"Zorro," Diego finished for him. His own nightmares, played out during the nights since Resendo's confession and death, had been similar. Dreams where those he loved discovered his secret and hated him for it. Dreams where his father was the one shot or Victoria or Felipe. The nightmares had been endless.
Nodding slowly, DeSoto walked back over to the window. "I woke up from that dream, and I could not sleep. I kept trying to prove it wrong." He chuckled. "I thought through it logically for once. I centered on Victoria first--it was one thing we knew about Zorro." His eyes briefly rested on the tavern owner, who blushed and looked down at her feet.
"Zorro loves her, we all know that to be true, and a man in love is drawn to that woman like a moth is to a flame. Thinking carefully, I believed he would not be able to stay away from her, that he had to be around her when he was not wearing the mask. I tried to think of who was with her the most often. Outside of Sergeant Mendoza who, as beautiful as the señorita is, is far more attracted to her cooking, Diego de la Vega spent the most time with her. Oh, well, I thought, one test proves nothing," DeSoto said with another soft chuckle. Victoria's eyes briefly rested on Diego before looking away. He wondered what the look in her eyes meant. Could she forgive him? Could she love plain Diego?
"Ahh-ha," DeSoto said, slapping his fist into his palm. "I'd prove my new idea wrong by thinking about all the times I'd seen Diego and Zorro together. Easy enough! Only, I could not remember a single time. In fact, all I could remember were all the comments about Diego missing Zorro yet again. Diego had not even been there when Zorro rescued Don Alejandro from being executed for being Zorro!"
"Executed for being Zorro? What?" Alejandro looked around the room. Diego knew he looked guilty, as did his fellow conspirators.
"I'll explain it to you later, Father," Diego answered meekly, hoping his weakened state would give him some reprieve from Don Alejandro's anger, but doubting it would.
Alejandro glared at his son. "You have so much to explain to me, my son, that you will probably still be explaining when Felipe's grandchildren are running about!" A brief grin flashed on the face of the young man they were discussing. He glanced at father and then at son, before shaking his head in amusement.
DeSoto laughed again, but this time it was genuine. "I hope you'll still let him help me out occasionally with the government, Don Alejandro. He has really helped guide me into being a better leader. Anyway, I thought about that time I unmasked your father. He was in Zorro's costume--I had never questioned where he could have possibly gotten it. Would it have been possible for him to get it from this hacienda? If Diego was Zorro, it had to be here somewhere. No, I tried to tell myself, Diego is not Zorro--he's the last person anyone would believe was Zorro!"
"That made me think about Diego," DeSoto confessed. "The quiet, unassuming man could show a temper on occasion, like he did with Thackery. Fighting a raging bull in the plaza showed his courage. What if all the bookish, foppish actions were just an act? If no one expected Diego to be at a protest or a pueblo meeting, why would they be surprised that he was not there? If he were not there, that left him free to act as Zorro, and his milksop attitude would keep anyone from wondering if they were the same person. It seemed like every test I could think of had Zorro and Diego de la Vega being the same person!"
"It was in the tavern the next morning that I could place the final piece." DeSoto sighed, leaning back against the wall behind him. "I watched you carefully. I listened to the tone of voice. You were furious at my comment about Victoria, but you tried to hide it in a casual tone of voice. Sitting there, looking at you, I knew it was true. That's why I gave your sword back to your father; you were Zorro. You know the rest. I started to draw you into pueblo's politics, forcing you to shine for your father. From their actions and words, I deduced that Alejandro and Victoria did not know, and thought it was a shame. I wanted to help to you as you had tried to help me over the years, but I knew you had to make the decision to share your secret with them."
"Unfortunately, you were shot before you could do so, and they found out anyway," DeSoto said, rubbing his eyes. He looked at Diego, his eyes full of sadness. "The man who shot you is dead--I know you well enough now to know that it gives you no comfort. As Toronado raced from the plaza, I grabbed Doctor Hernandez as quickly and unnoticeably as I could and rode here. Don Alejandro and Victoria saw me leaving with the doctor, raced after us, and were surprised to find me bringing him here. I rushed in and found Felipe--I'd also figured out that he knew and was not deaf . . ."
"Felipe isn't deaf?" Alejandro and Victoria both said at the same time. Two sets of eyes suddenly focused on the uncomfortable young man. Diego could see the blush on Felipe's cheeks, but he and the man who was about to become his son by law both knew it was time. Felipe was no longer the unsure young boy he had been when Diego had returned, and he had long ago outgrown the fear that his ability to hear would mean the loss of those he loved.
"As you said, Father," Diego said with a smile, drawing attention back to him. "I'll be explaining until Felipe's grandchildren are running about the hacienda."
DeSoto stood away from the wall and slowly walked over to stand by Diego. "I must have looked like someone loco to him. I grabbed his arms and demanded to know where you were. I told him that I knew, and that you had been shot. At first, he refused, acting as if he did not understand me, but when Don Alejandro and Victoria walked in and told him that it was true that Zorro had been hurt, he finally gave in and led us into the cave, where we found you being guarded by that horse of yours." Diego grinned at the disdain in DeSoto's voice. He doubted Toronado would ever grow fond of the alcalde either.
"Diego needs his rest. He is healing and that takes a lot of energy," Dr. Hernandez said as he walked in the room. "I know that you all have a million questions, but I think there has been enough tonight."
Victoria finally looked at Diego, and his heart hurt from seeing the pain and tiredness in her eyes. Walking over to the bed, she smiled at him before sitting on the bed. "One moment, Doctor," she said with a grin. "I have promised all week to do something, and I plan on doing it."
Diego briefly worried she would follow-through on her threat of murdering him before her lips landed on his, forcing his mouth open for a deep kiss. His heart sped up and joy flowed through him. She was kissing him, him, and not the legend. Her lips left his all too soon. She reached over and put something in his palm. It was his mother's ring.
Before he could even feel disappointment or fear, she told him what she wanted from him. "In a month, I expect Diego de la Vega to make a public fool of himself professing his love to everyone. I then want him to propose, where I will amaze everyone by accepting--I'm tired of waiting for Zorro! After DeSoto's words in the tavern about us, many people have been telling me you would be perfect for me, so it should be believable. You will then place that ring back on my finger, but you are going to keep it close while you are healing. I want you to know I'm with you, even when I'm not here. When you feel better, maybe Zorro can attack you for daring to steal his woman," she said with a twinkle in her eye.
Diego smiled and drew her in for another kiss. Doctor Hernandez gently cleared his throat to remind the two lovers to come up for air. Diego looked at the room, his cheeks red and his eyes laughing.
Victoria's expression matched his own. "I think I will enjoy getting to know you, Diego de la Vega. Your not Zorro and your not Don Diego--you are this wonderful cross in-between," she whispered in his ear before leaving. Hearing the gently swoosh of her skirts, and knowing that soon he could hear that sound in his hacienda everyday, filled him with happiness. She loved him.
"Get better, Diego. Everyone who knows your secret will keep it, and we have a lot of work to do," the alcalde ordered before he exited the room. Watching the man struggling to walk out in a straight line, Diego hoped he would finally get some sleep. His slow gait and sunken eyes said that he had had little rest since the shooting.
"Father," Diego started. He wanted to explain why he had never told this man the truth, why he let him believe his son was a coward.
Don Alejandro sat down beside the hurt man. "No, no, Diego. You do need your rest. I'll get my explanations tomorrow. You rest easy and know that I love you. I'm proud of you, my son, for all you've done as Zorro. But I'm even more proud of you for being a man who could play the weakling, facing public ridicule, to help the truly weak. I just wish your mother could be here to see the kind of man to whom she gave birth," Alejandro said, his hand lying on Diego's shoulder. "Sleep. I'll see you in the morning." He turned and joined Felipe at the door. Diego's future son waved quickly and left with his soon-to-be grandfather.
After drinking down a foul liquid, and promising Doctor Hernandez that he would rest, Diego closed his eyes. He finally knew the answer to the question that had plagued him for so long: what the alcalde was up to. And the answer was incredible and wonderful; the alcalde was up to changing who he was to become someone better. He was becoming a man that would take responsibility for his own actions, and understand the driving motivation of others. He could feel compassion.
Diego could not help smiling. Finally, Diego de la Vega would be able to live. His father and Victoria, and even the alcalde, knew his secret, a secret that was no longer needed. True, there may still be the occasional bandit that would require Zorro's help, but DeSoto knew where to find him.
Diego laughed slightly as he started to fall asleep. Who would ever believe that the alcalde and Zorro were becoming friends?