with ten fingers working at the knots.
He rose slowly to his feet, and paused again to listen. Still the distant rumbling of voices, but nothing nearby. Of course, who knew if a guard was sitting silently on the other side of the door? Felipe pushed gently with one hand, the other ready to strike if necessary and the closet opened into a very empty kitchen.
Looks like a tavern of some sort, he thought to himself, noticing the stacks of dishes and the size of the pots and pans.
He took a few tentative steps towards the apparent source of the voices and then stopped to analyze what he was doing. Am I trying to be Zorro? Should I just leave and report the incident to the authorities? He thought quickly about what his motivations were for investigating this matter himself.
Yes, his strongest motivation was his curiosity -- that same curiosity that used to get him in trouble with Don Diego all the time. How many times had he dipped his finger in something, or pulled a fuse out of something, with startling results? Of course it was that same curiosity the made him such a good student, so it was hard to tell if this inherent characteristic was a fault or a gift.
Gift, he decided, as he headed towards the voices.
Felipe crept close to the source of the voices, pausing in a dark corner to listen.
"...shouldn’t be a problem, they’ll respond to protect their own."
"But will the right ones respond? You know we need".
"We’ll get him," a familiar voice interjected, "patience -- we have the proper bait, we just need a trap."
"Excuse me, but they’ve only known him a for a short time, a few days, why would they respond?"
"Because, you fool, Diego studied under Kendall in the University -- I’m sure their alliances go at least as far as protecting family members," the all too familiar voice was now purring, convincing the other speakers of his confidence for his plan. "This will soon be over, and I’ll be free to return to California."
"Ha! Thought you’d seen enough of that place -- want another round of fox?"
There was dead silence on the other side of the wall.
"Señor," the familiar voice responded quietly, "foxes have a tendency to come out of their lairs when it’s quiet -- and I’ll be there waiting in the shadows when he steps into the light..."
Felipe had heard enough. He slipped from his hiding place, down the halls, and out the door into the early morning.
Felipe marked in his mind where the tavern was, hoping he’d be able to find it again if needed, and then headed towards town looking for a familiar sign. It was early morning, the dawn just beginning to gray the sky. Felipe’s headed pounded with every step, and he was physically and mentally exhausted from his ordeal and the eight hours of tests he had taken the day before.
He momentarily considered going to Lady Rachel’s place. No, he thought to himself, I don’t need that sort of reputation -- spending the night at a lady’s house? Father would kill me!
He finally began to recognize the area, and he traced his way back to the housing he had just moved into a scant two days before. Felipe quietly slipped into his room, hoping that his absence would be over-looked. Breaking curfew before classes even began, now that was gutsy!
"Not that I had a choice," he reminded himself as he settled himself on the bed.
Felipe slept, his last conscious thoughts were of Ignacio De Soto’s voice, "and I’ll be there waiting in the shadows when he steps into the light."