Don Alejandro looked at the severely injured man, half lying, half sitting on the cave floor next to him. If he was honest he had not much hope that either would get out alive, but the Fox's plight was more urgent.
"How are you feeling? Where are you hurt?" Don Alejandro knelt and propped the man up against the wall.
"It's my-" The man paused for a moment, "It's my side." A short pause again. "And my head."
Don Alejandro moved his hand to injured man's side and his hand came back sticky and red. He hesitated for a moment, before moving his hand to remove the mask.
"Don't." Zorro halted Don Alejandro's hand with a weak grip around the wrist.
"I need to remove it, to see the damage."
"It isn't. It isn't bad, nothing you can do that requires the removal of the mask." Don Alejandro frowned, but did as the injured man asked; he moved to at least treat the wound on his side, but this time his movement was halted by a load clang outside the cave.
He remained silent, praying the bandits wouldn't find the entrance to the cave because neither of them was up for another fight yet. He just had to keep then hidden until Felipe had brought back-up. Hopefully in the form of Diego and not the Alcalde, but at this point everyone was welcome. When the sound disappeared, he turned back to the injured man. He was certain the man was far worse off than he said.
"What can I do for you?" Don Alejandro asked, letting the other man take charge for the moment.
"To be honest, beyond stopping the bleeding, I'm not sure. I won't die from it immediately, but the wounds need dressing."
Don Alejandro swiftly went to the only saddle bag he had been able to cut from his death horse and rummaged through it. It contained the large bottle of whiskey for the Padre, but not much else useful, just Diego's old clothes that Don Alejandro had brought at his son's request to donate to the orphanage.
He took the oldest of the garments and immediately turned it into rags and then walked to the injured man again.
"I will treat your side, bandage it for now, but somebody will need to look at your head as soon as possible." Zorro nodded and Don Alejandro cut away the black robes. There was a lot of blood which had not been visible on the black clothes of the masked man. Using Diego's old clothes to wipe the blood away he saw a neat and clean line made by the bullet. The wound actually didn't look too bad and Don Alejandro knew with proper treatment the wound would be healed in a few weeks, but he had to stop the bleeding before Zorro bled out completely. With the aid of Diego's clothing, the remains of Zorro's own clothes, and the bottle of whiskey he managed to bandage him up neatly.
"Could you?" Zorro looked suddenly uncertain, "Could you talk to me? I need to stay awake." Don Alejandro frowned again.
"What do you want to talk about?" he asked.
"Tell me about your family." There was some desperation in the voice, "Tell me about your wife."
"My wife?" Don Alejandro closed his eyes, "my wife was the most beautiful woman in the whole of Spain and I loved her more than I ever loved another person in my life." A pained sob came from the man beside him. He frowned, something wasn't right, but he went on, "She loved the world and I loved her. I still miss her, every day of my life and if I could would do anything to get her back." There was a moment of silence.
"How did she die?"
"She-" Alejandro had to re-find himself for a moment, "she died giving birth to our son, sons."
'That must have been hard." Zorro's voice was soft and the words took it out of him.
"It was, it always has been and I just miss her."
"You must-" Zorro stopped, his eyes closed for moment. "Your son, do you blame him? Without him you would still have your wife." Don Alejandro looked shocked at the man.
"Of course, not." Zorro seemed to deflate a little, some tension disappearing from his shoulders. "I might not always look eye to eye with my son, but he was a baby; it was nature and my wife just wasn't strong enough. If it was anybody's fault it was mine. I should've been with her, but I wasn't, Zorro." Don Alejandro looked at the man who sat with his back again the wall, his eyes closed
"I'm okay," Zorro said as he opened his eyes.
"Tell me about your family," Don Alejandro said, trying to keep the man awake.
"There's not much to tell. I have a brother, who I love. He's my brother, my son. I've thought him everything." There was pride in Zorro's voice.
"I'd love to meet him. A man of whom you speak in this way must be very special indeed. What about your parents, your father?"
"My father?" Zorro said, before falling silent again and Don Alejandro was afraid he asked the wrong thing. "My father is a great man. He raised me, us, alone after my mother died. He's a hero, a soldier and the best man I know." Zorro fell silent again with his eyes closed and pained lines on the small part of his face that was visible.
"He must be very proud of you, or…" Don Alejandro suddenly realized the man's father probably didn't know.
"I'm a disappointment to him. He thinks I'm wasting my time. I'm not what he wants in a son. I'm a coward. That's why my son, my brother will be somebody he can be proud of. And I'll know I helped him become the proper man." Something in the man's word made alarm bells ring in the back of Don Alejandro's head. The way the man spoke of his father was painfully familiar.
Words he had said in anger only a few days ago echoed back to him.
"Diego, if you don't get on that horse now you are no longer a son of mine."
"Father." Diego had stood by, looking scared, "You want me to join in hunting those cattle thieves down. Can we not leave that to Zorro? I mean we might get hurt."
Don Alejandro had turned his horse in disgust at his son's words. They had returned a few hours later, with two severely injured men and their asses rescued by Zorro. They hadn't talked about it, but Don Alejandro knew Diego had been right, unfortunately his pride wouldn't allow him to admit it. The last few days were uncomfortable and Diego had not joined them on the trip into town. Part of Don Alejandro felt glad about it because with Diego's luck he would have been the one to get injured.
"How can a man not be proud of you? How can a man accuse you of being a coward? Don Alejandro felt he had to assure the man before him, but the words fell into silent as Zorro shook his head.
"He is right. If I was a true hero and not coward I wouldn't be hiding behind this mask."
"Do you think you'd still be alive without that mask? The Alcalde would have hanged you years ago and else you would have been living like a fugitive. Living in caves like thieves."
A small chuckle came from the man.
"Who says I don't live in a cave?" It was clear the man remembered something. Then he shrugged. "I have long ago accepted that my father and I'll never look each other in the eye about these things.
The silence which followed was pleasant, but Don Alejandro had no doubt both Zorro and he were thinking about fathers and sons hating each other's choices in life. But when Don Alejandro walked back to him he noticed Zorro had slipped to the left slightly and curled into himself, like he was still in a lot of pain.
"Well, if you were my son I'd be very proud of you." The laughter coming from the man was surprisingly light. 'How are you holding out?" he asked as he sat down next to him, ready to catch him should he fall completely.
"Not good," he said his words were slurred and Don Alejandro brought his hand up to the man and saw the eyes slowly slid shut.
"Zorro," he said desperately, but there was no longer any sound from the man. Don Alejandro immediately laid him down on the ground, felt his pulse which was slow, but steady. He let out a sigh of relief, but he knew if they didn't get out soon he would be the only one getting out alive. He couldn't go outside because he was sure the bandits were still out there. He heard them walk by every now and then.
He placed the saddle bag under the man's head and looked down. What was visible of the man's face was streaked red with blood, but the wound itself seemed to have stopped bleeding. The wound on his side had not yet drained the bandage, so he could not do anything there either, with a sigh he sat down, taking hold of the gloved hand of the one man he truly admired.
Just as he decided he had to make an escape attempted, loud gunshots came from outside and he heard the loud voice of the Alcalde.
"Give yourself up!"
"Never." The answer came from about thirty feet to the left of the cave mouth. Don Alejandro cursed under his breath there would be a shoot-out outside the cave and there was no way for him to escape with Zorro. If the bandits won they would die here in the cave and if the Alcalde won he would arrest Zorro and hang him.
He looked down at the man on the ground, as outside shots were fired from both sides at regular intervals.
He needed to get Zorro out and then it hit him; he could not get Zorro out, but he might get an innocent unmasked man out. He hesitated for a moment and then immediately pulled out Diego's old clothes and quickly undressed Zorro. He had undressed men before during battlefield conditions, sometimes clothing was the only thing that could save you in the cold winter night.
The man before him was soldier, a soldier with more battle scars than a regiment full soldiers bares. Then he saw it, on the man's upper leg, a small birthmark, a birthmark that was impossible.
He took two steps back, stared, then stumbled forward and removed the mask in a hurried movement.
The sob that escaped his throat was pained. Before him, unconscious, bleeding again lay his son. Suddenly all words came flooding back and Don Alejandro realized he stood to lose far more than just their hero and savior. He was about to lose his son.
He moved with even more urgently than before, hiding any trace of Zorro and then quickly dressing the head wound. He took his gun, sitting before his son's body, ready to shoot anybody coming around the corner.
Shots were still being fired outside, when all of a sudden a loud scream sounded and the shots stopped.
"Stop firing. Stop firing." Don Alejandro recognized the voice of the second bandit, "We give up."
The guns fell silent and there was a lot of noise outside the cave.
"Don Alejandro, are you there?" Sergeant Mendoza yelled and Don Alejandro felt relief flood him. They were saved.
"We're here!" He sat back holding the hand of his son.
"How is he?" Don Alejandro stood up immediately as the doctor left his son's room.
"He has a severe concussion, but the wounds on his head and side are not too bad and should heal completely. He needs rest, a dark room, no excitement, no stress, but he'll be okay." Doctor Hernandez shook Don Alejandro's hand and with a nod to Felipe left the house. Felipe, who had been hanging on to the doctor's lips, moved over to Don Alejandro
"Let's go inside." Don Alejandro had not talked to Felipe, but there was no doubt the boy had known and had known all this time. Don Alejandro didn't know whether to be proud of him, or to never speak to him again. He had settled on proud, until he had talked to Diego.
Diego was propped up in his pillows; he looked every inch the bookworm he always looked and Don Alejandro had trouble believing this was Zorro, his son was Zorro and it wasn't just an elaborate joke. Diego looked up at them, his eyes still a little dazed and unfocussed.
"We need to talk." Don Alejandro let his voice be neutral, but Diego looked immediately scared.
"Father," he breathed, flinching as he sat up too quickly. Don Alejandro was next to him in a flash, pushing him back into the pillows.
"How could you?" he asked.
"Father, let me explain."
"No Diego, I'll be doing the talking." Diego closed his eyes defeated and Don Alejandro felt both triumphant and sadness at his son's reaction.
"Diego, you lied to me; you deceived me and that hurt. You led a hidden life and put yourself in danger, without me knowing, and that hurt too." With every word Diego seemed to shrink a bit. "I hate you thought I didn't love you. I hate you've so little trust in my love for you." Diego looked up at these words. "You are my son, the most important person in my life. And I've been unfair to you. I should have trusted you too."
"No, I should've," Diego said his voice slightly stronger. "I'm the one who wronged you."
"No you didn't, at least not in the way you think." Don Alejandro smiled, "Diego, I've always been proud of you, with or without the mask I loved the studious son I got back from Madrid and I will love the fighter I never got to see, but that I knew was deep down inside you. I know one side of you and now give me the chance to meet the other side, give me the chance to see my whole son."
"Father, I'm not sure if I will ever live up to your dream for me, but I will not stop trying. Thank you, father." Diego closed his eyes and with a content smile on his face he fell asleep.
Don Alejandro stood up and walked to the door. Before he left the room he stared at his son once more, with the same smile and knew he had a new chance to get to know his son all over again and he was going to take the chance with both hands.