Mulder kicked down the door and burst into the room, his gun held ready. The place was in darkness.


“Hello!” He called. Scully edged in behind him.


“Anything?” She peered into the gloom.


“Not that I can see.” Mulder got out a flashlight and shone it around, opened the door to a couple of the rooms.


“What is this place?” Scully picked up a flask of green liquid from a table and walked around some sort of scientific apparatus.


“I have no idea.” Mulder shrugged.


“What exactly did the tip-off say again?” Scully opened the door of a huge freezer and stepped back as a cloud of cold white air engulfed her. Mulder got the note out of his pocket.


“An X File?” he read out. “And then it gives this address.” Mulder shrugged.


“But what are we looking for?” Scully glanced at him.


“You know as much as I do.” Mulder left the room and went back into the hallway. “Scully!” He called.


“What is it…?” She came out noisily and he held up his hand.


“Did you hear that?” he asked.


“What?” They both stood there silently for a moment and then they heard it again. A faint muffled, scuffling sound. Mulder pointed to the doorway at the end of the corridor and Scully nodded, drawing her gun. They edged down the passage and stopped, then Mulder kicked the door open and charged in, Scully close behind him. Mulder waved the flashlight around.


“Nothing,” he said.


“Wait…” They both saw it. A flash of white, more scuffling and then the tiniest whimpering sound. Mulder shone his flashlight in the direction of the noise and stared in surprise.


There, in the far corner of the room, huddling against the wall and trying to hide behind a chair, was a small boy.


“Hey…it’s all right.” Mulder inched forwards slowly as the child stared at him in mute terror, his eyes fixed on Mulder’s gun. “This?” Mulder held it up and put it away under his jacket. “It’s just a toy. Come on, we’re not going to hurt you.” He grinned and held up his hands. “See. We surrender!” The child regarded him with huge solemn eyes but did not move. Scully smiled at the little boy.


“Do you have a name?” she asked. He didn’t reply. “What on earth is he doing here?” She whispered to Mulder. “This place is deserted. How long has he been here do you suppose?”


“Who knows? He looks healthy enough.” Mulder spotlighted the child with the flashlight. “What on earth is he wearing?” The boy seemed to be dressed in a man’s shirt and nothing else. He had nothing on his feet, which were just visible, poking out under the shirttails. The arms of the shirt were far too big for him and his hands were tucked somewhere deep inside them.


“Come on, kid.” Mulder made a face. “We’re not that ugly are we? We want to help you.” He walked slowly closer, watching the child’s terrified eyes fixed on his every step. Finally he crouched a few feet away and held out a gentle hand as if to a stray cat. The kid couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old. He had thin, floppy dark hair and huge dark brown eyes. Mulder managed to get a fingertip on the child’s shoulder and he smiled as reassuringly as he knew how. “We could be friends,” he suggested. “I could use some friends. I don’t have that many.”


The child considered this for a moment and Mulder sensed that he was weakening. “Come on. What do you say?” he urged holding his arms open. “Friends?” The boy nodded and then darted out from his hiding place and burrowed his head into Mulder’s shoulder, his small hands clinging pathetically to the FBI agent.


“Hey, it’s all right. It’s okay.” Mulder picked the child up and exchanged a glance with Scully. “What the hell has happened to this kid?” Mulder whispered to her. She shook her head.


“We’d better find out,” she said.




“Mulder this is stupid.” Scully sighed. “We should contact the social services, hand the child over for temporary fostering.”


“I don’t want to do that yet, Scully.” Mulder told her over the child’s head. The boy refused to budge from the safety of Mulder’s arms and had now fallen fast asleep. Scully bustled around Mulder’s apartment, making a cup of coffee and frowning in disgust at the smell of the milk carton in the refrigerator.


“Don’t you have anything fresh around the place?” She asked him.


“No.” He shrugged. “Look, Scully, we were told this was an X file. We find this kid all alone in a clearly abandoned house – a place that’s been used for some sort of experimentation. I agree that we have to check the missing child register and do our best to trace the kid, but I don’t want to hand him over for temporary fostering until I know who he is and what this is all about.”


“Why?” Scully asked.




“Because of what? Because you think he might be another clone? Or a hybrid – a key to the clones?” Scully said perceptively. Mulder sighed.


“Yes. Remember Emily, Scully. Remember how you felt about her.”


“She was my daughter!” Scully protested.


“Yes I know. And this kid could be the key to understanding more about what happened to my sister,” Mulder said softly.


“All right.” She held up her hands. “I give in. Keep him ’til morning, Mulder, but then we inform the social services. Now, I’m going to buy you and your new charge some food and then I am going to check the missing child register. Hey, sleepyhead.” She ruffled the boy’s dark hair and he started and whimpered, clinging tightly to Mulder’s neck. “It’s all right. I just need to know your name. Won’t you tell me?” The boy burrowed his face into Mulder’s shoulder again, his small body tense and frozen. “It’s okay. But how can we tell your mom and dad you’re safe unless we know who you are?” Scully asked him. The child turned his head in her direction when she said the words “mom and dad”.


“Don’t you want to go home?” Mulder asked. The child nodded.


“Then tell us who you are.” Scully smiled at him. He gazed at her with those solemn brown eyes but still he didn’t speak.


“Do you suppose he can speak?” Scully asked. “I mean, Emily had some developmental problems. It’s possible that this child has learning difficulties of some sort.”


“Who knows? Leave him be for now.” Mulder gestured with his head to the door. “I’ll try and get him to unwind a bit. You go and buy that food.”


Scully nodded uncertainly, not at all sure about this investigation.


“It’s just the two of us now, kid.” Mulder said, sitting down on the couch, the child still wrapped around him. “Will you talk to me now?” The child just gazed at him. Mulder sighed. “You’re safe here, I promise. I won’t let anyone hurt you. Come on, loosen up, you’re squeezing my neck off here!” The child was still gripping on for dear life. “You’ve had a shock haven’t you, little guy?” Mulder asked, smoothing the child’s hair. “Someone did something pretty bad to you didn’t they?” The child whimpered and Mulder saw the two large tears forming in his eyes. “Do you remember any of it? Hey?” He asked, soothing the child. The boy laid his head on Mulder’s shoulder and his body shook as he sobbed his heart out. Mulder lay back, holding the child tight and running his hands along the small, stiff body. “You’re okay now. I’m going to take care of you,” he said firmly.


This felt strange. He had no little cousins or nephews or nieces, no children in his family at all. The last child he remembered comforting was his sister when she must have been about the same age as this kid. It awoke a fierce protective streak in him that he had long ago buried. As he held the child, Mulder knew that this particular X File had become personal.


Mulder awoke with a start. He was lying on the couch covered by a blanket, the child nestled under his chin, still sleeping. He vaguely remembered Scully coming back and unpacking some groceries before covering them both with the blanket and leaving again. Mulder stared down at the child for a moment, seeing him more clearly now that he was no longer wrapped around his neck. He was fast asleep but the dark shadows were visible under his thick black eyelashes. His skin was paler than Mulder thought it should be – the kid had a warm, slightly tanned looking tone to his skin but now he looked sallow and washed out. As he watched, the child’s long lashes blinked open and he stared up at Mulder for a long while and then whimpered as he remembered something.


“Home,” he whispered.


“That’s better.” Mulder grinned at him. “So you can talk?”


“Yes.” The child whispered.


“Can you tell me your name then?” Mulder asked. The child looked at him, his expression scared and shocked, and then he went deathly white, his eyes rolling back in his head. Mulder shook him in alarm, then picked the kid up and ran him to the bathroom. He was just in time. The child was violently sick over his shirt and shoulder and finally, when his head was pointed in the right direction, into the toilet bowl. Mulder sighed. “So this is what parenthood is like,” he murmured.


The fit of vomiting soon passed but with it also went the child’s desire to talk. He refused to open his mouth again. Mulder surveyed his own smelly shirt and the child’s stained garment and then decided that he had to get the kid cleaned up. He started running a bath and unbuttoned the huge shirt that the boy was wearing.


“I wish I knew your name, kid,” he said. “I don’t know what to call you.” The boy just stood there, staring at him, his finger curling in a lock of his dark hair. “If I get you out of this shirt, will you get in the bath for me?” he asked. The child nodded. Mulder pulled the shirt off him and lifted him up into the bath, sitting him down and sponging him with a washcloth. The child giggled as he found the soap dish in the shape of a “grey”.


“Yeah, I have useless friends who give me useless presents. This was from a guy called Melvin. Melvin Frohike. I know loads of other people with names.” Mulder grinned at the kid. “I’m being stupid. I’m expecting you to tell me your name and I haven’t told you mine. I’m…” he hesitated. The child stared at him again with those solemn dark eyes. “I’m Fox,” he said. “Yeah, I know, weird name. Do you have a weird name?” The child thought about this for a moment and then shook his head, a gesture that developed into a nod. “Hmm. I don’t know what to make of that.” Mulder said, lifting the child out of the bath and wrapping him in a towel. “Now what do we dress you in?” He walked the boy back into the other room and went to his wardrobe, pulled out a tee shirt and put that on the kid. It was only marginally better than the huge shirt had been. “Oh dear. I see we need to go shopping,” he grinned. The child grinned back and was then immediately sick over Mulder’s tee shirt.


“We can’t keep doing this.” Mulder said as he took the boy back into the bathroom and undressed him again, stuck him back in the bath. Privately he was worried. This kid was way too pale. As he soaped the boy down again he took the opportunity to surreptitiously check out the back of the kid’s neck, not entirely sure what he was looking for or what he’d do if he found any evidence of green, pus-filled boils. There was nothing. Mulder stuck another tee shirt on the kid, wrapped him in a blanket and laid him back down on the couch.


“Now look. I’ve got puke all over me and I need a shower,” he said. “I’m gonna leave you here just for a few minutes, okay?” The kid’s eyes turned frantic and he got up and wrapped his arms around Mulder. “All right.” Mulder sighed. “I won’t have a shower, but I do need to get out of this shirt. You stay there and I’ll be back in a second.” He ran into the bedroom, got himself a sweatshirt and ran back again but even in that short time he could see that the terror had returned to the child’s eyes. “I wasn’t gone long.” Mulder chided, knowing he would never be able to turn this boy over to social services. Not until he knew what had been done to him. Not until he knew the kid would be all right. At that moment there was a knock on the door and he let Scully in.


“How is he?” she asked, wrinkling up her nose. “You smell,” she added.


“He’s ill and that’s why I smell.” Mulder told her. “He threw up. Twice. All over me.”


“That’s kids.” Scully grinned. “However, he is looking a bit pale.” She sat down next to the child and put a hand on his forehead. “He doesn’t have a temperature,” she said.


“Perhaps he just needs to eat. We don’t know when he last ate. And he’s obviously been through some sort of nasty experience.” Mulder said.


“You haven’t got him to talk then?”


“Well…only a couple of words. What did you find out?”


“Nothing. He doesn’t fit any of the photos in the missing child register. I went through every one. It took half the night. I mean there were a couple that could have been him but when I checked further it didn’t turn out to be. Too old or too young or the kid had already been found or whatever. Until we can find out his name, we’re stuck,” Scully said. “So, monster, why don’t you tell us your name, huh?” She smiled. He smiled back at her and touched her hair.


“Red,” he whispered.


“Red? Is that your name?” she asked. He shook his head and touched her hair again.


“Red,” he repeated.


“Red. Well let’s call him that shall we?” Mulder grinned. “Come on, Red. Let’s get you fed. See I’m a poet. Red – fed!” He grinned idiotically and was rewarded by a shy smile from the little boy. God, Mulder thought, it was amazing the sort of goofiness a grown man would do just in order to get such a smile. He carried the boy into the kitchen and sat him in a chair while he made some toast. The child wolfed it down greedily. Scully exchanged a glance with Mulder before helping herself to a slice.


“Now what?” Scully asked while Red munched his way through his 5th slice of toast.


“Now we go and buy Red some clothes.” Mulder said firmly.




“Shit.” Mulder said as they entered the mall, each clutching one of Red’s small hands.


“Careful.” Scully gestured with her head towards the child. “Little pitchers have big ears,” she murmured.


“Oh. Right.” Mulder grinned sheepishly. “It’s just I feel like we’re…normal or something.” Red was wearing a pair of Mulder’s running shorts, held up with one of his belts that had been wrapped round the child’s body twice. He was smiling as Mulder and Scully swung him between them, whooping as he lifted his feet off the floor.


“Normal?” Scully repeated, grinning down at Red.


“Yeah, you know, Mom and Dad out with their kid.” He smiled softly at Scully. “In another lifetime, huh, Scully?”


“He’s not ours, Mulder,” she told him softly. “You’ll have to give him back at some point.”


“I know.” Mulder shook his head. “I know that, Scully.”


Yes, but do you believe it? Scully thought to herself.


They bought Red two pairs of pants, a couple of tee shirts and some sweatshirts. Then they had his feet measured and Mulder forked out for an expensive pair of sneakers.


“I’ll put it on my expenses.” He grinned at Scully.


“Footwear for 4 year olds? What will Skinner say?” Scully laughed at him. The child stared at her. “What is it?” Scully looked down at him. “What’s the matter, Red?” The child opened his mouth and then closed it again, burying his head in Mulder’s leg once more. Mulder sighed and picked him up.


“What’s the matter, sport?” He asked. Red put his arms around Mulder’s neck and refused to open his mouth again. “Hey look.” Mulder pointed at the play area where whole crowd of kids were playing. “You want to join in? Have some fun?” He put the child down and pushed him over to where the other kids were. The child watched them playing, his finger twirling in his hair as he stood there. He clearly wanted to join in but he wouldn’t let go of Mulder’s hand.


“You’re really shy aren’t you?” Mulder ran an affectionate hand through the boy’s floppy dark hair. “All right. I’ll come with you.” He grinned, running over to join in the games, taking Red with him. Red began to giggle.


“Mulder!” Scully protested.


“You know me, Scully. I don’t mind looking stupid! I have no shame!” Mulder threw himself onto a huge inflatable elephant and Red launched himself on after him, squealing with delight as Mulder picked him up and threw him in the air. Scully couldn’t help smiling as she watched.


“Your husband is crazy!” A woman told her, standing next to her and grinning. “It’s great isn’t it? A lot of dads don’t have time for their kids.”


“Yeah.” Scully sighed. This was all getting a little bit too cozy for her liking. She watched, feeling a growing sense of discomfort. It was clear that Mulder and Red had a rapport. But then Red was a small, frightened child without friends, family or familiar faces and Mulder had a child-like quality to him that made him seem like just another, bigger kid. No wonder Red trusted him.


“What’s his name?” The woman asked.


“Red.” Scully smiled.


“He’s a cute kid. We are talking about the kid right? I assume your husband isn’t called Red? Although he’s cute as well!” The woman laughed.


“Yeah. He is.” Scully smiled. Or at least he could be. Right now he was at his best but he could also be the most annoying man in the universe.


“What’s your husband called?” The woman asked nosily.


“Fox.” Scully felt as if she should enlighten the woman as to the real nature of this supposed “family” but something stopped her. She was enjoying this!


“Fox and Red? Now that’s unusual!” The woman exclaimed.


“Yeah. We’re an unusual family.” Scully grinned, enjoying the private joke.


At that moment her “boys” came running back over to her, Mulder allowing Red to win the race. She swept the child up into her arms and smiled inanely as he shyly kissed her cheek. He was adorable. How had he come to be in that house alone? Was some poor woman somewhere weeping for him? Staring at his empty bed, his favorite toys and wondering where he was?


“Mulder…we have to find out who he is,” she whispered seriously over Red’s head as they set off to McDonald’s for something to eat.


“I know, I know,” Mulder said. “We will.”


“What do you want?” Mulder asked Red, pointing out the options. “Big Mac? Cheeseburger? Fries?”
Red studied the choices thoughtfully and then pointed at the cheeseburger, fries and a chocolate milk shake. He unwrapped the meal as they sat down and stared at it for a moment.


“You ever had one of these, Red?” Scully asked.


“Haven’t all kids eaten at McDonald’s?” Mulder asked. Red shook his head, stuffing the burger into his mouth and taking a big bite. Mulder exchanged a look with Scully. “Well, what’s the verdict, Red?” He asked. Red smiled and nodded his head vigorously in mid-chew holding up one small thumb as an endorsement of the meal. Mulder laughed.


They finally left the mall and Mulder strapped the child into the back of the car in the new car seat that he had bought against Scully’s advice.


“We won’t be having him that long,” she had protested.


“We need to keep him safe.” Mulder had said, ruffling Red’s hair. “Don’t we, sport?” Red had nodded solemnly, picking out a car seat he liked. “Anyway it’s the law.” Mulder told her. “You wouldn’t want me breaking the law would you?” He asked, grinning broadly. Scully had glared at him and given in. It had, however, been her idea to buy Red some toys.


“You’re just as bad as me,” Mulder whispered to her.


“Mulder, nobody is as bad as you,” she replied tartly.


They drove back to Mulder’s place in silence. Mulder kept checking in the mirror to see if Red was all right but he looked fine.


“Mulder…” Scully cleared her throat. “I’ve been wondering…what are we going to tell Skinner about all this?” She asked.


“I don’t know. I need more time.” Mulder sighed. “We’ll stall him while we run some tests on the stuff in that house. That equipment.”


“Do you intend to run those tests yourself?” Scully frowned. “I mean, you’ve got a kid to look after. Unless you’re going to hand him over to…”


“No.” Mulder said firmly. “You’ve seen him, Scully. He can’t bear me to be out of his sight. No, we’ll take him with us. It might jog his memory.”


“He’ll get bored.”


“No he won’t.” Mulder said. “I’ll keep him entertained.”


Red shivered as they arrived back at the house. A team of FBI investigators were already there, dismantling the place piece by piece on Mulder’s orders.


“Found anything?” Mulder asked. Red’s hand was clutched tightly in his own.


“Not yet.” One of the investigators looked at Red and smiled. “Hey kid!” He grinned, ruffling Red’s hair. Red turned away and buried his face in Mulder’s leg again.


“He’s a bit shy,” Mulder said. “Come on, Red. This guy is okay. He won’t hurt you.” Red remained wrapped around Mulder’s leg. “Come on. You know I won’t let anybody hurt you. Not anybody.” Mulder stated fiercely. When had he come to feel so protective he wondered? Yet this child was so endearing, such a lost soul. He knew that Scully felt the same. The kid was enchanting. He was physically beautiful, as all children that age were, but it was more than that. His dark eyes were so very serious, hinting at some awful tragedy, and whenever Mulder won a smile from this solemn little boy he felt as if he’d just saved the world single-handedly or walked on the moon or something. It was an amazing feeling.


Red glanced up at Mulder and allowed himself to be disentangled.


“Why don’t you play?” Mulder suggested. “Here.” He got out the space laser Scully had bought for the kid and pressed the button, making it light up and let out a whooshing sound. Red smiled, tentatively. He took the laser, pointed it at Mulder and fired. Mulder pretended to die, very noisily, throwing himself around until he was rewarded by Red’s fit of giggles. I should get an Oscar for this, Mulder thought to himself. What’s happening to me? I’m turning into some sort of clown. Perhaps I chose the wrong profession, I should have been a children’s entertainer.


Red trailed along after Mulder, shooting his laser at people who mostly were nice enough to pretend to have been shot. Mulder noted which ones didn’t and took an instant dislike to them. All the same, the child wouldn’t let Mulder out of his sight, following him through the entire house.


“Do you remember any of this?” Mulder asked gently. Red shook his head.


“None of it?” Mulder wanted to know. “I mean, you know you were here, right?” Red nodded, his eyes filling up with tears again. Mulder swept him up and held him tight.


“It’s all right. We’ll find out what this means. I promise,” he said.


“Bad men.” Red whimpered into his neck. “Bad men took me.”


“Okay, Red. I’m listening. Tell me more.” Mulder glanced at Scully over the top of Red’s hair.


“I…I…” Red looked into Mulder’s eyes, his small features screwed up with anguish. “They… drink,” he said.


“You’re thirsty?” Mulder asked.


“No.” Scully stepped over. “I think he’s saying that he was given something to drink.”


“Then what?” Mulder breathed, his muscles starting to tense. The child had been naked under that man’s shirt. What had they done to him? Drugged him? Abused him? Mulder felt a surge of anger, wanting to hit out at anybody who could hurt or abuse this defenseless child. Shit, he should have taken the kid to a hospital, to a counselor – what had he been thinking of? Yet, he’d bathed the child and there hadn’t been a mark on him, not even a bruise or a scratch. The child picked up on Mulder’s tension and whimpered again. “It’s okay,” Mulder soothed. “I’m just angry with the bad men, Red. Tell me what they did to you.”


“Made me feel ill,” Red said. “Drink. Then all the colors…” Without warning Red was sick again, all over Mulder’s shoulder.


“You are going to have to stop doing this to me.” Mulder sighed, wincing as the smell of partly digested cheeseburger assaulted his senses.




They took Red to a hospital.


“There’s no sign of sexual or physical abuse,” the pediatrician told Mulder and Scully. “But the vomiting is a cause for concern. We’ve given him something to settle his stomach. I don’t think it’s anything serious though. Probably just a bug.”


“There are some other tests I’d like you to run,” Scully said. She outlined them and the doctor stared at her in surprise.


“And you are the child’s parents?” The doctor asked suspiciously.


“Yes.” Mulder said firmly, remembering Scully’s battles over Emily. “We’re also federal agents. Red’s our son. I can bring you his birth certificate if you like.”


The pediatrician stared at them both for a long time and then nodded. “Alright. We’ll start the tests,” she said.


“Mulder…” Scully began as soon as the pediatrician left the room. Her face was creased up into a worried frown.


“I know.” Mulder looked pretty worried himself. “I’m sorry, Scully, but I think Red’s been involved in some sort of experiment. And we won’t know until we run those tests.”


“And if she calls your bluff?” Scully asked. “Checks us out?”


“I’ll deal with that if it happens.” Mulder shrugged. “You don’t mind being our son for a bit do you, Red?” Red stared at him and shook his head mutely. “You don’t have to call me dad or anything, just pretend. Huh?” Mulder asked. Red nodded.


“Make believe,” he whispered. Mulder grinned.


“That’s right, kid. And now you’re talking more, how about you tell us your name?” He asked, as persuasively as he knew how.


“She knows my name,” Red replied, his solemn eyes fixed on Scully now.


“Me? I don’t.” Scully sat down on the bed next to Red and took his hand in hers.


“You do…you said…” Red’s face screwed up again as he bit back the tears. “Fox…” he whispered pathetically.


“I’m here, Red.” Mulder sat down on the other side of the bed and took hold of Red’s other hand. “It’s okay. Just tell us when you can, all right? We can help you. I promise.” Red’s eyes were wide with fear as if he were remembering something. He looked so sad and confused that Mulder wanted to go out and kill whoever had brought him to this condition.


The test results were startling.


“His body has undergone some sort of trauma.” The pediatrician informed them. “I think the vomiting is a reaction to stress and emotional turmoil. His metabolism is so screwed up I can’t begin to think how he must be feeling. We’ve stabilized that with medication but there’s this that we don’t understand.” She pointed at something in the file. Mulder looked at Scully questioningly, waiting for her to interpret.


“A sort of DNA mutation?” he asked when nothing was forthcoming.


“Not really. I mean, sort of, but…I’ve never seen anything like this before. What does it mean?” Scully looked at the pediatrician.


“I have no idea.” The doctor shrugged.


“Is it life threatening?” Mulder asked.


“No. At least I don’t think so. These results are bizarre. I can’t even begin to understand them. I’ll take this away and work on it.” Scully told him.


“Can Red come home with us?” Mulder asked the doctor. She shrugged.


“Well…he seems to be okay. I suppose so,” she said reluctantly.


“Good.” Mulder turned round to find that Red had already scrambled out of the bed and was trying to get himself dressed. He laughed. “You hate hospitals too, Red!” he exclaimed.


“Like father, like son?” Scully commented ironically with a raised eyebrow at Mulder. Mulder ignored her.




“Mulder I need to take these results into the office.” Scully said, gesturing to the file as they walked back to the car.


“I know. We’ll come too. There’s some stuff I want to look through.”


“What about Red?” Scully asked.


“He’s coming with us.” Mulder told her firmly. Scully regarded her partner for a long while as they drove. She was worried about him and this bond he had forged with the small, silent boy who had fallen asleep on the back seat of the car. Not that Red wasn’t a sweetheart and she could see why Mulder would grow attached to him, but all the same it worried her. Mulder was going to get hurt over this one – she could see it coming a mile off.


Red ran excitedly down the corridors of the Hoover building. He turned a corner and hid, jumping out when Mulder and Scully reached him. Mulder pretended to have a heart attack from the fright of it and was rewarded with another of those giggles. Red seemed quite at home, running on ahead, ducking around people’s legs.


“Weird.” Mulder mused. “I mean at that house he was terrified and now he’s started to behave like a normal kid. Not so clingy.”


“The house scared him. Something awful was done to him there.” Scully told him. “Here he feels safe.”


“Yes.” Mulder considered this for a moment, a worrying thought niggling at his subconscious. He couldn’t vocalize it and pushed it away. “Come on, Red!” He exclaimed, “We’re going this way!” Red had started to run up the stairs. “Down!” Mulder pointed. “We live in the basement.” Red stared at him questioningly and then followed as Mulder disappeared down the stairs.


Red was very well behaved, Scully thought to herself as she watched the child playing in the corner of the office. Mulder had given the boy a stack of scrap paper and a lot of different colored pens and he was now drawing away quite happily, his dark eyes fixed on the picture he was working on. Too well behaved, Scully thought. Mulder didn’t know much about kids – maybe he wasn’t aware what a very strange kid Red was.


“What you drawing, Red?” Mulder asked. Then he took a sharp intake of breath. Red’s pictures were good. Not like a child’s drawing at all – they had line and symmetry. They were a random collection of images, all jumbled together on the page. A room, people, a sense of bustle and confusion.


“Is this what’s in your head?” Mulder asked. Red nodded. “Looks worse than what goes on in mine,” Mulder joked. Red smiled.


Mulder returned to his papers, trying to piece together some clue from the test results being run on the equipment in the house where they’d found Red, while Scully worked her way through Red’s hospital tests. They were both so engrossed in their work that neither of them noticed Red get up and quietly leave the room. It was some minutes before Mulder looked up.


“Scully…?” He hissed. “Where did Red go? Shit!” He got up and went to the open door of the office, Scully hard on his heels. “Where the hell is he?” Mulder ran out into the corridor. The phone in the office buzzed and Scully answered it.


“Mulder!” Scully called. “Come back here. We have another problem.”


“What?” Mulder raced back. “Has someone found Red?”


“Yes. Someone has.” Scully grimaced. “Or at least Red’s found somebody. That was Kimberly on the phone. It appears that Red has just turned up in Assistant Director Skinner’s office.”


“Oh shit.” Mulder said.


“How are we going to explain this?” Scully wanted to know as they climbed the stairs. “Skinner is not going to understand why you’ve still got this kid, Mulder.”


“I know.” Mulder shook his head and chewed on his lip, thinking.


“And he’s going to insist that you turn Red over to the social services a.s.a.p. If you’re lucky he’ll just be very angry.”


“And if I’m unlucky?” Mulder dared to ask.


“He’ll kill you.” Scully smiled sweetly. “So that story had better be good!”


Red was sitting on Kimberly’s knee, playing with her computer when they arrived.


“He’s sweet isn’t he?” Kimberly smiled at them. “I wondered where he came from. One minute I was working, next I found this little guy standing in my doorway. The only thing he said was “Fox” so I thought of calling you.”


“Great. Thanks.” Mulder smiled tightly, one eye on the door to Skinner’s office. “Hey, Red. Come here.”


He held out a hand. If they were lucky they might be able to get out of here without disturbing Skinner. Red ignored him, sliding off Kimberly’s lap and going over to the door leading to Skinner’s office. “No Red!” Mulder shouted, but it was too late, Red had one hand on the door and was pushing it open.


“Thanks, kid.” Mulder sighed mournfully. “You just got me into a whole heap of trouble.”


“Oh it’s all right, Agent Mulder.” Kimberly smiled at him. “A.D. Skinner isn’t in today.”


“He isn’t?” Mulder heaved a sigh of relief. “Good. I mean…you know…I wouldn’t want to disturb him.” He ignored Scully’s snort and chased after Red who had disappeared into the other room. “Red! No!” Mulder laughed out loud as he pushed open the door to find Red sitting in Skinner’s big black chair, his skinny legs swinging a long way off the ground. Red smiled at him. “Shit, Red, you’d better get off there.” He had a sudden vision of the child puking up all over Skinner’s desk and it made him shudder. Try and explain that one, Mulder he told himself. Red didn’t budge. He opened up one of the desk drawers and peered inside. Mulder swooped, descending on the child and lifting him up, away from the desk. Red struggled to be put down again.


“Want…” He reached out his arms to the desk.


“Well you can’t have,” Mulder told him firmly.


“Want…” Red said again, wriggling so violently that Mulder half put him down, half dropped him. Red ran back to the desk and pulled something out of the drawer.


“What is that?” Mulder asked. Red pressed something hard and metallic into his hand. It was a set of keys.


“Home.” Red said.


Mulder stared at the child.


“What is it, Red? What are you trying to say?” He asked. Red smiled, took hold of Mulder’s hand and led him to the door. “Home.” He said again. Mulder began to feel like he’d watched “ET” too many times. Small children, “home”- was this his life?


“Take us there, Red,” he said to the boy. “Take us to your home.” Which he supposed was a variation on “take us to your leader.” Scully was still talking to Kimberly.


“Mulder,” she said, turning to him. “We have a problem.”


“No. It’s “Houston we have a problem.” Mulder wise-cracked, feeling as if his life was becoming more surreal with every passing minute.


“It’s Skinner.” Scully said seriously. “Kimberly says she was expecting him in today but he hasn’t showed up.”


“Is that unusual?” Mulder asked.


“Actually, yes, Mulder.” Scully informed him. “For most people not showing up at work IS unusual. Not for you, obviously, but for the rest of the world who live by different rules it is.”


“Okay. Have you tried calling him?” Kimberly just managed to keep from rolling her eyes. “Yeah, stupid question. Well, I suppose we could go over to his apartment and check it out.” Mulder said reluctantly. He had a sudden idea. “Kim, does the A.D. have a spare set of keys anywhere?”


“Yes…in his drawer…” Kimberly got up but Mulder stopped her.


“These them?” He held up the keys that Red had given him.


“Yes where did you…?”


“Never mind.” Mulder swung Red up and set off, Scully trailing along behind. “There’s a mystery here,” Mulder said to Red as he walked. “And we’re going to get to the bottom of it aren’t we, Red?”


“Yes, Fox.” Red nodded solemnly.


“You can be my new partner. Scully won’t mind, will you, Scully?” Mulder shouted over his shoulder.


“Mind? I’d be relieved.” Scully told Red, catching them up. “You have no idea what you’re taking on, Red. Your new partner is a right royal pain in the…”


“Little pitchers, Scully!” Mulder said with an infuriating grin.




There was no reply to Mulder’s knock on Skinner’s door. He fumbled with the keys, feeling sure his boss would turn up at any moment and ask exactly why Mulder was trying to break into his apartment. He opened the door cautiously and Red ran in ahead of them and then stopped, shaking. The apartment was in a mess. Mulder had only been there a couple of times in his life but he knew that his boss was a tidy man who would not have left the place looking like this.


“What’s happened here?” Scully looked round, drawing her gun. Mulder put a protective hand around Red, pushing him against the wall. There was a broken lamp on the floor and a couple of chairs had been overturned.


“A struggle?” Mulder suggested. “Someone being taken somewhere they didn’t want to go?” He felt Red whimper under his hand and turned just in time to see the child vomit again.


“Oh shit,” he sighed. This was all he needed. An abducted boss and a pathologically puking child.


“Mulder I’m concerned.” Scully said as Mulder cleaned Red up in Skinner’s scrupulously spotless bathroom. “If Skinner has been abducted it might not have happened last night. Today’s Monday. Nobody’s seen Skinner since Friday evening, which means…”


“Yes I know. They could have quite a head start on us.” Mulder wiped Red’s face with a towel. “And there’s something else, Scully. I think all this is connected with Red in some way.”


“Red?” Scully frowned. “How?”


“I’m not sure.” Mulder shook his head. “But remember when you were abducted? They used your ova to create hybrids like Emily.”


“Yes, but still…You’re not suggesting that Red is some sort of clone of Skinner are you? That’s preposterous, Mulder! Emily was born after I’d been abducted. She was 3 years old. She had lived a normal time span.”


“We don’t know that Skinner hasn’t been abducted before.” Mulder pointed out.


“I’m sure he would have mentioned it!” Scully protested. “Knowing the sorts of investigations we’re involved in.”


“Not necessarily. He doesn’t talk about himself much.”


“Mulder this is stupid. There is no connection here.” Scully shook her head.


“Let’s find some photographs.” 


“Of what?” Scully followed him out of the bathroom, Red still perched on his hip.


“Of Skinner as a kid. I mean look at Red. It’s possible, Scully.”


“Possible.” Scully frowned, staring at the child. “But not terribly likely, Mulder.” Scully tried her best to think what a 4 year old Skinner might look like and whether this boy could therefore be some sort of “son” of her boss. She supposed there was a resemblance, mainly around the eyes, but Skinner was a man who looked every inch…well, a man. In all the time she had known him she had never seen anything in him of the child he must once have been. Unlike Mulder, she thought wryly to herself, privately of the opinion that her partner had never grown up.


She helped Mulder go through drawers and look through cupboards, wondering if he felt as guilty as she did at all this intruding into somebody else’s life. Especially Skinner. He was such a private man. She didn’t want to know where he kept his socks and how many shirts were hanging in his wardrobe…shirts. Scully pulled one of the shirts out and stared at it.


“Scully? Is this some shirt fetish we were hitherto unaware of?” Mulder teased.


“No…just wondering. That shirt that Red came wrapped up in. Looked a bit like this didn’t it?” Scully asked. Mulder shrugged.


“A shirt’s a shirt. They all look like that, Scully. Two arms, buttons…”


“Maybe. Worth investigating further though isn’t it?” she asked. Mulder nodded.


“Hey, what have you found, Red?” He followed the child into what was clearly a storage room and watched as Red dug into a box and pulled out a couple of photograph albums. “Great! Well done, kiddo.” He beamed. Red beamed back, clearly delighted to be of use.


Mulder flicked through the album. Not many photos for a whole life story. Some of Sharon Skinner, wedding photos, honeymoon shots. He was startled to see a totally relaxed looking Skinner beaming out from these ones. He seemed happy as a man should be on his honeymoon, but still, it wasn’t a look Mulder had ever caught a glimpse of. Finally Mulder found a couple of older photos. A bit grainy but clear enough. A neat looking child, with slick dark hair, gap toothed. On the back it just said “Walter 1959.” Mulder held it up against Red and stared.


“Could be,” he murmured. Scully frowned and examined it.


“Possibly.” She flattened Red’s hair down and stared at him again. “Possibly, Mulder. But it’s hard to say for sure,” she said. “I mean there’s a definite resemblance but kids of that age all look a bit the same don’t they? Big eyes, small noses…”


“Hair.” Mulder grinned.


“Quite.” Scully grinned back.


“So, Red – what’s the answer? Who are you?”


“Him.” Red pointed at the photo.




They couldn’t get anything else out of the child.


“What does he mean?” Mulder asked Scully as he settled the sleeping child down on the couch in his apartment and covered him with a blanket. “This isn’t making much sense.”


“X Files don’t tend to, usually,” Scully sighed. “And that note did say this was an X File.”


“But where is Skinner?” Mulder paced around. “Was he abducted? Is this kid related to him in some way?”


“I have no idea.” Scully yawned. “I’ve been up for 24 hours, Mulder. I’ve stopped being able to think let alone understand any of this.”


Mulder went into the bathroom and retrieved the sick-drenched shirt, bringing it back to show Scully.


“Yes, very nice.” She pinched her nose. “What am I looking for?”


“Does it look like one of Skinner’s?” Mulder asked her.


“Well…possibly.” Scully held it up, trying to ignore the stench. “It’s about the right size. And it’s white. That’s about as far as it goes, I suppose.”


“Let’s send it off and test it. And while we’re at it, see if we can track down any old blood samples of Skinner’s. Test them against those the kid had done today.”


“All right.” Scully yawned again. “This whole thing really is a mystery, Mulder.”


“There’s one quick way we could solve it.” Mulder smiled.


“What’s that?” Scully asked.


“We could stick a knife into the back of Red’s neck and see if any green slime pours out!” Mulder grinned.


“Mulder!” Scully scolded. “Now I’m going home to get some sleep. I’ll stop by tomorrow with the results on that shirt.”


Mulder noticed that she couldn’t resist bending down to deposit a kiss on Red’s sleeping face as she left the apartment.


Mulder slept on the floor next to the couch, his dreams full of clones. He heard Red screaming, his head being severed from his small body, green pus devouring his features, burning holes in those solemn dark eyes and he woke up with a start, his heart pounding.


“Red?” He patted the couch, wanting to reassure himself. The blanket was there but no body lay underneath it. “RED!” Mulder got up and turned the lights on, running round the apartment madly, looking in the bathroom, under the kitchen table. Nothing. “Red!” He ran out into the corridor, down to the elevator. Still nothing. Shaking, Mulder returned to his apartment and rang Scully.


“You need to calm down and think.” Scully told him. “Is there any sign of a break in?”


“No.” Mulder paced frantically.


“Then he let himself out.”


“But why? I was taking good care of him, Scully. I like the little guy. Where is he, Scully? Where would he go? Why would he go?” Mulder was beside himself with worry.


“I don’t know, Mulder. But we’ll find him. Look, I’m coming over right now. Wait there for me.”


Mulder couldn’t wait. He set off along the street, running, looking under hedges and into people’s windows.


“Red, Red…” He called.


“Lost your cat?” A man asked sympathetically.


“No, my kid. Small guy, about 4 years old…Have you seen him?” Mulder asked desperately.


“Sorry.” The man gave him a strange look and carried on his way. Scully found him a few minutes later. She opened the car door and he got in, burying his face in his hands.


“This is my fault,” he groaned. “Oh, Scully, he’s so small and he’s out here, roaming the streets somewhere. We’ve got to find him. I can’t lose him…I can’t lose another…This can’t happen to me again.”


“Mulder, no!” Scully said fiercely. “He isn’t Samantha. We will find him. We will. This isn’t your fault!”


“Isn’t it?” Mulder queried. “I mean how many small kids can a guy manage to lose without trace in his life?”


“Stop it, Mulder!” Scully said. “Please, you won’t find him if you’re all screwed up with guilt like this.”


“You’re right. I need to think.” Mulder said. “I’m missing something basic here. Take me to the office, Scully. I want to check something. I must have missed something. Something is just EATING at me.”


They checked with the police and the hospitals but found nothing. Then Scully read the report on the shirt and the blood samples, which had just arrived. She took a sharp intake of breath.


“Mulder. You’ve got to read this,” she said, handing it to him.


“What? What is it?” Mulder’s eyes devoured the information. “I don’t understand.” His eyes met Scully’s. “What’s it saying? That he is a clone?”


“Not exactly.” Scully shook her head.


“What then? It says Red’s blood sample matches Skinner’s. A 100% match. What does that mean? Skinner’s his dad?”


“No.” Scully shook her head again. “Don’t you understand, Mulder? The results…I can’t believe I’m saying this…the results seem to imply that Red is Skinner.”


Mulder sat down, fumbling for his chair.


“I don’t get it,” he breathed deeply. “I don’t understand, Scully.”


“Neither do I.” Scully told him. “But that’s what it seems to be implying. Also the results on the shirt seem to back up the blood tests – it’s definitely one of Skinner’s shirts.” Looks like your informant, whoever he is, was right. This is an X File.


“But what’s happened to him? You’re saying Skinner has been, what? Transformed? Regressed?” Mulder thought about the child’s drawings – far too mature for a boy his age, how he had known his way around the Hoover building, how he had found his way to Skinner’s office the previous day. “I can believe it,” he said slowly. “I really can believe it. Someone did this to him, Scully. But how much of it does he remember?”


“Who knows?” Scully said. “Surely not much or he would have told us.”


“But he knew where to find those photographs. He does have some adult memories. I mean it’s not like he’s been taken back in time to being 4 again. He hasn’t once asked for his mom or dad…I’m sure a 4 year old would and…” Mulder paced around the room, trying to piece it together. “That’s where he is!” He exclaimed at last. “Scully, we need to find an address for Skinner – where he would have been living as a kid.” He got up and accessed the records database, called up Skinner’s file. “Got it.” He picked up his jacket and ran for the door.


“Mulder it’s a long shot.” Scully warned. “I mean he’s 4 years old! He doesn’t have any money. How’s he going to get all the way back to…” she checked the screen. “Maine?” she asked incredulously.


“I don’t know. I just know that’s where he’s headed.” Mulder disappeared.


They had been driving at a break-neck pace for a half an hour when Mulder’s cell phone rang.


“It’s the police.” Mulder said. “They’ve found him, Scully!” He swerved the car round and started making off in a different direction.


“They have? Where?” Scully asked.


“Trying to hitch a ride!” Mulder grinned. “All the way to Maine! Luckily he was picked up by a kind granny on her way to the drugstore first thing to get some pills and not by some crazy pervert roaming the streets looking for little kids.”


Mulder screeched the car to a halt and ran into the police station, burst through some doors and found Red sitting solemnly in a chair swinging his legs, looking thoughtful.


“Red!” Mulder ran over to him, swung him up, kissed the child’s head and then spent the next couple of seconds alternately hugging and shaking him. “God we were worried about you! Don’t ever do anything like that again.”


Red stared at him with big, scared eyes. “Sorry, Fox,” he whispered, putting his arms around Mulder’s neck and clinging on again. “You said you…I thought you wanted to put something into my neck. They put something into my neck.”


“Oh shit. You heard me talking last night?” Mulder sighed, looking at Scully. “I was just kidding, Red. I would never hurt you. You know that don’t you, Red?”


“Yes, Fox.” Red smiled and Mulder found himself giggling with relief.


“Mulder look.” Scully pointed and Mulder stared at Red’s clothing. “These fitted him perfectly yesterday.” Scully said. Mulder saw what she meant. Now Red’s clothes seemed too tight on him, as if he had grown a couple of inches overnight.


“What’s happening to me?” Red whispered his eyes large and fearful. “Fox…”


“Don’t you dare be sick on me again!” Mulder told him, recognizing the signs. Red nodded and swallowed.


“Breathe deep, Red.” Mulder set off round the room. “Come on, Red, breathe deeply.” He distracted the child until the moment and passed and Red seemed less anxious. “You’re going to be fine. I’m going to sort this out.” Mulder told the boy firmly. “I don’t care who you are, I’m going to sort this out for you. You understand?”


Red nodded.




“Okay, Red.” Mulder sat the boy down at his kitchen table as Scully made the toast. He wondered exactly how his apartment had taken on this air of domestic normality, the smells of breakfast and the toys and paraphernalia of childhood. It was strange, like being in someone else’s home. Red sat opposite him, munching on his breakfast. He looked thinner than he had and he was definitely taller. Mulder didn’t like the pallid tone to his skin. He stared at the child, trying to see some trace of his boss in him. Was it possible that this enchanting small boy was Skinner? Was it even vaguely plausible? Okay so he had the lab results but even so – it was preposterous wasn’t it? Yet since when had he been one to discount impossible truths just because they were implausible? Skinner was missing and the child existed. A child with strange medical problems, an odd metabolism and jumbled memories. A child who nobody seemed to be missing. A child who was growing at an alarming rate. The child in question stared back at Mulder with those horribly solemn eyes.


“Red – we think we know who you are.” Mulder said, exchanging a glance with Scully. Scully brought over a cup of coffee for Mulder and a glass of milk for Red.


“Should we…I mean do you think he’d prefer coffee?” she asked, as much at a loss over how to treat their guest as Mulder was.


“I don’t know. But Scully he isn’t behaving like an adult. I mean he wanted to play at the mall and he liked those toys you bought him. I just don’t know.” Mulder shook his head. “And then, you’d think if he was…well, himself then he’d be asking us to treat him differently, prowling around giving orders or yelling or something!” Mulder turned his attention back to Red who had been listening to this conversation. “So, Red…I was saying, we think we know who you are.”


Scully sat down next to Red and smiled reassuringly at him.


“Something bad was done to you, Red, wasn’t it?” She asked. Red stopped chewing and looked from Mulder to Scully and back again. He nodded, mutely. “Was there a struggle? You were overpowered?” Scully asked. Red closed his eyes and nodded again.


“Let’s go slowly here, Scully.” Mulder said. “I think every time he remembers this stuff it makes him ill. Think about it – the first time he was sick was just after he started speaking. He was talking about going home and I asked him his name. Then again at the house, when he remembered being given something to drink. Then at Skinner’s apartment when he saw all that stuff that had been knocked over.”


“I agree,” Scully nodded. “But it’s more than just an emotional stress response I think. I suspect he’s pretty queasy most of the time. And have you noticed how much he can eat? And how thin he is?”


“Well he’s grown by a couple of inches overnight. It’s hardly surprising his body can’t take the strain.” Mulder pointed out.


Red carried on eating, watching both of them as they spoke. His face had changed slightly, Mulder noted – the features were more pronounced. He looked more like a 6-year-old now.


“Red.” Mulder reached out and touched the child’s hand. Red smiled. “We think we know your real name. Do you know it?” Red nodded and gulped down the glass of milk that Scully had given him. “Is it…are you…” Mulder paused. This really was absurd. “Is your name Walter?” He asked. Red nodded again.


“Walter Sergei Skinner,” he said. “132, Maryland Avenue, West…” He said it as if by rote, as if it was something he had been taught and then he stopped, his face desperately confused. “I don’t live there any more,” he whispered.


“No. You don’t.” Scully tried to smile reassuringly but she felt a small knot of fear in her stomach. How had this been done to him? It was hideous, obscene. She thought of her boss, Assistant Director Skinner, a man with a powerful physical presence and a strong personality. A clever, private man regressed back into this child’s body. How could it have been done? Her mind went over those test results and she tried to piece together some medical way in which this had been accomplished.


“Where do you live now?” Mulder asked.


“Here?” Red looked even more confused.


“No. Before here.” Mulder said gently.


“Crystal City.” Red whispered. He put his child’s fingers up to his forehead and pinched the bridge of his nose as if it hurt him. That was all the confirmation that Mulder needed. He had seen Skinner use that same gesture on a number of occasions. It was an adult gesture. It looked strange on a small boy. “There are things in my head.” Red told Mulder, his eyes lost and desolate. “I don’t understand them. My mom and dad…I went away. And now they’re gone aren’t they?”


“Yes.” Mulder said quietly.


“Fox…Agent Mulder, Agent Scully…” Red looked terrified. “Everything in my head is like this.” He pointed to the scrambled eggs on his plate. “I was big and then I was tiny. There were colors and noise and they made me ill. Tubes and they made me breathe it…I had to breathe it…” Red started to choke and it was too much for Mulder. He got up and lifted the child into his arms.


“What did they make you breathe, Red?” Scully asked softly.


“The green stuff. The stuff you were talking about.” Red told Mulder, twining his hands around Mulder’s neck. “I tried not to but I had to take a breath and when I did, it was in me. I didn’t breathe again.”
Mulder stared at Scully.


“It sounds like…” Mulder began, “that is, I remember reading about the way we’d go scuba diving in the future – that we’d all be fitted with a special lung, a sort of gill that was inside us so that we could take oxygen from the water like fish? That sounds like what Red is talking about. And you remember those clone people? The ones I saw being grown? They were in these big tanks, surrounded by green stuff. Emily could have been grown like that, Scully.”


“And Red, Skinner could have been regressed back the same way?” Scully asked incredulously.


“Why not?” Mulder said impatiently. “It could have been an experiment that went wrong.”


“Or right.” Scully pointed out. “I mean if it’s true then it’s an amazing feat of biological engineering. And possibly a cure for old age. But why Skinner, Mulder? Why pick him as a test subject?”


“Because they knew I’d investigate it?” Mulder paced around the room, with Red still clinging to his neck. “I don’t know why else. I don’t even know why me, but then when do I ever!” He grinned.


“The question is…” Scully began.


“How do we put him back to the way he was before? Can we put him back even?” Mulder asked.


“We have to try. His body is obviously under enormous stress from the whole process.” Scully sighed as she glanced at Red’s pale face and drawn features. “And what alternative do we have? We bring him up? He seems to be making better sense of his memories as time passes and he’s growing as well. Before we know it we might find we have on our hands a fully adult Skinner inside the body of a sulky, hormonal teenager!”


“Not a prospect to look forward to!” Mulder grinned.


“I’ll go and check on the data we got from the house.” Scully pushed back her chair. “You keep him fed – his body needs as much fuel as possible right now. And keep him quiet and distracted as well. I don’t want him stressed out again. Or getting sick. There’s no point taking him back to the hospital. They aren’t going to be able to understand what was done to him and I can’t even begin to try and explain it to them. No. It’s down to us,” Scully said. “You know I hate to say this, Mulder, but you were right. Thank god we didn’t hand him over for temporary fostering. Who knows what might have happened to him then?”


“We still don’t know.” Mulder said. “Although the idea of keeping Red in exchange for Skinner is kind of appealing…”


“Mulder!” Scully scolded. “I’d be careful what you say around him anyway!” She grinned at her partner. “If he does get back to normal you have no idea how much of all this he’ll remember!”


“You need to get some sleep. Up half the night like that.” Mulder wrapped Red in a blanket and put him on the couch. Red lay there, watching Mulder as he moved around the room, picking up toys and abandoned shoes and stuffing them into a corner. “You have to close your eyes,” Mulder grinned. “You can’t sleep with them open. Look, you want me to read you a story or something?” He stopped bustling and shook his head. “This is so weird. Look, Red, I have no idea whether in your head you’re 6 or 46. I don’t know how to treat you. What do you want me to call you? What do you remember?”


“What sort of story?” Red asked, ignoring both questions.


“Well…” Mulder surveyed his bookcase. “I suppose ‘101 Real Life UFO Abduction Experiences’ wouldn’t interest you? ‘Inside the Psychopathic Mind’? No? Probably right, not good bedtime reading. You know, Red, I’m not really set up for kids here. I could make a story up if you like?”


Red nodded and Mulder went and sat down beside him, thinking. How about a tale of small, solemn boys who grow up to be big, brave Assistant Directors of important government institutions? No, perhaps not. He made up a ridiculous story about an alien creature living inside a refrigerator that made Red giggle which was when he realized his mistake. Bedtime stories should not make children laugh, they should make them fall asleep. He changed the tone of the story and of his voice and a few minutes later Red’s eyes had closed and he was breathing deeply.


Mulder didn’t dare fall asleep after the previous night. He phoned Scully to find out what was happening, then sat back and stared down at Red. It was weird. He knew this child, logically, was Skinner, but that wasn’t how he saw him. Red was still the child he had rescued from that house, the kid who clung to his neck and was frequently sick all over him. As far as Mulder was concerned there was Skinner and there was Red and they were two entirely separate entities. And until Red made him think any different he was going to carry on treating them as such. “I hope you’re not playing tricks on me, sir,” he murmured, watching Red sleep. “Just pretending to be all cute and kid-like when really you’re fully yourself. That would be scary!” He couldn’t resist putting a hand on Red’s dark hair and stroking softly.


One lost child meets another, Scully thought, staring down on the pair of them when she returned to the apartment later that afternoon. Despite his intentions Mulder had fallen asleep. Scully shook her head. This really was a ludicrous situation. Yet Red’s confusion and need for reassurance were very endearing and Mulder was responding as only a man who tortured himself over the loss of his 8 year old kid sister could. Scully had never realized before what a strong desire Mulder had to be needed. Red was bringing out some hidden instinct in him.


“Mulder.” She shook him gently awake and placed a finger to her lips, gesturing with her head to Red’s still sleeping form.


“What have you found out?” He whispered, getting up and going to the kitchen.


“A bit. First thing’s first – whatever is happening to Red is going to kill him.” Scully said bluntly. “We need to slow down that rate of growth – his body can’t cope with it.”


“And can we do that?” Mulder asked.


“I think so. It’s a total experiment but everything we do with Red will be,” Scully sighed. “I think I can put him on some medication that will keep his body growth stable. That will buy us some time to work on the equipment in that house, see if we can find a way to reverse the process.”


“You think it can be reversed?” Mulder asked.


“I have no idea.” Scully shrugged. “But I intend to try. Now look, you aren’t going to be much use to me on the scientific stuff and Red needs full time care. I suggest you look after him as best you can while I try and find some answers.”


“I don’t know, Scully…” Mulder began.


“Yes, I know, sitting idly by waiting for someone else to find the truth isn’t your style, Mulder, but you have Red to think about. He’s bonded with you and only you are going to be able to make any sense of whatever memories he has in his head. Incidentally I have a theory on that as well.”


“You do?”


“Yes.” Scully took a deep breath. “I think that his body is telling him one thing and his mind something else. He’s effectively blocking out all the memories that his 6 year old self can’t make any sense of. However every now and again something comes back that reminds him…”


“And then he’s sick.” Mulder put in.


“Well, when the memory is particularly stressful to him, yes.” Scully nodded. “It’s just a theory, but like you said, he is behaving like a 6 year old. A very shy and well behaved six year old but…”


“We don’t know that he wasn’t a well behaved and shy 6 year old.” Mulder pointed out.


“I suppose not. And this is an unusual situation so that could explain why he is so subdued and quiet. However it’s up to you to bring him out of himself, Mulder. Right now he is one very mixed up, unhappy little boy. If you could make him secure enough to be able to access his more recent memories without getting anxious, that could help the nausea problem. He trusts you.”


“God knows why,” Mulder grinned.


“Because you’ve been brilliant with him,” Scully told him in surprise. “Mulder you should see yourself. Now I’ve got the medication…” She was interrupted by a wailing sound and they exchanged a look and then ran back into the other room.


“Fox…Fox…!” Red was sitting up, his eyes bleary, looking around the room for his mentor.


“I’m here. It’s okay, just a nightmare.” Fox soothed the child. Tears were pouring down Red’s cheeks as he carried on looking around the room.


“There were trees and people in the shadows and people trying to kill me and I couldn’t see and speak and they hurt me, I was bleeding…” Red ran out of breath.


“Just a nightmare,” Mulder told him, stroking the child’s hair gently, wiping his tears with his sleeve.


“Or a memory,” Scully murmured. Mulder looked at her. “Vietnam?” she queried.


“Shit.” Mulder sighed. “How on earth do you cope with a kid who has memories like that? How can I explain it to him?”


“I have no idea. You’re the psychologist.” Scully smiled sweetly. “Now here’s those tablets Mulder. See that he takes one every mealtime. I’ll call you again when I have any information.” And so saying she left them to it.




Mulder took Red back to the mall to buy him some more clothes.


“Now look,” he said, as he signed the check for a new pair of sneakers, “when you’re back to normal I don’t want you querying this expense account all right? This stuff is all for you and I think that’s a legitimate Bureau expense don’t you?” Red stared up at him.


“Can we play on the elephant again?” he asked. Mulder grinned.


“Try and keep us away!”


Red was starting to look a lot better by the evening. Mulder tucked him up on the couch again and they watched “Lost in Space” and two Batman movies in a row.


“Fox…” Red began as they demolished 3 pizzas between them.


“Hmm.” Mulder handed the child some popcorn.


“Will you take me back?”


“Back where?” Mulder turned to look at the child.


“To where I lived then.”


“Maine?” Mulder queried. Red nodded.


“If you want, Red, but it’s not how you remember it.” Mulder told him. Red shook his head.


“Nothing’s how I remember, Fox,” he said quietly. “I don’t remember McDonald’s and brilliant shoes like this.” He held out his feet and stared at the sneakers with an appreciative sigh. “But I do as well…and VCR’s…I don’t remember them but I…I had one, didn’t I?”


“Very probably.” Mulder sighed. How on earth was Red going to make sense of living in two different time zones, the one where he had been as a 6 year old and the present day? He had memories of both, he just couldn’t reconcile them. Mulder couldn’t see how the kid could begin to make sense of what was going on in his head.


“We’ll go back then?” Red asked. “I need to see.”


“Okay.” Mulder nodded. “We’ll go back.”


They set off the next day. Mulder examined Red to make sure all his clothes still fitted him but Scully’s experimental medication seemed to have worked – in the short term at least. Red behaved as if he’d never been on a plane before in his life, alternately hiding behind Mulder’s legs or running off to look at something that interested him. He could swing from being confident and curious to being shy and introverted in the space of half a second and Mulder became worn out with the effort of either coaxing him out from behind him or searching around to find out where he’d gone.


“Kids!” he moaned to himself as he stared around the airport terminal looking for that now familiar dark head. He located Red crawling through a tunnel made by a pile of someone’s luggage and set off to pull him out. “RED!” He yelled, noticing that the luggage’s owner had fastened her beady eye on the child and was storming over with a face like thunder. Honestly, were all kids like this? You turned your back for a second and they disappeared? Red emerged from the luggage looking sheepish.


“I wasn’t doing anything,” he protested as Mulder hauled him off, just beating the maddened old lady to it.


“Yeah, I know,” Mulder grinned. “But people get kind of funny when you touch their stuff. Now can you stay next to me please? I don’t want you going off and getting yourself lost again.”


Red nodded, a sulky look on his face and spent the next ten minutes matching every step that Mulder made with a series of pedantic and exaggerated strides, sticking to Mulder’s side like glue.


“Oh for heaven’s sake!” Mulder cried in exasperation when he had fallen over Red for the fifth time.


“Well you said to stay next to you…” Red told him innocently.


“You know what I meant,” Mulder told him. “Don’t play games with me, Red. I’ve been in more trouble than you can even begin to think of getting into and I know all the excuses as well. Now go and buy yourself something. Chocolate, a magazine, I don’t care what.” They had established that Red could read. Better than most 6 year olds, and his writing was as good as his drawing had been. He still expressed himself like a 6 year old though. When Mulder had asked him to write a diary, he had put down: “Went to mall. Ate burger. Came back. Fox got me sneakers.” And had seemed rather proud of himself for managing this much. His writing wasn’t Skinner’s neat, curling scrawl but all the same, it was semi-joined up and didn’t slant too much.


Red loved the plane. He stared out of the window, asked Mulder a hundred different questions about engines, insisted on playing endless games of ‘I Spy’ until Mulder thought he would scream, and devoured a whole bar of chocolate which he then proceeded to throw up again as the plane took off. Luckily Mulder had a bag ready for just this eventuality. He was quite relieved when they reached their destination and he was able to carry the sleeping child from the plane and into a taxi. How did children get so dirty? Mulder wondered, surveying Red’s grubby knees and chocolate stained mouth.


They checked into a hotel where they stopped just long enough for Mulder to run a damp washcloth over Red’s face and then they set off for 132 Maryland Avenue. Red seemed confident enough as they arrived, but when they approached the house, he clutched Mulder’s hand.


“It’s different…” he whispered.


“I said it would be.” Mulder shrugged. “It’s been a long time, Red. Do you understand that?”


“I think so.” Red nodded. “How long?”


“Forty years,” Mulder said, watching the child carefully. Red stared at him and he could see him trying to process this information and failing.


“I don’t…I can’t think how long that is.” Red told him, his eyes regaining that lost, confused quality that they had whenever he failed to make sense of the memories he had.


“It’s just a long time,” Mulder shrugged, remembering how as a kid he had thought that the three days leading up to Christmas were a long time. Forty years must be way beyond Red’s comprehension.


“Can we go in?” Red asked, pushing open the gate nervously.


“We can try.” Mulder shrugged. He knocked on the door and politely explained to the lady who opened it that he used to live here. She was friendly enough and let them look round, made Mulder cup of coffee and Red some hot chocolate and even brought out some cookies which Red devoured with his usual enthusiasm.


“Sweet kid.” She smiled at Mulder. “You must be proud of him.”


“Um…yeah. He’s had a tough time. Been ill.” Mulder nodded.


“Oh, poor thing.” The lady knelt down beside Red and patted him affectionately as people tended to. “Are you better now, Red?” Red looked at Mulder for confirmation and then nodded. He hadn’t said a word since entering the house but he knew his way around. However his look of hopeless confusion only worsened as the visit continued until finally Mulder made their excuses and they left.


“That wasn’t what you expected was it?” Mulder asked. Red shook his head, mutely. “Talk to me.” Mulder had worked out that Red went quiet when he was particularly confused or saddened and he needed to try and get inside those tortured memories. Red clearly couldn’t make any sense of them on his own.


“Tired.” Red muttered.


“I know. Talk to me anyway.” Mulder picked him up and walked with him down to the end of the path.


“I remember my mom and dad.” Red’s eyes were dark and tearless. He laid his head wearily against Mulder’s shoulder and continued. “They died didn’t they?” He asked. Mulder nodded. “They were here then, with me as I am now, small. Then I grew up and went away and they died. That happened later – after I grew up, when I got big. How old am I, Fox?” he asked.


“Physically, about 6.” Mulder told him. “In real life, I don’t know, about 46. Mentally…I have no idea. Sometimes 6 sometimes not. Sometimes you just know too much to be 6.”


“How old are you?” Red asked him, screwing up his face and obviously trying to make sense of ’46’ in his small head.


“37.” Mulder smiled.


“I’m older than you?” Red asked.


“Yeah.” Mulder followed a sign saying “beach”.


“What am I like?” Red asked. “What do I look like? You know me don’t you?”


“Yes. I work with you.” Mulder informed him, putting the child down on the sand and staring out at the sea. “And you’re tall. About the same height as me and sort of broad, muscular.”


“Tall?” Red held out his arms to be picked up again and Mulder obliged with a sigh. “I think I’m used to seeing things from up here.” Red looked down at the sea and the sand and some children digging a hole. “What work do we do?” Red asked.


“We investigate things.”


“What sort of things?” Red looked intrigued. “Are we policemen?”


“Sort of.” Mulder shrugged. “We investigate bad things other people do and we solve mysteries.”


“Brilliant.” Red breathed, looking rather excited by this idea. “Scully as well?”


“Yeah. She’s my partner.” Mulder smiled.


“You said I was your partner,” Red complained with a little pout.


“Yeah, you are now. But at work, it’s me and Scully.”


“And big me?” Red asked.


“Well, you don’t really work with us, Red. You’re our boss. You understand that?”


“I think so.” Red nodded. “But I help solve mysteries sometimes?” He asked.


“Yeah. Sometimes.” Mulder grinned. “But mostly you just give us a hard time. That’s your job.”


“No!” Red grinned back and smothered Mulder’s cheek with noisy kisses. “I’m nice,” he said confidently. “I bet I find lots of bad people and tie them up and shoot them.”


“Hmm, well, maybe.” Mulder considered this. “But mostly you just let us do all that.”


“I want to do it.” Red insisted. “I want to have a gun like you and wear one of those badges on my clothes and chase people and stuff. Say I do that, Fox.”


“Yeah, you do.” Mulder gave in. “You’re a real action man, Red, forever tracking down bad guys and locking them up. You’re the best agent in the FBI. That’s how you got to be my boss.” Red grinned and struggled to get down, running off across the beach and shooting at imaginary bad people. Mulder couldn’t stop himself joining in, chasing a screaming Red and grabbing the giggling child around the stomach, throwing him into the air and threatening to duck him in the sea.


“Is it coming back to you? Do you remember any of it, Red?” Mulder asked the child later as they sat on the windswept beach eating an ice-cream.


“I remember bits.” Red nodded. “I remember being tall.”


“Do you remember me?” Mulder asked. Red stared at him with those intense brown eyes.


“Yes, Agent Mulder. I remember you.” Mulder started. For a moment Red had sounded just like Skinner, same dry tone of voice, same slight inflection. It was weird. Then Red took a lick of his ice cream and stuck his tongue out to show Mulder the contents. The moment passed…


Red didn’t sleep well. Mulder lost count of the number of times he had to get up to the child during the night. He tried stories, drinks of water, even singing (this one is really going to embarrass me if he ever gets back to normal, he thought to himself) but nothing worked. Mulder would just drop off to sleep and Red would call his name again.


“Damn it, Red. Can’t you just sleep?” He snapped at last, irritably. “You’ve got water, I’ve left the lamp on, there are no monsters ANYWHERE in the room, unless all this lack of sleep has turned me into one and you must be tired. It’s been a long day.” And turning into an even longer night he thought to himself.


“I’m sorry. Don’t be angry, Fox.” Red said in a small voice and Mulder immediately wished he hadn’t lost his temper. He got up and went over to Red’s bunk.


“Do you want to stay here, Red?” He asked. The child sat up and shook his head.


“Then let’s go.” Mulder called the airport, checked out the time of the next flight back to Washington, then, resignedly, he started packing their things up.


“When we get back…” Mulder hesitated. “Where do you want to go, Red? Do you want to go back to live at the Crystal City apartment?”


Red looked petrified.


“By myself?” he whispered. “Don’t make me do that, Fox. How will I get food? Who’ll look after me? What if I get sick again? Please don’t, Fox. I’m sorry I wouldn’t sleep. I’ll try harder, I promise but please don’t leave me there alone.”


“No, no. I didn’t mean that… I was just thinking… oh shit.” Mulder sighed. This whole thing was a complete minefield.


“I just want to go home.” Red told him. “With you. I feel safe there.”


Mulder tried to put himself inside the mind of a 6 year old child who woke up with memories of having been abducted and experimented on. A child who felt ill, lost and alone. A child who had no family and a lot of weird memories of being an adult. A child without any frame of reference, nothing to cling to except the first person who had found him and shown him any kindness and then he kicked himself, over and over again, for not seeing just how scary this must be for Red. No wonder he wanted to stay with the things that made him feel safe.


When they got back, Red ran excitedly around the apartment as if they had been gone for months, checking out where his clothes and toys were, chasing into the kitchen for some milk, back to feed the fish and pick up the ball Mulder kept in the corner.


“You want to shoot some hoops?” Mulder asked.


“YES! YES! YES!” Red yelled excitedly, chasing the ball across the room and straight into Scully.


“Hi.” Scully smiled at him.


“We’re going to play. Are you coming?” Red got hold of Scully’s hand and pulled her out of the apartment.


“Looks like it!” Scully exchanged a smile with Mulder and they set off.


 “So what’s the news?” Mulder sat next to Scully on a bench and they watched as Red bounced the ball around with another kid.


“I’ve got some ideas – but we need to take Red into hospital for some more tests.” Scully said. “I’ve found a pediatrician connected to the FBI who’s prepared to help us without asking too many awkward questions. However…” Scully hesitated.


“What?” Mulder asked.


“The tests, Mulder. They’re pretty invasive.”


“Meaning what?” Mulder frowned.


“Red will find them uncomfortable.” Scully said. “You’ll have to explain to him why it’s worth it.”


“You mean why we’re going to take a kid who’s feeling perfectly fine and make him feel a lot worse?” Mulder asked her. “Why are we going to do that, Scully?”


“Because we don’t know if he’s going to stay fine.” Scully told him. “We can’t just ignore the growth problem, Mulder.”


“The medication’s working. He hasn’t grown at all since…”


“Mulder. We have to do the tests,” Scully told him firmly.


“All right.” Mulder sighed. “When do we start?”


“As soon as possible.”


Mulder called Red over and tried to explain it to him as best he could.


“But I don’t understand why!” Red complained. “I want to stay here. I want to play.”


“We’ll come back another time. I promise,” Mulder told him.


“But why do we have to go at all!” Red wailed.


“It’s for the best. To make you feel better.” Mulder said, getting up and handing Red his coat.


“But I don’t want to.” Red stamped his foot angrily, his arms going stiff and unhelpful as Mulder tried to stuff them into the coat. “I do feel better. I haven’t been sick for ages. Tell him, Scully.”


“Mulder’s right, Red,” Scully said gently. “We have to go to the hospital.”


“I don’t like you.” Red told her, turning his back on her. His face had scrunched up into an angry scowl. “Please, Fox.” He turned beseeching eyes on Mulder, clearly thinking him to be a softer touch than Scully. “Please. Please. Don’t let her make me. We don’t like her do we?”


“I’m sorry, Red.” Mulder shrugged. “But we need to try and get you back to the way you were before.”


“Don’t want to!” Red yelled.


“You have to.” Mulder insisted, looking at Scully in alarm. He had never seen Red like this before.


“Why? Why? Why?” Red cried.


“I told you…” Mulder began wearily.


“No. I don’t care about those things. I don’t care about any of that. I want to stay here and play. I don’t want to go.”


“You have to.” Mulder told him firmly.


“But why? Why?” Red repeated in a loud wail.


“Because I say so.” Mulder snapped, then shook his head in disbelief. “I can’t believe I just said that,” he murmured. “The classic parenting response.”


“Kids drive you to it.” Scully patted his arm sympathetically. “Come on, Red.” She got up and held out her hand for Red to hold. Red ignored it, giving her a look of pure venom and then suddenly turned and chased off across the park. Mulder exchanged a weary look with Scully and then set off after him. Red was fast but his 6 year old legs were no match for Mulder’s long strides. Mulder caught up with him and grabbed the collar of his coat. Red wriggled and kicked and it took all Mulder’s strength to hold him still. Finally he tucked the child under one of his arms and marched him back to where Scully was waiting.


“Our first tantrum,” he sighed, putting Red down and keeping a firm hold on the child’s arm. Red started to cry – long, noisy, attention-seeking sobs. “One day you’ll thank me for this. Believe me.” Mulder told him. Red just scowled and upped the volume.


“Ignore him?” Scully suggested.


“He doesn’t want to go to hospital. I can identify with that,” Mulder grinned at her. “It just makes him sensible in my book! Hey, Red, how about we get a huge tub of ice-cream and eat it in the hospital?”
Red glared at him, sensing he was being bribed but unable to stop himself responding anyway.


“What do you say?” Mulder grinned his most appealing grin. Red weighed the offer up, obviously decided that he was going to be taken to the hospital anyway so he might as well get what he could out of the situation and finally smiled.


“Okay.” His tantrum was over as abruptly as it had started and Scully snorted and shook her head.


“Bribery. Blatant bribery, Mulder!” She chided.


“Worked though!” Mulder pointed out. “Pity it doesn’t have the same effect on women,” he sighed. “Offers of tubs of ice-cream don’t usually get them into bed.”


“Small boys have different priorities,” Scully grinned. “And different one-track minds to big boys!”




Red looked small and vulnerable, sitting in the bed in his hospital gown, attached to various monitors. He did a jigsaw with Mulder without any great enthusiasm, and allowed Scully to read him a story. By the third day he was pale and lacked energy. He didn’t complain, but he grew quieter and quieter. Mulder knew the child well enough to know that this meant he was unhappy.


“Couldn’t we go home soon, Fox?” Red whispered to him on the fourth day.


“Soon, Red.” Mulder smiled and crossed his fingers. “Soon.”


“Couldn’t we let up for a bit?” Mulder asked Scully a few hours later as they watched the child through the observation window. “I’m worried about him.”


“I know. But, Mulder – I think we’re getting closer to a treatment. I’ve done a full analysis of the equipment in the house where we found him and I think we can recreate the fluid that he was suspended in that regressed him like this. If we can, it’s possible we can reverse the process.”


“Possible?” Mulder glanced at her. “We’re working in the dark here, Scully. There are so many if’s and but’s. Wouldn’t it be simpler and kinder to just let him be? Stop all this testing and let the kid live his life as he is now? He certainly doesn’t seem to be remembering much more. Supposing you, I don’t know, grow him back again and find his head’s still 6 years old? Have you thought of that?”


“Yes. I’ve thought of every damn thing about this situation, Mulder!” Scully told him fiercely. “Unlike you I think. And whose interests are you putting forward? Your’s? Red’s? Certainly not Skinner’s.”


“What do you mean?” Mulder flared, angrily.


“Well think about it! If we could have Skinner here, right now, and give him the choice of continuing with the treatment with the hope of restoring him or abandoning him to be, what? Fostered by Fox Mulder until he’s old enough to start all over again? What do you suppose he’d say?”


“I don’t know.” Mulder kicked his foot at the wall.


“Well I do,” Scully said. “He’d want to continue.”


“But he’s not here. Red is. And Red doesn’t want the tests.” Mulder told her furiously.


“Red is a child. He can’t make Skinner’s decisions for him!” Scully argued.


“Well who can then?” Mulder retorted. “It’s Red’s life too. Where does responsibility to one end and the other begin?”


“I don’t know.” Scully rubbed her forehead wearily.


“Remember Emily’s mother?” Mulder told her, knowing he was playing dirty but not caring. “She stopped those tests on Emily. She would rather have seen Emily die than submit her to any more of that.”


“Mulder don’t use that against me. You’ve only known Red a couple of weeks. I know you’ve bonded with him but he’s not really yours. And anyway, what sort of life do you really think you can give him?”


“What are you talking about?” Mulder bristled angrily.


“You! Look at you! You can barely take care of yourself. You have a high-risk occupation and you’re always rushing off, chasing after mysteries. Will you let Red slow you down? Take him along for the ride maybe? Or just neglect him? You certainly won’t be able to continue to give him the time and attention you’ve been lavishing on him recently. Will Red understand that you have to go back to work? That he has to go to school? He’ll be on medication for the rest of his life – what effect will that have on him?”


“You were prepared to give up everything for Emily!” Mulder said accusingly.


“Yes, but are you prepared to do the same for Red?” Scully rounded on him. “Emily was my daughter, my own flesh and blood, however peculiar the circumstances of her conception. Red is nothing to you but a child who needs a friend. I think that says a lot more about you than about him!”


“Damn it, I…” Mulder hesitated, staring angrily at Scully. Was he prepared to give everything up for Red? He watched the child through the window then shook his head.


“You need to detach yourself from this a bit.” Scully told him sympathetically. “You just got too involved. I tried to stop you, Mulder. I really tried – right at the very beginning I tried.”


“All right, Scully. You win.” Mulder turned to her with a snarl. “Just don’t expect me to sit here and watch you hurt him and drain the life out of him with these damn drugs and tests because I can’t.” He opened the door to Red’s room angrily and went in.


“Red, I’m leaving for a bit,” he said. Red looked up in alarm.


“You’re going?” he asked. “Where? Can’t you take me with you?”


“No. I can’t. You have to take care of yourself, Red. You’re not really a kid, you know. Inside here you’re all grown up.” Mulder tapped Red’s head. “You can work this out for yourself. You don’t need me.”


“I do.” Red gazed at him with scared eyes. “Don’t go, Fox. Please.”


“Red – Scully’s found a way of making you normal again. You’ll be fine. You’ll laugh about this in a few weeks time.”


“Fox…” Red’s hands scrabbled pathetically at Mulder’s shirt but Mulder disengaged them, pushing the child away firmly.


“Stop it,” he said fiercely. “I’m going and that’s that. You’ll get over it.” And he turned and walked out of the room without looking back.


“I said detach yourself.” Scully murmured as he passed her. “Not kick out and stamp on the poor kid.”


“He’s not a kid, Scully.” Mulder told her angrily. “He’s Skinner. Isn’t that what you’ve been telling me? Since when did Skinner need me to sit at his bedside holding his hand?”


Scully shook her head and watched him go, turning back to Red. The child’s eyes were wide and unhappy but no amount of coaxing could make him say a word. He remained resolutely silent for the rest of the day.


Red’s condition deteriorated rapidly until Scully became alarmed. He wasn’t responding well to the treatment and he refused to eat. As his metabolism was so sensitive this had an alarming effect on his health. His pallor became more marked and he could barely move. Mulder’s doubts echoed over and over again in her mind. Why was she doing this? Was Mulder right? Why take a perfectly enchanting kid and turn him into this listless shadow of himself?


“Why doesn’t Fox come?” Red asked her one morning. “Why did he go? Doesn’t he like me any more, Scully?”


“That’s not it, Red.” Scully shook her head. “He likes you too much, that’s the problem. He doesn’t want to see you hurting like this and so unhappy.”


“Oh.” There was no understanding in Red’s eyes. He just looked confused. Scully came to a decision.


She found Mulder in his office, doggedly working his way through a mountain of paperwork.


“I want a word with you.” She shut the door firmly behind her.


“I’m busy.” He ignored her.


“Aren’t you even going to ask how Red is?” She demanded.


“No. But you might like to tell me when we’re going to have Skinner back. I have two reports to finish for him and I’d like to know what sort of deadline I’m working to.”


“Oh stop it, Mulder.” Scully said furiously, knocking the pen out of his hand. “I have Red in the hospital behaving with dignity despite what he’s suffering and you here sulking and hiding. I’m beginning to wonder which of you is the kid and which the adult. What is wrong with you?”


“I don’t need to listen to this.” Mulder told her determinedly, picking up his pen again.


“Perhaps you should listen!” Scully flared. “Red is scared and lonely. You told me you cared about what happened to him. Now I don’t know if we can turn him back but I think we can. Right up until that happens, Red is your responsibility. You’ve made him like you and depend on you and now he misses you. He’s ill, Mulder. You talked about taking care of him but that’s not just the nice things. It’s not the shopping trips and the playing games and reading stories. It’s the hard bits as well. Like sitting next to a sick child and maybe watching them die or get better and not knowing which it’ll be but staying anyway even though you want to run away because the child needs you. It’s about putting them first instead of yourself.” Scully stopped, feeling her heart wrenching inside. That was how it had been with Emily. Didn’t Mulder understand anything? He was staring at her with that cold, defensive look that he sometimes had. The one he had when he didn’t want to listen. “God, I hope Red can forgive you, or Skinner if we ever get him back, because I sure as hell can’t.” Realizing it was useless, Scully turned on her heel and slammed the door.




“It’s just a test, Red.” Scully told the boy, showing him the bowl of green goo. Red recoiled in horror. Scully had to admit it didn’t look very pleasant. How did you persuade a 6 year old that being dunked in a tank full of this would be good for them? Especially when they had such traumatic memories of the last time it had happened. “Here, put your hand in it. It won’t harm you.” Scully dipped her own finger in the slime and Red stared at her and screwed up his face in disgust.


“No.” He said resolutely.


“Just a fingertip?” she asked but he shook his head mutely and nothing would make him budge on the matter. Scully sighed. If he wouldn’t even put his finger in then what hope was there of persuading him to immerse himself in it from head to toe and breathe it? Was she just going to throw him into the tank and force him to stay there? She didn’t think she could.


“Mmm, looks nice.” A voice behind her said and a finger swiped a globule of goo from the bowl.


“Fox!” Red’s face lit up.


“Is it edible?” Mulder asked Scully, sniffing the green stuff cautiously.


“Well it won’t hurt you.” Scully smiled, her hand finding Mulder’s and touching it gently, nodding at him.


“Better see what it tastes like then hadn’t we?” Mulder sucked his finger as if he were tasting a gourmet feast. “Hmm, not bad. Try some, Red.” He took another swipe of the stuff and held it out to Red. Red opened his mouth obligingly and giggled as Mulder smeared some of the stuff on his nose. The child plunged his hand into the bowl and flicked the contents in Mulder’s direction. Mulder retaliated with a handful of his own and before long the slime was everywhere. Scully sighed as she wiped some out of her hair. Well she supposed the object of the exercise had been achieved. The dreaded green slime had been de-mystified. Now how were they going to persuade Red to actually go swimming in it?


It took five days of patient work on Mulder’s part to convince Red that this was for the best.


“And when I come out I’ll be big again?” He asked Mulder for the hundredth time.


“Yes.” Mulder nodded. Hopefully, he added silently.


“But I have to breathe it in first?” Red queried.


“Yes. But you’ve done it once. You’ll be able to do it again.” Mulder told him.


“And will I get my memories back into the right boxes?” Red asked. He had taken to referring to his memories as a series of boxes recently which was his way of trying to make sense of everything.


“Well, we think so.” Mulder paused. “Yeah. Probably.” He tried to sound more convinced than he was. Scully had done her best but he knew they were very much working in the dark.


“And will we still be friends?” Red wanted to know.


“Um, yeah.” Mulder shrugged.


“And I’ll still be able to live with you?”


“If you really want to.” Mulder grinned. “Although I’ve a feeling you won’t.”


“If I don’t remember things from before properly, will I remember being small when I’m big again?” Was another of Red’s incessant questions about the whole process and one that Mulder thought was pretty perceptive.


“I have no idea.” He shrugged. “But it won’t matter if you don’t remember – you’ll have your other memories and that’ll be fine.”


“Oh.” Red nodded. “And we can still go and shoot hoops?” he asked hopefully, his questions veering chaotically from the philosophical to the mundane with a strange lurching logic.


“I don’t know,” Mulder replied.


“You promised!” Red said accusingly.


“Oh all right. Yes then. But you probably won’t want to do that either.” Mulder grinned again, breaking up an enormous cookie and giving half to Red while devouring the other half himself. He lay back and put his feet on the end of Red’s bed. He was just as worried as Red was about this whole procedure, especially as the day of reckoning came closer. But Red didn’t need his uncertainty so he hid it as well as he could.


He stayed with Red all through the night before the big day, sitting in the chair beside the bed, trying to sleep and failing. At last he got up, looked down on Red’s innocent, sleeping face.


“You have no idea how much I’m going to miss you, Red,” he whispered softly, stroking the child’s hair gently. He tried not to think about all the things that could go wrong. That Red might drown in that green slime, that the process wouldn’t work, that they wouldn’t be able to stop it and would drag the corpse of a little old man out of the tank when it was over. Scully seemed to think she had all the angles covered but he knew she was worried as well. Except he had a feeling that she was more worried about Skinner than Red. And no matter how he tried to look at it, that was just the way he saw it, the way he had always seen it. Skinner and Red – two separate beings with nothing in common except a vague similarity around the eyes and nose. And he was about to lose Red and get Skinner back. It seemed like a poor exchange.


“I’ll miss you too.” Red opened his eyes and he started.


“You should be asleep,” he chided.


“Can’t sleep.” Red shook his head. Mulder perched himself down on the bed beside the child and put his arm round him.


“I’ll be with you tomorrow,” he promised. “You won’t be alone.”


Red clung onto his hand and nodded, his eyes even more solemn than they usually were.


“Yes, Fox. Then it’ll be over and we can go and feed the fish and you can buy me some more sneakers and we’ll play on the elephant and eat burgers and pizza and ice cream and cookies…” He warbled on happily enough until Mulder began to wonder if the child recalled their entire time together in terms of what he’d eaten.


Mulder felt like a traitor as he carried Red along the corridor to the room with the tank in it the next day. The determined look on Red’s face was at odds with the way his fingers clung to Mulder’s shirt. Scully gave him a drink and he swallowed it down, making a face. Then he became drowsy, his grip on Mulder loosening until Mulder was able to undress him and slip him gently into the tank. Red’s eyes opened and he gagged on the fluid, crying out as he swallowed it. Then, mercifully, he seemed to lose consciousness.


“I’ll be here,” Mulder told Scully softly. “Just not in the actual room. Call me if he needs me.” Scully nodded, understanding.




Mulder hadn’t stayed to check on Skinner’s progress. He had peered through the observation window at his sleeping boss when he had been removed from the tank, saw the familiar imposing body and bald head and nodded to himself.


“Well done, Scully. You were right,” he had murmured.


“You okay?” She asked.


“Fine.” He had left without looking back. It was over


Mulder returned to his apartment, turning on the light wearily and tripping over the ball that was abandoned by the door. He kicked it out of the way and crossed to the couch, throwing himself down with a sigh. One of Red’s tee shirts was abandoned on the floor, next to the laser gun. Mulder picked them both up, held them tight and cried.


So the operation, experiment, whatever you wanted to call it, had been a success. So what? He had still lost Red.




The next few days passed in a haze. Mulder went to the mall and ate a burger, stared at the inflatable elephant. Then he went to the park and watched the kids playing, shot a few hoops with them. Finally he shook himself out of it, returned home and packed Red’s belongings into a box, setting off for a nearby second hand shop. He was just opening the door to go when he bumped into Skinner.


“Agent Mulder.” Skinner didn’t look any different to usual. He seemed to have recovered.


“Sir.” Mulder nodded. “I didn’t know you were up and about.”


“Agent Scully finally allowed me home last night.” Skinner said with something approaching a wry smile.


“Oh.” Mulder shifted uneasily, trying to see in Skinner some trace of the boy he had taken care of for the past few weeks. The child who had become part of his life. He failed.


“You were going somewhere?” Skinner asked, glancing at the box.


“Just to, um, get rid of some stuff.” Mulder shrugged. Skinner reached into the box, pulled out a shoe. “How much do you remember, sir?” Mulder asked softly.


“Some of it. No, a lot of it.” Skinner shook his head, staring at the shoe. “But it’s not very clear. A muddle of images, jumbled. I do seem to recall being sick a lot though.” He gave a rueful wince.


“Yeah. Oh yeah. Boy did you know how to throw up!” Mulder grinned. “Why don’t you come in?” He opened his door, went back inside. Skinner followed him, stared round the apartment, glanced at the fish tank and finally sat down on the couch.


“I, er…Agent Scully told me all you did for me. I came to thank you.” Skinner said, running his fingers over his smooth head.


“No need.” Mulder waved his hand. “I’m just glad it turned out all right.”


“Any idea who did this to me?” Skinner asked. Mulder shook his head.


“No. I’m working on it though. Sir…” Mulder began.


“Hmm?” Skinner looked at him.


“When you were, well when you were Red, how much did you understand of what was going on?”


“I’m not sure. I told you, it’s not very clear to me.” Skinner shrugged, flushing slightly.


“But you were a child? You behaved like a child.”


“I remember feeling confused,” Skinner mused. “I remember being scared a lot and I remember everyone being taller than me. I couldn’t make sense of things. I seemed to know things but I had no idea how I knew them. I had memories that frightened me. I think I shut that side of myself down. It’s…it’s not an easy experience to talk about, Mulder.”


“No.” Mulder said.


“But I do know that…I um, relied on you quite a bit. If I had to go through something like that, well…” He paused, looking embarrassed, “I’m just glad there was someone like you to look out for me.”


“That’s OK.” Mulder shrugged. “Anyone would have done the same for Red. He was that sort of kid. Even that lady in Maine took a liking to him, you. I never knew you had such winning ways, sir. Your mom must have been proud of you.”


“Yeah. Right.” Skinner shook his head wryly. They were silent for a while then Skinner got up. “Well, thanks again,” he said awkwardly.


“No problem.” Mulder replied.


Skinner glanced at the ball as he walked towards the door, picked it up.


“Now I remember this!” He exclaimed. “Boy did I pitch a fit about this!”


“Oh yeah.” Mulder grinned. “That was some tantrum. Although I have to say that mostly you were amazingly well behaved.”


“And you were very patient as I recall. And kind, and dare I say it, fun?” Skinner raised an ironic eyebrow.


“Red was a great kid.” Mulder shrugged. “I’ll miss him.”


“Me too.” Skinner said softly. “Not that it’s an experience I’d like to repeat, but it wasn’t all confusing and strange. There was no responsibility. No burdens. We forget what it’s like to just exist, to take each moment as it comes like kids do. Eat when we’re hungry, laugh when we’re happy, cry when we’re sad, sleep when we’re tired. I’m not sorry it’s over though but it was interesting to re-live it. Well, I should be going…” He hesitated, gave a slight smile, his dark eyes as solemn as Red’s had been. For the first time Mulder saw the connection, felt the two separate entities merge.


“You don’t want to live here then? Or go shooting those hoops?” Mulder queried with a sly grin.


“Did I…? Yeah, I guess I did. Perhaps we should sometime. You did promise.” Skinner threw the ball at Mulder, his dark eyes laughing. “Bye, Mulder.” Skinner said. He left the apartment and Mulder picked up the box again, reviewing the contents.


“Bye, Red,” he murmured.







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