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Little Steps

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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?