DISCLAIMER: Kaiketsu Zorro does not belong to me. Otherwise Alicia would have a lot more screen time, and English-subbed DVDs plus the soundtrack of this show would be available.

This is my first (and only?) fanfic of the series, a filler scene taking place after Little Zorro went to Lolita for help in treating Zorro's injuries, and before he woke up the next morning on episode 51. I wrote it mainly because there were some things in that episode that kept bugging me. For one thing, Lolita seemed to accept Diego's secret too easily. Also, Diego's gunshot wound made the rest of the episode inconsistent with the supposed aftermath.

All used names are based on the original dub (hence Diego Vega and Bernardo, both names also the same as in the original story—according to Wikipedia anyway).

This fic was written based partly on what I could interpret in the unsubbed Japanese material (yes, that one with the Polish translation) and partly on the German dub. I must say that this is not something I usually do; watching the original version is a prerequisite in writing my fics. But English translations are hard to find, plus the English dub is incomplete. Chances are I'd fall out of love with Kaiketsu Zorro first before it could be subbed in English, so I'd rather post the fic now.

To be honest, after watching episode 51, I just drafted it and nearly abandoned it as it was because I couldn't post it anyway without making sure it didn't conflict with anything. So many thanks to VampireNaomi for providing me the transcript of the episode; everything made more sense at last.

To all readers, I'm sorry in advance if the characters seem out of character (kindly see the aforementioned reason). This is an experimental fic; I can always take it down if it sucked.

I hope you'll enjoy! =)


Faster, faster!

Lolita whipped her family's horses again and again, the carriage nearly tipping over in the process. Worry coursing through her veins, she ignored the rush of cold air freezing her face. Just several meters away the mouth of the woods could be spotted already, but it didn't mean she had the liberty of slowing down. Instead she lashed blindly with the reins, as if she might channel all her alarm and urgency to the already speeding beasts.

"Zorro has been severely wounded. I can't treat him alone, Lolita. I need your help."

It had been barely an hour since she heard those appalling words. Right before she could get over her shock at the revelation behind Zorro's young partner, he had immediately launched a brief account of what had happened to the masked hero. Lolita would never forget that horror she had felt upon seeing the coat of blood, Zorro's blood, on the boy's gloves.

She glanced sideways at Little Zorro—no, Bernardo—who was biting his lower lip, his forehead creased, his eyes just staring ahead of the road. No, she didn't have the time to question him about his alter ego or connections with Zorro all along. Zorro must come first.

But as she trained her eyes back on the road again, her mind resumed whirling with clashing thoughts. How was Zorro doing? Would he be just a corpse by the time she reached his side? Why was Bernardo alongside him? Heck, how did Bernardo turn out to be Little Zorro? Yes, he was among the many boys who wanted to imitate Zorro but this? Why did he come to her for help? Nothing was wrong with that but shouldn't he have gone straight home first? Didn't Diego know what he had been doing?

"Bernardo," she said, turning again to the boy as they entered the woods. "It would have been quicker for you to get help if you had gone straight to the Vega mansion instead. Why didn't you want to head over there? Wouldn't you have automatically asked Diego for help?"


She frowned at this. "Why didn't you ask him?"

He still didn't reply, staring down at his gloves instead.

"Bernardo!" Lolita stared at him in confusion, almost unaware of the thin mist enveloping them. Why won't he answer me?

"Diego..." His hands tightened into fists. "Diego is injured."

"What!" How? she was about to ask but then froze.



It was a coincidence. It had to be.

But Bernardo had been staring directly at the blood on his gloves.

She must have misread his expression or his words. She had to be interpreting the situation wrong. Because there's no way on earth it can be real.

Even though the mist had evenly spread itself as the carriage furthered, Lolita strained to make out the path ahead at first. Soon she spotted Viento standing still amid the trees; the closer she came, the more she could see the white horse.

When she was about a meter away from Viento, she pulled her horses to a halt. Holding out a lamp, she shed light at the general area ahead of her before being met by the sight of Zorro limp against a tree, his mask lying right beside his face.

An all too familiar face.

Her heart ceased pumping blood. It can't be.

How in the world was it possible?


Bernardo's alarmed voice pulled her out of her shock, and she blinked as he leaped from his seat and rushed to his fallen partner's side. Diego. There was no way of denying it.

Then for the first time it registered to Lolita how badly hurt Diego seemed. He must come first, and he was apparently in need of her medical attention. Trying to regain her presence of mind, she reached for her medical kit and hurried down the carriage.

Bernardo knelt down beside Diego. "Diego, I brought Lolita here already. You'll be all right in just a while."

But the blond's eyes remained closed, oblivious to the world around him.

"Come on, stay with us, Diego..."

At last Lolita reached their side. And gasped, the lamp nearly slipping from her fingers.

Zorro's, no, Diego's wounded state from the attack of the ferocious dogs was nothing compared to how vulnerable he looked right now. Clothes ripped almost all over, he was soiled from head to toe, as though he had just been dragged through a long path of dirty water. Pain remained frozen on his muddied face. Lolita's gaze lingered down to the torn fabric, no, the torn skin of his torso, and she froze at all the red that had trickled from there. If this was his condition from the front alone, she couldn't imagine how worse it was when she finally saw the bullet embedded in his back.

No time to waste! "Bernardo, take off your gloves and help me." She carefully set down the lamp and hurried back to the carriage to pick up almost the rest of the items she had brought along, Bernardo following behind her. As she loaded him with a set of dry towels, for the first time she noticed a broken trail of red connecting her path to Diego. He has lost that much blood already?

Her mind raced as she and Bernardo rushed back to the injured young man. Diego was suffering from two different wounds at the same time. The gunshot wound would be the trickier part, the more fatal one. Reaching her decision, she began unbuttoning his soaked shirt. At the same time she kept praying that he hadn't been hit anywhere near his spine or his heart yet expecting the worst.

Much to her surprise—and relief, she found a bulletproof cover protecting his chest, just like the day he had been almost assassinated near the church.

"So he listened to me after all." Relief flooded Bernardo's words, and Lolita cast a questioning stare at him. "Do you remember that Zorro destroyed those three powerful canons not so long ago?" When she nodded, he continued. " I forced him to tell everything that I had missed, including the unanticipated traps and weapons that would have killed him with ease. For making me worry, I made him swear he would wear something protective the next time he sets out on his own mission again."

"You did the right thing, Bernardo. Now let's continue with this."

Bernardo assisted her in adjusting Diego and removing his upper garments. But along the way Lolita found herself still dreading. Just because Diego had a protective cover on didn't mean he could never be shot anywhere beyond its scope.

"Lolita, look."

Lolita followed Bernardo's gaze. The bullet had dug itself into the very edge of the armor. She swallowed. Had the armor not been there to stop the blow, had the bullet run even half an inch lower, the damage would have been on a grander scale. Nonetheless it was still good news, she thought while taking off the cover and setting it aside.

Bernardo helped her towel-dry Diego's arms, chest, and abdomen. Next the boy took the task of folding a thick towel into a makeshift pillow for Diego's head to rest on, then hanging both of their upper garments on the lowest branch of the tree to dry.

Now the only remaining problem to deal with was the slash on the other side of Diego's body. Lolita turned him around as gently as she could and examined the damage. But contrary to her earlier luck, the open wound was wider than she had thought, crimson caking and hanging along the edges. She could see flesh peaking through the curtain of blood.

"It must have worsened while we were escaping," she heard Bernardo speak beside her. "I didn't mean for it to happen but he was dragged along the way."

Lolita reached for the things she needed in cleaning the gash. But when she positioned herself, hesitation froze her hands. Sure, she had handled a lot of other people's injuries before but nothing like this. Just because she had been trained on how to treat different wounds didn't mean she had zero chance of screwing up with the treatment now. She was aware of that; she was no doctor after all. Adding to the pressure was that she wasn't just trying to save some random person; the life of someone so close to her would depend on the rate of her success—or failure.

But she found no other choice. At this point in time everyone in town was asleep already. Even if she did manage to bring Diego to the clinic, he was already being hunted by the army, based on Bernardo's words. Locating him or identifying him as Zorro would only be a matter of time. And she couldn't bring him home or to her own house now, not without running into the soldiers in the process.

So she made herself determined, again scanning the extent of the gash. This must be the worst of all the wounds she had encountered so far. The first aid would definitely involve a lot of suffering on Diego's part. "Bernardo, look away. You shouldn't be viewing this."

"No," Bernardo replied in defiance. "I'll watch him throughout the entire treatment."

"This is not something children can handle, even if you are Little Zorro. It would be best for you to avoid looking now."


"Bernardo, turn around."

"And then what? Pretend none of this is happening behind my back? For what did I become his partner if I'm not even strong enough to witness him in pain?" he shot back with such fierceness that Lolita had never heard from him before, and it took her aback. Bernardo was usually so carefree, so playful. Had his Little Zorro persona shaped him into this different person beside her now?

"I will not look away, Lolita." Bernardo's tone remained firm. "No matter what happens, I can take it."

For a while Lolita noted the stubborn look in his eyes, then sighed in resignation before forming a tiny smile. "You really are Little Zorro."

Despite his hard expression, a small smile cracked on his lips.

And so she resumed her task, readying an already sterilized swab of cotton between her forceps as Bernardo looked on. She lowered the tool to make contact with Diego's abdomen...

Diego visibly cringed and moaned in restraint, causing Lolita's hand to draw back a little. How could she make this as painless as possible? Even just the touch of the cotton on the peripheral area of the wound was already giving him hell; how much more would the direct contact be? Besides that, she would need to apply the necessary ointment soon. This treatment would be far from being easy.

But she had already started; the sooner she was done with it, the earlier Diego could recover. And so she proceeded.

Diego's body twitched once in a while, a groan punctuating every other moment. Soon a pile of bloodied swabs was growing beside him, the crimson liquid still far from being cleared out, but Lolita ignored its stench as she continued to work. Next to her she heard Bernardo swallow but sensed his eyes still trained on the wound.

Finally she was done but now came the worst. She would rather leave the handling of the wound itself to a real practitioner of medicine, but tonight she was just on her own. The girl took a deep breath. Here goes.

A raw cry tore from Diego's throat, the contact awakening his nerves to levels of pain Lolita didn't even want to imagine. Even with his face away from her, she could tell he was gritting his teeth to cope with the torture, and it killed her to watch him suffer so much even if it was for his own good. Still she continued working on the lengthy tear. When he nearly howled at the magnitude of the endless sting, she felt her arms lose strength but then forced herself to harden before she could completely lose her nerve.

Soon it was over. Diego was now breathing heavily and Lolita had to catch her breath as well, beads of sweat forming along her face. A procedure as familiar as what she had just done normally wouldn't have affected her this way. But administering the pain on Diego herself had drained her as much as it had him.

"Will he be all right?"

Lolita turned to face Bernardo whose face was lined with worry as he tried to assess the condition of Diego's wound. She had to admit, he stayed true to his word. "Don't worry; this is Zorro we're talking about. He'll be okay."

Zorro, her inner voice echoed as though to remind her of her shock, while she began dressing the wound. Her hands went on autopilot as her mind started dwelling on earlier thoughts. But she mentally shook herself free. She would deal with those later.

Finally she finished bandaging Diego and watched him. Relief took over her when her friend's breathing slowed back to normal, his features relaxing a bit until he seemed to have fallen asleep.

Lolita gazed at his face, then at the mask at his side, her mind immediately stormed by the lack of logic behind the baffling revelation. Diego Vega, the weak coward who did nothing but laze around, was in truth Zorro whose courage equaled his gallantry? Diego, the guy who avoided handling any sword and would practically faint at the slightest spot of blood, was the same hero who fought so hard with incomparable skills to prevent any bloodshed? Diego, her pathetic childhood friend, was the figure behind the dashing swordsman she had fallen for?

How could two young men who were such a far cry from each other be only one and the same?

The shock starting to wear off, she didn't know how she should react to this. Various emotions churned inside her. On one hand she was relieved; she did care deeply about the two young men. Diego seemed like an idiot at times, but for Lolita it never dented their already long relationship. She would be a liar if she denied being jealous whenever Diego had any peculiar interaction with other ladies, but at the same time deep down she was also attracted to Zorro. She worried about him more than anyone else did and would gladly help him even if it meant putting her life on the line. Yet she could only choose one of them. At least now she wouldn't need to. In a way, she could say she was happy to find out the truth.

On the other hand, she wanted to criticize herself again and again; how could she not have seen the connection earlier? True, there were times when Lolita caught Diego in strange, tense expressions, some odd moments when he seemed to bear some kind of likeness to Zorro. But she had often dismissed her nagging thoughts because of the striking contrast of personality. Even though Diego's voice seemed to have a physical quality similar to Zorro's, Lolita had believed that every resemblance of Diego, no matter how remote, was because of her often wish that he would become like her masked hero.

Besides, their different demeanor would make it impossible for anyone to conclude what could have been the obvious. Diego and Zorro being the same person was as likely as the army commander dying in battle to protect the people's stripped rights. Adding to that was the time Diego had been arrested by Gabriel but eventually released after being proven he wasn't Zorro since the latter himself had helped him escape.

Yet deep down she knew better. She had ignored all the telltale signs: Diego's sudden injuries, the unusual seriousness that flashed on his face at times... His common absence just when she needed him most, and then conveniently Zorro would appear out of nowhere... How could she have been such an idiot?

But at the same time brewed confusion and a sense of betrayal. How could he...

"Lolita? Are you all right?"

Lolita ignored Bernardo's concern, her hands on her lap forming fists. "Bernardo, how long has this been going on?"

Bernardo gazed somberly at Diego. "For nearly an hour; I wanted to help him during that fight but he told me to—"

"That's not what I meant!" she snapped finally, causing the boy to draw back in surprise. "How long have the two of you been doing this behind my back? How long have you been keeping this a secret from me?"

He held up his hands. "Lolita, it's not like that—"

"I can't believe you two! All this time and not one of you even breathed a word to me!" Anger was breathing through her skin, no matter how much she tried to regain self-control. How could they do this to her? "So all the injuries Diego has been obtaining, he's been lying to me about them then?"

"It's not as simple as it seems—"

"Why, Bernardo? Don't you guys think I can fight alongside you or even just assist you? Do you believe I will only get in the way of your—!"

"Lolita, keep your voice down," Bernardo hissed. "If the soldiers hear us, we'll all be dead!"

That made her halt. Quickly she scanned the forest for any sign of the army but so far the three of them were the only ones present. Once she sighed in relief, she took deep breaths until she calmed herself down. "Sorry."

Bernardo didn't answer, instead choosing to gaze at Diego's tended abdomen.

It felt strange, getting mad at the hero of her dreams. She wanted to be mature about the entire thing. But how could she not even feel a drop of emotion about this? The secret behind Zorro's mask had been within her line of vision all along, hints thrown here and there yet her self-induced blindness had fragmented the one true conclusion. Even worse, no one had been willing to take claim of these hints. Of course she could have unlocked the secret on her own but to think that no one told her... Anger slowly evaporated and in its place surfaced one thing that was far worse.


"Bernardo," she uttered softly, gazing at Diego's unmasked face. "Doesn't Diego trust me?"

Bernardo whirled in complete surprise. "Of course he does, Lolita. How could you even say that?"

She said nothing, her mind suddenly busy with recollecting memories concerning Diego and Zorro in an attempt to make a more rational answer to her question. As she continued piecing together the fragments, she fought down the urge to mentally hit herself upon realizing Zorro had appeared for the first time the day Diego had returned from Spain. Controlling her negative thoughts toward him for keeping her in the dark was way easier than getting rid of feeling down because of why he did so in the first place.

Zorro himself had always been a mystery. Lolita had often wondered why he knew her name even before she had any chance to properly introduce herself. But then again Zorro seemed omniscient, always showing up in times of trouble with thorough knowledge of the situation. So he definitely stayed, if he was not a real resident, in San Tasco, disguised as someone else to investigate.

Of course there were probably some cases Lolita didn't know of that Zorro had helped solve, but he couldn't be Diego whom she was almost always with. In Diego's absence, she was aware of his whereabouts, where he would most likely go to, what places he would avoid even stepping ground on. She knew him inside out; there was nothing he could ever hide from her.

Or so she had thought.

"Then why did he never tell me?" she asked Bernardo back. Did Diego believe her tongue would slip somehow? For crying out loud, they had been friends since childhood. He should know she was never one to give away vital secrets. Why, she would rather be executed in public through a firing squad than spell out his identity to the likes of Gabriel.

"Diego doesn't want anyone to be involved in his fights. He didn't wish to deceive you. If it were about anything else, you would probably be the first to know."

"But he told you."

"He didn't. I discovered it on my own. He even tried to deny it at first."

"And you didn't bother to tell me." Was I the only who didn't know? she found herself wondering. Were Don Alejandro and Maria aware of this secret? They seemed to know nothing about it. Then again, Bernardo had seemed completely innocent about the whole thing, hadn't he?

"As I said earlier, it's not as simple as you think. If only you knew how much I've been wanting to just reveal everything. Sometimes I couldn't stand how badly you people have been treating him, but he knew from the start it would run that way. Back then I couldn't completely understand how he could handle it on a daily basis when he was the real hero."

The young lad leaned back against his hands, staring off into the distance. "I joined him at first thinking it would mean a lot of fun and exciting adventures. But with each fight he was drawn into, I came to realize how much more important his presence means to the townspeople than anything else. His encounters with the bad guys, especially with the army, were serious, so dangerous that sometimes he would tie me up so that I couldn't come with him." He turned to Lolita. "But I know he can't keep doing this battle alone. I have to help him, Lolita. I want to continue being by his side because he needs me."

Lolita was at a loss for words. This was no longer the Bernardo she was accustomed to, the childish Bernardo who would stick out his tongue or brush comments with someone he didn't like without a second thought. Despite still being just a kid, he had grown so much without her realizing it. "But you're still so young. You're risking so much by helping him."

"I would do anything. He's my idol, Lolita. But he's much more than that. He's..." Bernardo gazed back at the injured blond. " He's the big brother I never had."

"Bernardo, I..." She what? What did Lolita really have to complain about? Yes, she still felt quite bitter for not being let on to a secret that Diego had shared with Bernardo. But hearing the heavy burden of bearing Diego's secret from everything the boy had gone through, and realizing the real depth of the bond that the two shared, made her concerns suddenly trivial. "Bernardo, I didn't mean anything that I've said. I didn't know."

"Let's just forget about it," he said. "Right now what's important is that we must keep Diego safe from the army."

Lolita couldn't help but notice how exhausted Bernardo sounded and looked now, his eyes struggling to remain open. "Take a rest now, Bernardo. You look like you need it."

"What? But I have to guard him," he protested.

"You've done enough. I'll watch over him."

"I'm not tired," he insisted. "Besides, what about you? You should be the one resting, not me."

"I'll be fine; I've had enough sleep." Thank goodness for her decision to go to bed early tonight. "You also need to regain your strength. Diego will need you tomorrow, so you have to be in the best condition you can be."

Bernardo opened his mouth to argue some more but then shut it, seeming to realize the logic behind Lolita's words. "All right. But wake me up if anything seems wrong, no matter how minor, okay?"

"I will. You can use one of the blankets I brought."

"Thanks." Bernardo picked up a sheet approximately his size, chose a spot on the grass close to Diego and sank down. In just a few minutes, he had fallen into a deep sound sleep. He didn't seem to be Little Zorro anymore, just Bernardo who happened to be wearing half of Little Zorro's clothes. Lolita couldn't help but allow herself a tiny smile at this before turning next to Diego.

But the smile vanished in an instant.

Diego was anything but sound asleep, trembling while tossing his head from side to side.

Panic hit her. "Diego!" she exclaimed, grabbing hold of his arms. It was then that she realized how hot his skin was and she was struck by realization. How long had he been drenched in the rain before she came? To think he had been suffering from a long wound at the same time... No, she had to prevent him from worsening; the last thing he needed was for his shivering to escalate to a full-blown fever.

"Bernardo," she called out. "Wake up!"

But the boy continued to sleep.

"Bernardo!" When he didn't stir, Lolita decided to handle it on her own. Quickly reaching for her stored water, she moistened her short towel and cooled down Diego's face, his arms, his chest. Yet he continued to shake, so she tried again, now leaving a cold cloth on his forehead. Come on, Diego, fight. You have to be all right.

It wasn't until she had repeated the procedure several times that Diego's tremors subsequently ceased. When his breathing seemed to have evened out, Lolita rested her palm on his bare chest and sighed in relief at the normal warmth now. That was a close call. But she had to maintain things the way they were now. Once again she headed back to the carriage to pick up a blanket, then spread it over Diego's still frame. Until his clothes dried enough for her to dress him with, the sheet would do.

She watched the rise and fall of his chest, then hovered her gaze at his face etched by seriousness. Once in a while he would look troubled or hurt, and Lolita's heart went out to him. She had treated Zorro before, when he had been mobbed by savage dogs imported by the army. But tonight it felt strange, treating him while with the full knowledge that he was also Diego. Lolita remembered all the times she had treated her friend's injuries, how she would offhandedly slap his wounds, how she would wish to herself that she would see Diego handle the pain like a man instead of wailing like some child who couldn't even get over his first bruise.

Now she got her wish. Diego seemed nothing like a child now; he was the adult who could only cope with the excruciating pain by occasionally wincing and cringing in failed restraint. Yet even in his suffering, he seemed to somehow still have the presence of mind not to cry out loud to keep his cover. Lolita hadn't meant everything to be this way, now regretting her insensitivity.


Lolita snapped back to attention. "Diego!"


She nearly shivered at the urgency her name brought. But then she realized he was only half-conscious, his eyes still shut tight. It was still his young partner he was addressing.

"Whatever happens, don't go to Lolita..." His voice hoarse, his hand groped for Bernardo's wrist, it seemed, but got Lolita's own instead. "I always make her worry, always endanger her whenever I let her help me. If anything happens to her, I..." Her eyes widened as his hold tightened into a grip, a grip that told her how much he wouldn't be able to live with it, that he would never forgive himself.

How could I have not realized it earlier? Diego had been protecting her all this time! But her thoughts were cut off when his grip tightened even more, his features contorting again and again. Whether it resulted from the wound or from a mental scene, Lolita wasn't quite sure. However, she felt his pain as he channeled it through each pressure around her wrist and later to the point when it threatened to cut off her blood circulation. But she willingly endured it all the same. If this was the only way she could experience his suffering, if this was the only time she could share his pain, then so be it.

This was the real Diego. The man who always suffered for the good of others. The man who often risked his life to protect the weak and uphold justice for the oppressed. The man they knew only as Zorro.

Yes, Lolita thought as the hand around her wrist loosened at last. That's right. Zorro was the true Diego Vega, or at least a dominant part of the true one, and the Diego that she knew was the real mask: the one napping at hours when everyone else was working, running away from duels as if he had never even touched the handle of a sword in his entire life; the only man she knew who would trip over a rock that anyone else could have avoided. The black mask might have been to conceal his face but Diego the wimp protected Zorro's identity all along.

No wonder she was always at ease around him. At the back of her mind, she always knew she had some connection with Zorro in a way that she couldn't completely explain. Not just because he always saved her when needed or always knew where to find her, nor because he was especially looking out for her. Perhaps it was because he seemed to always trust her for some reason. She had always felt comfortable around him, never minding the fact that despite being an epitome of justice for her fellow people, he was supposed to remain in her eyes a stranger who just happened to have rescued her countless times.

But that was probably it. Over the course of their encounters, she was no longer just one of those people whom he happened to have rescued. No, she usually got up to aid him in whatever means she could, no matter how simple. Lolita openly requited his trust, as he wasn't just a hero for her anymore; he also became her friend.

And Zorro seemed to regard her the same way. Lolita closed her eyes for a while, relishing the feeling that the thought brought her.

When she opened her eyes, she was a child again. Several bullies were enjoying waving the twig of snakes near her face, and she was so frightened that the snakes would bite her.

Then Diego came to her rescue.

Lolita remembered it all too well. He had been brave at that time, and he had carried that same courage on his way to Spain. It was no wonder how disappointed she had been after discovering how utterly useless and reduced to a pitiful coward the Diego Vega she met at the ship had become.

But now that she knew the truth, it was easier to put the pieces of the puzzle together. His letters weren't a bunch of lies strung together after all. Zorro's skills weren't like any of the other locals' that Lolita had witnessed. His swordsmanship even rivaled, no, was far more superior than that of the higher ranks in the army. She didn't know exactly all the details but Spain had actually refined Diego's craft, had sharpened his outlook in life around him, had molded him into the Zorro San Tasco knew. Yet while protecting his identity, his abilities would have been so apparent as a point against him. The only way to conceal skill was to feign the lack of it.

But convincing everyone that this lack was real would need the accompanying lack of character, the complete opposite of who he really was. If he hadn't bore this false image...

Lolita froze. If he hadn't done it, anyone related or close to him, especially she, would have been an easy target... or dead at worst.

Suddenly she felt horrible at the way she had been treating Diego all this time. Those instances when she had gotten mad at him for his inaction or for abandoning her, the days when she had forced him to carry her shopping or grocery bags for her despite his own baggage... How many times had she treated him like a complete pushover, had called him a coward, a weakling, an idiot? Meanwhile, there had been a part of her hoping there was something more to Zorro's gentlemanly demeanor toward her than he let her know. She even had been swooning over Zorro right in front of Diego! For a brief while, she wondered how the latter's thoughts ran whenever he saw her brushing him off or insensitively telling him off, and then later gazing at him as Zorro with open admiration in her eyes.

Guilt swallowed her alive. Diego had tolerated her shameless behavior in silence but had never passed any judgment on her. She on the other hand... Why couldn't I have done the same? Why hadn't she bothered to try to understand him better?

"Diego, I'm so sorry," she whispered, shutting her eyes tight. "I was so wrong about you." How she hated herself. She hated all that she had done, all that she had said. If she could take back all those times, she would. But there was nothing she could do about it now. All those months when she had been nothing but a burden to him even as Diego...

Wait. Her eyes snapped open, then fell on Diego's bandaged torso. It was true that she couldn't turn back time to undo all the wrong that she had committed.

But it didn't mean it was already too late.

The mist would completely disappear the moment morning arrived. Soon the carriage would stand out among the trees and give everyone's location away. Lolita would have to get rid of that problem before that happened, along with the rest of the materials she had used on Diego save for the medical kit. And she would need to do that before her parents woke up, as silent as she had been when she had sneaked everything out of the house. Food would be one of her priorities when she got back, something she could get away with even in plain sight. But it wouldn't end there.

She pressed her lips into a tight line, more determined now. Diego, give me this time. Please give this opportunity to me.

Lolita would make it up to him when he woke up. She would be his hand, his source of help from now on.

But that didn't mean that for his secret, she was about to let him off the hook that easily.

The End

Reviews are very welcome. Thanks!