Author's Note: I think this is all I can come up with. I've been looking at it for weeks without improvement. I hope you like it. I tried to make it more funny, but… my creativity is dry at the moment I guess. Thanks for the reviews (in any language!), hope next story is better :)
Diego took another deep breath as he stared at the closed door. A servant came to answer the third knock, and froze in confusion when she saw Diego standing there and not answering the door. Diego had been sitting by the window for the last two hours waiting for her. He dismissed the servant and finally opened the door. Victoria stood still on the other side, and neither said anything.
Eventually Diego stepped back and gestured for her to enter. Victoria walked inside, but didn't turn around. Diego leaned against the closed door and wondered if he should say anything. She didn't turn around, so he walked past her into the library. He'd put his father to bed after the eventful day so he could speak privately with Victoria if she came to call. Diego gestured to a chair for her and fell into one himself. He watched her pace around the room for a moment before he looked back at his hands in his lap.
Victoria picked up a book and set it back down, looking around the library at everything except for the man sitting behind her. She glanced out of the window at the full moon casting everything in a silvery shadow. Leaning against the window, she finally turned to face the man behind the mask. He slouched in a chair playing with his fingers in his lap, his legs stretched out in front of him. At first glance he appeared relaxed, but she was looking now, seeing everything she'd always missed before.
After Diego had left, she'd been furious. Stay in her room? As if she was some child? Who did he think he was to order her around?
She'd frozen in her room on her way to her bedroom door. Who did she think he was? That was the question of the moment…of her lifetime. She'd collapsed back onto her bed and hadn't moved for probably hours. She didn't move now, either. She clasped her hands in front of her and remembered something else from the scene in her bedroom this morning. Zorro hadn't kissed her hand before he left her.
She turned her head to find the clock she heard ticking in the otherwise silent room. She'd always imagined she and Zorro would have so much to say to each other when Zorro's mask was finally lifted. She thought she'd be talking to a stranger, though. Was Diego a stranger? She had to admit to herself he wasn't. All along, he'd been there. He was much more integrated into her daily life than Zorro ever was.
Victoria stood away from the wall in surprise when Felipe walked out of the fireplace. Diego barely glanced up, and Felipe turned to smile hesitantly at her.
"He's afraid you'll be angry with him for pretending to be deaf," Diego muttered after a moment, still staring at his hands.
Victoria tried to focus on the boy instead of the fact that he'd appeared from out of nowhere. "Pretending?"
Felipe nodded and his smile grew as he held out a potted plant with brilliant yellow flowers.
Victoria stared at the plant in confusion.
"He wants you to have it. He's becoming quite the gardener, like my father. That's from his garden out back." Diego barely glanced up at her when he added, "Zorro's garden."
Victoria noticed Diego was still mostly talking to his hands. She'd never realized before how animated he usually was. People might think he was silly, might not understand whatever he was talking about, but Diego was mostly excited about things. Happy about life.
Felipe nodded at her, and Victoria smiled and thanked him. Felipe seemed unsatisfied with Diego's explanation and walked over to Diego to nudge his shoulder.
Diego sighed and turned an annoyed glare at Felipe. "The flower is also useful. Treats mild depression." Felipe pushed at his shoulder again. "And he uses it when I get hurt. Thinks he's a doctor now," Diego added with a grumble.
Felipe crossed his arms and glowered down at Diego.
"Felipe, Thank you." She held out her arms and he stopped glaring at Diego to come give her a hug. "I'm not mad at you. Thank you for taking care of him."
She could see Diego over Felipe's shoulder, and was shocked at the look of longing she saw in his expression before he looked back down at his hands. How much had he kept hidden from her? Victoria ruffled Felipe's hair and nodded toward the door. Felipe smiled broadly at her and gave Victoria an encouraging look before leaving them alone.
Victoria gently set the plant down on a table. She stroked a hand down a drooping petal, ran a finger through the long stamens. She knew what a stamen was because of Diego. He talked to her all the time, even teaching her the parts of a flower. People complained that he lived in books, but all his knowledge made him see life more abundantly. He appreciated the beauty of a flower, but also knew its uses.
"So everything is okay? Your father? No one suspects?"
Felipe used it when Diego got hurt. A chill raced down Victoria's back and she pulled her fingers away from the flower and turned back to look at Diego.
Diego brushed his hands down his pants and laced his fingers together again on his stomach before he finally looked up at her. "The alcalde doesn't think very much when it comes to Zorro. He's blinded by his ambition to catch me. I guess today I'm glad."
Victoria was quiet for a few moments, dropping her eyes to the floor again before she got up the courage to speak. "Like I was blinded?"
Diego took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "You weren't blinded. I worked very hard so that no one would figure it out. It's my fault, not yours."
"No, I don't think it is."
Diego watched her for a long time while she glanced around, before her eyes finally came back to rest on him. "You're not a foot taller than your father."
Diego couldn't keep a corner of his mouth from turning up in a slight grin. "Did I say that?"
Victoria nodded. Diego shrugged and looked back down at his hands, though now he still had half a smile on his face. She took a deep breath. "It's been a big day."
Diego sat up a little straighter, but rested his head on his hand, still slouching as he looked at her. "Thank you for staying out of it. I know it must have been difficult for you."
"Difficult for me?" Victoria flushed, her guilt rushing back to her at his simple thanks. She walked over to Diego's chair and knelt down next to him, resting her hands on the arm of his chair. She glanced at his hand in his lap, afraid to reach for him in case he pulled away from her.
"I'm sorry for how I've treated you, for how I reacted earlier. I'm sorry. I'm not sure what I was thinking earlier today, but I did a lot of thinking after you left."
"Come to any conclusions?"
Victoria's fingers fidgeted nervously on the arm of the chair as she stared at her hands. "I think…if you're not too mad…I think today can be a good thing."
"You said you loved me." Victoria glanced up at him, but his expression revealed nothing. "You said some other things."
Victoria bit back her frustration. "I do know you. Sometimes you slipped when you weren't wearing the mask. You stood up to the alcalde." Victoria smoothed a hand over the lace which covered the arm of Diego's chair. "I've always considered you my best friend. Zorro may have hidden from me, but you never did."
"I never wanted to. I didn't want to put you in danger." Diego couldn't help it anymore. A finger reached out to stroke her cheek, and Victoria took his hand, kissed it and held it between hers.
She glanced around, intimidated now by the library she'd been in dozens of times throughout the years. "You really want to marry me?"
Diego smiled. "You sound so surprised." Diego ran a thumb over the back of her hand. "Only if you love me, too. Zorro is needed right now, but I'm a peaceful man. I'll never be a man of action without the mask. I want a quiet life, and someone to share it with. I manage cattle and breed horses, and I read books and play in my lab. My home is two miles from the pueblo. This is where I live. This is what our life would be."
"You come to the pueblo all the time. You're in my tavern almost every day!" Victoria blushed when Diego just smiled at her, and she looked down at their hands again when she realized he only came to see her.
"You've never expressed an interest in getting married before," Victoria whispered as she stroked a finger over his hand.
"The woman I wanted was in love with a legend. Hard to compete."
Victoria could see he honestly believed his words. She sat back on her heels, sad when he took his hand back.
"You said we could start over. We have a history. Two histories. We shouldn't have to start over." She stared at her hands for a moment before meeting his eyes again. "I'd like my ring back."
"Just like that?"
"Does it have to be more complicated? We've waited four years."
"I wish it wasn't. I'm not sure you've thought this through. Getting married is forever, Victoria."
"I know that," Victoria snapped.
"It would mean giving up your tavern." Victoria raised her head, and he could see surprise in her eyes. "Or at least hiring a manager. Sharing your life with someone means living together. Working together. I want children. You don't have to cook and clean, but you'd have a large house to manage. I have every confidence you can do it, but do you want to?"
"That's what I've always wanted, Diego." Victoria glanced around and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry I…I guess I never thought about it…about what Zorro's life was like. I've always been on my own."
"And you can't marry me because I'm Zorro." Diego's voice was firm after all their hushed tones.
"Diego," Victoria scolded, "that's not why I'm here."
"Are you sure?"
"What do I have to say to convince you?" Victoria looked back at her hands in her lap and bit her lip to keep the tears out of her eyes. She'd been so blind, had been so callous to him for too long.
"Then there's still the issue of Zorro. You'd have to make everyone believe you don't care about him anymore. People will talk. And how many times have you called out to Zorro when I was in danger?" He sat up to be closer to her and waited for her to look up at him. "Next time, will you call out Zorro or Diego?"
Victoria was quiet. "If I'm living here, I won't be in town when you're fighting. I won't be there to help you."
"And you won't be there to distract me. I'd like it if you were away from danger." Diego reached out when a tear fell and he stroked a hand down her hair. "But if I'm arrested, and you're married to me…" Diego continued before she could interrupt. "You have to think loving me is worth the risk. There's a very dangerous reason I wear a mask. Marrying me would put you in greater in danger."
Victoria quickly rose to her knees again, and before Diego could back away she put a hand to his cheek and brought her lips to his. "I love you. That's all that matters. Now that I know who you are, now that I know my best friend isn't oblivious to the suffering around him, I want to marry you, if you'll have me. I love you. We'll be stronger together than apart. I'm sorry I never saw it before."
Diego caressed her cheek as she kissed him again. "You're sure? I don't want to make you unhappy. You'd be married to a coward."
Victoria smiled at him. "I'd be married to the most wonderful man I know. Who cares what anyone else thinks?"
Diego started forgetting what they were supposed to be talking about when she kissed him again. "Querida, I love you. I'll make you happy, I swear."
Victoria smiled brilliantly at him, and this time Diego cradled her face and took control of the kiss. Victoria sighed against his mouth, her fingers threading into his hair to hold him close.
They were getting married, Diego thought. His hands smoothed down her back, took her arms and pulled her up to sit with him in his favorite chair. She could sit with him every day now, he thought as his arms wrapped around her. She was so soft, and she smelled like flowers. She'd changed her clothes since this morning, and he wondered if she'd changed and put on perfume for him. Her shirt was soft beneath his hands as he stroked her back, but her skin was softer when his other hand caressed her neck.
"My father's asleep." Diego traced a shiny lip with his thumb. "We're alone. I should take you home."
"You haven't given me my ring back yet," Victoria whispered against his lips before she kissed him again.
"Sure you wouldn't rather marry my father?" Victoria scowled at him and Diego sat back, running a hand up and down her back. His grin turned challenging and wicked. "Ring is in my pocket. How bad do you want it?"
It turned out Victoria wanted it very badly.
Author's Note: Diego's always getting on his knees. Wanted to switch it up. If it made you smile, please review.
Author's Question: How many people would be opposed to Diego (early in the series) wanting Victoria but not be ready for marriage? T not M, no sex. He'd start out flawed, Victoria would stand up for the future she wants, then of course he'd realize the error of his ways and beg Victoria to forgive & marry him.
Different? Completely against character and you'd never ever read it? Just curious. Let me know!