Disclaimer: I don't own them, just having a bit of fun playing with them.
Author's Notes: I've tried resisting writing a "Broken Heart, Broken Mask" story. Really I have. The ending's so disappointing even if they do have their first kiss. Also, while I like reading reveal stories, I'm not usually that interested in writing them which is what inspired Love Has No Rhyme and No Reason, getting the reveal over with in the first story so that I could do different things with the rest of the episodes. So every time temptation came, I told myself other people had done it better, and what could I do with this? Until the thought came into my mind: what if it was Diego rather than Zorro that Victoria talked to in the garden? Then I was lost.
And I must once again offer my thanks and gratitude to Ghetto Outlaw for his skills as beta reader and sounding board and strengthener of weak endings.
In the Garden
Diego leaned against a wall in the garden, the mask in his hand. He couldn't stay inside any longer. His father and Felipe were playing chess, and Victoria was reading. There was no way to get down to the cave, except by the outside entrance. In any event, he needed some fresh air, and time to think, even though it seemed like he'd done nothing but think since Victoria had been shot. No, it was more that he needed to make a decision at last.
She'd almost died for him— for Zorro— and she didn't even know who he was, didn't even know he loved her. Not really. She had faith in the promise he'd so cavalierly made when he first donned the mask, when he'd thought it would only last a few weeks. It was now getting close to two years, and if events of the past few weeks were any indication, there might never be a time when Zorro could publicly remove the mask.
Looking back over his behavior, he had to wonder how she had such faith in him. He'd flirt and kiss her hand and run before anything serious could be said. It wasn't that long ago she'd reminded him of his promise, and he'd pretended for a moment not to remember it. How long did he expect her to wait? Another year, two? Forever? It wasn't fair to her. He had never been fair to her in point of fact. And he did love her; he hadn't understood how much until he'd seen her shot.
What should he do? Thinking it over, he wondered if she would be safer married to him— to Diego. Would she be willing if he didn't tell her the truth? He shook his head. He'd been able to hide Zorro from his father, but a wife would be another story. So would she be willing to live a lie, to pretend as he did? Could he ask her to?
Diego shoved the mask inside his jacket pocket and leaned back to stare at the sky. He still didn't know what to do. Zorro would still need to visit her, to thank her, maybe... He had a flash of Zorro encouraging Victoria to marry Diego and was hit with an image of her asking him why after she saved his life he would encourage her to marry someone like Diego.
He didn't have any idea what she really thought of him, even if they'd been spending a lot of time together as she recovered. Did she really think he harbored only friendly feelings? He groaned as he realized his thoughts were going in circles again, and he was still no closer to a decision. As either Diego or Zorro, he was only half a man, and he had no idea how to show her the whole man behind both masks.
Catching sight of movement from the corner of his eye, Diego turned his head to see Victoria coming outside. She looked so happy; she was almost dancing as she moved about the courtyard, swinging around a post, looking up at the sky. Not wanting to embarrass or startle her, he tried to think of a way to let her know he was there when she came to a stop leaning against the pillar in front of him, but she seemed to sense his presence and spun around to face him.
"Diego? What are you doing here?" There was a strange breathless quality in her words, almost as if she expected him to be someone else. Or was she catching a glimpse of Zorro in his eyes?
Diego knew he should look away, or at least hide his feelings better, but at this moment, with the moonlight bathing the courtyard, he found he couldn't hide anything. It was as if some deep part of his mind had made his decision for him and let his true self shine out whether he was ready or not.
"I'm sorry, Victoria," he said softly, never taking his eyes from her. "I was lost in thought."
"Unpleasant thoughts?" she asked, nervousness in her voice.
"Some but not all," he said. "I was thinking about you mainly."
A hurt look crossed her face, but she tried to hide it with a teasing smile. "Ah, yes, I'm sure you'll be glad to have your house to yourself again. It must have been a bit trying having me underfoot all the time."
Diego shook his head firmly, annoyed that he'd misspoken. "Never," he said. "There's nothing I like better than having you here. The last thing I want is for you to leave."
"Then what..." her voice trailed off, as he stepped closer to her.
Still looking into her eyes, he said, "I've been thinking about how unfair all this has been for you."
Victoria backed up against the pillar, looking up at him wide eyed. "Life is rarely fair."
"I know," Diego whispered. "But you are so good and so generous, and you took a bullet for a man who won't show you his face. A man who keeps you waiting with a promise he may never fulfill. Zorro may be a protector of the people, but he's done very badly by you."
He expected anger; what he didn't expect were the tears. Unsure and a little hesitantly, he put his arms around her, enfolding her in a gentle embrace. He was surprised that she not only let him hold her but also held him tightly, burying her head in his shirt as she cried.
"Oh, Victoria, I'm so sorry," Diego said, tightening his grip on her. "I always seem to hurt you when I would do anything to spare you pain."
Victoria murmured something into his shirt that he couldn't make out.
"What was that?" he asked, wishing he knew what to do.
Victoria lifted her head. "Do you really think he didn't mean his promise?"
Almost unconsciously, one of Diego's hands moved to her cheek to wipe away her tears. "It's not that," he said softly. "I'm starting to doubt he'll ever be free to remove the mask, and if he can't, the promise as he made it is meaningless, and he'd be incredibly selfish to keep you waiting in hopes of a miracle."
"Do you think he really loves me, Diego?" she asked, her eyes locked on his.
"I know he does," Diego said, leaning closer.
"How?" her voice was barely audible.
"Because I love you, fool and coward that I've been. And even though it's dangerous I don't want to live without you," Diego said, not knowing where he was finding the courage to finally tell the truth. "You almost died for me. It's not fair of me to ask you to live a lie, but I want to marry you, if you're willing to forgive me."
Victoria's eyes were wide as she took in what he was telling her. Hesitantly, she said, "Diego, does this mean..."
Diego didn't let her get any further; if he was going to confess properly, he would say the words first, even if they came out in a whisper. "Yes, I'm Zorro." He closed his eyes as he spoke, not sure he wanted to know what she was thinking. The sensible response would be to slap him and tell him to never speak to her again, but when nothing happened immediately, he pressed on, still unable to look at her, but determined to hold her as long as she let him, "I'm so sorry for all the deception; I wish I'd done things differently from the beginning. I know I'm not worthy of your love or your forgiveness..."
His last words were cut off because Victoria grabbed him and kissed him. Shocked, he froze for a moment before responding. His arm slid up her back to her shoulder as her arms tightened around his neck. For so long, he had thought about this, playing it out over and over in his imagination, but this first kiss was more than he could have envisioned or hoped. He was keenly aware of everything he was feeling, the warmth of her skin, the slight coolness of the evening air moving about them. Yet he didn't understand why she was kissing him.
Reluctantly ending the kiss, Diego looked into her eyes, one hand caressing her cheek. "Victoria," he said, "I don't..."
At that moment, he heard his father calling him from inside the house. Knowing Alejandro would be outside any minute, Diego practically growled in frustration as he stepped away from Victoria. He and Victoria still needed to talk, preferably without his father knowing anything was going on yet. A kiss was a positive sign, but it wasn't really an answer.
Victoria looked as alarmed as he was. "He doesn't know, does he?" she said, wiping at her eyes, trying to compose herself.
Diego shook his head. There wasn't time for more as Alejandro came out the front door. It was a moment before he spotted them, and they both were trying desperately to act as if nothing had occurred.
Alejandro focused on his son first. "Diego, there you are. I've been looking for you, son, but I'm glad to see you and Victoria together."
"Really?" Diego said, hoping he sounded normal.
"Forgive me, my dear," he said to Victoria, "but I thought you should have some company. You've been recovering nicely, but I'm still concerned." He looked at them both a little more closely. "Have you two had a fight? You both seem a little flustered."
Victoria spoke first. "Of course not, Don Alejandro. It's just a little warm tonight, and Diego's been worried about my doing too much." She fanned herself a bit.
"I think he's right. You still need your rest," he said.
"Yes, but it's such a nice evening, I'd like to stay out a little longer," she said.
Don Alejandro nodded his head. "Well, as long as Diego stays with you."
"I wouldn't think of leaving her, Father," Diego said, wondering at Victoria's acting and his own nervousness.
"Good, good," he said, starting to turn back to the house. "Just not too late, all right?"
"Yes, Father," Diego said.
Don Alejandro walked back to the house, looking at them once more before going inside. Diego still wasn't sure whether or not he suspected anything, but the more important issue was Victoria.
Clearing his throat, he said, "Perhaps we should go sit down. We still have a lot to talk about."
"Yes, we do," Victoria said, taking his arm.
He led her over to a bench just out of sight of the door, but where there was still a bit of moonlight, allowing them to see each other albeit dimly. They stared at each other for a minute, until Diego forced himself to speak and ask the most important question first.
"Victoria, that kiss... I don't mean to sound foolish... but was that a 'yes' to my proposal?"
She smiled at him, a warm teasing smile. "Diego, I wouldn't have kissed you if it was a no."
Diego took her hand in his and kissed it tenderly. Then still holding her hand, he said, with a little more care, "I'm very happy to hear you say that, but I'm still confused. I'm not sure what kind of reaction I expected, but I didn't expect that."
"I was just so happy that everything finally made sense," Victoria said. "I didn't need to hear anything else."
"I'm still a little lost," Diego said. "Happy but lost."
Victoria looked down. "While I've never made a secret of my feelings for Zorro, I've had strong feelings for you too, but I tried to ignore them. Somehow Zorro seemed safer."
"Safer? You were shot because of him!" Diego exclaimed.
"That's not the kind of safe I meant," Victoria said. "Besides, Zorro's protected me so much more than he's endangered me. I may have been used as bait once or twice, but for the most part I'm left alone because people know that you'll defend me."
Diego shook his head doubtfully. "If that's not the kind of safe you meant, then what did you mean?"
Victoria turned away. "Zorro— Zorro's a hero, a legend, and his courtship's been a kind of romantic game. He's smiled and complimented but never stayed around long enough to do more than kiss my hand. He's captivating— but somehow safe. Always such a gentleman, I've never had to worry about my feelings for him getting me into trouble."
"And I'm not as safe?" Diego was even more confused. She'd always treated him as a friend and sometimes an annoying friend at that.
"Yes, in one sense, but..." Victoria sighed. "I know who you are. You're Don Diego de la Vega, son of the richest land owner in the area. You went to school in Spain. You're the most talented and educated man I know. You may be kind and generous, but loving you would be far more complicated than loving a masked bandit."
"And now I've made it even more complicated by being the masked bandit," Diego said softly.
Victoria glanced back at him. "I know it makes no sense, but now it seems simpler. I don't have to pretend I don't care about you anymore. It may not be safe, but it feels wonderful to know I love one man instead of two. That's why I kissed you."
Diego stared at her for a long moment before reaching out with one hand to turn her face further in his direction. He leaned toward her, hand sliding down her cheek to her neck, and their lips met in a gentle kiss. His confusion gone, he lost himself in the softness of her lips and the feelings of love he felt for her. He wished it could last forever, but they had decisions to make.
Reluctantly withdrawing from her, he took her hand again, before he said, "I love you; I just wish I knew how this was going to work out. The alcalde..."
Shrugging her shoulders, Victoria said, "I wouldn't worry too much about him getting suspicious about my change in affections, especially since not that long ago..." she broke off looking a bit embarrassed.
"What?" Diego had no idea what she meant.
"Oh," Victoria said, looking away from him, "I may have given him the impression that I was a bit jealous back when Amanda Herrara was staying here— alone."
Suddenly something that had puzzled him made sense. "Was that why you were mad at me that night? I thought that the alcalde had said something or you'd thought I'd done something foolish— again."
"No," Victoria said. "Just unhappy about a single señorita staying here with you." She took a deep breath and rushed on. "But that's not important now. Besides, even if the alcalde doesn't remember that, the fact that you're a wealthy caballero with aristocratic connections will be all the reason he will need to explain why I'm marrying you."
Diego nodded his head. "True, he tends to see things through his own grasping outlook. And the fact that you are the most beautiful, charming woman in the pueblo is all the reason he'd need for my wanting to marry you."
"You can be very charming when you put your mind to it, Diego," she said.
"I'm very happy you think so; I hope it will make up for the fact that I'll still be spending a lot of time with my books and experiments," Diego said with a smile which vanished suddenly.
"What is it?" Victoria asked.
Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out the mask. "I can't help wondering if I'll ever be able to stop hiding behind this."
Victoria touched the silk in his hands. "I wish I knew, but you don't have to hide from me, not anymore. That's a start."
Diego put his hand over hers. She was truly a most remarkable woman, and he was almost overwhelmed by the love he felt for her. "A wonderful start," he said, taking the mask and returning it to his pocket.
Standing, he helped her to her feet before offering her his arm. They walked toward the house, when Victoria suddenly stopped.
"Is something wrong?" Diego asked.
"What are you going to tell your father?" Victoria said.
Diego suddenly felt nervous, but his father would be happy with the news. Alejandro had been after him to get married since he got home, and he'd always liked Victoria. "I guess I'll just tell him we're engaged."
Looking into his eyes, Victoria said, "I meant besides that."
"Oh," Diego said, realizing what she'd meant. He wasn't sure he wanted to tell his father. "Do you really think I should tell him?"
Victoria stepped closer to him. "Yes, you should. He may be impulsive. I'm impulsive too, but neither of us would ever willingly harm you. Have a little faith and share the burden with us. It's a lot for one man..." She paused as if a thought had just occurred to her. "Does Felipe know?"
Diego nodded. "From the beginning. I couldn't have done it without him."
"So trust your father too," Victoria said. "If nothing else, at least you will be able to be yourself with him, and that alone will make things better for you— for all of us."
It would be wonderful to no longer have to hide himself from his father, but Diego was very unsure how he'd react to discovering his son had been effectively lying to him since the day he'd returned home. "All right," he said reluctantly. "But I'd rather tell him after we tell him we're engaged. I'm hoping he'll be less likely to disown me, if he's still delirious from joy."
"That's my cunning fox," Victoria said with a smile. "Now let's go in and make your father almost as happy as I am."
"No, almost as happy as we are, mi preciosa." Diego returned her smile, taking comfort in her confidence and a future that looked brighter than it had for a long time.
End notes: Before I started this I had forgotten a little just how skittish Zorro tended to be in his encounters with Victoria before "Broken Heart, Broken Mask," but I certainly hadn't forgotten Victoria's bits of jealousy over Diego in either "The Tease" or "Sanctuary" which take place not that much before this episode. This is the first story I've had set this far back in the series, and it took a bit to try to figure out the right tone.
As always, all forms of feedback are welcome, since otherwise I have no idea whether I've succeeded or failed in what I've tried to convey.