Alejandro watched Victoria pace. Earlier he had thought it was nerves driving her to walk a path in their floor, but now watching her closely, he began to wonder. "Victoria, are you unwell?"
Her smile worried him. Stress curled at its corners. "I'm fine."
She lifted a hand to stop him from standing. "I'm fine, Father. I'm in labor."
He jumped. "Victoria-"
Her eyes were daggers. "Sit."
"Victoria, you're in labor."
She rubbed her belly before returning her hands to her lower back. "This baby is not being born without his father here."
"It's a shame the child shall lose its life when his mother loses hers," a familiar voice said. "The blood of a newborn is especially tasty."
Alejandro turned and stared at the intruders. Both were disheveled. Rusty brown spots covered their shirts and pants. Cuts and bruises told of a hard fight. But the smiles on their faces were those of predators who had just caught a juicy dinner.
His eyes kept straying to Ramone, a man he knew to be dead. No matter what Diego had said, no matter what part of him had chosen to believe, a part of him still refused to accept what his eyes saw. Tasia stepped forward, and his attention focused to her. An old soldier's instinct warned him that she was the dangerous one.
"Tasia, I did not expect to see you tonight," he said, falling back on manners to give him time to think.
A throaty laugh echoed in the room. "I am sure you never expected to see me again. Your son, your dutiful son, was to finish the battle tonight."
"Finish it?" He glanced over at Victoria. Even with the sheen of sweat on her face and the grimace of pain that twisted her features, she showed no signs of fear. Pride raced through his veins.
"Instead we will be the ones to finish it," a dead man's voice said with a hint of boredom. Tasia's familiar grin somehow appeared more evil than usual.
"Yes, we will finish it."
"No, I'll finish it," an unexpected voice announced calmly. Alejandro refused to admit the relief he felt, refused to admit how frightened he had been by the possibility of his son's death. "I warned you."
Tasia and Ramone turned to face his son. Alejandro rushed over and gathered Victoria into his grasp. Her fingers clutched at his arm as another contraction wrecked its way through her body. She refused to cry out, biting hard on her lip. Alejandro understood: never show the enemy your fear. Diego had chosen well.
Z Z Z
It only took moments for Diego to study the people in front of him. He immediately noticed the panic on his father's face and the determination on his wife's. The rage on the two vampires' faces was also easy to see. He could only hope the smothering fear working its way through his body was not noticeable. He thought he sounded calm and in control when he spoke.
His home had been invaded. His family was in danger. Rage started to merge with fear, and he fought to keep them both at bay. He needed to think not react. In all his years as Zorro, never had it been so hard.
"I warned you, Ramone. You were to take her away from here."
Ramone simply smiled. Tasia answered. "He follows my orders, de la Vega."
Diego nodded his head in acknowledgment. "And Esperanza thought you were a smart opponent."
Tasia's eyes narrowed. She lifted her sword and offered a quick salute and the battle began. Even while he attacked and retreated, Diego listened as his father offered soothing words to Victoria. He was keenly aware of his wife's hiss as she fought to keep from screaming as their babe started to fight his way from his mother's body. The thumping of his heart almost blocked out the sound of the blades hitting.
Yet, the noise didn't keep him from being focused. Instead, the awareness of what he could lose today kept him sharp. His blade whipped the air, almost faster than the eye could see. More than ever, failure was not an option. His home, his family, was counting on him.
Tasia lunged. He shifted his weight, spun and lifted his blade. No hesitation. His blade cut through her throat. The shock on her face caused some deep, dark part of his soul to cheer. But as he watched her body crumple into dust he felt nothing. Not even relief.
Another promise to himself broken. He knew that after tonight he would never be able to use his mentor's sword again.
"Leave," he told a stunned Ramone.
No words were spoken. But thousands of promises were made as the enemies' eyes met. Diego knew he should kill the vampire in front of him, but something stopped him. Old guilt perhaps. Ramone's face promised that one day Diego would rue that guilt.
But not today. Today was about life. His son or his daughter was about to be born, and he could handle no more death.
Esperanza moved beside him to watch the blond vampire leave. "You'll regret it."
"Maybe," Diego said, his attention already turning to that which was important: the future.
Z Z Z
"He made the right decision."
She spun to look at her former lover. She had been standing outside of the de la Vega's window for an unseemly amount of time staring at the newborn who lay between her two sleeping parents. "Aldrick."
"His battle has finished. At least for now."
"I don't think the war is over. It should have with Tasia's end, but-"
"The war has only begun. But it is not his war. Not any longer. The darkness is gone." Aldrick said as he studied the family.
Esperanza frowned. "I don't think he plans to stop being Zorro just yet."
"I was-" Aldrick cleared his throat. "I have always loved that about you. You were a mythical creature who could not think outside of the box. Who was so literal."
Her eyebrow shot up at his words. Centuries of control gone in a moment. "Loved?"
Aldrick turned to face her. Centuries of control gone for him as well. Lost? Or left behind? "Love."
"Had to leave. I couldn't stay. I would've prevented you from being our savior."
"The Dark One-"
"Saved mankind. You must save us, my dear."
Esperanza struggled to gather her thoughts. "Aldrick-"
"I wanted to tell you. I knew from the moment we met that you were important. I could feel it, and yet, I couldn't stop myself from caring. I almost hated you for it."
As a little girl, Esperanza had lost the ability to believe in dreams. "What's different now?"
If she had not known him so well, she might not have noticed the hesitation. Debating. Always debating. The cautious one. He teased her about her box, but he was trapped within his own.
"You're strong. You are ready. And I am tired."
The weariness with which he said that last word scared her. "Tired? You?"
He placed his hand on the window sill. His attention remained on the baby. "Did I ever tell you about the First? What happened to her?"
"She was brilliant. A scientist with no equal. And she realized the truth of our situation much faster than the rest of us."
Esperanza gasped. The last few days had obviously taken a toll on her. She needed rest. Sleep. She needed to get away from this Destroyer. Destroyer of peace. Destroyer of certainty. A man who loved his wife and child to the point he could resist the Call. A man who could do the impossible for love.
A man who maybe could even teach an old vampire to trust.
Now Aldrick was confessing what no ancient ever confessed. Not to someone as young as she. He was indeed one of the scientists of Atlantis. "The truth?"
"Something that never ends, something that is endless in supply, is never appreciated. Never respected. We lost the joy that life brought."
"You always seemed happy when I was a child."
He finally looked at her. "Because I knew. Time with you would be short. And I needed to appreciate it."
She took one last look at the de la Vega family and began to walk away. "And now time with me would be infinite, so-."
"I have about a hundred years left," he said so quietly, so nonchalantly, that she thought he must be joking.
But he never joked.
"She was the most brilliant of us, and she was tired of taking everything for granted. She found a way to end it. To stop the cells from replenishing. It was a slow way to die. Very much in the way that humans die, actually. She smiled so much in those last few decades."
She punched him. Hard. "You son of a bitch."
He grasped her fist in his hand. "I love you. I want to be with you. But I am tired. And I cannot stop you from being what you need to be."
"Care to share what it is I am supposed to be?" Anger kept the pain away.
"I cannot. I just know that you have to save us from ourselves."
Her laughter hurt. "I cannot even save you. How am I to save us all?"
He kissed her forehead. "You just will."
She resisted the urge to wipe at tears that she could not shed. "I hate you."
"I know," he said.
The noise of the night surrounded them as they stood in the de la Vega garden making silent promises to each other.
Z Z Z
Exhaustion fought with exhilaration in his blood. Tonight his daughter had been born. His wife was tired but healthy. His father looked ten years younger. And he was now the proud papa of a little girl who would make him melt every time she smiled.
And he planned on seeing her smile a lot.
Tonight had changed everything. He didn't need any prophecies to know that truth. He felt it in his very bones.
He was a father. Again.
Felipe would understand. Perhaps even better than Diego himself. The boy had always been years too old in spirit.
He would understand that little Eva's introduction in the de la Vega family was different. Not because she was more important to them. But there was no sorrow this time. No grieving child. No desperate search for parents lost. No growing acceptance that the young child with wounded eyes had become an orphan in that battle.
Diego could imagine the grin on his adopted son's face when he read about his new sister. He knew the debate the boy-the man-would have with himself. And he knew that Felipe would always feel a little guilty for not coming home immediately, even if his father's letter told him not to do so.
And he would protect her as fiercely as Diego himself. And spoil her even more than her grandfather. If that were possible.
"Your daughter is beautiful."
He turned to face Esperanza and a stranger. "Yes, she is. As beautiful as her mother."
A sad smile touched Esperanza's lips. "I was a fool to ever doubt your love for her."
"No," Diego had to admit. "We were-" He struggled to find the words to explain.
"You both were in darkness," the stranger said. "Too blind to see the obvious."
"And I was a fool to take a prophecy so literally."
The stranger smiled and took her hand in his, bringing it up to his lips. No color touched her cheeks, but her demeanor reminded Diego of a blushing lady.
"Is still a threat to you," the stranger said. "However, I believe he will be too busy running from my Esperanza to bother you."
Diego heard the warning in words not said. "But always be vigilant."
Exhaustion settled on his shoulders. He stood from the writing desk, his letter to Felipe in his fingers. "Thank you for helping me out of the darkness, Esperanza."
"You're welcome. And thank you for showing me that not all men disappoint."
Diego frowned, confused. "I-"
Stepping forward, she placed a hand on his shoulder and pressed cool lips to his cheek. "I will keep you informed of the war, Diego."
And just as suddenly as she entered his life, she left it.
Z Z Z
The argument between Diego and Victoria was getting louder.
Alejandro grinned and sipped his coffee. Breakfast was his favorite time of the day. In the de la Vega household, it was a time to discuss everything and anything. Including the approaching Mexican army.
"I agree with Victoria, my son," Alejandro said, injecting himself in the middle of the argument.
Diego opened his mouth to argue his point, but stopped when Alejandro held up his hand. "We will know soon enough if Mexico wishes to keep her new territories."
His son nodded and returned his attention to his eggs. "Victoria, what have you decided about your expansion plans?"
Her smile brightened the room. "Diego must show you the plans he has drawn for the tavern. They are wonderful."
While dressing this morning, Alejandro had realized that it had been exactly one year earlier that Victoria shared that she was expecting.
Amazing what one year could do.
His family was happy again. His home was full of laughter. And the cries of a magnificent granddaughter sometimes rang through the air. His son and daughter were one in every way that mattered.
Not that it had been a smooth journey. Both were stubborn. Both had been locked in familiar patterns for too long to give them up easily. But they were giving them up.
As he was. He had grown blind over the years. Habit? Necessity? How had he missed all the obvious evidence that his son was Zorro? Had he done it deliberately, so as to be free from the worry?
And worry he did.
Zorro still rode. Not as often. The alcalde caused little problem these days, and most bandits stayed away from Los Angeles, content with easier targets to the north and south.
Zorro still rode. And Alejandro's heart ached every time. Pride filled him, but that did not keep away the sleepless nights.
So he fought hard against the blindness. He spent the last few months actually getting to know his son. All of him. Not just that which was obvious or that which was hidden.
Zorro still rode, but Alejandro knew that his son hoped to retire the hero soon. He thought the Mexican army would do a better job of fighting bandits than the poorly paid and supplied Spanish army.
Camila entered and handed them the mail that had arrived on the coach that morning. Silence filled the room as each de la Vega sifted through his pile. Victoria informed them that her brother Ramone had written as she gleefully ripped open the letter. Alejandro smiled when he saw the letter from an old friend. But both turned their attention to Diego when he announced his letter from Felipe.
"He says that he received the miniature of Eva." Diego smiled. "He says it's my best work. I managed to make his new sister look like an angel."
Victoria laughed. She often teased the two men of the household about the way they dotted on the newborn. "He's never heard how she cries at night."
"All babies cry," Diego protested.
Victoria laughed. It was a familiar argument at breakfast. She believed Diego and Alejandro were spoiling her daughter. And Alejandro and Diego knew she was right, even as they argued with her for appearances' sake. But she was so beautiful and so perfect, how could they resist her cries?
Alejandro sat down his coffee. "What?"
"Felipe says he has met the most annoying woman." Diego flipped the paper over, quickly scanning it and the next page. "He talks about her at some length."
Alejandro saw that his son and daughter-in-law were wearing the same grin on their faces that he had on his. "Most annoying."
"Yes," Diego said, his smile making its way into his voice. "She has dark brown hair and emerald eyes."
"Emerald?" Victoria asked. "Sounds beautiful."
"Do you think he's realized that he's infatuated yet?"
Victoria and Diego looked at each other before turning their attention to him. "No," they both answered.
Alejandro nodded his head and picked up his coffee. "He is a de la Vega."
"Stubborn," Victoria agreed.
"But he's also smart," Diego said. "He will figure it out."
Alejandro settled back into his chair as Diego and Victoria talked about what the letter said about the lady who very well likely could be their daughter-in-law by the time Felipe returned home. The joy in their faces, in their voices, washed over him.
He looked around his home, sighing with some regret. Felipe would not wait to have his wedding at home if the "annoying" lady was the one. After all, decisive action was also a major de la Vega trait.
"Are you all right, Father?"
Alejandro smiled. "I'm wonderful, my son. Just wonderful."
Z Z Z
Last edit: 05/22/2011
A/N: I can't believe this story is finally done. As I was waiting for beta work to be finished, I sincerely thought about giving instructions to my husband to make sure this was published if I died before posting it.
I wrote this story because I wanted to bring back a Ramone who knew Diego's secret and was a threat. Instead of using vampires, I guess I could've gone with a Ramone who didn't fall after pulling off that mask. Mmmm...
And I wanted to do a post-marriage Diego and Victoria story. It hit me once that they never really communicate. Their first real argument was the day of their engagement. I thought they would have some nasty habits to overcome to have a happy marriage.
Thanks for reading!