The Man From Spain

Title: The Man From Spain

Author: icyfire@webtv.net

Summary: Diego, feeling tired and alone, wishes he could forget Zorro, and then he does. He thinks he has just returned home from Spain. What will Don Alejandro and Victoria think of him, this man from Spain?

Disclaimer: Not mine, except in my imagination, and I don't make any money off of them there, either. ;)

Z Z Z Z

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could


Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"

Z Z Z Z

With hands shaking in anger, Diego unbuttoned his shirt. He needed to move quickly. No doubt his father would soon be home to boast about the great job Zorro had done. He would probably throw in a few pointed comments about his useless son's absence, too. In the middle of buttoning his "Diego" shirt, he forced himself to stop and take a deep breath. He desperately needed to be calm when Don Alejandro returned.

Fortunately, as it had always been, when he put on the mask, Diego's problems had melted away from his mind. The feel of the black silk next to his face helped him focus on the poor man needing his help in the pueblo instead of on the argument he had with his father earlier. Don Alejandro had expected his son to go with him to protest the whipping of yet another peasant, but Diego, of course, was too busy with some "pointless" experiment to go rally against the alcalde.

Now that he was once again dressed as Diego, he could not get Don Alejandro's angry words out of his mind. He understood his father's frustrations. After all, he rightfully expected his son to take a leadership role in the community. He had raised Diego to be a concerned and educated citizen. The man that had come from Spain, the one he believed to be his son to be, was not the person expected. A de la Vega that did not speak out against injustice, and who could lose himself in a poem as chaos reigned in the pueblo, was an oddity to him. Even the citizens of Los Angeles often looked at Diego as if he were a duck in a fine family of swans.

In the middle of eating some hay, Toronado neighed in protest when the peaceful silence of the cave was shattered by the sound of breaking glass. Diego looked over at Zorro's stallion in shock. Then, he glanced down at the jagged pieces against the far wall that used to be a beaker. He seldom lost control like that anymore. He never really let himself, could not allow himself. What could he accidentally reveal in anger? The possible consequences were too large to ever ignore.

He needed to rest. The alcalde was sentencing someone to a whipping every few days, and bandits seemed to be attacking every night. Felipe was in Santa Barbara learning about being a lawyer, so Diego's usual way of handling stress was gone. There were no spontaneous fencing lessons and no willing ear to hear Diego's fears about Zorro. Running his hand through his hair, he felt a moment of pity for his friend. The boy had been subjected to a lot of Diego's ramblings over the years, but he never seemed to mind, understanding that the man needed to talk to someone. However, he had been so young to hear about a man's fears. Zorro had robbed Felipe of the innocence of youth.

Stopping at his desk for a moment, Diego looked down at some notes he had written. A friend of his, who lived in Europe, had recently sent him some studies about amnesia. The idea of forgetting crucial memories amazed Diego. He had even talked about it with Hernandez, who said he would be interested in reading the studies for himself. However, life had been so hectic lately, he had not had the chance to share them.

Plodding his way out of the cave, Diego wished he could forget Zorro, if only for a short time. He knew that eventually DeSoto would tire of being humiliated, and Felipe would soon return, but he feared he had almost lost all of his strength to continue. Unlike that long ago Christmas, he believed Zorro had done a lot of good for Los Angeles, but he wished he were finished with the masked man forever. He wanted to let his father and Victoria get to know him, the real him. He was as tired of Diego's mask as he was of Zorro's.

Hearing the front door open, he sat down at the piano. His fingers began to play, unbidden, a dark melody. Diego realized that something was going to have to give--either him or the masks. He was not sure, yet, which one it would be. He had come close to telling Don Alejandro the truth last month, but he had been unable to say the words. So many years of lies and evasions had sealed the truth deep into his soul. How do you admit to the man who sired you and the woman you love that you are not the man you have pretended to be for almost a decade?

"Diego! You should have seen it! Zorro was magnificent." The piano moaned in protest as Diego slammed his fists down onto the keys. Don Alejandro jumped, startled by the noise.

Diego began playing again as if nothing had happened. He could feel his father's eyes on him, but he ignored them. He kept playing, both the piano and the character. "Really? Saved the day again? He's--such a hero," he said, using the same snide tone that DeSoto had once used when he said those words to Zorro. Diego could understand the alcalde's frustration with the masked man. There were times that Zorro seemed too good to be true, even to his creator. Nobody could be that perfect.

"Diego? Are you all right?" Finally, noticing me, Father? How odd. Somehow, you've managed to miss seeing me for the last few years! Diego thought with a grim humor. He continued to play. Would he ever be able to stop?

"I'm fine, Father. You were saying--" His voice was pleasant, like a man discussing the weather with someone he just met. Praying that his father would not make a snide comment about him, he picked up the speed of his playing. He was too tired to hear about how much of a disappointment he was to his father. His emotions were too close to the surface today. He had barely managed to keep control earlier.

"I was saying that Zorro managed to stop the alcalde," Don Alejandro muttered. Diego hated the fact that he had caused his father concern, but he was tired and today's date had put him in a melancholy mood. He wondered if Don Alejandro realized its importance. Eighteen years before, a beautiful young woman had left behind a grieving son and devastated husband. One month to the day, a man full of hate had died in their garden, a man with de la Vega blood running through his veins. Diego could not help but wonder what his mother would think of the sons she had bore; would she be any less horrified by him, the "meek" son, than by Resendo?

His earlier fight with Don Alejandro, and Zorro's battle with the soldiers, had drained the last of his emotional reserves. He needed some time alone. After his father left, he would go back into the cave and spend the rest of the night there, working on some "useless" experiments or perhaps reading a book or writing a poem. He wanted to do anything besides put on that horrible mask, either one of them.

"Diego, are you all right?" his father asked again.

"I'm fine, Father. Just fine." Diego stood, knocking into an approaching Don Alejandro. The freshly poured glass of wine fell from his father's hand and shattered, splattering the red liquid over the floor. "I'm sorry," he said quickly, more out of habit then real regret. However, for once, his clumsiness had been real. "I'll get something to clean it--"

"Diego, I would rather you told me what is wrong." Father and son looked at one another in silence. He tried, really tried, to tell his father what he was feeling. He wanted his father to know, but habit and fear kept the words locked up inside him.

"What's wrong is that there is wine on the floor," he answered, turning to go to the kitchen. Unfortunately, his distracted mind failed to take into account that wet floors are slippery, so he was amazed to find himself hurtling towards the ground at an alarming rate. The way today was going he would have to start believing that he was as uncoordinated as he pretended to be. His father's anguished cry was the last thing he heard before the world went black.

ZZZZZZZZ

The world exploded into a haze of bright light when Diego attempted to open his eyes. He moaned in agony at the pain shooting through his brain. He decided quickly that keeping his eyes closed was the best thing to do. Then, he heard footsteps approaching his bed. For some reason, the sound comforted him. He felt like he knew the person walking towards his bed, even though he could not see him. Use all of your senses, he had been instructed to do years before, and usually he tried to remember that sight was not the only way to identify someone.

Where was he? The bed was too comfortable to be anything but a caballero's. Even the nicest inns did not have such thickly stuffed mattresses, and the covers were too finely woven to be a peasant's. "Diego, my boy, I'm so glad that you finally joined us again! How are you feeling?" asked a far-too-robust voice. It sounded familiar, but--.

"Doctor Hernandez?" Diego's voice was weak, even to his own ears. What had happened? He wished he could remember.

Forcing his eyes open, with the smallest of grimaces, Diego looked at the man who had been his doctor since he had been ten years old. The once black hair was now a solid white, and the face had many lines carved into by a lifetime of memories. Life in the colonies was hard, and Hernandez cared deeply for all of his patients. Some of those marks of pain had been made from his hours of worry over Doña Elena before her untimely death.

"Diego," his father's voice came from the doorway. "You had us so worried! Are you all right?"

He smiled at Don Alejandro, hiding his surprise at how much the man had aged. He looked almost two decades older instead of the half-one he should. The fire and the sparkle were still in his eyes, giving Diego comfort about his father's health and spirit. "Father," he said warmly, holding out a hand to him. Alejandro sat down beside his bed, and Diego wished that he could sit up to hug him. Nothing was going as he had planned.

"Yes, Diego, you are going to have to be a lot more careful." It was the voice of an angel, he was sure. He looked at the beautiful woman standing at the doorway, whose eyes also revealed concern and relief. Her hair was wonderfully curled around her lovely face, and--This could not be Victoria, could it? "Would it be all right for me to go and get him some juice to drink, Doctor?" Hernandez nodded, and the señorita was gone as quick as she appeared.

"Victoria?"

Don Alejandro looked back at him in surprise. "She went to get you something to drink, Diego."

He almost made the mistake of shaking his head. "No, I was asking if that was Victoria Escalante." His father did not answer. Instead, he glanced over at Doctor Hernandez and then quickly refocused his attention back on Diego. His eyes had grown, if possible, even more concerned. Surely, Don Alejandro could understand why Diego was so surprised at how grown up Victoria was now, even though he had known she would be before he returned. "She's grown into a beautiful woman while I've been gone," he tried to explain.

"Gone? Gone where?" It was his turn to look at his father strangely. Looking over at the quiet Doctor Hernandez, he also found that man staring at him. What was going on here?

"To Spain, Father," Diego answered slowly, as if talking to a child. Why would Don Alejandro have a hard time understanding him? True, he had gotten a little bit of an accent in Madrid, but he was still speaking Spanish! "While I've been at school, Victoria has grown into a beautiful woman."

A horrified gasp alerted the men to Victoria's return. With her hands trembling so badly that they were barely able to hold onto the glass within them, she walked into the room. She sat down the fruit juice and took a deep breath. "You've been at school?" she finally choked out in strangled voice.

Diego nodded, frantically trying to ignore the pain. No one's reaction was as it was supposed to be, and what had happened to his head had never been explained. "Was I hurt on the docks?"

Alejandro shook his head. "N-no, you fell beside the piano and hit your head on the bench."

He snorted in disgust and humor. "It's not like me to be so clumsy! Hard to believe that I walked in the door of my home, after being away for so long, and then almost immediately fall down," he feebly tried to joke with them, but they all kept the same serious expressions on their faces.

He did not say another word as he watched all other people in the room look at each other. Without even talking, they seemed to arrive at a unanimous decision. Don Alejandro looked down at Diego and grasped his hand tighter. "Diego, my son, you came home from Spain almost seven years ago."

He tried to laugh, even though he thought it was a horrible prank. He looked at his father, then Victoria, and finally his eyes rested on Doctor Hernandez. "This is a joke." Hernandez slowly shook his head, and Diego knew they were sincere. The man might be compassionate and a wonderfully dedicated doctor, but a trickster he was not.

He had lost seven years of his life! His eyes rested on his father's face and tears pricked at his eyes. His father was twelve years older, and Diego did not know what had happened to him in all those years. True, he had the few letters that they had written to one another, but the news in them was now almost a decade out of date. Had his father remarried? Had been hurt? Was he happily running the ranch or was he too sick to take care of it? He looked healthy, but his mother had been the picture of perfect health until the last three months of her life.

He could not breath. Doctor Hernandez appeared at his side. "Diego, you need to take deep breaths! That's good." After several deep breaths, he no longer felt like he was suffocating, but the panic was just under the surface. Fortunately, Hernandez seemed to understand, even without asking any questions. He handed a glass bottle over to Victoria, telling her, "Put this in his orange juice, my dear. It will help him sleep."

Diego opened his mouth to protest, but Doctor Hernandez put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. "I know you don't care for anything that dulls the senses, Diego, but you need your rest. Lying here worrying about the loss of your memories won't help you get them back, and I've learned over the years that the best medicine is sleep!" He reached down to help the caballero to sit up a little as Victoria handed him the glass of juice she had brought in a few minutes earlier.

Reluctantly, Diego drank the liquid, ignoring the bitter taste. He lay back down and looked at the faces surrounding him. He wondered where little Felipe was. Then, he realized that Felipe would almost be eighteen years old now! He probably had a family of his own.

Don Alejandro smiled at him, as if reading his thoughts. "Felipe is in Santa Barbara learning the law. He wants to be a lawyer." A lawyer! He could not even speak or hear. How could he be a lawyer? As the dark folds of sleep embraced him, Diego smiled. His father must have done a wonderful job with the boy if he was that confident of a man.