Title: A Wounded Fox

Author: Robin aka icyfire

Rating: PG (possibly PG13 for subject matter)

Disclaimer: The Fox belongs to no one. ;) Okay, so he belongs to Zorro productions, but he lives in the hearts of millions.

Summary: Diego is dragging around the pueblo like a dead man, and Zorro is acting like he wants to become one. Will Alejandro, Victoria, and Felipe be able to help?

Author's Notes: But "Wounded Fox" is already on Fanfiction.net you are probably thinking. And you are right. However, in the author's notes of that one--which didn't make it to ff.net for reasons I now don't know--I admitted that I just wanted to do a nice short moment in time. Alejandro wasn't even supposed to know, but he insisted that he was a smart man. So, being the author, I started to wonder what made the Fox behave that way. What was it that made him so depressed?

Well, he finally told me the story, and I wrote it down. The scene, reworked some and edited, that is "Wounded Fox" is also in this fic.

This fic was written three years ago for a fanzine that never materialized. FF.net is the first place it has ever appeared.

***

He sat up, his mouth opened in a silent scream, struggling to escape Morpheus's hold on him. It took him a few moments to realize that he was in his own bed, his nightmare having seemed so real. Diego thought he should be used to their horrible realism by now: He had relived the moment over again every night since that ghastly day.

Gasping for breath, Diego laid back down. He stared up at the ceiling. In all the years he had lived in this room, he had never noticed all of its texture. With so many recently sleepless nights, he was now familiar with each and every line embedded into his room's canopy.

He learned that first sleepless night not to look around his room. Tired and ashamed, he had turned towards his window, seeking comfort in the mysteries of the moon. Instead, he had noticed how much his curtains looked like blood.

He closed his eyes as he heard the familiar night whispers. Coward, they whispered. Murderer, they chanted in his mind. He no longer argued against their claims, tired of trying to defend the undefendable. He scrapped his hands across his bed sheets in an effort to wipe the invisible blood away, the blood of a child. He knew it was useless, just as useless as trying to get more sleep tonight.

* * * * *

He didn't get much sleep again last night, Victoria thought as she watched Diego sitting in his usual seat by the pillar. It was becoming an everyday occurrence. He would be waiting for her to open her doors, making a huge effort to smile. She could tell that it was forced, but she was glad that he was trying.

She walked over and refilled his water glass. Not that he noticed. He spent most of the morning staring at her wall, showing all the energy of a corpse. Victoria shivered at that thought, refusing to think about such a horrible idea.

Don Diego was one of her best friends, if not her closest. His gentle nature had made it easy for her to take him for granted, but his recent absence in spirit made her aware of how much he involved himself in her life: from the gentle teasing comments to get her out of a snit, to the soft laughs at her jokes, to the amused grin at her latest passionate outburst--all practically unnoticed until they were gone.

Leaning on her counter, she studied Diego. He was wearing one of his customary blue outfits, but she noticed it hung loosely on his body. He had lost weight. She hoped he was not ill, but Victoria quickly dismissed that thought. Ever since he had returned from Spain, he had no problem letting anyone and everyone know when he was sick. A mere cold could keep him in bed for a week. If he were sick, she would have known about it, either from his lips or Alejandro's.

His lips . . . the usual smooth and healthy pink lips were chapped and pale. It looked as if he had spent a lot of time nibbling on them. Maybe he was lost in thought about one of his many experiments . . . He often spent days at a time thinking about one of his science projects. Victoria picked up a rag and absently began wiping the counter. No, it couldn't be that because she knew what he looked like then: a little absent-minded perhaps, but full of excitement at the possibility of learning something new.

His beautiful, lush hair was different, too. It had lost its usual shine, a sure hint that he was not eating healthy, but then the way his clothes hung on his smaller framer had already told her that fact.

Those beautiful blue eyes were what worried her the most. They were . . .dead. *No, another word, Victoria!* she ordered. She looked down at the cloth in her hand as if she had never before seen it. She could not think of another word for his eyes. They were usually full of excitement and joy, but now they were . . . lifeless.

Victoria turned, walking quickly into the kitchen. She told herself that it was because she had work to do, but she knew better. Passing through the curtain, she wiped at her eyes--because of the sun's brightness was the excuse she gave herself. She reached up and grabbed a pot down from the shelf. Minutes before, she would have told anyone what was on her menu, and arroz con pollo was not on it. Now, she had overwhelming desire to make the dish that just happened to be Diego's favorite.

She raced around the room, gathering ingredients, trying to stay ahead of her traitorous thoughts. It was an old custom for her in many ways, but today the voice inside her mind seemed louder.

*You notice a lot about man that you claim to take for granted.*

Chop. Chop. Chop. *I do not*, she answered angrily.

*Oh, really? Just his body, his hair, his lips, and his eyes. The only thing you forgot to look at earlier was his hands!*

*His hands are just fine!*

*So you did notice?* Could someone's conscience be so mocking, so condescending? It was laughing at her. *You dream about him at night.*

*I dream about Zorro! I love Zorro!* She didn't like how desperate she sounded in her own mind.

*True, true*, the little voice mocked. *Diego is a close second though. You fantasize about him putting that body next to yours as you run your hands through that hair. You want him to kiss you hard, where the last thing you see, before closing your eyes in joy, is his eyes looking at you with an incredible desire.*

Tossing the chicken into the pot, she shook her head at her own thoughts. *I'm almost making myself cry*, she told herself, trying to find some humor. *Diego is my friend, and I do care about him deeply. Those dreams . . . those dreams are just school girl fantasies. I dream about Zorro more.*

The voice inside her was quiet for a moment. *If there were no Zorro . . ..*

She stopped for a moment, lost in a truth that she usually refused to admit. "If there were no Zorro . . ." Refusing to hear the wistful desire in her own voice, she forced her thoughts back to her cooking. She had made a promise and a vow. There was no turning back for her. Besides, she really did love Zorro. It was just sometimes--not often--that she thought she could fall in love with Diego, too.

* * * * *

Diego started when she put the bowl in front of him. Anna Marie was here now, so Victoria decided to take a break. "Eat," she said with a smile. "You look like you could use it."

He began to shake his head, beginning to refuse her offer. "I'm not really hungry, Victoria--"

"Eat." It was a plea more than a command.

He looked down at the bowl with almost a mild sense of revulsion on his face. Victoria would take it personal except for two things. First, she knew how much he loved her cooking, and second, she understood that, for whatever reason, any thought of eating was revolting to him right now. She thanked the Lord when he picked up a spoon. He was taking small bits, but even small ones put food into his body.

"Diego," she said softly, topping off his water with her pitcher. He had only drunk a few drinks from it since she filled it earlier in the morning, but she wanted something to do with her hands. "What's bothering you?"

He looked at her for a moment. "Bothering me? Nothing's bothering me," he lied to her without blinking. She refused to admit how much it hurt.

Leaning forward, she looked into his eyes. Their dullness made her want to shiver. "We are friends. You can tell me," she said, unknowingly echoing his words from an early time.

She saw the indecision on his face, the burning desire to tell someone, anyone. It was then that she made her mistake; she reached over and touched his hand. He jerked his away as if her hand was made out of fire, and she watched the emotional shutters close. He would not open up for her again today. She wanted to cry in pain, ask what she had done, but she kept silent. Fear was a horrible enemy to truth.

They sat silently together for a few minutes, neither looking up at the other. It was Mendoza who broke the silence. He slowly walked over to their table, his usual bounce missing. He sat down, seeming not to notice the tension between his two friends. Victoria looked up and saw the relief on Diego's face. It hurt, but it also made her worry even more. The Diego she knew would be demanding, in his own kind way, to know what was wrong with the sergeant. The one sitting across from her, the pale ghost-like version, saw his arrival as an opportunity of escape.

"I'm afraid I got bad news," Mendoza finally muttered when no one asked.

Victoria tore her eyes away from Diego. "What is it, Mendoza?"

He sighed heavily. "I'm afraid the gallows are being prepared."

"The gallows?" Diego's voice only held a spark of interest. Victoria wanted to scream, to shake him out of this new apathy. He may have never been a man of action, but he had always had a big heart.

"Sì, amigos, the alcalde has ordered the hanging of Don Tores." Diego's face, for just a moment, showed his surprise. Mendoza nodded sadly. "He has accused him of treason."

"Treason? Don Tores is one of the most loyal men I have ever met. I have spent years hearing him telling me why Spain and her King are the best in the world. Now, the alcalde thinks he's guilty of betraying that Country and King? It's the most ridiculous things I've heard, Sergeant." Even as Victoria feared for a friend's safety, she also rejoiced in hearing some life come back into Diego's voice.

She and Mendoza exchanged glances. It was then that she realized that the friendly man had also been worried about Diego. She saw the relief she was feeling reflected in his eyes, too. Diego stood suddenly. "If you will excuse me, I need to go find my father." With those few clipped words said, he was gone.

Mendoza's eyes met hers again. "At least, he was interested." Victoria nodded her agreement, wishing the gnawing feeling in her stomach would leave.