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Little Steps

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Ethan’s head was poundings. He had gone to bed with a headache, hoping it would stop after he had slept. He woke up with a headache, and to his absolute surprise, he went to work with a headache. In all honesty, Ethan was done with the say, both emotionally and physically. His body felt heavy, his head made him dizzy, and he was sure that with one wrong move he would be sick. There was no other way to put it, Ethan felt icky.


So of course just to add to the big fat juicy red cherry on top of what was looking to be the worst day ever Ethan’s brain had to have an extra fuzz over it leaving him barely holding on to his ‘adult’ headspace as he’d grown to think of it. A few more hours, he kept telling himself. A few more hours than he can go home to his stuffed animals, and his blankie, and get his sippy with mile while he got all cuddled up for bed. He just had to hold himself together for a little bit longer, film a few more videos with Mark, then he was off scot-free.


Mark and Amy were not helping his cause. It wasn’t their fault, they knew Ethan wasn’t feeling good today. Any good friend would let them huddle on the couch with a blanket while the other two worked on setting the cameras up. They were just being nice. It wasn’t their fault that with each throb of his head Ethan found himself a step closer to slipping. They left him all alone, shut all the blinds to make sure as little daylight slipped into the room as possible, and Ethan wished they would have done anything else. He needed a distraction right now.


By the time Mark and Amy came back, Ethan was barely fighting off drowsiness, his eyes fluttering shut for just a few seconds too long each blink. As much as his body wanted to protest though, Ethan forced himself to sit up and stretch. He was a big boy- an adult he corrected- and he had a job he needed to do.


There were three videos Mark wanted to film today. Ethan zoned out almost immediately, going on autopilot throughout most of the filming. He cracked jokes and walked around even if he wasn’t thinking about what words came out of his mouth.


By the time Ethan found himself standing with a walkie talkie in hand, he was dead on his feet. Mark asked him a question. Ethan nodded on instinct.


Two cameras in two rooms. The walkie talkies screeched as they spoke to one another. This was not helping his head.


The video continued, Ethan was going into Mark’s basement. At least it would be dark down there, Ethan thoughts, desperate to find an upside to distract himself from the fact he was going to be in Mark’s scary basement all by himself.


“You going no light?” Mark asked.


Ethan glanced at him, he was big, he wasn’t going to be afraid. “I’m going no light I think, I’m going to be a big brave boy.”


The words didn’t hit him till a few seconds later. He didn’t think he sounded different from normal, Mark and Amy didn’t seem to look twice in his direction, but Ethan knew he was close to slipping. He had to get himself back under control. His brain felt fuzzy, and his body felt yucky but he only had a little longer until he could go home. He just had to finish the video.


He could stay big, he told himself. He was a b- an adult.


Ethan let the conversation continue without thinking too much as he slowly walked down the stairs into the dark. The trap door closed above him and Ethan could hear something moving above him.


The walkie beeped to and came to life. “What do you see down there Blue Eagle?” Mark asked through the static.


Ethan looked around. “Not a, uh, not a whole lot.”


“Yeah, that sounds about right. Alright, now I’m gonna-” The sound cut out leaving static screams.


Oh, that was horrible. Ethan hated that, even though he knew it had to just be Mark messing with him. That was terrifying.


He turned the camera towards himself. “Come in again Blue Eagle?” He asked.


The reply was much smoother this time around, Mark’s voice carrying through the static with ease. “Can you read me Blue Eagle?”


“Uh, I can read you loud and clear. Over.”


More demonic static noises.


Ethan reminded himself that it was a joke and pushed the fear that was jumping up to his chest back down. He refused to get scared right now if he got scared he would slip on camera and then Mark and Amy would know, and everyone would see and he would ruin the whole video.


“That is the most horrifying noise I’ve ever heard. Over.”


If you say your fears out loud then they aren’t as scary. Ethan was sure he’d heard that somewhere before, what better time to try it out.


The mission continued, Mark telling Ethan new information as they went. The basement was not enclosed. Ethan hated how the longer he was down here, the more he heard that horrible static, and the more Mark taunted him made his anxiety well up in his gut.


Light, Mark told him to turn the light on. Ethan followed through without a second thought. It helped to put him at ease, even if his eyes burned in protest at the sudden shift. Just as he felt a bit more comfortable though the slight shut off, sending him back into the darkness to wait for his eyes to adjust once more.


It just got worse and worse. Motion sensors. Ethan couldn’t remember if this was part of the script or not. His breath was shallow, he didn’t want to breathe too loud anymore. Mark wouldn’t leave him in danger, he was perfectly fine. It was just part of the bit, it had to be.


The light. Why did the light start flickering? Ethan wanted out. He wanted to go home. He wanted a hug. He didn’t care that he had to stay big, he just didn’t want to be afraid anymore.


The fuzzy feeling in his brain felt so strong, it would be so easy to just let it happen, but he couldn’t. There was too much happening right now. The walkie talkie screamed. Ethan forced his voice to come out steady, but the longer he talked with Mark the more he could hear his voice turn into a whine.


It wasn’t long before he came up. Mark was asking him how it was, the cameras were still on. Seeing the light and that both Mark and Amy were right there send a wave of calm over Ethan.


Ethan didn’t want to crawl around. He’d tried using his shirt as an excuse, it was new after all, but couldn’t fight when instead they’d just offered to hive him a hoodie to wear.
It took them a few minutes to get Ethan ready to head back down with his new tasks. He really didn’t want to go back at all, but he kept telling himself that the quicker the video was over the quicker he could go home, shower, and change into his comfiest pair of pajamas.


“Just be uh, careful down there- something…” Mark tried to tell him. “Somethings got the dogs spooked pretty bad up here.”


All he had to do was rush through the next ten minutes Ethan reminded himself. It was all for the video, none of it was real.


No matter how hard he tried Ethan’s mind wandered as he chatted with the camera. “People could definitely be living down here and they would never know it-” Ethan stopped, looking in the distance as he shifted the camera around. “Oh my god. Mark wasn’t lying.”


The camera focused on the small bit of light coming from outside. His anxiety flared back up tenfold as he rambled to the camera.


Something blurry was in the distance, he could see it but not quite make it out. Was it an animal? It could be a person. His heart was hammering against his ribcage. With perfect timing, the walkie talkie found a new noise.


He was so close to slipping, the only thing keeping Ethan remotely together was the camera in his hands, constantly reminding him why he couldn’t break now.


He wanted an excuse to come out. He needed to see Mark and get out of the creepy scary basement. He hated it. It wasn’t fair, he didn’t want to do the scary stuff any more.

He wanted to go home.


“Do you come in?” Ethan asked, “Just doing a general check. Over.” It wouldn’t get him out of the basement but at least it would get him some form of communication.


There was no answer.


He repeated his question. Mark would realize he was really scared, right? Mark would let him come out, he would-


Breathing.


Not funny. Ethan kept the camera on his face as he began to feel his panic taking over. If the camera was on him he couldn’t slip.


“This is Blue- uh- Big Papa to Blue Eagle. Giving a general check, how you doing down there?”


Mark was there, it was all just for the video. Ethan chastised himself, he was being silly. Mark wouldn’t let anything bad really happen.


“I just wanted to let you know that the proximity sensors have been tripped in all four corners of the house. Uh, I don’t know what that- It’s probably just you shuffling around down there, but, it’s just I’ve never had four signals at once.”


Ethan heard himself respond, but it was like he was far away in his thoughts. He was overwhelmed and-


“I heard a knocking noise was that you over?”


“I did not hear a knocking noise.”


“Okay great. There’s knocking.”


Ethan wanted out. He wanted out now. He couldn’t think anymore. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he was slipping deep into his headspace, but he couldn’t be bothered to care. He wanted out, and he wanted Mark and Amy and Chica and Spencer. Maybe Mark would let him stay to watch a movie, then Mark would never have to know because you don’t need to talk during a movie and his head hurt so maybe he could take a nap. That sounded like a really good plan to Ethan.


As if Mark could read his mind he finally spoke over the walkie talkie again, “You know, I think you’ve probably checked about all there is to check, uhm-” Bang!


Ethan wanted out now, but couldn’t seem to get his voice out just yet. He was in the middle of slipping and much so scared. Somehow he managed though, “Did you hear that? Over.”


“Yes I did.”


Ethan felt paralyzed. “That wasn’t you? Over?”


“No I was right here talking to you.”


Mark was going to check out the noise, Ethan felt utterly alone in the basement. It wasn’t fair, why didn’t Mark let him out first.


More thumping. There was more thumping. He needed to get out, talk to Mark, surely mark could hear the thumping too.


Screaming. That was the only response.


Ethan felt his eyes growing wet. He hated this. He wanted to come up. What if someone broke in and they were going to hurt them? He didn’t care about being big for the video anymore, Ethan wanted out and to see that everyone was safe.


“Oh no. Mark, I’m genuinely scared. I’m genuinely- fuck I’m genuinely scared can I please come up? Can I come up please?” He didn’t care about how his voice waivered with tears that he was barely keeping in. He didn’t want to be big anymore, he wanted Mark to hug him and tell him that everything was okay.


There were more noises just above the trap door. “Mark?” Ethan asked, his voice shaking as he begged for an answer.


Soft taps on the door. A knock.


“I don’t like that at all,” He whispered more to himself than the camera. “I don’t like the knocking at all. Oh god.”


More noises. The latch, it was opening.


Ethan screamed. Someone jumped down the stairs towards him, a terrifying person in a mask. Ethan felt himself stumble backward and drop the camera in the dirt as he fell on his ass.


Mark peeled the Mask off laughing. Ethan wasn’t listening to any of his giggle-filled comments though. “You should have seen your face! Your scream Ethan!” Instead he covered his face. He knew he had already slipped into his little space but still didn’t want Mark to see the warm tears dripping down his cheeks as he made fast to wipe them away.


A sob worked itself up in his chest, he didn’t have the will power it would take to calm himself down. It wasn’t his fault Mark was being mean. Ethan wanted to cling to someone, to Mark, even if e had just pulled that mean prank on him. Ethan didn’t try to push the sobs that bubbled their way up his chest down anymore. It wasn’t fair. Why was Mark being so mean?


The first sob made Mark pause.


The second made him look over in concern.


The third had him rushing over to Ethan’s side.


Ethan all but threw himself at Mark, nearly knocking them both over as soon as the older man was in arm’s length. Mark didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t expecting Ethan to be so affected by the bit. Sure he had seemed a bit more out of it than when they had first started filming that morning but he’d just assumed it was the headache medicine wearing off. It was all just a bit, they had even talked about it before. What was Ethan so freaked out? He’d never seen Ethan cry like this before, there had to be more to it. First though, Mark had to get Ethan to calm down.


Mark wrapped his arms around Ethan’s back, sitting down and letting the younger man crawl into his lap. He cringed a bit as Ethan stuck his face in Mark’s neck but fought back the cringe that normally would have come with the touch. One hand naturally made its way into Ethan’s hair, smoothing it back, while the other rubbed gentle circles on his back. In the stairway Mark could see Amy looking down at the pair before she quickly dashed away.


“Shh, hey buddy it’s alright.” Mark cooed, What was he supposed to say when he had no idea what was wrong in the first place? Mark had never been the best with words, but he had to at least make an attempt. “Just let it all out Eth, it’s going to be okay.”


Ethan didn’t know how to feel. He was overwhelmed and scared, but Mark was here now and Mark wouldn’t let anyone get him. He could feel a hand on his back and in his hair, they felt nice. It made Ethan feel secure. Mark would keep him safe. He could hear Mark talking to him, but it was hard to hear anything over his own crying. It was starting to make his eyes and throat itchy as well. He felt himself hiccup. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t even start to calm himself down enough to form words, let alone a full-blown sentence.


Before he could find the power to voice his thoughts there was a loud creak of someone coming down the steps.


Ethan clawed at Mark’s shoulders, trying to drag himself both closer to Mark and away from the monster. Within seconds there was a hand on his shoulder.
Amy.


Ethan peaked out from Mark’s neck to see her kneeling on the ground net to him. She gave him a soft, sad, smile. “Hey Ethan, I got you some water.” She told him, her voice as sweet as sugar and practically dripping honey. In her hand she had his water bottle, the straw already out for him. “Let’s have a drink real quick, okay.”


Ethan let Mark lean him up a bit more and took the bottle from Amy. It was cold on his sore and hot throat. He was still gasping for air between sips as he calmed down. His sobs slowed as well, it was hard to cry and drink and breathe all at the same time. His tears came to a stop as Mark and Amy sat with him, Amy rubbing his shoulder and Mark still on his back.


Ten minutes passed and Ethan was more whining than crying. He felt snotty and his throat hurt even after drinking most of his water. His head hurt even worse than before.

Ethan handed the bottle back to Amy and tucked himself back into Mark’s shoulder. The light was too bright from upstairs, and even the thought of moving seemed impossible. Mark’s voice was soft and quiet. Ethan knew he was probably asking him a question but his brain refused to focus on the words. He didn’t want to listen because then his head would start to hurt really really bad again.


He felt himself being shifted and flung tightly to Mark, wrapping his own arms around his neck and shaking his head in protest. His voice was raw from crying and there was still the ever-present warble of tears. “No.” Ethan refused to be separated.


“No what Ethan? You gotta talk to me.” Mark hummed and leaned back, trying to get Ethan to look at him. Ethan only followed through, face firmly planted into Mark’s neck and shook his head.


“Come on buddy, don’t you want to go upstairs?”


Yes, upstairs sounded really nice. Ethan wanted out of the basement. He nodded furiously. They couldn’t get out quickly enough in his opinion.


“Need you to stand up then Eth. Let’s go upstairs.”


No. Ethan didn’t want to let go. If he let go then maybe the bad guys would come back. No. No, no, no.


Amy rubbed his back when Ethan started to whine again. She felt absolutely horrible to have played a part in making Ethan so upset. She looked up to Mark only to find her own feelings reflected across his face. It was obvious that Ethan was in a vulnerable position right now, but she had an idea. “Do you think you could carry him Mark?”


Mark blinked, then his eyes brightened a bit. “Is that okay Eth, can I carry you out, and then you, me, and Amy can all go sit on the couch together?”


Mark felt more than saw Ethan nod once more. Carrying it was then.


Amy stood behind him, helping Mark get to his feet with Ethan still hooked on his front. She snatched the camera off the floor before turning off the light and following closely behind the duo, up the stairs, through the kitchen, and into the living room, grabbing a drink and some fruit as they passed.


Ethan refused to climb off Mark’s lap and sit next to him. Everything they’d asked got a no after that. “Do you want to watch some TV?” No. “Do you want another drink?” No. Anything to eat?” No. Until eventually the answers just stopped.


Mark looked over to Amy and carefully lifted his head enough for her to peak at Ethan’s face.


“Poor guy fell asleep.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Waking up little has always been strange to Ethan. Nothing quite felt right. More often than not he just lays in bed for hours till either he gets bored and wants to play, or his adult life calls and he has to focus on being big again.


Today felt even stranger.


Ethan feels more comfortable than ever, he’s warm and someone was rubbing his back. His headache finally was going away with that extra little bit of sleep. IT takes a few minutes for his brain to start to catch up to the fact that if someone was holding him and rubbing his back that also meant he wasn’t alone. Instinctually he curled in closer.


Whoever was with him shifted. Two voices were whispering to one another. Were they telling secrets? Ethan wanted to know too!


Ethan lifted his head, coming almost nose to nose with Mark.


Mark smiled though. He seemed like he wanted to say something.


Ethan looked around, Amy was next to Mark. She smiled at him too.


He tried to remember what happened. Normally when he was little he woke up in his own bed with Spencer and a stuffie. Why was he at Marks? They were filming a video. Ethan remembered being scared.


Ethan’s attention was pulled back to the man in front of him. Mark was saying something. “How’re you feeling Eth? You slept like a rock. Does your head feel any better?”


Mark’s voice was nice. It was deep and soft. When Ethan tried to talk his throat felt thick and sore, so he just hummed instead. His head felt a lot better.


There was another hand, this time on his shoulder. Amy. Ethan turned to look at her, his eyes blinking as he started to wake up a bit more. His eyes felt itchy too. The longer he was awake the more he started to remember. He’d cried. Mark was being mean to him and the scary basement had been making noise, but Mark has cuddled him and let him cry, and Amy had brought him water. Even now she had his water bottle in hand. “Probably thirsty, aren’t you? Take a drink while you wake up a little. It’ll make you feel better.”


She handed him the yellow metal bottle. Ethan just nodded as he held it with both hands. She was right, the water immediately soothed the icky feeling in his throat as he came farther out from sleep.


He pulled away from his bottle breathing a bit heavier but feeling much better. Just in time there was a soft click-clack of claws on hardwood floors. Ethan spun around, Spencer! Without a second thought he crawled down onto the floor where Spencer was sniffing Ethan and Mark with interest.


He wasn’t as coordinated as Mark and Amy were used to, his arms a bit jerky from lack of use as he carefully pet his puppy. Spencer leaned forward to give Ethans face a few licks, setting off a few giggles before he settled in the boys’ lap. Spencer was Ethan’s best friend, both in and out of his little headspace. They did everything together. The dog had even grown to tell the difference when Ethan slipped, becoming much more gentle and possessive in a way. Ethan didn’t mind though, he loved Spencer.


Behind him Mark and Amy shared a look, asking for an explanation that neither could supply.


Mark cleared his throat, drawing Ethan’s attention. With a quick stretch he glanced between Ethan and Amy, “I don’t know about you guys but I am starved. How about we order some dinner?”


Ethan nodded, excited. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was until Mark had brought up dinner. He hadn’t eaten this morning since his stomach was acting up, then he’d been filming and had taken a nap with Mark. It was dinner fine and Ethan hadn’t eaten anything all day.


Amy hummed, grabbing Mark’s hand and leaned on his shoulder. “Pizza sound okay to you two?”


Ethan smiled wide. Pizza sounded amazing.


Mark stood up, stretching before leaving to go find his phone. They’d place the order online.


It was just Amy and Ethan now. Ethan kept petting Spencer with one hand, the other fiddling with the sleeve of his hoodie. He could feel Amy watching him. Spencer licked his hand and Ethan let himself relax. Amy was nice. He wasn’t doing anything bad.


Unconsciously his hand began to drift up towards his mouth, fingers growing bored of just balling up the fabric. Amy looked down, reaching for her phone just as Ethan brought the sleeve of the sweatshirt between his teeth. It was soft and squishy, he didn’t mind the fuzzy texture or the faint dusty taste. The dog hair was only a minor deterrent as he continued to bite down over and over again.


“Ethan what are you doing?”


His hand was ripped away from his mouth the moment Amy looked back over. He didn’t understand what he did wrong, he was just petting spencer. Besides he liked checking on his sleeve. He didn’t think he was doing anything bad at least. Almost immediately he felt his eyes grow wet.


“Don’t put that in your mouth, it’s all dirty from when you were crawling around the basement and it’s got dog hair all over it. I- wait Eth, it’s okay don’t cry buddy. I just don’t want you to get sick. It’s alright.”


Amy didn’t understand why Ethan was about three seconds away from crying again. Surely he knew she was just concerned.


Ethan sniffled and looked at her with big brown eyes. She quickly scooted over to reach him better only to not need to reach out at all. Ethan laid his head in her lap and sniffed sadly again.


Amy reached out to scratch at his head, trying to calm the poor boy down again. “Hey bud, I’m not angry. It’s okay, I just was surprised is all. Can you talk to me Eth?” But it didn’t seem to have much of an effect.


They sat like that until Mark came back. Amy shot him a look, afraid to do anything that might make Ethan more upset. Mark was only gone for two minutes, how did all of this happen so quickly?


Mark slowly made his way back to the couch, petting Spencer as he sat down next to Amy. Ethan looked up at him, watery eyes and a pout firmly in place. He looked pitiful, Mark made to say something but paused not knowing what the right thing to say was. He shut his mouth and did his best to think on his feet. Ethan was obviously on edge still. He seemed hypersensitive today, first, he wasn’t feeling well, then what Mark could only assume was some sort of sensory overload or anxiety attack. He couldn’t make a comment without thinking of how it would be received first. Would it upset Ethan? The safest route seemed to be temporary avoidance until Ethan was in a better place to explain it properly.


“What all do you want on your pizza Eth?”


Ethan blinked up at him in thought, he looked more confused than anything.


He mumbled something, but Mark couldn’t understand, hating how he had to ask him to repeat himself when the boy already looked so defeated. “Can see?” The words blurred together finishing with a final sniff as he sat up.


Amy slid back over, giving Ethan room to sit between her and Mark. “Yeah buddy,” she told him, patting the cushion space between them. “Come on up here, Mark can show you on his phone.”


Soon enough two pizzas were on their way leaving the three friends in uncomfortable silence. Mark played around on his phone while Amy busied herself looking in any direction other than at Ethan. The boy himself felt the tension slowly growing stronger, spreading through the whole room. His hands went to move towards his moth before he corrected himself, setting both into his lap where he folded the cuffs instead. Amy didn’t like it last time he put his sleeves in his mouth.


The movement must have drawn Amy’s attention. She looked at Ethan and the dust covering his entire body. She had an idea. “Hey Eth, buddy, how about we get you in some clean clothes and showered? I’m sure that’ll help make you feel better.” casting a quick glance at Mark to let him know what she was trying to do, Mark nodded, ready to play along. They needed to talk.


I bet Mark has some really comfy PJ’s you can use too so that we can wash your clothes.”


“Mhm,” Mark agreed. “And by the time you get all cleaned up the pizza should be here and we can eat and watch a movie.”


Ethan considered his options. He didn’t really want to be alone right now, but showering always made him feel less yucky. Amy had made a good point earlier, he was covered in dirt and grime. He could see dirt marks on his pants and covering the sweatshirt he was wearing.


“How’s that sound Ethan? Do you want Mark to take you to find some new clothes?”


Amy’s voice made Ethan fall even further into his little space. He’d do almost anything to make her say he’d been good. Her voice was so caring and sweet, but never condescending. Ethan nodded, yes, he’d be brave and take a shower by himself. He wasn’t a big boy earlier, but he could show them he was a big boy now, and then they’d eat dinner and watch a movie together.


Mark stood up and Ethan followed him until Mark was standing at the door to his closet. Without much thought he grabbed a sweatshirt before moving to his dresser to grab a pair of sweat pants and socks. After a bit of thinking he also snagged a pair of underwear. It wasn’t weird, they were clean. It was fine.


He passed the pile to Ethan. The silence was eating him as they walked towards the bathroom. It wasn’t until they stepped in the doorway that Mark turned to look at Ethan. The kids seemed to be deep in thought. Trying to seem casual Mark gave Ethans shoulder a quick squeeze, “See you in a bit dude, have a nice shower.”


It was more awkward than Mark would have liked, but Ethan smiled and nodded anyway. Mark passed him the pile of clothes and left him to do his own thing.


He was quick to make his way back to Amy, who had moved into the kitchen within the few minutes he was gone.


“So… Uh.” Mark hesitated, watching as Amy pulled herself out of her thoughts.


“Yeah.”


They took a minute to process, neither one knowing how to start this conversation, let alone what they really needed to talk about. Amy was the first to clear her throat, “I didn’t mean to upset him. He- the sweatshirt was dirty and he started chewing on the sleeves. I just- I wasn’t thinking before I said anything and it came off harsher than I wanted. I hope he isn’t really upset Mark, I-”


Mark reached out for Amy and pulled her in for a hug. They stood there for a moment taking comfort from one another.


“I’m sure he isn’t Amy. He was probably just a bit surprised is all.”


It wasn’t like the habit was new, although it didn’t show up very often. Most of the time Ethan got nervous he seemed to pick at his fingers and bite his nails, it just depended on the day. There were a handful of times Mark and Amy had caught Ethan chewing on something he probably shouldn’t have been, headphones wires and his sleeves the most common though. It was easy enough to correct, a joke here, replacing the item with gum, just simple stuff really. Ethan had never taken it to heart before, laughing along with them.


“I’m worried Mark.”


“We’ll talk to him after he’s had a bit of time to calm down. He wasn’t feeling good this morning, it’s probably just stress mixed with that. Let’s just be careful, I don’t think either one of us wants to make him any more stressed than he already is. Just focus on what we can control right now.”


Mark felt Amy nod, hugging tight before pulling away, tucking her hair up into a ponytail. She looked determined. “Let’s made a list of questions and brainstorm some explanations first, then we can come up with some other ideas to comfort him.”


Both sent a glance down the hall where Ethan was cleaning himself up. They could only hope that whatever was happening to Ethan wasn’t too horrible that two good friends couldn’t help.


Ethan himself was facing a bit of a predicament. It hadn’t taken him long to get changed out of his clothes and start the water for his shower, he’d even been able to get himself all soapy and warm. He already felt himself start to feel better, but now came the part that he always dreaded when he was little, more often than not just waiting until he was big and just skipping the task entirely.


Shampoo.


Shampoo meant you needed to put your whole head under the water. It really was the worst part of showering, no matter what Ethan tried he always got water in his eyes or up his nose. The soap would run down his face and though he kept his mouth firmly shut the bubbles would find their way in and leave him spitting out the taste. Yucky yucky.
Ethan made quick work of finishing up, standing under the water until he felt like it was impossible for there to be any bubbles left.


Though the water felt nice Ethan reminded himself that Mark and Amy were waiting for him. He turned the stream off and dried himself off as best as he could. He’d never been the most coordinated when he was this little. Normally he was a bit older, he wasn’t sure how little he felt right now though. He didn’t have the same energy to run around and play that he was used to. The shower helped to perk him up. He wished he could tell Mark how big he’d been, but he remembered that he had to keep it a secret. Mark and Amy had been so nice to Ethan so far, but if they knew that sometimes being big got to be too much they might not want to be friends anymore.


But he didn’t want to think about that, he just would have to be extra careful so they wouldn’t find out. Instead Ethan brought his finger to his mouth and made a ‘shh’ noise. He’d keep the secret, like a spy in the movies. For now he needed to focus on his next task, getting dressed.


He looked at the pile of clothes and felt his face grow warm, he could see it turn pink in the foggy mirror even. He’d have to acknowledge it eventually, but for now he reached for the pair of socks, bypassing the boxers sitting on top of everything.


He hadn’t paid attention when Mark first handed the clothes to him, he’d been too busy thinking about how he had to be extra careful in the shower to show Mark and Amy how big he was. Net he reached for to the bottom of the pile and tugged the hoodie over his head. It was a little big, but that just made it extra comfy. It was just one of Mark’s hoodies, but Ethan felt relaxed as he settled the hood in its proper place.


He couldn’t ignore it anymore, deciding it was best not to look as he quickly pulled the underwear up, the pants following shortly after. They were loose on his waist. Everything was a little loose on him. The hoodie stretched towards his fingertips and Ethan had to tighten the drawstring on the pants in order to get them to stay upright. It took him a few times to get them tied but he felt pride swell in his chest when he got the bunny ears to fall into place, albeit a bit crooked.


Ethan’s smile stretched across his face for the first time in hours, surely Mark and Amy would be impressed at how he tied the strings like a big boy.


Ethan made towards the living room where they had all been in together last, excitement gathering in his chest and spreading outwards like the sun. “Mark! Amy! Gotta show you something.” He called out, the words coming out slightly jumbled and turning his ‘th’ into a ‘f’ sound. But Mark and Amy weren’t in the living room. Before he could think too much he called out again, “Mark? Amy?”


“In the kitchen!”


The voice was slightly muffled, but it was more than enough to put Ethan’s mind to rest. His smile grew once more as he slid over to his two friends. They were sitting next to each other and shared a glance. The look they shared went over Ethan’s head.


He scrunched up the bottom of the hoodie, letting the waist of the pants show. “Look, look! Did it all by myself ‘cause they were too big.” Ethan explained. Marks eyebrows furrowed together and his head tilted to the side at the unusual display. Amy herself just looked to Mark hoping for an answer. Mark opened his mouth, whether he had anything to say or not. It was probably for the best Ethan hadn’t paid any attention to their reactions yet as he carried on, cutting whatever Mark would have said off. “Made loops and then had to twist it and made a bow. Only took a couple of tried though.”


By the time Ethan looked away from his bow Mark and Amy seemed to have pulled themselves together. Obviously, they were both confused, why in the world was Ethan so proud that he tied his pants? But this was the first time today they had seen him with an honest smile on his face, like a puppy after being told he was a good boy. His eyes, they were so hopeful.


Mark cleared his throat, “Oh yeah- um, G-great job buddy. Sorry, the pants are a bit big on you.”


Ethan seemed to grow at the praise, as simple and stutter filled as it was.


“S’okay, I like it. Feels safe.”


Amy’s hand twitched to grab her phone, but Mark intercepted her, sliding his hand over hers on the tabletop. “Hey Eth, how about we go get some pillows and blankets to watch a movie, then when we get you can pick out what we watch.”


Ethan bounced on the balls of his feet as he nodded his head. “Yeah, An’ you and Amy need to change into jammies too, like a sleepover.”


Mark and Amy both smiled at that. Even though Ethan was acting strange it was heartwarming to see. They’d always seen Ethan as the baby of the group, though he tried to act just as mature as the rest of them. Still, the idea that any of them were mature was laughable, it made everyone smile when they got a chance to see him acting so child-like.


Amy stood up, Mark following her still hand in hand as she came around the side of the table to Ethan. “Come on, you and Mark can go get the blankets and I’ll change really quick, then me, and you can set it up while Mark gets ready.” Her voice had gained the soft quality to it, just like it had when Ethan had been upset before. It wasn’t noticeable unless someone knew what to look for. Ethan seemed oblivious to the shift as they made their way to the spare bedroom. Mark on the other hand carefully watched Amy, she didn’t seem to notice what she’d done. Had Mark’s voice changed without him thinking about it? He shook his head, he didn’t have time to think about it right now. He watched as Amy split off to go a little way further down the hallway to their bedroom while Ethan and Mark went to the spare.


Mark went straight to the closet where they kept spare sheets and blankets. He reached to grab a few while Ethan piled as many pillows as he could in his arms. It took a bit of maneuvering, but within a few minutes, they were both carrying their findings back to the living room to plop them down on the couch.


Amy came out and her and Mark switched spots, Amy and Ethan transforming the couch into a soft and cozy wonderland while Mark changed into a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. When he came back to the living room he stood in the doorway just to watch for a moment. Ethan sure got an A for enthusiasm as he threw all the pillows and blankets across the couch without any rhyme or reason. Amy seemed content to just watch his process, only shuffling a blanket and pillow at one of the corners.


There was a heavy knock on the door sending all three dogs into a frenzy. Amy and Ethan both looked to the door. Mark pushed himself off the wall and headed towards the front, “I’ll get it. Can you get some plates out for the pizza?”


Amy nodded and made her way into the kitchen. “Hey Eth buddy, can you pick a movie out while Mark and I get the stuff for the pizza?”


Ethan’s head swiveled from Mark to Amy before her question registered. He jumped up in excitement. “Uh-huh!” he said, skipping over to pick up the remote. There were so many movies he could choose from, but he already had one in mind.


Mark came back with a trail of puppers following him before setting the pizzas down on the coffee table. He turned to the TV and felt a small chuckle rise through his chest. “Spiderman. Good choice.”


Ethan smiled at Mark. He knew he and Amy both liked the movie, but the reassurance felt nice.


Amy came in with three plates and water for herself and Mark. Ethan was glad he had brought his water bottle cause drinking out of the big boy cups made him a bit nervous. He felt really warm and comfortable in his PJ’s, he didn’t even want to risk spilling and needing to change again.


They each got comfy, moving blankets and pillows until each person’s spot had been perfected. Food was on their plates and the movie started up. It was the definition of relaxed.


A noise caught Amy and Mark off guard though. It was subtle at first, both distracted by their own slices to notice. The second time it caused them to both glance over to Ethan.


Carefully the boy lifted his plate up to blow on the pizza. Mark chuckled and shook his head, Amy following suit, accepting it as just another strange quirk Ethan had brought for the night.


Ethan looked over as they both settled back into place. “Gotta blow, ‘s hot.” He mumbled, finally deeming the slice cool enough to take a bit. It was yummy.


Mark hummed, not taking his eyes off the screen. Ethan followed, both boys getting absorbed in the world of heroes.


Amy waited till both were distracted before reaching for her phone, adding two things to the list she and Mark made to keep track of Ethan’s confusing actions.

 

Talk to Ethan about:
Actions: Emotional, clingy, varying communication levels, showed us tied pants, blow on pizza

 

Having felt more sure of herself Amy shut her phone off, letting herself fall into the movie as well.


By the time the credits started to roll it was long past dark. Mark and Amy both stretched out, limbs sore from sitting for so long. Ethan followed suit, rubbing his eyes with a yawn.


No one felt the need to talk as they cleaned up. Dishes were set in the kitchen to be dealt with tomorrow, and blankets folded and laid on the couch. Though no one said anything all three knew that Ethan was staying the night.


Eleven o’clock came rolling around and Ethan could barely keep his eyes open. Mark and Amy weren’t far off either.


Ethan felt almost lost like he was floating. He wanted to go to bed but he didn’t have any of his toys or his blankie. It was a little frustrating, but he knew whining wouldn’t fix it. Besides he was too tired to protest. Even if he felt a little cranky right now, throwing a fit would just make him feel bad. Maybe if he asked Mark and Amy really nice they’d let Spencer sleep with him. At least that way he’d have someone to cuddle with. Spencer was really well behaved in bed too, he was quiet and didn’t move around too much.


“You feeling better Ethan?”


Ethan blinked before sleepily nodding his head. “Mark, can Spencer sleep with me tonight?” He hadn’t meant to ask yet, the question just slipped out. Mark didn’t hesitate to agree though. “Just got to let the dogs out first then we can go to bed.”


Ethan watched from inside as the puppies all sniffed around, finding a good spot to do their business before wandering back towards the door.


Mark helped Ethan carry the pillows back to the spare room, letting Ethan and Spencer get comfy on the bed before saying goodnight. Amy peeked in as well, saying her own “See you in the morning Eth, get some sleep.”


Ethan might have slurred his own “G’night” back at them.


He felt really tired all of the sudden, but it was hard to fall asleep even with Spencer pressed against his side. It was dark, the only light coming from the streetlamps outside. Ethan tossed and turned till his legs felt too heavy to move. He reached to feel the blanket. It was soft. It wasn’t fluffy like the one he had at home, but it was nice none the less. He worked the fabric between his fingers first, but it wasn’t long before the cool fabric was brought to his cheek.


He was out in minutes.


Mark and Amy were laying in bed together talking in hushed voices.


“He seemed to be a lot happier after he showered but everything was just off. Like- why did he come to tell us he tied his pants, he’s borrowed pants before and never brought it up then.”


“I don’t know Mark. He seemed so different, but the same at the same time. I wrote a few more things down during the movie. Did you think about how we’re going to bring this up? What if he’s still acting the same tomorrow?”


Mark let out a heavy sigh, “It’s not like he’s really hurting anyone so if he’s still weird tomorrow then we’ll just let him be till he starts to be his usual self.” He decided. “As for how to bring it up, I think we should just ask him.”


“Just ask him?” Amy repeated, not quite sure that she wanted to know how that would go over.


“Yeah, just go ‘Hey buddy, you were pretty out of it yesterday. Is it okay if we talk about it so if it happens again we can be a bit more ready to help?’ I’m sure he’ll understand we just want to make sure he’s okay Ames.”


Amy didn’t doubt that, but she still wasn’t too sure. No matter what they had to do something though, and Mark’s plan was better than nothing.


She gave a sleepy “Okay,” as she settled into Mark’s side, his arm wrapping around her. “You’re probably going to leave me to do all the talking though.”


Mark shook his head, knowing she was probably right. Within minutes her breathing had become slow and steady, leaving Mark to his own thoughts. Was this something he needed to be ready for, or was it just a one-time thing from built-up stress? Could he even really help? And most of all, was Ethan going to be okay in the morning?

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ethan woke up feeling light.


He could feel Spencer cuddled against his side as he phased in and out of sleep. His head was still fuzzy, though he slowly let his big side start to take over.


There were quiet noises from down the hall. It was confusing at first. Two voices and occasional clanking of glass dishes or the creaking of a chair. He always kept his door shut when he was sleeping so why could he hear all these noises?


He opened his eyes, blinking at the bright light coming through the window. That wasn’t right either, he always left his curtains closed at night. Ethan’s head turned to where he always plugged his phone in. He was met with a familiar room, the only issue was that it was not his.


Memories began to pop up. He slipped yesterday in front of Mark and Amy. He could only hope he hadn’t done anything too bad. Maybe he could play it off like an off day, though that seemed less likely as the uncomfortable feeling churned in his stomach. He could remember watching Spiderman and eating pizza. He remembered showering too, he’d been covered in dirt from the basement- oh no.


Oh. No.


The basement video. Crying- He’d made Mark carry him for god’s sake! Even worse, Mark let him stay there until he’d fallen asleep and woke up hours later. Ethan’s face was burning. How in the hell was he supposed to explain that, go out there and look Mark in the eyes and tell him it was just a bad day.


He brought the covers over his head, drawing Spencer’s attention. The dog nosed along where Ethan’s hands held the blankets in place until Ethan relented and poked his head out, giving Spencer some much deserved love.


It took a few minutes for Ethan to feel his face cool down, the embarrassment was still there, but he swallowed it down.


He needed to distract himself first.


Taking a deep breath in Ethan turned to reach over to the nightstand, only to find it void of the one thing he was looking for. His phone. Ethan tried to think back to yesterday. He couldn’t remember being on his phone when he was little, so it had to be where ever he put it during filming. The longer he thought about it the worse he felt.


In the kitchen.


Where Mark and Amy were.


Ethan weighed his options. He could sit here until either Mark or Amy came in to see if he was still alive, or take the first step to address the elephant in the room and go out there. It wasn’t like he’d be able to escape, even if he were to leave without his phone he’d have to cross the house which was sure to cause enough of a ruckus to get one of the dog’s attention. He’d be lucky if it was only one given he’d also have to sneak Spencer.


Being honest, there wasn’t much of an option at all. The only decision Ethan had left was how soon he wanted to go out and face the wolves.


It ended up being Spencer who gave him the final push to climb out of bed, the little guy excitedly jumping down and running towards the door. He was ready to go find their friends but stopped to look back at Ethan. It was like he was saying ‘Well come on then. You’re awake now so let’s get this show on the road.’


With a stretch and a sigh Ethan was headed into the belly of the beast.


Mark and Amy noticed Spencer first, though Ethan wasn’t far behind the pup as he ran into the room. Neither gave him a second glance as they worked him into their conversation. It started with the standards “How did you sleep?” and “Are you hungry?”. It felt like Ethan was being lulled into a false sense of security, even though he was well aware of what lie ahead.


Next he looked up from his phone, Amy had plugged it in in the kitchen the night before when she was getting the plates for the pizza, Mark and Amy had settled down across from Ethan. As if their unity weren’t enough both were looking at him like he held the answers to the universe.


Ethan cleared his throat and looked down to move his eggs around on his plate. He knew that they knew, and they knew that he knew that they knew. The only question left was what they knew.


Amy shuffled, hand reaching for her phone before she stopped herself and brought it back to her lap. “Are you feeling any better today Ethan?” She asked. There was no avoiding it now.


Ethan felt himself nod more than making an active decision. Like ripping off a bandaid he told himself. Just get it over with, it’ll be easier that way.


Before anyone could add to the lackluster conversation Ethan brought pulled his bright pink elephant to the center stage. “Just ask your questions. I know you want to, it’ll be quicker and less awkward to do it now so I can explain what you want me to.”


Amy looked to Mark, and Mark looked at Ethan. He took a moment to gather his thoughts, how did he want to say what he really wanted to ask? He wanted to phrase it just right, once it was past his lips he couldn’t change it. “Can you explain what exactly happened? We were, and still are, a bit confused but even just knowing what happened could help us understand why or how to react.”


It was as if the world had gone silent. Ethan had expected it, but that didn’t mean he was prepared.


“Well, um-” He stuttered. “I, it isn’t anything bad- well most who actually know what it is wouldn’t say that but it gets a bad wrap and people turn it into something it isn’t. It helps sometimes but it’s weird- I know it’s a bit different and it gets misunderstood so easily I don’t-”


Amy put her hand over his and looked at Mark. Both were smiling. “No worries, were here to listen. How about we start just from yesterday.”


Yesterday, Ethan could handle that.


Taking a deep breath in and willing himself to calm down Ethan started back up.


“My head hurt really bad when I woke up. It hurt the night before too- I was hoping it would go away but it just got worse. When I woke up I just felt all fuzzy. I knew yesterday was going to be hard to stay bi- to stay right, but we had to record so I had to come over and try to do it.


“It only got harder to keep it up though. I tried not to slip on camera. I- did we get everything we needed for the basement video? I only slipped at the very end but we can cut that out and it’ll be okay, right?”


Mark nodded and hummed, “Yeah it’ll be okay, but I’m not worried about the video Eth.”


“Oh yeah. Sorry.” Ethan said, he’d gotten distracted. He didn’t really want to talk about this part, but they deserved a real explanation, or as close as Ethan could get without outright saying it. He’d already said too much. “Um, well I hadn’t been doing good at keeping it up at the very end ‘cause I was scared and then you jumped out and it was the final straw. I didn’t mean to cry and- oh god I’m sorry I made you- I’ sorry Mark. You didn’t have to do all that stuff. Everything was just too much, I tried to wait till I was going to be home but it all happened so fast. Then I couldn’t get myself out of it, I didn’t want to, and you were both being so nice I- I wasn’t expecting to slip but you were being really nice so it was hard to try to make myself big again.”


It didn’t go unnoticed that Ethan used ‘big’ to describe what he tried to bring himself back to, but neither thought it would be a good time to dig in deep over the word choice, even if it might have a deeper meaning.


“That explains a bit, thank you Ethan. Is it okay if we ask another question?”


Ethan nodded and Amy’s hand finally opened her phone.


“So yesterday we wrote a few things down. I mostly was just worried about why you were acting so different, but you already answered that for the most part-”


“Can I see it?” Ethan felt a little bad for interrupting, but couldn’t help himself. “The list I mean.”


Amy nodded, passing her phone over the table and letting Ethan read through each section.

 

Talk to Ethan about:
Actions: Emotional, clingy, varying communication levels, showed us tied pants, blow on pizza
Questions: Why acting different? Regular occurrence? Can we help? Cause?

 

Ethan couldn’t look away. They’d noticed more than he thought. In all honesty Ethan wanted to crawl back under the blankets and pretend like none of this ever happened, but Mark and Amy were looking at him expectantly. What was he supposed to say? He could feel the need to escape tingling at his fingertips, but he fought to keep himself big.

Mark and Amy deserved an explanation, even if it was hard to get out right. Ethan just had to say something and go from there.


Amy reached to put her hand to Ethan. He let his fall to the table where she placed hers on top firmly.


He couldn’t look her in the eye.


Ethan forced his mouth to start moving. He felt disconnected, like even though he knew what his body was doing he wasn’t in control anymore. He gave up on fighting back, though he knew he was starting to slip. He couldn’t find the energy to resist it, besides it wasn’t like they wouldn’t know by the time this was over. He would only slip for the conversation, after that he would be able to be big cause he wouldn’t be stressed anymore he told himself.


“Sometimes my brain doesn’t like me and I get all stressy and it makes me feel really bad so my brain just stops. I don’t always know when it’s going to happen, but there are some signs. Most of the time I can wait ‘till I’m alone before I slip but I got too scared, didn’t mean to though. Promise.”


Amy still looked confused. She understood that yesterday was a combination of stress and Ethan generally not feeling well but wasn’t sure exactly what ‘it’ was.


Mark’s expression was blank, just taking in the information first. When it seemed Ethan wasn’t going to continue unprompted Mark thought best to move the conversation forward. He was still confused. What did he mean his brain just stopped? Of course, he’d seen what that must have been yesterday but it didn’t explain why he was acting so differently, the crying and nap maybe, but not his more child-like behavior.


“Can you tell us what it feels like when your brain needs to stop? It’s okay if you need to take a break when we’re filming or hanging out buddy, you can let us know and we won’t be upset.” Mark paused for another moment before deciding to add on, “You said that you ‘slip’, can you explain what that means to us?”


Ethan sniffed but nodded. He could tell that the longer this conversation would go on the more likely he was going to slip right then and there, but he held on to the hope he might be able to pull himself out at the last second.


He took his hand away from Amy’s to play with his sleeve. “When I slip my brain decides to stop workin’ right an’ I can’t do my ‘sponsibilities. I don’t know, just feel really small so I can’t do the big adult stuff. Instead, I get little ‘till my brain feels ready.”


Even to Ethan it sounded like a poor explanation but Amy and Mark nodded along anyway.


“Do you feel like that right now Ethan?”


Ethan nodded slowly, still refusing to look away from the loose string he’d taken to wrapping around his finger. Was he being that obvious?


“What do you normally do to feel better when you start to feel little?”


Ethan wished he had his toys from his room, it would be so much easier to just show them. He didn’t want to have to keep talking and explaining.


“Got legos, and colors. Um, like to watch cartoons and play games and play with Spencer too.”


The couple watched as Ethan’s cheeks turned a rosy pink. He seemed so innocent. In the back of Mark’s mind he knew he’d heard about something similar before, he just couldn’t put a name to it just yet. It was obvious that talking about it was something Ethan didn’t seem ready to do yet. Maybe it was because he’d just woken up? Or it could just be a touchy topic for him.


“How about Amy helps you choose a cartoon real quick while I let the puppies out, then I’ll go get some toys we can play with from the prop room. Does that sound okay buddy?”


Ethan seemed to light up at that, jumping from his chair and rushing over to the couch.


Amy stayed back for a second, looking Mark over before planting a kiss on his temple, “What’re you thinking about Mark?”


Mark smiled at the affection. “Want him to be comfortable. I have a few ideas but I’m going to do some research while he’s watching cartoons, then he can explain when he’s ready but we’ll still make sure he’s alright.”


From the table Mark could see Ethan petting Chica on the couch.


He’d make sure Ethan would be alright.


He walked to the back door sending all the dogs out to do their business while Amy and Ethan got comfy wrapped in the blankets from last night. His next mission: find toys for Ethan.


The prop room was a bit of a mess, they didn’t have too much that it seemed Ethan would like. In the end Mark came out with a pack of markers, some printer paper, and a handful of arts and crafts supplies left over from years of filming.


Ethan’s eyes never left the screen as Mark put his findings on the kitchen table.


The next step was research.


Mark refused to even possibly make Ethan uncomfortable if the boy was to look over his shoulder and glance at his phone. No, that just couldn’t happen. The research would be moved to his recording room, where he could lock the door.


His computer booted up and Mark did his best to recall Ethan’s descriptions. Certain words stood out. ‘Big’, ‘Little’, and ‘Slip’. Just those words would get him nowhere though.
“Brain slip big to little” No, that was all medical.


“Child-like brain slip” Big and little were just making everything more confusing. At first glance it seemed all to be medical again, Mark almost erased his search before a link caught his eye.


Age regression: What is it, Why is it, & When it may be helpful


Mark scrolled through the article, he remembered hearing about this on social media years ago with fans. It had seemed so strange and forced back then. He and Jack mostly made jokes from it, but the article seemed to talk about a different side than the fans had shown him.


‘People who regress revert to a younger state of mind than their physical age. The length of the years varies from type to type and person to person. Age regression is in no way sexual.’ The article went on to briefly list different mental health issues that age regression could be a symptom of, but as Mark skimmed the article he found how it also was used as a ‘self-help’ method to deal with stress. It seemed too close of a fit to let go.


He backed out of the article to type age regression into his search bar.


More and more began to add up, he even found the same terms Ethan had been using and similar descriptions of what his ‘brain stopping’ felt like. There were good and bad posts, but the further he scrolled the more helpful the results were.


Mark saved a few links to various articles and forums to show Amy later. He only had more questions now, how little did Ethan get? Could he take care of himself or should someone watch over him when he slips into his ‘little space’ as he’d seen others use to describe the headspace littles went to when they slipped, a caregiver, he remembered. Mark tried to ignore the bathroom related posts and questions when they cropped up. Ethan had showered on his own and nothing bad had happened yet. There was also the comfort items people had mentioned- blankets, toys, pacifiers, and sippy cups. Did Ethan need to use those at his house?


It’s not your place to pry Mark reminded himself. Let Ethan come to you about it.


Mark closed his tabs and stretched in his seat. He felt the strong need to check on Ethan now that he had a better idea of what was happening. He’d explain to Amy when Ethan was distracted.


Mark made his way through the house, Ethan had moved to the floor to color while Gravity Falls played on the TV. Amy looked at him and Mark gave her a knowing smirk before settling down next to her on the couch.


Everything was fine.


Ethan had drawn the characters on the show, before making his own monster for the Pine twins to face. Amy had colored with him for a little bit too but she’d said she preferred to watch Ethan color. That was okay, Ethan would color a picture just for her.


By the time Mark came through he was starting to feel big again, but he wanted to finish his picture first. He’d drawn Amy and Mark together with Henry and Chica at the dog park. It was a sweet picture, Amy and Mark couldn’t help the way their hearts swelled when he came over to them, head down and cheeks flushed to tell them he had drawn it for them to keep.


Ethan came out of his little space quickly after that, the weightlessness leaving him, although he did feel much better than before. Coming out of his little space always felt weird, like he was hyper-aware of every little noise and texture, but he knew it was just his brain readjusting. He still didn’t really want to talk about it but Amy and Mark weren’t pushing him.


Things were easy.


They spent the rest of the day lazing around the house until Ethan thought it was best for him to head back home.


It felt good to be back in his room. He hadn’t been gone long of course but nonetheless he felt calm. Kathyrn was excited to see him as well, Mark had texted her when he realized Ethan was going to wind up staying over. They’d caught up for a bit, just chatting and joking around until late in the evening.


Tomorrow he’d be going back over to Marks to film, but he wasn’t worried like he had been that morning. He could trust Mark and Amy with his secret, even if they didn’t know it yet. They hadn’t treated him any different today after he’d gotten big again so surely they would be okay with it.


Tomorrow Ethan decided.


Maybe he’d explain it for real tomorrow.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ethan did not in fact explain the next day, or the next, or even the day after that. It took almost a week before he managed to bring the topic around. 

Of course he noticed how Mark and Amy smiled a little bit more and asked if he ate anything a few extra times. It felt nice to know that they cared, even if Ethan didn’t want them to worry about him. It was that care that got Ethan to finally bring up what had been on all of their minds for the past week.

They’d already finished filming for the day, just hanging around the house. Mark was laughing at Amy who was shaking her head at whatever joke Mark had made. It was comfortable. Safe.

“Can we talk about it?”

Amy looked up at him confused while Mark stuttered to a stop and gasped for breath. “Talk about small dick?” He asked, laughing again.

It was Ethan’s turn to be confused. He blinked from Mark to Amy then back to Mark. Small dick? Ethan didn’t even want to know how genitals had made it into the conversation while he’d been psyching himself up. Mark’s jokes took people down unexplainable paths that‘s didn’t always lead somewhere you would want to go. It was in Ethans best interest to get as far away from the topic as he could before he lost his momentum. He cleared his throat, “No. I- what happened last week. I didn’t really explain it too good and you guys have been super patient and nice but I want to explain better.” No, want wasn’t the right term. “I have to explain it better.” He corrected.

Ethan felt good. He’d been planning this discussion for half a week, he probably had it memorized from how many times he’d gone over it in the mirror with himself. He’d looked up terms to sound more professional, like he knew the facts instead of just letting his little side take over on occasion.

Mark and Amy both sobered up quick. Even though the happy go lucky mood had shifted there were still smiles on their faces. “Yeah man, of course.” Mark insisted, nodding as he reached out to take Amy’s hand.

Ethan could do this. He was ready.

He didn’t look down as he told them, keeping watch on their facial expressions even though he knew they would be nothing but kind about it. Taking a deep breath Ethan didn’t hold back. “A long time ago I realized that when I got really nervous or upset my brain would try to shut it out. It was really hard to understand at first because I didn’t know what was happening. My head would just get really fuzzy and even though I knew I was acting different I didn’t care about it. The whole reason I would shut down like that was to stop caring. I only really looked into it when my friends in Maine started to notice. It didn’t happen a whole lot but they started to have inside jokes about me acting really childish. It took me a while to find the right explanation and I never told any of my high school friends because- well, it was a bit embarrassing and I was sixteen so people finding out was the last thing I wanted.”

Mark and Amy were looking at him so earnestly, it was both reassuring and terrifying. Ethan couldn’t stop now, he didn’t really want to either. This was the first time he was telling someone his story completely out of his own volition. It was exhilarating. Maybe want had been the right term before. He wanted to tell them.

“It’s called age regression, which pretty much means that when things get to be overwhelming or I need a break my mind goes back to feeling like a kid, y’know no responsibilities and less anxiety. It makes things simple again, just the minimum need to think about stressors. It doesn’t happen a whole lot, normally I’m able to plan it a bit better than last week. I try to wait till I’m at my house most of the time, I just got really overwhelmed when we were filming and I had been super close to slipping all day. It was just a lot of bad timing. I appreciate both of you taking care of me, I know I was a mess. I was trying really hard not to let myself sli-regress I mean- so when it happened it hit me really bad. That’s not how it normally goes, I don’t cry or anything like that. Like I said, it was just a really bad day for me.”

Ethan felt like he’d been talking for hours, though he knew only a few minutes had passed. It was strange. He wasn’t worried about how they would react like when he had to tell Kathryn. Maybe it was because they’d already seen him in his little space. Either way Ethan was happy to roll with it.

Mark and Amy looked excited- but they didn’t make much sense at all. Maybe they were just happy he’d told them, even then it seemed like an odd reaction to Ethan. 

Ethan felt the need to look away finally kick in. It wasn’t that he regretted doing it, or that he was embarrassed. If anything he was more unnerved by how little of a reaction he’d gotten. There was no gasp of shock from the big reveal, no jaws dropping to the floor or socks being knocked off. Mark and Amy just seemed happy.

Ethan waited for one of them to say something. Anything. 

He didn’t have to wait long. “Thank you for telling us Ethan. We’re both really glad that you trust us with this, you know we would never want you to feel like you wouldn’t have a place here. You shouldn’t have to try to force yourself past what you can handle. If that’s the best way for you to cope with stress healthily then that is what you should do.” Amy told Ethan, her voice was warm. It was comforting. “Mark and I will always be willing to help you out, whether you ask or not.”

Mark nodded along with Amy, his smile never faltering once. “We’re really proud of you for sharing Eth, I know that couldn’t have been easy.”

Ethan nodded. It wasn’t, but it was worth it.

“Like Amy said, we’re always gonna be here buddy. Do you want to talk about it more? It’s up to you, Amy and I  will work at whatever pace you want to set.”

Ethan hadn’t been the only one preparing.

It was a good question. Ethan felt happy right now, he knew Mark and Amy wouldn’t hate him for his little side but he hadn’t been expecting such a warm welcome either. It was rare he felt so comfortable talking about it, so he didn’t see a reason to make them stop.

“We can keep going, I feel really good right now. Do you guys have any questions about it?”

Of course they had questions, though they didn’t need to pull out the list they’d made to think of them this time. “How about we start with knowing a bit more about when you regress. Are you a fall in an age range? Do you have specific comforts that you prefer to have?”

Ethan had to think about that one for a second. Did he have comforts? Yes, of course he did. He wasn’t sure how he’d rank them though, it just depended on the day. “Well normally I’m around four, give or take a year or two sometimes. I have a few things that are my go-to’s but it really depends on the trip for what I like to have around me. Most things warm and soft are always nice. I watch cartoons and like to build stuff. My ADHD goes a bit haywire sometimes when I’m little so I like to keep busy or have the opposite where I just want to chill out.”

Mark looked like he was committing every word to memory.

Amy smiled and tilted her head as he finished. Both of them were so calm about this.

Amy leaned more into Mark as she brought up her own concerns. “Four is still pretty young. I know it’s not like you’re physically four again but does anyone look after you when you slip into your headspace, or are we the only ones who know? I just don’t want you to get hurt on accident.”

That made Ethan smile. He remembered when he first told Kathryn, she had been a bit confused for the first few weeks before claiming the role of favorite aunt. She never minded Ethan when he couldn’t sit still, she just grabbed him some toys to keep him occupied or would pull him to the side. She said it was one of the many cute quirks he had that made him ‘Ethan.’

“Yeah, Kathryn knows. I’m not super capable when it happens but she normally keeps me from getting into too much trouble.”

That made Amy relax, letting go of a tension Ethan hadn’t realized was there until he saw her shoulders loosen. Mark was less obvious but if the breath he let out meant anything he’d been worried as well.

Most of what they talked about went over smoothly. Talking about it with Mark and Amy was easy. They went a bit more in-depth with what slipping looked like for Ethan, his tells, and how to work with him depending on why he regressed. The thought that they both seemed a little too used to the terminology didn’t cross Ethan’s mind while they talked. It was seamless, the best way this conversation could have gone.

Mark was asking about Ethan’s comfort items, letting Ethan explain his fixations and what types of toys he tended to play with. Given how their talk was going Ethan should have expected Mark asking to come over and see what Ethan had. They’d been over before and nothing ever looked out of the ordinary, it was a reasonable curiosity.

It wasn’t until Ethan had Mark, Amy, and Spencer in his car that the reality of what he was about to do came crashing down over him. He wasn’t embarrassed persay, but he hadn’t put much thought as to what he’d be showing them until that point. He was halfway home when he remembered the state his room was in. Not only was it a bit messier in general than he would prefer, but he already had some of his favorite toys out. He knew he had legos on the floor and his favorite stuffed dog, Bubba, on his bed. It really wasn’t much but Ethan couldn’t help but feel a bit flustered. He had told Amy and Mark that his slipping wasn’t a common occurrence then turned around to bring them into a room that was hinting otherwise.

No matter how much he tried to push it out of his mind he kept cycling back to the thought of what exactly he was going to show them. Should he show them his sippy cups or would that be too much? Maybe he should just focus on the toys for now and they could explore the other items after he eased them into the little space a bit more. There was only one item Ethan was sure he couldn’t face showing them just yet. He wasn’t sure exactly what it was called, he’d decided to just call it the chew. It was some crossbreed between a teething toy you and a pacifier. He didn’t like to use it in front of anyone, not even Kathryn who had known about him for years had only seen it a handful of times. It was something he found mostly with the purpose to replace his fingers or other items that Ethan went to chew on while little. It worked much better than anything else Ethan had tried before. He was sure he wasn’t ready to show them that just yet.

Soon enough Ethan was parking the car and leading the way up to his front door. Kathryn wasn’t home, she’d gone out with a few friends for the weekend. It would make it easier, Ethan could just explain things to her when she got back.

Stepping into the house was the easy part. He walked Amy and Mark into the living room and told them to help themselves. He’d just bring his stuff downstairs so he could pick and choose what he wanted to share, and hide what he decided was too much.

Ethan made to move his chew into his extra secret hiding spot, an old shoebox under his bed where he kept the few items he only liked to use when he was by himself. Most of them were old pacifiers or teething toys he used before he had found his chew. There were also wipes for if he decided to play with something sticky or made a mess. He felt better knowing that these were tucked away as he searched for some of the toys he already had laying around his room.

The first wave was easy, Ethan grabbed Bubba, his favorite blankie, a few coloring booms, a lego set, and one of his toy cars. 

One by one he set each item down on the coffee table in front of where Mark and Amy had sat down. They looked at each item before settling back on Ethan who had straightened up to go back to his room. The next time he came down he had a few more things, a pillow pet, a stuffed bear and cat, as well as two containers. 

Ethan cleared his throat. He might as well start with the obvious, “This is my favorite blanket because it’s really fluffy on the inside,” he told them, showing them the fuzz that was on one side and the blue and green striped that went across the other. “These are some of my stuffed animals. And I just brought down a few of my coloring books. I already took the legos out but I got this lego set a little bit ago, it’s a Harry Potter set. Uhm, and I brought down my dump truck because it’s pretty cool. Oh, and you’ve already seen my pillow pet before, Doof the dog.”

Mark and Amy seemed glad that he was showing them these things. They were smiling the whole time! Ethan looked back to the table, he still had two toys to explain. 

“This one is playdough, and this one is slime Kathryn helped me make a few months ago. They’re a bit messier though so I’m not supposed to play with them when I feel little unless someones with me.” 

Mark nodded and Amy smiled. Ethan was getting used to that combo. They’d seen what types of messes that followed Ethan when he felt twenty-three, they could only imagine what warzone a four-year-old Ethan would cause.

Mark and Amy figured they would stay for a little bit longer just to hang out. After the conversation had started to branch off Ethan went to go put all his comfort items back in his room. Mark and Amy helped him carry everything upstairs and set the supplies at the bottom of his bed. 

The plan was to head back downstairs and play a few games before Ethan drove the two back home. He still felt fine about having told the,, calm and more relaxed at having gotten it off his chest. He wasn’t sure why his heart skipped when Mark asked him if he wanted to take any of the items back down with them. It wasn’t in a rude or demeaning way, more just a genuine question Mark was curious about. Still, it made Ethan’s blood run cold. 

He paused, eyes flicking over to his Blanket and Bubba. Big or little Ethan had grown attached to the two. 

Ethan looked back to Mark first. His face was open and his eyes calm. He wasn’t asking to see if Ethan was little, he just was asking to see what Ethan wanted. Amy gave Ethan a smile when he turned towards her. They were both so unbelievably nice. 

He had to play it smooth, Ethan decided, shrugging his shoulders as if he didn’t care.

“Sure,” Ethan said, weighing his options. Bubba was Ethan’s favorite toy of all. It was the one that tended to follow him around the house the moment he felt little, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to show that to Mark and Amy yet. It wasn’t that strange but carrying his stuffed dog around might be a bit more obvious than Ethan was shooting for. His blanket would be easy, he could just cover up with it. Practical and cozy. Thinking of practical Ethan let his eyes roll to Doof the dog. His pillow pet was as incognito as he could get, besides it paired well with his blanket.

He picked up both items before the three friends made their way back down to the living room. Games were played but soon enough it started to get darker out. It was time for Ethan to bring his friends back to their own home. 

Before they loaded into the car Mark made sure to ask if Ethan was okay to drive. The question was confusing, Ethan hadn’t been drinking. “Of course dude.” It didn’t click until they were in the car and the conversation had taken another turn towards Ethan’s regression. 

“I know you said you normally regress when you get stressed or upset, but if you ever felt like you wanted to slip that’s fine too, right?”

Mark wanted to make sure he was big before he’d gotten behind the wheel. 

It made sense but Ethan couldn’t help but feel annoyed in some way. He hadn’t been feeling little all day, just cause he brought his blanket and Doof down with him didn’t mean he wasn’t big. For god’s sake, he was an adult, he knew how to take care of himself and be responsible. Besides slipping wasn’t a choice for him, he had to do it. He wasn’t always in control of it but he’d never let himself be so reckless to put himself and others in danger because he was too stubborn to admit he felt little. 

Ethan took a deep breath. He was big right now, he wouldn’t let himself get worked up about nothing. Mark had a right to ask, Ethan should just be happy that Mark was caring and considerate enough to ask him.

“I don’t really regress by choice. I can fight it off when I need to but I don’t feel little all the time. It isn’t like a flip I can switch on and off.” Ethan explained, though his tone put the conversation to an end.

Amy told some joke to break the tension and the topic dropped.

Ethan made sure Mark and Amy got in okay before making his way back to his house.

He refused to think about it but the thought wouldn’t let him be. What if he wanted to slip? Would he be able to slip on his own without feeling overwhelmed and needing to escape? He’d seen on forums that people could ease themselves into a headspace but just assumed it was something a little either could or couldn’t do. He remembered trying when his parents would be out till late at night. He’d let himself fall and do his best not to think at all. Nothing ever happened so Ethan gave up.

It bothered him that Mark brought it up.

So what if sometimes he wanted to be babied even when he didn’t feel himself starting to slip. He couldn’t slip on command like he’d heard people talk about in the threads where all a little had to do to start falling into their little space was close their eyes and imagine their caregiver cuddling up to them or playing with one of their favorite toys. 

Ethan pulled into a parking spot and beelined for his room. He laid in bed and tugged Bubba up against his cheek. The thoughts wouldn’t leave no matter how much he tried to push them away. There was one main question that they all circled back to though.

Had he wanted to be little tonight with Mark and Amy?

Chapter Text

 

Ethan was conflicted.

 

He had always known he liked being little but he’d never thought he’d never been able to make the active choice to slip into his headspace. The thought refused to let him be, even in his sleep his dreams brought him to face the idea head-on. 

 

It had felt so real. He was at Mark and Amy’s house but Kathryn was there too. They were all having a movie night. Ethan cuddled up on the course next to Kathryn, they both were sharing a blankie. 

 

Ethan looked at the TV, they were watching older shows he remembered from when he was younger. The original Teen Titans. Ethan has been wanting to revisit the show recently, he was bursting with excitement to watch it with his friends. 

 

Mark and Amy came in together with popcorn and drinks for everyone. Amy passed everyone a glass but Ethan. He was about to question it when she reached out to him, Ethan could have sworn his heart fell out of his ass in shock. Wordlessly he accepted the blue sippy cup and examined it between his hands. He didn’t think he felt small, even if he was watching cartoons and was all cuddled up. He wanted to let it happen, there was a tug on the back of his mind whispering that it was okay. 

 

The final straw was when Mark handed him Bubba. Ethan didn’t question when Mark had gotten him or where Amy had pulled the sippy cup from, he let himself sink into the single thought blaring around on speakers in his brain like an intercom at a supermarket. This felt nice.

 

Ethan sunk down into the couch cushions with Bubba in his lap and brought his sippy cup up to his lips. Apple juice.

 

All three of them kept telling him it was alright, giving him more and more toys until the couch was overflowing with plushies. It was working too, Ethan could feel himself letting go. His friends were okay with this, they weren’t going to be upset if he slipped. 

 

Kathryn pulled him to lean on her shoulder and cooed about how adorable he was. Mark and Amy joined them on the couch, piling up on top of the mountain of toys they’d created to cuddle and watch TV with them.

 

On-screen the towers alarm began to alert the heroes of trouble in the city, the team quickly gathered to see what all the excitement was about. The only issue was that the alarm was so loud Ethan couldn’t hear what Robin was saying anymore. He turned to Mark to ask for the remote, if he turned up the volume he might be able to hear what the characters were saying. Mark to respond but Ethan couldn’t hear him either. 

 

Just as Ethan was about to go look for the remote himself he started to feel like he was floating, weightless as a cloud in the sky. At the same time, he felt dizzy and like he was falling, the winds pushing him in circles as he plummeted down, down, down.

 

He wasn’t sure when he’d closed his eyes, maybe when he first started to feel strange, but when he opened them back up he found himself staring into his bedroom’s ceiling.

 

Ethan took stock of his situation. He was in his room with Spencer at his feet. Slowly he began to feel less dizzy, but he still felt as though his stomach was dropping from the sky. There was a beeping coming from his left as well, his alarm. 

 

It was still early in the morning, a quarter till seven to be exact. 

 

Ethan felt his dream begin to fade as he woke up, he didn’t want to forget it though. He frantically tried to pull details forward. He had his sippy, his friends were there, and the biggest detail of all: they were encouraging him to slip.

 

Ethan did a quick mental analysis. Even after his dream, he couldn’t feel himself starting to slip. His mind was a little fuzzy but not enough to draw his little side out fully. He didn’t want to stay still anymore, if he did then he’d notice the wave of disappointment that washed over him. He shouldn’t be sad that he wasn’t little, being little was just how he dealt with stress. He shouldn’t want to be little.

 

Why was it wrong to want to be little?

 

You’re an adult, Ethan reminded himself as he climbed out of bed. 

 

He should make breakfast, that was the responsible thing to do, he didn’t think about how he was using it as a distraction.

 

Bring Bubba with you.

 

No. He didn’t need to bring a stuffy down with him to make breakfast. He was fine being big today. Just because he realized that he was feeling big today didn’t mean he had to be in a sour mood. His headspace wasn’t something he controlled. 

 

He prepared his eggs and got them on the stove.

 

But what if you tried-

 

“Oh for fucks sake!” Ethan grumbled, quickly scrambling his eggs. He walked over to the cabinet and reached to the very top shelf. He had to climb on the counter to reach all the way to the back where it was.

 

His sippy cups.

 

He climbed down with the cup in hand and pushed his eggs around for a second before making his way to the fridge. He wanted some chocolate milk goddammit. 

 

He still felt big as he poured the milk into his cup. He shoved his thoughts to the back of his mind and chose to ignore the ones telling him that this wasn’t right.

 

Ethan twisted the lid tight and sat it on the table. Kathryn always had him eat at the table when he was little, she said she didn’t want him to spill on accident. It made sense but Ethan wasn’t feeling little and Kathryn wasn’t home. He could go sit in the living room, but that wasn’t what Ethan wanted.

 

He wanted to be little.

 

The realization made him pause as the thought echoed in his mind. There, he admitted it. What now world?

 

Ethan walked back over to the stove and turned the burner off before carefully plating his eggs. Salt, pepper, easy peasy. Ethan set it down on the table before tracking back across the house. There was one more thing he wanted to get.

 

Bubba.

 

Ethan passed Spencer in the living room, giving the dog a good scratch. “Hey mister, I’ll be right back okay.” He promised.

 

In his room Ethan easily found Bubba on his bed but felt himself pause. He’d brought so many toys down with him yesterday, what was stopping him from bringing toys down today? He glanced around to see what looked fun. Legos were a given. The slime was tempting but Kathryn would know if he got it out, he could never clean it up without leaving evidence behind. He definitely needed his blanket too. 

 

His mind drifted as he thought, stopping himself from bringing his hand to his mouth. Kathryn wasn’t home. No one would see if he brought his chew downstairs for the day.

 

He didn’t let himself think as he reached under his bed for the box, picking chew out before carefully sliding the box back into its hiding place. 

 

He set his loot down on the couch except for Bubba who came to the kitchen with Ethan.

 

First breakfast.

 

Ethan sat down and sped through his meal. He was excited that he could bring his stuff downstairs, though still a little afraid. What if it didn’t work? What if he couldn’t find his little space? No, he couldn’t think like that. Ethan brought his empty plate to the kitchen sink. He’d just have to see what happened and if he couldn’t get little then he’d just have a fun time playing with his toys while Kathryn was away.

 

Ethan grabbed his sippy cup and brought it to his lips. It felt a bit weird when he wasn’t little, but Ethan didn’t stay on that thought. Instead, he brought himself to Spencer's bowl, putting a scoop of food into the dish. He didn’t want to lose track of time later and have the poor pup go hungry. 

 

Ethan racked his brain, what there anything super important he needed to do today? He’d been trying to have everything prepped and set up in advance to let him have a bit of free time on the weekends but sometimes it got hard to keep track of. His brain came up empty though. He had set the videos up already to upload themselves when the time came later that day. It all seemed to fall into place.

 

Ethan let his feet slide on the floor as he made his way to the living room. Spencer was still laying on the couch. It made Ethan smile as he settled down next to him.

 

“Hey good boy, how about we ‘xperiment today? Does that sound fun bub?” Ethan cooed. Spencer looked up at him with his big brown eyes and licked his lips. “Yeah Bubbers sounds good to me too.”

 

Ethan grabbed the remote, flicking to where he could set up Teen Titans to play through the whole first season. Hopefully, that would be the last thing he needed to really focus on.

 

With the screen rolling he looked over at the pile he’d brought down. He still had Bubba with him but now came some choices. Did he want to just sit and cuddle for now to try to bring himself down slowly or grab a toy to immerse himself in? Ethan was nervous, what if nothing happened at all? He shifted from foot to foot. He wouldn’t be able to sit still very long like this. He was too antsy.

 

Ethan reached for his lego set, his cheeks flushing when he saw his chew. No one would see him but he still couldn’t bring himself to use it right now. If he did he might chicken out and put everything back. Instead, he set it on the coffee table with his sippy. 

 

He wrapped the blanket over his shoulders and set Bubba down in his lap once he’d settled next to the coffee table. Legos could get messy so he always had to play with them where Spencer wouldn’t eat them. 

 

Ethan didn’t look at the directions as the legos clicked against the tabletop, the sound muted over the Teen Titans theme song. He let his heart guide him, reading the directions would be boring. If he really wanted to try to be little then he had to let go of the need to make it perfect. He grabbed whatever pieces caught his eye and continued to build until he’d made some sort of space car. He smiled as he took his creation to the air, whooshing and nyooming through the sky. 

 

He was having fun, but he hadn’t gotten that familiar tug in his gut that let him know he was slipping.

 

Ethan didn’t let that stop him. He reached for his sippy cup and let his eyes fall on the screen. The titans were in battle. The plastic still felt a little strange against his tongue but he ignored it.

 

Maybe Ethan should play heroes instead, that sounded fun. 

 

Ethan let his blanket fall to the ground around him as he dashed into his room. He had a couple of action figures he’d gotten a few months back, now he just had to remember where he had put them last.

 

He checked on his side table first, though not a single hero had taken up residency over the furniture. The floor was his next best bet, he found Iron Man near his dirty clothes basket, and Spiderman was under his bed. He knew Captain America and Thor had to be somewhere nearby too.

 

Although it would make sense for his toys to be in the little toy box in Ethan’s closet, a repurposed Amazon box that had been a perfect size, Ethan only thought to check it when he started to grow frustrated. Of course the two toys would be hiding in there. Ethan picked all four up to take back downstairs with him. Spencer watched him settle back down on the floor.

 

He should probably put the legos he was using away first, a voice suspiciously similar to Kathryn's spoke in the back of his mind, but Ethan was too excited. He didn’t want to waste any time cleaning up. The fight on the screen had already ended but Ethan had come up with the plot for his own battle.

 

He put the four heroes standing in a line facing the evil space car. Hydra had sent new technology to fight against the Avengers, well most of them at least, but Cap and Tony had a plan. They’d surrounded him on all sides, Tony and Thor taking the sky, Spiderman working to pull the car down, and Captain working to clear through the bots on the ground. It was a hard-fought battle but the four managed to get the ship down free of casualties.

 

Ethan was panting between sips of his milk. He felt like he was going to burst with energy any minute now, his skin was buzzing. 

 

He didn’t have time to think about what that implied, his brain felt a little foggy but he was having too much fun to think about it. He didn’t want to think, he just wanted to play. He knew if Kathryn were here she’d have him clean up the legos before getting a new toy out, but Kathryn wasn’t here to play with him or tell him what to do. Just this one time he could get all his toys out and not have to worry about the mess they were making. 

 

Spencer tilted his head, watching as Ethan skipped back up to his room. What other toys could he play with right now?

 

The slime caught his eye. He knew he wasn’t allowed to play with the slime unless someone else was with him though. He didn’t want to make Kathryn mad, she wouldn’t let him play with it anymore if he broke the rules too much. Instead, he found a ball. Spencer’s ball to be more specific. He could take Spencer outside to play! They didn’t really have much room for him to play with Spencer at home but Ethan would just have to make due. 

 

Ethan slid back into the living room and bounced the ball on the ground. Spencer’s head tilted to the side and his tail gave a wag. Ethan bounced the ball again and Spencer was standing on the couch readying himself to jump down at a moment's notice. Ethan tossed the ball, he knew he wasn’t supposed to do that either but he felt like breaking the rules today.

 

Spencer leaped after the ball, bringing it back to Ethan who slipped on his shoes by the door. He stopped to pet the puppy for a second before refocusing on the task at hand. Ethan had to try to tie his shoes, he didn’t want to fall, but it was proving easier said than done. His attention span was not working with him as Spencer paced back and forth. In the end Ethan just tucked the laces into the sides of his shoes.

 

It would work for now.

 

Ethan didn’t think about the fact he was still in his pajamas, or that he didn’t grab his phone just in case of an emergency. He hadn’t turned off the TV or picked up any of his toys in the living room. Ethan didn’t care because he was finally having fun.

 

Spencer and Ethan chased after one another as they ran across the yard, Ethan throwing the ball and chasing the dog around when he refused to drop it. They played until Ethan felt too tired to move. He’d seen a neighbor walk past him but was too distracted to notice the glace she’s tossed him out of the corner of her eye.

 

Ethan sat up from the grass ready to go back inside and get his drink. “Come on Spence, let’s go Bubbers. Let’s go inside and have some water Bubs.”

 

The milk was warm by now but felt good nonetheless.

 

Spencer had gone straight for his water bowl, Ethan wasn’t far behind him though coming to refill his sippy. He wanted more milk.

 

The cap took a bit to unscrew and the jug was a bit hard to balance while he was pouring but most of the milk made it into the sippy cup. He wiped away the few splashes and spills with a washcloth and settled back down in the living room.

 

Ethan wasn’t sure what episode he was on but let it steal his focus anyway. Spencer came a few minutes later and laid at his feet.

 

He was too hot for his blankie but pulled Bubba into his lap. His hand quickly found its way to his lip, then from his lip into his mouth. Yucky, his hand tasted like dirt and dog slobber. 

 

Getting up seemed like too much effort though, Ethan’s legs were tired. He reached for his sippy cup and saw it taunting him from the table. His chew.

 

It would be so easy.

 

No one was home.

 

It would be so nice.

 

Ethan caved, pulling the toy to his lips. He was right, it felt really calming. His mind immediately focused on the smooth texture. It fit perfectly, not going too far back to be uncomfortable but sat on his tongue. It was chewy, but not enough to make his jaw sore. 

 

He focused on it, letting everything else fade away. It was so soothing and Ethan was so tired. It’d be okay if he took a small nap. 

 

No one would ever have to know.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ethan woke up feeling fuzzy. Something was in his mouth but he didn’t feel like moving to see what it was. It was obvious that he was still in headspace even to himself. Through the haze he prompted himself to think hard for a moment. Should he be alone right now? Kathryn wasn’t a fan of leaving Ethan by himself when he felt little at the best of times, but he felt really little right now. Really, really, little. 

 

Ethan’s hand was half-way to his phone before he remembered why Kathryn wasn’t home. She was having a weekend with her friends and wouldn’t be home till tomorrow. The realization hurt. Ethan was going to be little and alone for the whole next day. He didn’t feel like he’d be able to make himself big yet either. 

 

He cuddled Bubba close to himself, the fuzzy ears rubbing softly against his neck over the collar of his shirt. It was scary. 

 

His show had stopped playing, having gone through each episode in the season. He could try to find the next season but the buttons on the remorse seemed too overwhelming. 

 

Watching TV was out. 

 

Ethan looked at his toys, but all they did was make him wish he had someone to play with him. 

 

Ethan chewed on whatever was in his mouth. Maybe he could go back to sleep and when he woke up next Kathryn would be home. The idea was appealing but Ethan knew it wouldn’t work, he was too wound up and anxious to sleep now. 

 

His phone was taunting him, daring him to click the right buttons and make the call, but he wouldn’t. He refused to ruin Kathryn’s weekend away just because he was scared. Ethan logged onto his phone anyway, he had some games he could play. Maybe that would help distract him. 

 

He clicked on the first game he saw.

 

Subway Surfer was a decent distraction but grew frustrating when his reaction time wasn’t quite as quick as he needed. Ethan checked the time. A three and a four and a two. It was still bright outside so Ethan could call someone to keep him company for a little bit. It was just a matter of who wouldn’t be suspicious. 

 

Mark and Amy know, call one of them

 

The thought refused to leave his head as he scrolled past Mark’s contact. 

 

Ethan reached the bottom of his contact list and the desperate feeling only grew. He didn’t have any other options, did he? He hesitated with his finger over the call button. Mark knew, he said he wanted to be there and help Ethan so surely he wouldn’t be mad at him. Besides Mark might now even answer anyway. Ethan felt his stomach curl at that thought. Ethan would have preferred to send a text but didn’t trust himself to press the buttons right. Maybe Mark wouldn’t realize Ethan was little anyway. Yeah, Ethan would but say he was bored and wanted to talk. 

 

He tapped the screen once to start the call, then a second to put it on speaker. The phone echoed across the room it felt like, though Ethan knew that was probably just in his head. 

 

Spencer looked up at the noise before licking his lips and laying his head back down.

 

“Hey Ethan, what’s up?

 

Mark had answered. Even though Ethan had been hoping he would he didn’t feel prepared. What had he been planning to say? The thought process had died the moment he heard Mark’s voice. He was at a loss. No matter how hard he was trying, his tongue refused to move the way he wanted. It was like his mouth was numb only without the tingles that came with numbing spray. 

 

“Ethan? You there?”

 

Ethan stares at his phone, willing himself to say something, anything at this point. It was useless though, no matter how hard he tried to make a noise it was like his body was working against him. 

 

Ethan’s eyes started to fill with tears. Why couldn’t he talk? He wished Mark here so he would understand. 

 

The line went dead and all of the noises Ethan had been trying for burst from him at once. Spencer startled at first before moving to lick Ethan’s hand cautiously. 

 

Ethan wanted Mark to stay on the phone and talk to him, why would he hang up? Ethan was trying to talk, but he just couldn’t! Mark’s presence had been calming even if it was just his voice. He wanted Mark to tell him everything was going to be okay. 

 

Any sense of calm he had begun to sink into had been ripped from his hands.

 

He wanted Mark to come here. 

 

Something dropped onto Ethan’s lap but he didn’t pay any attention. There were much more pressing matters right now.

 

Spencer kept licking and nuzzling Ethan’s hand until the boy had grabbed hold of the fur. Spencer climbed into Ethan’s lap and let the boy hold him tight, and Ethan would never be able to pet Spencer enough to thank him. He couldn’t be sure of how long he cried for before he realized his phone was still in his hand. Mark’s contact was still loaded up on his screen. 

 

Mark, Ethan’s mind chanted. Mark, Mark, Mark. 

 

Ethan hadn’t stopped crying, not being big enough to care about how he was sobbing into Spencer’s furry back. All he wanted was Mark, that’s all that mattered at the moment. 

 

The phone rang three times, each second Ethan swore he had died when Mark didn’t answer. He knew his face probably had Spencer’s hair stuck to it, and said fur had made its way into his mouth, making him gag and cough around his cries. 

 

That is the sound Mark heard when he answered the phone on the fourth ring. 

 

Ethan could barely hear over his own crying but what little he could distinguish sent a wave of relief crashing over him. Mark was here, he answered, Mark would be able to help him. 

 

“Mar’!” Ethan garbled, the sound more of a whine than anything else. None of that mattered though, because Mark answered. “Mark, come me.”

 

Mark was talking but Ethan only listened to the sound of his voice. It was low and steady, the opposite of Ethan’s high-pitched warbles. Most importantly is that Mark didn’t stop talking, even when Ethan interrupted to sob Mark’s name of what little instructions he could form. “Come Mar’, need.”

 

Ethan couldn’t have known that Mark was already on his way over in his state. Mark did his best to fight off L.A. traffic as he listened to Ethan over the phone. He’d never heard him like that, there were no words to describe, desperate or panicked didn’t do the emotion justice. Even in the basement, Ethan hadn’t reacted so strongly.

 

Mark was screaming at himself. He should have stayed on the line the first time Ethan called, He’d assumed it was just a mistake but now it was obvious that wasn’t true. Ethan was not okay and Mark had almost left him to deal with this on his own. He wouldn’t be able to look himself in the eye if he’d let Ethan cry like that and left him. 

 

Ethan’s voice was broken, only half coming through the call. What Mark could make out as he all but sped down the roads didn’t make full sense. They were more words than sentences. “Mark.” “Come.” “Want.” “Here.” No matter how many times he told Ethan he was almost there those broked words seemed to play on repeat over his sobs. 

 

“Come Mar’, need.”

 

“I’m coming buddy, five minutes out. Almost there Eth. Please, I need you to make sure your door is unlocked, buddy. Can you go unlock the door for me? I’m so close to you Ethan, I’ll just be another minute or two okay.”

 

It was impossible to get through to Ethan, Mark just had to hope Ethan would be able to open the door when he heard Mark knocking. 

 

Ethan continued to cry as Mark parked his car and sprinted to Ethan’s door. He tried the know, not hopeful, only to be surprised when he nearly fell through the doorway in his haste. It was unlocked. 

 

Mark could hear Ethan in the living room. If he thought it was painful over the phone then it was torture in person. Mark hung up the phone and quickly made his way towards the boy.

 

“Ethan! Ethan buddy, I’m here, it’s okay now Mark’s here.”

 

Ethan looked wreaked. His eyes were bloodshot and his skin was somehow pink and pale in different splotches. His nose was rubbed raw and snotty from all the crying. Even with how gut-wrenching Ethan had sounded while crying Mark hadn’t thought about what scene he’d be running into, he didn’t have time to think. The sight before him made his heart shatter. 

 

He forced himself to move, one step at a time, to where Ethan sat on the couch. He should do the same as he did last time, right? Hold the boy until he calmed down. Pull him close, give him something to drink, and let him cry all the bad feelings out. 

 

Mark sat down and let Ethan fall against him. 

 

Ethan’s limbs felt too heavy to move. Even the thought seemed impossible when Mark finally sat down next to him. Instead, Ethan let Mark do all the work of pulling Ethan from next to him onto his chest. Ethan was putty in his hands. His chest hurt from crying, Mark’s hands rubbing up and down his arm felt grounding among the swirl of emotions and panicked reactions. Mark’s warmth melted the ice that had grown in his stomach, his loneliness diluting. He could hear Mark’s heartbeat, feel every steady breath the older took. Ethan did his best to match it. 

 

Mark shifted, causing Ethan to whine, but Mark settled back against the couch only a few seconds later. Ethan felt something pressing into his hands. His sippy cup. Ethan hadn’t realized he was thirsty until that moment. His throat hurt and his swallowing felt thick. He drank what was left, letting the milk ease his aching throat before handing the cup back to Mark.

 

Spencer sat next to the two, nosing as Ethan’s legs and hands once his cries had begun to slow. Ethan loved Spencer so much. 

 

Mark shifted again, pulling items off the floor and setting them off to the right. Ethan didn’t bother to check what he was doing, his eyes felt sore. He didn’t want to try to keep them open unless necessary. 

 

A blanket wrapped around his shoulders and something soft was set in his hands. Bubba. Ethan pulled both close to him, not sure exactly when he’d dropped them to start with. There was also noise, the Teen Titan’s team chattering chased the silence away. 

 

It was only when he paid attention to the new voices that he realized Mark was talking to him. 

 

“-Rest up buddy. Once you feel ready I can get you something else to drink and maybe make an early dinner for tonight. You’re probably thirsty and tired after that but we’ll take as much time as we need for you to be comfortable.” 

 

Ethan shook his head, not even wanting to think about talking yet. Talking seemed much too difficult. 

 

Mark pulled away to get a better look at Ethan. “No? What’s a no buddy?”

 

How was Ethan supposed to explain that he wouldn’t be able to sleep even if he tried? Even though his eyes were sore and hurt to keep open the rest of his body and mind were too wound up to even consider sleep as an option. His fingers found their way to his mouth, they tasted salty and a bit like dust or dirt. Mark didn’t try to stop him though, letting Ethan chew and suck on them mindlessly.

 

“Don’t feel like talking?” Mark asked, catching on quickly. Ethan had gone nonverbal last time he cried in headspace too. Did something happen that caused Ethan to shift into his headspace suddenly? Mark didn’t let himself linger on the thought. “That’s alright. Can I ask you yes or no questions? Would that be easier? I only have a few things I need to ask really quick Eth, buddy.”

 

Ethan nodded. Even though he couldn’t talk just yet he still felt okay to ‘talk’ to Mark. It was probably best to distract himself right now anyway. 

 

He felt Mark’s chest grow as he took a deep breath, preparing for his first question. 

 

“Are you little right now?”

 

The answer seemed obvious, he wouldn’t have been so upset if he had been big. Though his eyebrows creased at the strange question he let himself nod.

 

“Okay, good job. I’m so proud of you for calling me.” Mark praised him. Ethan felt himself glow at the remarks. He’d done good, Mark was happy he called him. “Do you want me to grab anything? A drink, or can I put a different show on for us to watch?”

 

Ethan was thirsty, the milk leftover from earlier not able to fully satisfy the burn in his throat. He peaked his eyes open and pointed at his sippy on the coffee table.

 

“Milk or do you have juice?”

 

Ethan just pointed harder. He had juice but he wanted milk. Mark said he was just going to ask yes or no questions, why would he-

 

“You want what was in there before buddy?”

 

Yes. Mark could read Ethan so well. It made sense, they’d known each other for years and Ethan wasn’t known for his coherency. 

 

“Do you want me to grab you something to snack on while I’m in there?”

 

No. Ethan’s stomach bubbled at the thought of food right now. Fit’s like that always made him feel nauseous for a while after. 

 

“Okay, I’ll be back in just a sec bud, I’m going to go fill up your cup okay,” Mark told him, slowly moving Ethan off his lap. Ethan didn’t really want to let Mark leave but the man was gone before Ethan could process what was happening. He reached out to his friend’s back, watching as it disappeared from his line of sight. 

 

Tears threatened him again, though he knew Mark would be right back. He wasn’t really alone, Spencer was there and he had Bubba too, but he could feel the cold seeping through his blanket while he waited for Mark to return.

 

“Here you go, nice and cold for you.” Mark smiled, handing the cup to Ethan. The outside felt nice, condensation leaving his hands damp. It felt really nice. 

 

Mark sat back down watching as Ethan took a sip of the drink, though he almost made a mess when he forgot his hand was still in his mouth. The cup made a bubbly noise at each suck, but Mark felt oddly comforted by it. He let himself stare as Ethan lowered the sippy cup. 

 

Mark wasn’t really surprised that the little had them, Ethan wasn’t clumsy per se but he’d had his fair share of spills outside of headspace. It made sense, but why hadn’t Ethan shown them to Mark the other night? He reasoned that Ethan probably had been embarrassed, but in the forums, Mark had read sippy cups had been a pretty common item. It was better they knew what he needed and used than to try and go in blind, he thought that was why Ethan had decided to reexplain his regression. The realization provoked a question Mark wasn’t sure he wanted to push: What else was Ethan hiding from them?

 

Mark and Amy had done their research, they’d both realized how much of an impact this could have on everyone involved. Some littles had certain needs and a caregiver needed to be ready to handle them as they came. 

 

Ethan had described himself as a bit of an older little, not too far out from the toddler stage, but four sounded so much bigger than three. They had never had more of the toddler-like issues with Ethan before outside of headspace. Surely there would have been some signs. Mark tried to keep away from the questions that his mind kept bringing back up but felt powerless to force them away. Did Ethan need to be watched for signs of needed extra help or would that be an invasion of privacy? Did he need his food cut up for him? Did he need help dressing himself, Mark thought back to how proud he’d been at tying his pants around his waist after he showered. Should he have let Ethan shower by himself? Should he be supervised in the bathroom? Did he need diap-

 

No, Mark cut himself off. That was definitely an invasion of Ethan’s privacy. If Ethan wasn’t comfortable sharing some of his needs with Mark and Amy yet then they would just have to wait until he was. 

 

Ethan passed Mark the sippy cup, letting the older set it on the coffee table for him. He felt much better having Mark in the same room as him. 

 

They sat together, taking in each other’s comfort, letting the tension fade as their hearts calmed. 

 

Ethan was feeling much better now that Mark was there. The physical touch was grounding. Ethan cuddled into Mark’s chest, letting his focus shift to the TV. 

 

Spencer had settled down next to them and with Ethan, practically in Mark’s lap, knew things didn’t have to be difficult right now. They could just be here, no worries, or pressure, or anxiety- just comfort. 

 

Episodes passed and while Ethan seemed to only become more and more engrossed in the cartoons, Mark began to grow restless. He couldn’t just pull out his phone either with Ethan on top of him. He refused to risk disturbing the peace he’d found by shaking too much. Besides, the hand wrapped around Ethan’s waist seemed like too much of a comfort. Mark wasn’t surprised, Ethan was a more physical person after all, but it was still strange to see how he melted into the contact. 

 

Instead, Mark took to looking around the room. Toys were strewn across the floor and table without much care. He’d seen signs of Ethan being in the kitchen from a sticky spot of something that had been wiped on the countertop. The more Mark looked the more obvious that this wasn’t a sudden slip into Ethan’s little space. That was something they would have to address when Ethan was feeling bigger again. Mark could deal with Ethan hiding some of his comfort items, but not with him hiding when he regressed. Not when there was no one around to take care of him. 

 

Ethan shifted again, moving his hand up to his mouth, but Mark didn’t pay too close of attention. He looked at the types of toys Ethan had brought down to play with: dolls, Legos, and one of his stuffed animals. 

 

At least he didn’t seem to have gotten anything dangerous out. 

 

From his spot on the couch, Mark could make out something orange too, though he had no idea what it could be. 

 

He was pulled away before he could even begin to take a closer look by Ethan who whined and reached out for his sippy. 

 

Mark shifted forward to grab the cup, letting Ethan drink till he pushed it back into Mark’s hands. Mark could see that the tips of Ethan’s middle and pointer fingers seemed to be a bit pinker than the rest of his hand. 

 

He decided to observe Ethan a bit closer after that, watching as the tips of Ethan’s fingers slipped past his lips. The habit had definitely been linked to Ethan’s headspace, but seeing it in action was still a bit shocking. Mark couldn’t help but be reminded of that first afternoon where Amy had tried to stop Ethan from chewing on his sleeves and hands. Ethan’s hands had to be covered in dog fur still, but Mark had to finesse his way around the situation without Ethan realizing or getting upset. 

 

He could try to have Ethan shower but the idea of leaving him alone when he seemed so deep in headspace left a bitter taste in Mark’s mouth. He didn’t want to just ask Ethan to go wash his hands directly either, though he didn’t think that would make Ethan upset, it just seemed a bit disconnected from what they were currently doing. 

 

Ethan shifted in Mark’s lap, crossing and uncrossing his legs with a huff. 

 

The question was out of Mark’s mouth before he could think, “You okay bud?”

 

Ethan’s face twisted, eyes and nose crinkling cutely. 

 

“Potty.”

 

“Oh,” Mark hummed. That would work, and he didn’t even have to try to give Ethan a reason to wash his hands after. Really, this was perfect. “Okay buddy, let’s get you to the potty then.”

 

Ethan climbed off Mark’s lap and waited for Mark to stand up with him, hand still lingering at the edge of his mouth. Mark reached out to hold his free hand, walking the boy to the nearest bathroom. 

 

“Do you need me to go in there with you or can you do it by yourself big guy?” Mark asked. They really needed to go back over a few boundaries because Mark felt like he was walking on eggshells. Would staying in there be too much? Ethan seemed to be younger than before when he showered but Mark couldn’t tell how much. How old had he been when he’d first regressed?

 

Even in the depth of regression the question seemed to make Ethan blush. He shifted from left to right while he thought. He didn’t really want to be left alone but wanted to show Mark he was a big boy too. It wasn’t hard to see Ethan was struggling to decide. 

 

“How about I wait out here and we can leave the door cracked? That way if you need help all you have to do is ask and I can come in.”

 

Ethan visibly relaxed at the suggestion. With a nod Ethan shuffled his way in to do his business, leaving Mark to his thoughts once more. 

 

Where did the boundaries lie? Could Mark ask Ethan about his needs when he was in headspace or would that be taking advantage of the trust Ethan was putting in him?  Ethan just seemed so vulnerable and small, Mark didn’t want to do anything that would make him uncomfortable with the fact he was little. 

 

The toilet flushed and Mark heard the sink turn on. 

 

He needed an answer to at least one of his questions.

 

Ethan padded his way out of the bathroom and smiled at Mark, showing him his still dripping hands. 

 

Mark couldn’t help but smile too, “Good job Eth, you washed your hands and everything! Look, they’re all squeaky clean, I bet that feels better, right?”

 

Ethan nodded, his head bobbling in excitement. He was getting a bit more energy back now that they’d moved around a bit more. The icky feelings from crying were starting to wear off the longer he had Mark there to stay with him. He could feel the want to color or play with his toys working up in his chest. 

 

Mark reached a handout, letting Ethan take the final step to grab on or not. Mark reminded himself that it wouldn’t hurt to ask. He’d read about caregivers knowing the age of their littles by actions, but they must have needed to ask in order to get that association in the beginning. 

 

The pair made their way back to the living room, but instead of sitting right away, Mark began to tidy up the toys on the floor. He wasn’t expecting Ethan to help him, though he was happily surprised to see the boy follow his lead. 

 

Mark wanted to be careful with his word choice. Different phrasing would imply different things and making Ethan anxious was out of the question. Asking how old he was could hint that he wanted Ethan to try to act older, and wondering what age he felt would cause anxiety from not knowing whether or not he should try to pull himself out of headspace. With only one option left Mark cleared his throat, successfully getting Ethan’s attention. “Hey buddy, how little are you feeling? Can I get toys or anything to make you comfier?” 

 

Ethan paused to think, clearly debating one or both of Mark’s questions. After a moment he held up two fingers. 

 

Mark smiled encouragingly, he’d had a feeling Ethan was on the smaller side of his little space, but it was nice to have an age to put with it. 

 

Ethan didn’t see Mark’s smile though, he refused to look at Mark at all. The ground had become very interesting, especially his socks. 

 

“How about any toys or something buddy? Do you want anything?”

 

Ethan’s eyes darted over to the bottom of the couch and Mark let his own follow. The little orange thing. 

 

Mark didn’t move, Ethan was clearly on the fence about asking about it. He wanted to encourage Ethan’s little space though, not make him feel as if it were something he needed to hide. 

 

Mark walked over and picked the mystery object up. It was, well, interesting. It didn’t seem like anything too special, it had a bit of texture but was rather small. When he thought to look back up to Ethan he noticed the pink blush flaming across his cheeks and slowly burning down the boy’s neck. Ethan’s hand unconsciously made it’s way back up to pinch at his bottom lip.

 

“Do you want this?” Mark tried to reassure, “It’s okay Eth, buddy, you’re allowed. I promise I’m not going to judge you.” 

 

Ethan crinkled his nose and sniffed. “Baby.”

 

Oh. Oh now that just wouldn’t do, Mark decided. “Buddy, you’re allowed to feel as small as you want. You said you’re only two, and that’s pretty little. Amy, and Kathryn, and I, we aren’t going to stop you from feeling little, and little boys need toys and playthings that make them feel small. How about you show me what this is, yeah? You can teach Marky about what this is. Does that sound good buddy?”

 

Ethan sniffed and fiddled for another minute before nodding. 

 

Mark was glad, he knew that Ethan wasn’t quite used to sharing his little space with Mark but even with this he was seeing such a change in the trust Ethan put in him. “Alright buddy,” Mark explained, just happy that Ethan seemed to be okay sharing this part of his headspace with Mark. “It was just on the floor so let’s wash off the doggy fur first, then we can play, okay?”

 

Ethan nodded again, following Mark to the kitchen to watch as he ran the chew under hot water. 

 

Mark passed the toy over, not sure what to expect when Ethan brought the toy straight to his mouth. He was glad he’d gone to wash it first. He watched Ethan’s demeanor change completely, his body relaxing, eyes glazing over. Mark made a mental note to get more teething or chewing toys, he’d have to add it to the list of things he and Amy needed to get in the future. 

 

Ethan felt very small the moment the toy had made it’s way to his mouth, the familiar textures not giving him a second to think about his worries with Marky seeing him. He felt safe.

 

He reached a hand out for Mark, suddenly he didn’t feel too big at all. He didn’t want to try to feel big either. No, he just wanted two things: Mark, and his colors.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The next few hours go smoothly, the two friends watching cartoons and nearly finishing one of Ethan’s Star Wars coloring books. Not long after Mark had gotten Ethan situated he’d pulled out his phone. He hadn’t had time to explain what was happening to Amy before, she hadn’t even been home when Mark had gotten Ethan’s call. 

 

With a promise to explain everything in detail later he filled her in on how Ethan had been upset and slipped, so he had come over without much planning. She asked if she should come over but Mark wasn’t too sure. Ethan- well, he just seemed different. More fragile than before. 

 

Mark shook his head, doing his best to dispel the thought. He’d never been around Ethan at this age, and he’d only found out about Ethan’s little space a few weeks ago. He shouldn’t think he knows how Ethan would be acting right now, even if he did do research. 

 

What he did know, however, was that Ethan was deep into his regression. He would be willing to place his bets that the little felt younger now than when he had asked. The teether seemed to be a catalyst for that and just so happened to also have the side effect of making Ethan a mostly non-verbal and incomprehensible babbling baby. 

 

Currently, Ethan was laying across the floor, Bubba in one hand and the other being used as a pillow so he could watch Blues Clues. The older kid’s cartoons had started to get a bit intense after Ethan had slipped even smaller than when Mark had first got there, forcing Mark to try to remember some of his favorite shows from when he was young. Luckily Ethan seemed to take to the show immediately, giving it his undivided attention which was a feat in and of itself. Occasionally he would mumble or hum out an answer but other than that the boy kept quiet.

 

Mark spent most of the time on his phone. Blues Clues was great and all but it could only keep his focus for so long. 

 

Just as he was getting bored of the endless scrolling he got a message from Amy asking if he wanted her to grab them some take-out so Mark wouldn’t have to worry about cooking while taking care of Ethan. 

 

Dinner. Mark hadn’t really been thinking about that, though it was starting to get late. His body seemed to come to life at the realization that it had been a good chunk of day since either of them had eaten. Hell, he didn’t even know if Ethan had eaten anything before he slipped into his headspace.

 

Mark thought about maybe taking Ethan back home with him, but the thought of having to get Ethan up and ready to leave made him shut that thought process down as soon as it came up. He didn’t want to think of trying to get Ethan out the door. Even if taking him back to his and Amy’s house was out of the question, it wasn’t like he could just leave him there either. No, he’d just spend the night over here. Amy was another question entirely. He didn’t think Ethan would be upset if he asked Amy to come over, but Ethan wasn’t in the best place to really understand the situation either. Ethan was slowly and surely letting them both in, and Amy had made sure to ask if she would be a welcome presence to try to respect Ethan’s privacy which he was sure Ethan would appreciate. Mark hadn’t told her everything, though she did know that Ethan was doing much better now than earlier. It was hard to know what was okay and what would be taking advantage of Ethan’s headspace. 

 

Mark cleared his throat, breaking the comfortable silence between him and Ethan. There was only one thing he really could do right now, and he just had to hope it was the right call. “Hey bud, it’s about dinner time. Is it okay if Amy comes over with something yummy for us to eat?”

 

Ethan’s head turned to look at Mark, blinking up at him with innocent eyes. He knew Amy. She was always really nice to him. If he hadn’t been sold on that alone the fact that she would be bringing food would have tied him over. He hadn’t had an appetite earlier and he had been so distracted that he didn’t realize he was getting hungrier and hungrier throughout the day. 

 

Ethan mumbled something around his Chew with his head bobbing up and down with his nods. He was all smiles after that while they waited for Amy to make her appearance.

 

Time passed quickly and before they knew it Amy was walking through the front door. 

 

Before Mark could even call out that they were in the living room Ethan was on his feet making a fast and wobbly dash to the door.

 

“‘My! ‘My, here!” He yelled, chew still firmly between his lips. “Need help? Eef help.”

 

Mark stood, making his way towards the duo. Amy was handing a bag over to Ethan, balancing the drinks and another bag in her other hand. Mark reached over to take the drinks, not missing the opportunity to press a kiss against her temple.

 

“Thank you boys, I don’t know what I would do without you.” Amy praised. She couldn’t help but smile, Ethan had run over to her so excited, and though Mark had seemed a bit more tired she was really happy to see them both doing okay. 

 

She’d been scared when she’d gotten Mark’s messages, and honestly was glad that Ethan was alright with her coming over. She had been on edge, worried that the boy wouldn’t want her there. She would never do anything to make him uncomfortable, especially since he had only just recently started to feel more comfortable talking about his headspace with them, but the thought that he didn’t want her around hurt.

 

Shaking the thought from her mind she focused on the moment. Now was a time to be happy, not worrying about things that already, or didn’t, happen. “I hope Italian was okay. It was the only thing that didn’t have an hour-long wait.”

 

Mark just smiled, pulling her in for a side hug. Together the trio made their way to the kitchen table and set everything down. 

 

It was only when they were sitting down at the table that Mark realized Amy hadn’t blinked twice at the teether he had. Both he and Ethan seemed to forget about it entirely until Ethan was picking up a breadstick and had to take it out. 

 

For a second Mark was afraid that the realization of someone else seeing him have the teether would cause Ethan to go back to being shy, but the boy was going purely off of his instincts at this point. The orange piece of rubber was set on the table next to Ethan’s plate without much thought. Mark caught Amy’s eye, but being the amazing woman she is, she just sent him a smile as sweet as sugar and sipped on her drink.

 

The entire rest of their evening had that effortless feel to it, not that anyone was complaining. 

 

The conversation flows easily, Amy is sure to ask what she missed out on while she was away, and Ethan is more than content to fill her in. He stumbles a bit on his words, sometimes forgetting to use words at all, but neither Amy nor Mark mind. It’s cute to see how Ethan’s eyes go wide, or how his hands wave with emphasis to his babbles. 

 

There are tales of coloring, cartoons, drinks, and cuddles. Ethan promises that they can all cuddle later, and is upset once he realizes that they had left her out of the entire days’ activities. Amy laughs it off though, promising that he can make it up to her next time. The promise of a next time is enough to make the boy in question bounce with excitement. He walks her through each task and how they would have to redo it next time until he’d gone into what happened before Mark showed up.

 

“An’ eat breakfast with juice. And then we can play superheroes and Legos. Oh! An’, an’ you can help me take Spencer to the park! We couldn’t go to the doggie park ‘cause I was too little, but we played ball in the front yard and we ran around. We had fun, right Spencer?” Ethan asked, looking around to where Spencer was laying on the couch. 

 

Mark wasn’t sure how he felt about Ethan having gone outside by himself, though that did explain why the door had already been unlocked when he got there. The thought of anyone being able to come in when Ethan was vulnerable like this made him lose his appetite. Anyone could have walked into Ethan’s home and he wouldn’t have been in any position to defend himself.

 

Looking over to Amy, Mark knew she was having similar thoughts. Her eyebrows creased above her nose, though she managed to keep a smile on her face for Ethan. No more regressing alone , the two agreed silently. That would have to be a rule, the moment Ethan felt his regression coming on he needed to tell someone, whether it be Mark and Amy, or Kathryn. As long as someone knew, and someone would be able to be with him, especially when he was feeling that young. 

 

Ethan finished up his tale of the days’ events, a bit out of order and more than a bit incoherent, which left the conversation up in the air. Amy and Mark would need to talk about what their plan for the night would be, Mark knew he was probably going to stay over, and Amy would likely head back home to make sure Henry and Chica were alright. He’d be sure to keep her posted on if anything were happening here, but now that dinner was done and the sun was getting close to setting they knew they were working on borrowed time. 

 

When Amy told Ethan she wouldn’t be able to have a sleepover tonight Mark was afraid Ethan was going to cry. He just looked so sad it really wasn’t fair. She promised to facetime when they were getting ready for bed, which kept the waterworks away, but Ethan seemed a bit more subdued for the remainder of their time together. 

 

When Ethan went back over to his toys Mark pulled Amy aside.

 

“Amy, I- Well, I think we can both agree that all three of us need to talk about this when Ethan is feeling bigger. During dinner, that’s the first time he even mentioned regressing earlier in the day to me. I don’t like the idea of him doing that alone, and I know you didn’t either. I just- It doesn’t sit right, anyone could have come in. What would have happened if I hadn’t picked up the phone? If he would have been here all alone the entire time? What if-”

 

Amy put a hand on Mark’s shoulder and Mark took a deep breath. Panicking right now wouldn’t do any good for anyone. 

 

“I don’t like the idea of him being alone either, but that’s why you’re going to stay with him tonight. I know you’ll feel better being here. I’ll do some more research on safety and whether or not littles should be left alone tonight, and I’ll send you anything I think is useful. Try not to worry about it too much though Mark, there isn’t anything we can do to change what’s already happened, so just make the best of what we have.” Amy pauses in thought and Mark lets her find the right words. “I’ll message Kathryn, she’s known about it longer than us so she might have some insight we can’t get just from finding stuff online. I- I think she would also like to know what happened. Ethan said he’d never regressed by choice, but he made it seem like he chose to this morning. I- you’re right, we should just wait to talk about it in the morning. I’ll send that message to Kathryn tonight, and maybe all four of us can talk when she gets back.”

 

Mark nodded, she was right. It was better for them to talk this out later, and he was sure that Kathryn would be able to explain things in a way that might be easier for him and Amy to understand. It wasn’t that Ethan’s explanations weren’t good enough, just that the difference in perspective might help them out a bit more when it came to understanding what role they were taking on. 

 

Ethan yelled for them from the other room. 

 

Amy’s hand slid down Mark’s arm. Before he could pull away to go see what Ethan wanted she leaned in with a smile. “Also, I’ll order some more chew things. I know we saw that some people used pacifiers, I’ll look into those and a few other recommendations tonight. Do you think he has any color preferences?”

 

Mark scoffed. He had a feeling she was holding back earlier, and while neither of them were shocked to find that he had teething-type toys, it hadn’t been something they were expecting right after he’d shown them his toys and tools. The curious thought of what else Ethan might have been holding back on cropped back up, but Mark squished it down hard. 

 

“Blue obviously.”

 

“But his one thing is orange, do you think I should try to get something to match, or maybe patterned?”

 

“Oh, he’d probably like patterned ones. If you see anything nice, go for it. If anything we return it if he doesn’t like it, but if we ask him before he’ll never let us get it to start with.”

 

Mark thought that he wasn’t quite playing fair by telling Amy to get stuff without asking Ethan before, but he was right. If they asked him, he doubted that Ethan would admit to wanting to use anything. 

 

Ethan called out again, drawing out the end of both of their names, though they could barely be identified as names with how muffled they were. It must be hard for him to talk around the toy, Mark thought to himself. Together he and Amy walked into the living room. They had a few more minutes before Amy would need to leave, and Ethan had every intention of spending as much time as possible with her before she went home. 

 

 

Long after the sun had set, and Ethan had been coerced into his own bed, Amy sat on their couch searching website after website for adult-sized chew things. She had a few recommendations she’d found in the forums, but a lot of those were non-returnable, and she and Mark had both decided that they would want to return something if Ethan protested against it after a bit of time had passed. 

 

Ethan was stubborn, and Amy was sure that he would tell them he didn’t need the things she was looking at, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t be nice to have around.

 

She had already added a few pacifiers to her cart, two to be exact. One of them was a light blue, and the other one was just plain white. They didn’t have any design on them, but she had more than enough supplies at home to do anything that Ethan would want. Besides, he’d probably be more willing to use them if she were the one who customized it.

 

She was looking at a chewy necklace shaped like a game controller and sent a screenshot to Mark wondering if it was too much. There really was a lot to look at, though a lot of the toys seemed like they would be a bit young for how Ethan normally felt. 

 

She put the controller in her cart, deciding if anything it would be one of the things they returned. There were a few stuffed animals that had silicone ears or paws that she clicked on as well. Ethan had a tendency to put anything in his mouth, and she was sure that was likely to include toys, but after messaging with Mark for a little bit decided it was better to hold off on them for now. They didn’t want to overwhelm Ethan after all, he would just reject everything if they shoved it at him all at once. 

 

With the notification that her order had been submitted Amy let out a sigh, reaching over to pet Henry who had curled up a cushion away from her. “Mhm, what do you think Henry? You think he’ll like them?”

 

Henry’s head perked and tilted to the side. That was about as good of an answer as she was going to get, Amy guessed. 

 

Next came the part she had been dreading. How exactly was she supposed to send a message to Kathryn when she wasn’t even sure how comfortable Kathryn was with her and Mark knowing? 

 

 

To Kat 

 

Hey, sorry this is a bit out of the blue, but me and Mark were wondering if you’d be able to talk to us with Ethan about his thing, you know the one I think. I hope Ethan told you that me and Mark found out, I’m pretty sure he did at least, and while me and Mark are fully down with it we know you’ve been helping him out longer and wanted to make sure we weren’t going to do anything wrong. 

 

It kind of happened today out of the blue, Ethan was home alone but he ended up calling Mark. We weren’t sure if he normally is alone when it happens, but both of us were a bit thrown by the thought of him being alone during it. I know you’re currently out and about, so don’t let this stop you from having fun. Mark’s with him right now, and I went home with the doggos, but I figured either way you’d want to be kept updated. Have some fun, I expect you to tell me stories about your adventures when you get back, and maybe we can talk about the Ethan situation as well if thats okay. :D

 

 

Was it a bit rambly, yes, but it was sent and that was what mattered. 

 

Amy stood up with a heavy sigh. She felt better knowing that Kathryn had been told, and even though she wasn’t over there with Mark she felt better knowing that he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to Ethan, big or little. 

 

The day seemed to wash over her, and it was as if her bed was calling to her. 

 

Ethan had gone to bed a while ago, and she knew Mark was likely to be heading there himself soon. 

 

Tomorrow would be better, Amy decided. They’d deal with everything tomorrow, and everything would get better.