When she was a little kid, the kids on the playground had called her Diana Foul when they were trying to be mean. She hated the nickname, of course, never felt it fit until she joined forces with her ex-boyfriend’s worst enemies. If this were a movie, she'd be absolutely hated. And maybe she'd deserve it.
It might’ve been honorable at first. Perhaps. She'd been called into a meeting with some section chief, and she'd thought it had something to do with how much she and Fox had fucked up some case. Or maybe the small diamond on her left hand. (They'd been engaged for a few months, with no wedding date in sight; they'd pass a court house every now and then, and he'd raise his eyebrows, and she'd laugh and remind him that they were in pursuit of some paranormal entity, and that was it.) It had nothing to do with either of those things. The man behind the desk had wolf-smiled at her across the table and slid a manila folder, the other men looking down their noses at her. Diana’s breath caught in her throat as she flipped open the top of the folder and saw what was in there: her one sign of weakness. (She had a perfect poker face, Fox had told her again and again, usually grinning; she'd been beaten up at age twelve by the same kids who used to call her Foul, gave them a blank look the entire time even as they punched her in the face and stomach, didn't look angry or cry. Don't show your cards, her father always used to tell her, and she was good at that. She couldn't remember the last time she'd cried.)
In the file was pictures, practically of Diana’s entire life. Her and Fox in their apartment, in crappy, low-lit diners. At her graduation from Quantico, running the courses through the woods, looking like The Silence of the Lambs was made about her life. College, high school, learning to drive in her father's rickety old car. Climbing trees with her sisters in the front yard. Nursing skinned knees under her skirts, reading Stephen King books on her front stoop with the end of one of her braids stuck in her mouth. Pictures of her mother when she was still alive, pushing Diana on the swings, holding her hand as they walked towards her first day of school together.
“You've been observed, Diana,” the man told her. “And we've been pleased by what we've seen.”
Diana shut the folder, smoothed it with her right, ringless hand. “And what the hell does that mean,” she said in an even voice.
They told her. They told her exactly what they wanted her to do, lest she suffer the consequences. “We have… creative methods,” the man said seriously, folding his hands. He wore a wedding band, and Diana wondered what his family had to do for their cause. (This was because of her mother's job as secretary to a senator, they told her. And the cancer that had killed her hadn't come out of nowhere.)
“Why me?” she demanded. “Why not one of my sisters?” Why ask when you never asked my mother?
“Because you have a government background,” said the man in the corner. (The one smoking.) “And because we think you'll do it.”
“It'd be a shame if one of your sisters were to suffer a car accident,” said the man behind the desk, tenting his fingers on top. “Or if your father took a spill down the stairs. Or if poor, misguided Agent Mulder were to go missing. Abducted by his ‘little green men’.”
There are some things worse than death. Diana understood. She signed the papers.
Reassignment, she told him. Showed him the order with a sad little smile.
She could see Fox considering weighing out the options: rock the boat and risk the files, his sister, so she could stay? Or let her go and live alone? He finally pulled her to him and gave a half-hearted, “We could file a protest…”
“No, we couldn't, and you know it,” she said, her fingers petting his stubbly jaw. “This work is too important, Fox.” More important than you know.
He knew what she was saying was true, but he didn't want to know it. He leaned down and kissed her, mumbled, “I don't want to lose you,” into her mouth.
Diana kissed him back, briskly, before pulling away, her arms around his neck. “You won't,” she said. She didn't know if she was lying or not. “We can do long-distance, right? You did long distance with that guy from England for a while.”
Fox scoffed out a laugh. “Yeah, because that went over so well,” he said. (They'd been friends before they were lovers, partners, engaged, and Diana could remember hearing one half of the breakup while sprawled out on his bed in his dorm, reading a chapter in their textbook. It had been something of a tragedy. Fox had the tendency for the dramatic; she saw it every time they got into a fight.)
“This is different.” She twisted the ring on her finger pointedly. “Once you find the truth, then we can…”
“Run away together?” Fox said bitterly.
She made a face at him and kissed him again. “Don't make this any harder than it has to be, Fox,” she said. “I have to go.”
A result of Fox’s ruined childhood, she'd thought more than once, was his childish tendencies. He had a perfect pout, one that made you want to do things for him. “I don't want you to,” he said, pushing hair behind her ear.
For a split second, she considered telling him the truth. Reconsidered. It was too dangerous. She kissed him and consoled him and convinced him. She'd write him, call him, visit him if she could. She wouldn't take off the ring. He helped her pack, drove her to the airport and kissed her at the gate. Told her he loved her with his hands at her waist.
She considered him for a moment, rose up on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. “Remember to feed the fish, Mulder,” she said. Calling him what his friends called him. It was the beginning of the end.
At first, she was good about writing. He was better—he wrote her long, rambling letters, made excuses to call long distance. Fox Mulder was nothing if not a romantic. She thought she might still love him with his voice echoing in her ear, traveling the space of oceans. She'd twist the ring he gave her around her finger when she was bored.
Eventually, she stopped writing. And she'd still answer the phone when he called, but there was a distance between them outside of miles, and she let him hear it. Eventually, he stopped calling and writing, too. She took off the ring and mailed it back to him at the end of 1992. It was over.
She didn't go to Thanksgiving back home because they wouldn't let her, but she picked up the phone when her father called. She wondered if he knew he had lost a wife, and now was losing a daughter, to this. She wondered how much he understood. She pinned up the pictures her oldest sister sent of her kids over her desk. But more often than not, her family slipped through the cracks and into the hiding place she'd put Fox in. She packed away her loved ones in a box because you couldn't afford attachments. Not with this life.
She'd hated the work at first. She'd been met at the airport in Berlin by two men with concealed weapons, who escorted her to a car, to the facility where she'd be working, to her new apartment. She'd smoked cigarettes out on the crowded patch of roof she called a balcony every night, planning her escape. Planning how she'd sabotage them, these people who killed her mother.
But it was funny how these things change. Diana found herself doing challenging work with frightening people, learning secrets she never would've learned otherwise. It was exciting, heart-pounding thrill. The secret was that they were at war, and by signing away her life, she'd guaranteed herself a spot on the winning side.
She asked for protection for her family and they gave it. She asked for a nicer apartment and they gave it. She asked for money, glamour, advantages, and they gave it. She followed their rules and was rewarded. She was no better than a dog.
But, she was reminded again and again, she had an advantage most women did not have in this profession. Remember your mother, she was often told. Her mother was asked to help them and she refused, so they wiped her memory and gave her a terminal illness triggered by shrapnel in her neck. Diana agreed, and so she was protected, but she was reminded all too often of what could've been. Fox got a new partner in 1993, and she knew of this because she was still expected to keep tabs on him even if she wasn't communicating with him or wearing his ring. This new partner wasn't given the whole story, but she was expected to spy and she broke the rules. They had files on this girl going back through her entire life, just like Diana. She was always a planned abductee, but they moved up the date because she broke the rules, because Fox was getting too close. Diana never met the girl, but she was told the story over a crackly phone call from the smoker, the one who sent her a package of cigarettes every Christmas. That could've been me, she told herself. If I'd stayed with Fox. If I'd fought back. There are things worse than death, and she'd rather be a lapdog than a lab rat.
The years kept moving forward, one after the other, and Diana began to enjoy the work. It was challenging, exciting, to play God a little. She pulled back her hair and went to the labs, studied creatures she and Fox never could've imagined when they told each other horror stories in bed. He would like it here, she thought, if they'd recruited him the right way. If they hadn't taken his sister.
(She knew what happened to his sister. She'd known from the moment she'd arrived here.)
It wasn't all Fox. By 1994, she'd nearly forgotten him, and by 1995, he was gone from her mind completely. She'd almost married the man, but what did that mean? She stopped wondering what he'd say to things, stopped thinking about him on lonely nights, stopped thinking about his sister. She had no regrets at this point; she'd made the best choice to keep herself and her family safe. The young, green agent she'd once been who'd thought she'd prove the existence of aliens and save the world seemed naive today. She hadn't really known anything, and neither had Fox. She was so much wiser now.
She had nearly forgotten him completely when they came to her halfway through 1997. They needed her to go back to Washington, they said. They needed her to gather intel on Fox—Mulder, they called him—and they wanted her to quit smoking first. Cigarette smoke would make him suspicious, they said, think she was working with him. Nicotine stench would give her away.
It was hard, but she did manage to quit. Do what they say or there will be consequences. Sitting in her new, unguarded apartment with her feet up in the windowsill and an unlit cigarette in her left hand, Diana let herself think about Fox Mulder again. It had been years. She wondered about that new partner of his. She wondered how he'd changed.
In Washington, nearly a year later, she ended up partnered with Fox and his new partner—well, not so new anymore; she'd lasted five years, longer than Diana had—on the case of a boy, Gibson Praise, who Mulder believed was the subject of an assassination attempt. The new partner was Dana Scully, and she was polite to Diana until she saw the connection between them. Diana saw things, too—for example, the way that Dana looked at him, and the way Fox might’ve been looking back if he hadn't been looking at Diana, looking at the mystery laid before him. She'd heard the stories of Fox’s reactions when his partner was in danger: shoving a gun in Spender’s face, What a fluke, she told herself. Fox Mulder has fallen in love with two women who can speak German in a period of ten years. (Because after six years in Berlin, of course she could speak it, and she knew Dana could. She knew everything about her.)
She'd told herself, again and again, that she wasn't in love with Fox anymore. And she wasn't. Six years is a long time. But she was intrigued by him, the man he had become. He had changed so much and not changed at all, all at once. His eyes lit up at the prospect of the boy being able to read minds, and Diana had to smile. It was so him, and she had forgotten. But now she was remembering: discussing X-Files in startled, excited tones late into the night, driving through small towns and breaking into government facilities, running away from things. Always running. The way he tasted like nicotine and sunflower seeds when she kissed him. (They'd used to smoke together, she hadn't understood his aversion to it until she'd heard of his excursions with the smoker—Spender, she knew his name now. Creepy motherfucker.) When Gibson said that Fox was thinking about either her or Dana, she was genuinely curious. She asked, “Which one?” innocently, like she didn't know it was her thinking about him. (She didn't know who he was thinking of. God, she was worse than a schoolgirl with a crush. She reminded herself that she had a job to do.)
The first time she talked with Fox (she was still calling him Mulder out loud, but Fox in her head), she layered on the compliments, buttering him up before letting it slip into his mind that Dana may not be the best partner for him. (If she could get him to prefer her to Dana, than it would make her job all the easier.) He laughed a little with her before clarifying, “She’s a, uh… she’s a scientist. She just makes me work for everything.”
She knew. She knew it all. “Yes,” she said, “but I’m… I’m sure there were times when two like minds on a case would have been advantageous.”
He nodded, said, “I've done okay without you.” A defense mechanism, but in defense of Dana, or himself, she couldn't tell.
An awkward silence between them for a moment. “Hey,” she said in teasing reassurance. She reached for his hand and took it, sliding her own callused fingers over his. FBI agents don't have smooth hands. “I'm on your side.”
If he knew who she had been working for all the years, he would hate her, rip away from her, shout at her with all the anger she'd seen aimed at others. He smiled, squeezing her hand. He had to believe she was on his side.
Just for a moment, holding his hand and remembering the days before she left, when she wore his ring, Diana wished she was.