Soaring to New Heights

Disclaimer: Not mine except in my imagination.

Author's Notes: This is a post-ep fic for "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing", a first season episode. In it, Diego anxiously awaited the arrival of the new priest, a man he has been corresponding with about their mutual love for birds. Instead of the good padre Diego was expecting, Los Angeles received a cruel tyrant. Zorro had to investigate.

What he discovered was that new padre was not Father Benitez at all. Instead, he was an imposter in league with the alcalde to steal from the Church. Zorro managed to foil his plans, but he escaped. Since he already had the real Father Benitez captured, the imposter decides to send a ransom note to Los Angeles. At the bottom, the real father Benitez has written a line about starlings that leads Zorro straight to where he is being held.

ZZZ

They soared overhead, enjoying the beautiful day. Diego watched in awe as the birds floated through the air. The sun reflected off their feathers, making them appear to be from another place, another world. In the air, they were anything but worldly.

"They are amazing, Felipe. On the ground, our feathered friends often look awkward and fragile, but up there . . .." He shook his head, at a loss for words.

His stallion neighed as if in agreement, but his silent friend's face held a multitude of questions. Felipe's expressive features often told Diego what his mouth could not. When he had first been found, the tear streaks on his tiny face had screamed of a hurt no one could help. His bright eyes and big smile sparkled with a sense of contentment and peace after a few months of being with the de la Vegas. Diego could easily recall the look on the young boy's face when the caballero had left for Spain. It had only been replaced in his heart by the sight of Felipe's joy at his return.

"I know it is hard to believe, Felipe, but we will learn much from them if we only watch long enough." He reached over and tapped the top of the birdhouse the young boy--almost a man--held in front of him. "You've already learned that you like to make birdhouses."

Felipe's embarrassed grin was his answer. He looked down at the wonderful house he had created for Padre Benitez. Having helped Diego make one last week for the hacienda, he suggested the idea of building one as a welcoming gift for the pueblo's new spiritual leader. Diego agreed; everyone knew about the padre's love for birds. His message, sent with a ransom note to the pueblo, had given Zorro the hint that led to his rescue. The padre's line about wanting to see the starlings again had led Zorro straight to the kidnapper's hiding place.

It was hearing about Diego's same enjoyment of birds that had caused Benitez to send his first letter to the young de la Vega. A frequent and friendly exchange of letters began, and soon afterwards the padre learned of his transfer to Los Angeles. The news pleased Diego because he knew that Benitez would be the priest that Los Angeles needed now, and the padre had expressed in his last letter his excitement about finally being able to meet his new friend.

Diego noticed that Felipe's attention had returned to the starlings. "You know, Felipe, it was the starlings that sparked my interest in bird watching--and Padre Benitez's love for them was the reason I knew he would be a good padre for Los Angeles."

A familiar mix of shock and confusion told Diego Felipe's thoughts. He laughed and shook his head. "Yes, Felipe, they are rather ugly birds. They are horrible nuisances. Everyone knows that they are pests. Starlings mock other birds in order to steal their food, or they just steal it by force. They not only take their food, but their homes as well! If you see one, you will see hundreds."

Felipe nodded in agreement, obviously remembering last year's battle with a flock of starlings. A near disaster and a waste of time, his father had told Diego in a letter that had never been mailed. Instead, one requesting him to come home had been sent, and Diego read the letter about the birds in the de la Vega library. He had laughed as Alejandro grumbled.

"I was shocked to find out that in Europe they are kept as song birds," Diego admitted. "It's true," he answered Felipe's silent question. "They do have beautiful voices when they are not mimicking the other birds."

Felipe watched him, waiting for the rest of the story. Diego sat quietly for several minutes, watching the birds, trying to find the words to match the feelings inside of him. "I never doubted that the padre would be a good man, Felipe. I knew that something was not right the minute my father told me how hateful and cruel that imposter had been to the poor. I never believed that he was the padre."

His friend made a wrapping motion around his neck. "Yes, Felipe, he is a man of the cloth, but I learned in Spain that men of the cloth are still men. I met some that made me ashamed that I do not do more to end suffering; I've met some whose power has overcome their basic sense of decency. They are good at saying the words of love, but they have no heart. Benitez could have been the same way." Diego shook his head, and looked down to where his hands lay gently on his saddle. "But I trusted Padre Benitez because he told how much he loved starlings."

Diego waved at the birds still soaring overhead. "They are horrible, Felipe. They are dirty. They steal. They cheat. But then--"

Felipe returned Diego's smile of joy, even though his eyes expressed his confusion. Diego put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "When I was in Spain, I saw a young boy accidentally shoot a starling with a slingshot. The boy was devastated. He approached the wounded bird, but I could tell, even from a distance, that there was nothing he could do."

"Then, her mate landed next to her. I watched that bird stand proudly beside his mate and prepare to fight the boy away from her. Felipe, that child could have crushed that bird in his fist without any effort!" Diego clenched his own fist to emphasize his point.

"Yet, that bird stayed by her side until she died," Diego finished. "He refused to leave her alone. He ignored the danger to take care of her. He didn't leave her alone to suffer, Felipe."

The cry of the birds echoed around them, and Diego smiled. "See, Felipe, men are very much like the starlings. We can be cruel without thought. We can be nasty pests who hurt and steal without hesitation. Yet, there's something in us that lets us soar to new heights. We do incredibly good things, Felipe, along with the bad, and somehow in the end, I think the good actually manages to outdo the bad. It does in the starlings, and Padre Benitez knows that truth. It is what makes him an incredible man, and will make him an incredible shepherd for Los Angeles."

Felipe looked down at his birdhouse for several seconds, and then his eyes rose to rest on the flying creatures. He watched them for several minutes before he smiled. His eyes told Diego that he understood. After all, he had already seen the worst and the best in mankind himself. A battle had stolen his parents and the life he had always known. The de la Vegas, who had no motive outside of compassion, had showed him the incredible good in the human heart by taking him into their home and their hearts.

"We need to get to the pueblo. We told Father we would not be long," Diego said. Felipe watched the birds flying around for several more heartbeats before he smiled and nodded.

Both of them started riding towards Los Angeles. Diego hid his smile when he noticed that Felipe was holding the birdhouse even more carefully in front of him. Even though the words were hard to find, he had known that Felipe would understand. He was always soaring to new heights himself.

ZZZ

More Author's Notes: As I watched this episode back in the summer thinking about the post-ep I would write for it, I was struck by the beauty of the starling they showed flying above where Padre Benitez was being held. I thought that there must be a reason the writers chose that bird, some belief about it (dove=peace for example). I immediately started my research.

To my surprise, I found out that pretty white bird was not a loved bird at all, at least here in the US. It's not even white! It is a known pest, a trash bird! They are those stupid black birds that drive everyone in my town nuts. They are loud. Nasty. They force out other birds. Not the pretty picture I had hoped for when I started my research. I about abandoned the idea. For some reason, I kept researching though, and I found the story of a man who accidentally shot one and how he watched the mate protect it until died. The idea for this story was born.

Loving something that is pretty is easy. Loving something that is annoying is not. I can see that being the reason for Diego's unfaltering belief that Padre Benitez was a good priest, even thought the evidence was beginning to look bad.

I found other info, such as how the European keep them caged as songbirds. Maybe that is why the show's European writers thought Diego and the priest would like them and would have sought their place of roosting. Something they really would not have had to do here in the US. You see one, you see thousands, especially in the fall. They have been known to break off tree limbs in Chicago from their combined weight. You can imagine the number of birds it would take to be too heavy for a tree!

Oh, and that little technicality about them not being brought over from Europe until 1890 when sixty pairs were released in Central Park, New York? Since the writers of the show ignored that fact, I did, too. :)