The light in the room was much too bright. Moaning, he opened his eyes. "Diego!" a much-too robust voice said.
Trying to smile, Diego answered, "I'm all right, Father."
"I hope so, Diego. You had us worried. When--"
Diego laughed, forcing his eyes open. "You should be used to my clumsiness now."
"Your clumsiness?" Don Alejandro glanced over to someone on the other side of the bed. Diego did not have the energy to look.
"Slipping in wine and hitting my head was not the most graceful of moves, Father," he said, wishing he could sit up, but knowing it would be agony to try.
"Slipping in wine," Don Alejandro repeated slowly.
He frowned at his father's strange behavior. "I'm sorry; it was all my fault."
"Diego, don't you--"
Victoria suddenly walked around into his line of vision. Diego was thrilled that she was there. He knew that she loved Zorro, but it always warmed his heart to see that she cared for Diego. It gave him hope that when the mask came off forever, she could love him. "Don Alejandro, I think Diego needs to rest now."
His father frowned at her. "Victoria, I think--" She put a hand on the caballero's shoulder. Diego watched, confused, as his father and secret fiancée seemed to have a conversation without words. Finally, Don Alejandro reluctantly nodded.
His father's smile was false, but Diego's hurting head could not understand why. "We'll let you get some sleep, Diego. We'll talk later."
Watching Don Alejandro, the man he admired most in the world, slowly walk out the door, troubled Diego. "I'm sorry for my terrible temper," he called. He honestly was horrified at himself for acting that way. It was not Don Alejandro's fault that he had never "met" his "real" son; Diego had been hiding him away for years.
Don Alejandro and Victoria exchanged their odd looks and then his father turned to look at him, smiling. "I understand, Diego. We all have frustrating days. Get some rest."
He relaxed into his pillows. He felt tired but peaceful. He frowned for a moment, and then decided to just enjoy it. This sense of peace had been missing from his life for too long, so he was content to just experience, even if he could not explain it.
As he let sleep claim him, he had a sudden image of his father standing in Zorro's cave. What a ridiculous flight of fancy! He thought with a grin. Why would his father ever have to explain to him his own decision to be Zorro?
Again, Diego wished with all his heart that he could tell his father the truth, but it was not even a possibility. There was too much injustice in Los Angeles for him to be able to take off the mask forever, and he could not let his father spend hours worrying about his only child. He shivered at the idea of Don Alejandro trying to protect him from the lancers. Until DeSoto was replaced with a kind, caring alcalde, Don Alejandro would have to remain in the dark about his son's life.
When sleep did overtake him, Diego dreamed of a different world. He faced down the alcalde as himself. While finding it extremely difficult, Diego flirted with Victoria instead of a masked man. Finally, he dreamed of his father, wearing expressions of pride, sadness, and happiness equally, forcefully telling him that he was proud of him. He had always been proud of him. It was a wonderful dream.
Outside his room, Don Alejandro and Victoria were talking to a newly arrived Doctor Hernandez. "Victoria and I found him out by his horse, so we brought him in and put him to bed."
"Did Diego fall off of Esperenza?"
Don Alejandro shook his head. "I do not think he fell from the saddle, Doctor. It doesn't look like he hit his head or anything else. There is no bruise or cut."
Doctor Hernandez's kind face creased in concern. "He's asleep at the moment?"
"Yes, Doctor," Victoria said, obviously worried. "Why did he suddenly get his memory back? It was as if the last few days never happened for him."
Smiling, Hernandez picked up his medicine bag. "The best person to ask would be Diego. He's the one that is fascinated by odd little studies about such strange occurrences. He knows far more about amnesia, but I must warn you, my dear, that there is not that much to know. The human mind is a strange instrument that we have made little headway in understanding."
She hugged her arms tightly around herself. "So, we may never know why Diego regained his memory."
Nodding, he tried to reassure her. "There is a possibility that Diego will one day remember the last few days. We just cannot say with any certainty. Trauma to the mind is far different from trauma to the body. While we are starting to understand the whys of the body, the mind is almost an unvisited foreign land to us."
Looking at Don Alejandro, he said, "Take Felipe, for example. Remember how he could not recall anything about his life when Diego brought him home? Slowly, over the years, as he became more comfortable and more confident, he began to remember small parts of his life. There was absolutely no physical trauma involved in his loss of memory. He simply could not handle what he had seen on that battlefield, and so his mind forgot it until he could."
Don Alejandro leaned heavily against a wall. "Yes, I saw some similar things happen after a horrible battle. Nothing as long as Felipe, or even Diego really, but some men walked around dazed and confused for hours afterwards."
"I don't think that Diego has experienced such traumas in his life," the doctor replied. He did not notice the look exchanged between Don Alejandro and Victoria. "But like I said, earlier, the human mind is a mystery. Sleep is the best medicine for him today. If you need me--"
Standing straight, the caballero said, "We'll send someone for you. Thank you for coming, Doctor."
Hernandez's smile held a hint of melancholy. "As much as I love my profession, Don Alejandro, I do wish that my comings were not usually signs of bad news."
"You are a good man," Victoria told him. "You bring people peace, Doctor."
Nodding his thanks, Hernandez quietly told the two of them good-bye and walked himself to the door. Victoria and Don Alejandro barely noticed his absence, since their thoughts were so focused on Diego.
"We have to tell him about the last few days, about what we discovered," Don Alejandro finally said.
Victoria remembered a day long past. The man she loved, dressed as a man she only considered a friend, had stood next to a horrible colonel by the name of Palomarez. He had taken over the entire pueblo and planned to hang a person every day until Zorro stepped forward. Even Ramón, a tyrant in his own right, had been horrified by the plan. Now, she knew that her past self should have noticed how impassioned Diego's speech about Zorro had been, but she had been oblivious then.
"No, Don Alejandro," she said with a voice full of regret and pain. "We can't."
"What? Victoria, I have no desire to play--"
Tears glistened in her eyes. "I don't either," she snapped. "I want to come into this hacienda and treat Diego like the man he is, instead of the man he has pretended to be. I want to kiss him and hold him without that horrible mask in the way! I want--I want a lot of things, Don Alejandro, but I cannot have them. I cannot do that to him."
Don Alejandro visibly stopped himself from speaking. He drew in a deep breath. "Why not, Victoria? Why would it hurt him to let him know that we know? He's not alone anymore."
Remembering a day in a cave, she smiled. "I don't think he's ever been alone. I think Felipe knows." She had always thought that someone else had briefly walked into the open room, but Zorro had made sure to use his body to block her view.
Victoria shook her head. "I just do. It's a feeling I have."
Don Alejandro, crossing his arms, looked over at Diego's closed bedroom door. "Why can't we tell him, Victoria?"
Rubbing her hand over her brow, Victoria struggled to explain. "When Palomarez was here the first time, Diego told him that we were protected, that Zorro had always protected us by keeping his identity a secret. It's important to him that we don't know. If he wanted to tell us, if we really wanted us to know, we would know."
Hearing the conviction in Victoria's voice, Don Alejandro thought of all the cruel words he had said to his son over the years. He remembered many looks of frustration crossing Diego's face. He did not want to admit it, but he understood what she was saying. It was important to Diego for them not to be part of his secret world. He worried too much about them being hurt.
"Would you have stepped out in front of that lancer today if you hadn't known?" she asked him, proving her point with a question.
Closing his eyes, Don Alejandro could remember the absolute terror he felt when he noticed Corporal Sanchez aiming his musket straight at Diego's heart. He had never felt so helpless in all his life. Before this week, Zorro had always seemed so larger than life. Knowing the truth, he could no longer ignore the danger his son placed himself in on an almost daily basis. "No," he whispered finally. "No, I wouldn't have."
Diego inhaled deeply, enjoying the smells of the garden. It was a wonderful day. After several days of bed rest--and working on several poems--Diego felt remarkably rested. The alcalde had been silent for the past few days, so Zorro had been allowed to relax.
He wondered about the few days that were missing from his memory. His father had explained that he had fallen and hit his head again. Somehow, the second hit had made him lose those days. Don Alejandro had gone into a long, rambling explanation about the human mind and the odd ability to forget. Laughing, Diego had gently explained to his father that he was well aware of the research into amnesia. He found the subject fascinating for several reasons, but the main one was because of Felipe's memory loss after the battle that had killed his parents. His father has simply nodded, obviously distracted by some other thought.
Apparently, he had acted like himself. No one, not even Victoria, seemed to think anything different of him. He had heard about Zorro's last confrontation with DeSoto, and admitted to himself that it was uncomfortable to actually hear about it from someone else for the first time. Usually, his questions and surprise were acts. His laughter, when he heard about Zorro tossing the alcalde into a water trough, was genuine for once.
"Diego!" he heard his father call from inside the hacienda. He grinned at the familiar bellow.
"I'm out here, Father," he yelled.
Diego struggled to hide his grin while he watched Don Alejandro storm out into the garden. What had annoyed him before his head hit the piano bench now only amused him. Every night, he had struggled with his nightmares. One horrible image repeated itself over and over in his mind-- his father getting shot by a lancer to protect him. He had forgotten the reason for the mask, but his imagination was taking the time to remind him. The masks were there to protect those he loved, and any amount of aggravation was worth it.
"The alcalde is at it again!"
Flinching inside, Diego calmly asked, "More whippings?"
"Oh, no," Don Alejandro snapped, never stopping from his pacing. "Now, he has arrested my old friend Don Emilio for sedition!"
Diego snorted in surprise. "Don Emilio?"
"Yes! Can you believe it?" Before Diego could even begin to answer the question, Don Alejandro began talking again. "I am going to the pueblo to protest! Will you be joining me?"
Stilling himself for yet another discourse on his failure as a son, he calmly replied. "I doubt it would do much good. I'm sure Zorro will ride in and save the day again. I have some writing I want to get done."
"Writing?" His father sighed. Then, he snapped, "Diego, you have been writing for almost a week! Can you not take the time to go protest Don Emilio's arrest?"
He shrugged. "When the muse has struck . . .."
Don Alejandro opened his mouth, but for once, he was lost for words. Growling, he turned and marched back towards the hacienda. Suddenly, he stopped, and Diego started in surprise at the sudden change in pattern.
His father looked at him, frustration fairly dripping from his face. "Diego, there are times I wonder--You do know that I love you, don't you?"
"Of course!" he answered, surprised by the question.
"As long as you know," Don Alejandro snapped and walked out of the garden.
Diego sat there for a moment, again wishing that he could throw both masks away forever, but he could not take the chance. He could not allow himself the luxury of a father who knew. The risks were too high.
Sighing, Diego stood. A man needed help, and that help must come from Zorro. He rushed into the hacienda and then into the secret passageway. He had another mask to wear. At least, he did for now.
Z Z Z Z
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"
Z Z Z Z