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The Facts of Bright

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To say Malcolm Bright hadn't had an easy childhood, would be the understatement of the century. He was shunned, bullied, and ridiculed at school–both by other kids and teachers alike. He suffered almost constantly from nightmares each night, which gradually turned into full blown night terrors that sometimes left him bruised, bloody, and more often than not, in a fit of hysterical tears. If something triggered him in his waking life, or if he woke from a particularly monstrous night terror, he would be sent spiraling into a panic attack that left him tearfully gasping for air and almost choking on his own vomit, as he desperately grasped for the slivers of reality that would end up being just a little too far out of his reach. Even well after he was an adult, the things he suffered through as a child never truly came to a stop. For while, they slowed, but they never stopped.

He was diagnosed with generalized anxiety at the mere age of eleven, diagnosed with an unspecified eating disorder at twelve (later in his life to be officially diagnosed with what came to be known as Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder–or ARFID, for short), diagnosed with depression at thirteen, then finally with C-PTSD at nineteen. By the time Malcolm hit twenty, his bathroom cabinet looked more like it belonged to someone in their sixties than a young college student's.

Well, having a serial killer father who murdered twenty-three people, wasn't exactly known to result in turning a child into a mentally or physically healthy adult.

So really, Malcolm turning out to be an age regressor wasn't all that shocking once everything was explicitly explained to both the Whitly and Arroyo families. And when they all looked back on it, there had been clear signs that pointed to Malcolm being a regressor.

The second night after The Surgeon's arrest, Malcolm's old, beloved stuffed dog, 'Puppy'–name dubbed by a two year old Malcolm who had just learned the meaning of the word–was promptly brought out of the attic, per the young boy's request. At the time, Malcolm hadn't slept with the pink, white and blue, cotton candy colored pup since he was seven. It broke Jessica's heart whenever she saw her son curled up in bed around the floppy, old thing–appearing less like a ten year old, and more like a sad toddler in desperate need of comfort.

It was only a year later when the thumb sucking and bed wetting started.

The first time Malcolm was seen sucking his thumb and the first time he wet the bed–both having not occurred in well over five years–happened one night after he woke up from one of his more vicious nightmares. It wasn't just the dream that took him over the edge, though. When he screamed into consciousness, the boy was rudely greeted by loud, terrifying bangs of thunder and ghostly sounding howls of wind, causing the poor child's terror to instantly increase. He'd also been spending the night at the Arroyo household when it happened. By the time Gil and Jackie scrambled out of bed and got to Malcolm, the boy was a panicked mess of tears, snot and urine; rapidly sucking his thumb as he rocked himself back and forth on the bed. No one got another wink of sleep for the rest of that night.

All of these instances continued to occur over a period of four years. Until one day, when everything changed in just one afternoon. After a long, exhausting night filled with nightmare after nightmare, and a panic attack that resulted in Malcolm getting sick all over his bed, the teen was left drained both physically and emotionally. Jessica had to call Malcolm's school later that morning to let them know he wouldn't be attending that day due to his mental health issues. Malcolm spent the remainder of the morning resting in front of the TV, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders with his plush dog in his arms, occasionally sipping on a glass of milk to help replenish his electrolytes (while also simultaneously getting something filling into his belly). After Jessica had managed to convince Malcolm (i.e., bribing him with extra TV time) to eat a handful each of cut up strawberries and cucumber for lunch, the overly exhausted boy ended up unintentionally falling asleep–mouth parted, face half-buried in his stuffed dog, with an arm hanging off the side of the couch. Unfortunately, his impromptu nap didn't last all that long, either. Barely even thirty minutes after he fell asleep, Malcolm awoke with a strangled gasp and tears streaking his face, couch and blanket soaked in urine. As soon as Jessica was alerted by one of the house staff, she was immediately at his side. The moment Malcolm saw her he bursted into loud, heartbreaking wails; desperately reaching out towards her in a childlike manner, all the while calling her "mommy." It had took hours to calm him down, and even once he was, he still didn't act or behave like himself for the remainder of the day. He had truly seemed like a little boy who was still learning how to talk and use the potty on his own, all over again. Later that same week, Jessica sat in during Malcolm's weekly scheduled session with Dr. Le Deux, and explained everything that had taken place. That was the day Malcolm, and the rest of his family, found out he experienced involuntary age regression.

Everyone had been more than accepting, and as understanding as they could be–given how it was something they hadn't ever heard of until then. All four of them had been amazingly willing to learn and get educated on all things age regression, and that was something both Malcolm and Dr. Le Deux (though especially Malcolm) were immensely relieved at the outcome of. It took some adjusting, and a lot of trial and error, but eventually over the next couple of years, a routine had gradually been established.

By the time Malcolm started attending Harvard, he already knew the signs to look out for when a regression was looming, and knew to immediately call Jessica when that happened. Either she or both Gil and Jackie (or if it were possible, sometimes all three of them) would take a flight to Malcolm's studio in Cambridge, and care for him until he aged back up. They also still tried to keep somewhat of a routine while he was in college, since the old one seemed to help him not need to regress as often as he did in the beginning. During holidays, free weekends and summer vacations, Malcolm would go back home to New York where he would regress with his family for a couple days, or sometimes (when he was having an especially difficult time with his mental health) for the entire duration of his stay.

Then, his move to Quantico happened.

After Malcolm graduated and got on with the FBI, his whole family quickly took notice of how the young man gradually started distancing himself from them. He rarely went back home to visit anymore, didn't regress anymore (at least to their knowledge), and never called them nor answered when they called him. They tried to be understanding in the beginning, knowing that being an FBI profiler was of course going to take up most of his time, but after the second year of silence came to pass, concern had long since settled deep in their bones by then. Once they got word that Malcolm and his team had finally closed their case at the time (Gil had his connections–which Malcolm would later, very loudly, express his upset about), all three worried caregivers–plus a worried little sister–planned on flying down to Virginia that weekend to have an intervention of sorts with the distant man. But then something awful and sudden happened, and they never got the chance to.

The day before their flight, Jackie collapsed due to oxygen deprivation. The older woman had been living with Alpha-1 lung disease since her early 30s, and suffered from both horrible seasonal allergies and yearly bouts of intense colds and bronchitis (that would sometimes lead to a nasty case of pneumonia), but no matter how bad her breathing would become during those times, it had never escalated to the point where she'd lose consciousness and stop breathing entirely. That had been a terrifying voicemail to receive from Jessica that day.

As horrible of a situation as it was, it had at least got Malcolm boarding a flight that evening to New York.

Jackie had been asleep when Malcolm arrived, but that didn't stop him from sitting opposite of Gil by her bedside and holding her hand until she awoke. The young profiler had tried so hard not to regress, but the moment she placed her hand on his cheek and greeted him in that soft, motherly tone she always used with him (regardless of his headspace), Malcolm broke. He had wrapped his arms around her middle and clung to her like the scared little boy he was on the inside, face pressed against her blanket covered stomach as he sobbed with a force that almost had him choking on his own tears. He apologized profusely to her, for ignoring her and rest of their little family during those two years. He promised to never do it again, so long as she got better and came home.

And she did.

Two weeks after being admitted, Jackie was finally released from the hospital and allowed to go back to the home she shared with her husband. And, as Malcolm had promised, he begun coming back to New York more often whenever he was given the chance. Though not before giving his family an explanation as to why he grew distant in the first place.

Malcolm explained to them that during his second month at Quantico, he had gotten caught absent-mindedly sucking his thumb one day while at work by one of his team members. He told them that the person relentlessly poked fun at him for weeks after that, and had even gossiped about it to a few other teammates, as well. So after that humiliating incident, he told himself that he didn't need his regression anymore, and would do whatever it took to stay away from it for good; meaning he had to stay away from his family in the process. After he finished confessing his reasoning, and once again apologizing some more, the young man found himself wrapped in a giant hug by all four members of his family. Everyone repeatedly reassured him that they weren't angry with him, but had just been immensely worried about him during that time, and admittedly a little saddened by his sudden, cold absence. After Malcolm had given a few more tearful apologies, and more hugs and kind, reassuring words had been given to him in return from his family, all was on its way to being well again.

And if the person and the other handful of people who made fun of Malcolm had all of their dirty laundry revealed through an anonymous source, and it resulted in some of them being either fired or demoted, well that was on them for being ignorant, inconsiderate bastards.

For the next three years after that, everything was good and back to their version of normal. Malcolm started regressing again, he called home at least twice every other week (or more if work wasn't too hectic), and family dinners were held once every month. For once in a long–extremely long–time, life actually seemed to be going Malcolm Bright's way.

But unfortunately, life and the universe itself, had once again found a way to ruin and tear apart the happy family that had been built over the last decade an a half of Malcolm's life.

Back in 2016, on February 11th, after battling an excruciating bout of pneumonia that left her hospitalized for two months, Jackie's weakened lungs could no longer keep functioning. She passed away that morning; Gil and Malcolm by her bedside as she took her last breath.

Malcolm had somehow managed to stave off his little headspace for the entire week leading up to Jackie's funeral, and was able to be there to support his grieving mentor and surrogate father the way he'd wanted to. After her burial, though, he hadn't been able to hold off any longer. Once Malcolm had gotten into the safety of his mother's limo, he almost instantly regressed and broke down into gut-wrenching, anguished wails. He didn't go back to the FBI for four months.

Malcolm's mental health took a huge nosedive after Jackie's death, one that caused him many dark days in the two years that followed. Then just when his mental state had finally started to recover once more, he was fired from the one job that he'd spent so many years of his life working hard to achieve. He would've been lying if he'd said the knowledge of that didn't hurt like Hell. The only upside to the profiler's firing, was that he at least made the decision to come back to New York. It eased Jessica and Gil's heart greatly to know that their child was in the same city as them again.

Now if only the NYPD could hurry and catch Martin Whitly's copycat soon, so Malcolm's brain could lay off him with the Goddamn night terrors for five minutes. Well, hopefully, at least. Even when there wasn't a copycat of his father out on the streets, and he wasn't living in the same city as the man, Malcolm's bad dreams and night terrors still haunted him on a regular basis.

As the saying went, though, things get worse before they get better.

Gil stood by the old, crappy coffee machine in the station's break room, arms crossed over his chest as he leaned up against the counter top that it sat atop, impatiently waiting for the rundown contraption to finish (slowly) brewing his afternoon fuel.

With nothing else to do but wait in silence for the next ten minutes (if he were lucky), Gil couldn't help but delve back into second guessing his decision about Malcolm being apart of this case. He'd been second guessing and feeling guilty ever since the day he took the young man to the crime scene that officially declared there was a copycat of the infamous Surgeon on the loose. More than once since, has he thought about taking Malcolm off the case and sending him to his mother to be thoroughly coddled and cared for. But, he knew trying to convince the kid to leave the rest to them now would only result in Malcolm pushing himself harder to figure out this guy's identity, which would inevitably increase his stress levels and cause him more misery. Gil wasn't about to cause his son anymore pain than he knew he'd already done.

Gil could tell the kid's nights were only getting worse by the day. The consultant's right hand trembled more frequently than it had in quite some time, and Gil could tell Malcolm's eating habits were steadily growing more and more unhealthy, as well. The young man's skin was even beginning to take on a grayish white color, most likely due to a combination of both sleep deprivation and lack of proper nutrition. After all the progress Malcolm had gradually made with his mental and physical health for the past few months, it broke Gil's heart to see his son reverting back to this state once again. And this time, Gil had a hand in causing it.

Every time he met the exhausted gaze of his child, a tidal wave of guilt and regret would crash over him, and make the older man feel as if he were going to down in it. As much as he would love nothing more than to take Malcolm home, there really was no going back now.

The one thing he could do, however, was at least try making another attempt at convincing the young man not to go see his father. For the sake of Malcolm's psyche, Gil needed to keep trying to get him to see reason. Gil didn't want to even imagine the psychological damage that seeing Martin would do to Malcolm. Again. The ten years Malcolm went without stepping foot in that wretched man's toxic presence had done his mental health better. Now all that progress the consultant had made in regards to his childhood trauma (no matter how meager it might have seemed to Malcolm himself), was once again about to be ruined by the same monster who had been the reason behind it to begin with.

Gil closed his eyes and inhaled a slow, deep breath, exhaling after a silent count to ten in his head. Anger burned through his veins for the bastard of a man, but he knew allowing the seething rage to consume him wouldn't do any good.

A hissing sound caught the lieutenant's ear, and he breathed a sigh of relief when he peered down to his left and saw that the coffee machine had finally started filling his Mets mug with the dark brown, energizing liquid. Once the coffee finished spilling into the mug, Gil placed it on the counter, then opened the fridge and took out a carton of milk. After adding a dash to cool it some and make it taste a little less bitter (he'd been taking it almost entirely black these past few days), he put the carton away and took out a plastic spoon from the holder beside the machine. He stirred the dark liquid together until it turned a slightly lighter shade of brown, then tossed the spoon into the recycling bin.

Just as the man raised the mug to his lips, the sound of something slamming hard onto the floor of the bullpen had the lieutenant's head snapping towards the open door of the break room, his brow furrowing in confusion and mild concern. But when the sounds of multiple guns being simultaneously cocked reached him, and was immediately followed up by the frantic voice of Detective Powell shouting not to shoot, Gil slammed his coffee down on the counter and dashed out of the room.

He didn't know what he'd expected to see when he ran into the bullpen, but the sight of over a dozen uniformed officers pointing their guns at Malcolm–was currently huddled in Dani's arms, shaking like a leaf in the merciless fall wind, fearfully clutching the back of the woman's jacket in a white-knuckled grip–sure as Hell had not been it.

"It's a nightmare–he's having a nightmare!" Dani shouted, panic bleeding through her words. "Don't–!"

"Weapons down, now!"

Gil barked out, tone sharp and commanding.

Every officer instantaneously drew back their weapons, hastily stepping aside and creating a pathway for their stone-faced lieutenant to pass through. Gil pushed down the burning desire to tear into every single one of them who'd thought it was a wise decision to point a gun at his obviously distressed kid, and continue to do so even when his detective could clearly be heard telling them that the young man was only having a nightmare. Right now though, his first priority was, and always would be, his son. There would be a time for angry lectures and threats of firing later.

As Gil drew closer to the two huddled figures on the floor, he could hear the hitching in Malcolm's heavy breathing that told him the kid was trying not to cry. His fierce expression immediately softened as he knelt down beside the kid, cautiously placing a gentle hand on Malcolm's trembling back. Even then, Malcolm still flinched at the touch and let out a shuddery whimper, and tried to bury himself further into Dani's shoulder.

"It's okay, Mal. It's just me, it's Gil. You're alright now, kid, you're awake. I promise, you're awake." Gil kept his voice low and soothing, but still loud enough for the kid to hear over his harsh breathing. "Can you look at me, Mal?"

Slowly, Malcolm peeked his head out of his human hiding place and turned his terrified gaze to peer up at the older man. His eyes were blown wide and glassy with unshed tears, face shiny with sweat and hair out of its usual neat state. As always, the sight broke Gil's heart.

"Good, good," Gil murmured, giving Malcolm a small, appraising smile. "Now, can you tell me what's going on in that head of yours, kid?"

Back when things were just barely getting established in regards to Malcolm's regression, everyone had come up with a code question and/or phrase to use when it looked like Malcolm was about to regress in public. Gil was positive that's what was about to happen now.

Sure enough, Malcolm gave a meek shake of his head. "Too much," he croaked, biting his lip right after to try and keep it from quivering.

"That's okay. C'mon, let's go to my office."

With Dani's help, they both helped Malcolm up onto his feet. Gil quickly draped Malcolm's right arm around his shoulders when he saw the boy's legs start to wobble, then wrapped his arm around his son's waist to help guide him along. Malcolm instantly melted against Gil's side, seeming to lose a little bit of the tension his body previously held.

Dani looked at Gil with a concerned yet questioning gaze, but he didn't have the time to be answering any questions right this minute. The most he could offer her for the time being was a reassuring look and a muttered "we'll talk later." The older man then turned on his heel and guided Malcolm out of the bullpen, away from prying eyes.

Once they reached the sanctuary of the lieutenant's office, the man led Malcolm over to the sofa and gently deposited him on the cushy surface. Gil then shut and locked the door, then hurriedly closed all of the blinds. As soon as the last blind was tightly sealed shut, the feeble hold Malcolm had on both his tears and headspace completely shattered to pieces within seconds.

Gil was immediately across the room and sitting by Malcolm's side after the first sob escaped the now very little boy's mouth. He enveloped the crying boy into his arms and pulled him close against his chest, one hand sliding into his frazzled locks to cradle the back of his head, while he used the other to rub his back.

"I got you, sweetheart. Daddy's here. Just let it all out," Gil whispered into Malcolm's hair, pressing a kiss to the top of his head.

Malcolm's cries continued to rise in volume until he was full on wailing into Gil's chest, trembling hands grasping the older man's turtleneck in a death grip. Fortunately, Gil had the foresight years ago to have his office sound proofed. So he didn't worry about anybody else in the precinct hearing Malcolm's pained, broken wailing. Adult Malcolm still rarely allowed himself to openly express his true emotions–no matter how much Gil and Jessica constantly told him that it was okay to, regardless of what headspace he was in–so whenever he cried when little, him and Jessica always encouraged the boy and let him know that it was perfectly okay.

It shattered Gil's heart every time he had to endure listening to Malcolm cry like this, especially when he knew that Malcolm's reasons for this particular breakdown went deeper than the usual nightmare or night terror. Gil couldn't help but feel downright useless at times like these, where no matter what he did or said, nothing was enough to calm his son down, and he was forced to wait out the poor boy's gut-wrenching cries. Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, did Gil wish more than anything that he could travel into Malcolm's mind and permanently eradicate all of the boy's demons. At the end of the day, though, all Gil could do for the kid was be there for him in the ways he knew how. Right now, that meant holding his son tight for as long as the boy needed, and comfort him to the best of his ability; show him that he had a real father who would continue being there for him during the bad and good times.

It took an hour and a half for Malcolm's cries to come to a full stop. The overly exhausted boy was now drained of any real energy he may have still possessed before, left with shuddery breathing, a stuffed nose and puffy, red rimmed eyes–no doubt a headache, too.

When Gil felt Malcolm shift his head upwards to rest between the juncture of his neck and shoulder, immediately followed by the collar of his turtleneck being tugged on, he peered down and was met by the familiar sight of Malcolm sucking and chewing on the black, cotton material. Whenever Malcolm was especially tiny, he had the habit of gnawing on the collar of Gil's sweaters when he was hungry. As far as Gil knew, the kid hadn't eaten anything all day, so it didn't surprise him in the slightest to see one of Malcolm's well known hunger tells show up. Luckily, Gil had the appropriate resources to feed a regressed Malcolm of any age close by. Before he could do just that though, it was important that he got Malcolm changed into a diaper and some comfortable clothing first.

Gil gently extracted the baby's hands from his sweater, before easing the boy's mouth off his collar.

"Alright, little man–" Gil lifted and carefully maneuvered out from underneath the regressed man, settling him against the back of the couch as he stood up–"Let's get you changed so we can fill that empty tummy of yours."

Malcolm admitted a high-pitched whine when Gil pulled away, reaching out and opening and closing his hands towards the older man. "Dada," Malcolm whimpered, lip quivering and eyes filling with fresh tears.

That almost made Gil give in and lift the poor boy back into his arms, but he knew that if he didn't get Malcolm into a diaper and fed soon, he would more than likely have a very wet and angry baby on his hands.

"Shh-shh, I know, firefly, I know. Hold on just one sec, bud."

Gil hurried over to his desk, pushing aside the chair and crouching down underneath, yanking out the blue gym bag he'd been stashing for the past few days. Ever since the first day he brought Malcolm on to consult for the copycat case, Gil packed up what he could that was leftover from Malcolm's last regression at his house. He'd also been carrying the bag in the back of the LeMans on every lead they've followed up on in-person, just in case of a sudden regression.

He plopped the blue bag on top his desk, unzipped it and pulled out the cotton candy dog plush.

A few stray tears had still managed to slide down Malcolm's ruddy cheeks in the time it took for Gil to retrieve the stuffed toy, but mercifully, the baby hadn't started full-on crying again.

"Look who I have, dayong." Gil kneeled down in front of Malcolm and held up the floppy dog.

"P-Pu'bee," Malcolm mumbled with a wet sniffle, voice watery.

"Yeah, buddy. Daddy's just gonna be right over there–" he pointed over at his desk–"But Puppy will be right here with you."

The baby eagerly reached for his stuffed friend. Gil happily complied, placing the plush dog in Malcolm's hands. Malcolm clutched the toy close, burying half of his face against its pink belly, while still keeping an eye on Gil.

"Be back in just a minute, sinta."

Gil walked back around his desk, this time crouching down in front of the long cabinet that stood against the wall behind. He opened the small door in the center, where he kept a white mini fridge inside. There was where he'd been keeping a few bottles of breast milk–which Ainsley ended up bringing in a couple days beforehand, since Jessica was still rightfully upset with Gil, and hadn't wanted to see him just yet–that were infused with a high protein powder. He really only used the fridge for the occasional dairy incorporated lunch, the extremely rare soda, and for a small bottle of his favorite bourbon for an every-now-and-then celebratory drink. But he figured that since he'd been lugging around a bag of Malcolm's regression items, he also may as well start keeping some milk on hand, too. He also bought a portable bottle warmer a couple nights ago. Gil was prepared all around for this scenario.

Once the warmer was set up on top of the cabinet and the bottle was placed inside, the man turned his attention to the gym bag still on his desk and began pulling out what he needed. First, he took the sky blue, white cloud patterned changing mat and rolled it out in front of the couch. Secondly, he laid out the diapering supplies beside the changing mat. Then lastly, he took out a Marvel, comic style tee, along with a pair of navy blue sweatpants from, and set them down on the other side of the mat. It would be a discreet enough outfit if Malcolm didn't age back up by the end of shift, and Gil ended up needing to get him out of the station without too many questions being raised.

As soon as everything was in place, Gil turned back to Malcolm–who hadn't taken his eye off Gil for even a second the entire time–and walked over to him.

"Okay, sweetheart, c'mere."

Gil lifted Malcolm up from the couch and transferred him onto the soft, moisture proof material. The baby immediately curled his free hand around a piece of the man's sweater, whimpering when he was seconds later laid out on the mat.

Gil gently shushed him. "We'll cuddle some more just as soon as you're changed, dayong."

The man quickly got to work on getting Malcolm undressed and diapered. It wasn't easy getting the boy out of his suit jacket and dress shirt, what with the baby's vice-like grip he still had on the floppy dog, but with years of experience in dealing with his son's fussy behavior, Gil still managed to get Malcolm out of his adult clothing and accessories in an adequate amount of time. Once the boy's black briefs had been removed, Gil unfurled the dinosaur themed diaper (Little Malcolm was more than a bit obsessed with the prehistoric creatures) and lifted Malcolm's legs, swiftly sliding the thick padding underneath his bottom. He sprinkled a generous amount of baby powder on Malcolm's lower half, then brought the front of the diaper up and taped the sides together. Once he was certain the diaper was properly secured around the baby's waist, Gil then set into getting the sweatpants and t-shirt onto him next.

Just as Gil had slid Malcolm's right arm through the black sleeve of the shirt, the timer on the bottle warmer admitted a low ding.

Gil lifted himself back onto his feet, then scooped Malcolm up into his arms and made his way over to the device on his desk. After taking the bottle from the confines of the warmer, Gil turned it off and walked back over to the couch. He took a seat and got himself comfortable, before then positing Malcolm on his lap; half-lying sideways with his head in the crook of Gil's left arm. While he'd been getting him changed, at some point Malcolm had stuck one of the white and blue ears of his stuffed dog in his mouth, completely drenching the fabric in saliva.

"That's not for eating, honey love," Gil lightly chided as he gently eased the stuffed toy's wet ear from Malcolm's mouth, eliciting an upset noise from the baby. "It's okay, sugar. Daddy has something for you that's much yummier than Puppy's poor ear."

Gil brought the glass, white rimmed bottle to Malcolm's lips before the boy's protests against having his plush snack taken from him could escalate any further. At the familiar sight of the bottle and feel of the silicone nipple, Malcolm grew quiet and latched on. It didn't take long for him to fall into a rhythmic pattern, drinking the warm liquid with intense vigor.

"That's it, sinta. Drink it all up."

Watching Malcolm eat, even when it was just a bottle of milk, gave Gil a sense of relief each and every time.

Alas, his thoughts couldn't help drifting to what Malcolm's eating habits must have been like lately. It made Gil's stomach twist with anxious concern, his mind unable to help race with possible worse case scenarios that had the potential to manifest in real life. With the way the baby was guzzling down the milk (making Gil have to keep the bottle at a specific angle so he wouldn't choke), it only made it that much more clear to the older man that Malcolm's ED was once again rearing its ugly head. Who knew when it was Malcolm last ate. With how pale and shaky he'd been looking, for all Gil knew the boy might've been going days living on only candy and protein shakes. Which wouldn't be a surprising probability, considering it's happened more than once before.

Gil just prayed that Malcolm's condition didn't progress to the point of him needing medical intervention. The last thing anyone wanted was for Malcolm to need another feeding tube. It had only happened one time–not long after Jackie passed away–and Malcolm only had to keep it in for two weeks, but that hadn't made it any less uncomfortable and difficult for the regressed and grieving young man at the time. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that again this time, either. He wouldn't be able to forgive himself if his choice in bringing Malcolm aboard the copycat case ended up sending his son to the hospital for that reason or another.

"Oh, baby boy," he sighed, smiling sadly down at Malcolm. "It's been a couple of tough, long days, hasn't it? Yeah, I know it has. You're gonna be okay though, firefly, you will. Daddy will help make sure of that."

When the milk had reached the halfway point, that's when Malcolm's eyes started to flutter and his suckling gradually decreased in speed. Before he succumbed to sleep's grasp though, the baby mercifully managed to stay awake long enough to finish most of the bottle, leaving only a very small amount at the bottom.

Gil slowly eased the nipple of the bottle out of the baby's mouth. He set the glass bottle out of the way on the floor, for the moment. The man then very carefully lifted and slid Malcolm onto the couch, lying the boy on his side and tucking the cotton candy pup in his arms. Malcolm fidgeted and made a few disgruntled noises at being moved, but quickly settled after some soft spoken words of comfort from Gil.

Once he was sure that Malcolm wouldn't abruptly awaken, Gil rifled around in the gym bag for a second and took out a light blue pacifier with a smiling, white teddy bear on the shield. He then grabbed his brown coat from where it hung on the back of his desk chair, and made his way back over to his son's sleeping form. He laid the coat over Malcolm's shoulders and torso, then gently pressed the light blue and white pacifier (or "nubby," as Little Malcolm referred to it as) between his slightly parted lips. He slid his fingers through the boy's tangled, brown locks and planted one last kiss to the center of his son's forehead.

Gil thought about sneaking the mostly empty bottle out to the bathroom to give it a quick rinse, but immediately decided against it when just the thought of leaving Malcolm for any length of time had his chest tightening and his heart rate speeding up. Instead, he decided to leave it inside the gym bag for the time being and wash it out after he got home later.

After putting the bottle warmer back in its rightful place inside the cabinet, and dropping the blue bag back underneath his desk, the lieutenant fell back into his chair with a heavy sigh. Well, even though he may not have the cup of coffee he'd expected to have once he returned to his work, he did have the comforting presence of his son, sleeping safe and soundly just a few feet away from him, and that was more than enough to keep him awake and alert as he got back to the remaining paperwork that laid waiting for him.

As consciousness began making its gradual descend upon him, Malcolm first registered the familiar scritch-scratch of pen on paper. The second thing he registered, was the familiar silicone, bulb-shaped object resting against the roof of his mouth and tongue. And the third and final thing he took notice of, was the familiar fluffy–albeit, wet–sensation of a diaper between his legs.

The young man sleepily blinked his eyes a few times, lazily sucking on the pacifier and rubbing Puppy's left ear between his fingers, as his mind gradually came awake.

Then suddenly, everything came flooding back to him in an instant. Him falling asleep in the conference room. The night terror. Tackling Dani to the floor in the middle of the bullpen. The distinct sound of guns being cocked. The sound of Gil's commanding tone as he rushed in. Gil speaking in that calm, soothing voice he only ever used with him. Gil taking him to his office and... and... oh shit.

Malcolm bolted upright and whipped his head in the direction of the lieutenant's desk, where his surrogate father sat doing paperwork. He opened his mouth to speak and let the pacifier fall, but tightened his grip on his stuffed friend with one hand, while his other gripped the jacket now pooled in his lap. But before he could get a word out, Gil noticed he was awake and leaped out of his seat like the chair had caught fire, expression shrouded in concern as he hurried over to Malcolm.

"Woah, easy, kiddo. You're okay."

Gil spoke in that low, calming tone Malcolm has heard since his late childhood. Hearing that voice in any headspace never failed to help ease the anxiety of whatever worries or fears were plaguing him, and this time was no exception. Despite his concern for Dani, and the icy, stomach churning fear of his regression possibly having been discovered by the entire precinct, Malcolm felt some of the panic in his chest ebb away.

"Da–" Malcolm caught himself before the word could fully slip from his lips, then lightly cleared his throat–"Gil, is... is Dani okay? I didn't hurt her did I?"

Gil lowered himself down onto the edge of the couch, facing Malcolm. "She's just fine, kid, don't worry. Dani's from the Bronx. She's tougher than the two of us put together." He gave the younger man a half-smirk.

Malcolm relaxed a little more at that, and managed to muster up a relieved smile in return. Although, it almost immediately faded when the memory of what happened after he body-slammed his new teammate to the floor flashed through his mind again.

"I, um...please tell me I didn't age down in front of the whole precinct."

Gil placed a warm, comforting hand on the back of Malcolm's neck and gave him a gentle squeeze.

"Nobody saw, kiddo, I promise. Dani sent a couple of texts while you were asleep, asking if you were okay. Other than being worried, I doubt she suspected anything."

The last vestiges of fear and panic dissipated, and Malcolm finally felt like he could breathe again.

"So, Dani's from the Bronx. Like Jackie."

Gil's expression turned wistful and he automatically ran his fingers over the gold, faded wedding band that still clung to his ring finger. "Yeah. Bronx girl."

After a brief moment of silent reminiscing, Gil said, "She loved you with all her heart, you know. I hope you never forget that." Malcolm gave a tiny nod, smiling shakily at the older man. "Not a day went by where she wasn't thinking or worrying about you. She especially worried about you every time you went to go see your father."

"Gil..." Malcolm breathed an airy sigh and averted his gaze. It seemed that no matter how many times he tried convincing Gil that him going to speak with his father was going to be their best shot at getting closer to discovering their killer's identity, the man just wouldn't see reason regardless of what Malcolm said. Don't get him wrong, he did understand Gil's reasoning for being so concerned and reluctant about the whole thing. Martin Whitly was a class A manipulator and liar, Malcolm more than anyone was aware of that, so he understood why Gil was against the idea. It wasn't like he was exactly looking forward to this whole "father/son reunion" either, though. But regardless of whatever it took, he would do what needed to be done in order to bring this killer to justice. Even if that meant sacrificing what little sanity he still had left (not that Gil needed to be told that).

"Don't worry, I'm fine," Malcolm said, attempting to give the other man a smile of indifference.

Gil's gaze hardened. "Fine? You chopped off a man's hand. A maniac is copying your father's murders, you almost got shot by over a dozen cops, and might I also remind you that you had a breakdown and regressed just a few short hours ago. You are anything but fine, Malcolm."

Malcolm grimaced, swallowing back the sudden lump that formed in his throat. "And what does that mean? You agree with the FBI?" He narrowed his eyes at Gil, jaw clenching.

"No. That's not what I'm saying," Gil responded, before rising up from the couch and going over to his desk. He sank into the leather exterior with a heavy sigh, slightly leaning forwards and clasping his hands together over his knees. He looked at Malcolm with an expression the profiler could only categorize as guilt. "I've known you for twenty years, kid. Which means I should've known better than to spring this case on you the way I did. You deserved to know exactly what you were getting into straight from the start. I should've been honest with you before taking you to that crime scene, so you could have decided for yourself whether you wanted to assist or not. Instead, I allowed myself to put the case first, when it should have been you. As your parent in both headspace and out, that wasn't right of me, at all. I screwed up. I'm so sorry, kiddo."

For a solid minute, Malcolm could only stare at the man, trying to process every sincere, remorseful word that had spilled from his lips. It wasn't until he heard Gil say those words out loud and apologize to him, that Malcolm realized just how badly he'd been needing to hear them. He couldn't deny it, at least not to himself, but a small part of him had developed some feelings of resentment towards Gil for how he went about recruiting him on the case. He felt awful about it, but it wasn't as if he had deliberately chose to feel that way about the situation, those feelings just manifested. Now though, they were already beginning to fade after hearing what Gil had to say.

"It's alright. This case hasn't exactly been easy on either of us. Yeah, I mean, was it a great way to be brought on? No, not really. But I understand why you went about it the way you did. There's no guarantee that I would've agreed on my own. Still though, maybe next time give me a heads up." Malcolm smiled briefly at the other man, before his expression turned serious again. "Regardless of what's happened today, I hope you know that I still plan on doing whatever it takes to catch the killer. There's a fourth victim out there, and I know I can save her. Even if it means having to go speak with my father to do so."

"That's what I'm afraid of." Gil blew out a deep, weighted sigh. "I need you to at least promise me that you'll let me know if or when any of this becomes too much for you–and this is not me asking either, Malcolm. I won't be angry or disappointed if you did decide that you wanted off this case, and neither would the rest of the team."

Malcolm could believe that Gil wouldn't be upset with him if it did come to that, but he somehow doubted any of the others would feel the same way.

Instead of voicing those thoughts out loud, though, the younger man gave the older a nod and simply responded, "I will. I promise, Gil."

"Good. I'm glad to hear it."

Malcolm carefully set aside his stuffed toy and Gil's coat, then lifted his arms over the back of his head and stretched his upper body, admitting an almost silent groan.

"Well, I'd better get back to–"

When Malcolm threw his legs over the couch in preparation to stand, an unexpected flare of pinching, burning pain spread across his inner thighs at the movement. He inhaled sharply, biting the inside of his cheek to stop himself from yelping. The sudden pain, enhanced by his mind still being fresh from a regression, caused the backs of his eyes to burn with tears.

"Malcolm?" Gil instantly hopped out of his chair and rushed back over to him, kneeling down in front of him with a concerned expression etched onto his features, once more. "Hey, hey, what's wrong?"

Malcolm felt his face heat up. He swallowed and took a deep breath, before replying, "I... I think I'm, uh... getting a... a rash," he mumbled, emphasizing the dreaded word, but refusing to address it by its full connotation.

"A ra–oh, Malcolm." Gil's concerned gaze became infused with sympathy. "Why didn't you tell me that you needed a change sooner, kid?"

The consultant lifted his right shoulder in a half shrug. "I didn't think I was... wet, long enough for that to happen." Well, okay, maybe he wasn't being entirely truthful. When he first noticed his wet diaper after waking, he also became fully aware of just how uncomfortably cold the padding felt, as well.

Given the dubious look he received from Gil at his response, he more than likely knew that Malcolm wasn't telling the whole truth. Mercifully, though, Gil didn't call him out on it. The older man just breathed a sigh and placed a hand on Malcolm's knee.

"C'mon then, let's get you changed."

The blush on Malcolm's cheeks darkened. "You don't need to. I can do it myself. I just need to get back into my suit and coat, then I can go–"

"Malcolm," Gil cut him off, saying his name in that firm, but not unkind tone of voice he used when he wanted Malcolm to pay attention to something important he had to say to him. "I've been telling you since high school–and I'll keep on telling you until it gets through that stubborn brain of yours–that whether or not you're in little space, I have no problem changing your diapers, whatsoever. I mean that, kiddo."

Warmth filled Malcolm's chest, and a tiny smile turned up his lips.

"Okay then. You, uh, you can do it," the younger man managed to stammer out, still feeling a little embarrassed about the situation, but willing to push it aside and accept Gil's help.

Gil returned his smile and gave his knee a gentle squeeze. "Let's get you cleaned up, bud."

Before Malcolm knew it, he was once again lying down on the changing mat (not that he could remember anything from when he was regressed earlier, but he'd obviously been put in a similar position by Gil during that time, as well). He watched Gil as the man set out all the necessary diapering supplies, including a tube of adult modified diaper cream. When Gil started getting his lower half undressed, Malcolm directed his gaze up to the ceiling. An involuntary shiver ran through him when the diaper was pulled open and the cool air of the room hit his wet skin, but a silent sigh of relief also escaped him at finally having the wet padding removed from his person.

"You're a little red around the thighs, but thankfully it doesn't look as bad as it has before," Gil said after a moment, the sound of him balling up the used diaper following his words.

"Hopefully it won't last too long this time then," Malcolm muttered, a slight pout forming on his face. He was not looking forward to possibly spending the rest of the case with stinging, burning thighs.

At the sound of Gil throwing the diaper away in the trashcan that sat beside his desk, Malcolm snapped his gaze away from the ceiling and caught Gil's eye as the man walked back to him. He didn't even need to say anything though, before the older man was kneeling between his parted legs and laying a reassuring hand on his belly, giving it a light pat.

"Don't worry, Mal. I'll make sure to take out the trash myself later."

Malcolm relaxed and nodded, gaze traveling back up to stare at the bland ceiling.

It wasn't long, though, before Malcolm's face was contorting in pain. He had to bite back a whimper when the cold material of a baby wipe caressed his inner, left thigh. He knew Gil was being gentle, that much he could tell despite the stinging pain spreading across his inflamed skin, but it was just such a sensitive area. As Gil continued to wipe him down, the pain quickly escalated until it begun to feel like he was being assaulted by millions of tiny, microscopic needles every time a wipe ran across his irritated skin. Despite his best efforts to keep quiet, after the third and final baby wipe slid across his thighs, he was unable to hold back a miserable, high-pitched whine; eyes clamping shut and back ever-so slightly arching off the mat.

He knows he's experienced far worse pain than a small case of diaper rash (Hell, he's had way, way worse cases of it), but with his mind still feeling vulnerable due to his recent regression, combined with the conversation he had with Gil beforehand, and the fact that he was currently being changed like an infant by said man, his little headspace was beginning to make a quick return to the forefront of his psyche.

"I know, buddy, I know it hurts," Gil murmured sympathetically, unfurling a new diaper. "Almost done. Just the cream, and then we'll be all done, kiddo." He popped the cap on the diaper cream open, and squeezed a generous amount onto three of his fingers.

Malcolm desperately tried to push his headspace back into the depths of his mind, but nothing he tried was working. He could still feel it charging toward him, like a car speeding down a highway about to hit a fiery pile-up.

As much as he hated to admit it, he wouldn't be able get back to work when he was feeling this close to the edge. It was taking every bit of his strength and willpower not to jam his thumb in his mouth and just let go. Attempting to work in this condition, would definitely not end well for him.

Just as Gil finished rubbing the thick, whitish cream into the young man's red skin–which had helped to quell the needle-like burn the baby wipes had previously caused him–and was about to put his boxer briefs back on, Malcolm shyly redirected his gaze back to Gil.

"Um, Gil?"

"Yeah, Mal?"

Malcolm nervously shifted around on the mat a moment, clenching his fists at his sides. "I don't think..." He backtracked his choice of wording, then breathed a quiet, resigned sigh. "I think I need to be little again. Just for tonight, at least," he hurriedly added.

Gil set the black briefs aside and gave the younger man a smile and nod. "Back into a diaper you go then, sugar."

The sweet (pun unintended) nickname, accompanied by the mention of being put back into a diaper, had Malcolm's hold on his headspace completely slip out of his grasp, dropping him fully under. Although, he almost immediately realized that he didn't feel quite as little as he did before. It was surprising, but he was also grateful for it. If he was in one of his older headspaces, then that meant he would have a somewhat easier time coming out of it in the morning.

"Can I hava pull-up 'stead, daddy? Please? Don't need diapers right now."

After Malcolm finished speaking, he gave in to the urge to suck his thumb and popped the left digit into his mouth.

His daddy blinked down at him in surprise. "Are you absolutely sure, sinta?"

Malcolm gave the man a nod. "Mhm. M'sure, 'addy," he slurred around his thumb.

"Okay then, honey love. Daddy will put you in a pull-up instead."

Once Malcolm was placed in a pull-up (one of his favorites, too: the white ones with the turquoise and yellow stars) and his sweatpants were pulled back up, he climbed onto the couch and curled up in one of the corners with Puppy.

"Here, starshine."

Malcolm looked up from his lap (where he'd started making Puppy dance). His daddy stood in front of him, holding a white, multi-blue striped pacifier by the handle. Using his free hand, Gil took Malcolm's wrist and gently tugged the boy's thumb out of his mouth, replacing it with the new soother.

"There we go. That's much better than germy fingers."

Daddy ruffled his hair, making the little boy giggle.

"We'll go home for dinner just as soon as I finish up a few more reports that need to get done, dayong. So you and Puppy play nicely until then, okay?"

" 'kay, 'addy. Bu'd, um, wha'd if s'one fines ou'd 'bout me?" Malcolm anxiously fiddled with one of his stuffed friend's paws.

Gil placed a hand on the nape of Malcolm's neck, giving him another one of his famous warm, comforting squeezes. "I'll make sure no one finds out, cubster. Just leave it to daddy."

Malcolm smiled up at Gil from behind his nubby. " 'Kay. C'n we p'ay a game t'nigh'd, 'addy?"

"After dinner we sure can, honeybunch. What would you like to play?"

Malcolm's face lit up. "Hun'ry-Hun'ry Hip'os!"

Daddy chuckled. "I should have figured. Okay then, honey love. Hungry-Hungry Hippos it is."

"Yay!" Malcolm threw his arms around his daddy. "S'gonna be so fun!"

Daddy hugged him back and pressed a kiss to the top of his head.

Before his daddy could get any ideas about pulling away though, Malcolm turned his head up to face him, chin resting on the man's belly.

" 'Addy?"

"Yeah, baby boy?"

"Um, if me and Puppy are b'ery, b'ery, b'ery qui'ed, c'n we si'd wi'd you?"

Gil hummed in thought and peered up at the ceiling. He appeared contemplative, but Malcolm could see the tiniest hint of a smile twitching to life at the corner of his lips.

"Okay, you can sit with me. So long as you and Puppy promise to be good boys and let me finish my work, alright?"

Malcolm grinned and nodded frantically. "We p'omise, 'addy!"

Daddy's face finally broke out into a big, warm smile. "Alright then. C'mere, munchkin."

Daddy lifted him into his arms and walked over to his desk. He took a seat and sat Malcolm on his lap. The little boy wiggled around a bit until he found a comfy position, then settled back against Gil's chest with a tiny, pleased hum. For the first few minutes, Malcolm quietly babbled to Puppy, telling him about all the adventures they would hopefully get to go on soon. It didn't take long for Malcolm to begin feeling sleepy again, though.

The little boy's sentences started to trail off, until he eventually stopped talking all together, in favor of yawning instead. He rubbed at his eyes to try and rid his sleepiness, but his eyelids still continued to flutter and grow heavier by the second. The soft wool material of his daddy's sweater wasn't making it any easier to stay awake, either. Daddy's turtlenecks were hard enough on their own to resist cuddling up with, but they were especially hard to resist when daddy was actually wearing one of them.

Daddy wouldn't mind it if he just closed his eyes for a minute. Yeah, just one minute, that's all.

Malcolm dropped his head to rest against his daddy's sweater covered neck, giving the heavenly fabric a little nuzzle. He grasped a handful of the black material in one hand, while the other clutched the cotton candy pup to his chest. Finally, he allowed his eyes to fall shut. Lulled by both the repetitive motion of his nubby, and the feel of his daddy's chest steadily rising and falling beneath him, Malcolm was whisked away by slumber to the land of pleasant dreams.