Malcolm’s halved behind the bed, the remains of his outburst scattered between him and the kitchen. “Just go,” he had begged, slouching away from his mother and sister. “Please go.”
Ainsley had gotten her to listen. With a share of something he couldn’t listen to, they retreated through the entrance.
Which should have been a reprieve. Alone, he could scream, chuck anything he could grab across the room, scratch at his hands until he bleeds.
But it isn’t. Sheltered under the window, his phone buzzes from the wreckage, nudging him to look at the screen. “I’m five minutes out from your place - homicide,” Gil relays on one breath.
There’s a radial crack from the impact, but all of his phone’s functions are intact. If only he could say so much for himself.
Still fully dressed, he brushes off his coat and strides out of the loft. Maybe a case could bring some relief.
She’s twenty-two. Abandoned in some underbrush in Silver Lake Park. Nothing special to call in Major Crimes until he gets a look at her hands and pieces of material wrapped across her chest. “Is that a fishing net?” Malcolm asks, peeling it back in his head.
“Yes. Someone got a pretty big catch,” Edrisa jokes, but Malcolm’s look is more spooked than amused.
She stutters, not used to his stiffness. She keeps explaining what she’s found at the scene, but he may as well have been under the water they were standing near - he doesn’t hear a thing.
“What do you make of the tattoos?” Dani asks, brushing his arm.
“Her tattoos,” Dani repeats, looking him over. “You good?”
Intricate scales across the backs of her hands in purples and blues glimmering beneath his flashlight. Hours under the tattoo pen to achieve such meticulous detail. High tolerance for pain on the delicate skin. “Fish?”
“I was thinking mermaid.”
Malcolm gazes further down to her wrist and takes in the half a heart that lies there. “No, no - that’s - “ His eyes blow wide, stilled at the vision encroaching on him.
“Kid?” Gil prompts, taking a step closer.
Murky hands climb out of the night, marking their path from the water to him. Thick oil drips off of her, marring anything she touches, swirling into the ground and shooting up again.
“Find me.” Decay reaches for him, and he lurches back. Piercing through him are blues instead of browns, too much light when she’s all darkness. In flickers, sisters converge, overtaking him.
He’s scrambling before any of them can register what is happening, oily prints matching him step for step up the embankment to Gil’s car. Jiggling the handle, but unable to open the door, his knees slam into the pavement on the passenger side. He rolls under the car, folded compact as possible to escape hands stretching for him. If he can just stay small enough, maybe he’ll survive.
Malcolm’s screech echoes in the night, tingling every hair of worry up Gil’s spine. Malcolm’s faster, but Gil’s right behind, getting to his car just as Malcolm slips underneath. Gil catches the rest of the team coming up the hill and he throws both hands in the air to tell them they need some space.
Gil ignores the sheen on top of the blacktop and throws himself down to get his face even with Malcolm’s. “Bright,” he calls quietly, and Malcolm’s head thwacks into the undercarriage. “Jeez.” He winces as Malcolm moans.
Malcolm’s entire body is curled in on itself, whimpering. Part of Gil is grateful his runner didn’t get very far, and the other 99% of him is frightened. His heart pounds, reminding him this is his kid, his responsibility, and he sure as hell needs to find a way to get him out.
Browns finding blues in the glare from the street, he waits for any recognition, any indication that Malcolm sees him instead of whatever else is in his vision. Malcolm had said they’d been getting better, but he’s thrust in the middle of a full-scale hallucination, more than a car, a full plane separating them. It’s a space Gil can’t traverse to help him.
When “Bright,” makes him smack his head again, Gil outstretches a hand toward him, and the resulting shriek of “No!” cuts Gil in half. Gil lays on the pavement, soothing “It’s okay, Bright,” and waits, whispering, "I'm here."
He’s not a fan of the sideline. It’s a lot easier to rest a hand on the back of his neck or scoop him into his arms than it is to watch him writhe from a distance. A lot easier when he can see what Bright sees in broad daylight. A lot easier on days he seems closer to aware than the hospital.
He watches Dani’s jeans reappear in the streetlight between the frame and the ground, then turn away again. He listens to his own breaths, thinking he won’t be able to get Malcolm to come back if he can’t calm himself, and counts in the way they’d walked him through as a kid. He’s through a third box of four when Malcolm’s retching breaks the silence.
Nothing comes up, but he manages to hit his head and shoulders again, cramped against the metal. “Gil?” eeks out on a whine.
Malcolm takes several breaths, eyes darting around like he’s trying to figure out how he got there.
“You ready to come out?” Gil asks, seeing if he can perhaps get him to budge.
Malcolm’s eyes keep bouncing. “I need a few minutes.”
“You’re safe,” Gil reassures.
“Whose car is this?”
“At least I’m not on top of it.”
Gil cracks a small smile. Yes, thank goodness out of everything the evening entailed, injury is not something to add to the list.
“Can you take me home?” Malcolm’s voice is tired.
“If you come out first. Don’t need to explain a Malcolm pancake to your mother.”
“She’s had enough of a show for one day.”
Malcolm’s hands paw at the ground, creeping him toward the edge, and Gil drags him out by the shoulders the rest of the way. Gil has the passenger door open before Malcolm can think of anything else and closes him safely inside.
“She hurt me, Gil,” Malcolm shares, curled against the door as Gil drives.
And Gil has no idea who. But he promises she won’t want to meet him. She sliced Malcolm, him, and if they ever come face to face, she’ll be next.
He doesn’t need to explain to Gil he’s as broken as the pieces that scatter their way toward the bed. Doesn’t need to ask for help binding his wrists because he’s already there, closing the clasps. Doesn’t need to ask him to stay because he’s sandwiched into the chair at the foot of the bed, a book from Malcolm’s shelf nestled in his hands.
Help appears when he needs it in light brushes of grey, stray cinnamon, and the warmest tones, carried by the most patient of beings. Propping him up until he can hold himself. Lax on the bed, his mind stills, and he drifts into a tranquil sleep.
Until he screams awake. He’s in knots in the constricting sheets, thrashing against the bed. But wrists get unhooked and he’s pulled into a sturdy chest, a hand running over his back.
“I know who the girl in the box is,” he pants into Gil’s sweater.
Gil cradles his head, sweeping back wild strands.
“It’s Eve’s sister.” One hand pushes into his stomach, begging it not to rebel again.
Gil doesn’t doubt anymore, he just wonders, “How do you know?”
“Ainsley.” He rubs into the cashmere under his cheek. “Trust is a difficult thing.”
"I'm sorry." Gil sighs and keeps sweeping his hand across Malcolm's back, molding resilience.
Malcolm pulls away when he’s reinforced with enough strength and asks, “What time is it?”
His feet hit the floor, noting the debris is gone. “A whole three hours.” He’s halfway across the room before he adds, “I’m gonna shower. You sleep. Maybe we can figure this out in the morning.”
“Kid, I’m not getting any sleep,” Gil points out the reality of living in Malcolm’s sphere of existence. Concern contagious, creating fellow insomniacs.
Malcolm pauses in the bathroom doorway. “Then we can talk about it when I get back. Help yourself to whatever you want in the kitchen.”
In a world where Malcolm prefers most go, Gil’s the one he wants to stay.
On the same token, Gil knows and doesn’t know what he’s done to deserve his trust. It’s snuggled so deep into his heart, he’d spend all his days keeping it. For now, that means super early morning breakfast and an ear that can help find the after in the heap of before. A reassuring touch or a hug. Presence. In the dim light, talking in the kitchen.