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Chess and Roses

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A busy FBI officescape, October 15th

 

"Fine. Thanks Frohike, I owe you." Mulder put away his cell phone and looked briefly around him before leaning furtively across his desk toward Scully's. She was on the stationary phone, asking a Mrs Pereira about her husband's sleep-walking habits. Scully refused to acknowledge her partner's efforts to get her attention in the middle of a background interview. This time she would not let herself be dragged into anything.

With a sigh, Mulder got up from his desk and headed for the toilets. As soon as he was around the corner and out of sight, he slipped into a temporarily empty office and dialled Scully's cell phone number from his own cell phone. He heard her answer, then briefly thank and dismiss Mrs Pereira on the stationary phone, before she returned to him.

"Scully."

"Scully, it's me. Sorry about the sneaky method to get your attention, but I've got to talk with you."

At her desk, Scully rolled her eyes. "You've got three seconds."

He noted that she had been careful not to speak his name. No need to let everybody suspect they were conducting clandestine business by phone.

"I know where Gibson Praise is", he said, mindful of his time limit.

She breathed slowly into the phone. "Where?"

"I'd rather not be precise over the phone, but it's an idyllic countryside school, woodlands all around it. I think we should go there, Scully. He might know something."

"Mul.." Damn. She looked hastily around her, but nobody seemed to be paying any attention to her. "We can't just.."

"Garage, level two. Meet you in five minutes."

* * * *

In the woods around Maple Grounds Private School for the Precocious, October 15th

 

The two black-clad wanderers were ambling somewhat aimlessly through the woods, talking companionably, paying no particular attention to where they were going until they more or less inadvertently came upon their car. Unconsciously, they must have had the same idea about where they were headed.

Krycek sighed. "What now? I don't think she's around here any more. I wouldn't have been, if I was her. She probably got out on the road as fast as she safely could and got herself a lift into town. We've been wasting our time."

"There is such a thing as time well wasted", Li Ann pointed out. "We needed it to sort out whether to cooperate or not. Besides, for all we knew, she could have counted on any pursuers to assume she wouldn't stay long in one place. Or, she might have failed to get a lift. Traffic isn't exactly lively out here."

"The truth is, we haven't a clue as to where she's gone", Krycek said. "And she's a telepath. She probably knows our every move."

Li Ann shook her head. "Not necessarily. Do you know anything about her range?"

"Zip. My employer and his - associates haven't been able to determine that. In fact, they know very little about her."

Li Ann looked thoughtfully around her. "We're almost back at the school. What do you say we go and have another talk with Gibson? Maybe he knows where she went?"

"He won't talk to us. Also, it's doubtful she'd let him know where she was going."

"Isn't he supposed to be the stronger telepath? Maybe he can override her or something."

"He still won't talk to us."

Li Ann gave him a light push. "Don't be such a pessimist, it can't hurt to try. Unless you have a better idea?"

Krycek shot her a green glare and went with her.

They spotted Gibson at once, as soon as they approached the school. He was leaning on the fence, talking with a well dressed couple who seemed to be asking him a lot of questions. He made no sign of having noticed the presence of Krycek and Li Ann, but they both knew they had better assume that he had.

Li Ann was about to walk up and join the threesome at the fence, but Krycek caught her by the arm. "Better not."

"Why? You know those two?"

"They're FBI agents. That man will kill me with his bare hands, if he ever gets hold of me."

Li Ann glanced briefly at her companion but could detect no sign that he was joking. "Really? He doesn't look violent. Whatever did you do to him?"

"You don't want to know. Let's just sneak close enough to hear what they're talking about, ok?"

"You think we can, without being spotted?"

Krycek nodded. "It looks like there's shrubbery growing almost all the way up to the fence on this side, we should be all right. Just watch it so you don't step on anything noisy."

She looked blackly at him. "I won't make a sound. Just see that you don't."

* * * *

A chess game on neutral ground

 

The Director did not like the look of this. Her cigarette-puffing opponent was pulling in his pieces tightly, despite the kind of opening she had chosen to start out with.

"I thought you said this could lead to slaughter", she probed.

He smiled through smoke. "Oh, it still can", he said lightly. "If that's what you want."

She had had enough of his Morleys. Just to spite him, she lit one of her own sturdy Havana's - a bribe from a hopeful client. Her adversary did not seem impressed so much as amused.

She frowned at the board again. She still wasn't sure of his strategy, but she was getting tired of his cat and mouse game. She decided to call him out.

* * * *

North Side Railway Station - train yard, October 15th

 

"Vic, we haven't the slightest idea where she is. Admit it."

In answer, Vic handed his old rival a piece of paper with a sloppily drawn street map on it. Mac took it. It seemed to depict the way they had been walking for the past three hours. At the end of the route were a few rectangular boxes, the legend 'N S Rwy Stn: backside' and a fat 'X'.

"Where did you get this?" Mac wanted to know.

"I found it in the glove compartment of our car, while you were busy looking for a telephone pole to hit."

"It was a lamp post", Mac muttered. "And I wasn't looking for it. You mean, we've been following this pathetic scrawl for three hours? Why didn't you tell me?"

Vic glared at him. "I didn't want an argument."

Mac stopped in his tracks. "Why would I argue?"

"You're always arguing. Especially when you know you have three hours' hike through an unknown city ahead of you, motivated by no more than a hand-scribbled map. As it is, I had to listen to three hours of your whining about being lost with nowhere to go, but at least you came."

"Look, if you don't want my company.."

"I thought I just said I did."

Mac sighed. Far too many of his days were spent trading insults with Vic. No point keeping it up now that they were here. According to the map, they had reached their destination. He looked around him listlessly. Nothing but an old freight yard. Windowless railway cars standing about on dead-end tracks. If there were any living creatures besides themselves around, he couldn't see them, but he could have sworn there'd be rats in a place like this.

"You honestly think that map is a clue?"

Vic looked at him. "I found it on the other side. Before we went through that field thing, whatever it was. There's no North Side Railway Station back home."

"So where do you think we are?"

"In a place that has a North Side Railway Station. And I think the Director knew we were coming here."

"You think she drew that map? It isn't her style at all. Even if she were in a hurry, she'd have done it better, with all the right proportions and distances - she'd most likely have pencilled in a little ruler stating what scale it was in."

Vic turned the map in his hands. "Looks like Nathan's job", he admitted. "But the Director could have ordered it."

Mac groaned. "If you ask me, we've been chasing one of Nathan's wild geese all along."

"I'm not asking you. The place exists, right? And there's nothing like it on our side of things."

"Wherever that is. How did we get here in the first place?"

Vic shrugged. "I don't know. Some kind of teleportation screen?"

With an effort, Mac refrained from saying what he thought of that idea. Obviously, Vic had been watching too much sf again. Mac stared glumly at the nearest boxcar. "You really think Li Ann will turn up here?"

Vic gave him a mournful, sea-green look. "It's our only hope so far. I had to act on it."

* * * *

Maple Grounds Private School for the Precocious, October 15th

 

Gibson looked solemnly up at the two FBI agents. "You want to know about the girl. Melanie Alexander."

I wish he wouldn't do that, Scully thought, blushing as she met Gibson's disillusioned eyes. "Sorry", they both said at once. Mulder gave them an odd look but did not ask.

"Have you seen her?" he prompted Gibson.

"Why should I?" Gibson evaded. "You think that just because we're both telepaths, she would seek me out?"

"Yes", Mulder admitted. "That's what I thought. As you well know. Well? Has she been here?"

Gibson sucked in his lips, pondering how much to tell them. He still did not like lying. Besides, he trusted these two. The other two though.. Maybe if he told, the FBI people could protect Melanie from the others.

"Yes", he decided finally. "I called her, and she came."

"I take it you don't mean on the phone", Mulder assumed.

Gibson gave him a disdainful look. "I knew about her. I sensed her when she moved into the state. So I called to her. It was a long time before she understood it was me. My range is better than hers. She has to see people to read them. I don't. I could send to her, but she could not send back when she couldn't see me. Didn't matter because I could read her anyway, as long as she wasn't blocking. She's not very good at blocks."

Scully crouched down by the fence, to be face to face with Gibson. "But she came here, to talk with you?" she asked.

"Yes, after a while. I told her we should stick together, so we wouldn't get experimented on, but she didn't want to." He fished into his pocket and pulled out a bedraggled black rose. "She stung me with this, and then she left."

Scully exchanged a look with Mulder. Melanie had left her signature. Not that they would have doubted Gibson anyway.

"Do you know where she went?" Mulder asked.

Gibson nodded. "She didn't want me to know, but I picked it anyway because I was mad at her. She was going to hitch a ride to the railroad station - North Side - and then hide in a boxcar that could take her far away. She hadn't decided on any special place."

"Can you still sense her?"

Gibson nodded. "Yes, but she's getting better at blocking. Now that she knows about me, I can't read her thoughts over long distances, the way I could before. I know she's there though."

Scully frowned. "At the railroad station?"

"I'm not sure, but the distance feels about right. Maybe she's hiding out there, waiting for a train to leave."

Scully straightened to avoid cramps. Looking towards the main school building, she saw Ms Wight heading their way. "We'll have to say goodbye for now, Gibson. Your teacher is coming for you."

Gibson glanced over his shoulder, judging the distance to Ms Wight. "Don't let Melanie fry you", he said.

An image of Brad's vacant face came unbidden to Scully's mind. She shuddered involuntarily.

Gibson caught the image as well as Scully's discomfort. "Don't worry", he said. "She has to touch somebody to fry them. Don't let her touch you, you'll be ok."

"We'll bear that in mind", Mulder assured him.

Ms Wight was nearly upon them as Gibson said, "There are two more after her. A man and a woman in black. The man wants to kill her. And me. The woman doesn't, but she knows that the man does. You must get to Melanie before they do. They know where she is, but they haven't found her yet."

* * * *

In the bushes by the fence, Li Ann cursed in Cantonese. "The little brat knew we were here all along. Well, no surprise there. Wonder why he didn't blow the whistle on us though."

"He's hedging his bets", Krycek said. "Playing us against them. I don't know why, but he obviously doesn't want us caught - as yet, anyway. You noticed he didn't mention us until his teacher was about to interrupt them? He doesn't want them to ask about us. He knows they know who I am, but he didn't give them my name. I suppose I should be grateful?"

"As I said, a born blackmailer", Li Ann reminded him. "Either that, or he secretly wants you to kill the girl."

"Almost enough to make me change my mind", Krycek muttered.

* * * *

A chess game on neutral ground

 

The Director stared disgustedly at the board. "I can't believe you castled!" Puffing on her cigar, she sat back in her chair and reconsidered. "Actually, I do believe it, it was always an option. Sneaky of you though."

The cigarette smoker gave her a wide-eyed, innocent stare. "Sneaky? It was simply the logical choice, wouldn't you say?" He put out his latest cigarette, leaving enough glow to send up wisps of smoke from the ashtray.

The Director studied the board again. "Your white knight seems awfully supportive of your queen."

The elderly man smiled contentedly. "And the other way around, I might add. Hadn't you noticed?"

She considered his new position. He was all but invincible now, damn him. Still, if she played her pieces right..