The Fox Hunter

[This is another strong female fanfic, while I don't own, I shamelessly use the characters from Zorro, all of them belong to someone other than me (sob)....except for Emerenzia Cortez, Jose Hernandez, and Gomez Rodriguez and a few other minor characters. Oh, this is the Disney Channel series and Alejandro knows his son is Zorro, but I have written Anna-Maria out of my fantasy Zorro story because she is a whiny little prick and frankly I don't think she deserves him.]

It was nearing noon when Don Diego de la Vega walked out of the tavern. As it was becoming unbearably hot he had decided to return to his hacienda for a short nap. Lately all those nights out had really been getting to him. "Zorro should shorten his business hours," Diego thought with an amused expression. He had just sent Bernado to fetch the horses when he heard a gunshot and the sound of galloping horses. Doing his best to stay in Diego character, he ran up the street and around the corner just in time to see a man gallop past him.

It appeared to be some kind of chase. He didn't know what was going on, but he saw another horse ride past him and up to the other one. The man in front shrunk from the other, thinking he was about to die, as his assailant drew his sword and slashed at him. The man quite suddenly found himself on the ground; his attacker had cut his cinch strap! The other man slid off his horse and pulled down his bandana to reveal, not the strong male face Diego had expected, but a youthful female one.

The girl approached the fallen man slowly, when he suddenly sat up Diego knew why, the man pulled a gun from behind his back and took aim. Before Diego had a chance to shout a bullet rang out as the girl shot the man's gun from his hand. She was fast. The girl tucked her gun back into her belt and drew her sword, she advanced on the now cringing man and put the sword to his neck, he quickly crawled backwards away from it. After a few feet he reached a post and was unable to crawl any farther. She meanwhile had followed him at a leisurely pace cutting off any escape attempt he might have made. He stood up against the post, shaking all over as the young woman placed the sword to his throat once more. By this time a crowd had begun to gather to watch the spectacle unfold.

"Nowhere to run Miguel," the lady said in a tight voice, "tell me what I want to know."

"S-s-senorita," the man that was Miguel stammered, "you are a very reasonable young woman, surely we can come to some k-k-kind of ag-g-greement, si?" He tried to smile at her as he swallowed nervously.

The young woman smiled at him, a sunny, happy smile, "Why of course Miguel; after all we are reasonable people." "How about you tell me what I want to know and," she paused and dropped the sunny manner and clenched her jaw, "Maybe I won't split you down the middle!"

"I can't tell you, he'll kill me." Miguel pleaded, as Diego looked on fascinated by the unexpected stranger's actions.

"Well if you don't, then I'll kill you," she said with the old cheerful smile. "Where is he Miguel?"

"I don't know," she pressed her sword into his neck, "but I know someone who does." he said quickly and breathed a quick sigh of relief when she moved her blade back a bit. "His name is Jose Hernandez, he gets the supplies and helps set up the big jobs." "He is the one we are all in touch with, we never even see Rodriguez unless he decides to come on a raid." "It's the truth, honest."

"Honest?" the girl asked with a mocking laugh, "I didn't think that word was in your vocabulary." Then she became all business, "How do I find Jose Hernandez?"

"I am supposed to meet him tomorrow at noon, outside the western wall of the mission to report on any possible business ventures in Los Angeles," he said. "You could catch him there."

"Thank you very much," Miguel, "it's been a pleasure speaking with you, but now I'm afraid I am going to have to turn you in and collect your bounty."

Miguel looked up at her with bitterness in his eyes.

"Come on, on your feet," she prodded him with her sword, but he reused to rise, defiance in his very posture. The Senorita sighed as if the world was on her shoulders and grabbed his collar, "I'm sorry I have to do this, Miguel, but it really is your own fault." Then she proceeded to drag him to the Quartel with a strength that frankly surprised everyone there. They entered the Quartel and after a few minutes the crowd dispersed to discuss the entire exhibit in the comfort of their homes.

It was then that Diego realized that Bernado had been standing near him with the horses for quite some time. Diego leaned over to him and whispered, "did you see that?"

Bernado nodded and gestured to Diego.

"Yes, she is very talented," Diego admitted. He looked at Bernado's next gesture, "Si," he agreed, "and very beautiful." "I think I will stay in Los Angeles a little longer than I'd planned Bernado, tie the horses back up and we will go to the tavern and have something to drink."

Bernado nodded, anxious to get out of the sun as Diego walked over and into the tavern. He quickly finished tying up the horses and was walking over to the tavern when he saw the bounty hunting senorita come out of the Quartel; she looked around, as if making sure no one was there. Most of the other pueblo inhabitants were at home sleeping through the hottest part of the day, and those who weren't were in the tavern. Bernado shrank back into the shadows and watched her apprehensive glances. Then when she was sure no one was looking she turned a cartwheel! Bernado would have laughed out loud at her behavior if it had been possible for him. The Senorita was most definitely never did the expected. She was probably someone Diego would like to meet. Bernado watched as she stood, smiled and walked toward the tavern. He continued on as if he hadn't seen her and watched out of the corner of his eye as she gave him a suspicious look, but he kept his face set in an innocent expression and kept on walking.

They reached the door at about the same time, Bernado looked up as if seeing her for the first time and smiled. She looked startled at his cheerfulness, but smiled in return, this time a real one that made her look beautiful, and gestured for him to go in first. He shook his head, gave an elaborate bow, and gestured for her to proceed him. She swept him an elegant curtsey, which was difficult to do while wearing pants, and entered ahead of him. .

When she saw him stop at a table with another occupant she gave him another dubious glance and was going to turn away when she saw the pleading look on the man's face. He seemed to say, "Wait, just give me a chance!" She didn't know why she listened to him, she normally would never sit with two strange men in a new town. She must be going loco to trust them, either that or she was just becoming careless. She sat down a bit reluctantly and smiled at the young man across from her.

"Good morning, Senorita," the young man said good-naturedly, "I see Bernado has recruited you?"

"Recruited?" she was taken aback by his friendly nature, she was sure he had seen or heard about her display outside and most men were afraid of women like her.

"Yes," he smiled again, "he always likes to meet the people who are new to Los Angeles, so he brings them to me, I get to talk to them, and then later I explain it all to him."

"Explain it to him, can't he understand English?" she asked confused.

"Oh, I should have explained, my servant is deaf and dumb," Diego said.

"Ah." the Senorita replied and smiled a Bernado.

"I should have introduced myself," Diego said in a self-reproachful tone, "I am Diego de la Vega."

"A pleasure to meet you, I am Emerenzia Cortez," she said expecting a blank expression at her last name. Thus she was surprised when Diego smiled at her and nodded.

"I heard from a friend that a Cortez family had settled near them, quite a while south of here." "Would you be one of those?"

"Si," she said with a bitter look on her face, she obviously didn't want to talk about her home.

Diego quickly changed the subject, "Emerenzia, such an unusual name?" he said pleasantly.

"Yes, it is Italian, my father traveled extensively and wanted to name me something foreign, my mother told him she would let him name me anything as long as it was used in our family before, she thought that everyone in our family had such excellent Spanish names." "My father surprised her by finding the name of an Italian wife of a distant cousin. " "My mother was angry, but she kept to the arrangement." "Emerenzia laughed at the memory of her father telling her that story.

Diego smiled to see her remember such a happy day, "She looked so much better when she smiled," he found himself thinking, "of course she would look much better out of those men's clothes."

Then Emerenzia stood up, "Diego, would you excuse me for a moment, I need to arrange a lodging with the innkeeper?"

"Of course, Senorita," Diego said with a smile, he stood and bowed, "Before you go, would you like to join me for dinner at my hacienda tonight, I'm sure my father would love to meet you?" He asked, surprising even himself with his offer.

Emerenzia was about to decline when she stopped, why not enjoy herself, she wasn't doing anything until tomorrow anyway she might as well accept. She had no idea how closely her thoughts mirrored those of Don Diego.


It was about an hour before dinner and Diego was describing the newest Los Angeles arrival to his father. Don Alejandro was looking forward to meeting her, he wondered if she would show up in the breeches that Diego had described. He smiled at the idea of a woman coming to dinner in pants, the notion was preposterous, but then, stranger things had happened. He mentally resolved to not react if by some chance she did come dressed in her men's clothing.

Diego looked at the clock and excused himself to dress, he didn't really need more than a few minutes, but he wanted to talk to Bernado about the bounty huntress and her meeting with Jose Hernandez the next day. "I still don't know what kind of person she is really, I have met bounty hunters before, but they were never female and they were always after the money." "This bounty seemed much more personal." Diego began to dress as he studied Bernado's hand signals. "Yes, I think she is a very nice person," Diego replied to his servant. Bernado continued to gesture, "I am sure there is more to this story too." Bernado made a Z with his finger. "Yes, perhaps Zorro will find it out, when he visits the mission tomorrow." Diego finished getting dressed and was combing his hair when he heard the horse outside. "I guess Emerenzia is here early," he said to Bernado, "Why don't you show her in and I'll tell my father?" Bernado nodded and left.

Diego hurried downstairs and into the dining room, "Father," he said with a smile of anticipation, "She is here."

"Ah, good, I am looking forward to meeting her."

"Not nearly as much as she is looking forward to meeting you," Emerenzia said, walking into the room.

Diego and his father turned around and couldn't help staring for a second at her attire. She was wearing a daring burgundy dress with a low black bodice and lace sleeves, she looked absolutely stunning. Diego couldn't help thinking how different she looked from the ruthless bounty hunter facade she projected while working.

Alejandro turned to his son, "You said she was pretty, Diego, but you did not say she was the most beautiful lady yet to cross our doorstep."

"I apologize if my description did not do her justice, Father," Diego said with a smile, "but then what description could?"

"I am sure your description was more than accurate, Diego," she said, a bit embarrassed, but pleased by their reactions, "I must have looked quite horrendous in those clothing I rode into Los Angeles in, but in my line of work a dress really hinders your movements."

"Ah yes, your line of work," Don Alejandro said with a slightly nervous expression. She could tell he wanted to ask about her adventures, but was too polite to mention it in case she was offended.

"It's all right to ask about it, Don Alejandro, I am not ashamed of my profession, in fact I had planned on telling you so that you could tell the pueblo." "I hate to tell this story more than once, and I may be here awhile." "I know how gossip spreads in a small pueblo, at least they can gossip about the truth."

"I know everyone is talking about you already," Diego said with a smile.

"I am sure they are, we almost never have such exciting news," Don Alejandro said. "But shall we eat, before we talk?"

"Of course, Don Alejandro," Emerenzia said politely.

They sat down at the table and ate a delicious meal and afterward they all sat in the library to hear Senorita Emerenzia's story. Diego admitted to being more than a little curious about her history, if only to himself. He listened intently as she began.

"When I was twenty and my sister eighteen my father decided that we would move to California from Mexico City." "My sister and I had grown up in the city and were determined to be as unhappy as possible in our new hacienda." "I was probably more upset than my sister, I left more than her, including a man I thought I was in love with." "She was merely unhappy because I was unhappy." "I never realized how much she looked up to me." "I must confess I pushed everyone away, including her, while I mourned the loss of my city and my friends." "I never knew how much our closeness mattered to her until later." "We were getting settled in when a man rode up to our hacienda." "He said he was Gomez Rodriguez, from one of the nearby haciendas and that he had come to say hello." "He was very handsome and very charming, he practically oozed charisma." "My sister was smitten, he was her first love." Emerenzia gave a sad sigh. "If I hadn't ignored her she wouldn't have turned to him."

"I should have seen it coming." "He never invited us to his hacienda, but we never questioned it's existence, he described it so vividly." "He knew of my sister's infatuation with him, and he knew of my fathers wealth, how he must have laughed at us when he left our hacienda each day, we should have been suspicious." "He always would compliment and flirt with my sister, she was sure she was in love with him, if I had been paying attention at all I would have seen what was happening, but I was so wrapped up in my own problems that I ignored it." "He came to her one night and told her he was in love with her and wanted her to run away with him, she was so young and so trustful; she needed little convincing." "My father found her gone, along with a sizable amount of gold, and followed them." "He told me to stay at the hacienda, but I was too headstrong." "I followed him at a distance and he allowed me to continue when he discovered me the next day." "We followed them for two days, until they came to Monterey, we confronted them on a hill about a mile outside the town." "My father pulled Gomez off his horse and drew his sword." "It was obvious Gomez was not going to let my sister or the gold go without a fight, but we never expected such atrocious behavior." "He threw a knife into my father's chest and rode away on his gold-laden horse without a backwards glance."

"My sister and I carried our father's body back to our hacienda, I stayed for the funeral, just long enough for my sister to discover she was carrying Gomez's child." "I then left for about six months to go to an academy." "I paid them well to teach me to fight, ride, fence, shoot, and use a whip, when you are sufficiently motivated you learn quickly, and my father had already taught me much." "I then set off to find Rodriguez and make him pay for destroying my family." "I discovered he now leads a large group of bandits who have a very profitable organization from near Los Angeles, I intend to catch all of his underlings, turn them in for the bounty and then capture him." "He alone is worth a thousand pesos." "Then I will return, able to look my sister in the face, I will give my family the money and we will raise the child as one of ours, it will be a great irony if my niece or nephew becomes the kind of outstanding citizen his father still takes advantage of."

The Senorita concluded her story with her head held high, as if she hadn't the slightest care whether her hosts approved of her or not, but in reality she hoped they would understand. She had not intended to reveal all that she did to Don Diego and Don Alejandro, but they seemed to empathize so well. She had been excluded from the higher class that she came from when she began her expedition, but she somehow wanted these two complete strangers' approval. It was almost as if by getting Don Alejandro's family's approval she was receiving her own family's blessing. She suddenly felt very close to them as they looked at her with acceptance and understanding in their eyes. She wanted to cry, sob with relief that finally someone understood, but she did neither. If she was to gain her sister's forgiveness and trust she had to be strong until it was over, and so she blinked back her tears and smiled at her newfound friends.

Diego and Don Alejandro had never been the unquestioningly trustful type, but this woman's plight touched them. She was someone who did not deserve the fate she had been assigned, but more impressive yet, she was someone who wouldn't accept it, would fight to change it. She had this amazing strength, and the two Dons were determined to help her. They offered her their home, but she declined with a smile of gratitude for their generosity, they offered her their swords, but she would take no help on her quest, they wouldn't offend her by offering money, and so they offered the only thing she would accept, their friendship.

Just then a peal sounded. Emerenzia looked surprised. "I had no idea it was so late," she said getting up. "I really must leave, I have to be rested, tomorrow will be busy."

They escorted her to the door themselves, astounded by the closeness they felt to her in the short time they had known her, something they discussed as they walked up the stairs to their rooms. Then father and son said goodnight, knowing that no matter what Emerenzia said she was going to need help to bring down an entire band of thieves, and who better to help her than Zorro?

The next day dawned bright and early, when it hit Emerenzia's window she moaned and covered her eyes. Honestly, sometimes she thought daylight was an even worse enemy than Gomez. Thoughts of her enemy immediately brought her awake. She needed to be up early, she had to get dressed, get her supplies, do a few practices, and create a strategy for the mission, not to mention bathing and such. There was no way she was missing a bath when one was so near. She rolled out of bed and quickly washed her face, she had better get started!

An hour later Emerenzia walked out of her last shop, she had purchased the supplies she would need, a new with a wider brim, some more ammunition, and a piece of rope to use at the mission. She was feeling much better after her bath and was not as angry at the sunlight as she was before. She had on her more feminine attire at the moment, not wishing to make anyone uncomfortable in her presence. She would change before she left that day, she had already washed all the dust from the long ride yesterday. She went to the tavern to sit and plan her strategy.

She could stand at the mission and pretend to be Manuel, but when he got closer he would see her and leave. She couldn't very well have her bandana on when he approached, he would know something was wrong and be on his guard. She would have to hide and hope he would think Manuel was late. She could jump him from the wall or if there was any natural coverage she could use that. A very poor strategy, they thought, then quickly reprimanded herself. Sometimes the best strategies were instinctual, she reminded herself firmly. She sighed, all she had to do now was wait a few hours, she would go to the mission an hour before noon so she would be sure to arrive before Jose. She stood up and left the tavern.

For lack of anything better to do, Emerenzia began to look around the small pueblo. It was a very nice little town, clean, quaint, and the people were nice. She might have considered living near here if she didn't have to help her mother and sister when she returned. Suddenly a white notice on the wall of the Quartel caught her eye. It appeared to be a wanted poster with a picture of a man in a black cape and mask. She wandered over to it and read:


The Bandito El Zorro

2000 Pesos Reward

Dead Or Alive!

This seemed intriguing, maybe she could increase her funds by capturing this bandito, he must have done something pretty bad to have that many pesos on his head. Then she dismissed the idea, she wasn't really in the bounty hunting business, she was in the revenge business. As much as she would enjoy capturing a bandito who had doubtless done to others that Gomez had done to her, El Zorro had yet to do anything to deserve her personal attention. Still, she wondered why the acting Commandante, hadn't mentioned the bandito. Then she smiled, remembering yesterday. She got the feeling the acting Commandante wasn't exactly the most brilliant man in Los Angeles. "He probably didn't even think of this Zorro when he was paying me the bounty for Manuel," she thought to herself. She smiled and then looked at the sky, it was probably getting near eleven, she had better get started.

Diego had spent the morning reading quietly as his father wrote a few letters. At about a quarter to eleven he excused himself to get dressed. Don Alejandro understood, Zorro had work to do and he couldn't shirk his duties.

Diego opened the passageway in his room and descended to the cave, he began to dress as Bernado saddled his horse, Tornado. It wouldn't take him very long to reach the mission, but he needed to get there a little ahead of Emerenzia, he wouldn't put it past her to try and catch him if she could. He didn't intend to allow her the chance.

He reached the mission's western wall faster than he expected, Emerenzia didn't seem to be there yet, but he could hear hoof beats so he knew it wouldn't be long. He rode behind some nearby bushes, dismounted and climbed into a tree just as Emerenzia rode up. She quickly dismounted and hid her horse behind another clump of tall bushes, then she pulled out a coiled rope and climbed up another tree almost right next to Zorro. He could see her from his vantage point, but the dense foliage in his tree prevented her from seeing him clearly, besides she wasn't expecting him.

Emerenzia sat her coil of rope next to her on the branch and laid her whip beside her within easy reach. Next she loosened her pistol for easy access and then pulled out a book. It was only eleven o'clock and she was going to have quite a wait, but she was patient. She started reading, it was a very interesting book about weapons of different cultures, but she couldn't concentrate. She kept getting this weird sensation, like she was being watched. She closed the book in frustration and began to look around. It was only eleven fifteen, too early for it to be Jose, and besides the road was empty. She glanced sideways and saw a glint from the corner of her eye. Quick as a flash she pulled her knife and looked harder at the dark, heavily leafed tree. it was hard to make out but she thought she saw something.

Suddenly she heard the sound of a sword leaving a sheath and the branches baring her sight were cut. Behind them was a man dressed all in black from his cape to his boots, to the mask he wore. At his sudden movement she instinctively fell back, unfortunately the branch behind her could not support her weight. It broke with a load snap sending her to the ground in quite a more direct route that she normally would have taken. Zorro could not help smiling at the indignant look Emerenzia gave him. She glared daggers at him as he stood above her.

"You must be El Zorro," she said climbing to her feet and glaring at him. "To what do I owe the....pleasure?" she said with a delightfully insulting pause.

Zorro grinned at her again, "Well, I was going to watch you capture and question Jose Hernandez, but now that you have discovered my plan, I'll have to make up another one."

"Making plans on the spur of the moment?" Emerenzia said lightly. "How very sloppy, Senor."

"Sometimes the best strategies are instinctual," Zorro said glibly.

Emerenzia narrowed her eyes at his response, "I don't need any help from a bandito to catch a bandito." "I have been doing this for two months, I know the ropes, I may be a woman but I'm not an idiot."

"In my experience it is the women who bear the most careful watching, they can be unpredictable and more dangerous than any other enemy," Zorro said with deference and extended a hand to help her back into the tree.

She pointedly ignored the offered hand and climbed quickly back to her branch, causing him to step back into his original hiding place. "Like I said," she repeated, "I don't need your help."

"How do you know I'm here to help," Zorro asked with that same infuriating smile on his face, "I may just want to watch you so I know whether you are a threat or not."

"Well, you should take a hint," she said furiously, "you aren't welcome here." Suddenly something occurred to her, "Exactly how did you know about this meeting, Zorro?"

"Your story is even now being circulated amongst the people of Los Angeles, it is not difficult to overhear what is being talked about to loudly." "Besides," he added, "I have certain connections."

"Connections, perhaps, to a certain Gomez Rodriguez?" she asked sharply.

"Senorita, I would hope I have a more trustworthy face than that."

"How would I know, it is half covered by a mask?" Despite her words she did not truly believe Zorro was working with Gomez. Zorro had been here long before Rodriguez moved in.

"I regret I don't have time to banter anymore, Senorita, but it appears Senor Jose is a bit early." Zorro pointed to the road where a man was riding up to the mission. They both became silent quickly as he rode to the wall, stopped, and dismounted. Emerenzia uncoiled her rope and gently looped it around the man as he walked underneath the tree, he cried out when she pulled it close, but it was too late, he was caught. She jumped down, closely followed by Zorro, and quickly tied his hands and feet as he stood. It had all happened so fast he barely had time to struggle before his resistance was reduced to shouting some rather inventive obscenities. She then walked over to him and quite deliberately knocked him over.

Zorro almost laughed again, but managed to stifle it. The bandito looked so surprised to be knocked to the ground by a woman that it was comical. "Nicely done," Zorro complimented her.

She turned and smiled at him before realizing that she didn't like him and then looked angry with herself. It was really kind of amusing how dead set she was on disliking him. He realized she had been mistreated by a bandito in the past, and a bandito hardly inspired confidence, but she should understand he wasn't the kind who stole or took advantage of others. In fact, he went out of his way to help others. However he couldn't fault her for not knowing, she was new to Los Angeles and she wasn't exactly the kind who would strike up a conversation with a stranger. She would have no way of hearing any of the stories. He brought himself back to the task at hand; he wanted to know where Gomez was almost as much as Emerenzia.

"Where is Gomez Rodriguez?" Emerenzia asked in a deceptively mild tone of voice.

Jose merely looked at her with contempt in his eyes, "I'm not telling you anything, Gomez warned me about you." He continued confidently, "You are determined, but weak, you will not kill me."

"I, of course I won't kill you, I have no wish to have your unworthy blood on my hands, but I'd love to turn you into the army, who would be more than happy to take care of you for me." She smiled chillingly.

Jose looked as though he almost believed her, but he needed a little more convincing. Emerenzia leaned toward him with her dagger, "I also won't mind taking a little of you with me before I turn you in." she said pressing it into his neck. She could tell he was scared, though he was trying to put up a brave front.

"All right," Gomez is hiding in the hills, he is near the gorge, but I don't know exactly where it is, he always meets me away from the cave because he doesn't like me knowing where he is."

"You are going to have to do better than that, Senor." Emerenzia said.

Jose looked for a moment like he wasn't going to say anything else but Zorro stepped into view. He had kept behind the prisoner the entire time, wanting Emerenzia to have the pleasure of extracting the information out of the bandito, but he was anxious to get everything he could from him.

Jose's eyes widened when he saw the famous outlaw. "Zorro!" he exclaimed.

Zorro narrowed his eyes at him and the bandito tried to shrink away from him even though he was tightly bound. "I don't think you have told us everything you know." Zorro said in an authoritative voice.

Jose stammered, "Alright, alright, he meets me a mile from the gorge, he comes from the direction of the gorge and he always leaves in the same direction." "I think he is in the cave system near it."

"Great, I now have to search a cave system to get at him; I hate that man!" Emerenzia said fiercely.

"You will never find him," Jose said maliciously, "that system is a maze, you could look for a year and never see a trace of him." "He will hide when he doesn't hear from me; he will know you are looking for him."

"We'll see about that," Emerenzia said angrily, I think it's time that you kept your appointment with the acting Commandante. "Come on."

"I'm afraid I'll have to bid farewell to you, Senorita, the Quartel and I do not seem to go well together for some reason." Zorro said with a smile. He walked to the bushes, mounted Tornado, and rode off without a backwards glance.

Emerenzia stared after him for a second and then pulled her prisoner onto his horse. She tied his horse to hers and rode back to the Quartel to collect her bounty.


Diego rode into the cave with a triumphant smile, he knew where Gomez was and he was going to find him. It shouldn't take him too long, he had explored those caves as a boy and was confident he remembered where most of the caverns were. He would be happy to team up with Emerenzia, but he wasn't sure that she would be willing. He knew she really didn't like him, but perhaps she would put up for him for the chance to capture Gomez and end her manhunt.

Diego quickly changed out of his Zorro costume and went up to his room. He was glad to be out of the sun, it really was much too hot to be wearing black. "I need to have a summer suit made," he thought, and laughed softly at the idea of Zorro wearing anything but black.

He walked down to the library to tell his father about his adventure with Emerenzia, later he was going to the Pueblo to see her, but for now he knew his father would want a quick account of his actions.

"Father, where is Bernado, I want to have him saddle our horses, I'm going to Los Angeles to talk to Emerenzia." Diego said.

"He is getting me some wine, he will be back shortly, before you go I want to know what happened." Don Alejandro said in a your-not-getting-out-this-one tone of voice.

Bernado returned with the wine halfway through the narrative and paused after pouring to listen to the rest. They were particularly amused by the way the bandito had reacted to Zorro and understood completely Emerenzia's reaction to him. When he had finished he told Bernado what he wanted and was soon on his way to Los Angeles.

They had a pleasant ride into Los Angeles and headed straight for the tavern. They entered it and looked around expecting to find Emerenzia there reading or such, when he realized her absence he approached the tavern keeper.

"Excuse me," he asked politely, "but do you know where I might find Senorita Emerenzia Cortez?"

"Oh, si Don Diego, she is in the back room talking with tonight's entertainment. The man winked, "I'm sure you remember Senorita Lopez."

"Ah, yes I could not forget such a lovely dancer, thank you," Diego said heading back and opening the door and entering quietly. He shut the door with barely a sound and neither woman turned around.

"Ready?" the woman who must have been Senorita Lopez was asking.

"Ready, Emerenzia said with an eager grin.

They began to dance as another man played the guitar. They were both excellent, keeping the time with their heels and castanets perfectly. They were fast without being out of sync and when they twirled even their skirts spun in the same way. When the dance was finished Diego couldn't help breaking into spontaneous applause. Both woman and the guitar player, Manuel, looked up in surprise, but they were all still smiling.

"Don Diego," Senorita Lopez said walking over to him, "It is good to see you again, I hope you enjoyed the dance!"

"It was incredible, Magdalena," Don Diego complimented them, "Will you both be dancing tonight?"

"Emerenzia looked at her friend who smiled at her, "Yes we will, I have never had a better dancing companion than Emerenzia."

"Not even me?" Diego asked, pretending to be hurt.

She smiled at him and amended her speech, "Make that female dancing companion, it would be too hard to choose between the two of you ."

"Well, if I'm going to see such wonderful entertainment tonight I will simply have to stay in Los Angeles." Diego smiled at them, "Do you have any suggestions as to how I can spend my time until then?"

"I have the perfect way," Senorita Lopez said. "Manuel and I have been working on a two couple dance and we need another couple, so you two are perfect." "We will go through it once, then start again, then you come in when you think you have it down."

Manuel smiled at the Magdalena before taking her hand and beginning the dance. Don Diego and Emerenzia caught on quickly, it was relatively simple, a few basic moves, one difficult twist, and a few fancy steps. The tricky part was that it kept getting faster and faster. Actually, it was Manuel who made the first mistake, tumbling into Diego, who stumbled onto Emerenzia, who tripped up Senorita Lopez, who's fall knocked the rest of them down. Diego propped himself up on his elbow and tried to move himself off of Emerenzia, which was difficult partly because he was laughing so hard and partly because Manuel and Magdalena were on his and Emerenzia's legs.

"I think my leg is falling asleep," Emerenzia gasped as she tried to get her breath. She was laughing so hard that she found it hard to talk.

"I apologize," Diego said from on top of her, "but I can't move, Manuel and Magdalena are on top of me."

They looked back at the giggling pair and started laughing again, "Ok, we really do need to get up!" Emerenzia said again, trying to sober, but failing miserably. Finally they managed to get Manuel and Senorita Lopez to stop laughing, Manuel pulled his partner up and Diego got to his feet, pulling Emerenzia with him.

"I think we should try it again," Senorita Lopez said with a grin.

"Oh no, I'm going to wind up underneath all of you again, I feel like one large bruise as it is!" Emerenzia exclaimed.

"I solemnly promise never to fall on you again," Diego said with a grin.

"Uh-uh, I need to rest, I'm dancing later too, you don't want me to be too tired, do you Don Diego, you might have to take my place," she teased him. "Senorita Lopez would end up on the ground again."

"I would have stayed up if Manuel had not bumped me at exactly that moment in the step, I had only one foot on the ground and I was trying to catch you from the twirl." Diego said, defending himself.

"It is true," Manuel said, "I did make the first mistake, but who could blame me?" "I stumbled when I was watching the senorita twirl." "Her beauty blinded me." Manuel protested eloquently.

"Ah, yes, Manuel?" Diego asked slowly, "How many times have you been blinded by beauty today?"

"About six times, so far I haven't got in trouble for anything I have broken." Manuel admitted unashamedly.

"Diego, you haven't yet told us why you have come to Los Angeles today." Senorita Lopez said.

"I came to ask Senorita Emerenzia how her hunt went today," Diego said with a smile.

"It was going fine," Emerenzia replied, "until El Zorro showed up."

"Senor Zorro?" Manuel exclaimed, "Why was he there?"

"He said he was there to see how big a threat I was." That may have been his reason for coming, but he stayed just to bother me." Emerenzia said indignantly. "I think he enjoyed seeing me angry."

"Surely not, Emerenzia," Diego said with a grin.

"He did, I had half a mind to pull a pistol on him and get his bounty too." Emerenzia said severely.

"Oh, no!" Senorita Lopez exclaimed, "It is a good thing you did not, El Zorro is the most wonderful man in the entire region of Los Angeles."

"Are we talking about the same bandito?" Emerenzia asked, a bit confused.

Diego stood and watched with concealed amusement as Emerenzia was given a quick Zorro history lesson and a lecture on his many virtues and miraculous qualities. Don Diego found it hard not to be embarrassed when he heard Zorro being described, and he was a little red by the time they went back into the tavern for some refreshment, but he quickly forgot about it as he enjoyed the company of his friends. They spent several hours in the tavern talking, then the women went to freshen up and Diego watched as they danced while Manuel played. During a break Diego barrowed another guitar and began to play a duet with Manuel as the ladies danced, it got faster and faster and just when they were going to drop from all the quick moves the song ended with a flourish and they all parted ways to thunderous applause.

Emerenzia crawled into bed with a tired yawn, she had expected to fall asleep after all that dancing, but she had too many things to think about. Was there truly such a thing as a good bandito? And if there was, was Zorro one of them? If Zorro was such a good Samaritan, why was there such a price on his head? After thinking of all these unanswered questions she resolved to wait until morning, but though she tried once more to sleep her thoughts came back to Don Diego. How strange, that two such totally different people would occupy her thoughts so completely. She was thinking of her dance with Don Diego and how much she had enjoyed it when she drifted off into a deep sleep filled with shadows of men in masks who danced with her into the clouds, however when she woke up she almost immediately forgot about it in the excitement.

Diego went to bed that night, confident that tomorrow Emerenzia's quest would be over, he was going to help her with her mission by force if necessary. He was very tired, but found it difficult to sleep, when it finally came it was filled with woman who wore men's clothing and tied him up with a rope that was so binding and yet so completely comfortable that he fell into an even deeper sleep and when he woke up he had no time to ponder it before he was dressing in his Zorro costume and on his way.

Emerenzia reached the beginning of the cave system early, she was anxious to get started. If the caves were as big as Jose had said it might take quite awhile. She had just dismounted when she heard hoof beats, turning quickly and pulling her pistol she could feel herself getting angry as Zorro rode up.

"What do you want?" she asked ungraciously. Though she had heard of his exploits the day before, she found it difficult to believe in a good bandito and even harder to swallow her pride and admit she may have been wrong about him.

"I have come to help you catch Rodriguez." Zorro said with a smile.

"How many times do I have to tell you, I don't need your help." Emerenzia said with an angry look.

"Don't you think, Senorita, that your search will go much more quickly with this?" he asked as he pulled out a map of the cave system.

Emerenzia had to admit it would be a big help, she walked over to him and held out her hand, but Zorro held it away from her. He couldn't resist.

"I will gladly share with you, if you will apologize and thank me for helping you." He said in a deliberately provoking tone of voice. He seemed to be purposely goading her.

Emerenzia clenched her jaw so tight her teeth hurt, but she held her temper. "Very well, Senor Zorro." "I apologize," she barely got the word out, "and thank you for your help."

Zorro looked for a moment as though he might press the matter, but instead said, "I accept your apology, allow me to offer the use of my map for this expedition."

Emerenzia didn't even bother to reply, she merely snatched the map from his gloved hand and stalked into the cave with her lantern. Zorro, nearly bursting with laughter, grabbed a black bag from his saddle bag and followed her.

They walked for hours exploring caves that had long since been forgotten by the pueblo, it was amazing some of them were still standing. They finally stopped in a large cavern where they ate lunch in disagreeable silence.

Zorro made amusing conversation throughout the entire search, once or twice Emerenzia almost laughed or responded with agreement before she remembered she was angry at him. It was late in the day before she even spoke a civil word to him, and then it was entirely accidental. She was walking beneath a section of the cavern that was particularly unstable, she was ahead of Zorro when suddenly they heard a creaking sound, Zorro ran forward and pushed her ahead of him just as the cave-in began.

A large rock grazed her shoulder, but the brunt of the damage was done to Zorro when he took the blow for her. A large rock hit the side of his head and he was knocked unconscious, Emerenzia was shocked at the level of dismay she felt when she saw him fall. She wasn't even thinking as she dove into the still-falling rocks to pull him out of the rubble. She dragged him carefully out, laid him down with his head in her lap and began to wipe the dust off the part of his face not covered by the mask. She had too much respect to even touch his the part of his face that hid his identity. She couldn't believe he had taken the blow for her! She had been so horrible to him, well, wounded pride or not, she was going to apologize to him the second he woke up.

She sat there, trying to make him comfortable for at least half an hour before he finally stirred. He opened his eyes and blinked when he saw her. His eyes widened and he quickly sat up, putting his hands to the mask, she could see the relief that it was still there despite the pain of his movement. He laid back down and looked up at her with a question in his eyes.

"You did not remove the mask?" Zorro asked quietly.

"I did not, how are you feeling?" she said in a no nonsense tone of voice, as if he was complaining of a headache instead of lying in her lap, blood oozing onto her pants from his head wound.

"I'm feeling, confused," he said honestly.

"I meant how are you feeling physically" she restated.

"I know what you meant," he said still wondering why her curiosity had not overwhelmed her. "I am feeling as if I've been hit by a rock." he said with a smile.

Emerenzia laughed, "If you are well enough to joke you are well enough to stand, and we should leave." "It will be dark soon." she reminded him when he groaned as she pulled him to his feet.

She put her arm around him and helped him to walk, after a few steps he looked at her again, "I wish to thank you, Emerenzia, anyone else would have removed my mask in a heartbeat, but you did not."

"It is I who should thank you," Emerenzia said, not looking up, "I did not treat you well, though you have been of much help, I apologize for treating you so unfairly, Zorro."

She looked up and found him smiling at her, smiling back they carefully made their way back to the entrance by another set of caves.

It took them another hour, and it was dark by the time they left the caverns, but they made it. Zorro was sore, but doing well. He was sure he didn't have a concussion, he didn't feel sleepy, just tired. Emerenzia, however, wasn't so sure, she kept asking him every few moments if he was ok. Finally he looked her straight in the eye and said with that same grin, "Senorita, if at some point I feel myself starting to not be ok, I'll be certain to let you know."

"I'm sorry, but I don't want to be known as the one who killed Zorro." Emerenzia said.

"You won't have killed me, the rocks will have." he said.

"Who's going to believe a bounty hunter didn't kill an outlaw that she didn't like?" Emerenzia asked with a frown as she continued to support him while he climbed onto Tornado.

"I see your point," he admitted, "thank you for your help." "Adios."

"Adios," Emerenzia murmured as he rode off into the sunset. (AN: I know, cliche, but this is a Mary Sue, I'm allowed)

The next day was cloudy, it looked like rain, but nothing was going to keep her out of the caverns. She saddled her horse thinking about yesterday. When she had gotten back to the pueblo she had been surprised to hear Diego had not been to Los Angeles all day. He also did not appear for the rest of the day, she questioned some of the local peons and learned that he frequently went for a few days without stopping by the pueblo. She thought it strange he did not come to see how her hunt had gone, before reminding herself that she was hardly Don Diego's top priority. She was surprised to feel hurt as she thought about it. She quickly shook it off and mounted up.

It didn't take her long to reach the caves, and she was about to enter when a voice behind her said, "Senorita Emerenzia, you wouldn't be leaving without me, would you?"

"Zorro?" she asked, knowing the answer before turning around, "What are you doing here, you just got hit in the head yesterday!"

"Would I let a little bump on the head prevent me from escorting a bounty hunter on a dangerous journey through an unstable cave system to hunt for a devious murderer?" he asked with a smile.

"Well, yes." Emerenzia said, also smiling.

"Not on your life." Zorro said.

They spent the rest of the day exploring other possible camps that Rodriguez might possibly have chosen. This time was much more pleasant, and Emerenzia found herself enjoying the bandito's company. They were both sorry when it began to get late, they began to head back, reluctantly. Soon they reached the cave mouth, in the rays of the setting sun Emerenzia looked at Zorro and couldn't help smiling, he was covered in dust from the caves.

"You don't look much like a black bandito anymore, Zorro," Emerenzia said. "More like a gray bandito," she added.

"Well, look at yourself," Zorro said with a laugh. Emerenzia looked down and, to her dismay, saw she was also covered in it.

"I look worse than when I came into Los Angeles," she exclaimed.

"I think you look beautiful," Zorro said truthfully, smiling at her.

Emerenzia smiled at him and their eyes locked. They must have stood there for over a minute just looking at each other before they both realized at the same moment that it was probably time to leave, before they embarrassed themselves. Zorro mounted his horse and rode off toward the plains, turning to wave before dropping out of eyesight. Emerenzia sighed, put her equipment back in her saddle bag, mounted, and left.

She reached the tavern just as Don Diego pulled his horse up. "Just back from the hunt?" Diego asked with a smile at her clothes.

"Yes, I am afraid my quarry is still at large." she said with a sigh.

"I am sorry," Diego replied. "However at least your failure gives me a chance to spend more time with you, which is always a pleasure."

"Well, it's always a pleasure spending time with someone who compliments me." Emerenzia said with a charming laugh as she entered the tavern and then immediately sobered.

"What's wrong, Emerenzia?" Don Diego asked with a concerned look.

"That man at the table near the back," she said moving toward the opposite side of the room, "is the man that I was in love with in Mexico City."

Don Diego was surprised at the pang he felt at this news, but he concealed it, "Are you sure?"

"Positive, I'd know him everywhere, I spent hours memorizing his face." Emerenzia said.

"Oh, are you still in love with him?" Don Diego asked tentatively.

"Oh, no!" Emerenzia said, to his immense relief, "I left those feelings behind me when I left my hacienda, I don't have time for love right now."

Diego was sad to hear this, but relieved she no longer had feelings for the man. He was honest enough with himself to admit he was beginning to feel an attachment to the beautiful bounty hunter. Then he noticed the man glance around the room before settling on Emerenzia and himself. He walked over with a confident smile.

"Emerenzia, what a coincidence meeting you here in Los Angeles, it is so good to see you again!" he smiled at her, obviously remembering what his smile used to do to her. "Who is your friend?"

Emerenzia looked up at the man, surprising herself with the complete lack of feeling for him. How strange, shouldn't she at least feel something for the man she was so in love with just a year ago. "Joaquin, it has been a long time!" she said with a smile. "May I introduce, Don Diego de la Vega, a dear friend of mine."

"A pleasure," he said, not even looking at Diego, he couldn't seem to stop staring at Emerenzia's attire. Diego wanted to strike him for his horrendous manners, but kept his head. He knew Emerenzia could handle herself.

"Won't you join us, Joaquin?" Emerenzia asked.

"Gracias, I would love to." Joaquin smiled at her again, seeming to not see the lack of impression he was making on her. "So, how long have you been in Los Angeles, Emerenzia?"

"I have been here three days," she replied, "and already it feels like home."

"Yes, it is a quaint little pueblo," he said with an uninterested sigh, "very small, not nearly as fun as Mexico City." It was obvious he expected Emerenzia to agree, and was surprised when she shook her head.

"I find myself enjoying my stay here much more than Mexico City, it has many advantages." she said.

"What could possibly be interesting in Los Angeles?" Joaquin scoffed.

"It has interesting history, challenging terrain, and," she paused to smile warmly at Diego, "wonderful people." "I find myself liking it more every day."

"What brings you to Los Angeles?" Diego asked, joining in the conversation.

"Oh, I am just passing through, looking for a possible business ventures in California." "I thought the entire trip was going to be a complete waste of time until now." He smiled appreciatively at Emerenzia.

She tried to look interested, but found her gaze drawn to Diego more and more. He was really quite attractive, gentle, kind, intelligent. Perhaps he could be a bit more adventurous, but she liked him. They seemed to really connect, she felt he understood her.

Joaquin was in the middle of a long story of his adventures when he looked up and noticed Diego and Emerenzia appeared to be staring at each other. He paused for a moment before he finally understood. He then said loudly, "The End." When they both looked at him, startled, he smiled. He would be a gracious in defeat. He stood and said, "I think I will be going, I don't think I can compete here anymore. He walked off, not smiling but not really concerned, there were plenty of other girls in California.

Diego knew he had been staring at Emerenzia again, just like at the caves, earlier. He was surprised that Emerenzia did not object. She didn't even appear to notice, he could understand her reaction to Zorro, he was a dashing hero. But plain, gentle, bookish, Diego, why would she be interested in him, but if she wasn't why had she not mentioned his staring at her. It was a puzzle he would have to wait to solve, his father expected him in tonight.

"I must leave to, Senorita Emerenzia, I will see you later," He kissed her hand, smiled at her, and left.

Emerenzia gazed after him until he exited the tavern and then stood up and walked briskly to her room, she needed some time to think, but sleep overtook her the moment she laid down. Tonight, however her sleep was dreamless and she awoke refreshed.

Today Emerenzia arrived at the cave a bit late to find Zorro waiting for her. "There you are, I thought it was something I said." Zorro said with a smile.

"I woke up a little later than usual," she said.

"Ah, shall we?" he asked gesturing for her to enter ahead of him.

"I think we shall," she said good naturedly.

They entered the cavern, ignoring the other side passages that they had gone through last time, and continued straight through to the back, where two tunnels branched out in opposite directions.

"I think we should split up," Emerenzia said.

"No, I don't want to risk you getting lost, these caves are dark and sometimes you can get turned around, even with a lantern." "We will stay together." he said decisively.

"Well, now that you've decided what we will be doing," Emerenzia said sarcastically.

"I apologize, Senorita, does my plan meet with your approval?" Zorro asked with a mocking bow.

Emerenzia wanted to say no, and then wipe that smug grin off his face, but instead she drew herself up to her full height and walked past him saying over her shoulder, "Who am I to disturb a good plan?"

Zorro smiled again, it was a good thing Emerenzia couldn't see him, he had no doubt as to what she would do if she thought he was laughing at her. But in his defense she really was quite amusing when she became upset. Her eyes would flash and she would clench her jaw and she would speak in her sweetest tone, but you could really tell in her posture. When she became angry she could walk right up to you, and though you were four inches taller than her it would seem as though she were ten feet taller than you. Zorro still didn't know how she did that one. He really should stop teasing her, he didn't like feeling short.

They were walking along the left tunnel in complete silence, mostly because Emerenzia was still angry about Zorro taking over the strategy developing part of the hunt. Suddenly they both heard footsteps, Zorro quickly grabbed Emerenzia and pulled her into a small indent in the cave wall. It was just big enough to hide them from sight behind a stalagmite. The steps came closer and soon they heard words.

"I don't like it, Jose hasn't been at the meeting place for days, and I know I heard someone in here yesterday."

"Would you relax, amigo, Jose probably found a willing Senorita and is having a good time, and yesterday was probably just some children or maybe an animal." "Certainly it was nothing to worry about."

Behind the stalagmite, Emerenzia had stiffened in Zorro's arms when she heard the second man's voice. "That's him she whispered with an angry look on her face, that's Gomez Rodriguez."

"Are you certain?" Zorro whispered so low that Emerenzia could barely hear him.

"I would know that voice anywhere." Emerenzia said.

"Alright, you are a the better aim, so I'll lean you out over the stalagmite and see of you can get a good shot at him, but don't kill him." Zorro said.

"He deserves death," Emerenzia snarled.

"Yes, but first he must have a trial." Zorro said.

Emerenzia grudgingly agreed with him, knowing it's what her father would have wanted, so she nodded and got onto Zorro's shoulders. She carefully peeked over the edge, but the shadows were too deep, she would have to just take a guess at who was Gomez. Praying she wouldn't miss she aimed and fired. The man on the left went down with a cry and the other took off in the opposite direction. Zorro immediately dropped Emerenzia into his arms and set her on her feet to go after the other man. She went to the fallen one to see if who she had shot. To her great disappointment, it was not Gomez.

Zorro came back soon after she had questioned the man, "You didn't find him?" she more stated than asked.

"I lost him behind a large formation, I think he may have circled it and ducked into one of the other tunnels." He saw her dismayed look and he quickly reassured her, "Don't worry, there is only one entrance and exit to these caverns that I have ever found, and I played in them for years as a boy." "I am sure he couldn't have found one in a few months." "We should get going, he won't come out of the caves for fear we are waiting for him so we have effectively bottled him up, he will have a long time to hide, however, so it may take all of tomorrow to find him." Zorro said, not wanting to get her hopes up.

"Don't worry," Emerenzia said, "I know where his camp is, thanks to his friend here." "I think we have a good chance of finding him tomorrow."

"Si, you are right, we should get started back now." Zorro helped her drag the man who had been shot to the entrance of the cavern and laid him on the ground near his horse. "You can take him back to the Quartel."

"I should just leave him here," Emerenzia said gazing distastefully at the now unconscious man, "he aided a known murderer."

"You can't just leave him here, he will bleed to death." Zorro said, a little alarmed at her blood thirst.

"Like I said, he deserves it," Emerenzia said with a glare at him.

"No one deserves to die without a trial and until his misdeeds are proved." Zorro said sternly.

"I have all the proof I need, you heard him talking with Gomez and I saw Gomez murder my father, he was helping Gomez and so helping him commit more murders." She looked fiercely at the masked outlaw.

"You have no right to condemn anyone based solely on your experiences, all you saw for sure was him talking to Rodriguez, mentioning Jose, and hearing us in the cave." "Gomez could be lying to him, he could have fabricated an elaborate story to enlist aid for himself, I admit it's unlikely, but it is possible and you should consider the possibility."

Emerenzia knew he was right, but she had just suffered a huge disappointment and something about Zorro being right, again, she just snapped. "Damn you," she said in a low sinister whisper, "You always have to be right, don't you!" "You're so self righteous with your talk of trials and possibilities, well I'm talking about murder, I'm talking about sitting there holding your father's hand while his life bleeds out onto your skirt and his killer walks away with a smile on his lips and a song in his heart." "I'm talking about dishonoring my sister and traumatizing my mother, and this isn't possibility, this is truth, and if you want this piece of garbage to have a trial than you can damn well take him in yourself." With these words she ran to her horse, mounted, and rode out of the clearing into the twilight.

Zorro stood up staring after her before loading the man onto his horse and riding into and through Los Angeles. He rode past the Quartel, dumped the man off his horse quickly, dropped a note explaining it, and left. He had somewhere else to be tonight.

Emerenzia ran into the tavern and up to her room, she waited until she reached her room before bursting into tears. She tried to stop, told herself she was acting like a foolish woman, she told herself she was being weak, but she could not stop. Suddenly there was a knock at the door, she heard Diego's voice behind it.

"Emerenzia?" He sounded worried. "Are you alright, the tavern keeper said you looked ill."

She didn't want to open the door with the tears streaming down her face, so she quickly clamped her emotions in a mental grip and wiped her eyes. Hoping it would not be too obvious she swung the door open and told him to come in. "What can I do for you Don Diego?" she asked in as cheerful a voice she could manage. It sounded weak even to her, but she ignored it and hoped he'd follow her example.

"I wanted to talk, but I think you need to more than I." he said with a concerned look at her tear stained face.

"I don't want to talk about it, Diego, it isn't important." she said trying to smile but failing miserably.

Diego walked up to her and opened his arms, "If you don't want to talk, I'm a great shoulder to cry on," he said.

He was so nice, she couldn't help it, she went to him and the tears started again. After she had cried for about five minutes she pulled back from him and smiled sadly. "Thank you, Diego, I really needed to cry."

"I am always glad to have a beautiful Senorita cry all over my jacket, it lends it so much more character."

She couldn't help smiling at him, he always knew what to say to make her laugh, she stopped herself from thinking about him anymore, every time she thought about how Diego made her feel she just got more confused.

"What is wrong, Emerenzia, it must have been bad if you are this upset." he said seriously.

"It is just Zorro." Emerenzia said.

Diego tried not to look saddened by her words, he knew that some of the things she had said at the cave mouth had struck home and was feeling guilty. He deserved whatever she said about him. "Zorro?" "Yes, he can be insensitive sometimes."

"Oh, no, Zorro was wonderful, he was so nice, he helped me so much, and I said some things I shouldn't have." "I wish I could tell him I didn't mean them." "I was just distressed because Gomez had gotten away and I was tired and on edge." "I knew I was wrong, even as I rode away from him, but I just kept riding." "I guess it's my Cortez pride, my father said it would get me in trouble one day."

"I'm sure Zorro knows you didn't mean it." Diego said sincerely.

She got up and began to pace, I hope so, I was just so angry at him for being right." "I think he does it sometimes just to bother me, and I can't help it, I get angry and he just smiles." "Do you know how infuriating he is?" She began to get hot just remembering it.

"I can imagine," Diego said, once more trying not to smile at her, he already knew it bothered her, but it was so hard not to laugh at her indignant expression sometimes.

"If only he didn't look so, so," she paused looking for a word that would suffice, "amused." she said with a frown.

"I already know the reason for that, Zorro must have heard how beautiful you are when you are angry and set out to see for himself." Diego watched for her smile at the unexpected compliment.

"If Zorro were as eloquent as you, Diego I would not be able to stay mad at him for any length of time." Emerenzia said with an amused look at Diego, "How do you do it?"

"Do what?" Diego said, puzzled.

"Say exactly the right thing to say at exactly the right time." Emerenzia said.

"Ah, the art of conversation is not to say the right thing at the right time, but to avoid saying the wrong thing at the tempting moment." he smiled and stood up.

"Well, I guess I should be going, I told my father I was going for a ride and he mustn't get suspicious." Diego said.

"You are right." Emerenzia said. "Buenos noches, Don Diego."

"Buenos noches, Senorita Emerenzia." Diego gently kissed her hand and left the room, closing the door softly behind him, he couldn't help smiling before heading back to the hacienda.

As Diego left she leaned against the door and sighed happily, remembering his kiss on her hand. She was overwhelmed by conflicting emotion. How was it that Zorro could get her so angry with one smirk and Diego could get her so unhinged with just a kiss of the hand, yet she could think of no one she would rather spend time with. She tried to dismiss the confusing thoughts and emotions, but she knew she wasn't going to get any sleep that night.

Diego arrived home to find his father waiting for him, "Going for a ride, eh?" Don Alejandro asked with an amused look. "Did you take your black horse?"

"Father, it has nothing to do with that," Diego protested, "I merely went to visit Emerenzia, I'm afraid I upset her a bit today." Diego smiled at the memory of having Emerenzia in his arms, "I think we cleared it up."

"Ah," Alejandro said noticing the faraway look in his son's eye, "I understand," "I was going to drop by the Senorita's room to speak to her very early tomorrow," Alejandro said, "Would you like to come?"

"I think I would, maybe I won't have to go with her as Zorro tomorrow." Diego said thoughtfully.

"Perhaps not," Alejandro said with another amused smile that Diego didn't even notice. He was deep in thought, most likely planning for tomorrow. "Good night my son," Alejandro said, leaving.

"Good night, Father." Diego said absently.

Alejandro chuckled at his son's preoccupation, it was obvious he was infatuated with the Senorita, and tomorrow he would see how Emerenzia felt about him. Perhaps his grandchildren weren't as far away as he had thought.

Diego and Alejandro were up with the sun. They had to get an early start if they expected to reach Emerenzia before she started to the caves. They reached the tavern, they seemed to be the first people up and about, the rest were probably eating breakfast. They entered the tavern and found Emerenzia enjoying her own breakfast, Diego and Alejandro ordered as they entered and then joined her. The food was excellent, but Diego's attention was more on the company than the cuisine.

"It is good to see you, Don Alejandro, I feel like I never get a chance to talk to you because of my hunt." Emerenzia said.

"Perhaps after your hunt is successful you will have more time to visit at our hacienda," he said smiling at her.

"I will make a particular point of it," Emerenzia said, "maybe after I've finished that cave system."

"You know," Alejandro said, "Diego played in those caves as a boy, usually we couldn't find him, even if when we wanted to." "I'm sure he could be of some help."

"Maybe he could, would you like to escort me, Don Diego?" Emerenzia asked hoping he would say yes.

"If you think I would be of any help I would be happy to accompany you, Emerenzia." Diego said, happy to spend any time at all with her as himself. It wasn't that he didn't want her to love Zorro, he was just afraid that if she fell in love with him first she would not, or could not, fall in love with Diego.

I have all the equipment we need, so if you will procure a lunch from the tavern keeper I think we should get started." Emerenzia said.

"Alright," Diego said, getting up to find the tavern keeper and leaving Alejandro to talk to Emerenzia privately.

"You know," Alejandro said bluntly, "I think my son is in love with you."

Emerenzia looked up at him, startled, "Do you really think so, Don Alejandro?" She hadn't wanted to admit, even to herself, that she might be in love with Diego until she was sure he had feelings for her. If Don Alejandro was right.... She stopped, "But what about Zorro?" she thought, "I feel something for him too." This was to distressing to think about now, she pushed it to the back of her mind and concentrated on Alejandro's words.

"Yes, he came home last night with a very familiar look in his eye, Senorita, I am asking you, if you feel nothing for my son, would you tell him soon?" "I have no wish to have him embarrass himself." Alejandro said directly.

"It is not so simple as that, Don Alejandro." Emerenzia sighed.

"I realize love is complicated, Emerenzia, but I give you this word of advice, don't wait too long to declare your feelings, one way or the other, it always causes more pain." Alejandro then stood, bowed, and left.

Diego returned soon after and they set off for the cave. As soon as they arrived Diego dismounted and swung the bag containing their lunch onto his back. He took the now lit lantern from Emerenzia and looked over at her.

"Ready?" he asked her with a smile.

"Almost, take this," she held an extra sword out to him.

"What do I need this for?" he asked, taking it.

"I know you how terrible you are with a sword, Diego, but I think you should carry one, if nothing else it may intimidate Gomez." Emerenzia said seriously.

"Alright, but how did you know I cannot fight?" he asked, a bit embarrassed at her thinking he was inept with a weapon.

"I hear all the pueblo gossip in the tavern," she said, "and they all know you, and they know you cannot even defend yourself." "If you want, I'd be happy to teach you," she said.

"I don't believe in settling things with physical violence," Diego said, "life is too precious to waste on the settling of petty differences."

"Sometimes, Diego, there is no other way." Emerenzia said with an unhappy frown.

"Sometimes, Senorita, the reasons are not so petty," he smiled at her to make sure she understood he approved of her reasons for hunting Gomez. "Shall we get started," Diego asked, heading for the entrance.

He walked right past the caves that they had already explored before remembering he wasn't supposed to know what they had already looked in. He turned around and looked at Emerenzia, "Ok, where do we start?"

Emerenzia squinted at him suspiciously, "Well, you seem to have a pretty good idea where you're going."

"Um, yes, well, I suppose you have already explored the tunnels near the entrance, why don't we go down this one?" Diego asked, purposely choosing one she had already searched with Zorro.

"Yesterday, we found Gomez down this tunnel," she said pointing down the one to the left, "we can continue down and search the rest of it." "I am sure Gomez would not leave his base, he perceives it to be his refuge." "He will most likely move to another part of the cavern, probably a well hidden part, so I'll have to rely on your knowledge of the cave systems to find him." "Is there any part of it that is especially well hidden, somewhere we would have a hard time finding if we didn't know exactly where to look?" Emerenzia looked at him with raised eyebrows.

Diego was knocked out of the reverie he was in, admiring Emerenzia, when he heard her question. "Oh, actually," he said, recovering his train of thought, "I can think of two or three places he may have found." Diego smiled at her, "In fact, the first one is just down this tunnel.

Diego took the lead and they started down the left side, after about fifteen minutes of walking they came to a small crack in the floor, Diego turned and followed it. It widened considerably as they continued until it was about a meter wide and about twenty feet to the bottom, then it stopped against a wall with a large crack in it. It was just big enough for a man to fit into. Diego motioned for Emerenzia to follow him as he slipped into it and stood up in a large cavern that had been completely hidden from view, Emerenzia soon followed him.

"My goodness, I would never have known this was here," she whispered.

"It is amazing what can be hidden right before your eyes, and you never notice it until someone else points it out." Diego said with a smile.

"I suppose you are right, Diego," she said, pretending not to notice the double meaning of his words. "I don't think Rodriguez is here, we would see his tracks in the dirt," Emerenzia pointed out.

"You're right," Diego said looking around, "he couldn't be here, lets continue on."

They began to talk in low tones as they walked, "You know Diego, I could give you some fencing lessons," Emerenzia offered.

Diego smiled at her, "I really don't think I'd be a very attentive pupil." He smiled again, as if he had just heard a very humorous joke that only he understood. Emerenzia didn't push the issue.

They climbed out of the hidden cavern and continued walking, suddenly Diego stopped and looked very closely at the cave wall.

"What is it?" Emerenzia whispered.

"It's the entrance, I think, I marked it as a boy." He kept his body in the way of her seeing what the mark was, a small Z scratched into the rock, as he carefully moved a large rock aside to reveal a rather large hole in the wall and part of the ground. "This is another of the secrets of this cave, Emerenzia, be careful when you get down here, it's very bright." he warned.

"Bright?" She had time to ask before he disappeared into the hole. With a shrug she followed him.

The inside of the hole was considerably larger than it looked, and considerably dirtier, she reached the bottom and looked down to see her pants covered in dust and dirt. She sighed, it was going to take awhile to get them clean, but she couldn't help but smile when she saw Diego, his fancy, embroidered pants and jacket were swathed in grime. She stifled a laugh when she saw his face.

"I suppose you think this is funny?" Diego asked looking down at his outfit.

"Oh, no, of course not Diego," she said with a straight face. She walked up to him and ran a finger along his cheek, then held it up to him. "I think this is funny." she laughed again.

"Well, what about you?" he asked, taking out his handkerchief and rubbing her face with it. "You are caked in it." He held up his filthy handkerchief.

"Alright, so we both don't look our best," she said.

"Well, I wouldn't say that," Diego said with a grin, "I think dirt is a good color for you."

"Flatterer," she said laughing. She had never been this relaxed when searching with Zorro. "What did you mean bright?" she asked him, holding up the lantern.

"Come here," Diego instructed, they rounded the corner and Emerenzia gasped. A vein of quartz was reflecting the sunlight from above down into the cavern, it looked absolutely beautiful.

"Isn't it gorgeous, Diego?" she said.

"It is," Diego agreed, not taking his eyes off her.

She smiled, why don't we eat here?" she suggested.

"As you wish," Diego said with a smile, he swung the bag he carried over his shoulder onto the ground, they unpacked their lunch and began to eat. They talked of many things, but by mutual unspoken request they did not discuss the search for Gomez Rodriguez. The subject changed many times, but eventually the subject of politics came up. At one point, while discussing the advantages of a democracy compared to a monarchy Diego made a brilliant point against the idea of democracy, Emerenzia immediately became incensed by his proposal and began her own surprisingly dramatic argument for the eminent downfall of monarchies. Just as she reached the climax of her rebuttal she glanced up and noticed the laughing expression on Diego's face. In the midst of her angry rejoinder to his democratic views he had the nerve to find her amusing! She was about to glare at him for this transgression when he quite suddenly leaned back against the cave wall, still grinning, throwing half of his face into shadow. It was all Emerenzia could do not to fall over, it was only her polite and strict upbringing that allowed her to finish her sentence. "She knew that look, it was Zorro!" she thought incredulously, "Diego is Zorro!"

Reasons why it couldn't possibly be true began to flash through her mind at lightning speed. "He can't fight, he can't even handle a sword," she thought. "But I've never seen him, he could easily fake a bad sword fight." "He didn't believe in violence," she remembered. "Except in specific circumstances," she reminded herself, "The discriminatory and unreasonable situation in Los Angeles would certainly offend his sense of justice." "Diego was too gentle to be Zorro," she argued "But she had also never seen Zorro kill anyone." "She had never seen Diego and Zorro together and they both had the same height, moustache, and smile." "Was it possible for two men to be so different and so similar?" she wondered in confusion. She knew she was attracted to both Don Diego and Zorro, if they turned out to be the same person it would be more than perfect for her. There was only one way to tell.

Emerenzia had stopped her speech on the values of a monarchy rather abruptly, Diego looked up to see a rather confused look on her face. He quickly sat forward, about to ask her what was wrong when she suddenly got a very determined look on her face. She stood up, walked over, and sat down next to Diego, he looked at her with a slightly puzzled expression as she looked deeply into his eyes.

"They are so blue," she thought as she looked at him. Even as she looked at his questioning expression she knew it was him. She smiled, leaned in, and kissed him. She could tell he was surprised, but he didn't pull back, if anything he got closer, when they finally broke apart she just smiled and reminded him that they had better get started if they wanted to find Rodriguez. Even the mention of her prey couldn't wipe the grin from her lips as they repacked their bag and climbed out of the subterranean cavern.

Diego was surprised when she kissed him, and even more surprised at her nonchalant attitude afterward. She just smiled at him, he knew he was grinning like an idiot. He tried to act as composed about it as she was when they got back into the main cavern.

It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the darker light of lantern after the reflected sunlight of the small cavern. Emerenzia was glad it was darker, she allowed herself a blush at the memory of her and Diego's kiss. He really was surprisingly good. As the almost embarrassing silence stretched between them Emerenzia said the first thing that popped into her mind, at least the first thing that didn't have to do with Diego's tongue.

"So, are there anymore hard to find places that he may have camped out in?" she asked.

"Ah, yes," Diego said, snapping back to the present. "I know of a few more."

They walked on, after nearly an hour Diego put up his hand and nodded to the wall where a stalagmite was meeting a stalactite to form a column. He walked over to it and reached up behind it.

He deliberately placed his foot on top of a carved Z on the floor, but not before Emerenzia glanced down at it. She smiled, but pretended not to notice and turned her attention to Diego's hands.

After a few moments he pulled a rope out from behind it. "So, it's still here," he said with a sigh, "I put this in here at least twelve years ago." "Alright, I'll go first, and you follow me once I reach the top."

Emerenzia nodded and they got started, Diego was up in a matter of minutes. "It must be all the climbing he does as Zorro." Emerenzia thought as she followed him. At the top was a large ledge with a crack running down one of the walls, it was this crack the Diego stepped through. Closely followed by Emerenzia, he entered another large cavern that would have taken Emerenzia weeks to find, however there were no signs of anyone ever being there.

"I know of a few more, easier to find places." Diego said over his shoulder. "We can look there next." Diego turned to face her and his eyes widened, behind her, out of her sight and faintly outlined by their lantern, was Gomez Rodriguez, aiming a gun at her.

"Emerenzia!" Diego shouted, knowing he couldn't reach her in time. She turned to look at him, and it was only that turn which saved her life. A shot rang out and Diego saw Emerenzia clutch her side and fall over, she leaned against a large rock and threw her bag over her side. Diego immediately reached for his sword, but Gomez had gotten closer, and pulled another pistol from his holster.

"Don't even think about it, Senor," he said with a sneer. "I believe I would enjoy killing you, but I'd hate to waste the ammunition." Diego dropped his sword and gave him a defiant stare. "Good, now throw your pistol and whip over here, Emerenzia." he demanded.

They complied, and when Gomez had collected them from the ground Diego slowly walked over to Emerenzia, he dropped beside her with a worried look on his face. "Are you alright?" he asked.

"What, this scratch?" she asked, gasping at the pain. "It's just a flesh wound."

"I'm impressed with your willpower, Emerenzia, your sister didn't care, but you, you never let me see you cry." Gomez smiled mockingly. "I really admire that." "It's too bad you went on this little vengeance crusade, I'll almost regret having to kill you." She glared at him, her brown eyes flashing with loathing, but didn't respond, when he saw the two weren't going to reply to his goading he shrugged. "Because I like you so much, Emerenzia, I will give you a gift, a present in honor of your father, you may choose who dies first, you, or your friend here."

Emerenzia's agile mind formed a plan in seconds, and immediately put it into action, "Surely, Gomez, you would not be so cruel as to deny my love and I one last kiss?" she asked, with a grimace of pain.

Gomez smiled from his perceived superior position. "Why of course, Emerenzia, I would never be so heartless, had I known he was your love, I never would have had him drop his sword, I feel they should at least be able to attempt to rescue their Senorita's." He looked Diego up and down, "However, I doubt this one could have defended you adequately, he doesn't even look like he could defend himself." Gomez laughed, "By all means, have your last kiss."

Diego leaned in to kiss Emerenzia even as he wondered what in the world she was doing, as their lips met she carefully moved her leg to uncover the sword that had been hidden by her bag. She deepened the kiss and guided his hand to the pommel of the sword, when they pulled apart she whispered to him. "Don't hold back, Zorro."

He smiled as he looked into her eyes and nodded almost imperceptibly, then he carefully pushed back on his knees, drew her sword and attacked Gomez. The bandito was so surprised that he very nearly lost his nose as he jumped back and held up his own sword and pistol. Diego quickly struck before Rodriguez could aim and knocked the pistol from his hand. He then threw himself into the fight. Gomez was a very aggressive fighter, easily provoked and prone to make mistakes in his defense. He left part of himself open every time he attacked, but his crushing blows stunned Diego long enough for him to pull back into defensive posture. Diego knew he would have to somehow dodge one of those overwhelmingly strong strokes, instead of catching it on his blade, so he carefully kicked Gomez during one of his defensive fallbacks and grabbed a small rock. Realizing Gomez was going to attack again to counter the kick, Diego took aim and threw it into his face, he then dodged the blow and struck the man a blow to his side, then sidestepping him he hit him on the side of the head, a bit too heavily than was necessary, with his sword hilt.

As Gomez fell, Diego dropped the sword and turned to look at Emerenzia's almost stunned face. He walked over to her and dropped down beside her. "Are you all right, Emerenzia?"

"I can't believe it's finally over." she said in a small voice.

"Don't worry, I'm going to get you out of here." Diego said with a reassuring smile.

Emerenzia shook her head as of coming out of a daze, "Yes, I'm going to need a bandage, it just grazed me, so I just need you to bind it up with something."

Diego quickly pulled off his cravat and noticed the way Emerenzia's outfit was made. The shirt was actually connected to the pants in order to make climbing and moving easy while still preventing the use of too much fabric that could catch on something. He realized what he was going to have to do. "Emerenzia," he asked uncomfortably, "perhaps you would like to do this yourself." he suggested delicately.

"Diego," she said with an amused look, "are you too embarrassed to bind up a lady's wound?" she asked with a smile.

"Emerenzia," Diego said in a half-lecturing tone of voice, "it would not be proper for me to be here when your shirt is removed."

"Diego, you are such a prude." Emerenzia said, leaning foreword carefully to give Diego a quick kiss on the lips. She almost laughed out load when she saw him actually blush. "I can't believe my eyes, I am making Zorro blush." she said, grinning.

"How did you know?" Diego asked, turning his head as she removed her shirt.

"Well, you gave yourself away," she said. "Remember when we were dancing and I told you how I got upset with Zorro because he kept laughing whenever I became angry with him?" she asked.

"Of course," Diego said putting his hand to his head, "today in the quartz cavern." He smiled, his back still to the wall, "So, that's why you kissed me?" he asked.

"Well, that was part of the reason, but you just looked so cute when you looked down at me that there was really nothing else to do." she laughed, then paused. "Diego?" she asked seriously, "can you please help me with this, I can't get it tight enough."

"Emerenzia." Diego began.

"You can keep your eyes shut." she said. She turned him around and gave him the end of the cravat and he quickly wrapped it around her, pulling it tight. "Ouch," she exclaimed suddenly.

Diego opened his eyes, then quickly averted them, "I'm sorry, did I hurt you?" he asked worriedly.

"No," she said smiling, and kissed him again, "but now that you have your eyes open could you hand me my shirt?" She smiled winsomely at him as he gave it to her, and then helped her to stand.

Diego tied up Gomez, even though he was still unconscious, and decided to leave him in the cave until the soldiers could pick him up, they really didn't want him to be in their lives anymore. Diego made sure he had no way of releasing himself, then they left.

They walked out of the cave as he explained to her the intricacies of the Zorro arrangement, she was happy when she learned Alejandro knew his son's identity and not really surprised to learn that Bernado could hear. Diego kept her talking all the way to the cave exit, she realized he was trying to keep her mind off of Gomez, and she was grateful, but it really wasn't necessary. She was determined to not allow Rodriguez any more space in her thoughts. He was no longer her obsession, she was at peace, knowing that justice would finally be served for her family. They made their way to Los Angeles and Diego stopped at the Quartel to give them directions to Rodriguez, while Emerenzia changed her clothes. He was confident the soldiers would find him eventually, but his mind was more on Emerenzia then Rodriguez at the moment.

He knew that she loved him, but would she marry him? He knew she had a family at her home, he wasn't sure whether or not she would be willing to leave them. There was no way he could leave Los Angeles. Until the political issues were resolved, Zorro would be needed. He pondered this until Emerenzia came down the stairs and then he pushed it out of his mind, wanting to enjoy her company now that they had no more secrets between them. They mounted their horses and began the ride to the de la Vega hacienda, half way there Diego pulled up his horse and looked at Emerenzia.

"Emerenzia, before we arrive at the hacienda, I would like to speak to you about something." Diego said nervously.

"Yes, Diego?" she asked with a innocent expression that was a work of art. She had a pretty good idea what he was going to ask, and she had her answer ready.

"Emerenzia, you know I love you." Diego said and at her nod he continued. "I have always believed that when two people are in love they should be married."

"Diego," Emerenzia said, pretending to be completely surprised and hiding a smile, "are you proposing?"

Diego smiled at her, "Well, it is my first time, but that was what it sounded like." "Will you marry me?"

"I would be happy to Diego." Emerenzia said ecstatically, leaning over to give him a kiss that he happily accepted. "But I will want to visit my mother and sister, and my niece or nephew for that matter." she said with a grin.

"Of course," Diego said. "Do you think we should tell my father immediately?" he asked.

"Do you think he could handle the shock?" she said as they started toward the hacienda again.

"I don't know, I think he may have given up hope of ever seeing me married." Diego said with a rueful laugh, "I put him through a lot, refusing to even think about it for so long."

"Well, I for one am glad you waited, it would have been so much work getting you away from another Senorita." Emerenzia said with a laugh.

"I think you could take her." Diego said laughing too, "most Senorita's can't use a sword, so you'd had that going for you." Diego said.

"True," Emerenzia said, then spurred her horse on, "race you," she called over he shoulder.

Diego smiled, and then spurred his horse on also. He couldn't let her beat him so early in their engagement, now could he?

Don Alejandro de la Vega was sitting in the living room, playing chess with Bernado when Diego and Emerenzia walked into the room, breathing heavily.

"Diego, you are home early." Alejandro said. "I see you have brought home a treasure."

"Yes," Diego said, playing along, "I found it in a cave, beautiful, isn't it?" He smiled at Emerenzia and she blushed charmingly.

"It is." Alejandro agreed, Bernado merely smiled at them. Then Diego became serious.

"Father," Diego began, "I have something to tell you." Alejandro looked up at his son's rather mysterious smile and then at the happy look on Emerenzia's smiling face. He began to form a few suspicions.

"Yes, my son?" he asked, not letting his suspicion show on his face.

"I have asked Emerenzia to marry me." Diego said looking into his soon-to-be-wife's face with an almost adoring stare.

"Alejandro smiled at his son, "Well, it's about time," he said.

Diego wasn't even surprised that his father had known about his feelings, perhaps even before he himself had known, his father was very observant. He could remember the day he discovered his father had known he was Zorro all along and had kept quite out of respect for his wishes. Emerenzia just laughed and gave him a kiss on the cheek, the kiss she gave Diego was much less modest. His knees nearly buckled as she threw her arms around him and pressed her lips to his, he returned her kiss enthusiastically as his father smiled and Bernado stifled a silent laugh. Then they all sat down to do some serious wedding planning.

Three Weeks Later

Diego paced nervously about his room while Bernado vainly attempted to straighten his tie and shine his shoes. Just when he had gotten Diego to sit down and put his foot up, he would jump back up again and resume pacing while he turned to pick up his rag. Bernado couldn't help smiling at his master's nervousness, it was perfectly natural for him to be, what with his late night chasing some banditos, meeting his future in-laws, and getting married; he was more than nervous not to mention a bit sleep deprived. Eventually Bernado convinced him to take a short nap, using the time to set out Diego's clothing and finish his shoes.

Emerenzia knocked on Diego's door softly and smiled when Bernado opened it. He pointed at the bed where Diego was sleeping and then quietly left the room. Emerenzia walked to her sleeping fiance and kissed him lightly on the lips. She began to pull away when he reached up and pressed her back down. When he finally let her go she grinned down into his now open eyes. "I thought you were asleep."

"I thought I wasn't supposed to see the bride before the wedding," Diego told her.

"Well you wouldn't have if you had been asleep," she said logically.

Diego favored her with a funny look then smiled and kissed her again. "That's one more tradition we've broken."

"I should go and get dressed," Emerenzia said.

"Need any help?" Diego asked, grinning wickedly.

Emerenzia looked at him in delighted surprise, "Why Diego, what are you suggesting?"

"You're right, your mother or sister would probably catch me," he said mournfully.

"You can't imagine what would happen if either of them knew I was here!" She smiled at him, I'll see you at the wedding!"

"I love you," he said as she was about to go.

She turned around and kissed him yet again, "I love you too!" Then she was gone and Diego was left alone to finish his preparations for the wedding that was now only an hour away.

The wedding went by in a fantastic blur for Diego. Later he remembered it had been decorated very prettily and the wedding march was played particularly well. The part that most stuck out in his mind was when Emerenzia emerged from the back room after her sister and proceeded down the long Church aisle towards him. She had never looked so beautiful and he had almost been bursting with happiness. The vows went well, he was told later, though in truth he didn't remember saying them, and the fiesta began soon after that. Diego was complimented later on his dancing and that he had looked a little distracted. In actuality he was not distracted at all, no he was just focused to the exclusion of all else on the interminable amount of time it would be before he and Emerenzia could quietly slip away from the party and move on to more important things.

Eventually the clock hit ten and Don Alejandro stood to make his speech. He thanked everyone for coming, complimented his son and daughter-in-law, and excused them both. He then invited everyone else to stay longer and 'help him make a dent in his wine cellar'. Diego offered Emerenzia his arm, which she demurely accepted, and they calmly made their way to Diego's room. It had already been redone for both of them. Diego quietly closed the door and turned around only to have Emerenzia throw herself into his arms.

"Thank goodness, it's finally over," she murmured as he kissed her neck.

"My sentiments exactly," Diego replied. Needless to say, there was very little talking from that point on.



My lovely little story is done. Doubtless there will be many people who read this and hate it's very predictable ending and annoying cliches, but I don't care. And do you know why? Because I have gone to a very special desensitizing school and now I have no use for anyone except myself and perhaps a few admirers. However if you flame me it had better be because you think my story is an offence to everything you hold dear, if I get another review about how mean my reviews are I'm going to go postal, hunt all of you down, and then force you to listen to my third grade poetry. That's right, I'm insane, what of it?