There is a glass at her bedside, but no telltale trail of pills. She hasn't fallen on her sword, then. Perhaps a tablet or two, enough to dull the pain when the chosen assassin exacts the Smoking Man's vengeance with a slash across her throat. But maybe not even that.
How can she sleep, I wonder? How, when she knows, can't not know, that someone like me will come? I've been sitting here on the little two-seater lounge across from her bed for over an hour, looking at her and looking at the knife, and I still don't understand it.
Is it relief, I wonder? Are you really that far gone, Diana?
Or is it just an easier conscience than she's had in years? Because I could get behind that, too. Not so long ago, I was where she is now, and I walked away, leaving mine to die. She did not. I respect her for that, and more than that, I envy her for it. Even knowing she has minutes to live, even knowing that my choice saved my life and that her choice will see her dead, I envy her with every fibre of my being.
Who knows? Maybe she just knows you can't outrun the dark man.
It has to be done.
I rise, with some regret. Killing is not the terrible thing people think it is, but it isn't something I relish. I do it with the same grim stoicism women use to pluck their eyebrows and wax their legs. It sucks, but it's all part of being a woman. Or an assassin, depending on which way you look at it.
Why the hell is she naked?
Maybe she thinks they'll wait to rape her until she's dead. Maybe she wants to leave the world as she came into it. Maybe she always sleeps this way and she refuses to change how she lives just because she's going to die.
I'm sorry, Diana. So fucking sorry.
I sit down at her side, and the mattress dips. Her eyes fly open. She stares at me, eyes wide, and I see two expressions warring for control of her features. Terror and relief.
Relief? Why relief? Because she knows I'll make it fast? What goes through the mind of a woman about to die?
I raise my hand, slow. Let her see it open and relaxed. The knife is on the bedside table, in easy reach, but that's not for her. Not just yet. I let her watch my hand on its course to her forehead, and I smooth back her hair.
"You're here to kill me," she whispers.
I wonder if she'll try to talk me out of it. If she'll appeal to a shared friendship, a shared goal, a shared loss. She could do it. It might even work. She can't not see the similarities between Marita then and Mulder now.
But I don't think she'll try. She knows what I am.
"Fox," she says, and it is a question.
"He's going to live. You got him out, Diana. You got him out."
"Good." She turns her back to me. "Make it quick, Alex."
"It's dark in here, Diana."
"It's dark everywhere. Light is an illusion."
Now she waxes philosophical. Death doesn't become you, Diana.
"Bitter, Diana? I wouldn't blame you."
"No. You are what you are. We are what we are. The circle opens with the transmission of life and closes with the transmission of death. That's all."
I bet you wrote crap metaphorical poetry as a girl, too. No, death really doesn't become you.
I touch her shoulder. "Diana..."
She turns to face me, her expression amused. "You're not seriously offering to comfort me before you kill me, Alex. Have you gone soft?"
She mocks me. She has every right to do it, but it stings nonetheless. "This brings me no pleasure, Diana. You know that."
"So what, you want my absolution? You have it, Alex. You're no more culpable than a bird of prey. You are what you are. But I don't think my absolution really counts for much in the big scheme of things."
"That's probably true."
"Just do what you have to do." She turns away once more.
"You aren't afraid," I say in wonder.
"I trust you to make it quick. I can trust you to do that, can't I?"
I rise and walk to the window. I have my back to her. She's the only woman I've ever turned my back on. She and Marita, but Marita's lost to me in every way that matters. So that just leaves Diana.
She's watching me, I know. She could come up behind me, take the knife I left at her side and try to stab me in the back. I'd hear her coming - I still have my instincts - and I'd kill her before I knew what I'd done. Is that why I do it? Is that why I arm her and let her have my back? To make it easier for us both?
Jesus, I really am fucked up. I have more money than a man could spend in ten lifetimes, but therapy is the one luxury I can't afford. I've never puzzled over Marita - that's simple. Even predators bond. Sometimes it gets me into trouble, but it's normal. It's not incomprehensible. Not the way this is. Diana is something different...she hits all sorts of nerves I never even knew were there. I see a lot of myself in her, and I don't like it. Mainly because she holds herself far better than I ever could.
I've killed good people before. There's a pang. The comparisons may be just a Judaeo-Christian hangover, but they're inevitable. They're better than me, yet they die, and I live. Sooner or later, though, you realise that death has nothing to do with deserving. It's just a consequence of life - and, often, of choices. If you break a deal with the devil to do something good, that's honourable - but it's still the breaking of a deal. Then the devil withdraws his protection. Simple cause and effect. And I enact that effect, because that's just what I do.
Do you have to, though, Alex? Do you really have to do it?
Lines form in my brow. Letting a kill go...it's something I've never done. Not even when the kill was all wrong, for wrong reasons, for wrong people. Oh, I've refused hits before - even taken a couple of beatings for it - but I've never considered a hit, agreed to it, and then let the victim go. I know how to do it, but I never have.
Why did I agree to Diana, anyway? It's only revenge. It doesn't serve any purpose in the scheme of things. I think back to the assignment earlier that day, at the Smoking Man's bedside, his medical team hovering around. I said yes without a second thought. Why did I do that?
["I trust you to make it quick."]
I did it so they wouldn't torture her or rape her or treat her like dirt. I know what assassins do. I know how they do it. And most of them don't do it like me.
["You are what you are."]
But what am I, really?
"Where's your safe?" I ask abruptly.
"Behind the picture on the wall. I'd rather if you didn't ransack the place until...after."
"Ten thirteen sixty-one."
"Mulder's birthday? Jesus, Diana, didn't they teach you anything?"
"Shut up, Alex."
I open it, passing over a few jewellery boxes. I open one. Pretty ruby-and-diamond necklace. Two thousand dollars' worth, maybe. Extravagant for someone on a normal income, but not for us. Doesn't seem like her style. I wonder if someone gave it to her. I wonder if it was Mulder.
I close it again and move on to the document drawer. I raise my eyebrows at a few of the documents. I'll have to add those to my if-the-shit-ever-hits-the-fan file. There are a few congressional subcommittees that might like these.
I move on.
The pile of passports is small - smaller than I'd have expected for someone in our line of work. My own collection is at least three times the size. I toss aside the American and Arabic ones. There's a clean Italian one, no visa stamps inside. The image is moderately disguised. Large glasses, blonde hair, blue eyes. I look further back, and, sure enough, in a small handbag, there are glasses, a blonde wig, and contact lenses - along with a substantial wad of money. Her running kit. She's lucky. There's no way in hell I'd be doing this if she didn't have one. I may not be God, but I restrict my help to those who help themselves.
I take them to her and throw the items on the bed.
"Leave your jewellery," I tell her abruptly. "I'll need them for the Jane Doe."
She stares at me in disbelief. She didn't think I'd do it.
Welcome to the club.
I return to the window as she dresses. She's fast. Instinct? Does she think I'll change my mind? She could be right. My mind is already ticking over the things I have to do. The morgue. Hacking into databases. Changing fingerprints and dental records. It's going to be a long night. Fuck.
"Why are you doing this?" she asks at last.
I shrug. "It's too late to save *her*." It's cryptic, but I think she probably knows what I mean.
"Maybe not," she says.
I turn to face her. She's pinning up strands of dark hair beneath the wig. Holy shit, she looks like Marita now. That's creepy.
"What do you mean?" I ask at last.
"There's a guy in the Tunisian government. A guy I used to work with. His name is Itzhak. Details are in my Rolodex. You have access to some technology I think he'd want."
"Diana, I worked very hard to keep those nanocytes out of Tunisian hands."
"That was before it all went to hell." She puts in the contact lenses, first one, then the other. "There are other test subjects now. And I think Itzhak would extend you both some protection to get that technology." She puts on the glasses. "I think you should go and see him."
I feel something warm growing in my stomach. Not quite hope, but maybe some embryonic ancestor to it. "Maybe I will."
She comes to me and kisses my cheek. "Goodbye, Alex."
I hold her for a long moment - much longer than necessary. I kiss that blonde, thin, synthetic hair. "Goodbye, Diana."
She leaves without a backward glance, and the last thing I hear are her heels tapping away down the hall. I turn back to the window. Looking down, I see her leave the building and walk off into the light of the street - tall, blonde, free. I turn from the window and collect my knife from the bedside table.
There's work to be done.
Author's Note: This is a weird one. It's been sitting on my hard drive for a while and I debated whether to put it out there. When I came up with the idea, I'd originally envisaged this as a sequel to Walk In Darkness, Not In Light. But in writing it, I found that the characterisation shifted a bit. Not much, but enough that I didn't see them as part of the same universe anymore. Still, I always wished more people had seen it besides myself and Kristen, so here it is. The title, if it seems familiar, is a reference to the Stephen King novel The Stand.