AN: This is an AU of WD's Zorro with Guy Williams. Set during the second season, after Don Diego's return from Monterey. In this story, Don Alejandro has stopped his son from accepting the proposal of amnesty, *but* Diego did not unmask his father during their fight. So he doesn't know that his father is aware of his double identity.
An apple for Tornado
A soft coalescence of blue, purple and orange in the sky announced a cloudless dawn on the pueblo of Los Angeles when Zorro spread away the branches concealing the opening of his den.
Tornado's bridle loose in his gloved hand, Zorro entered and sighed of relief. Though it caused a slight shiver, his too warm body welcomed the pleasant freshness of the cave. His mask was drenched by a sticky sweat running down his dusty face and neck; his clothes, torn in several places, seemed glued to his skin.
In every aspect the night had been hot, and the adrenaline that had maintained him alert through the darkness had worn off a few miles ago, making his ride back to the safety of his lair painful and endless. To say he was stiff and exhausted was an understatement.
As Zorro guided his black stallion to his sheltered pen, the regular echo of the hooves on the granitic ground and the steady breath coming out of the nostrils eased his mind and his pounding heart. A silent prayer of grace for his fellow companion's endurance, swiftness, and dexterity rose in his mind. Maybe more than him, the extraordinary beast was in need of rest after the night-long wild course in the hills, chasing the thieves who had attacked the passengers of the stagecoach from Monterey, robbing them of their pesos and most precious jewels.
If he had neutralized three of the five men easily during the hold-up, the last two bandidos who had flown away with the haul had given him serious problems, dragging him in a hellish ride further inland in the rocky hills above the pueblo.
Zorro removed his gloves, untied his cape, his mask, and turned to put everything on the enclosure guardrail.
His sore shoulder and back complained at the movement, causing him to groan in pain as the memory of his fall in the rocks flashed in his tired mind. He had jumped from Tornado's back to catch one of the rascals. They had rolled down the hill, dragging in their wake a torrent of stones and dry earth.
After what had seemed like an interminable plummet, a larger rock had brutally stopped them. Groggy, he had extricated himself with difficulty, only to notice that the poor bloke had not been as lucky as him, his skull smashed during their roll.
A sad shadow darkened Diego's hazel eyes. Was the bag of pesos he had managed to retrieve worth a man's life, no matter how rotten a life it was? The question had tormented him on his walk back to the track. By the time he had reached it, the last bandido who detained the major part of the haul had vanished and so did Zorro's will to hunt him down.
Tornado's moist nostrils and tongue tickled Diego's palm, yanking his exhausted master back to the present and to his responsibilities toward his mount.
Diego gently patted his beautiful black stallion on his side, and stroked his nose. "You want an apple, don't you, Tornado?" he said, a faint smile on the face.
The horse raised his head and neighed, causing his master to chuckle. He was certain that the beast understood him better than any other human living by his side, save for Bernardo of course.
"I'll give you one, and then we'll both rest. Is this a honest deal to you, mi amigo?" Diego said, turning to his right to pick up the apple on top of the nearby bucket.
Bernardo always made sure that the wild horse's personal reserve was filled, and Diego almost feared that his father would begin to suspect that there was an apple thief. It was amazing the amount of apples that could disappear in a night, especially one like this one.
As he grasped an apple, the absurd image of Don Alejandro hiding himself behind an apple tree in the orchard to catch the robber made him chuckle. He was truly drained.
Diego stood up back straight, pivoting in the same movement to give his horse the fruit, and gasped as a sudden searing pain in his head took his breath away.
A black veil shrouded his vision, forcing him to seek an immediate support on Tornado with one hand, while his other arm fell like a dead weight along his side. His fingers lost their grasp on the apple which fell and rolled away on the straw mat that covered the ground.
Eyes closed and ears ringing, Diego took a firm grasp on the mane and pressed his forehead against the stallion's shoulder as all feeling started to fade. The acrid smell of the beast's sweat invaded his nostrils. He clung on the sensation of the cold contact of the horse skin on his face, of its sides slowly rising up and down. He was in the cave with Tornado; he could not faint now. His bed was steps away.
Unaware of the reason of his rider's sudden hug, Tornado moved forward and bent his long neck to grab his well-earned meal.
Startled by the move, Diego straightened himself, and struggled to keep his balance. He waited for a few seconds, not daring to move, but to his great relief, the dizzy turn was brief, and soon his sight was as clear as it used to be.
Breathing slowly, Diego moved back toward Tornado to at least remove the saddle and the bit. He would send Bernardo to brush it and clean its hooves later.
Once done, he moved to the bucket of clean water and splashed his face, neck, and arms, removing all the dust. He would need a bath before slipping back into Don Diego's skin, but for now it should be sufficient.
"Rest well, my friend," Diego said, patting the horse a last time before walking toward the underground passage that lead back to the hacienda, a hand brushing the cold granitic wall of the cave.
A few minutes later, he walked into the small confined room lit by the soft glow of candles. Bernardo was slumped against the wall, sleeping just under the ring of metal which commanded the opening of the concealed door giving access to his bedroom.
A faint smile lightened Diego's face. As expected, his friend had spent his night here, worriedly waiting for his return.
As silently as possible, he finished undressing, put on the clean night clothes that Bernardo had left for him on the desk, and tip toed toward the ring of metal.
The slight cracking sound made him winced. Bernardo was maybe mute but he had an excellent ear and, as he would not have the same excuse as him to laze in bed till noon, he did not wish to wake him up just now.
Peaceful shadows bathed Diego's bedroom when he walked in. A slight breeze filtered through the shutters, rustling the lace curtains.
Before giving his body what he craved for and slipping under the sheets, Diego moved toward his library and took out the first book within reach. He would put it on his bed next to him so it would leave no doubt in his father's mind why his naïve son was sleeping at undue hours.
Since their return from Monterey, Don Alejandro showed some signs of impatience and had intruded in his room twice already in the early morning, using a noise as an excuse, before letting him return back to his sleep.
As Diego pivoted with the firm intention to crash on his mattress, he suddenly found himself face to face with Bernardo and had to swallow a cry of surprise.
Heart jumping in his chest, he was about to mutter his irritation when Bernardo's facial expression stopped him.
"What is it, Bernardo? Something's wrong?" Diego asked, troubled to be stared at so intensely.
Bernardo nodded quickly and moved to the toilet-table in cherrywood to take the small mirror in the drawer. A small mirror that he put in front of Diego's face an instant later.
A sigh, mix of annoyance and exhaustion, escaped Diego's lips.
He had a swollen, dark purple bruise, large like two pesos above his right eye, stretching further under his hair. Though it explained the earlier dizziness and his constant headache, it was going to be quite hard to explain how he could have hurt his head during his sleep to his father.
Legs wobbly, Diego sat down on the edge of his bed. "Books don't cause such damage..." he said, thinking aloud before putting the one still in his hand on the nightstand. Maybe he could say that he had knocked on a shelf in the middle of the night?
Diego shook his head, and winced at the pain it caused.
No, it would not be credible. To provoke such an angry lump on his forehead, the impact should have woken up the whole hacienda. He had to find something else, but what?
Well too tired to give more thoughts on his predicament, Diego lay down on his bed, appreciating the contact of his head on the smooth pillow. As he closed his eyes, he briefly noticed Bernardo looking at the book on the nightstand with a very mischievous gleam in his eyes. The kind of gleam that needed neither complicated hands nor body movements to be understood.
Intrigued despite his tiredness, Diego raised on an elbow. "You have an idea, Bernardo?" he asked.
With a large smile on his face, Bernardo gave him the book and nodded, obviously proud of himself.