Epilogue (About a Year Later)

Doña Victoria de la Vega smiled fondly as she stepped out of the back door of the de la Vega hacienda. All three of "her men" were out by the corral, and all were in almost identical poses: feet back a bit from the fence, all three of them leaning slightly forward with their forearms crossed on the top fencepost and their chins on their forearms as they admired the seven new foals, all less than a month old, that romped in the corral with their mothers. Diego and Felipe, especially, looked like proud new parents themselves. Five of the seven foals were coal black, and Toronado stood alertly nearby in the "stallion's paddock", proudly keeping watch over his small herd as the mares grazed and the foals nursed or played beside them.

Felipe will be leaving them soon. His speech has improved over the past year until only those who knew him "before" would ever guess the young man had spent most of his childhood unable to speak. In just a couple of months, he will be moving to Monterey to study law with a friend of Don Alejandro's. After his studies are complete, he plans to return to Los Angeles to practice law and help manage the ranch. He has also become a master swordsman in his own right, though he will not let this become common knowledge until he returns to Los Angeles. He will be gone long enough for people to assume he learned his skills in Monterey.

Alejandro still takes an interest in the workings of the ranch, but he has gradually turned over most of the day-to-day management of activities to Diego and Felipe. He continues to manage the hacienda's account books, but his greatest enjoyment these days is just watching Diego and Victoria go about their activities, and taking daily trips into Los Angeles to check on the tavern for Victoria (and possibly spend a few hours sitting and chatting with his friends while he is there). He has had no more problems with stress attacks, but as he glances away from the foals and notices Victoria coming toward them, he is distracted from his task by excited thoughts of the next birth expected to occur at the de la Vega hacienda.

Victoria is very rotund with Don Alejandro's grandchild, and is happy managing the tavern from the hacienda. Diego and Victoria will become parents any day now. The couple had made very eager use of Dr. Hernandez's gift to them, and very quickly learned what "adjustments" they needed to make for the permanent after-effects that horrible day in the cabin had left Diego.

Diego still has somewhat limited range of motion of his shoulders. His fencing is still a bit awkward due to the shoulder tendon damage. He would eventually like to teach fencing, but it's still too soon after Zorro's disappearance from Los Angeles to risk anyone wondering how Don Diego de la Vega suddenly acquired the skills to do so. His father, however, has been very verbal to his friends about the way his son has been determined to improve his ability to defend himself since he recovered from his injuries. Every time Alejandro speaks with his friends at the tavern, he brags about the way Diego is finally learning to handle a sword. Within the next year or so, Diego's dream of teaching may become feasible without the worry of giving away his secret, especially since there is no way he will ever again be able to fence smoothly or actively enough for Zorro's distinctive style to be recognized.

As long as Diego's exercise or activity is not very strenuous, he does not experience any shortness of breath. If he tries to do heavy work, though, or fences for more than a few minutes at a time, he tires very quickly and becomes out of breath. Occasionally, if he bends or twists too suddenly, Victoria will catch him trying to hide the fact that the movement still causes him some pain in his left side. Dr. Hernandez thinks there is probably some scarring around his lungs, and possibly even a rib that did not completely return to the proper position as it healed. No new treatments have been discovered yet for his disabilities. This is frustrating for Diego, but he is learning to accept these limitations as a fact of life. After all, he is alive. He reminds himself frequently that this is far more important than the loss of a few athletic abilities.

The people in Los Angeles remember Zorro with continued fondness and gratefulness, and his legend grows with each telling of the old stories. Sometimes you will hear them reminiscing, and wondering whatever became of their hero. Alejandro took an idea from Diego's panicked explanation back in the cabin that day, and mentioned to a (gossipy) friend that Zorro had stopped him on the road the day before they were abducted, and asked him to keep an eye on Victoria because he was going to be out of town for a while. He also hinted that, since Zorro had never returned, perhaps his luck had run out somewhere "out there", and he had died during that one last quest for justice. After all, he had to be dead, or surely he would have returned. Alejandro's "offhand comment" quickly became a popular rumor, and the people soon accepted the idea that Zorro would not be returning.

Zorro's cave has remained a place of peaceful solitude for Diego, even though Don Alejandro and Felipe, despite Diego's embarrassed objections, have worked together to turn part of it into a private museum of Zorro's exploits. They still hope that someday they will beable to see Diego get public credit for everything Zorro did for the people of the pueblo.

Diego still does some of his experiments in the cave, too … at least the ones that might stink up the place too much if he did them in his new laboratory in the main part of the hacienda. For the most part, he has come to peace with his decisions of the past, and with the turns his life has taken, because he now has everything he ever really wanted: Mendoza is a just, and surprisingly effective alcalde for Los Angeles; Diego no longer has to live with the guilt of making his father think he is a coward and a weakling; the love of his life is his wife; and he is finally going to give Don Alejandro that first grandchild he's wanted for so long.

Life is finally good.

The End

Author's note (smithcrafter): I would like to thank every reader who has stuck with this story for the entire five years it took to get it finished. It's been a blast! I would also like to give a HUGE thanks to georgiamomma123 for adopting the story. She had no idea what she was letting herself in for! Without her, I don't think it would ever have been completed.