Title: Making the Choice

Author: Robin/icyfire

Disclaimer: Not mine. They are owned by other people who are allowed to make money from them. I'm not so I'm not.

Summary: During the ep for "Honor Thy Father." What if someone else had been the one to tell Alejandro that is son was Zorro?

Rating: G/PG?

***

There was not a cloud in the sky. The sun was shinning brighter than Alejandro had ever seen it. The blues, and the greens, and the browns that made up the earth were more vibrant than he believed possible. The birds were singing so beautifully. A contentment that he had never known almost overwhelmed him.

Where was he? He had a memory of riding and of hearing gunshots, but--

He was on the road between Los Angeles and the hacienda. He recognized it now. However, it looked differently, more in the way it had been when he had a young man. He shook his head, wondering when he had gotten to be so whimsical. He must be letting Diego influence him too much.

He was on the way home, on the road as it was today. To think anything else was ridiculous and a waste of time. He started walking before he began to wonder where his horse was, or even why he was on the road in the first place. His sure steps slowed down to a hesitant gait.

He was riding this morning, and had met up with Victoria. She was in her wagon, commenting on the heat. Three soldiers had ridden by them, on the way to Los Angeles with the military's pay roll. A few minutes later, he and Victoria heard gunshots, and then--

He shook his head. What did it matter why he was walking? He was, and he was going to get to the hacienda any faster by walking slowly. He picked up the pace, walking like the soldier he had been in his youth. Perhaps he had fallen from his horse. He knew from experience that men did not often remember the fall itself. Diego would help him when he got the hacienda. They might even be looking for him.

He felt a man's presence behind him. He twirled around, shocked by the suddenness of the man's arrival. He had not heard him approaching.

At first, his eyes were drawn to the uniform. The familiar blue and red uniform that the King's soldiers wore when Alejandro had been one of them caused the old man to smile. He had not seen a uniform in that style since he retired to California with his wife and new baby.

Then, his eyes moved to look at the face of the man. He expected to see an old friend, one who had managed to keep his uniform--and his own form--in amazingly good shape. Instead, the young face of his brother looked back at him.

He fell back, shock and horror flooding through him. Alfonzo smiled and grabbed his arm to keep him from falling. "It's all right, Alejandro. It's me."

Taking in a deep, shaky breath, Alejandro managed to smile. "That's what scares me."

Alfonzo laughed and let go of his arm. "I'm sure it does. Do you remember this morning?"

A small frown crossed Alejandro's face, and his eyebrows drew together as he tried to remember what happened. He was riding. He met up with Victoria. He heard gunshots and rode off to see what had happened. He found a soldier lying dead beside the road. The soldier had been riding with others. Alejandro had looked up and--

"He shot me!" He heard his own voice, and if he could have, he would have been amused by the outrage he heard there.

Alfonzo did laugh. "Yes, my brother, he did." He motioned with his head for Alejandro to follow him. They both started walking down the road towards the hacienda.

Alejandro swallowed several times before he spoke. "Then, I am dead."

Alfonzo was quiet for so long, Alejandro feared he already knew the answer. "No, not yet. You have arrived here in this place, so you can make your decision."

Alejandro looked around him. "I'm on the road to home."

"No," Alfonzo answered. "You are on the path of your life. It is made to look as the road between our hacienda and Los Angeles. The path of my life looked the same. I did not have the time to establish a home outside our father's."

Looking down at his feet, Alejandro fought back tears. "I know, Alfonzo. I have never forgotten."

A hand touched his arm. "Alejandro, do not grieve. I do not. I am a soldier who died fighting for my King. While I might have wished for a longer life, I did have an incredible one filled with love and laughter. Here, I've met men who have lived until a ripe old age, filled with bitterness and hatred. I've seen newborn babies being greeted by their dead family members, giving them the love they did not live to receive on earth. I've been here too long, and have seen too much, to grieve the shortness of my life. There are far worse tragedies."

They walked down the road. Alejandro thought about his brother's words, thought about the horrors he had witnessed or heard about in his own life, and realized the truth Alfonzo spoke. There were worse tragedies.

"Why do you see so many?"

Alfonzo smiled. "Because I am a greeter. Sometimes, the people have no choice. Life is over in an instant. Others, such as yourself, have a choice. Do you live or do you die?"

Alejandro stopped walking. "What? I have a choice? Alfonzo that goes against everything--"

"No, Alejandro, it doesn't. Not everyone has the choice, but some do. You are one. Now, you must decide whether to stay or to go."

Without thinking, Alejandro started walking again. Alfonzo easily caught up with him. "It is very peaceful here, Alfonzo."

"Yes, it is."

"Why would I leave?" Alejandro wondered. He felt more peaceful here than he ever had. He was confused, but he was also filled with joy for the new.

"There are no reasons for you to stay on earth?" Alfonzo looked off in the distance. Alejandro knew his brother well enough to know he was being cautious. Alfonzo was a de la Vega; caution was difficult for de la Vegas to practice.

"Apparently you think that there are," he replied, being just as cautious. It felt strange. He wanted to demand answers, but he did not know the questions to ask.

"It is not for me to decide," Alfonzo answered, still not looking at his brother. "Only you can make that decision. I can only tell you that your death will matter."

"Of course, it will matter," Alejandro answered. "I know that Diego and Felipe and my friends will mourn me, but there comes a time when everyone dies."

Alfonzo nodded. "Yes, but your death may affect more than you think."

"Well, Diego will have to take a more active role in the pueblo, I know, but I think he will if I'm not there. I know I could not have raised a son who did not care at all about--Alfonzo, that is our old house."

Alfonzo smiled at him. "I didn't know if you would remember it."

"I remember it, but what it is doing on this road? That house is in Spain!"

"I told you," Alfonzo said as they both looked at the house that they had been born in. "This is your life path, not the road away from Los Angeles."

"Can I go in?" Alejandro reverently touched the door. He could remember seeing his father racing home to share the news of his new deed to land in the Americas.

"If you need to."

Alejandro looked at his brother, bothered by the sadness he saw there. "If I need to?"

"This is your chance to take care of past--problems." Alfonzo looked around as if lost in his own memories.

"You entered here."

"Yes, I did, and I did what I needed to do. I wish it had not been necessary though," he admitted.

"Mother and Father both knew I loved them before they died. There is nothing else that I ever wanted them to know," Alejandro whispered.

"Good," Alfonzo said. His eyes brightened. "I was afraid that the fight between you and father was always--"

Alejandro shook his head violently. "When I returned, they had already heard about your death. Father was too upset at your lose to worry about such trivial matters, and I had become the man I thought I was before I left."

"I can't believe that we fought over cows. I didn't think I could remember why we fought," he tried to joke. He did not want to admit how painfully clear the memory of that day was to him now.

"Everything can be remembered here if you want. If you decide to crossover, you can remember it all without the pain," he was assured.

"We argued about fence posts. Then, he yelled at me for opening the gate, and I was too proud to tell him that I was not the one responsible." Alejandro easily recalled his hurt at his father's accusations, and the biting words that he had used in return.

"You both forgave the words," Alfonzo answered.

"Yes, we did, but they should have never been said. The wounds healed, but they left scares." He tried to remember that lesson when he fought with Diego, but his de la Vega temper sometimes forgot that lesson.

"We must be going on now," Alfonzo said.

Alejandro spent several minutes staring at the house. "Of course," he finally agreed. "We have a journey to complete before I make my decision."

After walking for nearly a mile, Alejandro laughed. He grabbed his stomach as he bent over. The loud, booming noise echoed back at him. Alfonzo looked at him, an eyebrow raised in a silent question. "I'm sorry," Alejandro gasped. "Do you realize that we must have walked a mile already? In the midday sun? And I'm not even sweating? I haven't felt this good since I was a young boy. My hip feels great. Not even a twinge of pain."

"There is no pain when you totally cross to the other side," Alfonzo told him.

Alejandro glanced over at him and continued to walk. "Why, then, do you think I will go back?" He stopped walking and did not even notice if Alfonzo had answered him. "This cathedral where I married my Elena."

"I know, brother. Even though I was not there, I know about your Elena. You were never a poet," he said. Alejandro snorted his agreement. "But when you talked about Elena--"

"I could not keep my heart inside my chest." Tears pricked at Alejandro's eyes, but he refused to shed them. After almost fifteen years of denying them, Alejandro knew how to hide them, even from himself. Her loss had never been healed in his heart. Every day he woke up expecting to find her beside him. Instead, he woke up alone in an empty bed that no longer even held a hint of her scent.

Alfonzo sighed. "I wish I could have met her."

Alejandro nodded. "I do, too. I do, too. She would have loved you."

"You don't speak of her anymore," Alfonzo noted.

Alejandro shook his head. "If I did, I could not keep my heart inside my chest."

"Do you need to go inside here?"

"No," he whispered. "I fulfilled all my vows that I made to her that day, and she--it's still the happiest day of my life."

Wiping away the moisture on his face, Alejandro turned away from the church and began walking forward. "She's on the other side," he realized. His pace quickened.

"Yes, she's waiting for you." Alfonzo tried to walk slower, but Alejandro would not have it. He kept walking fast, not even caring that Alfonzo was falling behind him. She was waiting.

"Why didn't she greet me?" he asked. A smile covered his entire face, and a grief that had lurked in his eyes for almost fifteen years left in an instant.

"She wanted to, but she is not a greeter. Besides, she provides a great temptation to you." Alejandro could hear the discomfort in Alfonzo's words.

He stopped walking. "Why do you want me to go back to Los Angeles so badly?"

Alfonzo opened his mouth and struggled to force the words out of his lips. Instead of answering, he turned away from Alejandro's questioning gaze and began walking again. "I cannot answer that for you. It is something that you are to discover."

Shaking his head in exasperation, Alejandro followed. "What am I supposed to realize?"

A large estate loomed in front of him. He remembered the first time he had seen it. His heart had pounded in his chest and his gut had twisted in knots. He had known then that he had no chance of winning the fair Elena's hand. Her father would not want--would not allow--her to marry anyone that could provide her with less than he could. However, his Elena and her father both had been people of odd ideas and beliefs. Elena married him because she loved him, and her father allowed it for the same reason.

"This is when Diego was born, wasn't it?" He pointed to a chimney in the distance. "The old kitchen is still standing. It burnt to the ground the day I arrived here to finally see my son."

Alfonzo nodded. An odd expression crossed his face. Sadness mixed with anger. A smile hid it away, but Alejandro could not forget it. What about this place would cause Alfonzo to be angry? Alejandro had had a wonderful relationship with his father-in-law, and Diego had stayed with the old man the last year of his life. He had saved the tear-stained letter Diego had sent to inform of his grandfather's passing.

"Do I need to go in there?" He shifted at the thought. His son had never expressed any disappointment about his father's absence at his birth. Elena always told him that she understood.

Alfonzo's face was blank. "Do you know of any reason to go in there?" His voice was flat and emotionless.

Alejandro hesitated before answering. "No, I don't."

"Then, let's proceed," his brother said, turning his back to a house that was larger than some of the King's palaces.

Alejandro looked at the window to his wife's room. An uneasy sense of wrongness ate away at him, but he turned and left it behind. His wife and his son both knew that he wanted to be there; they both understood the duty that kept him away that day.

A few steps down the road, Alejandro's peace returned to him. "I cannot wait to finish this life path. I want to get to the end. I'm ready to make my decision."

Alfonzo stopped walking. He did not turn and look at Alejandro. He simply breathed deeply and looked up at the sky. Finally, he nodded and the world around Alejandro shifted.

He was now standing at a fork in the road. On one side was his hacienda. On the other side, he could see his family. His father's face full of the love he had found difficult to express in life. His mother's tired face now showed no signs of strain. And his Elena--Oh, his Elena--

"Wait! You have not made your decision, yet!" Alfonzo might be dead, but he still had the voice of a military leader.

"I want to go."

Alfonzo sighed and turned away from him. "Even though countless others may suffer?"

"What others?" Alejandro glanced back at his beautiful wife. "People die. They move on, and life continues without them. I tease Diego about not being able to run the rancho, but he could do it. It may be a little hard for him at first, but--"

Alfonzo shifted from one foot to the other. He turned, a grim look on his face. "We don't usually tell the people to go back, but--"

"Then why send me back?" Alejandro's temper flared. "Why tell me that I have a choice when I have none?"

Alfonzo looked down at the dust swirling around his feet, dust that Alejandro's stomping had stirred. "You do have the choice, but--Alejandro, we usually can show people scenes from their life, and they know why they have to go back, but--"

"Then, why didn't you with me?"

A sad smile touched Alfonzo's lips. "Your life is at peace, as far as you know. The information you need is unknown to you."

Alejandro gritted his teeth. "So, you are saying that there is not one moment where I could see this truth."

"No--" Alfonzo's shoulders straightened. "Perhaps there is one scene, if you are willing to see it. You didn't when you lived it, but your mind was on other problems at the time."

Alejandro looked at his wife's smile. He thought about the people of Los Angeles suffering because of his selfishness. "Then show me."

He stood outside the alcalde's jail and laughed. "I'm supposed to find my great truth inside a jail cell."

Alfonzo laughed. The chocked sound held both joy and sadness. "You'd be amazed at where people can find their 'great truths'," he replied. "Let us go inside."

Once inside, Alejandro looked through the bared windows and saw that it was now night. As he looked around, he felt strangely out of place. He had been here before, both as a prisoner and as a friend visiting the unjustly accused. However, right now, he felt as if he had never been here before now.

He stopped in the middle of asking Alfonzo a question. The sight of himself and Victoria sitting in the jail cells amazed him. He knew exactly what night this was now. The first time he had ever been in Ramone's newly built jail. "You mean that my great truth is Zorro?"

He expected a laugh or a mocking statement. Instead, he got a quiet, "Yes."

"I don't understand."

"I know. I only hope that you can see it tonight. Pay attention to Zorro and not yourself," Alfonzo whispered.

Before Alejandro could even think of a question to ask, Zorro appeared. He forced his eyes away from the amazed expressions of the two people in jail. He focused on the man doing the rescue. Funny, he had never before noticed the nervousness in the man's eyes. He only partially listened to the questions he and Victoria asked.

"Who are you?"

"What are you?"

He barely paid attention to his son's voice answering, "I am Zorro."'

Everything was happening just as he remembered--his son's voice? His son's voice. Zorro's accent was a merchant's with a hint of peon. Everyone believed he had worked his way to a more successful station in life than he had been born. No one ever thought of him as a caballero. They thought a caballero might be helping him--

Tonight, during his first rescue attempt, Zorro had the cultured accent of a caballero. Diego's voice, and Diego's accent. "Diego's--" He could not finish the sentence.

"Your son, Diego, is Zorro," his brother whispered in his ear as the other Alejandro, Victoria, and Diego left the room.

Alejandro wiped away the tears streaming down his face before sinking down onto a bed in an empty jail cell. "What a terrible father I must be for not seeing what should be so obvious."

Alfonzo stood in front of him. "No, my brother, you are an incredible father. You raised the man who became Zorro. You ingrained in him the truths and the beliefs that are now guiding his actions."

"I should have seen," Alejandro whispered.

"Diego has never wanted you to," Alfonzo replied, a hint of pride at his nephew's accomplishment's remaining in his voice.

Alejandro looked up to the brother he had always wanted to be like. 'If this is not about my relationship with Diego, what is this about? Why is so important for me to choice to leave my wife and my parents and you and the peace?"

Alfonzo turned and walked to the window. Alejandro could hear Ramon's shouting at his lancers, but the words were distant and vague. "This is about your relationship with Diego," Alfonzo finally answered. "Not in the bad way that you have something to do to make it better or to mend an old wound. Do you have any idea how important Zorro is to this community? Can you even imagine what Los Angeles would be without him?"

Alejandro shivered at the thought. "But Diego is already Zorro."

"Yes," Alfonzo agreed. "It is hard on him. It wears him down. He does so much and sees so little of the good he does."

"What does this have to do with me? I've never helped him be Zorro. I didn't even know."

Alfonzo's hand rested on his shoulder. "My brother, you help him every day. Your passion, your love, your believe in justice and in him, even if it is only when he wears a black mask that you admire him--it all matters to him. It helps keep him strong."

Alejandro looked up in disbelief. Alfonzo smiled. "Diego needs his father. Zorro needs his father. Without him, Zorro will eventually face defeat."

"No!" Alejandro sprang up from the bed. "You can't allow that--"

"Alejandro, I don't allow or disallow anything. I don't have that kind of power."

He thought about his beautiful Elena waiting for him. He thought of the young boy who had lost his mother too young and had become the reason for Alejandro to continue living when the world seemed at an end. Diego had been the reason he lived after he lost Elena, and he would the reason Alejandro lived now. He could not face his wife with the knowledge that he let their son down; she would never forgive him. He would never forgive himself.

He said goodbye in his mind to those he had already lost. He hugged Alfonzo and squeezed him tight. In his mind's eye, he saw himself racing towards his hacienda. A bright light shined through his eyelids, and . . .

He opened his eyes. Doctor Hernandez looked up from the book he was reading when Alejandro moaned. He smiled. "It's good to see you awake, Don Alejandro. You have given us quiet a scare."

He tried to explain to the doctor what he had seen, but he could not find the words to describe it. Doctor Hernandez simply smiled as Alejandro stuttered. Telling him to remain quiet, Hernandez listened to his heart and breathing. Alejandro wanted to demand to see Diego right that minute, but he was afraid his heart would burst from the pride he was feeling. His Diego was Zorro! Amazing!

After examining him and helping him drink some broth, Doctor Hernandez helped settle Don Alejandro back into bed. "Get some sleep," he ordered. "It is the best medicine."

The old caballero wanted to resist. The memories of his amazing journey down the path of life were already fading, and he wanted to share them with Diego while they were still fresh. He struggled against the insistent call of sleep. He wanted to tell Diego . . .

When he awoke later, he remembered nothing of his journey. There were only vague memories that made no sense. He thought he could even remember someone--he couldn't say whom--telling him that Diego was Zorro. He would have to share that story with Diego later. He knew his son would get a laugh from that idea, too.