Disclaimer: I usually forget this. I don't own. I don't make money. I play.
Author's Note: This was my first Zorro story, posted way back in June of 1999 (has it been that long?). It answered a challenge given to write a story changing the ending of "One Special Night". I think I have incorporated enough information about the episode for anyone to follow. If you disagree, please feel free to let me know.
I'll have another author's note at the end telling how I changed the episode for those that are interested.
He found her standing next to a small stream where they once shared a picnic. He had enjoyed himself so much that day. The sun shone brilliantly down on them, but it had not been as radiant as Victoria. She simply sparkled that day; her enjoyment of being with him dazzled him. Now, it was a dark night whose violent wind promised to bring a storm at any moment. The thought of the storm did not bother him. In fact, he almost welcomed its punishing force, but he did not want Victoria to be out in it.
Her demeanor alarmed him. Tonight, standing so still beside a rushing stream, she looked like a lost waif. The wind blew through her hair, letting him see her beautiful but tortured face, and what little moonlight there was reflected off her tears. She was miserable, and he was responsible.
"Bella, you should not be out here on such a miserable night," he said softly. She stiffened, telling him that she had not heard him approaching. He sensed for the first time ever that she did not welcome his presence. "The wind promises to bring a fierce storm with it," he continued as if unaware of her attitude.
"There is already a fierce storm," she answered so softly that it seemed she was talking only to herself. "I--I just needed to think for--I am so confused." She ran a hand through her floating hair.
He took in a deep breath, knowing he needed to handle the situation delicately, but unsure what to do. For once, his quick mind seemed to have turned to mush. He felt like he should say something. But what? He tried humor. His wit had helped him out of other tight spots. "You sound like you are at confession, Victoria." He winced; his mind was definitely gone. Of course she sounded like she was at confession. She felt guilty for what had happened earlier, even though she was in no way responsible.
Damn Diego anyway! It was all his fault! he thought. Then, he silently laughed at himself, finding no humor in the idea. Since when had he started seeing himself as two different people? The game was starting to become so confusing. He was not even sure if he knew who he was anymore. Did the man behind the mask even exist anymore or had he been permanently eliminated? One thing he did know with certainty was that he had probably destroyed one of the most important relationships in his life.
Diego's friendship with Victoria was vital to him. True, Zorro had her love, but Diego really knew her, her hopes, her dreams, and her fears in a way that Zorro did not have the time to discover. "Diego, I was friends with your mother long before I fell in love with her. Please, son, when you find the lady you wish to marry, make sure that you are friends with her. Friendship is as much an important ingredient to marriage as romance," his father used to tell him. His mother always agreed, telling him that she was one of the luckiest women in the world. Some married friends, and some married lovers, but few got both as she had.
Now, within the span of a few minutes, he had destroyed that friendship. Would he be able to build it back after Zorro took off his mask? Would Victoria allow him the chance after she knew the truth? Would she--His mind ached with all the questions that swirled around it. He had asked himself the same questions for four long days without finding any answers. When he had finally forced himself to go into Los Angeles to face her, he had been relieved by her attitude of denial. It would have made life easier for them both, but somehow he had managed to make the same mistake tonight. Victoria would not forgive him now. He certainly would never forgive himself.
She stared at him, not seeing him. "Confession--I sound like I'm at confession?" A soft giggle of pain reached his ears. "I guess I do. I guess I am."
His breath caught at the sound of her pain. He would endure the punishment. He would let her confess, assure her that she was innocent of any wrongdoing, and hold her. His justified punishment would be hearing her condemn him, even if she was unaware of what she was doing. He deserved any abuse she threw his way. He had betrayed her trust.
Not saying anything else, she strolled over to Toronado and quickly took a blanket from the saddlebags. He said nothing as she laid the blanket on the ground. She sat there quietly for a few minutes before motioning for him to sit beside her. "I'd love to spend more time with you here again, but I really think we should find some shelter from this storm." She shook her head and again indicated that he should sit down. Unable to think of a way to get her to change her mind, he sat. Hopefully, her confession would be quick so he could get her to shelter before the rain started.
Staring out over the small, raging stream, she took a deep breath. Her eyes had not met his once tonight. "I have something to tell you. I--I don't want to tell you, but I know that I have to tell you, or I won't be able to live with myself. I'm not even sure--" She stopped to take another deep breath. "Four days ago, I went with Diego de la Vega to Santa Paula. I don't know if you heard, but Don Alejandro fell from his horse the other day. He hurt his ribs and was unable to personally go see the Royal Emissary about some of the alcalde's tax initiatives, so he sent Diego to Santa Paula instead."
"He trusted Don Diego to speak for the entire pueblo?" he asked, imitating her question to him that day.
She laughed with no joy. "I asked the same question! I could not believe that Don Alejandro would elect Diego to perform such an important task. Shy, unassuming Diego could not begin to speak for the entire pueblo! I would have to go with him to make sure he did it right!" She stopped, and he saw the small smile that touched her face. When she started to speak again, her voice was softer, more reflective. "I was wrong. Diego spoke with such passion, such fire, that I realized that I had just slowed him down. He was wonderful. His mere presence demanded attention. His whole barring was different. It was like--it was like I was watching a stranger. Listening to him speak, I felt like I did not really even know him."
Zorro lay back on the blanket and watched the dark, menacing clouds that floated across the night sky. "I've always believed people are able to achieve great feats. Remember, with a mustard-seed faith, we can move mountains. I have found that too often friends and family are unaware of what someone could achieve if they tried." He sighed. "The people themselves are usually just as unaware of what they can do. Diego probably just showed you one of those mountains that he could move."
Her smile this time was free and unrestrained. She even looked at him. "Now you are starting to sound like him."
He looked at her, startled by her comment. "What do you mean?"
"I was fifteen years old--had just turned fifteen--when my father and brothers left the pueblo. They left me all alone. Alone and responsible for the tavern. I was frightened." He could hear the remembered fear in her voice. "I was a young girl. What did I know of running a tavern? I knew I was going to fail. The bank would take the tavern, and I would be the one that lost the family business." She grinned the whole time she told the story. Maybe tonight would not be as bad as feared. She already seemed to be in a better mood. Maybe she could even find it within herself to forgive Diego, even if she would trust him.
"But you managed to make it into a successful business. It has been far more profitable under your guiding hands than it was under your parents," he reminded her, not caring that he was letting her know that he had grown up in Los Angeles.
She nodded, letting him see the confident woman he knew she was. Victoria Escalante was a successful business owner, running a tavern at an income the governor could envy. "I have Don Diego to thank for that, too."
"Diego? He knows nothing about business!" He was truly amazed that she believed he was in any way responsible for her success. Books and fighting he knew, but business was an area of weakness for him. He could manage, and would do a good job of it after his father was gone, but he knew he would never have his father's brilliance with business matters. Victoria was the only person in Los Angeles that matched Alejandro.
"No, but he gave me the strength to do what I needed to do." She rubbed her arms, smiling softly. He almost felt a moment of jealousy against himself. "He came into the tavern to tell me goodbye before he left for Madrid. He even ordered a bowl of soup." She giggled and this time it held joy. "It was truly terrible, but he ate every bite! Then, he complimented me on how clean the tavern was. I had spent hours cleaning it in my nervousness. It was the one thing I knew how to do well. I don't know why--it wasn't like me, even then--but I broke down crying. I'm glad he was the only customer I had. I was bawling like a baby, and he looked so--so stunned. He had not even told me goodbye, yet. He just walked around the counter and held me. His strength helped me to get a hold of myself."
He remembered that day like it was yesterday. After all, it was the day he realized how much he cared for his childhood companion. True, they had not spent many hours together. He was often at the de la Vega hacienda, and seldom came to the pueblo. Sometimes, he was allowed to go with his father into the plaza and sometimes Victoria visited the hacienda with her mother, but usually he wanted to play with her brothers. Still, even as a small boy, he had admired her courage, and thought that she was all right--for a girl. When she started crying in her fear that long ago day, he had wanted to take care of her. As he watched her regain her spirit and courage, he was reminded of his mother and knew that she would make someone a wonderful wife.
"He sat me down at a table, and served me some of my own lemonade--which actually wasn't bad," she continued with a smile on her face. "He gave me a chance to catch my breath by telling me why he came. I think he knew whatever I was feeling at the moment would help dull the pain at the thought of his leaving. I don't know. Maybe, he didn't even know how much I cared. We so seldom saw each other." He was touched, having honestly believed that his departure was something of little importance to her then.
"Anyway, I confessed all my fears to him. I told him that I would probably be a servant at his hacienda when he returned. He got so angry at me. He told me that if I was, it was because that I had decided to be there. He told me I had enough education to learn how to run the tavern. He told me I had the ability. I just had to make the decision to use it. The only thing I lacked was the knowledge, and I had friends who would help me there. He said his father would help me deal with the tradesmen until I knew all I needed to know.
"He told me Maria and some other ladies of the pueblo would just love to be able to share their secrets with me. They took great pride in their cooking and would love to know that so many people got a chance to enjoy their recipes in the tavern. Usually, only their families would get to taste their wonderful creations. He was right, and I knew it. I made the decision that I was going to run the best tavern in the territory. I told him that, almost expecting him to laugh. Instead, he smiled and told me that when he returned from Spain he would look forward to a meal at the best tavern in the territory."
She sighed. "I had almost forgotten that somehow. When he returned from Spain, he seemed so different. Well, not at first, but . . .."
He smiled, remembering his own thoughts and feelings. He had walked into the best tavern in the territory the day he returned from the University. "So, Don Diego has a pocket of passion that he doesn't let many people see." He hoped she did not hear the self-directed mockery in his voice.
To his surprise, Victoria looked thoughtful at his comment. "He has tremendous passion. I don't think people care to see it. Living like we do, being oppressed, it is easy to overlook the quiet labor. Diego has a great passion for knowledge, but with the way things are, we admire people like you who have a great skill with the sword more."
He could only stare at her. Tonight was definitely not going as he expected. He had thought that she would rage at his unmasked self and his stupidity. Instead, she was saying things about Diego that amazed him. She appreciating him for who he was instead of hating him for what he had done.