Author's Notes: This has been an adventure for me, and I thank everyone who's come along. But all good (and bad) things must come to an end. As promised, the story is now complete. Happy Halloween, and for me it would be happier one with reviews. I'd definitely like to know what you think.
Diego woke with a start. Looking around anxiously, he breathed a little easier when he saw the sleeping form of Victoria next to him. He lay back down, putting an arm around her, kissing her forehead, and she cuddled closer in her sleep. It had just been another nightmare. Two weeks had passed since that night with Dracula and though his nightmares were not as intense, they still persisted.
He stared up into the dark and let his thoughts drift over everything that had happened since their most unusual wedding day. Now, he could laugh at the irony that by the time they had gotten home, they had both been so tired they had slept the rest of the day, but that was only because they had spent most of the night and the next day making up for lost time. He'd still been aching from his fights, but their first night together was still everything he had imagined, albeit somewhat more challenging.
Though they would have liked to, they hadn't been able to ignore the outside world entirely. He still had his ranch duties as well as working on hollowing out a section of the cave to more securely secrete his great-grandfather's trunk for the future. Victoria was looking for a manager for the tavern as well as moving her things and learning what she would need to do as mistress of the house.
Diego usually traveled to town with her, ostensibly to help with the moving but mostly because he didn't want to be away from her. During these trips, he was startled to realize that most of the gossip about his sudden marriage was more about his heroic rescue of Victoria than in disbelief about the switch of her affections from Zorro to him. He supposed it helped that everyone seemed to genuinely believe that Zorro was dead, but he had expected some people to think he was taking advantage of Victoria's grief or that she'd possibly just married him for security or maybe that both had just gone insane.
It was startling to be treated as a hero without a mask on, but apparently the combination of his fight with the Emissary and his going to Victoria's rescue had changed how people looked at him. After expecting to cause more of a scandal, Diego didn't quite know what to make of people who considered their marriage to be quite romantic. If there was anyone more cynically inclined, they were careful enough not to say it where either Diego or Victoria would hear of it.
Diego had spent a lot of time thinking about the day he would be able to put the mask aside, when he wouldn't have to be a hero anymore. But now that it was actually happening, he was perplexed and a bit uncomfortable by the attention he was receiving since it seemed as if his disguise were being stripped away whether he wanted it or not. Still, Victoria did a lot to assuage those concerns and remind him that it's what he wanted— what they both wanted— the chance for Diego to be himself without being hunted or challenged.
Right after the wedding, Diego had sent a messenger to his father with the news of their marriage as well as a brief account of the other things that had happened. He expected a return message any time now, and he knew that once his father and Felipe returned home that Alejandro would want to throw the largest party the territory had seen to celebrate both Victoria and Felipe joining the family. He was just grateful that he and Victoria would have this time together before then. It was hard enough making the transition as it was.
Thoughts slowing down, Diego listened to Victoria's steady breathing and could feel himself relaxing. She had been right. They'd both suffered from a few nightmares since their wedding, but it had been better since they were together. As he drifted back into sleep, he vaguely wondered how he'd ever managed without her. And it was at moments like this that made everything that had happened with Dracula feel more like a bad dream than a terrible memory.
The sun had just risen when a wagon came to a stop outside an apparent rock wall, near where the old Torres hacienda had collapsed. Two burly men climbed off the back carrying a long wooden crate. Grigori climbed down off the front, then helped down the cloaked form of Ynez Risendo.
"Over there," he said to the two men. Turning to Ynez, he asked, "Can you sense it?"
She pressed close to the wall, running her fingers over it. "Yes, here."
The men brought out tools and gunpowder and started to work. It was much later when an explosion brought down the wall. The men started digging, while Ynez watched. Removing the rocks was a tedious, time-consuming task. It was late afternoon when they'd reached their goal. Ynez directed them to bring over the box and then to carefully move the body into it before sealing the lid. It was then placed into the wagon.
Grigori looked at Ynez's grim face. "You're really not going to revive him before we leave?" he said.
"No, California has been bad luck for all of us. And the journey will be easier. There'll be time enough once we return to Romania. In any event, it will be easier to properly revive him on his native soil. There might be problems, if we attempt it earlier." Ynez smiled slightly. "At least that's what I'll tell him."
"You know best about that," Grigori said. "He might not pleased though."
"I don't think he was pleased that Boris sent you for me in the first place, any more than he was happy that I would rather pursue vengeance on the de la Vegas than find his precious book. I think he will forgive us, when he finds out that what he wants is no longer here," she said.
"How do you know?"
Ynez stared at him grimly. "The same way I knew it was here, even if I couldn't pinpoint it. The same way I knew the moment my brother died. It's not here, and I suspect it's no longer in California," she said. "In any event, I think he will prefer his old hunting grounds. And I will be able to hunt the man who killed my brothers. The next ship leaves tomorrow, and I want to shake the dust of this place from my feet. There is nothing left to be done for now."
They climbed into the wagon and headed in the direction of the setting sun. Ynez glanced at the box containing Dracula's body. He had lost this battle, but she knew he, just as she, wasn't finished. She ran her fingertips along the top of the box. "There, there, my lord. Don't fret. Nothing is over. Nothing."
Not Quite the End
I'm not going to pretend I thought the end of the Epilogue was going to be a surprise to anyone. It's the one cliche that I was always going to go with. After all, he is Dracula, and Monster Squad is in his future. However, I didn't want Diego to have gone through all that for nothing, so away his body goes so that he can start bothering the Van Helsing family instead.
Dracula has always been easily revived from apparently permanent death, and one particular version of vampire mythology goes that if you remove the stake from the vampire's heart, he revives. In fact, I think there's a deleted scene from Monster Squad that has that exact thing happening.
I know I got Victoria and Diego married in the last chapter, and two weeks isn't much time, but I wanted both parts of the Epilogue to be the same day. So alas, no Alejandro or Felipe. Originally, the Epilogue summed up the wedding and their general explanations, but I moved them back to chapter 20 and instead summed up the two weeks between the wedding and the epilogue. But I didn't want to make the Epilogue all about Dracula so that part stayed.
And now that they're married and in their right minds, this is about as far as I write, as I'm far more comfortable with the implicit than the explicit. I'd rather deal with implication, innuendo, metaphor, and a little bit of humor. Yes, Victoria is no longer qualified to open portals into limbo, because Diego definitely does count.
I'm so glad to finally have this done as it has been my sole project for the entire month of October, when I usually am working on two to three at a time. Now I can get back to Love Has No Rhyme and No Reason, where my next story is going to be a "Turning the Tables" one rather than "A Love Remembered" because I need something light and fluffy which "A Love Remembered" is not.
I am somewhat tempted to someday write a one-shot story of the first meeting of Diego and Solomon Kendall in Madrid, but I'm not sure if anyone would be interested in it. In any event, if I do, it will be sometime in the future as I need a break from this one and would need to learn proper fencing and stick-fighting terms.
Thank you everyone who has read, reviewed, favorited, or followed this story. There were times when I thought I was insane for having written it and even more insane for locking myself into such a tight uploading schedule, especially since the draft required so much work as I went along. I am most especially grateful to the reviewers because it was your comments and questions that kept me on track, encouraged me when I thought it was hopeless, and helped me fix some weaknesses in the latter parts of the story.
And of course, I could not have done this without the aid, support, and skills of Ghetto Outlaw, who acted as sounding board, beta reader, and sometime collaborator. If we weren't already married, I'd marry him again for being such a monument of patience and tolerance and as well as being so generally awesome.