Note: This short story is a work of fanfiction.
“I must tell you something. You might feel differently about me soon. But I can’t keep it inside any longer.”
There was a sudden chill to the air around them, and the darkness seemed to be waiting, holding its breath. Victoria drew her shawl around her tightly, in an effort at self comfort, and hugged her elbows. The candle flickered on the nightstand. Zorro glanced out the window as if to steady himself.
“You’re married.” She blurted her greatest fear into the waiting silence. He glanced at her, and frowned. “It’s alright, but…” She controlled her voice with difficulty. She loved him too much. She wouldn’t be able to remain locally if he was married to another. A tear tracked down her cheek in the darkness, and she resisted the urge to flick it away. It would only bring attention to it. If she ignored it, he wouldn’t realise.
“You think so poorly of me? Victoria, I would never do that, to you or a wife. How could you ever think that?” He searched her face in the flickering candlelight, catching the shine of the falling tear. His confusion dimmed. A gloved finger tracing the track of the single tear, as he leaned in to kiss her gently on the lips.
He leaned away, and shook his head. “No, I am not married. I will never marry unless it is to you.”
“What is so terrible? You are the bravest man in the area, Zorro, what is so dreadful that you cannot speak it?”
“I wear a mask. There is a reason.” He began to pace. “Can you think what it is?”
“You do not want the soldiers or the alcalde to know who you are, that is obvious.”
“I do not want anyone to know who I am. Including you, including my closest friends,” he said. “My father doesn’t even know.”
“No one knows?” She murmured, her eyes caught in his for a moment, searching for the meaning of what he was saying. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Don’t you think it is time I told you?” The man in black said, and she felt her heart skip a beat. She held her breath. This was a moment where everything would change. Her whole life. The lives of everyone in the village.
She didn’t know what to say. If he told her who he was, did that mean Zorro would disappear to allow the man underneath space to breathe? What did that mean in these dangerous times, to lose their hero and protector? She turned slightly, to consider her thoughts. If he told her who he was, would that mean that he would find a way to marry her and that they would never be apart? That children with this man was a possibility? How selfish could she be?
“Zorro, you said that when peace came, then we would be together,” Victoria said. “Peace hasn’t come yet.”
“No, peace will never come,” Zorro said with resignation. “Deep down we both know that. I have heard news that the world may quickly change, whether for the better or for the worse, no one can say. I want to keep you safe and I want to be with you. I cannot save the world. Not without you. I wouldn’t have a chance.”
She stared at him. He sank to one knee and glanced up at her, his eyes pleading with her.
“Tell me,” she whispered, and swallowed. “Tell me who you are.”
“Take the mask off,” he said softly, bending his head. “My fingers are shaking too much.”
She bit her top lip with concern, trying to control her own trembling fingers. She had to pull herself together, to have more courage than even Zorro himself was a huge ask.
Should she untie the mask properly, or just lift it from his face? Surely it was easiest to just reach out and…. There. The man was unmasked in the shadows. He’d have to get closer to the candle to make himself known.
“Will you forgive me?” He said, his voice less sure, and slightly less deep. Strangely more familiar, strangely recognisable, but she couldn’t place it.
“Of course I will,” she said. “I told you before. I will always forgive you.”
“This might take a little while to sink in,” he said, rising from his knee, and moving into the light.
She gaped at him for several moments. Diego de la Vega? How? Why? Her mind raced, but her heart stood still. It was unbelievable and she felt unbalanced. A dream, she was dreaming. A dream...this couldn’t be real, surely?
She swayed, and he reached out to steady her, to draw her towards his chest.
“I was prepared for this at least,” he said, trying to use a light tone. “You always seem to faint when Zorro’s identity is revealed.” He supported her firmly until she relaxed into him, her body warm and safe against his.
She smiled slightly. Diego had always been the one to catch her at the right time, to shelter her against shock. He had always been the one she had instinctively run to in times of confusion and fear, and he had always stood up for her, as strong as marble.
“I will forgive you,” she murmured. She wasn’t sure if he deserved it straight away. “I love you, Diego.”
The words were whispered but he caught their meaning. His heart started beating again, as she noted listening at his chest. He dropped his head, and held her for several minutes, as they both steadied themselves. He breathed in the smell of rosewater rinsed hair, and she listened to the steady beat of his heart as it regained its steady strong pulse.
Bandits were making life hell, as usual, the alcalde thought as he stomped the mud from his boots, entering the tavern. He was wondering where Zorro was, as the man had not been seen for about a week, after running rings around him the week before. The masked man always knew how to make life difficult. Sometimes he would be under foot every moment of the day, and sometimes he was nowhere to be found - right when he could use some assistance with the flood of problems the robbers caused.
“Don Diego, good morning.”
“Good morning, Alcalde. I hope you slept well?”
The alcalde would have liked to admit that - no he had gotten no sleep at all, since investigating the latest problems had taken all night with hardly any results. He didn’t of course. He merely sighed.
“There are a lot of political problems arising these days,” he said.
“Yes, I believe there are several issues. I was going to ask you for a comment for the newspaper later in the day. For the editorial,” Diego said, his eyes watching him closely.
“Perhaps later. I need to return as soon as possible to my post. I am only coming in for coffee.”
“Alcalde, here you are. Your coffee.” Victoria said, placing the steaming cup in front of him. “Have you been chasing Zorro all night, senor? You look exhausted.”
“Hmm,” the alcalde said, and sipped the strong coffee. “Zorro and his friends have caused many sleepless nights lately.”
“Perhaps you would like a hand, Alcalde?” Diego said brightly, obviously trying to be helpful.
“Diego, you know you don’t stand a chance against Zorro. It is better to leave it to the Alcalde and his men,” Victoria said teasingly, as was her way. “And anyway, Alcalde the fox is far too evasive for you and your men. It is not as if he’d sit right in front of you and wait for you to find him.”
“I'm sure he would be wise enough to stay far away from here, especially in the daytime,” Diego agreed. “You are right, as always, Victoria. Zorro had learned the errors of acting in daylight, since his last run in with the alcalde.”
For some reason, the alcalde felt more annoyed than usual, feeling an undercurrent of something he couldn’t identify. He downed his hot coffee with a grimace, and trudged back to his office.