Title: A Rock and a Hard Place
Rated : PG
Synopsis: Diego and Victoria are caught in a compromising situation and to save Victoria's honor, he must marry her.
Misc Notes: This story takes place a few months after the series finale 'A Conspiracy of Blood'
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.
A thousand thanks to Amy and Karen for beta'ing!
A Rock and a Hard Place
The man beneath this mask is afraid of only one thing in this world. That you love a hero with whom he cannot compete. That when this mask is removed you will still be in love with the legend and not with the man of flesh and blood.
Victoria awoke with a start, panting heavily. The fear that had radiated from his eyes as he spoke those words gripped her heart. He was truly afraid that she would not love the man beneath the mask, despite her assurances. Why was he so fearful? Had she given him some indication that she would not love him?
If only he would come see her! It had been weeks since she'd seen him. Felt his cool, gentle lips brushing across hers. Zorro remained curiously absent from her life and she was at a loss as to why.
Plagued by these thoughts, Victoria slept fitfully for the rest of the night, contemplating how she could assure the real man beneath the mask that her feelings for him were just as strong as they were when he wore the mask.
"You look exhausted, Victoria." Diego's cheerful grin made the young proprietress groan.
"Oh, I just didn't sleep well last night, Diego." She continued to work, deftly slicing through the meat that rested on the plate.
He leaned forward, his eyes tender. When his fingers brushed hers in a friendly gesture of concern, her eyes snapped up and she trembled slightly.
He released her hand immediately after he was sure he had her attention.
The concern in his eyes was touching. "Diego, I appreciate the concern but there isn't anything that you can do to help."
He nodded slowly and she could see that he didn't truly believe her. Sometimes, she felt she didn't deserve such a good friend.
"Well, then. I'll have to hope that your masked man can help with whatever is troubling you." Diego said with a smile before taking the plate she'd just prepared.
Victoria blinked as Diego turned to take a seat at a nearby table. But she reached out and grasped his arm, momentarily surprised by the hard, corded muscle she found beneath his pristine jacket. "What . . . . what do you mean by that?"
He turned around slowly and she was certain she'd seen something flicker in his eyes but it was quickly masked.
"Are you not happier when you've seen him?" Diego asked pointedly.
"Well. Yes." Victoria stammered.
"Then he should, theoretically, be able to lighten your mood." He grinned and slowly removed her hand from his arm, squeezing it gently before turning from her. Almost as an afterthought, he slowly turned around and regarded her with a serious stare. "I do not like to see you unhappy, Victoria."
Victoria smiled, a bit embarrassed. Did Zorro like to see her unhappy? He must, she was oft unhappy nowadays. He could change her mood if he would simply come see her. It wasn't as if she could drop everything to go meet him. She wouldn't have any idea where to look.
The last time she'd seen him was while the emissary still lived. And before that, they were interrupted, as usual, but not before they'd enjoyed several quiet minutes talking about the life they would lead when they were finally able to wed.
Remembering the feel of his kiss, his lips teasingly caressing her own sent shivers down her spine even now. How she longed for more. And she knew he did too. She could see the longing in his eyes every time he looked at her. Did he look at her with the same longing when he saw her as his unmasked self?
She glanced around the room, wondering if he could be sitting here right now. He'd dropped enough hints that she knew he did, indeed, live in Los Angeles or its outskirts.
"Give me a chance to love you as yourself, Zorro. Give me your trust," she murmured.
"Oh, sorry." Diego gave her an embarrassed smile, unintentionally revealing that he'd heard what she'd just said. "Forgot the juice." He lifted the glass from the counter and returned to his table.
Victoria was startled out of her thoughts by a smiling Alejandro calling out to his son.
"Yes, Father?" Diego asked.
"We are going to have a dinner party. Introduce you to a few eligible señoritas."
Victoria's jaw dropped.
And so did Diego's.
"Father, I don't think-"
"Oh nonsense, Diego. This is an excellent time to entertain a young lady. Spring has just arrived, the weather is perfect for a courtship." There was a silent pause before he added. "Even if nothing comes of it." Victoria thought she could hear a disappointed undertone in Alejandro's voice.
Diego risked an uncomfortable glance at Victoria who merely smiled politely, as if she'd overheard nothing, and continued about her work - her earlier mutterings about Zorro forgotten in light of this new recent event.
"I'm sorry it's been so long, querida." Zorro embraced her tenderly, an apologetic look in his eyes.
They'd ridden several miles south of the pueblo and had discovered a secluded glade where they could enjoy their picnic in peace.
"I understand, even if I don't have to like it." Victoria sighed, leaning against his solid chest. She wrapped her slim arms around him and closed her eyes, simply relishing the feel of hard muscle beneath her cheek. She breathed deeply, inhaling his clean musky scent.
"I wish . . ."
She lifted her head then and looked into his eyes. "Yes?"
He smiled gently and reached out to brush a stray lock of hair away from her face. His smile slid into a wry grin and he shook his head. "Never mind."
"Why won't you trust me?" she asked quietly.
"Then why won't you share you secret with me?" Her eyes pleaded with him but he simply shook his head.
"I can't put you in that kind of danger."
But she stood, her eyes blazing. "Being here with you right now is putting me in just as much danger. I don't think you're being entirely honest with me." She reached up and rested her hand on his cheek. "I remember what you said when you asked me to marry you."
He smiled tenderly and she could see in his eyes that he looked fondly on that memory. "Do you doubt that I want to make you my wife?"
She shook her head immediately to allay the concern passing over his features.
"I doubt nothing you've ever said to me." She pressed a gentle kiss to the corner of his mouth. Finally. She had him here. No one around for miles. Now she could question him. Get to the bottom of his true fears. "I wonder, though, that you doubt my words when I told you that it didn't matter who was beneath that mask. The heart of Zorro and the heart of that man are one and the same, and I love both parts of him."
Zorro smiled sadly. "Ah, querida." He drew her to his chest and placed a lingering kiss on her upturned lips. "You've made your feelings to me quite clear. And," he dropped his eyes and she was struck by a familiar pang of recognition. It wasn't often Zorro did not look at her when he was speaking to her. That was what she loved about him. He looked her in the eyes when he spoke. It was the sign of a confident man. "And who I am beneath this mask is not someone you . . ."
"Stop." Victoria slid her hands around his cheeks and forced him to meet her eyes. "Why don't you let me make that decision?"
"Perhaps because I don't want to lose the woman I love because she has a false perception of who I really am beneath this mask," he admitted with a reluctant sigh.
Victoria's eyes narrowed. False perception? She blinked, rapidly rushing through everyone in the pueblo who could possibly fit the description. She shook her head and stared at him. "I don't understand." Maybe if she asked more questions, he'd give her more answers, regardless of how cryptic.
"You've never looked at me with anything more than a kind, sisterly expression, Victoria." His voice faltered and her eyes flashed toward him. The way he'd said her name. It was familiar. Zorro rarely called her by her name when they were alone. He always used an endearment.
"But you've tried to give me a hint, haven't you?"
The small smile that tugged at the corner of his mouth was the only affirmation that she needed. "If you won't tell me. I will eventually discover it on my own."
"I know." He settled his back against the tree and pulled her into his arms. Her back rested against his solid chest and his arms came around her to hold her tightly.
"You want me to find out on my own." It wasn't a question.
He ignored her comment. "Do me a favor?"
"If you discover my identity and find that you cannot love the man behind this mask, don't tell me."
She turned at this and could see the true fear in his downcast eyes. They were the windows into his soul and her heart cried out for some way to soothe his fears. What could she have possibly done, said, to his unmasked self to make him so fearful?
"If I guess your identity, will you allow me to share your life with you?"
"The danger. . . ."
"Is acceptable to me," she interrupted, turning slightly to flatten her hand against his cheek and jaw.
The love he saw radiating through her eyes caused him to sigh heavily. He reached out and drew her to him for a lengthy kiss, his lips dancing across hers before sliding to her neck.
She trembled when he whispered loving endearments against her skin. She returned them with equal passion and sighed happily. When she closed her eyes and lay back into his arms, she thought of nothing but the day he would make her his wife. That happy thought, and many others, lulled her into a contented sleep.
Victoria stood on the back steps and smiled lovingly at him as he tipped his hat and blew her a kiss, these words his farewell, for now. "Doubt thou the stars are fire; doubt that the sun doth move; doubt truth to be a liar; but never doubt I love you."
Victoria watched him ride away into the sunset with a loving smile. Only when he was but a speck on the horizon did she murmur, "You have the heart of a poet, my love."
Another familiar pang of recognition flooded her thoughts and she narrowed her eyes at the distant horizon and shook her head. "No." She chuckled to herself. "That's ridiculous. It couldn't be."
She walked into the tavern chuckling to herself but that nagging voice still remained in the back of her mind.