I don't know what came over me yesterday. Whatever it was, it just came at night and forced me to write this short story.

Written for Siean Riley, who always encourages me to write down my ideas.

Disclaimer: I do not own any character and I don't get any profits from writing except from my own fun.

Death of the Legend

It wasn't supposed to end like this. There was the alcalde's usual unfair tax, Zorro's usual intervention, effective as always, but...

"Zorro, look out!" cried the elder de la Vega, seeing that the outlaw couldn't escape. He rushed forward when the soldiers prepared to salvation. Alejandro reached Zorro, but he also jumped forward in the last moment, not allowing the caballero to protect him from the fire. The noise scared animals on the plaza and don Alejandro, before he had a chance to realize what had happened, was involuntarily catching Zorro, who was sinking on the ground. The man didn't even cry when the bullet shot him, only his legs buckled under him like two broken matches.

Zorro was too heavy to keep him. Alejandro knelt on the ground and supported the wounded man on his knees, keeping him as high as possible. With fluent movements, he was looking for the wound to save him.

"Zorro, look at me," he said quickly. "Someone get the doctor!" he called and focused again on the wounded man, who was gasping for air. "Señor, don't give up!" said Alejandro insistently, pressing his hand to the wound to stop the bleeding. Zorro's gaze wandered around as if he was looking for someone. De la Vega didn't waste his time to look back at the tavern, where Victoria should have been. Why didn't she come here...?

"Zorro, Zorro, don't give up!" Alejandro repeated desperately and it sounded almost like an order. Around, the soldiers managed to surround them, but no one dared to come closer to the caballero, who was keeping the dying legend on his knees.

The wounded man focused his gaze on him, and a shadow of weak smile appeared on his pale face.

"Always the same..." he whispered. Alejandro looked at him with surprise, not understanding what he meant.

"Zorro, don't give up!" This time the caballero's voice broke and the order sounded more like a plea. "You didn't let me protect you, let me save you!" he said feverishly, no longer caring about formalities for which there was no time.

"Forgive me..." Zorro's whisper was so low that Alejandro had to lean over him to hear him in the noise. He was lost. He couldn't see any sense in the wounded man's words, but he felt they were very important, both to Zorro and to him. But why?

"I... started... this... and I... will... end..." The whisper changed into a hoarse breath, weaker and discontinuous. Alejandro already knew there was no hope for Zorro. He somehow felt that for this man, known by everyone, but a stranger at the same time, was easier to die here, on his knees, with his head on his chest. He couldn't do anything, he could only keep him, as if he was keeping his own son, and help him pass away in peace and with dignity. It was just a moment, a minute, maybe two or three, when Zorro's breath became weaker and weaker. No one dared to move even one step, no one disturbed that silence the pueblo was saying good bye to its defender.

Alejandro hadn't even realized that the dying man was squeezing his hand until that squeeze loosened suddenly. Zorro's hand fell on the ground and only then the elder caballero noticed that he wasn't feeling that weakening breath and heartbeat. He ran his hand through Zorro's face and closed his eyes, careful not to remove his mask. His gesture took the spell from the alcalde, who, like everybody else, was looking motionlessly at that scene.

"At last." Ignacio de Soto flicked his hands like a person who got rid of a problem. He was the only one who looked pleased. "Don Alejandro, remove his mask," he ordered. The elder caballero took his gaze from the dead man.

"No."

"Señor..."

"No, alcalde," repeated Alejandro. "This man deserves respect, also yours. He didn't wish us to know his identity and you must respect it. Don't strip him from his dignity."

Ignacio de Soto stood silent at first, surprised, but then he moved forward. At the same time people around moved too. In a firm silence they stood between the alcalde and don Alejandro, still kneeling with Zorro's body on his knees. De Soto looked at them, then at his soldiers who didn't know what to do and he gave up. He let the people take Zorro's body and carry him to the church. Following them, don Alejandro thought he should ask Diego to say a few words at the funeral.

XXX

Not a single day ever was so long and difficult. Alejandro was returning to his hacienda with the feeling that many years had passed since the morning. Defending Zorro's honor had cost him more than he thought. For some reason he couldn't precise, he didn't want to take the mask and see Zorro's face. That was Zorro, that was the way people had known him and he should remain Zorro. Apart from the alcalde only Victoria, after she had regained consciousness, wanted to know. But she too, when she calmed herself a bit, agreed with the de la Vega. Zorro was put into the coffin and padre Benitez promised to watch over his body.

Alejandro regretted Diego wasn't in the pueblo. He had a feeling that his son would have done better than him, that he would have sooner convinced the people that they shouldn't disturb Zorro's peace. And maybe he would have been able to comfort Victoria, who refused to go from the church and stayed by the coffin.

He was surprised by the sight of Felipe. The boy was pacing on the yard, visibly upset and frightened. When he saw don Alejandro, he was scared even more. The elder de la Vega didn't need his son's abilities to understand his questioning look.

"Yes, Felipe, something very bad has happened," said Alejandro. "Zorro is dead."

He couldn't know he would cause such a reaction with his words. The boy stood for a long time and stared at him in shock, and then almost collapsed heavily on the stairs in front of the doors. Alarmed, Alejandro leaned over him.

"Felipe? What's wrong?" he asked, but the boy didn't move. "Diego? Diego!" he called his son. Hearing this name, Felipe nestled and shook from sobbing. Alejandro, more and more frightened, tried to get anything from him. Seeing that his son wasn't coming, the elder de la Vega almost forced Felipe to stand up. Then the boy did something unexpected. He grabbed his hand, the same that earlier this day the dying Zorro was holding, and led him to the library. With shaking hands it took him several times before he managed to open the secret passage in the fireplace. De la Vega's eyes opened with astonishment, as the boy went inside and looked expectantly at him.

Alejandro hesitated. Felipe stood in the passage with tears running down his cheeks. Several times he tried to sign, but each time he dropped his hands powerlessly and only stared at his patron. Under his gaze the elder caballero felt a sharp fear. Only now he began to realize that Felipe wanted to tell him something important. Something he didn't want to know. Something that deep inside, he already knew.

Finally, after a long moment, ho found courage and stepped over a furnace. Felipe grabbed his hand again and led him down the stairs. With each step Alejandro was getting more and more confident what he was going to see. What he was going to learn.

He wasn't mistaken. The old way of escape wasn't empty and forgotten like he had thought for years. The room hidden under the library was full of Diego, it almost emanated with his presence from every corner. But not only his. The black cape somewhere on the floor, weapons hanging on the wall, a restless, black stallion – it all belonged to Zorro. To Diego.

The caballero slipped on the chair next to the desk. Suddenly the words said by Zorro on the plaza made sense. It wasn't Zorro who said good bye to him, but Diego. His Diego, who wanted to tell him something before he died, but couldn't. Now he knew why Zorro had ask him for forgiveness, why he begged him with this shy whisper, full of trust. And he couldn't understand why he hadn't reassured him that everything was forgiven. He could only hope that Zorro, no, Diego, had already known that.

Alejandro wiped his eyes and rose slowly, as if he was suddenly many years older. He embraced Felipe, who calmed himself a bit, but froze in some frightening stupor, and they both went up the stairs to the library. Diego will not make a speech tomorrow. Tomorrow Zorro will be buried with all the respect he deserved. Zorro, not Diego de la Vega, will be remembered by the people. And he, Alejandro, will never say a word.