Title: In the Line of Fire

Rated : PG

Synopsis: Diego takes a shot meant for Victoria and she must come to grips with a startling revelation.

Misc Notes: This story takes place a few months after the series finale 'A Conspiracy of Blood'

Written: 5/12/05

Disclaimer: This story was written solely for the enjoyment of other Zorro fans and is not intended to infringe on any copyrights held by Goodman/Rosen Productions, New World Television, Zorro Productions, the estate of Johnston McCulley or anyone else.

In the Line of Fire

Diego smiled as he watched Victoria bustle around the tavern with practiced ease. She smiled and greeted every customer, making them feel important and welcome in her establishment.

He found himself watching her a bit too closely as well and when Mendoza slapped him playfully across the shoulder, his eyes snapped quickly away. Thankfully, the good Sergeant was only concerned with his meal; and wondered only if Diego had yet ordered.

"I have, Sergeant." Diego answered politely. He'd taken to inviting the soldier to have dinner with him once a week. With a free meal, Mendoza tended to be a bit more loose-lipped where the alcalde's nefarious plans were concerned. He'd learned a lot in the past few weeks. He'd only cursed himself for not thinking of it sooner.

Alejandro stepped into the bustling tavern and joined his son at the corner table. "Busy today!" He exasperated, noting that they rarely sat in the corner. His son always chose a spot closer to the bar. Ironic, since the boy hadn't a taste for wine whatsoever. Alejandro secretly suspected he had more of a taste for the lovely señorita serving that wine.

"Indeed." An odd movement caught Diego's gaze and he shifted his eyes toward the curtain that Victoria had just stepped through.

Alejandro's eyes narrowed as Diego watched the curtain. "Diego? Is something wrong?" His son had been behaving strangely ever since his brother's death. But they hadn't talked much about it. Both men needed to grieve in their own way.

"I don't know." He said absently. If he father would just stop talking, perhaps he could think. He stood quickly. "I'm going to check on Victoria. She's a bit short handed tonight, it seems. I'll fetch our dinner."

"Gracias, Diego." Mendoza smiled widely, oblivious to the tense stance the young caballero had just adopted.

Alejandro started to rise but Diego rested a stilling hand on his father's shoulder. "I'll take care of it." The tone in his son's voice was not something that he heard frequently, and it stopped him in his tracks instantly.

Instinct propelled him to be careful, but as concern for his lovely lady grew, he was careless. He brushed aside the curtain with ease and stepped into the kitchen.

Azure eyes darkened as he scanned the room. Victoria was nowhere to be found. He noticed the door to the small storeroom was slightly ajar and his eyes narrowed. When he pushed the door open, he was greeted with a pistol between the eyes.

"Diego!" Victoria whispered urgently from the other side of the small room.

The bandit holding Victoria pulled her tightly against his chest. "No more distraction! Where is that lockbox, Señorita?"

"Get in here, now." Said the bandit who leveled his pistol at Diego. "And close that door tightly."

Diego nodded slowly and did as he was told. His mind was racing. The room was much too small for a fist fight, especially with one of the pistols aimed at Victoria. He glanced at the woman and noted her ragged appearance. If these bandits were only after her money, she wouldn't look as ruffled as she was; and her clothes were torn. If those bandits dared to touch her in an inappropriate way, he would kill them.

"Now, you were about to tell me where you keep your money, Señorita," The bandit holding Victoria pulled her roughly against his chest. "Or-" His eyes raked appreciatively down her body.

"Get your hands off her!" Diego's voice was cold and calculated and it caused everyone in the room to take pause.

Victoria stared at him suspiciously. She'd never heard him talk to another in such a manner and his tone surprised her.

"Shut up, caballero." The bandit pressed his pistol hard into Diego's chest and backed the young don up against the wall.

"Now, then, where were we?" The bandit shoved his pistol into his sash and reached beneath her skirts to roughly caress her soft skin.

She yelped but the man used his free hand to cover her mouth. "So soft, you'll be a nice, sweet change."

Victoria pounded at his chest but he was simply too large. He pinned her against sacks of grain and tore at her pretty blouse. But before he could get further, she kneed him in the groin, causing him to double over in pain, clutching at the throbbing area. She frantically grasped at anything she could get her hands on, and when she found a solid object, slammed it down on the man's head.

With the man threatening Victoria down, Diego sprang to action and punched the bandit holding him with such force that it flung him across the small room. His pistol fell to the floor, un-fired and Diego pulled Victoria into his arms. "Get out, now!" He pushed her toward the door.

'Diego what about-" The words were lost on her lips as the discarded pistol fired, filling the room with nauseating white smoke.