Title: Family Love

Author: Robin aka icyfire

Summary: Diego and Felipe try to work through the emotions caused by the events of "Family Business".

Rating: G

Disclaimer: Not mine. I play with them and then return them to the sandbox just as I found them. Without earning a penny!

ZZZ

The squeaking of an old wheel alerted Diego. Rushing to the door, he flung it open and raced out to Victoria's wagon where he grabbed Felipe and pulled him into a bear hug. There was a part of him that knew he was over-reacting. After all, he had seen Felipe when he had rescued the boy from Jorge and his companion earlier, but no one else knew that fact. He could let his joy at Felipe's return shine through without anyone commenting.

Besides, when he had that mask on, he acted differently. Sometimes it was almost like he was another man. Even in the safety of the cave, he acted more distant towards Felipe. Circumstances demanded that he act casually towards the people who meant the most to him. Victoria was the only exception. Instead it was as Diego that he had to maintain a studied serene attitude around her.

He hugged Felipe even closer. "I'm so happy that you are home," he whispered. He noticed Victoria's smile and realized his mistake. He let the boy go, grasping his arms. He looked him in the face and repeated, "I am so happy that you're home."

He looked at Victoria and grinned. "Thank you for realizing that something wasn't right about Senora Deranoso. Thank you for helping Felipe to return to me, Victoria," Diego said, his voice thick.

"No need to thank me, Don Diego. I love Felipe, too. Besides, Zorro is the one deserving thanks. He saved Felipe from them," Victoria replied.

He nodded. "Yes, I know. I ran into him at Camino Real, and he told me that he had heard about your suspicions from Mendoza. He instructed me to go home and wait for Felipe. I wanted to help, but he said I would only get in the way."

Victoria smiled. "Oh, Don Diego, you should most definitely leave the rescuing to Zorro!" Diego tried not to take it personally. She looked down at a motionless Felipe. He was standing as still a statue next to Diego, the usual endless energy of youth missing. "Please look after him. He's been awful quiet and still since we left the pueblo."

Diego looked over at Felipe. He could see the hunted look in Felipe's eyes, and the boy's usual grin was missing. Zorro had managed to save him from any physical harm, but he had failed to keep him safe from any emotional pain. Felipe should never have had to endure the trial today had brought. Diego had failed to keep him safe, and for that he would never be able to forgive himself.

"If you'll excuse us, I think Felipe needs to get some food in him and some rest," he said. He wanted to spend some time alone with Felipe. He wanted and needed to offer what comfort he could.

"Yes, I don't think those-those animals fed him," Victoria agreed. Diego could see that her anger was barely controlled, and he forced himself to hide a smile. An upset Victoria was always cause of amusement for him, and had been since she had stolen his heart as a young awkward beauty. He knew he should be worried by it instead of amused. He had realized today that he was actually in love with her, and knew beyond a doubt that one day she would be his wife. As his wife, she would undoubtedly direct that anger at him one day. Maybe he wouldn't feel as amused by it then.

Victoria nodded at Francisco, who was sitting quietly next to her. "I'm taking Francisco to Santa Paula," she began.

Diego acted surprised. "Santa Paula? He just got here. We haven't even had a chance to visit," he protested. Personally, he was glad the young man was leaving. Diego had always felt more comfortable around Ramon, Victoria's younger brother, than he ever had around Francisco.

He was thankful for the help Francisco had given him today in defeating the alcalde's men, but he also was aware that problems would develop if Francisco stayed in Los Angeles. Francisco would eventually become aware of the relationship between Victoria and Zorro, and he would demand that the masked outlaw declare his intentions. Something Diego wasn't ready to do.

"I, uh, just helped correct a stupid mistake," Francisco admitted. "I'm afraid I won't be able to come back to Los Angeles for some time."

Diego gave a short prayer of gratitude. He nodded as if finally understanding. "Ah, upset the alcalde did you?"

Victoria nodded proudly. "He helped Zorro escape!"

"Oh, then it will be some time before you are allowed to return. Zorro is the most hated enemy of our dear alcalde," Diego said solemnly. He noticed Felipe gave a little grin. He was the only person in Los Angeles who could understand when Diego was saying something tongue-in-cheek. At least the boy's humor hadn't been destroyed today. It had only been dampened by the tragedy.

Francisco and Victoria smiled at one another. Francisco said, "But he is a friend of the people." His tone confused Diego until he realized that apparently Francisco and Victoria had already had a few "discussions" about Zorro. Victoria squeezed her brother's hand. Diego understood that Francisco was being forgiven for his stupidity.

She smiled at Diego and gave Felipe one last concerned look before grasping the reins of her horses. She gently snapped them, and the wagon began to pull away. "Take good care of him, Diego!" Victoria called back to him.

"I will," he assured her. He looked down at Felipe. He gently ran his hand across the top of the boy's head. Felipe shook his head, letting his hair fall back into place, but there was no enjoyment in the motions. They were done out of habit and a desperate desire for normalcy by both of them. Diego placed his arm around Felipe's shoulders and directed him back into the hacienda. "Come on. Let's get you fed." Felipe nodded, but the usual excitement that the mention of food brought was absent.

Later that night, Diego sat in the library watching Felipe stare at his own hands. The boy had eaten his supper and had then done his chores. Diego had hated seeing him work, but he knew the routine comforted Felipe. Tornado had received special treatment from the young servant: His beautiful black coat had gleamed after Felipe spent hours brushing it.

Diego had sat writing some letters as Felipe took care of his chores in the cave. He had watched as Tornado stood still for the young boy. The horse had sensed Felipe needed the contact with him, and he had understood that his presence was a comfort.

Felipe and Tornado had an interesting relationship with one another. Diego knew that they both viewed each other as a responsibility. In the human's mind, Felipe was the caretaker, but in the animal's mind, he was the caretaker. Tornado guarded over Felipe as fiercely as he had guarded over his own colt. Diego never had to worry about Felipe as long as Tornado was around.

Tornado had never failed in his task like Diego had. Tornado had always protected Felipe, but Diego had let a thief take the boy from his home. He had not questioned her claims of motherhood, beyond a question to Felipe. "Is this woman your mother?" he had asked a fourteen-year-old boy. A fourteen-year-old boy whose memories of his childhood had largely been stolen from him by a horrible tragedy. "Is this woman your mother?" was all he had asked.

What an idiot I was! I know how it is to be fourteen and without a mother! I know how it feels to have that yearning for a mother's touch, Diego thought angrily to himself as Felipe's stare left his own hands and went instead to his feet. At least he had finally moved some since sitting in the chair two hours earlier.

Diego had at least known exactly what had happened to his mother. He could still remember the tears streaming down his father's face as he had walked out of their room to tell his son the horrible news. He could remember how cold and stiff she had looked against the white pillows lying in her coffin. Felipe had vague memories of an overturned cart.

Diego had been twelve-years old when his own mother had died. He could remember what she looked like and what she sounded like when she had called for him. He was also fortunate to have been born into wealth, because his father had had several paintings made of his mother while she was alive. Felipe had no paintings to gaze at to help him remember. He had been a small boy of seven, and what memories he may have had where mostly repressed after the horrible battle that had killed his parents and had stolen his way of life.

He could understand why Felipe had wanted her to be his mother. He had known how much having his parents meant to his young charge. He could remember shy and traumatized Felipe, unwilling to leave his side, making sure that Diego had told everyone in the various towns that Felipe was with him and where he could be found if his mother or father came looking for him. Felipe had waited anxiously for months waiting for his parents to arrive at the de la Vega hacienda. He had been disappointed every day until finally one day he seemed to decide not to wait anymore. Slowly, the happy and enthusiastic young boy that Diego and his father loved so dearly began to emerge from his shell.

Felipe had been a young child then. He had managed to bounce back from his tragedy with the resiliency that all children seem to have. He had lost his family and his home in one horrible moment. He had found another one with the de la Vegas. Diego wondered if Felipe understood the void he had filled in their lives. He had help heal their grieving hearts and brought back a joy that had long been missing from the hacienda. He had bounded back then, but Diego was frightened that he might not be able to bounce back from this tragedy. In many ways, Felipe had lost his mother again.

Felipe looked up at him and tried to grin. It nearly broke Diego's heart. Felipe was in that awkward, horrible stage that is between childhood and manhood. He wasn't a child anymore. He couldn't curl in someone's lap to grieve. He wasn't a man. He didn't have the ability to reason through it all and work through the grief. His emotions were a horrible whirlpool of conflicting impulses.

Suddenly he stood causing Diego to flinch in surprise. Felipe walked past him to the bookshelf that was standing next to the roaring fireplace. He pulled down a blue volume and handed it to Diego with a pleading look in his eyes. Diego glanced down to see the title Robin Hood etched in the cover. He reached out and took the book. "You want me to read to you?" Felipe nodded.

Diego stood and walked over to the fireplace. Felipe grabbed his arm and shook his head. He laid his head over on his hands as if sleeping. "You want me to read you to sleep?" Felipe nod was brief after a second's hesitation.

"Very well. Go get ready for bed, and I'll be in there in a minute," Diego told him. Felipe smiled before rushing off to get ready. Diego was glad to see him have some enthusiasm for something. Maybe he was going to be able to get over the pain of betrayal after all.

Diego glanced back down at the book. He had only been able to finish it recently himself. It was a wonderful story filled with adventure. Diego had found it interesting to read. After all, he could understand the hero in the book, fighting against an evil government. It related to his life in many ways. He knew Felipe would enjoy the book, because he was always waiting anxiously for the full report of what Zorro had done for the night.

He walked back to the small room that was Felipe's. His father had agreed with him that Felipe would sleep in the house. After all, he was to work in the house, available at all times, and he was such a smile child.

In other households, Felipe's preferential treatment might have caused uproar. The de la Vegas' servants had made no comment about the arrangement, even amongst themselves. The de la Vegas treated their servants in such a way that they all felt special. Doctors were called for sick children without thought, and parents never saw the bill. Loans were given and huge baskets of food "mysteriously" appeared on doorsteps when crops were meager. Sick servants were suddenly taken from their normal duty schedule and given small chores to handle while they were ill.

The de la Vegas were loved by all their servants, and Felipe was treated as a de la Vega by the servants. As for any orders given to him, they were given in the same manner orders had been given to young Diego. Diego had known that his father expected him to follow any request of adults be they caballero or servant, and Felipe was asked in the same casual manner that Diego had been asked. Like Diego, he followed every request and usually went farther than asked. Floors that were to be mopped usually ended up being a room cleaned from top to bottom.

Felipe was already in bed waiting for Diego. The older man grinned at the eagerness on his face. Diego was the only person in the world that knew Felipe could hear. As a child, he had lived in a world of silence. The de la Vegas had been unable to read him bedtime stories, something Diego had regretted. He had loved being read to as a child, and had believed that the bright boy would enjoy it, too. He had known that Felipe may have heard stories from his parents, but he had doubted the young boy had been read to from a book. Peasants were seldom able to read, and even if they could, they couldn't afford to waste money as such luxuries as a book. Books were for the wealthy only.

A few months after Diego had returned home, Felipe had shyly brought him a book. Diego had been confused at first, but Felipe had slowly signed that he would like Diego to read it to him. Diego had loved the request, and had often read to the young man in the privacy and security of the cave. He would sit in his desk chair and Felipe would sit in front of him, leaned against a wall. His eyes would be closed as he listened to Diego read the words. Diego knew that Felipe was imagining the scene as he read it. He had done the same thing as a child. Imagination was something that Don Alejandro de la Vega not only encouraged but demanded in his boys.

This was the first time he had actually read to Felipe in the hacienda. Tonight, he didn't care who might overhear him. He had a reasonable excuse anyway-it comforted Felipe for him to be in the room with him doing something. He opened the book and settled in to read the words that would transport him and Felipe into another world. He and Felipe ventured into the world of Old England, where an evil King ruled in the place of good one.

Felipe had fought sleep for as long as he could. He had fought it valiantly, but his body had finally triumphed in its search for rest. He found himself sitting on a bale of hay. The hay bounced under him and he realized that he was in a cart. In the cart. Felipe was almost comforted by the dream's horrifying sameness. The nightmare had occurred so many times that it was almost like an old friend in an evil way. It was an enemy whose familiarity brought comfort even as it brought terror.

He started to turn to the two faceless people with him, the two faceless people who were his parents in another life. They had loved him and raised him and he didn't remember what they even looked like. He turned to tell them that he could run now. He could run. He didn't need the cart, the horrible cart that was slowing their retreat. He knew with the certainty that dreams bring, they could outrace the shell that would eventually kill them, if he could only get out of the cart and run. He turned to tell his faceless parents that he could run when. . .

When a new terror welled in him. His parents weren't faceless like they had been before in a million nightmares and half-memories. His parents weren't pulling the cart this time. Don Diego and Don Alejandro were pulling the cart. He was startled, began shaking his head in denial. He tried to tell them that he could run. He could run. They just needed to let go of the cart so he could get out and run, but his voice was frozen just like it always was in these horrible dream-memories. He couldn't get their attention. Suddenly, the shell exploded-

Felipe sat up in his bed. He was shaking and sweaty and there was a horrible noise echoing in his room. Diego ran into the room and hugged him close. Felipe felt himself start to cry. He had lost his mother and father then, and today he had almost lost Don Diego and Don Alejandro.

Diego pulled away from him, still holding him, but looking him in the face. "Are you all right?" Felipe didn't need to be told that Diego had sat outside his room after he had fallen asleep. Diego had known, like Felipe had known, that tonight would probably bring back the nightmares. Felipe nodded, but he didn't let go of Diego.

Diego grinned at him, trying to ease his fears. He then looked over at the other side of the bed. "It looks like you broke a flower vase," he said kindly. Felipe glanced over surprised to see broken glass littering the floor next to his bed. The broken vase had been the source of the horrible noise. His breathing started to return to normal. Don Diego was safe with him, and Don Alejandro would return from the cattle drive tomorrow afternoon. They were both safe, and he was where he was supposed to be.

Diego looked at him sadly for a minute. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Felipe shook his head. He wanted to forget that today ever happened. He didn't want to discuss it. He had nearly left the two most wonderful people in the world.

Diego glanced down before looking him in the eyes. "I am sorry, Felipe," he said. Don Diego was apologizing? For what?

"I let you go with her. I let some thief waltz in here, claim to be your mother, and let her waltz out with you. I didn't have her stay with us for awhile so I could get a chance to know her. I didn't try to make any inquires about her history. I didn't protect you!" Diego nearly shouted, the anger he felt towards himself showing in his voice.

Felipe tried to comfort him. He pointed out that he was the one who had said she was his mother. "Yes, Felipe, you did, but you are a young man who desperately wanted his mother. You are a boy who has no real memories of that mother, and I knew that," Diego said. "You're becoming a fine man, Felipe, but you are still my responsibility."

Diego stood up from the bed and started to paste. "If you want to know the truth, I've spent years worrying about today. Oh, not that you would like a bank president's son, and two thieves would kidnap you in an effort to use you!" They both smiled weakly at each other.

"But I've worried that one day, somebody was going to show up and say something like 'Señora Deranoso' said. 'Oh, he's not Felipe, he's. . .he's-' I've heard so many answers in my mind-you are their son or their brother or their nephew or anything. Anything but mine."

He put his hand on Felipe's chin, holding up the young man's face so he could look him in the eyes. "You have been such a wonderful addition to this family. I've been terrified for years that they would come, and that I would have to let you go. I sometimes imagined that they would come when you weren't here, and I would send them away. I was so afraid of my response that I just let her take you away."

Felipe hugged him, and Diego returned it joyfully. Felipe pulled back and signed that Diego had nothing to apologize for as far as he was concerned. They had both made the mistake of believing her lies. Zorro had saved him though, just like Diego had saved him as a crying young boy alone on a battlefield. He loved Diego. Diego hugged him again. "I love you, too."

Later, after the glass had been cleaned and thrown away, Diego sat down and read some more of the story to Felipe, but this time he was the one who fell asleep. Felipe considered waking him so he could go to his own comfortable bed, but then he realized Diego would spend the night outside of his bedroom waiting to see if he were any more nightmares, and the chair was more comfortable than the floor.

Felipe reached over and picked up his rosary beads. They were the only item he had left from his mother, given to him moments before the shell had exploded. He gently rubbed his fingers over the well-worn beads.

A blinding light suddenly filled the room. Felipe sat back up and looked into the light. He watched shocked as the figure of a woman stepped out of the light. Felipe was reaching over to wake up Diego when he noticed her face. It was her face. His mother wasn't faceless to him anymore. She was standing in front of him.

"Mama," he mouthed. She smiled at him. She was beautiful.

"Oh, my dear boy, you have grown to be such a handsome young man," she said as she walked closer to the bed. Felipe looked back to see if Diego, normally such a light sleeper, was waking up from the sounds, but he slept on, oblivious to the miracle happening in the bedroom.

"I'm sorry, Mama," he whispered. He had killed them by slowing them down by ridding in the cart.

"You have nothing to apologize for, Felipe," she replied. "You and our valuables were in that cart. We could've picked you up and ran. You were a tiny little thing then."

She sat down next to him on the bed. "I'm calling you Felipe because that is your name. It is who you are now. The name you were once known by means nothing to you. It isn't a part of you," she answered his unasked question.

Felipe felt a chilly brush across his cheek. It was an odd feeling-cold, but filling him with a warmth he had never known before in his life. "Oh, my dear boy, don't you know that I am with you every day. I am in you, and as long as you live, I live," she told him with a serene smile. "I look over you every day, and protect you. How do you think Don Diego found you that day? He was supposed to have ridden around the battle site. I lead his horse to you."

Felipe was stunned by the knowledge. His mother was watching out for him. She had given him to Don Diego. He looked in her face and knew that she understood the conflict that had raged in him for years. He had felt guilty for being so happy with Don Diego and Don Alejandro, as if he was betraying the memory of his parents. He loved Don Diego like a father, and Don Alejandro was his grandfather. She knew that he loved them, and she was happy that he did. Felipe smiled and wished he could hug her, but something told him that he couldn't.

"Good-bye, Mama," he mouthed to her. She smiled, and then slowly disappeared. Felipe looked around the room expecting that something would be different, but it looked exactly the same. Diego still lay in the chair sleeping.

Felipe wondered for a moment if it was a dream, but then he felt the peace within him that he had never felt before, and knew with certainty that tonight had been real. He had finally a chance to say good-bye to his mother, and she approved of his new life. He could live it without feeling any guilt.

Felipe smiled as he lay back down to sleep. This time he knew his sleep would be dreamless. He had felt guilty for so long for enjoying this life, for enjoying these people. He had gone with Senora Deranoso out of that guilt. She had claimed to have been looking for him all these years while he had lived a happy and full life with the de la Vegas.

He was home. This was his home and the de la Vegas were his family. He would never again worry about being taken away from them. He doubted anyone would ever come looking for him, and if they did, he would love the chance to get to know them, but he would never leave his home or his family. He looked over at the now snoring Diego and smiled. He would tell Don Diego his decision in the morning so that he would never again have to worry about Felipe leaving. Perhaps it would help Diego deal with his own guilt.

Felipe rubbed the beads again. He gave thanks for the suffering in his life. Out of his tragedies he'd been blessed. He would always miss his mother and father, but out of that horror he'd been given the de la Vegas. Señora Deranoso had hurt his feelings by given rise to old doubts, but her actions had forced him to think about his life. He had finally made a decision that he had known needed to be made since childhood. He had decided that this was his life, and he would live it with these people. He would live with his family.

The end!

Thanks for reading!