TITLE: Unquestionable Heart

AUTHOR: Robin aka icyfire

FEEDBACK: All kinds welcomed. Praise, complaints, suggestions for improvement? Send it my way!

DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Never have been. Never will be. I play and then set them back in the sandbox without making one single cent from them. I also don't own a lot of the dialogue in this piece. It was created by the pen of Bruce Lansbury. It was brought to life by Duncan Regehr, Patrice Camhi, Juan Diego Botto, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., and guest star Rosalind Bennett who played a great Francisca.

DISTRIBUTION: Please ask me first.

RATING: G

SUMMARY: A missing scene from the episode "Deceptive Heart." Well, that's what it started as, but it has a lot of the episode included g. The original scene was suppose to Diego telling his father about Francisca's deception, but then I wanted to tell a little more of Diego's dilemma. His anger against Ramirez was intense. He wanted this man hanged!

A/N: Again, I have to thank Kathy Green and Carrie for their great betas.

"Anger brings a very pretty blush to your cheeks," I compliment the beautiful woman in front of me. I am being totally honest; she is absolutely lovely with the added color. I am surprised my own face is not flushed with anger. Rage nearly overwhelmed me earlier when Gomez drew Victoria into his arms, trying to force her to accept his kiss. My feelings for Victoria grow stronger every day.

"Oh, anger never makes me blush," she replies, wearing a beautiful smile. My heart pounds a little faster. I cannot help but compare her to the lady who may become my stepmother soon. Many of the men in the tavern would prefer Francisca de la Pena's cool beauty, but I find that Victoria's vibrant looks-as well as her honesty-stir my blood. The inner goodness shines out from her; her honesty and courage are as noticeable as a lovely new dress. However, the Widow de la Pena is hiding secrets. I know, because I can recognize a fellow masquerader. She gave a reasonable explanation for the cameo, but I am unable to trust her. Why?

I hear the alcalde's men approaching the tavern. So, I regretfully kiss Victoria's hand and leave through the kitchen window. Walking carefully over the tiles on the roof, I again start thinking about Señora Francisca. Why can't I trust her? Is it just that I am unwilling to accept another woman into my mother's place? I have waited years for my father to find a new love, but now that the moment is here, do I find the idea repugnant? I always thought I would welcome anyone into his life that would bring him joy. Maybe it is just her age. After all, she is closer to my age than Father's, and that makes it hard to accept her as a potential new mother.

Almost where Toronado awaits me, I spot a man wearing a sombrero and pancho riding up to the tavern. He does not notice me watching him from the roof. After stopping his horse next to the inn's wall, he climbs up to a second floor window. What mischief is he up to? Cautiously, I walk over to that window and peak in to find the man from the horse talking to another man. Suddenly, the man pushes off his sombrero, releasing a long flowing mane of hair, and my heart sticks in my throat. The man is a woman-Francisca. Even more upsetting to me is how she is now passionately kissing the man in the room. How will I ever tell my father?

I briefly told Felipe what happened in the pueblo when I returned. After watching me brood in the library for an hour, Felipe brings me our swords. Smiling, I stand up to take my blade from his hand. Even though I have had little time to practice with him, Felipe has accomplished much in the last couple of months since I've returned home. "Okay, Felipe let's see what you have learned." We both stand in the en garde position, but my mind remains on my problem. "What a dilemma. How do I tell my father that the woman he is in love with is involved with another man?" Felipe-with the nonchalance of a youth who has yet to have his heart broken-shrugs. We parry. "It will break his heart, but I have to tell him."

"Tell me what, Diego?" I hear my father's voice ask as he enters the room. Felipe and I are back in the en garde position, and I can only hope the horror of being caught that is on my opponent's face is not mirrored by my own. Fortunately, despite the surprise he's feeling, Felipe quickly acts, knocking the sword out of my hand with his.

My father laughs, and I give myself a quick but stern lecture to never fence inside the hacienda again. "Give it up, son. Try as you will, you will never be a swordsman." He picks up the sword and hands it to me. "Now, you had something important to tell me?"

I pretend to think. The words are there pounding on my brain, but instead I say, "Yes, but the exertion has driven it right out of my head."

My father, shaking his head, walks out of the room. "Just don't hurt yourself with that sword, Diego!" he warns. Felipe looks at me with an expression of amused understanding. I shrug, embarrassed a little by my own cowardness.

Later, I-again lost in deep thought-walk beside my father. My mind gives me strict orders to tell him, but my heart has yet to find the courage. I know that Francisca is using him in some way, that she is probably after his wealth. However, I also understand that my father has had such joy in her companionship, and I am not like Felipe. I have felt the pains of a broken heart. I must tell Father, even if it hurts him. His words drag me away from my thoughts; I am unable to believe what I am hearing.

"An Easter wedding? Isn't that being a trifle hasty?" I ask, dreading the moment when I must tell him the horrible truth. Maybe I can somehow talk him out of this fiasco without revealing what I have learned.

"How ironic," Father answers. "It is always the young who is so impetuous. They have all the time in the world." No, Father is committed to this course of action, and I learned when I was a child that it took a large wind to knock him off course. I must tell him the truth before it is too late.

"What if she is not the woman you think she is?" I force myself to ask. My heart is pounding in my ears and my palms feel incredibly damp. I'm surprised Father cannot hear the beat. It is so loud.

He can, however, hear something in my voice. "Diego, your tone disturbs me. Do you know something I don't?"

I cross my arms in an unconscious effort to shield myself from his pain. "Father, this is very difficult for me to say-"

"Alejandro, dearest!" Francisca rushes up to us, interrupting me. "I've been looking for you."

My father smiles at her, and my stomach turns at the sweet look he gives her. "We've been discussing the wedding," he tells her kindly. I feel my jaw clench as she stands in front of me. Honor means everything to me. My father taught me to respect it at an early age. Francisca and her lover have no honor.

She smiles innocently, and I fight the urge to shake her. "We have so much to prepare," she laughs. Father remains oblivious to my anger, but Francisca sees it. I can tell by her worried glances in my direction that she senses the contempt I feel for her.

"Precisely!" Father is still smiling at the beautiful lady before him. He does not know that she has the heart of a viper. Her beauty and her seemingly gentle nature blind him. "Now, you both will have to excuse me. I have an appointment with my lawyer. Francisca has suggested a contract, and I have agreed."

He kisses her hand before he leaves while I struggle to control my angry breathing. So, she suggested a contract. Her scheme is worse than I thought. She and her lover plan on taking over this estate somehow, which means they have already planned my death. Of this fact, I am certain. What I am unable to decide if they just planned on using my father's grief to control the estate or his death was planned to take place soon after mine. Probably both.

I have to give her some credit. She has nerve enough to confront me while I'm this angry. Anyone who knows me, the real me, would warn her that I can be quite deadly in my anger, especially against someone who has no honor. However, there is no one in the territory, besides Felipe, who really knows me anymore. Maybe she trusts the fact that I am a gentleman, something I struggle to remind myself. "You don't trust me, do you, Don Diego?" Perhaps she believes she will be able to "assure" me as she almost succeeded in doing earlier, before I found out the truth about her.

"A good friend of mine, someone I trust, saw you with your lover last evening," I tell her flatly.

"Can I convince you that what your friend saw was not what it appeared to be between Ramirez and me?" She still refuses to look at me, a wise move on her part.

I do not bother to answer the question. Instead, I focus on the information she provided. "Ramirez . . .your lover." I want to know more about this man who is scheming against my family.

"Once," she answers. "I was younger, without parents. Easily seduced. Later, I realized what a monster he was, but by then I was virtually his slave."

I keep my arms crossed, immune to any of her charms. If it were my heart she was playing with, if it were me she was scheming against, I could find it within myself to easily forgive her for being led astray by her love for this man. It is a passionate emotion that has led many people astray. However, it is my father's heart she will break, and that I cannot so easily forgive. "My friend did not see a master and slave at the tavern," I tell her, a little kinder. "The truth," I demand with the edge back in my voice.

She begins to wipe tears from her eyes. These tears I believe are real. From honest regret at her actions or simply remorse for being caught, I do not know nor care. "Two months ago we were on a boat out of San Carlos. Ramirez's luck was out. He was desperate. I'll regret to my dying day for having introducing him to kind, open-hearted woman who told him of her correspondence with your father."

I realize with dread what happened. My father's correspondent-the real Francisca-was supposed to sail before coming to meet him. "Señora de la Pena." It is not a question. I know the answer.

"The last letters with the suggestion of marriage were written by Ramirez, in her hand," she confesses.

"So you would marry my father and this scoundrel would take over his estates." I leave it unspoken that, in order for him to do so, I had to be dead. While her choice in men is deplorable, I can sense her intelligence. She knows, as well as I do, what my fate was to have been at Ramirez's hand. "And the real Señora de la Pena?" I ask, knowing the answer, but still needing to hear it.

"Francisca" refuses to meet my eyes. "Ramirez drowned her off the boat."

I do not speak for several moments. My anger and sadness have increased tenfold. My father has lost a dear friend while I have the lost the opportunity to meet the real Señora de la Pena, who could have been the woman to fill my father's heart. Even if she was only a friend, she could have brought great joy into our household, and Ramirez stole that from us. I will see this man hanged. I want no man's death, but I want no one else hurt by him ever again. "So he is truly a murderer." Why would such a lovely woman stay with such a monster?

"He will be at the tavern later. Have him arrested. I will testify at his trial," she tells me. I'm surprised at her words. I know that, no matter how much she protests, she loves him. Maybe she has finally realized that she has a responsibility to society, and that sometimes loving people means forcing them to face the consequences of their decisions. Or maybe she is just trying to save her own skin. I do not care. I simply want to protect Father and to make that fiend pay for what he has done.

"You will be on the next coach out. You will leave a gentle, but firm, message to my father explaining your change of heart," I tell her. Perhaps I can save my father from some heartache. I know his pride, and how upset he will be at himself for believing their trickery. If he never learns of it, perhaps he can heal faster.

"Anything. I swear," she promises me.

"Surely I will be at the tavern. Surely Ramirez will hang," I assure her before walking away.

I find Felipe and immediately ask him to bring the carriage around. I plan to go directly to the tavern, because this problem is one that Diego de la Vega will solve. I'm not sure, yet, how I will handle Ramirez without letting it be known he was trying to steal my father's estate, but I will.

I turn to go to the front of the hacienda to wait, but I stop when I spot a homing pigeon flying in the sky, heading towards the pueblo. Ring-necked doves, grouse, and quail all abound in California, but not homing pigeons. Francisca has sent a warning to Ramirez. Now this problem has become one for Zorro. I have no doubt that when Diego de la Vega rides into the pueblo, he will be shot dead. A grieving father would gladly accept the love of a beautiful wife. However, I have a plan; the bust I was making of myself when "Francisca" arrived will be perfect!

I return to the hacienda, saddened by the events that just happened in the plaza. I have to tell my father the truth before Mendoza arrives to get Francisca. I take off my mask and smile weakly at Felipe. He returns the smile, knowing I need the encouragement to face the upcoming task.

I was right. Ramirez, and his newly hired gang, shot the mannequin "driving" the de la Vega carriage, thinking it was me. Francisca knew what would happen when she sent the note to Ramirez, but I have a hard time accepting that she too must spend time in jail for her crimes. She is truly lovely on the outside, but so ugly on the inside where it matters. Father cannot be spared any of the heartache after all.

"Father," I say as I approach him in his study. "I have to talk to you."

He looks up and begins to smile, but stops when he sees the look on my face. "This looks serious, my son. What's the matter?"

"Father, today-uh, I'm sorry. I was stopped-by Zorro-He told me that there was a man named Ramirez, who wanted me dead, waiting to ambush me when I rode into the plaza," I tell him, stuttering like a ten-year-old child confessing to the breaking of a glass.

"What!" Father stands in amazement.

"Father, please, sit," I say, taking charge of my voice. I have to do this horrible task, and stuttering my way through will only make it harder on Father. "Father, Ramirez is 'Francisca's' lover." My father's face looks pinched. "It seems-She is not the widow de la Pena. She is a con woman who was trying, with her lover, to get the de la Vega estates."

"Is Zorro certain Francisca is involved? Is he sure that she isn't who she says she is?" Father looks shell-shocked. I have only seen him this upset once before in my life-the night of my mother's death. He had the same look of disbelief and grief on his face then. I know Francisca's deception will be quickly forgotten in a way that mother's death never will be.

"He saw her with Ramirez in his room at the tavern. He had warned me earlier that Francisca was not who she appeared to be. I tried to tell you earlier, but-I confronted Francisca, and she confessed the whole plot to me. I'm afraid the Widow de la Pena is dead; Ramirez murdered her. He is the one who sent the letters suggesting marriage. I'm sorry." I look in his eyes the entire time, but I wish I could look anywhere else as I see the pain increase.

"I've been such a fool. You tried to warn me, but I guess just wanted to believe the beautiful face instead," Father sighs, looking older than his years.

"I don't think so. You were half in love with the woman of the letters. You wanted to a chance to love that woman. Francisca's beauty was only an added bonus to you," I reassure him. I know, in my heart, that if the Widow de la Pena had ever made it to Los Angeles, my father would have married her. They somehow connected in all those letters they exchanged during the last five years. I regret her passing far more than I thought possible. Was it not I who, only a couple of days ago, chided Father for considering marriage to a woman he had never met? I now find myself mourning the loss of a stepmother I never had.

Father shakes his head. "You can't understand, Diego."

"Understand what? The way the craving for love changes your brain to mush? How looking on her face seems to make the day better? The knowing that the day you marry her you are going to be the happiest man in the world? I understand, Father. I understand," I tell him, lost in thoughts of Victoria. She will bring joy and laughter to this house.

I notice that Father is now looking at me curiously, his thoughts about Francisca forgotten for a moment. I realize that to him I am much like Felipe. To his knowledge, a woman has never taken my heart. He does not know about Victoria, and I cannot share it with him now.

However, I can share Zefira with him. It shocks me to realize that I have not done so yet. When I first returned home, I planned on telling my father everything about my time at university, but then Zorro was born and secrets were created that had to be kept. I do not think I told him a single event or person that I knew outside of the classroom, but I find it hard to believe that I did not even share my near marriage with him. Part of the reason I know is because Victoria quickly filled my broken heart. Zefira was a young man's first love. She broke my heart, but I am glad she did. She left it open for Victoria.

"I meet a young señorita when I was in Spain. I was passionately in love with her. She had the most beautiful smile I had ever seen. I was lonely in Madrid. I had a lot of friends, but I missed home. I missed the people and the places I grew up knowing. She took away that loneliness. With graduation approaching, I decided to ask her to be my wife." My voice is shaky as I admit my long-forgotten emotions.

Father gasps in surprise. His wide, unblinking eyes stare at me. "You planned on asking a lady to marry you? You never even told me anything about her."

I smile at him, trying to help soothe the sting of my secret. "I did mention her once in a letter. I went into great detail about the beautiful lady I met the night before at a ball. I think I even admitted to writing a couple of pieces of poetry about the lovely Zefira."

He grins at me, and I watch as he begins to relax. "Zefira-I remember, but that was the only letter you mentioned her in, and usually your letters were filled with details about your studies. I just assumed-I never thought you had gotten close enough to a woman to think about marriage to her."

Marriage-I plan on marrying Victoria. She will make a perfect de la Vega, and she will keep me on my toes. Just the kind of wife I need and want. "I did more than plan, Father. I asked her just a few days before your letter arrived asking me to come home."

"She turned you down?" he asks quietly, understanding.

"No, she accepted. I planned on us coming home and getting married here, but she said she wanted to be my wife immediately. So, I went to the priest and made arrangements." I am again lost in the memories. Looking back, I wonder why she never showed. She was always an honest and direct person, so her failure to contact me in any way was unlike her. I thought she was the type to tell me if she had changed her mind.

"You almost got married? You never told me! I-What happened?" His hands shake slightly as he walks back towards his seat behind his desk.

"I don't know. For some reason she never showed, and you called me home before I ever saw her again. I don't know why." He is hurt that I kept such an important event in my life from him. One day he will be furious when he finds out that I kept Zorro from him. Father was my closest friend when I was growing up, and I mourn the loss of that closeness. I am thankful that I have Felipe with whom I can share my secrets, but I wish I could have them both as confidantes.

"I never thought to even ask, Diego. I should have asked a few more questions about Madrid, but you were so eager to discuss what happened here while you were away. Now I know why the beautiful señoritas here haven't attracted your attention," Father grins, so relieved to know that I am interested in one day getting married that he has decided to forget the fact I kept a near-marriage a secret from him. "I'll make a deal with you, Diego. You work on getting over your broken heart, and I'll work on getting over mine. We need the touch of a lady in this household."

I wish I could tell him about Victoria. "Deal! Now let's go wake the lovely 'Francisca' or whatever her name is from her siesta."

I knock on her door. She opens it and her eyes widen when she sees me standing behind it. After all, she did expect me to be dead by now. She looks down and the hand on the doorknob trembles. She knows she has been caught. There are no options for her now.

Her voice is calm. "The soldiers are coming." It is not a question. She knows the answer.

"They are on their way here right now." My words are so cold I am surprised that ice does not hang from my words. Earlier, I sent Felipe to the cuartel with a note for Mendoza, so he and his lancers should be here any minute if I have judged correctly.

"I'll get my cloak," she says softly, turning back into the room. Her shoulders are slumped in defeat. My father, standing beside me, watches her sadly. One day, I will be able to forgive her for the pain she has caused. One day, but not today.

Outside, I listen as "Francisca" talks with my father. "Señor, the real Francisca showed me some of your letters. You made her very happy," she tells him, and I am pleased that she is helping to heal some of his pain. I wish my father had a chance to meet the real letter writer. I wish she had a chance to meet my father. Ramirez stole much from my family, something of a far greater value than all of our money.

"I only wanted to say, if I had met a man like you instead of a man like Ramirez, I think I would have been a better woman," she finishes. It only takes me a moment to realize that she is telling the truth. She is an easily influenced woman.

I think again of my Victoria. Her pure heart would have been broken if she had fallen in love with a man like Ramirez, but she would have stopped him from harming anyone, even if she was hurt herself in the process. I am blessed to be falling in love with such a wonderful woman. She is the kind of woman who demands that her man live up to her standards, instead of being willing to live down to his. Her heart and loyalty are unquestionable. We will be stronger together than apart, like my parents were, like her parents were.

Father watches "Francisca" ride away in the paddy wagon that Mendoza is driving. I assure him that he will be over it soon enough. "In the meantime," he begins. "There's a widow that lives in the next valley, Morena Gonzales. She has a very pretty and very marriageable daughter, and I thought perhaps you and I could take a trip over there-"

I'm amazed he is even considering it again so soon. "Father, surely you're not-"

"Not for me, Diego! For you my boy! Babies, Diego! I want babies!" he says laughing. I cannot help laughing with him.

We turn to walk back into the hacienda with lighter hearts. "By the way, what ever happened to that fine bust you did of yourself?"

I want to laugh, but I cannot. "Oh. I've started another one."

"Why? I thought it was very good," Father says.

"I'm afraid it received a rather critical public reception," I reply, thinking of the large hole now in its cheek from Ramirez's gun. Father would be amazed at how critical the reception actually had been.

The End

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