Looking at the man she loved, without his mask, Victoria felt the tears burn her eyes again. He had lost weight, and it hurt to see how pale he looked. He did not even look up from his books for a moment. He must have felt their eyes watching him though, because he looked up like he was expecting to see someone. "Victoria."

She let a few tears fall. "Felipe saved the governor from an assassin today," she managed to say. Diego looked over in surprise at his son. How had she missed that silent communication--not even gestures were exchanged-- between them?

Why didn't you come and get me? Diego was asking without saying a single word.

I was going to, but . . .There's a situation you should know about . . . Felipe answered in the same way.

Diego's eyebrows drew together. He looked back at Victoria and put on that bland face she hated. "Well, I'm very proud of you, Felipe." She could here the very real pride in his voice. "What happened?"

"He . . .He a--" Suddenly, Victoria could not hold it together. The deep sobs that had been hiding in her forced their way out into the open. She did not want him to see her like this, so weak and helpless. He was the strongest man that she knew, stronger than she ever suspected. He deserved someone just as tough.

He jumped up and rushed over to her. "Victoria!" How had she missed that love in his voice? She should have figured it out years ago!

He put his arm around her, and she felt laughter bubbling up with her tears. His muscles were tense under his pristine white shirt, and she realized that he was just like most other men. The sight of a woman in tears frightened him. From the corner of her eye, she could see Felipe signing to him. He pointed at her, made a Z in the air, and pointed at Diego. For once, Diego's ability to read Felipe's signs deserted him. "I do not understand," he said. Like her, he wanted to deny the truth. The signs were even obvious to her!

"He's saying that I know you are Zorro," she whispered, looking him in the eye. Flinching, Diego lowered his eyes so that she could not see them. It hurt, but she understood. The eyes were windows to the soul, and Diego was afraid for her to see his soul. He was afraid that she would reject him. He had said that in his cave, before he had given her his mother's ring.

"I--I, uh--" She smiled at Diego's stuttering. He, who was always so brilliant with words, did not know what to say to her.

She looked at Felipe, and he nodded in silent understanding of her unspoken request. He left them alone. Diego watched him leave with a mild look of panic on his face. The boy was a source of support to the caballero, but Victoria knew that they needed this time alone to work out their problems. Besides, she understood that Diego would share most of the conversation later with him.

"When?" she asked as if Diego has said the word. "Almost an hour ago when I saw Felipe walking to his horse. I knew then what I had tried to deny for so long. How? Well, we'll keep that one for later. I don't think I believe it, and I was there."

Turning to look at him, she grinned. She threw herself into his arms and kissed him. She loved the feel of his lips caressing hers, the rough hairs of his mustache scrapping across her upper lip. She ran her fingers through all of his hair, enjoying the feeling of being able to hold a part of him that had been hidden from her before now. All of him was open to her, just as she had always wanted.

"I love you," she whispered as his lips worked their way down her throat.

He pulled away and stared down at her. "I always said that I would wait until the mask was gone forever."

Shrugging, Victoria placed little kisses on his throat. "Zorro can wait until then. How does Don Diego feel?"

He ran his hands through her hair, pressing them against her skull in a gentle caress. He raised her head so that their eyes could meet. "He's madly in love with you," he answered seriously.

"Good," she replied and reached up to draw his mouth to hers again.

***

Later, they sat in the cave. They had decided it was a better place to talk, since the household was beginning to resemble Pandemonium as the staff prepared for the arrival of their guest. Felipe knew where to find them if they were needed. Diego watched her as she looked around the room. The clues were so obvious to her now. The cave reeked of Diego de la Vega. The books he was so proud of littered the small room. His love of science was shown throughout from the board covered in butterflies to the little flask boiling away at the table. She had missed it all before, blinded by her fears.

She hugged herself as she began talking in a hushed voice. "I've been worried about you all month."

Diego nodded. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to awaken you that night, I just needed to see--"

"No!" she yelled, turning around to face him. "I've been worried about you! Diego de la Vega has been in almost every thought that I had for a month. I--I wanted to comfort you, but--Your pain became my pain."

He reached up to caress her face. He was started by her words, she could tell. "I didn't know that Diego was worthy of much notice," he admitted finally.

She grasped his hand, and rubbed her cheek against it. "Diego's always been worthy of notice! Even when I didn't want to notice him. I always knew that if there hadn't been Zorro . . ." Her voiced trailed off into silence. Neither spoke for a few minutes, imaging a world where there was no Zorro. Victoria dreamed of a houseful of kids, but Diego was remembering the horrible nightmare Don Fernando had shown him one Christmas. One of these days, he would share what he had seen in that world with her so that she would know her sacrifice had been worth something.

"I was wanting to worry about Zorro, but I couldn't seem to focus on him." She sighed, trying to think of how to tell him the great truth that had hit her earlier today. "So--Something happened earlier that made me think, and- -and I realized that I had a hard time worrying about Zorro, because he--he wasn't real."

Diego pulled her into his lap. "What do you mean?" he whispered into her ear. His breath moved the hairs on the back of her neck, causing her to giggle. He grinned, knowing what had brought the sound of joy from her.

"Zorro is Zorro. He's not a man to me, Diego. I think he was once, but then--I started to believe the legend, too. He was invincible and always ready to fight. He had no fear as he fought off the lancers! I never really tried to figure out who he was because--I couldn't let him be a man, because if he became a mere man. A mere man can be hurt and killed, Diego." Her soft words seemed to echo off the cave walls.

Laying his head down on the top of here, he whispered, "I know."

Victoria's eyes filled with tears again. "Promise me you will be careful."

"I promise," he said. "I have a lot to stay alive for." Victoria turned in his arms, and kissed him. She wanted to remind him what he had to waiting for him.

"I worried about Diego, because he needed me. Zorro never needed me." Her voice was gentle as she caressed his face. She could tell that her words still stung him.

"I always need you," he avowed.

Victoria smiled at him. "Yes, you do, but Zorro doesn't." Diego's face filled with confusion. "He is a part of you, Diego, I know, but he is that part that doesn't need anyone. The entire man might need me, but--"

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

"For what?"

"For not letting you know exactly how important you are to me. Victoria, you are the reason I can go on and fight the fight. Without you to support me, there would be no Zorro. He stopped being a part of me a long time ago. He's become something more, and you are a part of that more. He gets strength from you and from Father and from Felipe. You are what makes the fight worth it." She could not deny the passionate plea in that voice for understanding.

"I love you," she said, tears in her voice and on her face. She was getting extremely tired of being so weepy.

"And I love you," he said as his lips met hers. She felt abandoned when he withdrew them, but she understood. Diego was being the gentleman his father had taught him to be. They were alone here, and she knew Felipe would not bother them unless it was extremely important. It would not take much for things to get out of control here in this cave.

She watched as he used his incredible discipline to get his focus on something else besides what they could be doing. "How, Victoria?" He asked the only question that she was unwilling to answer. Their visits were still too raw, too close to her. She also had a hard time telling her scientific man that ghosts had haunted her.

He saw the hesitation on her face, and gave her a quick kiss. "You can tell me when you are ready. I think, though, that we need to get out of this cave. How about a stroll around the garden?"

Later, Victoria lay in Diego's arms in one of the garden's chairs. It was not the most comfortable of positions, but she did not want to be anywhere else. The sun was beginning to set, and she could imagine that she was hearing the ocean waves hitting the beach in the distance. She and Diego really needed to take a trip to Santa Paulo again . . .

"And over here is where we usually sit to watch--" Don Alejandro stopped his speech cold as he watched a startled Diego stand and lower Victoria's legs to the ground. Victoria managed to stop the giggle that wanted to escape her. The open-mouthed astonishment on the father's face was matched perfectly by the horrified gaze of the son.

The governor and his party looked just as amused as she was. "Uh, this lovely lady is Victoria Escalante. She owns the tavern in town, and this young gentleman is my son, Diego." Alejandro's manners took over his actions, because Victoria could see that he had lost the ability to think for a moment. He had never expected to find them in such a position.

The governor and party were introduced to her, but she had to admit that she felt no awe at meeting such a powerful man. He had basically ignored the problems of Los Angeles over the years, and she felt no loyalty to him. She knew that Don Alejandro's heart would be broken if he could hear her thoughts, but she had a suspicion that Diego's would echo hers.

"Your hacienda is truly lovely, Don Alejandro. Ah, I believe we will retire for a few minutes before dinner to freshen up and dress." Giving a proper little nod of his head, the governor left, followed by his party.

Alejandro turned to look at his son and future daughter-in-law--even if he did not know her relationship to him, yet. "I would like some answers."

Victoria squeezed Diego's hand, smiling at the man she had admired as a father figure for years. "And you'll get them." She felt Diego flinch, and she looked over at him. He relaxed as he read the message in her eyes. "After the governor is gone, Diego and I have a lot to tell you." He deserved to know, but she knew that he needed to be told in private at a time that he could absorb all of the information. Right now, his focus needed to be on hosting and getting the alcalde cleared.

"I think you two need to get dressed for dinner," she told the two men that were so dear to her.

"Victoria--" Diego began, but she cut him off knowing what he was going to say. "No, Diego. I didn't come dressed or prepared to eat dinner with you. I'm going to sit out here and do some thinking. Now, go!" Both men reluctantly left to do her bidding.

Looking up into the darkening sky, Victoria could see the hint of a few stars. "Thank you," she said.

"No, thank you," said two voices in unison behind her. She spun around to find both of her ghosts sitting at the table. What was it with these ghosts and tables? "You did what we couldn't do. You had all the information, you just needed to be pushed to open your eyes."

"Thank you," she said again. She looked at Resendo, the man who looked so much like the man she loved. "I will tell him soon why, and I will tell him that you helped save him." He gave a nod of his head, but his eyes shinned their gratitude to her. She looked at both ghosts, and asked the question that had plagued her all afternoon. "Would he have died today?"

Ramón was the one that answered her. "No, he wouldn't have died, but there is more than one way to become a ghost."

"He was in danger of losing his soul, Victoria. He should have told you and Father long ago. You cannot understand how deep of a truth he shared with you earlier. You are his reason for fighting, and if he lost you--" Resendo stopped, realizing that he was revealing too much. "You saved that wonderful soul of his today. Thank you, Sister." Victoria smiled, touched that a ghost was welcoming her to his family.

"Victoria," Diego's voice called from behind her. Victoria looked over her shoulder, and then back to the table. They were gone. A warm arm surrounded her waist. "I found a dress of Mother's for you to wear. No protests. Felipe already had Maria set you a place. You are going to be a de la Vega soon, so you might as well get use to it."

Victoria turned in his arms, surprised by his words. He was going to marry her in the near future. Diego was not going to wait for Zorro's mask to be put up forever before he pledged his life to hers. She felt a moment of fear that their marriage might give so much away, but she ignored it. They would be able to handle any questions. Her outburst in the plaza might even help them with their story. She was tired of waiting for Zorro and turned to her good friend Diego . . .

He kissed her quick on the lips before looking around the garden. "I thought Miguel was out here."

"Why?" Her brow was creased in puzzlement.

He laughed softly. "I thought I heard a man's voice talking to you."

Victoria grinned, relieved that she was not losing her mind after all. "No, I was just talking to the dead."

"What?"

"I'll tell you later." She kissed him, and then turned to see Isabela walking out of the hacienda towards them.

"Tomorrow night, I'll come see you at the tavern. Father has plans for us to visit with the governor and the caballeros are having a meeting in the evening I need to be at," he whispered quietly. She could hear his puzzlement about the gathering, and knew that he would eventually hear the reasons behind it. She was just thrilled that maybe things were going to change for everyone. It was time for the people to start fighting their own battles. With the help of Zorro, of course.

He greeted the older lady who had been his mother's maid, before telling Victoria: "Isabela will take you to Mother's quarters. The dress is lying on the bed for you." She loved the fact that he was unwilling to push her for answers that she knew he was anxious to hear. She would have to see if Zorro could come see her tonight so that she could tell him a story of a haunting.

She left Diego alone in the garden. After she had finished her story later that night, he told her what had happened to him there . . .

He stood in his garden watching her walk into the hacienda, giving thanks for the blessing that had brought her to him today. For the first time in a month, he felt alive. He was beginning to walk to the house when the wind spoke to him. "You are my brother, Diego," Gilberto's voice whispered to him. He turned to look, afraid that he was going mad, but there was no one there. The voice had been Gilberto's, the words had been Gilberto's, but the tone . . .Gilberto had said those words with hate, and now Diego was hearing them with love. He stood there, shivering in the cold, as he thought about those words. Then, from somewhere, a feeling of intense love surrounded him. It was then that he realized what it was that he had forgotten for this past month. Lost in a self-hatred for failing Gilberto and his father, his eyes had been blinded from a simple truth: He was loved. His father, Felipe, and Victoria--they all loved him and needed him.

"Thank you, Gilberto," he said, unsure why he was thanking his dead brother, but somehow understanding that he owed him his gratitude. Smiling, he turned and walked back into his home.