As a young boy, Alejandro de la Vega had learned an important lesson

As a young boy, Alejandro de la Vega learned an important lesson the hard way.  He learned that no matter how dear a friend an animal was you must always approach it with caution when it was wounded.  As an army officer, Alejandro learned that men were not animals.  He had approached many injured companions on the battlefield that had always accepted help gladly.  However, while men were injured on the battlefield, they were also wounded there, and those men, with gaping holes torn into their spirits, had to be approached with caution.  Their souls cried out from their eyes, and Alejandro watched many wounded men die.  Their bodies stayed alive, but their souls died from the pain.

It was hard for him, a man of action, to accept how little a man could do to help one of his own that was wounded.  Injuries could be deadly, but wounds to the soul were worse by far.  He understood the injuries that the men carried inside them.  Sometimes, even after all these years, he still woke up hearing the death cries of his friends and fellow warriors.  Sometimes, a wounded man was able to get help in healing his soul.  Unfortunately, usually intervention by his fellow man had little affect.  The wounded often ended up hurting more from examining their pain, or they injured those who wanted to help.

Alejandro was now stuck in a cave with a wounded Fox, and he was terrified.  He was not concerned that Zorro would injury him; No, he was terrified that he would fail, and Zorro would die tonight.  He shivered at the idea of a soulless Fox who simply existed day to day. 

He was also concerned that if he failed to help Zorro tonight, the body would soon follow the soul into death.  Victoria had tried to warn him earlier that something was wrong with Zorro, but he had refused to listen.  He had not wanted to believe.  Yes, Zorro had seemed reckless in his actions lately, but he was sure that Zorro was fine.  He had to be.  The people of Los Angeles needed Zorro.  Alejandro needed him.

He looked at the masked outlaw who had finally stopped his angry pacing, and was now simply leaning against the wall of the cave, looking out of the small entrance.  Where he was sitting, he could not see the storm raging outside, but he could watch the violence of the storm from the reflection in Zorro's eyes.  It was obvious to the rancher that the Fox was deep into thought, but what thoughts were in that brilliant mind?  He wished he knew.

Zorro surprised him by providing the answer without prompting.  "I almost got you killed today."  Zorro stated it in a matter-of-fact tone, which frightened Alejandro more than any amount of raging.  It was the voice of a tired man.  Too tired to fight anymore, even with himself.

"You saved me today!  If the alcalde had been granted his wish, I'd know be hanging from a rope in the plaza."  He began praying as hard as he ever had prayed.  The only other time he prayed so hard was when his wife laid dying in their bed.  Please, Lord, he prayed.  Please, help me to say the words to help this young man.  He needs help, and I know that I'm not enough.

Zorro simply looked at him for a moment with sadness in his eyes.  "And my foolishness almost had us shot by that patrol.  The same patrol that rides the same path, the same way, at the same time, every day.  I should have remembered that it would be there, but I was not paying attention!  I simply--I'm sorry."  He sank down to the floor of the cave, still watching the storm outside, still fighting the storm within.  "I'm sorry."

"Did you ever see yourself as a warrior, Zorro?"  Alejandro suddenly asked, desperately wanting to know about this man.  He wanted to know why he had made the choices he had in his life.

"What?"  Zorro sounded surprised by Alejandro's question, but his voice remained tired and lifeless.

"Did you ever see yourself as a warrior?  When I was a child, I dreamed of being a fighter.  Of fighting in battles and beating the enemy--whoever that happened to be!  Oh, yes, I say myself as a soldier and played games that young soldiers play.  I don't know how many times I defeated the enemy--my brothers usually lost!  Did you ever see yourself being a warrior when you were a child?"  Alejandro was partly lost in the past remembering a different time, the wonderful time of childhood.  It showed in his voice, and he noticed that Zorro smiled a little at the child in his voice.

"No," the masked man gave a half-laugh with no joy in it.  "No, I never saw myself as a warrior.  My father is a warrior, and I admire him for it, but I never wanted to follow him.  I believe in peace.  However, I was also raised to believe in justice.  My father taught me that I was to take care of the weak, those that could not help themselves.  I know that sometimes you have to fight for what is right, but I sometimes hate it, too."

He thought for a moment about the man's words and the man's voice.  He knew that it must be a hard role for the masked bandit to play.  Fighting for what was right was honorable, and Zorro always managed to fight without killing or harming anyone, but to someone who believed in peace about all else, fighting takes a special toll.  "Your father taught you well.  He must be very proud of you."

"No," Zorro's sad voice answered under the sound of thunder.  "No, I'm something of a disappointment to him."

He looked over at Zorro.  His whole body language showed how heavy his father's disappointment weighed on him.  His father's approval meant a great deal to the gentle warrior.  "He doesn't approve of your work as Zorro?"

"No.  Yes.  I mean he approves of Zorro.  He just does not know he's me."  Zorro refused to look Alejandro in the face.  He looked at the walls, the floor, and the storm brewing outside. 

"You've never told your father?  Why?"  He could understand Zorro's choice to fight, and he now knew why he had made that decision, but the choice not to tell his own family was something Alejandro was sure he would never truly understand.  He hoped that Zorro would answer this question.

"I--" Zorro sighed.  "I was young when I started this masquerade.  With the cockiness of youth, I thought I would have the alcalde quickly defeated and be able to tell my father the truth within a few months at most.  I love him.  I respect him.  I want him to respect me, but I love him too much to tell him the secret that would earn that respect.  I do not want him to hang with me if I ever get caught.  I do not want to worry him.  Can you imagine what he would feel like knowing how often I risk my life?"

He looked at the masked man for a moment.  "Yes, I could imagine.  I have a son of my own.  I'd be proud of him for being you, but I would hate it, too, knowing that he was out almost every night risking his life."

He looked away from Zorro, knowing that the other man was watching him, but unable to look the outlaw in the face.  "I'm sure your father is proud of you, even if he doesn't know you are Zorro.  We fathers are odd that way.  We pray when you are born that you will have an easier life than we had, and then we are upset that you are 'soft' because your life was easier.  I am sure your father is proud of you.  After all, you are the kind of man a father could not help but be proud of."

"My father is a warrior like you.  I've--I've--" Zorro hesitated before continuing.  "I've never showed him that I have a warrior spirit.  He wants a fighter for a son, and instead he got me.  I'm not a son he can be proud of and respect."

Alejandro laughed a sad little laugh.  "You misunderstand me.  You are a man worthy of respect, even if your father wants a fighter.  Sometimes, our sons end up being so different from what we envisioned them being, and we fathers hound them; trying to make them into the image we carried in our hearts and heads.  But, we also know if our sons are worthy of respect.  A man such as you is not a gambler.  You're not the type of man to take advantage of the weak.  You know how to treat women correctly.  You are a man worthy of respect from your father."

It was Alejandro's turn to sigh.  "Yes, I'm sure your father is proud of you, Zorro.  He probably just does not know how to say it.  Take my son for example."

"Diego?"

"Yes, my Diego.  He left for the university to learn.  He went to learn all of the sciences.  I was so proud because he would not have to fight like me, and he was getting a greater education.  When he returned, he was interested in the sciences, poetry, art, and music.  He had no desire to fight the fight I had decided while he was away that he was going to fight.  I had imagined when I called him home that he would swoop in like an avenging angel and solve a problem that I had no solution for myself.  I admit that I was horribly disappointed in him."

He tried to gaze out at the storm for a moment, lost in his memories.  He had no idea why he had started this path in their conversation.  He had meant to talk to the Fox about what was bothering him.  Instead, they were talking about fathers and sons, but he knew somehow that this was a talk that needed to be had by both of them.

"Unfortunately for my son, you appeared about the same time.  I admired you and your fight.  I nagged at Diego to become more like you.  I wanted a fighter for a son instead of a poet.  Poor Diego."  He shook his head as he thought of all the words he had said to his son in anger.  "He had to listen to me praise you and your fight so often I'm sure he hated you.  I never let a moment pass that I did not let him know how disappointed in him I was."

He sighed again, finding it impossible to look Zorro in the face when he shared his feelings for his son, but he knew that Zorro was watching him intently.  "Then, one night I dreamed of my wife."

"You dreamed of m--Dona Elena?"  Zorro's question was whispered as the wind blew into the cave.

"Yes, I dreamed of my beautiful Elena.  She was so full of spirit and life, just like I remembered her.  She was so beautiful, and so mad at me."  He laughed, enjoying the sound echoing back at him.  "She let me know what she thought about my treatment of her son.  I was not to treat him in such a deplorable manner!  I was to treat him with respect and love.  I had fallen in love with her for her passion and for her gentle nature, and now I was condemning my son for having those qualities of hers.  I woke up filled with shame.  I knew that the dream was right.  I was condemning my son for like his mother, and I had no right to do that to him.  He might not be what I wanted in a son, but I could at least accept him as he was."

Leaning his back on the cave's wall, he looked up at the ceiling.  He did not even try to stop the tears that were flowing.  "It is funny.  It was only after I was willing to accept him that I began to know him--the real him.  I'd made assumptions that since he was unwilling to fight, he must not care.  It took some time, but I finally noticed how loved he was by the people of the pueblo.  Oh, he was not their hero like you, but he was their friend.  He took the time to know everyone.  He wasn't a fair weather friend, but a true amigo to all.  He helped them with money when it was needed.  He helped them learn how to write and read when they wanted a chance to improve themselves.  He listened to them when they wanted a willing ear to hear their problems.  My son wasn't a warrior, but he was a friend.  How could I not respect a man like that for a son?  I'm blessed by my son, but I don't let him know it."

He sighed and looked into the compassionate eyes of a hero.  "I love him, and respect him for being exactly who he is.  I have for a long time, but I never tell him.  Instead, I often use him to express my frustrations at the government and life in general.  We fathers are very good at telling you sons how you disappoint.  Unfortunately, we are usually very bad about telling you sons how you honor us.  I've never told Diego, and I'm sure your father feels the same way, Zorro."

Both men were silent for a long time, thinking about what had been said.  Alejandro broke the silence.  "I do believe the storm has ended.  At least for now."

Zorro looked surprised.  "Yes, I guess it has.  I had not noticed.  I should get you home so you can rest."

Both men quickly mounted Toronado who quickly covered the distance between the cave and the de la Vega's hacienda.  Zorro stopped just before they arrived there.  "I'm sorry, Señor de la Vega, but I'm sure that the soldiers are waiting for me at your home.  I doubt they will bother you, especially since the alcalde agreed earlier to resend the taxes you were speaking out against.  After all, he is no longer angry with you since he now has me to be angry with for humiliating him."  He heard a humor in that voice that had not been there for some time.

"Thank you again, Zorro.  For everything that you do for us in this territory," Smiling, Alejandro looked up at Zorro.  He could tell by looking into the man's eyes some healing had occurred.  Funny how Alejandro had done most of the talking, but it seemed to have helped Zorro begin to heal.  He could only hope that the healing would continue.  At least now, hopefully, the outlaw would not be so reckless. 

Besides the warm feeling in his belly from helping the man, he felt another intense satisfaction at today's events.  Alejandro was also grateful for the new knowledge and understanding he had gained about the masked outlaw.

"Your welcome.  Adios, amigo," Zorro said as he turned his horse to return in the direction they had come from and started back again.  "Don Alejandro," Zorro called to him after a few moments.  Alejandro looked back at him in surprise.  "Perhaps you would consider telling Diego what you told me in the cave.  As a son, and I can tell you that he would dearly love to hear it."

He smiled one of the smiles that used to be famous with all the señoritas until Diego's mother stole his heart.  "I'd already planned on doing that tonight!  I'd forgotten what it was like to be a son.  Thank you for reminding me."

Zorro smiled and waved before galloping off on Toronado.  He stood still watching him grow smaller in the distance, finally letting the tears fall that he had not allowed to fall earlier.  "Please be careful.  Please.  I want a chance to tell you how proud of you I really am, my son."  With that said, Alejandro started to walk towards his hacienda where he hoped his son would be waiting for him.  He had a lot he wanted to tell him without the mask being between them.