Stormy Kisses

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, looking back at the creek. "Anyway, we left Santa Paula right after the meeting was done. I thought we should take rooms there, but Diego was determined to get back and let his father know how the meeting had gone. His determination surprised me. I had assumed I was in charge of our little expedition. Since he had given in so easily on my demand to go, I assumed he would give in to any demand I made."

She lay back--as far away from him as she could be and still be on the blanket--and watched the clouds, too. She had relaxed around him, but she was still uncomfortable. Zorro knew she would have to finish her "confession" before she would allow him to touch her.

"However, I was right." He heard the amusement and self-mockery in her words. He briefly allowed himself to wonder what she would have said if he had turned to her in Santa Paula and told her they could not stay because he did not trust himself alone with her for that long. As he spent the long night on the cold ground in that windmill, he wished they had stayed in the safety of the pueblo. At least then they would have been in two separate rooms.

"We ran into a storm. Diego knew of an abandon windmill, so we sought shelter there. It was horribly cold, much colder than tonight. He brought in some little sticks and started a fire. He was being so proper." She snorted. "He even laid two blankets on the floor and separated them by a bench."

"He was just concerned about your reputation, as he should have been. He was trying to be a gentleman," he said in defense of himself. The game was definitely getting confusing.

"I know. He even argued the point about gossip before we left for Santa Paula. I laughed at the thought of people gossiping about Diego and myself." She shook her head.

"Apparently you were right. I have not heard a word of gossip about your trip and everyone knows that you made it." He looked over at her and smiled. Even though she was obviously still worried about something, she had a pleased look on her face about being right.

"Well, Corporeal Garcia tried to start some rumors, but everyone laughed."

He tensed, more at the name than the fact someone had tried to start rumors. "Corporeal Garcia has been reassigned to the garrison?" He did not fear that Garcia could hurt him, but he was afraid that the lancer might go after Diego with a vengeance. How could he protect himself and remain the bookish scholar he had always shown himself to be?

"No, he was passing through on his way to Mexico City. Did you know that Diego stood up to him when he first came home? Garcia had grabbed me, and Diego forced him to let me go. He told him he was home from Spain where, among other things, he 'learned how to treat a lady.' He was wonderful that day, too. He almost challenged the alcalde!" She looked away, a thoughtful look on her face. "I guess that was before he realized how useless it would be."

His heart dropped to his boots. "You think challenging the alcalde is useless?"

"No! Of course not! I wouldn't challenge him myself if I believed that was the case. I just mean--it would be useless for him to physically fight with the alcalde. He does not have your skill with the sword, but he does fight him in other ways. He uses the Guardian to say what needs to be said, and he does it such a way that he is never arrested, but he always writes the truth. He gives legal advice, and he provides aide to those in need. You come in and do the fighting that is needed, but Diego stays and helps the people recover. He helps them to grow stronger like he did with me."

Both were silent for several minutes. It thrilled him to hear what Victoria thought of Diego. Especially since it was a much better picture than he expected. She always seemed so frustrated with him. "What do you ever do anything?" she had asked him that night in the windmill. Perhaps, now she was able to see the good in Diego's knowledge after all. But the knowledge of her feelings also devastated him, because he knew that they would be unable to be friends anymore. She might forgive him, but they could never go back to the way it was before. He had shown her that tonight.

"We were in that windmill all night. I tried to talk to him, to find out more about him, but he was unwilling to let me in." She sighed, shaking her head. "He claimed he only wanted sleep, but I knew he was not that tired. It hurt that he refused to reveal himself to me," she admitted. "I kept pushing him, but--The wind's bad tonight, but it was worse that night. It even blew the door open." She shivered. "The air blew in and made it so cold. I'd only finished warming myself by the fire, and then I was freezing again. So, Diego put his jacket around me and I--I looked--" Victoria took several deep breaths. He seemed unable to breathe himself, knowing what was coming. He really did not want to hear what she was about to say.

"I looked in his eyes as I thanked him, and I saw something there I had never saw before, something that amazed me. Then, then he leaned towards me and we--we kissed. I was shocked. I had never--" she said, her voice trembling. She held her chin up as if she were a criminal awaiting her sentence.

Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to speak, wanting to reassure her. "I know that you did not ask to be kissed, Bella. You didn't--"

"No!" She stood, agitated. She began to pace, clinching her hands by her side. "You don't understand! No, I didn't ask to be kissed, and at first I did nothing because I was so amazed. Then, I deepened our kiss. I lay on that blanket all night trying to tell myself the lie that I didn't want him to kiss me. I tried, but I couldn't lie to myself then, and I cannot lie to you now. I welcomed his kisses with as much passion as I welcome yours!"

He somehow managed to sit up. Watching her pace, he tried to think. Not able to get his mind to work, he tried to speak, but his tongue felt as if it weighed as much as a bolder. She welcomed Don Diego's kisses? Welcomed--his mind could not process the thought. Maybe she did not want him to be angry with Diego? Maybe she was afraid that he would harm her friend for touching her in an inappropriate manner?

She continued to speak, as if unaware of his confused state of mind. "I think that maybe--No, I know things would have progressed farther, but there was a large clap of thunder that brought Diego back to his senses. He looked at me with such a pitiful look, and his apology broke my heart. You would have thought he had murdered my horse. I could not find the words to tell him that it was all right. I think--I don't know, maybe he was shocked by my responses. He is so proper, and my reactions to his kisses were not at all proper. Maybe I disgusted him."

She thought her wonderful, passionate responses disgusted him? Where on earth would she get such a horrible idea? Did he really come across as such a prude? "Victoria--"

"No! I'm going to finish what I have to say." He watched as her nails dug deeper into her hands. He winced at the pain she must be feeling. "I have so much to say. I don't know how--Anyway, the next morning we began heading home. Our journey was miserable. We've always been able to talk to each other. He would always listen to me tell him about the people in the pueblo, and I would listen to him describe his newest discovery. That day, coming back from the windmill, I was miserable. I couldn't find anything to say to him, and he refused to even look at me. It was on that trip that I realized something that I had never realized before, had never let myself even think about the possibility. I realized that I--" He heard her breath tremble.

"I'm in love with Diego de la Vega, too."

"What?" His voice squeaked. He knew know that he was either dreaming or hallucinating. There was no way that passionate, vibrant Victoria Escalante could love boring, passionless Diego de la Vega. She had made her lack of interest apparent many times to him.

She finally turned to look at him. Tears were again streaming down her face. "I know. I am sorry. I don't know how--I love him, but I love you, too. I think I must be crazy. What kind of woman would fall in love with such two totally different men? After I rested in my own bed, I tried to convince myself that I had just been tired, that fatigue had dulled my brain. I felt guilty for even thinking such a foolish thought. I hid in the tavern when you brought those thieves in, and I prayed that you wouldn't seek me out to talk to me. When I heard Toronado riding away, I felt relieved."

His mind reeled. Relief had been what he had felt, too, when she had not shown herself in the plaza. His guilt had prevented him from going to her. Now, sitting here, looking up at her after hearing a confession he never expected, he heard his heart pounding in his chest. She loved him! She loved all of him, even the man behind the mask.

"Diego did not come to the tavern until today. I refused to admit how wretched his absence had made me feel. When he finally arrived, I kept him from talking about that night. I thought if we ignored it long enough, it would just go away. For some reason, I don't know why, he invited me to dinner at their hacienda, and for some loco reason, I accepted." She shrugged and ran her hand through her hand again. Shaking her head, she said, "Maybe I thought we would get back to the same ground we were always on before if I went. Dinner was wonderful, of course. Don Alejandro had us laughing about some of the things he did in the army. It felt so right to be eating with them . . .." Her voice trailed off, and he could tell that she was thinking about the wonderful atmosphere that had been at the table. For him, it had seemed so right for her to be sitting there like the family member she was going to be one day.

"We went out in the garden afterwards to enjoy the sunset. The wind had just started to pick up, and the flowers were so beautiful in the breeze. Don Alejandro was called into the hacienda for something, so Diego and I were left alone. I chatted like I always did, refusing to admit that my heart was pounding. And he, he was so stiff, so proper. I was so frustrated with that--that mask! I wanted to see the passionate Diego of Santa Paula again.

"So, like a fool, I rushed into danger. I pushed. I prodded. And I got what I wanted. He grabbed me and kissed me again. My blood sang. It just felt so right. Then, Don Alejandro walked out, and his gasp brought us both back to our senses. Diego apologized to me--so properly. I could see that look in his eyes, that look of disgust, and my heart broke. Diego stalked away and I--" She shook her head, in sadness and disbelief. "Poor Don Alejandro, I think I said goodbye and asked to borrow a horse. I am not even sure he answered, but I had to get away. I ran to his stables and rode here as fast as I could."

She put her hand on her face, covering her beautiful eyes. "I'm sorry. I know I promised to wait. I still love you just as much, but I love him, too. I am so confused. I had already decided that I had to tell you what was going on with me when you found me here. I don't know what to do. I don't know what you're thinking, or what Don Alejandro is thinking, or even what Diego is thinking. I'm not even sure what I'm thinking." A note of hysteria wormed its way through her voice.

Feeling himself begin to calm as joy blossomed in his soul, he drew her into his arms. It was time for him to comfort her as he planned. She remained stiff in his embrace, but he kept holding her. He admired her courage, and he feared he lacked it, at least where she was concerned. She had always been the one thing he feared. Fear that he might lose her tonight stayed in his heart, but he could not let her remain so upset. As tempting as the thought was to his scared soul, he could not court her as Diego without her knowing the truth about her masked man. It was time for her to hear his confession.

"Don Alejandro is probably worried about what is going on between you and Diego. He is more concerned about you, I think, than Diego. After all, you are the daughter he never had, and men like to protect their daughters from lechers." He could feel her smile. "And Diego--" She stiffened at the mention of his name. "And Diego, if he were here, would tell you that he has loved you for such a long time. When he walked into the best tavern in the territory, he knew by only looking at you that the loco idea he had about marrying you before he left was not really loco. You were going to make him a wonderful wife."

She tried to pull away from him, but he would not let her. He felt her bewilderment, but he had to finish what he was saying. Looking into her eyes would only distract him. "And I am thinking about how I have always feared that you would not love the man behind the mask, and how it frightens me to let you know--"

She pulled away so she could look up into his eyes--Diego's eyes. "Diego?" she asked quietly as a loud clap of thunder shook the air around them. "It is you, isn't it?" He could only nod. Victoria started to laugh, causing him to start. "I'm not loco after all. I don't love two different men. I love the same man! Just different parts of him."

Relief raced through his blood as he laughed and hugged her close. For so many years, he had worried. The possible risk to her safety still concerned him, but for tonight he felt wonderful. She had accepted the news with relaxed approval. She was not mad or disappointed that he was Diego. She just accepted it.

"I guess Don Alejandro was not all that shocked to see us kissing after all." She smiled at him, yelling above the now faster wind.

"Oh, he was shocked. He doesn't know, Victoria." He wanted to share everything with her, but he would wait until they got to shelter. Now that she knew, there would be no more secrets. As they walked towards the horses, she stopped. He did, too, surprised by her reaction. "Victoria?"

"He doesn't know? You've been all alone all this time?" She sounded devastated by the thought.

"No, Victoria, I've never been alone. Besides having everyone support me in the pueblo, I had Felipe. He has always known; he's known since the beginning," he reassured her. Then, a stray thought raced through his mind, and he had to share even as he held her hand and began walking again. The storm would be upon them soon. "Oh, and he can hear, too!"

She started laughing again, managing to barely keep up with his long stride. "That should not surprise me, but it does. I guess that's one way Zorro was able to find out his information! You always did seem to know when there is a problem in the pueblo."

The heavens opened up and the rain started to pour, soaking both of them. Somehow, instead of the punishing rage he had expected, it felt like a cleansing rain. It was washing away all the dirt. "We need to get back to the hacienda," he told her unnecessarily. She only smiled and raced towards the horses. She seemed to be skipping across the ground.

"And we need to tell your father," she yelled down to him as she got on her borrowed horse.

"What? Why?" The rain blurred his vision, and he knew that they should be concentrating on getting to the hacienda instead of talking, but something about this lady had always taken his common sense away from him.

"He's not getting any younger, and the problems aren't relaxing any. I have a feeling that you're going to be Zorro for a lot longer, and he has the right to know, D--Zorro. He has the right to know his son. All of him, not just a part of him," she said seriously, a small frown marring her face. "Trust me, D--Zorro. It'll put him in no more danger than he already is now, and it will give him the chance to help you. He'll be so proud of you! He already loves you so much, and he gets so angry at himself for being frustrated with you. He thinks in his head that he should accept you for who you are, but in his heart, he has a hard time accepting that who you have been is all that you can be. I guess something in him knew that you could do so much more. Let him know you."

Hearing the soft plea in her voice, he smiled a smile of acknowledgement and agreement. "Maybe you're right, but first let's get out of this storm!" She laughed as he got up on Toronado.

"I'm sure father will have many, many questions as if it is and maybe the truth is the best answer. I'm tired of seeing the look of disappointment in his eyes. Maybe it is time that everything comes out into the open for the de la Vega family." With his family's support, maybe the game would again be simple. Even the strongest of men needed support sometimes.

Toronado and her horse stood side by side. "But first, before we tell your father, I want another kiss." Zorro smiled at her and then showed her that he would gladly follow her orders in some areas.

Thanks for reading!

Author's Notes: We did not get to see Diego's speech to the Emissary. There was a B plot about some bandits robbing the alcalde's office while Mendoza was in charge. (Those were the bandits Zorro brought into the plaza later.) We got to see Felipe dress up and try to be Zorro, but Toronado refused to let him ride. He had to go as himself and Zorro came to his rescue.

Diego and Victoria had to spend the night in a windmill because of the storm. All the information is in the story, except they did not kiss. Diego looked ready to try after he put his coat around her shoulders, but he did not do it anywhere but in my imagination. :)

Victoria did come out into the plaza when Zorro delivered the bandits, and he quoted a piece of poetry to her that she had quoted to Diego the night before. It made her stop and think.