Bad Times in LA

Parte Diecisiete-A

Nancy Smith

All through dinner Alejandro noticed Diego had been very quiet. Actually too quiet for Diego. He usually had something to comment on whenever there was a discussion on politics, the Alcalde or something that happened in the pueblo. Even as Alejandro made conversation with Sully and Michaela, Diego would just slightly smile and remain silent. Alejandro knew that there was something definitely wrong. He was even short with Felipe once or twice for some menial thing, which was very unusual for Diego, as he had the patience of a saint when it came to Felipe. Felipe however seemed to sense that it had something to do with Victoria and just brushed it aside hoping that this problem would soon be resolved in the morning. Yet Alejandro was not about to let this sudden change in Diego's attitude go unnoticed and decided to confront him.

Fortunately Sully and Michaela had retired soon after dinner for the evening. Alejandro knew that they were tired from their long journey and from working all day at the tavern. Felipe had shown them to their rooms that he had prepared and Alejandro had loan them extra bedclothes to sleep in. That done, he returned his attention to Diego. As Diego headed for his room, Alejandro stopped him in the hallway and flashed a very stern look at him.

"Diego..." Alejandro began firmly. "what's the matter with you tonight. You were very rude to our guests and you never said a word to them. You were even short tempered with Felipe. Is there something wrong Diego? This is really not like you at all!" he commented resolutely.

Diego sighed and looked at Alejandro. He felt a heaviness in his heart as his father's dark brown eyes cast a weighty stare upon his face. 'What's going on...' thought Diego. 'first I upset Victoria, now father's angry with me...I even snap at Felipe...' Diego shook his head.

"I'm sorry father. I apologize for being rude and getting angry at Felipe. I guess I'm just tired. It's been a long day. I think this epidemic has had everyone on edge, including myself. I'll apologize to them in the morning. I promise." Replied Diego sincerely.

As Alejandro looked into Diego's eyes he knew it was more than just the epidemic that was that was troubling him. Yet he knew if he tried to press the issue, Diego would just find some way to divert the subject and thus leaving him back where he started. Maybe eventually Diego would tell him, but Alejandro knew that it would have to be on Diego's terms and not his.

"I know Diego, you're right. This whole episode has been stressful for everyone. Even I have been a bit edgy lately. I'm sorry too. I was only concerned about you Diego. It's just not like you to be that way. If there is something bothering you son, you know you can talk to me. That's what fathers are for." Alejandro replied as he put his hand on Diego's shoulder. His eyes softened as he looked at him.

He wished he could tell his father what was really bothering him, but it was far too complicated at the moment. He would like nothing more than to tell him how much he loved Victoria and that he was Zorro and not this overly studious bookworm that his father thinks he is. And thinking of Zorro, how was he going to approach the subject of his dual identity with Victoria. Maybe that was the root of all his troubles. It wasn't about this epidemic at all! It was telling Victoria that he was Zorro that was eating at his subconscious. And now it was rising to the surface causing him to be anxious and distressed. 'I have to tell her!' thought Diego. 'Now if I only knew how!' He put his hand to head and sighed.

Alejandro eyed Diego worriedly. "Are you all right Diego? You don't look well."

Diego slightly blinked and looked at Alejandro. "I'll be all right. I think it's just a slight headache. I just need some rest. Good night father I'll see you in the morning." As Diego opened the door to his room Alejandro grasped his arm.

"Diego, not talking about it only makes it worse. I'm here if you need me." Replied Alejandro.

Diego looked at him and managed a slight smile. "I know. Thank you father." Replied Diego earnestly. "Good-night."

"Good-night Diego." Returned Alejandro. As he watched Diego close his door, he shook his head and sighed. He wished Diego could have told him what was wrong, but Diego was just as stubborn as he was. All that he could hope for was that Diego could resolve his problem and that things would get back to normal again, at least for the moment.

As Diego sat on his bed, his thoughts immediately drifted back to Victoria. He hated himself for doing the things he did tonight. He knew it wasn't like him to be that way. And to take it out on Felipe was cruel and it hurt and he felt guilty. He should feel hurt and guilty because he knew he was wrong to be so angry with everyone especially Felipe. He was so upset with himself, that he wanted to throw something against the wall! But that never solved anything. It might make him feel better, but the problem would still be there!

Diego lay back on his bed and closed his eyes. 'I've got to think of a way to tell her.' He thought. 'Sully's right. I've put off far too long what I should be doing, like getting married and settling down. I can't ask her to wait forever. It's not fair! But would it be fair to ask her to risk her life to protect my identity? How can I ask that of her. She almost died protecting Zorro's life once. I don't think I could go through that again. I can't ask her to risk her life for me again.' As he lay back on his bed he felt a tear roll down his face. 'Oh Victoria, we can never have life as long as I am Zorro!'

Suddenly Diego heard a voice call his name. At first he thought he was dreaming. And then the voice called him again. He sat up and wiped the tears from his eyes and looked around the room. This time he was wide awake. He heard the voice again.

"Diego...listen to me." It was a woman's voice. Her voice was soft and gentle. "Who's there?" Whispered Diego looking around. He turned up his light just enough to shed light upon the room. He looked around once more. As his eyes scanned the room, they suddenly fell upon the most beautiful woman that he had ever seen. His eyes narrowed as he tried to see her face. Suddenly his eyes widened as he recognized the ethereal apparition that stood before him.

"Mother!" Diego gasped. His face suddenly became pale. She had come to him once in his dream, but here she was standing before him in his room! Diego shook his head and blinked. "No, you can't be here! I must be dreaming!" He said to himself.

"Diego....remember what I said. I would be here for you in your moments of doubt and fear. I am here for you now! not let your fear for Victoria cloud your judgement. She knows that you are Zorro and she loves you with all of her heart. She is willing to risk everything for your love for her. Have faith Diego! Victoria loves you and I know you love her. I know you will find a way to tell her my son. Listen to your heart Diego and you will find a way."

As she drifted toward him, Diego gazed at her and sat seemingly frozen as she reached out and gently touched his cheek with her hand. The moment she touched him, Diego felt a warmth inside of him that he had not felt in years. A smile spread across his face as he looked into her deep blue eyes. She bent down and brushed a kiss upon his cheek and then began to slowly back away.

"Mother don't go!" he reached out to touch her, but she suddenly began to fade from view.

"I love you Diego and I will always be with you my son." And then she was gone.

Diego felt the tears fall from his face as she left. "I love you too mother." He whispered.

Diego stood up and slowly walked around the room. He was still somewhat shaken from the vision he had just seen, but this time that warm feeling came over him again and everything was calm. He walked over and opened his window. A small breeze brushed his face as if someone had kissed him. He smiled. He looked up at the moon. It was a beautiful bright full moon and stars dotted the night sky. He suddenly saw a star fall from the sky. 'I wonder...' Thought Diego, as he gazed into the sky and sighed.

Did Victoria really know he was Zorro? Surely his mother wouldn't lie. A warm smile crept across his face. 'Well, there's only one way to find out!' he thought to himself.

He turned and quietly walked out the door.

As Diego stepped up to the mantle and was about to touch the hidden panel he suddenly heard the sound of footsteps softly step up behind him. He quickly turned and released a sigh of relief as he saw Felipe standing before him.

"Felipe, what are doing out of bed amigo?" he whispered.

Felipe signed that he was having trouble sleeping and got up to get some water. He thought he heard someone walking about.

Diego smiled. He had forgotten that ever since Felipe had regained his hearing that he was always sensitive to the slightest noises.

"I was having trouble sleeping as well." He remarked.

Felipe pointed to the fireplace and asked Diego where he was going. He made a Z in the air and asked if Zorro was needed tonight.

Diego shook his head. "Well, not exactly amigo. But Zorro is going for a midnight ride." He winked at Felipe.

Felipe made a sign for Victoria and then pointed to Diego.

Diego nodded. "Yes I'm going to go see Victoria...or rather Zorro is going to see her."

Felipe shook his head and flashed an anxious look at him. He made a sign for the Alcalde and his men and made a sign for guns.

Diego put a reassuring hand on his shoulder and smiled. "Don't worry Felipe. I'll stick close to the shadows and keep out of sight! Now go back to bed! I'll be all right. I'll be back before you wake up!" he responded earnestly.

Felipe signed why he was going to see her?

"It's rather personal amigo. It's something I have to do!" Diego replied resolutely.

Felipe lowered his head and sighed.

Diego lifted his head and looked into his eyes and smiled. "I promise Felipe, nothing is going to happen to me! I promise I'll be careful!" he replied warmly. He knew how much Felipe worried about him every time he ventured out like this. There were even times when he returned to the cave and Felipe would be asleep on the steps waiting for him to come back. Diego wrapped his arms around Felipe and hugged him tight. As he slowly pulled away he put his hand on Felipe's cheek and looked into his eyes.

"Felipe, I'm sorry I was so short tempered with you today. It wasn't your fault. I had no right to snap at you like that. I apologize amigo! I promise I'll never be that way again." Diego replied sincerely.

Felipe slightly shrugged.

Diego shook his head. "No amigo, it's not all right. Just because I have a bad day, it doesn't give me the right to take it out on you! I love you Felipe and I would never do anything to hurt you in any way or cause you any pain." Responded Diego earnestly.

Felipe gave Diego a warm hug and Diego tenderly hugged him back. "Now get to bed and don't worry! I'll be home soon!" said Diego warmly and smiled.

They slowly released each other from their embrace and smiled at one another. Diego playfully ruffled Felipe's hair and turned and disappeared through the secret passage.

Felipe shook his head and walked back to bed. He knew Diego was good at eluding the Alcalde's men but sometimes when it involved Victoria, he hoped that Diego kept a clear head about him and was careful. He knew how he felt about her, but the least bit distraction can sometimes cloud your judgement. He only hoped that this 'distraction' didn't endanger his life.

Diego quickly donned his Zorro outfit and put on Toronado's saddle, bridle and halter. As he mounted up, Toronado gave a slight snort and shook his head.

"Let's go boy!" Zorro said patting his neck and steering him to the secret pad on the ground. As Toronado depressed the pad, the hidden door quickly flew open and Zorro and Toronado were off riding into the night.

As Zorro neared the pueblo, he steered Toronado around the back where it was dark. He had promised Felipe that he would stick to the shadows and considering how bright the moon was, it was a little hard to do. Luckily he and Toronado had made their way to the back of the tavern without being noticed by any soldiers. He noticed as he rode in however, that the soldiers were mainly patrolling the entrance of the pueblo in case anyone tried to come through the gates. And since Zorro had not been seen for awhile, he surmised that they probably wouldn't be expecting him anyway.

He guided Toronado to the wall near the upper level of the tavern just under the balconies of the outer rooms. As Toronado sidled up to the wall, Zorro gently reined him in and patted his neck. The black stallion stood perfectly still as Zorro untied his whip from the saddle, shook it out and stood up on his back As he balanced himself on the saddle, he gripped the handle of the whip and flung the long black braid up and over one of the railings of the balcony. Zorro eyed the braid closely as it quickly wrapped itself around the rail. He gave a sharp tug to make sure it was secured. 'Ah perfect!' The leather whip held firmly in place as Zorro began pulling himself up to the landing.

When he reached the top, he climbed over the rail and retrieved his whip. He leaned over the rail and whispered a command to Toronado to go hide. Toronado pricked up his ears and shook his head and trotted off. He was always good at hiding. He had done it so many times whenever they came to town, especially at night.

As Zorro gathered his whip, he quietly made his way along the walkway until he came to the outside of Victoria's room. He quickly glanced around to make sure he had not been seen or heard and then pulled out his knife and carefully and quietly pried open the double door windows of her room. When he stepped through the doorway, a slight breeze blew in and gently rustled the curtains. He quickly turned and gently closed the door and locked it. He turned around and focused his eyes on Victoria just in time to see her turning over in her sleep. He momentarily held his breath and stood like a statue, making sure she wasn't going to wake up. He listened as her breathing became soft and steady.

While things were quiet, Zorro gently lay his whip and sword across a chair and then removed his cape, hat and gloves and placed them on top. He looked over and noticed she was still sleeping. He quietly crept over to Victoria and gently sat down on the side of her bed.

As he sat watching her sleep he reached over and lightly brushed a strand of hair from her face and softly caressed her cheek with his hand and smiled. As he gazed upon her soft features, he noticed the pale light of the moon casting a soft glow upon her face and shoulders. He felt his heart slightly flutter as he noticed what an angelic quality it seemed to give her. 'She is truly that!' he thought. 'And more!' He gently picked up her hand and pressed a tender kiss to her palm.

As Victoria slept, she began to have this strange dream that there was someone in her room. Everything was dark and she couldn't see who it was. Yet, she could feel their presence very near. It was as if they were right next to her. Suddenly she had the strangest feeling that someone was kissing her hand as she felt the warmth of their lips against her palm. A smile crept across her face as she reached up to touch the face of her imaginary admirer.

Zorro smiled as her hand lightly touched his cheek. The moment she touched him, her eyes suddenly flew open. Before she could utter a sound, she felt a hand quickly yet gently cover her mouth.

"Shhhh!" replied Zorro putting his finger to his lips. "It's only me Victoria!" he whispered. "I trust you won't scream." He stated smiling as he removed his other hand from her mouth. He slightly straightened up, putting some space between them.

Victoria's eyes widened and she smiled. She quickly sat up and wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tight.

"Zorro! You've come back!" she whispered as she brushed a kiss against his cheek. She lay her head against his shoulder and sighed.

Zorro wrapped his arms around her and drew her into his embrace. He released a sigh of relief as he felt the warmth of her soft body next to his. He turned his head and pressed a tender kiss to her cheek and smiled. He seemed to sense that she was sincerely happy to see him as they held each other in their tender embrace. But then he remembered she was hugging Zorro and not Diego. He wondered if she really did know he was Diego. He slowly pulled apart from their embrace and looked into her eyes.

"Victoria, I've missed you so much! It seems like I have been away from you forever. I just had to see you!" he replied as he gazed passionately into her eyes. Well...that was just one of the reasons he wanted to see her. But at least it was the truth! He wrapped his arms tighter around her as he pulled her closer to him. As they gazed deeper into each other's eyes, Diego felt the pounding of his heart against his chest as his deep blue eyes melted into hers. He slightly turned his head as he pressed a deep passionate kiss upon her lips.

As he held her in his arms Victoria pressed herself against him as she hugged him tight. She could feel her own heart beating against his as his kisses became more intense. His lips momentarily left hers as he brushed a kiss upon neck and along her shoulder. Victoria released a sigh as he lifted his head and softly kissed her cheek.

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