Hello everyone. This is the first story I have ever written for Zorro, though I have several other stories in LOTR and IPS. Recently I rediscovered the gem that is the Zorro series, and have been nearly eaten alive by multiple plot bunnies.
This takes place after the events of the season three finale, 'The Word', starting with Alejandro going to reconcile with his son after he called Diego a coward...and what arises from that moment.
Night had fallen over the pueblo of Los Angeles. The cry of coyotes rose, lonely in the still air. The stars burned brightly over the sleeping inhabitants of the small town...and those who were not yet retired for the evening.
Lights still burned in the de la Vega hacienda.
Diego de la Vega entered his quarters and forced himself to close the door quietly. Despite the temptation to slam the portal until it was reduced to splinters.
My only son...is a coward.
Diego winced at the mere memory of the afternoon. Had there ever been a day when so many things could go wrong? Felipe's witness of a murder. The attack upon the hacienda. The young man drawing the fire of the bandits to prevent injury to his adopted family. And Alejandro's scathing pronouncement of his opinion of his son.
Molars ground together. He had held his temper then...and he would hold it now. But it was hard. Never in the thirty odd years of his life had he wanted to strike his father so badly. The harsh words of Alejandro had wounded him more deeply than he would ever have admitted. If his father had not left in the next second, Diego doubted that his secret would still be safe. Before Mendoza and the other lancer he would have revealed himself. Flung his true nature into his father's face like a dueling glove.
Only later, in the cool darkness of Zorro's cave did he manage to calm himself. It helped that he had heard Felipe's voice. It helped that he knew his father's temper rose out of fear for the boy. It helped that when he saw Alejandro again, there was a distraught light in the elder don's eyes.
Nothing took the sting away completely. He had been forced to retire early to prevent himself from saying something he would regret later.
Once in his own chambers, Diego found himself truly exhausted. The day's events had been harrowing to say the least. Felipe's attempt to draw the fire of the bandits had frightened him half out of his wits. If he hadn't been so concerned for his ward's safety, he might still have erupted at his father's harsh, verbal assault.
Stubborn, bad-tempered, mule of a man! Diego flung his ruffled caballero shirt aside with unwarranted venom. The younger de la Vega scowled at the garment as though it had done him a personal wrong. Felipe's well-being was not all he had been worried about. His father had been wounded. Shot, at their own home. Diego felt his stomach flip queasily as he looked down at his hand and remembered the warm stickiness of his father's blood. He shuddered and sank down onto his bed, knees suddenly weak. He could have lost both father and Felipe.
Diego pushed both hands through his dark hair, mussing it. He was so tired. Weary. Physically, and emotionally drained. He was tired from the days' events. Tired of hiding from his father and every other person in the blasted pueblo...except for Felipe.
Kicking off his shoes, Diego decided that he was too exhausted to fetch a nightshirt and simply crawled beneath the covers. He was asleep almost before his dark head touched the pillow.
In the sitting room Don Alejandro stood. Paced. Sat. Stood once more.
The elder de la Vega couldn't sit still. Words had been spoken that afternoon, in the heat of the moment. Horrible, wounding words. He had meant them at the time, in his anger and fear for Felipe. Now that the danger was passed, all he could see was the hurt in his son's eyes.
A coward. He had called his son a coward.
And he knew; he knew that it wasn't true. Diego possessed courage, even if it was of a quieter, more studious bent than Alejandro was familiar with. The younger de la Vega was not a man inclined to strike with his fists or sword, but he used words and influence to great effect. Had he not been jailed by the Alcalde several times for things he had said?
So why on God's green earth did Alejandro feel the need to strike at his boy with vicious, verbal barbs?
The don sat down slowly once more and sighed. His good hand came up to pinch the bridge of his nose, in a half-hearted attempt to control the headache that would soon arise. He had been furious at the attempt on Felipe's life. The boy was like a second son to him. With his rage was a gut-wrenching fear. Felipe had deliberately left the safety of the hacienda. Alejandro could see that the boy carried no weapon away with him. He was alone. Vulnerable. Rarely in his life had the elder de la Vega felt more helpless. He was wounded, and Diego was right...he wouldn't have been able to help Felipe by going after the brigands.
Unfortunately, within his fear hid his temper. It was an ugly thing, and it rose always at the worst moment. His beautiful wife had warned him that it would get him into trouble. How right she was! He had needed a target to lash out at...and there was Diego.
Diego with his completely logical assertion that Alejandro would not be able to help Felipe when he had lost so much blood.
Diego with his gentle habits and bookish nature.
Diego was the target that Alejandro had chosen, and his sharp words struck a bulls-eye in his son's heart. He saw the pain before he strode angrily away. The shock.
The sharp slam of a door echoed in Alejandro's memory. Diego must have crashed it into the doorjamb as he and sergeant Mendoza left. The elder don grudgingly admitted that he was a little lightheaded at the time, so he didn't recall all that happened perfectly. Alejandro frowned to himself. Now that he thought on it, Diego had a temper too. Always had. When he was a boy, it had been his Achilles' Heel. He was forever involved in fist fights with the local bullies. Alejandro had chided him again and again, but he had to admit that he had been so proud that his son would not allow injustice to pass without trying to strike a blow...even when his opponent was roughly three times his size. The don smiled softly. On that occasion, his boy had worn a black eye for over a week.
When had the hot-tempered boy been replaced by the sedentary man?
Alejandro grunted in disgust at himself. It didn't matter. His son was his son. Whoever he had become now, that was who Diego was. He might be disappointed in his offspring, but that did not give him the right to flay his child with cruel words.
The don stood abruptly. He would go now. There was no sense in waiting. Diego was probably still awake reading anyway. Alejandro's quick, impatient stride carried him through the hacienda to the door of his son's chambers. His knock was perfunctory; the barest rap of his knuckles against the wood as he passed through the doorway. To his surprise, Diego was not in his sitting room, a book open on his lap.
Alejandro frowned. Now that he was of a mind to apologize, he didn't like being thwarted in the attempt. Where was his son? Surely he was not in bed already. Rounding the corner, the older man entered Diego's bedchamber.
The don sighed as he looked on his son's slumbering form. His irritation with the boy was rising once more. So late to rise in the morning, and now here he was already asleep! Alejandro grunted in disgust. He had raised a sluggard. One would think that the young man had been involved in a heavy battle instead of sitting at home! What had he done to be so tired?
Catching himself, Alejandro took a deep breath. He had come here to apologize. Not be riled further. Besides which, (he felt guilt rise quickly, swamping his ire) his son had done nothing wrong. Nothing that deserved cruel words. Diego was a dutiful son, and he was quick to pull his father from the trouble the hot-tempered man was so apt at falling into. Don Alejandro felt his gaze soften as his eyes traveled over his son's face.
"Oh, Diego..." The deep breath left his body in a heartfelt sigh.
Surprising himself, Alejandro did not turn and leave at once. Instead, he pulled a chair from the sitting room into Diego's bedchamber and settled himself comfortably. Now that he was here, he found he didn't want to leave his boy at once. The guilt and remorse he felt over his unkind words was deep. He did not always understand Diego, but he loved him with all the fierceness of his fiery nature. The younger de la Vega stirred briefly as the chair scraped against the hard floor, but quickly slipped back into deep sleep.
"I must confuse you sometimes, my son," Alejandro murmured. "I push you to act, and yet..."
Silence filled the room as the former soldier struggled for the right words. He wanted his son to act as he had when he was a child. A boy who took after Alejandro enough that Dona de la Vega despaired of her son reaching maturity with all his limbs attached to his body. Diego had been daring. Bold. Rash. Constantly in trouble because of his high spirits and his inability to sit by and watch the world spin around him.
And Alejandro had been proud of his son. So proud, and yet so fearful. Such boys grew into men that acquired increasing danger along with their increasing height. He had sent Diego to Madrid with the hopes that the boy would be steadied, and that he would learn the necessary skills to protect himself and others. That was the reason he had arranged for Sir Edward to instruct his son in fencing.
What had happened? Diego had left for Spain...and returned changed.
No longer interested in defending the world with his fists...apparently unable to master the sword...
Alejandro wanted to reawaken the youth that had been there before. The fiery, headstrong young man constantly in trouble. There were fleeting moments; instances where Alejandro thought that he could see the same spirit glittering in Diego's eyes. When he had ridden after the pirates who had kidnapped Victoria and Felipe. When Victoria herself was threatened by bandits breaking free of the jail. He rejoiced to see it, but at the same time a cold fear lurked in his mind. The same fear that had gripped him watching Felipe ride out. He wanted his son safe. As much as he wished Diego to act, his offspring's shortcomings often assured him that it would not be a good idea.
The don chuckled bitterly at himself. He was a fool. "I am sorry, Diego," he said softly. "I push you with one hand and hold you back with the other." Alejandro ran his left hand through his graying hair, troubled. "Forgive me, my son. I only want what is best..." he stopped himself with another sigh. Words meant nothing spoken to an sleeping man. In an uncharacteristic gesture of tenderness, the older man reached out and stroked dark hair back from Diego's forehead.
He looked so relaxed. The lines that were forming on his handsome face were smoothed by slumber. Alejandro frowned as he observed his son in the most unguarded of moments. Why should he seem so much more relaxed now than any other time? What tension in his scholarly offspring's easy life should carve such deep worry wrinkles into his forehead?
Diego stirred again. His right arm had worked itself free of the rich bed linens, and Alejandro found himself staring. Something was clicking in the back of his mind...
The arm resting on top of the gold and scarlet coverlet was muscular, the palm calloused. Not the arm of a scholar. A large, X-shaped scar was carved into the forearm. Carved deliberately. Nothing would make a mark like that, save for knife wielded by a man. Where had Diego gotten it?
Slowly, Alejandro rose to his feet. A gentle tug, and the cover slid from his son a little more. Diego sighed deeply in his sleep and rolled onto his side, allowing his father a view of his back.
There were scars on his son.
His knees suddenly felt very weak. The elder de la Vega sat back with a bump, trying to process what his eyes were telling him. He had not served as a soldier without knowing what battle wounds looked like.
There...the mark of a grazing bullet.
And that...a sharp blade.
There were many. So many. This was not the skin that should have adorned an idle man, prone to the study of books and nothing else. This was what Alejandro imagined Zorro's back to look like. The scars of his many battles adorning him as the badges of courage that they were.
So what were they doing on Diego?
Slowly, the don worked his right arm from from its sling, wincing as he did so. He stared at his own palm; at the callouses earned from hours of practicing with a sword. They were the same as his son.
Memories stirred in his brain. Sir Edmund arriving in the pueblo and asserting that he and Diego could easily have fought off four or five lancers. Alejandro had laughed, because it was well known that the younger de la Vega was no swordsman. Very well known. Diego had, in fact, taken care to make it well known...
Oh dear God. His son.
Sergeant Mendoza described a harrowing adventure, wherein Zorro, apparently bitten by a snake was taking refuge in a barn. The barn had been ordered burned by the Alcalde, and the masked man had escaped. If Zorro had indeed been bitten by a poisonous snake, he would have attempted to purge the poison from his body. He would have cut an X over the wound; sucked out the venom. It would have left a scar. Much like the one he had just discovered on Diego's arm.
Oh dear God. It couldn't be...
Diego was never present when Zorro appeared.
Their height. Heavens above, how could he have missed something so obvious? Who else towered over every other man in the pueblo other than his son? Their eyes! Zorro had blue eyes. A rarity amongst those who lived in Los Angeles.
Alejandro couldn't breath. The books, the poetry...the seeming indolence...it was so simple. So brilliant. No one would look at Diego de la Vega and suppose that this studious, gentle man was anything other than what he appeared at first glance. No one.
Not even, it would seem, his own father.
I share your grief. More than you will ever know, señor. The words bounced around his head with bruising intensity. At the time, he had hardly heard what Zorro had to say. Mercedes lay bloody and still in his arms; he had attention only for her. Only later did he wonder at the man's obvious sincerity. Now, it was so clear.
Through the rush of bewildering amazement came a sudden stab of pride. His son was Zorro. His son. Diego. The boy hadn't disappeared after all. His son was courageous. A heroic champion for the people who could not defend themselves. His son! Alejandro found a smile pulling back the corners of his mouth, his eyes lighting up...he actually reached out to shake Diego awake. His hand closed over his son's shoulder.
Diego flinched, even in the depths of slumber.
The older don released his son so quickly, the flesh might have been searing hot. His brow furrowed as he leaned forward. Upon closer inspection, the shoulder he had just squeezed was decorated with a very prettily colored bruise. The former soldier swallowed hard. His joy was fading, rapidly being edged out by the cold fear of the discovery he had made. His son was Zorro. His son. The boy that was constantly endangering himself hadn't disappeared. His son was courageous and selfless. A trait that he could not hide even in his mild-mannered persona. He was constantly putting himself into harms way to protect those who could not defend themselves. His son!
In danger, all the time. As the scars and bruises would attest.
Not only in danger of physical blows as Zorro, but always taking the verbal abuse that followed Diego de la Vega!
"Oh, Diego..." Alejandro suddenly buried his face in his hands, overcome. "Why didn't you tell me?" he whispered, unwilling to wake the man that lay in what he now knew to be well-earned respite. He had to have told someone. One thing was very clear to the older man, that had hit him again and again whenever his thoughts turned to Zorro, someone had to be helping the Fox. The way he appeared whenever there was trouble, his skill at disappearing...someone had to be there behind the scenes. Someone who wouldn't...or couldn't...talk. Felipe. Of course. The only person to know Zorro's secret was the boy who would never be questioned because it was well known that he could not speak.
More memories rushed through the don's mind and these made him flinch with renewed guilt. How many times had he put his son down? How many times had he made cutting comments, or belittled Diego's skill in areas he assumed the man knew nothing about. All the while, it was a ruse. A persona that hid his talents so effectively...
Alejandro swallowed hard. The mask hid Diego's talents so effectively that not even those who were supposed to be closest to him would ever guess what manner of man they were dealing with.
"God help me," the elder de la Vega whispered at his son's back. "I don't know you at all."
That's all for now! Hope you all enjoy; the next chapter should be up quite shortly. :) Oh, and if anyone reading this is at all familiar with any of my other stories, you know that I have absolutely NO shame when it comes to requesting reviews. I will beg. On my knees. I love reviews SO much!