Work Header

The Demon's Bride

Chapter Text

A/N before starting:
-This is a semi-alternative universe. There are demons yet - as it will later be explained- they don't feed off humans, so the kids in the orphanage are actually adopted by families and well, not eaten.
-Also, I'm not really comfortable writing with underage characters when the theme is romance so all the characters will be aged up, however the only characters that are relevant for you to have in mind their ages are the full score trio, who they all have 18 or around such age.
-I'm still wondering the rating of this fic but it will mostly be for every age, until further notice.


-Not beta reader- I will probably see and correct the mistakes sooner or later.



“Long time ago lived a royal family, just across the forest. That family was loved by every child as they guaranteed their safety from the monsters, giving special protection to the Grace field."

"Emma!" The ginger-haired young adult stopped her story, despite having just started it, when the innocent voice of one of the children that sat in a circle around her lifted her arm to catch her attention "What kind of monsters were they protecting us from?"

"Hum... That's a good question, Shelly..." Emma had wondered about that too, every time Mama had told her this same story and so she could only give the answer Mama always gave her " I guess it's better not knowing about it."

"It can't be more dangerous than whenever Ray thinks about burning the place again..." The duo of troublemakers of the group joked in between them until they both are hit in the head with one book and the other lightly with a fist.

"Emma. You weren't going to tell the same story once again, were you...?" The raven-haired sighed at the large grin that Emma gave him, her answer not needing any words "You know you shouldn't scare them like that. You're eighteen...For heaven's sake, yet you still act like a child of five."

Receiving this answer, Emma couldn't help but pout. She was just having fun, no need to be so cold "I'm taking care of the younger ones, Mama said I was the best with them. Plus, they know it's just a story. They know that the gate is too dangerous to cross, there are too many dangerous animals behind them. Right?"

"Right." As following her, the group of kids agreed in a choir, making Ray sigh.

"Come with me. I need to speak with you." Under the serious tone that one of the oldest siblings had spoken - even serious than usual- and that caused Emma to fear whatever was coming after but she nodded nonetheless.

"But Emma! You didn't finish the story!"

The young adult gave the younger ones a smile before ruffling the dark hair of the one that held the sleeve of her shirt "sorry Phil, I promise it will be quick. What about you go to play hide and seek?"

To her luck, the children seemed to be excited over the idea and quickly the two young adults by themselves but even so, Ray seemed to prefer a more private place as he led both of them to the house's library.

"How long do you intend to keep believing in those stories? Next thing you'll say is that you want a charming prince to come and rescue you." Ray stated coldly, not even a hint of restrainment on his tone. "Life isn't a fairy tale Emma."

"I know but... What is the joy of staying by the rules of what is normal?" Emma sighed, her hand reaching out to hold one of her favorite books in the library. Maybe she still hung onto her childlike dreams of princes and princesses, curses and happily ever after but she still knew how reality was cruel. She knew of the world full of demons that lived outside those gates. She knew how hard Mama worked to protect them until they would finally leave with a lovely family that could protect them themselves. That was why Emma wanted to be a Mama herself. She wanted to help mom as much as possible so she had secretly destroyed every single way she could have to be adopted. She simply refused to leave this house without a reason that would benefit the orphanage.

It wasn't exactly that she longed for a life like what she reads in the fairy tales she loved but still she desired this one selfish thing that she found in every one of her stories. To know what love meant.

She knew the family like love that she felt for everyone in the house but what she read made her curious about how it would be like to feel those so-called butterflies in her stomach, to the point of one time she asked mama on how to cook butterflies, to which the older woman had softly explained the feeling and given the example of how she had felt for her deceased husband.

"Mom's sick. And it's worse than we think." Ray called out, breaking her out of her thoughts and understanding the urge on his voice "Last night, the napkin she had at dinner had blood on it. She was coughing blood."

Emma gulped, the concern now filled her mind. While Isabella wasn't her mother by blood she was the only mother she would ever consider as such and knowing the state she was in made an intense sadness travel her mind and body as she understood what the epilogue of the situation would be "Is there any way we can help?"

"Just... Be prepared to be the next caretaker of this place..."

"Ray!" She scolded him, even hitting his head with her hand at the emotionless attitude. She was aware from all these years together that the cold expression was often a cover that Ray had to put on, after all, there was needed an authority that Emma couldn't bring herself to put the role of so that lead Ray as the other older kid of the house responsible.

"I'm saying the truth. Maybe I'm overreacting and this is nothing but..." He trailed off, unable to think further.

" You're still concerned for Mama... " Her emerald eyes traveled to the book she held, her fingers gently passing over the cover as she recalled the first time Mama had given this book to her. After a moment of silence that neither was aware of the time passing by, she glanced up again, her light colored eyes meeting the more darkened green and her lips shifting to a reassuring smile "I'll make sure Mama will be fine and I'll be more responsible. I promise. I'm sorry for being such trouble."

"Emma..." The taller man sighed once again but smile under her promise, softly messing with her already wild ginger hair "You're not that much of a trouble, just irresponsible. Now run off to go find the kids before any of them gets hurt, I'll start making the dinner."

Ray left the room and Emma stood by herself, covered by the unusual silence that rarely ever was heard in the orphanage with all the kids that Emma knew like the palm of her hand, almost as well as Mama herself.

With all the silence, Emma could let the depressive aura that she had surrounded her just like the lack of sound, glad to have this quiet moment away from the children. She just didn't want them to be unhappy unless it was truly the moment for such, for now, only herself and Ray would bear the truth about Isabella.

The ginger-haired walked to a corner of the library and sat there, slowly re-reading the pages that already had her fingertips saved due to the number of times she found herself reading that book in particular.

"Isn't this amazing?" She sighed, talking to anyone " This is my favorite part... Faraway places, a prince in disguise and even so she still falls in love with the humble thief that stole to help other needy children..."

Emma passed her fingers by the images of the book, the one where the young princess stood by her luxurious terrace, sighing as she remembered the night that her mysterious prince had presented to her.

Would Emma ever find someone that would make her feel this way?

Would she even realize they were the one when seeing them?

Quickly, she shook her head, her hands even coming to her face to lightly slapping her cheeks "Emma! This isn't time to think about that, there's more serious stuff before that!" She scolded herself, letting out another sigh. In her dreams, she could think of it. In her dreams only. For now, she needed to focus and bring herself to face reality.

Not noticing the time that had passed, when Emma was putting the book back to the respective place, a desperate call for her made her concerned as she left the library, footsteps quickly making their way to her and Emma did make it on time to catch the pair of children that had came to her, almost tripping when seeing her had it not been her quick movements in catching them.

"Emma! Phil's missing!"

"What happened?" The ginger-haired asked while trying to not show much concern as it would only cause even more panic, instead, she softly patted the dark, long hair of the younger girl.

"We were playing hide and seek but we can't find Phil! The gates are open and we think he..."

Emma didn't need the girl to continue. She knew why the panic. And she couldn't let Ray or Mama know, that would just concern them.

"Calm down, I'll go check it out. Phil's smart, don't worry about it. In the meanwhile, don't tell Mama or Ray about this, ok?"

With the nod that both girls gave her, Emma quickly rushed past them and dashed to the forest where the gates were located. She ran and ran, thankfully Mama allowed the older girls to wear black pants instead of the usual white skirts and right now such clothing made it much more practical to run.

She knew she couldn't call out Phil's name or she would attract any possible wild demons, the major threat they had to face and the reason why the gates existed. Emma had once almost run into one wild demon, before Mama explained what they were, while playing hide and seek and she had somehow escaped from death, she wouldn't allow Phil to be put in danger.

For now, she could only run and follow the track she knew it belonged to him. The footsteps were fresh and nothing seemed to be following them even so, Emma rushed in the same way that she was following.

´Phil... Please stay safe. I beg of you.´



The tanned skin colored child looked petrified at the hooded figure that stood in front of him. The white cloak hid the said figure, who towered Phil, who took notice that he was probably two or three heads taller than Ray, only letting exposed the face that even that one was hidden behind an expressionless white mask.

He hadn't thought about being caught and he wasn't sure if this person meant good or bad news. Phil had been just curious of the forest, having seen Emma adventure herself along with Ray to the said woods and both returning rather exhausted. He didn't expect to be that dark and as he rushed his steps after hearing some noises, he tried to find some sort of hideout but to his relief, he walked past another gate, not knowing that there would be anyone living anywhere near the orphanage.

As the young boy caught his breath, he didn't notice the soundless steps of the figure that got closer to him, until a deep voice spoke, making Phil jump in fear.

"You shouldn't be here..."

The voice held no threat in his tone, it was a strong tone that surprised Phil. He could feel eyes looking at him from behind the mask, the shadow of the cloak covering half of the masked face, the glance only shifting to the open gate for a brief second before returning to the boy.

"The gate was open?" Taken the silence of the child, the figure asked him, only receiving a furious nod from his head. The cloaked figure hummed, thinking on why the said entrance was open but as if it was a prepared script, a pure white stallion ran along the green fields without a care in the world, the animal's mane flowing in the wind as it exposed his beauty.

Having the reply of his unasked question, the mysterious character focused on the boy again, seeing him a little calmer.

"Are you lost?" Again, another nod, this time not so furiously as he had taken his time to calm down, now being able to reply to the stranger.

"I was playing hide and seek and I decided to hide in the forest before I noticed I arrived here..."

"The forest is a dangerous place. It's not a place for children like you..."

"So I've been told... But Emma and Ray often go there and I wanted to see it by myself!" Phil could swear he could feel that he was receiving a smile from the one that carried a mark but with the darkness that hid the face he couldn't be sure, either way, he smiled back. But then again, he remembered to ask one thing. "Hey, mister? Can I ask you something?"

"Of course. What is it?" He kneeled down to stay at the same level as the boy, the long cape of the cloak falling gracefully on the green pastures but he didn't seem concerned about the clothes getting dirty. Instead, he seemed to focus on the number that Phil carried on the collar of his shirt.

"Are you dangerous?" Phil noticed how the figure tensed under the cloth that hid him and this time, the small boy had the larger figure hushed in a deep silence "I don't think you are."

"Is that so?"

Phil hummed and nodded his head, giving the man a bright smile that he didn't recall the last time he had seen someone smiling that much.

"I'm never wrong. Emma says I'm too smart."

The caramel-skinned colored saw how the man's hand had moved from underneath the cloak but it never came out from it's hiding place as he had stopped himself, however, he allowed Phil to notice the smile on his lips.

"I'm sure that that Emma is right. Nevertheless, now it should be a good time for you to go. It won't be long before the sun sets down and there's when more wild demons will be lurking in those woods."

"Oh right. Emma should be concerned and..."

"Phil!" A feminine call for the boy's name caused that the two figures turned again to the still open gates, finding a ginger-haired young woman looking desperately for the younger one, her emerald eyes glinting with pure joy when seeing him and rushing to pull Phil into her arms "I finally found you! You don't know how worried I was!"

"Emma!" Phil smiled, accepting the embrace that his sister figure trapped him in, his own arms even if smaller also wrapping around her as he buried his face on her neck, taking in the comfort of the scent. Only after a few moments, he was able to break free from Emma "I was hiding in the forest but then I walked past this gates and accidentally crashed into this man who was helping me."

As if only know to notice the third person's presence, Emma looked up, seeing the said man looking down at them, or rather, assuming he was looking down as his eyes were covered by the white mask.

His mouth was lightly open until her eyes lifted themselves to -unknown to her- stare into his, what caused him to gulp nervously under the intensity of her bright glance.

He felt himself starting sweating just from her glance so his heart wasn't ready for this new found intensity the exact moment she smiled at him. Well, at least now he knew he still had a heart.

She quickly got up and bowed her head lightly "Thank you so much for helping Phil. I hope he didn't cause you any bother"

"I... No. No, not at all." If he could blush he was sure his cheeks would be putting a tomato's red tone in shame so now he just had to focus on stopping on mumbling and saying nonsenses, even if they had caused a small laugh from the woman that was the most beautiful of the melodies that he had ever heard. "It was my fault for letting the gates open."

Regaining her posture again, Emma kept her arm around Phil's shoulders while taking in her surroundings. It was odd she had never noticed such a mansion in the middle of the woods, even more, when she explored the forest. It amazed her to find such a discovery, too bad Ray wasn't there and she couldn't brag about it to him.

"You live here?"

The man gave her a smile, noticing how her curiosity caused her to barely tilt her head to the side. Cute.

"Indeed I do." He seemed like he wanted to continue the conversation yet he himself wasn't sure on how to continue and Phil tugging on Emma's sleeve made them remember of the petite boy.

"Emma, it's getting late and the others must be concerned!"

It was as if breaking away from a trance that neither of the two remembered getting hooked into but had it not been the smaller boy, the older two wouldn't mind the silent stares.

"Oh right! I'm sorry, we need to go!" She gave a small smile to reassure Phil and returned to look at the man once more, bowing down again "Thank you so much again, we must be going."

Turning her tail to him, Emma and Phil had walked back but as soon as they were under the gates the man called out again, causing them to stop on their tracks.

"Wait! I.. I can take you there. It will be faster and less dangerous by horse." He offered, silently pleading to have his offer accepted.

Emma looked a little uncertain in accepting the offer, it would be bothering him even more than what they already did but she knew it was getting late and the odds of arriving in time before the night set before them would be low..

"If it doesn't bother you, we would appreciate it a lot." She shyly accepted and the mysterious character could only let out a mental sigh in unfamiliar happiness.

"It's not a bother at all." He said with a returning smile, releasing a sharp whistle and in no time, the white stallion was near him, looking even taller than what Phil had thought.

Settling himself on the horse, Emma helped Phil getting in first, the man holding him in front of himself for better support. He was about to help the feminine character when he felt a presence behind him, her arms wrapping around his thin torso for a brief moment as she settled in place before removing the arms and letting them fall, not sure on where to put them but the "hold on tight. We don't want you to fall." coming from the horse's owner made her wrap her arms around him again, smiling at the warmth that his cloak gave.

Due to the weight that the horse had on, they had to move on slower than usual yet it was still at a decent pace to arrive in no time. Phil looked at the hands that were on the horse's reins were still hidden under the long sleeves of the cloak, yet he was sure he saw something sharp poking at the end, almost unnoticeable but he knew he had seen it. That arose some questions within him: Why was such man so covered? What was he hiding?

In the meanwhile, Emma also noticed how slim the man was. It wasn't that she was checking on him... Not saying that she also wasn't... but having her arms so closely around him allowed her to feel the body that she was pressed against.

There was a lot of questions surrounding that man but only the sound of owls and the horse's running steps could be heard as the night made its presence and hid the day's light until the horse finally stopped when arriving at the grace field's gates.

"Unfortunally I can't go past there but I'm sure you won't have any more problems from now on." He smiled, helping the other two climb down of the animal.

"Thank you again." Emma smiled when the two were by themselves, Phil running to inside the gates after waving a quick goodbye, having noticed the silent glances the two adults exchanged a long time ago.

"Anytime, now hurry before you get in troubles." The man smiled back and at that moment Emma felt an even bigger desire to remove the cloak that covered him the whole time and see the person that was hidden but he had already on top of the horse again " Farewell, Emma, take care."

With those words, he parted away, leaving her alone at that gate's entrance, staring at the distance as the white horse ran into the forest, quickly staying out of sight as if it was a ghost, all the sounds vanishing as it seemed like the owls had followed the same man.

The way he had said her name... It was normal, he wasn't teasing or threatening her so... Why did she felt such shivers in her body?

She was brought back to reality when Phil's voice came from the other side of the gate "Emma! We need to hurry!"

"Yeah!" She called out, sparing one last look at the forest as if trying to believe what happened wasn't just a dream, and then rushed to enter the grace field territory and closing the gates behind them, locking them with the key Mama had given her and both of them rushing to the main building, where the dinner already awaited for them.



Back to the mansion in the deep woods, in a lonely, dark room by the top of the house, stood the figure of the man. He strode around the room, all the mirrors were covered by heavy blood-colored carpets, absolutely refusing to let them reflex the horror that the man denied having turned into.

He still didn't understand what had happened that afternoon.

After so many years of this curse... After so many years of trying to look for a solution to his problem, the answer came to him.

Like she had told him.

Looking at the rose blooming on the inside of the glass that he had in the middle of the room he noticed how its white petals had this orange color as if contorting them, the tip of the petals glowing with the color.

He smiled as he recalled that wild ginger hair.

Then, he laughed. How long had it been since he had laughed? Since he had smiled?

Now he had found her. The one that would break this curse.

And like hell, he would let her go.


A couple of days had passed and it was deep into the night when Isabella made her way to the gates, where she had to meet with the one responsible to protect grace field from the wild demons.

"Punctual as always Norman."

The older woman stated when seeing the familiar figure hidden by the white cloak, the white stallion standing behind him as one of his owls rested on his shoulder.

"Manners are always a must."

"Understandable." She mumbled, before letting out a cough, her arm coming to her mouth to cover it "What can I help you this time?"

This wasn't a really usual meeting. Norman was in charge of protecting the orphanage, as his family had promised and the heir still kept his family's word, however, this had to be a mutual agreement and so, whenever the heir asked for something, Isabella had no rights but to agree with, for the protection of her dear children.

Thankfully, Norman wasn't a greedy person to start with.

That was why this night shocked her.

"I come with a request. An odd one but it will forever grant you the protection you seek of."

"And that request will be granted. Just say what you want and you'll have it."

"I want a bride." He stated simply. It was not needed any games or tricks. He didn't want any games or tricks. He planned this out as if it had been something that he had long planned.

"Excuse me?" Isabella, on the other hand, had been taken completely of surprise "You want a bride?"

"Exactly." He knew who he had in mind yet, he didn't want to state the obvious. This was also a test to the maiden's words. Only his soulmate could break this curse and if she was his soulmate - which Norman had no doubts about it- she would come to him. "I have only one rule: She needs to come to me willingly. No one should force her. Is this clear?"

The amethyst eyes of the caretaker shown the uneasiness of the deal but she, unfortunately, was in no position to fight back, at least, not now.

With a nod, they signed their deal. And with their deal signed, the man climbed to his horse, looking at Isabella who gulped terrified of the intensity of the coldness in Norman's eyes, the demon having adjusting his mask enough to reveal the fiery orbs.

"You have one week. By then, I expect her to be standing by my gate."

Chapter Text

Isabella spends the following days in silence, even if for everyone around her it seemed like any other day.

She didn't want to steal the future of one of her loved children yet she couldn't back away from the deal with the man. She had made a pact with the devil, she swore that she would do anything for her house and her children but she had never expected such price to be asked in return.

A bride? Where had the demon got that idea, out of nowhere?

What made her job even harder was the rule he had set her: She must come willingly. This meant that she had to talk to the older girls about the issue - there it went the idea of not concerning them with the house's problems.

Isabella thought about the oldest girls in the house, not having that many options. Her violet eyes immediately found Emma's figure, smiling a little at the wild bed hair that the ginger-haired still had, some of the waves of her hair left the lazy ponytail she had probably rushed to be able to help her younger siblings.

That girl sure was something, Isabella always thought. Even if she thought that all of her children were special, Emma always managed to stand out in a way or another. Her innocence was a contrast to her determination that often led to troubles but it also made her grow into the woman she was today.

Aside from Ray, her biological son and another of the oldest of the kids, Emma was another one that Isabella knew she could count on to take care of this place in case of her health to get worst.

If she knew what Isabella had agreed with Norman, Isabella had no doubts that the ginger-haired would go if it meant that her siblings were okay and safe but would Isabella really be willing to let her go to a demon?

"Mother?" A deep voice called out, making Isabella look up, acting like nothing was bothering her as she gave Ray her usual motherly smile.

"Yes, Ray? Is everything ok?"

"I'm the one asking you that. You're acting weird. Emma level of weirdness."

Isabella laughed at the definition "Is that supposed to be an insult? Or a compliment? You seem to enjoy Emma's weirdness quite a bit."

Using her hand to cover her chuckles when noticing the red tinge of the male's tip of the ears, making him glare at her. There he was, concerned for his mother and there she was, teasing him.

"Ray... I'm sorry." Her action would be seen as selfish, taking away her son's best friend and practically selling one of her precious youngsters to demons but... What else could she do?

"For what?" The raven-haired arched an eyebrow, not catching on with the mental struggle his mother had but she only gave him a melancholic smile.

"You'll see in time." Isabella sighed one last time, giving one last look at Emma who was cleaning Phil's mouth with her napkin, before getting up, having finished her meal, and started putting away the dishes of the children that had already terminated as well.

She couldn't underrate the urgency of the subject.

She had less than one week.

One week only to bid her goodbye to one of her precious children.


"Mom's acting weird," Ray muttered as the two older kids of the house stood near the house, by the shadow as they watched the children play.

"You always say that." Emma replied immediately, not really taking the words of Ray too seriously.

"I mean it this time."

"You also say that."

With a sigh, Ray restrained himself from hitting the girl with his hand, instead, he just gave her a small glare even if it had no consequences on her.

"Just shut up and listen. I think mom's hiding something."

The ginger-haired finally turned her attention to him instead of the group of children that were playing tag near them. It was true that Mama wasn't usually open with the troubles she had but would it really be enough reason to show such concern?

"Hm. Why don't you just go and ask her directly?"

"She won't answer..." Ray stated, crossing his arms over his chest, his back leaning against the wall as he stared ahead, his eyes focusing on the woman that was currently sitting under a tree in the middle of the playground, helping two little girls making flower crowns.

Emma hummed, silently agreeing with the male and following his glance to also observe the mother. Thinking about the situation, she quickly came up with a plan, getting up from her spot and sharing a smile with the raven-haired, who looked beyond confused.

"Oh right... Then, I'll make her say it!"

"Wha- Wait, Emma!" Too late. For when he called out, the young adult had already rushed to her mother's side, being greeted with a smile from the woman and excited Hello's from the girls.

"Mama! Can you help me with my hair?"

The older woman laughed at the excited Emma as she sat by her side. The woman's fingers coming to tangle themselves on the ginger hair as the two younger girls went to grab more flowers to match Emma's hair.

"It's been a while since I combed your hair..." Isabella let out a gentle hum, untangling the wild hair with her fingers after releasing it from the elastic it had to keep it in a ponytail. The woman smiled, taking notes on how fast it had seemed for Emma to grow up into the beautiful woman she currently was. Her beauty could only be compared to her uncountable kindness and determination.

Isabella had no doubts that Emma wouldn't deny her request.

Yet, was she certain that she could send Emma away?

Would the children even allow that?

They were used to see his siblings being adopted and leaving the orphanage but Emma was almost like a second mother to them.

"Mama? Are you listening?" She heard Emma's voice and that broke her out of her trace, forcing herself to smile to erase the concern that was beginning to show in the ginger-haired's face.

"I'm sorry Emma, I dozed off for a little. You were saying?"

"I asked if everything is okay... You seem tired Mama."

The forced smile no longer needs to be forced as the concern of Emma warmed her heart, causing her to return to her motherly smile as she held the long ginger hair and tangled it into a braid, reaching the half of the girl's back.

"Emma... I need to speak with you about something serious." Reaching out, she grabbed a blue-violet that was near and placed it on the top of the braid, before Emma turned to face her, her childish expression no longer on her face as she stared at Isabella with concern. "You are aware that the Minerva family is protecting us from demons, right?"

Emma's eyes widened a little in surprise at the revelation of the story they always shared, until there, she knew that there was something in the story that felt too real but still, she thought the family had long gone died.

"They are?"

Isabella nodded "They always have been. In return, from time to time they ask for special things in return and a few nights ago I went to meet the heir of the family however, he asked for a very peculiar request."

"Mama... He didn't ask for you to give one of us as a sacrifice to the demons right?" Emma asked immediately, her guards up as she was preparing herself for finding a plan to save her family.

"No, no. They're still looking to protect and guarantee our safety."

"Then, what is the issue?" Emma tilted her head to the side in confusion, wondering what could be giving Isabella such a headache.

"They... Asked for a bride."


Blink Blink.

"A bride?" Emma asked, after the words reaching her brain. Isabella let out a tired sigh and nodded. "What does Mama mean with they asked for a bride?"

"Emma... They want me to send one of you girls to go marry and stay with him, however, he warned me that she must go freely..."

Marry a stranger and leaving the house? That sounded awful but it was something that needed to be done for the sake of the family.

"Who... Where does he live? Is it too far from here? If it's near that means I could always come to visit the house every now and then right?"

Isabella's violet eyes widened a little at the automatic acceptation of the girl for the deal. Emma was truly one of a kind, wasn't she?

"They live deep within the forest. I'm sure that Norman would allow you to return here sometimes for an occasional visit."

´Norman, heh?´ Emma fixed the name in her brain, seeing to call out to her. Then, it clicked. Deep within the forest... The man that helped Phil and gave them a ride back to grace the field. He had been so nice and now Emma regretted not knowing about the safety he provided to the house, so she could have thanked him at the moment.

Then suddenly, if she was determined to go because of her family, now she knew she had to go as something deep within her screamed out for her to go, just listen to Isabella and follow her destiny.

Emma looked around to see all the children playing, happy sounds and screams were heard from all around her and she smiled with her heart melting at the scenario. It was truly the best view of the world. And she would be sure that it would stay like that.

"Mama... I promise I'll always be keeping watching over our family."

Isabella knew that. She always knew.

But it still hurt her, even knowing Emma was going freely.

And looking at how a certain raven-haired looked at them from afar, she knew her own son would be even more hurt when he found out.


"Emma! We'll miss you!" A blonde, the petite girl clung onto Emma, refusing to let her go as they shared one last moment together.

Emma, however, could give her a bright smile and ruffles the blonde's hair "Don't worry Shelly, I promise I'll come back and visit from to time."

"You promise?" This time it wasn't Shelly's voice but Phil's, who was clearly trying to fight the tears back.

Seeing the two kids in the verge of tears, Emma brought them both into a hug, that didn't take too long until others joined "I never break a promise. I will be sure to even write letters to you!"

Something didn't feel right. At all. At least Ray couldn't understand the situation that it had been revealed that same morning that Emma had been adopted. She was eighteen, a legal adult, why would someone adopt her now?

Emma looked happy to go, even with that sad glimpse in her eyes that Ray was so proud of being the only to identify it but it was obvious there were some bittersweet feelings about her departure.

When Isabella had announced that it would be Emma's last day, the cafeteria immediately replied with shocked and depressed remarks, but for Ray, it had been like someone had just woken him up with a bucket of ice.

Did Emma know about this? Of course, she knew, that was a stupid question but why hadn't she told him?

They were best friends and while he could be a little violent with her, he knew that she knew he still cared about her.

Losing her like this... How was someone expecting him to allow it?

Being so lost in thought, he barely noticed the steps that came in his direction until soft hands direct his face to look at her, her green eyes still shone with determination.

"I already told you to listen to me when I talk! Even when I'm saying goodbye to you, you still ignore me- Hey!"She yelped in surprise as she suddenly found herself in his arms, being pulled so close.

Ray was never one for physical contact so it wasn't too often that Emma could feel his warmth this close that meant she enjoyed the most she could, trying not to think of her departure for a brief moment.

"Emma... Why are you leaving me?" The raven-haired whispered, so faintly that even Emma was unsure if she had actually heard those words.

"I'm sorry Ray..." She muttered, her hug getting tighter and she felt him push her more to him too "But I'm doing what you said and being responsible."

"Heh?" The last part had confused him. What did she mean with that? He wanted to ask but the ginger-haired backed away, giving him a smile before turning around to go grab her suitcase.

"I'm ready to go, Mama." Emma nodded at the older woman, who was already by the door holding a candle that would work to provide enough light in the dark "You guys better behave while I'm not here."

Emma gave the last warning, smiling at the children who reassured her they would be nice and when her green eyes met Ray's, her smile turned into a more bittersweet one as she lip-synced the words "Sorry."

And when Ray blinked again, he couldn't see that bright smile that cheered his and everyone's day anymore.


Isabella and Emma walked in silence down the meadow, walking towards the gates but their pace was slow, way too slow for any of them but they didn't complain.

"I hurt him, didn't I?" Emma muttered the grip she had on her suitcase getting stronger in frustration.

"What you're doing is a noble act, Emma. Ray would understand."

Isabella tried to reassure the younger woman, who hummed in reply as she couldn't think of anything better. She wanted to enjoy her last moments with the woman that took care of her for her entire life as best as she could.

´I'm sorry Ray... I'm really, really sorry... But I want to protect all of you.´

Even with their slow pace, they eventually arrived at the gates, where Emma saw the caramel colored familiar horse that let out a neigh under the recognition of the ginger-haired.

Emma carefully saved her stuff in the right places, not having much other than her suitcase, and then turned once again to the other woman, seeing that she didn't have her usual motherly smile.

The ginger-haired launched herself to the woman, trapping her in a surprise hug that it didn't take too long to be returned. Emma felt the slender fingers of her mother untangling her hair affectionally as she petted her, remind Emma of the nights where she had those awful nightmares that had made her stay awake all day until Mama calmed her down like this.

The memories started to bring tears to her eyes as if only at that moment she realized that her life was about to change.

"Mama, I love you."

"I'm so proud of you, Emma... Thank you for everything you did for us." Isabella broke away from the hug after a good while and gently brushed aside the hair that went to cover Emma's cheeks, the amethyst eyes now looking serious "Emma. If something happens, don't mind the deal and come back to us, got it?"

"But- "

"No arguments, please promise me that."

Emma bit her lip as she thought about it. She didn't want to lie and say she would break the deal since it would put her family in trouble and risk but at the same time, she didn't want to let Isabella down.

"I promise, Mama."

Norman looked at the moon, checking the hours by it. It was almost the deadline he had given Isabella.

It was exactly midnight when he climbed to his white horse, the animal surely not too happy to be awoken at the middle of the night but followed the orders without any fight.

Thankfully for the stallion, he didn't have to run much as the moment they walked past the gates, they noticed the sound of galloping their way, Norman's guard increasing in case of needing to defend himself from any wild demons but that was when he caught her scent.

As soon, he could feel his heart stopping for a moment as he saw the one he was waiting for standing in front of him, keeping herself steady on her horse and she gave him an apologetic smile.

"I'm sorry I'm late... I got lost but here I am now."

Emma was there.

He was right.

He had finally found her.

His soulmate that would end with his suffering.

Chapter Text

Silent steps were the only sound that echoed in the empty halls of the hollow mansion as the two walked, heading to the room where Emma would be staying at.

The first thing that she had been reassured about was that she would have a room of her own, the man saying it was meant to make her more comfortable but by the cold and distant tone he had spoken to her, it made her believe that he wanted to stay away from her as possible.

Emma watched his cloaked back as he walked in front of her, vaguely taking notes on how all the door of the rooms they walked past were closed, possibly locked even.

There were three things bothering her about the situation:

One thing that was bugging her was the fact of a large number of rooms the large house had, especially to someone who seemed to be living by himself.

The second was the way the man was dressed. Despite being the middle of the night, he still carried that heavy cloak that covered all of him, with the darkness not even being able to reveal the part of the face that Emma had seen the other day.

And finally, the third and most shocking factor of the night was on how cold the guy had talked to her and was acting. He hadn't been unpolite but at the same time, it seemed to have lost that special something that had caught her off guard when they met.

She was already regretting her choice of coming... What if he didn't want her? He didn't specify anyone according to Mama so Emma assumed he wasn't being much picky but still... He seemed to unfocused right after she greeted him.

Little did she know about the inner struggle in Norman's mind.

She was there, she really was there.

Emma could be following him in silence but he could still feel her so close, the simple sound of her breathing causing him to relax in the middle of the nervousness he was feeling.

How long had it been since he had someone with him?

Out of the corner of his masked covered eye, he noticed how the woman looked curiously at everything in her surroundings, smiling a little at her wonder.

Unknown to her, Norman had decided to take the long way to her room, just to be able to enjoy her presence a little more, almost afraid that this was a dream that he didn't want to wake up.

Eventually, he didn't have any other option as he finally indicated Emma's room door to her "You'll stay here. I wasn't sure about your preferences so I had to improvise a little, however, if you need anything don't hesitate to call me. My office is right at the end of this hallway and my room is exactly on the right side of it, you'll find me in one of those rooms."

Emma stared at him for a little, taking in the words, noticing he had spoken more in that simple information than what he had said in the whole night. Her hands tightened on her luggage as she restrained herself to make a certain question, instead, she gave him a polite smile in return to his courtesy.

"Thank you..." The ginger-haired looked intensely at the figure in front of her, trying to make up any traces that were hidden in the dark but Norman seemed to catch up with her plans and gave a nervous step back.

"If this is all, tomorrow I'll show you the house, for now, you should rest... It's already too late and you should be tired." As to proof his point, a small yawn left the girl's mouth, who used her hand to cover it as Norman couldn't help the small smile to grow. "I don't want to bother you anymore for today so good night."

His covered hands reached out to give her the key to her room, showing her she could lock the door in case of if she wasn't secure of sleeping with someone like him so near.

Emma however, softly grabbed his wrist, feeling the man shivering a little under her touch "Wait... I'm Emma."

A wave of confusion hit him as he didn't understand at first why she was saying such but then it clicked that he had never given her his name or they had never been properly introduced.

His eyes fixed on hers, who showed nothing but innocence and curiosity. No fear or disgust of him. For how long would he be able to keep that glimpse of hers without changing it after she found out about the horror that hid underneath that cloak?


"Norman." She repeated, sending another wave of shivers down his spine under such melody that was her voice. She had really called his name... And how graceful it sounded. Then, she smiled. "Nice to meet you Norman."

"Uhm... Hum... Yes... You- You too." He muttered, not being able to mutter coherent words just like the first time but similar to that moment, she didn't mock him, instead, she just went to grab the keys of his hand and unlock the door of her new room, giving him a last smile.

"See you tomorrow"

Then, she was gone again.

That door hid her from him.

His sharp ears could still hear her inside the room, a suitcase falling to the floor and he even heard a gasp of surprise from inside. Yet, he never heard the door being locked.

Shaking his head, he mentally said to himself to stop staring at the door and just leave, it would be hell if Emma got out again and misunderstood the situation as if he was trying to peek on her and he couldn't allow himself to commit such mistake.

Forcibly, he managed to drag himself away, walking to the end of the silent hallway towards his room, smiling a little as he knew that now he wasn't the only one trapped inside those white walls.

To say that Emma was expecting to be greeted by such a room would be the biggest lie ever.

The room was entirely white, like the rest of the walls of the house, yet the curtains were a pale orange color, hiding the large window that as she saw could still catch a glimpse of Grace field, making her heart arch a little in pain but also in relief for seeing the familiar scenario.

The porcelain floor seemed to shine despite the lack of light, other than the one provided by the semi-open curtain as Emma was checking outside. There were two large closets that made the room look even bigger, and Emma found out that she would have problems even filling half of one of them, let alone the two.

The was a door in between the two closets, gracefully adorned with marked owls around the arc of the door, and a key in the keyhole. Turning the key, a click was heard before the door opened in front of her, revealing the private bathroom that hid behind the door.

Emma gasped in surprise as she stepped inside, trying to look in the dark to figure the things inside the room but she could make out the shape of a tub, a sink, and a toilet but aside from that it still stood as a mystery while Emma realized she was far too tired and just wanted to call this day over.

The bed was a queen size without a doubt, and Emma noticed the softness when laying on the white covers even without removing the clothes she wore, her body hitting the fluffy bed that seemed to have the same effect as an angel's feathers on her skin.

The warmth provided by the bed reminded her of the tight hugs that mom gave her, her eyelids feeling heavy and as she remembered the sadness in Ray's eyes as they parted ways and the fact that she had, once again, forgotten to thank Norman for the protection, she fell asleep.


Only when Emma woke up had she realized she had fallen asleep, the events of yesterday tiring her but they were still in her memory as she took notice of her surroundings and the lack of the usual ruckus of the younger kids.

"That's right ... I'm not home..." Emma muttered, letting out a melancholic sigh.

She looked her side, eyes widening when seeing that the clock in the bedside table signalized a little after ten and a half.

Never in her life had she overslept and the panicked at the break of routine, getting up in a blink of an eye and surprising herself to find that she still wore the same clothes from the previous day.

At least she could count as being already dressed right?

Slamming the door open, she had to come to a stop as she heard a pained groan and the door slowly coming back at her, yet slow enough to her to stop it with her hand as she looked concerned at behind the door, seeing how the man held his face in his hands in pain.


"Oh my God, Norman! I'm so sorry! Are you okay?"

Emma quickly hurried to next to him, trying to get a glimpse of the damage but with surprising speed, Norman hid his hands inside the sleeve of his cloak again as he tried to reassure her everything was fine.

"I'm fine, perfectly fine." He saw how Emma's emerald eyes still had a concerned glint but he wouldn't have any of that, giving her a smile to make her concern fade away " How was your night?"

"Oh! It was really nice, I even overslept as the bed was so comfortable" she let out a nervous chuckle, hoping she wouldn't give the impression of being a lazy sleepyhead. The hallway was still covered with the curtains, not allowing the brightness of the outside to enter the house and as a consequence, she had almost the same vision of the man in front of her like the previous night: basically a walking, large cloak.

"I'm assuming the bedroom was prepared for your tastes then?"

She gave an excited nod, then remembered something, shocking the man as she bowed lightly her head to him "Thank you so much."

"I'm only trying to provide the best for my bride." His reply came along later, trying to find a good choice of words. Even if he had said such sentence without a problem or hint of nervousness, when Emma lifted up and her eyes directed to where his hidden ones were - which he hoped she wouldn't notice the mask that covered them and only allowed his mouth to be exposed- he felt all the air in his lungs fade away.

"The room was perfect but I wanted to mostly thank you for all of what you did for my family during these years. I know! Let me make you breakfast and we can talk a little more!"

Norman thought about the offer. It truly sounded nice to spend more time with Emma, he certainly wanted that too but... How long would it take her to find out why he should keep his distance from her? Somethings were better off not being known and Norman was sure that as soon as she saw him, she would regret having come.

"Norman? Are you ok?" He felt a soft touch on his arm, causing his eyes to widen at the gentle human touch that he had even forgotten how it felt. "If you're busy I understand."

He shook his head, giving her the most charming smile he could make without revealing much of his semi-sharp teeth. Just this once... He would allow himself to be a little selfish and appreciate the opportunity of being near his soulmate.

Just her presence caused this enormous inner peace that he had never found after being cursed - or, if he was truly honest with himself, not even before the curse.

"I need to show you where the kitchen is nonetheless. And I think sometime together would be nice, after all, given the circumstances, I would prefer a rather friendly environment around us."

Even if Norman doubted that such a pure soul would ever be near a creature so dangerous as him if she knew what she had gotten herself into.

Unaware of his thoughts, Emma smiled brightly, illuminating the room more than the sun that the curtains hid ever did.

"Come on then! Let's go! I'm hungry!" She laughed, shocking Norman once again as she locked her arm with his, softly but sternly pushing him and dragging him along the hallway.

A genuine laugh came from the man, truly amused by the easygoing girl that dragged him as if it was a banal thing they did frequently but honestly, Norman really enjoyed feeling her so comfortable near him.

However, he soon realized that he had to keep his head on Earth and slightly tug on their linked arms to point out which hall they should take, laughing, even more, when the woman muttered a "why do you have a labyrinth in the house?"

To which he simply replied with an amused "Don't blame me, my family owned this house even before I was born. You get used to it."


The royal looking kitchen was a mess by the time Emma finished her so famous pancakes, to which she looked really proud of as she put a plate with a couple of ones in front of Norman, who kept trying to look as polite as possible to not laugh at the state the girl was.

Messy bed-hair was practically everywhere but trapped in the ponytail she wore, a couple of white clouds of dust of flour covering the ginger locks of the wild hair. Her cheeks were slightly pink from being laughing as she told Norman the usual adventures and misadventures that she had with her siblings whenever they took over the kitchen back in the house. Her voice carried so much love and admiration that made Norman a little jealous of not being the one that she spoke about with such voice but he knew he had to give time to time for that.

Then, when they were munching on their food, the jealousy that Norman felt only got stronger as he accidentally had called for it with just an innocent question.

"These pancakes are delicious." The albino said, after swallowing the piece he had been chewing. "Did Isabella thaught you how to make them?"

"Actually..." She started out saying, keeping her bright smile that she had been carried so far until suddenly it faded without a trace, her emerald eyes turning to the plate she had in front of her as she started to play with the piece of pancake she had with her fork "It was Ray... One of my best friends, you know? He just makes the best pancakes ever."

Abruptly, all the guilty that Emma carried when recalling Ray's disappointment and shock in her departure hit her again, hard.

Emma was aware that it had only spent one night since it happened but the pain was still strong and she knew she couldn't shake it anytime sooner.

"Hey Norman? Can I ask you for a request?"

Norman wasn't sure if he would like whatever it was coming next, especially not after noticing the sadness when referring to this certain Ray but he nodded anyway.

"Do you think that... Maybe someday, I could go back and visit them again? Just a quick visit... I know! You could even come with me and I would introduce you to all of my family, how does that sound?"


A really bad idea.

Too dangerous.

For both him and her.

He was not someone that children would like to be near with and he was scared of Emma leaving him. But at the same time, those dazzling eyes that looked at him with such hope and naive... How was he supposed to deny whatever she wanted?

"I... Let's think about that a little ahead of time, alright? For now, it's much too soon."

"Oh... I understand." Her mouth turned into a disappointed O, before smiling sadly "I still want to get to know you so maybe you're right. Alright, I'll wait but-"

He waited for her to continue but she only did stop her trail of thoughts when he arched an eyebrow "But?"

"But you will also have to be honest with me from now on. I want us to trust each other, alright?"

Was she always so nice and open to everyone?

Or maybe she also felt the effect that his curse had on her?

Nonetheless, he smiled, giving her his confirmation to her demands.

"Heard you loud and clear."

With the smile back on her face, she went back to eat and Norman couldn't help but admire her. He already felt a weird pain in his heart when a frown overtook her bright smile, or when she seemed to focus on the other members back in the house... Especially that particular one that made her feel down again.

At that moment, Norman knew that he had a new mission: Making Emma the happiest as possible.

And everything Norman wanted, it always came true.

Chapter Text

Days passed way quicker than they ever did before for Norman ever since Emma came to live with him and without much effort, a month had passed. It was amazing how the simple presence of a person like Emma made his dull days so unexpected as the girl spoke to him with that constant smile on her face that just a glimpse of it was enough to make him feel lighter.

He quickly realized that if his place to be found was the office, hers was the large owlery that the house had on the top floor, and the garden.

Standing alone in his office as he wrote a letter, he couldn't help but chuckle when remembering the first time he showed her his owls. Her eyes went wide under the view of the majestic birds that were all perfectly lined up.

Tanned, brown, grey, rufous and white owls stood lined up mostly by color, some looked at the door with interest on what was happening for such a visit while other barely lifted their head and let their sleep be disturbed.

A snow-white owl immediately and swiftly fled to his shoulder, standing between him and Emma while staring at the last one, with curiosity on seeing a stranger there but having the emerald eyes of the girl staring back with the same curiosity and amazement.

Norman smiled under the exchange of looks, his gloved fingers coming to softly scratch the owl's feathers on the chest area, hearing her letting soft purring like sound as the bird fluffed her feather even more, standing comfortably on his shoulder "Looks like she wanted to greet you too."

"Wow! She's so beautiful." Emma noted in astonishment, even more, when seeing Norman petting the owl so easily. "You know, she reminds me of this one owl from a book that I remember seeing some of the children in Grace Field liked to read. It had wizards and this main one had an owl just like that one."

"Is that so?" Norman smiled and gently lifted his arm a little when noticing the owl in his shoulder wanted to climb down to get nearer the girl. The golden yellow eyes watched Emma, before taking flight and carefully to not harm her, settled herself on top of Emma's head, standing there even more comfortable.

The man couldn't help but laugh at the confused expression Emma had as she tried to look up without moving her head so she wouldn't disturb the owl on top of her head.

She felt the owl gently pulling her antenna like pieces of hair with a curling sound, similar to the previous purr, when she heard Norman speak "She likes you."

"huh?" Emma reached her hand up, lifting it to what she assumed it would be the owl's level and felt a playful peck on her finger.

Letting them stay in that moment for a little more, Norman had to eventually make the snow owl fly away to her respective place as more and more owls started to awake due to the brightness that came from the door.

And then, on their way from the owlery things went down again.

"Hm, admit that you were jealous because I had an amazing hat." Emma stated when both of them walked to head to the kitchen, the lunch hours were getting close by and they had agreed on making a quick meal and using the outside field of the garden to make an improved picnic, choosing to enjoy the current weather before the winter started.

"I have my cloak, but I do admit that it amazing alright, I'll give you that."

"Hey, Norman? Do you ever take that hood away?" She had no hesitation when asking him yet as soon as he turned to her, stopping his walk and causing her to stop too to look at him "Since the first time I saw you, I never have seen you without it... "

"What are you hiding? Is it a scar? A burn mark?" She pushed him a little further, not receiving an answer, she backed away, her hands sliding off his arms as she had grabbed them to catch his attention "You still don't trust me enough to talk to me about it, that's it, isn't it?"

"Emma..." He started, feeling his heart clunch with awful and painful anxiety. He tried to reach her, hold her hands but she broke free even before he could touch her. Her eyes carried a hint of pain at being rejected of an answer, again, and how much Norman hated that glint.

She shook her head, trying to give him a smile but it only caused him even more pain "I'm sorry. That was probably too personal. I'm going to my room... I'm not that hungry. See you later."

Her steps caused him more grief with every sound when her feet touched the floor, walking away from him.

Norman felt like he was being pushed between a wall and a sword. For one side, if he revealed himself, she would most likely walk away with fear, on the other side, if he didn't reveal himself, Emma would feel guilty and self-aware of herself and would also walk away from his seeming lack of trust.

The past week hadn't been any better and as Norman got up from his desk and walked to the window of his office, he saw her there again. Sitting underneath the shadow of a tree, stood Emma with an open book in her lap but her eyes weren't there focused, instead they were fixed locked in the gates that separated the house from the forest.

He could feel her sadness from the place he was and it only made him share the pain she felt. His hands clutch the letter they carried and with a whistle, one of his owls that were in his office came to him, only giving a few minutes to grab the letter and taking flight, going to find the one that the letter was meant to send at.

With a sigh and relying on his owl to reach out for help as he stared at Emma and then at the white rose that already four fully red petals now had gone back to three, he even prayed that the help wouldn't take too long to come.


Almost as if his prayers were indeed heard, right on the next night, when Emma was already sleeping, his owl knocked on his window, letting her slid in but the bird chooses to stay with him on his shoulder as he walked out of his office and to outside of the house, seeing a petite figure standing outside the gate's door.

Her elegant purple hair elegantly exposed her as she revealed herself without the hood of her own cloak. She wore a similar mask like him, one that covered the whole face except her mouth, who was giving him a smile "It's been a while Norman."

"Mujika..." He allowed her to enter but they stood by the garden, he didn't want to have any risks and waking up Emma.

After telling the demon the issue, without her muttering one single word as she attentively listened to everything he had to say, Mujika started her own speech.

"So, you're saying that the rose keeps changing?" She asked, with some shock at the discovery. While all the spells were different, she had never heard of that kind of changes "I believe the most logical explanation is that the girl still has mixed feelings about you. But at least you already found someone that accepts you, even being a demo-"

"I haven't told her that part." He quickly interrupted her, refusing to let her continue. Her eyes widened under the confession, but the shock only continued "I want to make her love me before she realizes that."

"Don't you think you're lying to her? Norman, you can't force someone to love you... Even if you forced her to come to live with you, if you're not honest with her, she won't ever be able to love you."

"She came willingly." He tried to argue, and in the end, he still had his truth - even with a couple of ´buts´ that wasn't forgotten by the smaller demon.

"To protect her family! You didn't give her any choice." She scolded him, then let out an exhausted sigh "Norman... You're still the same and that is why you're cursed."

"Spare me the talk." Norman spoke coldly, colder than ever. He was expecting some help from the demon but then again, she was the one that had cursed him in the first place, this all started because of her, at least she could help him a tiny bit.

"I thought you wanted my help? Since you're still the cold stone-hearted you were back then." With his silence, she thought she would soon be banned from there but part of her was just teasing him. Mujika had felt the difference from the last time she had seen Norman right on the moment he greeted her. His eyes till carried that sadness but this time, it was different. It wasn't his own sadness that he wore, but the sadness over the pain of someone else.

"Mujika..." She saw his face moving, his eyes stopping everywhere but on her, until they were finally fixed on the grass underneath them. He really was worried, wasn't he? "Please, help me. How can I make her happy?"

Norman, saying ´Please´ to a demon?

If someone told that to Mujika, she would find it easily being the funnier joke of the century. But, hearing him actually in person, and while Norman knew perfectly how to control one person, this time he seemed so genuine...

"You want to make her happy? Then don't hide. She's your soulmate, isn't she? The first thing you need to learn about love is that you accept your partner from what they are, their talents and flaws. You've been living so well for the past month, don't wait much longer or she'll feel betrayed for your lack of trust."

Norman took notes on the words of the demon, that seemed to easy to listen but so hard to obey. Seeing that she couldn't help him any more than giving that advice, the purple-haired maiden bid her goodbyes, wishing him luck and reminding that if he needed more help, she would be there as soon as she received his letter.

Yet, the question still lingered in his head:

Would Emma really be prepared to see him?


Winter was coming soon. The weather was now with noticeably colder and the most part of the animals that usually adventured into Norman's garden were less and less seen, as they would probably getting themselves ready for winter.

Having seen Emma once again on the garden, seeing her by her favorite tree through the window of his office, he tried to stay calm as he decided to follow the advice that the demon had said.

He looked at the rose once again, one of the red petals was slowly turning back to white and Norman knew he had no other way to win her if he didn't reveal himself in the first place.

As he got close to her, he was surprised to see her turning around, having noticed his presence even if his steps were as silent as ever. She gave him a smile that he didn't remember seeing it for days and it only managed to bring a smile of his as a return.

"Hey." She greeted, moving aside to give more space for the man to sit next to her, to which he complied.

"Hey." Norman greeted back. The duo stared at each other for a while in silence until Emma broke her gaze, looking ahead at the sky. "Emma, do you even wanted to come here?" He asked, straightforward and as a result, she looked back at him again, some shock and confusion in her expression "Or are you here just for your family's protection?"

She stared at him for a while. The wind rustling the trees being the only noise around them as she thought about the answer, letting Norman's worry increase by the second.

"You know... At the start, I mostly came to protect my family but now...I'm actually glad to be here."

Emma's expression had turned from a determination to a happy one, her smile turning into the one that Norman loved the most in her.

"You are?"

She hummed, nodding her head "Yup. You seemed lonely here... I kept thinking about it so I'm happy that now I can keep you company here... Even if you still don't trust me, I promise I won't leave you to feel lonely again."

Hot. Too hot. Norman felt like suffocating inside that heavy cloak that was made specially to easily adapt to all sorts of weather. His heartbeat was erratic and he couldn't bring himself to look at the woman, the genuine happiness that she spoke of was clearly on her bright eyes, staring at him and the small hint of pink in her cheeks didn't help to not find her even more endearing.

He wasn't really being fair to her, was he?

"Emma..." Norman's voice tone was weak, so weak that her name barely came as a whisper but it was enough to catch her attention, even more seeing how his hands went to the edges of the hoodie that covered his head "I-I want to show you something..."

Please, don't be afraid.

Please, don't run away.

Please, don't leave me.

Her hand was gently placed on his arm, reassuring him with a smile and silently, easing a little his worries.

He stared at the ginger-headed for a moment, seeing the eagerness but still respecting his time, acknowledging the fact it only made the cursed heart beat even stronger.

And with a sigh, his hands slowly started sliding off the piece of cloth from his head.


Chapter Text

"Emma!" A voice interrupted their moment, causing Norman to stop his movements and keeping the hood in place as Emma already had gotten up and ran to the gate under recognizing the voice.

"Phil? What are you doing here?" She asked, watching the small child's smile increased as he saw her in front of him.

The large doors opened enough to let the boy in, who immediately ran to Emma, who took him in her arms, a bright smile matching his as her arms engulfed him.

"What are you doing here? I warned you last time that coming here by yourself is dangerous!"

"I know but I wanted to see you again! I missed you so much Emma" The dark-skinned cried a little, his hug tightening and Emma felt herself doing the same.

"Phil?" Norman called out, causing both of the siblings to look up at him "How did you know that Emma was here?"

"I-" He started but then fell into silence, staring at the ground. Emma got up, having to kneel so she could be at Phil's level, and looked down at the young boy as she waited for his reply "I had heard Mama and Emma talking when she agreed to come here so I knew it since then. I thought that I could maybe see Emma for one minute, just one minute was enough and I would be happy again to see her again so... I just ran here."

The words of the younger had taken Norman by surprise. He had the recorders of all the children that ever stayed and stood in the Grace Field orphanage to know whose people his family was protecting and of course he had stumbled on Phil's page. As soon as he had seen the number marked on the boy's shirt the first time he had strumbled into Norman's fields made the heir want to check the profile of such boy, finding it with ease under the organized system of his library.

The grades of the exams they did were extraordinary - Just like Emma (Because he would be lying if he denied that he didn't check her profile from time to time)- but he seemed to have underestimated the boy's intelligence.

One month had passed since Emma was here with him and not in Grace Field, was it that painful to miss someone so much that they would risk themselves in a forest full of dangers while they themselves were inoffensive children, unable to defend themselves?

"Phil... That was incredibly dangerous, you know that. What would happen if something went wrong?" Emma's tone was filled with concern and for Norman, the scene almost seemed like a mother scolding her child, what made him accidentally chuckle but shut down when Emma's glare was on him "What's so funny?"

"It's just... I never saw that side of yours." ´It's cute.´ He wanted to add but stopped himself before he could regret it. He then focused on Phil again "You wanted to see Emma?"

He hummed, nodding his head and then feeling gloved hands softly ruffling his hair as he looked up to see the hooded figure smiling down at him "Let's make a deal. Since you disappearing and traveling the forest by yourself is a big no as it's alarmingly dangerous, whenever you want to come to see Emma, look at the trees and you'll find one owl there. Give her a letter with Isabella's permission for you to come to visit and I'll personally go pick you up at the gates, what do you think about that?"

Phil's eyes shone with anticipation, being truly happy to be able to see Emma more often but despite Emma's happiness of the fact, she showed a concerned effect.

Norman looked down at Emma as her hand touched his upper her, noticing her expression and wondered if he had done or said something wrong "Emma?"

"Are you sure Norman? Won't this be troublesome to you?" She wasn't an idiot. She had long come to realize that Norman isolated himself from others and letting someone else bargain in his territory - even if it made Emma so happy to have her family with her, even if just for brief moments- was a huge thing to him.

Trying to help with her concerns, his hand moved to be placed on top of hers, giving it a slight squeeze of reassurance.

"I'm sure, you're happy with your family near and so, this makes it perfect for me."

Suddenly, she wasn't on his side but in front of him, her arms around him as he couldn't see her pink-tinged colored face since it was hidden in his chest.

Emma smile increased unconsciously as she felt so comfortable and at ease in hearing the fasten heartbeat next to her ear. It all felt so terrifyingly natural and the thought only made her want to stay in the comfort that she was in.

Norman's hands stood in the air, his eyes wide even if nobody could see them, as he thought on how to react. Slowly, as if he was afraid of his actions, he placed his hands on her hair, his fingers interlocking with the wild hair, and on her lower waist, feeling her melting into him even more and resulting in his own relaxation.

After who knows how long it had passed, he felt Emma shifting in his arms, looking down to see her smiling up at him, her eyes closing for a short instance when his hand slid from her hair to the side of her face before emerald eyes greeted him again "Thanks."

"Are you two going to kiss?" Phil's voice broke them from their moment once again and Norman cursed internally at the second interruption of an intense moment with Emma. The breaking point of the moment was so sudden that he didn't even realize that Emma got out of his arms until he noticed her warmth was not there anymore.

"What if we are? You were the one that broke in, you little rascal" Emma laughed, not thinking much of the tease as she quickly went over Phil, both of them laughing as Phil ran away from a chasing Emma, who tried to reach out to tickle him.

Norman smiled at the scene, watching how Emma seemed so carefree and enjoying herself. Yet, the way that she had looked at him... Had she ever looked at him before in that way?

It had been so intense, so intimate. His heart was still going crazy and his body now arched to feel her warmth within him again. And at that moment he realized that he had no other option but to follow Mujika's advice and confess everything before it would be too late.

The two orphans ran along the fields, their laughter even being heard by Norman on another side, but eventually, Phil got out of breath, making it even easier for Emma to catch him.

"Got you!" She chirped, trapping him in a hug from behind and even lifting himself from the grass, causing even more giggles from the younger boy.

Sparing some good minutes to calm down, Emma ruffled Phil's hair affectionately, like she did every time and that he had missed over the past month. Seeing as they had this opportunity to be without Emma's fiancée, or whatever it would be the right definition to describe their relationship, Phil started asking some question under the impressions he had seen so far.

"Hey, Emma? Do you like him?" He asked, looking in the direction where they had left Norman, now the man nowhere in sight.

"Huh? What are you talking about Phil?" Emma arched an eyebrow in confusion, yet it didn't take her too long to understand that the youngest was referring to Norman "Of course I do, he's been an amazing friend."

"He likes you."

"Where is this coming from?" The ginger-haired shuttered a little, taken by surprise at the statement.

The small boy simply shrugged his shoulders "I don't know. It just feels like something changed since last month."

"People are constantly changing Phil." She defended herself from an argument that she didn't even know of what she was protecting. but it also seemed that Phil still wanted to continue stating his points.

"Do you think this is like those books you liked to read? You're having an adventure of your own with someone that likes you."

With that, silence filled the rest of their conversation.

It was true, wasn't it? Even thinking nicely of things, Norman's way to act to her could easily be compared to those in her favorite stories and just being with him for a month had taught her so much that she could have never learned back in Grace Field.

"I-... Life isn't a fairy tale Phil" she ended up coming to the conclusion, reminding herself of Ray's words and using them.

"But... For being real, isn't life better than fairy tales?"

Emma smiled softly at the boy. Sometimes, he was much of a smartass for his own good. But he still had his truth in his statement. Being able to truly feel the emotions that Emma had always been curious to find out was much better than to read them.

With a huff, she got up from the sitting place in the grass that they had eventually sat to rest and helped her brother doing the same "C' mon, let's just go back to Norman before he sends his owl squad looking out for us."

"Did he really trained the owls that well?"

The woman let out a laugh as they both headed back to the same place where they had left Norman "You have no idea. He constantly cheats using his owls whenever we play hide and seek."

"I don't cheat, I just use my resources. It's not my fault they're thaught to help me." Surprised, the siblings jumped in surprise under the strong voice behind them and turned around to see a mocking smile on Norman's face.

"Norman! Were you spying on us?" Emma smiled at his sudden appearance but then arched her eyebrow at the suggestion, to which he seemed rather bashful at being accused at as for moments he seemed to lose his cool and quickly shaking his head.

"N-No, not at all! I just thought something had happened to you as you were taking so long... I even had time to grab food from the kitchen and so we could eat outside."

Without a surprise, the sibling's face lighted up and Norman found himself being dragged to find a place where they would eat better. They spent the rest of the day together, Phil curiously asking questions about owls and some books that Norman had no difficulties in replying and answering to the boy's curiosity.

It was actually a good time spent, Norman couldn't help but think, and he would even admit that he had been a little disappointed when bidding goodbye to Phil as him and Emma took him back to the gates of Grace Field.

When the duo was walking back from Grace field, just in the comfort of the presence of each other, Norman noticed how unusually silent Emma was, making him worried.

"Is something wrong?"

Sensing his concern in his voice, Emma snapped out of her thoughts and looked at him, smiling and shaking her head "Phil reminded me of something... Back in Grace Field, Ray scolded me nonstop for always being reading fairy tale books and they made me want to know what love is, to feel so strongly for someone that you'd forget all about the rest and have your happily ever after."


She hums, agreeing with his confused remark "Love. I might never know what it truly is but at least, if I'm meant to marry someone, I'm glad it's someone that makes me happy as you do."


"When earlier you asked me why I came to you, I forgot to tell you something but you'll find me crazy if I tell you." She chuckled, sparing him one look before climbing down her horse after crossing the half-opened gates "There was just... This feeling saying for me to go, to stay with you."

"A feeling?" Norman followed her lead and climbed down the horse he had been riding, removing the materials that both horses had in order to be safely mounted.

She hums again, nodding her head "A feeling. I don't know, maybe it was just supposed to be?"

As she got closer to the gate to close it, Norman grabbed her wrist, gently turning her to him while the sound of the horses' equipment falling to the ground was heard "Emma, wait. Earlier, we were interrupted but I still have something to show you."

Before Emma could say that it wasn't needed for him to push himself because of her petty desires when she saw Norman sliding off the hood of his head.

Her eyes widened, her mouth opened slightly as she stared at the figure in front of her. The white mask covered more than half of his face, leaving out only his mouth, showing off the greyish colored skin. A curled horn poking out on the left side of his head, in between of his white hair, and Emma wondered how the hood was never ripped by the sharpness of it.

"You're... "

"A demon..." He looked down sadly, not hearing any words coming from her mouth but soon found her hands on his cheeks, her thumbs checking the line of his mask "Aren't you scared of me?"

"Why should I?" She asks immediately, her eyes never showing any glimpse of that emotion, they revealed confusion, interest, and something that Norman couldn't describe as her lips curled upwards but never disgust or fear "You're Norman, aren't you? I can't ever be scared of you."

Her hands gently held his face in them and, feeling her starting to shake as the pressure of being in tiptoes for too long due to their height difference, he sternly hugged her, allowing her body to get the support she needed in his.

"Thank you for trusting me."

He shook his head with a soft smile, now fully allowing Emma to see it, and grabbing her hand, he took it to press it against his lips, letting her feel as his words were released from his mouth.

"Thank you for allowing me to trust again."

Chapter Text

Time passed, the day following day marked the passing of another month and winter had officially arrived. Emma always loved snow, she loved to play with her siblings every day with the ice and seeing the beautiful snowflakes falling from the sky as they danced in their way to reach to the floor.

This year was different, Phil still came from time to time as Norman had agreed with him, and so Emma could have also seen her mother more times, reassuring her that she was fine and happy with Norman. Even if she didn't have her siblings around her, she still felt happy. Ever since Norman had revealed himself as the demon that he was, she noticed how much open to her he was slowly getting, to the point of even dismissing the cloak and the gloves that hid his sharp claws.

The thought of him being opening so much made her heart flutter, feeling intense happiness on the fact that he trusted in her. And Emma herself treasured the moments that the two seemed to have in their own space.

Despite not having her siblings around, Emma's playful nature still called her out to go and run, play, enjoy herself and so, she happily ran in the snow, covered in a long, warm cloak that Norman had given her.

"Emma, you'll fall..." She heard Norman warning her, causing her to turn to him, kicking some snow as she made her turn. Her arms went behind her back as she looked at him with a playful smile.

"You worry too much Norman, just relax and play with me!"Her emerald eyes teased him along with her smile and Norman tried so hard to stand his ground.

Then, an idea clicked in his mind.

"Alright Emma, you wi-"

"Norman!" She quickly called out, rushing to his side and checked on him for any damages that his sudden fall on the snow could have caused "Are you ok?"

Suddenly, she yelped in surprise as large arms caught her, giving her time to react only when feeling her cloak's back hit the snow, her ginger hair spread along on the white duvet of the floor and her green eyes widened as she saw the man towering her, a playful smile on his lips "Who's worrying too much now?"

"Bu... But you fell and I thought you had hurt your-" Her hands were on his chest, feeling the soft rhythm of the heart that hid inside the body.

"I'm sorry, I lied."

"Heh?! You made me concerned for nothing?" Emma couldn't help but pout, feeling a little betrayed. Her pout disappeared immediately when his hand came to rest on her cheek, his fingers slowly and carefully to not harm her rubbing her skin.

"You were concerned for me?" His eyes softened as he mentally recorded the image of the girl beneath him, with a soft smile and a faint blush on her cheeks - either from the cold or from Norman's actions, he didn't clearly know.

"Of course... I care about you."

"I'm... Happy to know that." Norman smiles and gets up after letting his glace stay locked onto hers to linger a little more, helping Emma out to get up too as he held her hand.

The chirpy sound of the small birds that near them searched desperately in the snow for something to eat caught both's attention, making them look at the petite animals.

"At this rate, they'll die of hunger..." Emma pointed out sadly, receiving a small hum of agreement of the man standing next to her. Until, without a word he left her as she kept watching, only noticing his missing when hearing the door of the house being open "Norman?"

She called out but the man was far too distant to reply to her, nonetheless, he returned after a short while with a small bag on his hand. Emma looked curiously at the demon, who removed one piece of bread from inside the bag and destroyed the food in small crumbs before throwing them to the snow, watching as in no time the birds were near them, searching for all the bread they could find.

Deciding to try something, Norman let the crumbs on his hand as he knelt down at a decent space to not scare away the animals and again, the birds followed the trail of food and quickly climbed to his hand, not seeming to show any fear in doing so, amazing Emma of the fact.

"Wow, they're not afraid of you at all!" The ginger-haired exclaimed without thinking, only coming to realize how hurtful the word could actually be taken "Huh, no offense"

Norman smiled gently at her, softly lifting himself up as the birds fled to the floor again, after having eaten everything that was on his hands "None taken. Do you wish to feed them by yourself?"

"Heh? I don't think I can... They run off whenever I'm chasing the kids so I think I'm a little rushed to stay anywhere from shy animals hehe...." She allowed the escape of a nervous laugh but Norman's smile didn't flicker.

Instead, he walked to her and gently grabbed one of her hands, his other grabbing some bread crumbs to give her "Trust me, ok?"

She took in how gentle and warm his hands were while they held hers, wishing she could see the way he was looking at her underneath that mask. Her head nodded unconsciously, her mind lost to give any order.

"Just hold your hands... Like this"

A shiver ran her spine when feeling his breath behind her, as he had moved to behind her and his arms held her in between them, his larger hands engulfing hers into a bowl shape, the bread crumbs in between them.

"What now?"

She wanted to turn, to look at him once again, like if there was a force making her keep her attention of the demon behind her but his chuckle broke her from her trance.

"Look, they're already there."

As he said, it didn't take too long for one brave bird to land on their hands and not too long after a couple of more birds followed the lead, feasting on the bread pieces.

Emma watched in amazement as the small creatures happily ate without showing any fear. But hot breathing next to her ear was caused her mind to differ from the birds in her hand, making her gulp in nervousness as she realized the closeness that she was currently sharing with Norman.

Her body was completely pressed against his and even if Emma herself wasn't one to dismiss personal contact, this time it felt so different. Not in a bad way, not in a bad way at all, in fact, she felt so relaxed despite the sudden nervousness. Her body felt too hot but she blamed the warmth that the long cloak provided, even so, she shivered unconciously when feeling the warmth of the other body so close.

The shiver was not ignored by the demon and, mistaking her shiver for being caused by the cold, Norman gently held her face to check it was indeed a little colder than usual, turning her to him to examine on her better "What if we just go back inside and drink some hot chocolate by the fireplace?"

Emma's eyes locked into his, even without her noticing, and she wasn't sure if it was a demon's thing to make others succumb to their words but Emma just felt like she was under his spell, wanting so badly to reach up and uncover his face from that mask.

"That sounds like a plan."


Their mugs rested near them as they stared at the fire, the intensities of the flames was nothing that could be compared to how burning their skins felt at the contact of each other.

After teases, soft brushings of their arms, having removed their long cloaks and opting for more comfortable and light clothing set as the house itself was a bit hotter than the outside - plus with the fire near it was impossible to stay long with heavy clothes- and a couple of sly moves, Emma found herself back in Norman's embrace, his arms around her torso and his legs open at her sides, keeping her in between them.

There was a comfortable silence in between them, with no reason to disturb it but Emma was still curious about something "Hey Norman, I never thought your family would be demons... You have been protecting us from your own kind... It must have been hard..."

How wrong she was... He wanted to say. Say how much he hated the demons, how much he wished to just make them all disappear before another human being was killed by their claws.

But he would never want Emma to see this side of him.

"I- ... My family wasn't demons. Only me. But I wasn't a demon myself..." He saw her turning around, her emerald eyes looking at him with curiosity and concern painfully expressed in them. The thought just made in a smile at her reaction "You see Emma... I'm actually under a curse and I need you to help me."

"You need my help?" Emma saw how he nodded, keeping his soft smile that made her feel like melting "I'll do anything to help you! What do I need to do?"

They stared at each other for a long while, until Norman found enough courage to tangle his fingers in her hair, gently pulling her to his chest and feeling her tense for some moments, until she finally melted against him, her cheek brushing on his heart region.

"Absolutely nothing... You already know what you're doing..."

He didn't hear her reply, only feeling her coming closer to him as he rubbed slow circles on her back.

Norman sighed in the bliss of the moment, watching how the ginger hair of the girl on his arms matched with the burning fire of the fireplace, the memories of the beginning of the curse coming to his mind after a long time not thinking about it.


“Demons cannot love.”

A young Norman said when with his ten years had met one demon that was walking around the forest. He had mistaken her for a lost woman due to the similarities she had with the humans but when he quickly realized she was anything but a human, his hate showed up again. Refusing to show any compassion as she cried out for the dead demon that was laying on the grass.

“So that´s your opinion... I see, I see. Tell me, young prince, what makes you humans so different from demons?” The woman asked, only then realizing she was one of his father's allies, Mujika.


“Didn't your family killed so many demons to protect your own kind? Yet, weren´t demons doing the same?” She continued speaking, letting her wise words to try to convince the small boy to show some mercy.


“Can you love someone?”


“ You can´t.” Mujika replied after his silence. The ball she was carrying shining in between her hands as she now focused on it “Your heart is cold. Completly frozen and you refuse to let those walls crumble. So, what is the breaking point between you and those that you say you despise?”

Norman remained in silence, not even sure on where to start thinking on where to lead this conversation.

“We demons bear a curse. We love, as much as you humans claim to do. We see our loved ones being killed and suffer from such pain.” To Norman´s surprise, a spiky green flower stand blows from the grass in front of him, the bold blooming into a pure white rose right in front of his eyes “ You long to meet love, don´t you? Fear not young prince. As an agreement of our peace deal, I offer you such. Please take this rose, it will guide you to the one you long for without even acknowledging it.”

Norman's crystal blue eyes looked at the demon in front of him with a certain doubt of her words but the snow colored rose enticed him to grab it.

However, just as he was about to touch it, the demon sorceress spoke again “But I must warn you. Everything comes with a price. As soon as you grab that rose, your fate is decided. When that flower dies, you shall die too.”

“Is this a threat? All the flowers die, sooner or later, is this a game to you?” He arched an eyebrow, not believing the innocence of the maiden.

“Fear not, young prince. This rose holds no harm. It will make sure that you'll get what you most desire. But every spell needs something in return, something that money can't always help, but I can't be sure of what your price will be... Are you going to accept my offer?”

Norman would be lying if he said he trusted the maiden's words but part of him knew what she said was true. This, in the end, could be nothing but a prank but for now, he had to get the demon on his side so he ended up taking the flower in his hand, surprised by how the incredible thorny flower didn't hurt at all.

The maiden smiled at the action.

“Now, let me explain how the flower works. It's pretty simple actually. Blue petals mean broken heart, you lost your soulmate and you will never, ever, have another chance with love. Red means love. When the twelve petals of the rose are entirely red, you and your soulmate have become one and are meant to stay together through everything that might exist."

Norman continued to believe this was nothing but a prank and just shrugged it off, deciding to leave the maiden and just return to his house, where he should be taking care of his sick father.

However, right after Norman's father died, two years later, things changed and Norman finally realized the price that the deal had on him.

"Mujika... You did this to..."He glared at her, when meeting her once again. His tone was cold, threating, almost like a snake about to attack and Mujika was aware of such.

"It was your own wish. I remember warning you that everything has a price and love is a game that doesn't follow any rules, so not even you could have predicted such result."

"I'm... I'm turning into a demon!" He exclaimed, showing off his claws that his nails had turned into, his fingers so slender and the skin was growing greyish day by day, the worst was his signature curl had turned into a horn.

"Maybe your opinion about demons being so unable to love turned against you..." Norman could swear he saw how the corner of the maiden's lips curled upwards in a mocking smile.

"How do I return to normal?"

"Who knows? Maybe it's a temporary thing, maybe it has to do with your wish. Unfortunately, I cannot help you further with this wish of yours, however, if this makes the situation better, when you find the one that you look for, they will have to love you for who you are rather than your looks."


Norman still remembers how much he hated her, how much he wanted her dead but now... Now, staring at the beauty that had fallen asleep on his arms, part of him was even pondering on thanking the demon for this chance.


A/N: I know some of you are wondering what the hell is Ray's role in this and what he thinks of the matter. I was really going to put this in this chapter but it was already too much so I promise you'll get to see him on the next episode.

Chapter Text

From that point on, Emma could feel the air between her and Norman a little more... Different?

While she was used to cuddling with her siblings, with Norman, there was something that just didn't felt quite the same but it was still so enjoyable and she just wanted to do that every day, It just feel so good to be that near with someone- no, not someone, Norman.

It was all that she dreamed about when she read her books.

But she still had some doubts about the whole situation, however, it seemed she wasn't alone with her doubts.

Norman was in a similar boat.

However, he did have a plan.


Ray had enough.

He had been watching for a good while now how Phil seemed to disappear every now and then and he would only come back by the end of the day, looking exhausted.

At first, he thought the young boy would adventure himself into the forest but Ray then noted that Isabella seemed to allow the boy to go to wherever he wanted- to which now he was sure Phil wasn't going to the forest.

Another point that he had noticed was how quickly he recovered from Emma's departure, to which he had been greatly affected and if Ray recalled correctly, he could swear he heard Phil say one day that he had seen Emma and spent the day with her but since then he had never spoken of the subject, what lead them to believe the boy had fallen asleep somewhere and just dream of his favorite person that he now no longer was able to be with.

But every day where Phil wasn't there, he always returned so happily, to the point that it raised some suspicions on Ray and so, one day, he decided to follow Phil, seeing how a cloaked figure waited for him by the gates, seeing Phil smile at the said person before being helped with climbing the white horse.

That was when he saw her again.

Her wild hair was the first thing that gave her away, her horse coming to a stop near to cloaked character, who seemed to give her a smile as she smiled back at him, giving one quick greeting ruffle to Phil's hair and quicker than Ray could even blink, they were gone, only the sound of the horses galloping making him sane of what he saw.

Emma was there. She had been there. So close.

She was near.

Ray knew it. He just knew it. It was just too obvious that the adoption had been a cover to something else. Now, for what it was, he would need to wait and do more research before setting off to go and bring Emma back home.



It has surprised Emma to see Norman knocking on her door by the end of the afternoon but she still greeted him with her bright smile "Hello Norman, can I help you with something?"

"Actually, yes. Would you mind to try this and meet me downstairs?" She took the box he was giving her, expecting more answers as to why such requests but she was given none as Norman had left her once again, causing her just more confusion.

Looking at herself in the mirror of her room, she could barely recognize herself as she wore the dress that Norman had given her. The dress was so long that it was dragged on the floor, making her fear for the pale salmon-colored tail of the dress, There was the longer fold of the dress, bright orange to match her hair, followed by a lightly shorter more pale orange, and then yet another fold yellow, that matched with the corset of the dress whose straps fell to her shoulders. Her neck was covered by a necklace that was connected to the dress by a transparent folder that covered the cleavage that it allowed.

The only thing she refused to wear was the heels that were in the box, opting with her usual boots, after all, in the middle of so many ruffles that were underneath the dress nobody would notice her choice.

What would Norman think? She found herself asking herself, bringing her hair to a long side braid, tying it with a yellow lace that was in the box too. Since when was she concerned with the approval of others to what she used?

Never. But Norman was someone so special... She just wanted to always be her best as possible.

Trying not to fall with the elegant dress, she made her way to the place where Norman told her to meet him, taking more than usual as she also had to drag away a dress with her.

His back was turned to her, his foot was stumbling nonstop as he tried to calm himself while waiting for her, almost jumping when her voice called him out "Norman? Why did you want me to wear this?"

"I thought we could have a different night and... Oh..."The demon turned around, quickly being shut down as he took in the beauty in front of him. The dress fit her perfectly, embracing all the curves before the skirts falling elegantly on the floor. But no matter how enchanting the dress was, nothing could ever take his attention away from Emma "You... You look beautiful."

A furious heat reached her cheeks as she unconsciously started playing with her hair, trying to calm herself a little "Uhm Thanks... What do you mean with a different night?"

"I thought that we could have a different type of dinner."

"Okay?" She replied, not really understanding what he had meant but she trusted him enough to not question his ideas.

She was guided to outside, to a gazebo that was in Norman's garden and near a now-frozen lake that Emma couldn't wait to be summer so she could swim on it along with Phil.

It was only when they were sitting down, eating around the light of candles, that Emma realized what made the night so different and her heart skipped a beat. This was a date, wasn't it?

The realization didn't really change a thing until Norman suggested something after they finished their small chat after dinner.

"Do you want to dance?"

"I-I don't know how..."

"I'll teach you." He reached over her, holding out his hand to her" Trust me."

"I do." She smiled as she placed her hand on his and lifting herself from her place.

Emma allowed herself to be guided to the snow, the tail of her long dress sliding behind her as she held onto Norman's arm to support. When reaching to a middle center where they had enough space to move, Norman softly twirled Emma around to stay in front of him.

Their eyes connected and with shaky hands and unsteady breathing, the demon set one of his hands on Emma's lower torso, pulling her closer to him, and the girl rested her left hand on his shoulder, lifting her arm to be able to reach him, while her right hand was gently held by Norman's one.

"I apologize already for any stumbles... If anything feels free to just let me trip." Emma joked, still feeling a little not-so-confident about her experience with dancing- which was absolutely none, but Norman smiled down at her.

"I won't ever let you fall. Trust me, you just have to follow my lead. If you feel that you don't want to do this anymore, say the word and we'll call this an end." He reassured her and it seemed to calm her down, making her return his smile.

As she predicted, it wasn't just a couple of times when Emma's feet found Norman's, even underneath that dress - That, if she was being honest to herself, it was as hard to dance with as it was beautiful, or maybe she was just finding an excuse to the lack of her own experience- but not even that seemed to bother Norman, who continued to lead them in a dance across the white covered garden.

Eventually, Emma started to grow more confident of her steps as whenever she was close to falling, Norman held her back into her balance, giving the support she already knew he would give to her. Staring at the demon that held her, she couldn't help to realize how just it seemed that the fog that was covering her from her dreams finally lifting, showing her the light that it made all seem different.

He looked so dangerous, yet the way he held her just made her feel safe. He made her feel so good about herself and how she found herself so needy for his attention, for his opinions, for his presence. For him.

Her dress elegantly waved with the wind as Norman twirled her, slowly and Emma breathed out before returning to him, their hands going to their respective places once again as their dance continued.

The night was freezing, Emma's boots made her steps look heavier, and there was no music aside from the owling from the owls, but everything was just perfect and Emma wouldn't change anything of the moment.

Norman's warmth made her completely not sense the cold of the night, his gentle control of their dance guided her to the right pace and the owl's created a special song just for them, the beautiful melody that she always associated to Norman.

Suddenly, Norman seemed to also grow bolder with each movement as seeing how Emma was losing herself to their moment, on their next turn, it was to Emma's surprise when his large hands came to her hips, lifting her from the snow floor and into the air, one of his arms holding her in the air, settling at the back of her thighs, while the other stood by her hips. Emma's hands turned his face upwards to face her, her palms then coming to his cheeks, her nose touching his and their foreheads connected.

Norman saw how her eyes darkened, her pants causing small puffs of air due to the cold weather, her rosy cheeks only added her even more charm and then her lips... He looked down at her lips, who looked so appealing, so enchantingly near him... Only a brief movement and he could claim them but that would be such a sin, to steal a kiss from someone as innocent as Emma, even if feeling her thumb caressing his own lips as her glance shifted from his mouth to his mask.

He saw how she leaning into him but he only slowly released her legs, settling her softly on the ground once more and feeling her hands sliding from his cheeks to his chest, her touch teasing every pore of his skin that she could have reached on her way.

Silently submitting herself to the demon, Emma allowed herself to let herself fall down, Norman's hands keeping her from hitting the ground, and with her hands softly tangled in his hair she pulled him to her, his legs open to make an angle that would allow him to dip her safely and Emma knew she had nothing to fear as she stared up at the demon.

"Norman..." She breathed out, speaking for the first time since they had started their dance. The snow still fell around them but that only seemed to make the sunshine that stood in Norman's arms stand out even more.

"Emma..." He repeated her, breathing out her name before pulling her in, her hands now more bold as he could feel her fingers play with the end of his hair by the nape of his neck.

"Can we rest for a while?"

"Oh." As if now he had remembered how fragile humans were with cold, he snapped out of his small fantasy "Of course, we could go back inside and..."

"I don't want to. Not yet." She quickly grabbed his hand, as if it was the most efficient way to keep him. Her eyes even pleaded to stay, not as if he would go anyway from her in the first place but he reassured her with his smile, removing his cloak to put it around her shoulder, at least making sure she had the warmth needed.

"Okay, let's stay here a little more then." Norman reassured and it was enough to bring her smile back, her arm wrapping around his and her hand linking their fingers with Norman's as she was the one now guiding him back to the small covered gazebo and sitting on the bench near the frozen lake, her head leaning on his side as they watched the snow fall elegantly in front of their eyes.

The owl's singing ceased into occasional owlings and chirps as they jumped from tree to tree, the exceptional strong breezes only making it more comfortable to be in each other's embrace, taking in the warmth of the other's presence.

That night, it seemed as if the world was just in perfect harmony.

"Norman?" Emma's almost sleeping voice called out, breaking the calm silence that had settled " Can I ask you one thing?"

"Anything." The demon turned around, seeing her expectant glance on him and his heart just melted at the view as he held her face gently, careful for his long nails to not hurt her.

He saw how her eyes closed, her hand coming to set on top of his as she leaned into his touch, only then briefly opening her eyes to look at him again, her tone as gentle as possible as if she was scared to break the moment.

"Can I... Can I see you?"

He could have played dumb and pretend he didn't understand what she meant. But her innocence glint that she carried made his heart skip a beat to her curiosity.

She wanted to see him. The monster he was.

She would probably turn away from him... But, she had seen so much of what he had been holding back until there and broke his walls every time, surprisingly accepting every detail of his cursed life.

What wouldn't he do for this woman?

Lifting his hand from her cheek, after she allowed him to move away, he noticed her intense glance on him as he came to wrap her hand over his mask, taking in a deep breath and closing his eyes - even so, he still felt her stare on him- before finally removing the last wall that he kept from Emma.

Her breathing stopped for a moment.

There was this blue, angelic aura surrounding him. There was nothing that Emma could associate to a demon unless the slight greyish colored skin and sharp nails that were by the end of the slender fingers but that was easily forgotten with the breathtaking scenario that Norman had around him.

His piercing icy blue eyes no longer looking cold, she could see the traces of sadness, loneliness, and nervousness that they carried. His clear hair revealed to be turning into white as the moon that watched their small rendezvous. And only his curl on the left remained as the horn that Emma always knew, reminding her that it wasn't an entirely human that was there with her.

Despite that, Emma never had seen Norman as a demon to be feared but at that moment, he was the most enchanted character she had ever seen.

Taking the silence of the woman, he gave an apologetic smile "There... I am a demon and I need to be constantly reminded as such."

"Norman..." She called out softly, her hands coming to his cheek and holding his face in place as he refused to look at her, making him return her glance "You're not a demon Norman. I'll make you realize that and stop tormenting yourself."

"You already do that." His aquamarine eyes softened as his hand came to grab one of hers, holding it tightly and giving a soft squeeze. How long had it been since he had last seen himself in a mirror? How much had he changed? How much had he returned to his normal self after meeting Emma? None of that matter anymore, not now that "You make me feel so in peace with myself, demon or not."

Norman felt so light, to the point that he almost thought he would fly. The woman in front of him had no idea how much she had an effect on him, did she? How happy he was to have her as his bride.

"Emma... Can I also ask you for something?" Her hum was the only answer, her eyes closed as she leaned against his touch. "You... I... You see ..."

"Norman." Emma opened her eyes only half, only enough to be able to look at him, a teasing smile on her lips as she noticed the shyness "just ask it away"

"Can I kiss you?" Her eyes were suddenly wide open, staring at him under the unexpected request and he was about to apologize and quickly take his words back when she smiled, moving closer to him.

"It's fair isn't it?" Emma's glance shifted from the floor to his eyes, not being able to stare for too long before breaking the glimpse, yet the small smile that was on her face made Norman's heartbeat even faster.

His hands were shaking when being placed once again on her cheeks, unsure of where to put them, but somehow seeing her eyes closing made him feel a little less embarrassed as now she couldn't see the mess he was.

Back when they were dancing it had seemed all so natural, here it seemed like he was forcing himself into her. He leaned in, clumsily bumping his nose against Emma's and earning a chuckle from the girl, when the emerald eyes opened themselves again, trying to calm him "Norman, you know there's nobody to judge you, right? It's just me and you, nobody else."

Weirdly, the words seemed to calm him down as he tilted his head softly, feeling her breathing next to him as his lips were already brushing against hers when he stopped again "Emma, are you sure you're okay with this?"

She doesn't reply, or rather, she doesn't use any words to answer as she uses her mouth to shut him directly, her lips pressed against his as they molded together. Emma let out a pleased humming while Norman could feel himself about to explode thanks to the bomb that was his heart.

When Norman finally relaxed into the kiss, there it was the natural effect that he always felt when being with Emma. Her soft lips melted perfectly against his, her hands holding him close to her as they teased the skin on his neck. Her cheeks were so hot from the deep blush that she wore but Norman was sure his weren't any better.

After what it seemed an eternity but feeling her shiver from the cold air, Norman broke away from the kiss, smiling as Emma kept her eyes closed as if wanting to let the moment linger but as soon as her emerald eyes met his aquamarine, she shot him one of the most beautiful smiles he had ever seen.

"Emma, we stayed here far too long. Let's go inside before you catch a cold."

Her lips turned into a small pout but she still nodded without a fight, both of them getting up and walking back inside, arms linked as they walked in silence, just enjoying the moment.

For when Norman thought that the girl was far too tired, it surprised him when she grabbed his hands when they were in front of the staircase that would lead to the rooms "Hey Norman, let's dance a little more!"

"Emma, it's late, probably around midnight and..."

"We can sleep tomorrow! I don't want this night to end..." This woman really knew how to hold him, didn't she? How could he ever resist that puppy look she gave him?

With a smile, he pulled her to him, his smile growing when Emma quickly positioned herself for dance "Just one dance, ok?"

She hummed and from then on, Norman took the lead, guiding her through the night in their dance that turned out being followed by another one, and even another, until both of them lost count of how many they had shared.

By the time Norman left Emma on her room, the first sun rays started to show through the curtains but they didn't care. Their night had been so perfect and theirs, the day that would follow would just be the watcher of the night changes.

When he returned to his room, he realized that his mask had been left outside, not even having noticed the missing of such accessory until he was away from Emma but at the moment, another thing caught his attention as he smiled when he noticed the rose's petals.

Only two more to go.

Only two white petals waiting to be turned into red.



A/N: So, the first time describing a dance scene... I think it went well? I loved this chapter so much, I think it's my favorite until now. Before you leave, please check out this fanart of the fic that my friends showed me and I've been smiling since I saw it.

Thank you so much for reading, commenting and staying with me with this story.

Chapter Text

A/N: Long chapter! 5k words... I'm really sorry about it but this was a rollercoaster to write, just hope it makes sense.

´What the hell did I just saw?´

A certain raven-haired thought as he tried to accept the facts of what he had observed.

Never in a million years would he be waiting to actually see Emma being so near, just passing the forest... Had she always been there? Why was she there in the first place? Who was she with?

Ray saw how she danced so gracefully, allowing the man to twirl her around and back to him, seeing how Emma melted in his arms without any struggle.

Since when Emma knew how to dance?

Since when did she dressed up that way?

Since when... Since when did she ever look at someone like that?

No. This was surely all a trick, Emma wouldn't leave her family without giving a fight. Surely she was tricking the guy so she could find a way to escape.

The owls seemed to notice him as they got louder in the hideout he had found in between the bushes outside the gates and Ray couldn't help but wonder if the owner of the place didn't have anything to do.

Either way, as Ray tried to hide better, as soon as the owls stopped their sounds he got out again, just to curse under his breath as he didn't saw the two anymore.

Managing to jump over the gates, remembering what Emma had thaught him as some hacks to climb, Ray tried to look for them, trying his best to not make himself exposed as he moved in the most silent way as possible.

Somehow, in the large garden, he found himself lost, staying in an aww state under the large expansion of just the outside part of the house - he didn't even want to imagine the insides of the mansion itself.

Ray completely lost the notion of time as he tried to find himself in the unfamiliar surroundings until he heard footsteps coming near, causing him to hide behind of the trees as the two figures walked back inside the house.

The raven-haired trying to look at the unknown person but the darkness didn't allow him to see much, only noticing his traces better when he turned around as if checking for something while Emma had already gotten inside but soon after he followed her, closing the door behind him.

Ray stood there a little more, just looking at the closed door as wondering what he had just seen until his horse's noise broke him back. It should be around midnight and he was aware that if he stood there for much longer, the more dangerous it would be his way back. Suddenly, something seemed to catch his attention.

Walking forward, he reached out to grab something that had fallen to the grass, probably from when Emma and her companion had gotten up, just to realize he held a mask in his hands.

Why a mask? And such a weird format...

Reluctantly, he returns to his horse, finding it was too late for any detailed researches and runs back to grace field, already making a mental plan for the next day.

Phil had a lot of explaining to do.


For when Emma woke up, it was already around midday, causing her to freak out a little for oversleeping but as she was about to leave her room after dressing herself, she saw her reflection in the mirror and stopped.

She looked like her usual self: messy hair, baggy clothes, yet something didn't felt right.

The words of the previous night were still fixed on her head. Norman told her she was beautiful... Her. Until there, only Mama had told her that, therefor she never questioned how to be "attractive" or see the need of such but she wanted that Norman would look at her like he did last night.

The glint of his blue eyes still sent shivers down her spine and she saw her blush increase as she remembered the events of her first kiss, her fingers coming up to her lips, softly tracing them.

She still felt the pleasure of feeling Norman's lips against hers, how gentle they were despite the roughness of his skin. She wanted to feel that again. And then there they were, the butterflies she always had read about, exploding on her stomach as soon as she leaned into his kiss.

Walking to one of the closets, she saw the many clothes that there were, not even once wearing them as she felt that they wouldn't fit her but seeing herself in a dress like the one Norman had given her gave her a little more of confidence.

After a long while, she stared at herself, seeing the red dress that fit her figure. It was a simple, knee-length dress, with an orange waistband over. A couple of red feathers adorned the chest area and straps of the dress, making it even more comfortable to use. Her hair was still in a ponytail as she couldn't work much with it but it was a lot of less messy for sure.

She could barely recognize herself if she was being honest with herself but it wasn't in a bad way. She felt different, and she couldn't help but feel silly over the fact.

That was until she turned around to see that another hour had passed, causing her to let out a nervous yelp and immediately rushing to the kitchen, hoping she still could surprise Norman.

Unfortunately, the demon seemed to have arrived earlier as she saw the food they had for lunch already set on the table, yet Norman was nowhere in sight.

"Norman?" She called out, receiving a chuckle behind her, causing her to turn around just to feel her heart skip a beat when her emerald eyes met the shining blue that now was not hidden.

"It seems we took different routes here. I went to call you but you weren't in your room when I got there."

"Oh... Sorry, it was my turn to cook and-"

"It's fine. We went to sleep late, you should be tired." Emma melted a little when seeing how the smile he wore seemed to soften.

She followed his lead, accepting when he backed away her chair for her to sit. Only when she settled pleasantly on her seat she noticed a new comfort on her shoulders.

Seeing when Norman sat on his place that he didn't have his cloak on, she didn't even need a reassuring look to figure that such a piece of cloth was covering her exposed skin as just the scent of mint that she quickly assumed to Norman hit her.

The cloak was so comfortable and feeling Norman's scent on it only made it even better. Emma could only find enough strength to not cuddle up with the jacket there on the chair.

"I'm happy to see that you like the dress that I chose for you... Indeed they seem to fit you perfectly, but it's still a little too cold for you to walk around like that."

"Oh." So he did indeed noticed... How stupid had Emma been to just go with a summer dress in this cold... She just wanted to slap herself as she thought and regretted about her decision, but instead, she noticed something different on Norman too "You're not wearing your mask."

The albino smiled gently, his gaze waving to the side for a brief moment before meeting hers again "I think I lost it... But it's fine. I don't need it anymore, right?"

Emma cursed at the storm of butterflies that just one smile and gentle gaze caused, and with her hand she reached to the other side of the table, setting it on top of Norman's, seeing how he turned his hand and linked their fingers together. Sharp claws in between slender fingers. And they looked just perfect together.

After a brief moment of allowing their touches to linger, they broke away and resumed to eat, taking their time and chatting over the trivial things, as usual, reminding themselves that Phil was coming on the next day and already thinking about the fun they could have in the snow.


Phil's visit was shorter than usual.

Not only for the bad weather of the day, to which all the plans had to be canceled and instead they passed most of the time sitting by the fireplace, chatting and reading stories until Phil announced something.

"Mama is even worse... Now Gilda, Anna, and Ray do almost everything."

Emma lifted her head from Norman's shoulder, having been leaning on him for the most amount of time and his soft touch as he rubbed her arm wasn't helping in making her stay awake.

"Phil, how is everyone?" Norman could feel the concern and fear that he had been managing to keep it away from her, only now returning so strongly that it made his heartbreak a little at her own incoming sadness.

"We've been hanging on... Everyone misses you, Emma. Things have never been the same... Ray is acting weirder and weirder by day, the older kids are helping the most they can but Mama is the worst so far..."

Emma's eyes met aquamarine eyes, who now fully saw the anxiety in them. He hated seeing her like that, so much. Calmly rubbing her cheek as a reassurance, he showed her a small smile "I'll try to find some way to help. After all, it's my family's mission to protect Grace Field."

The emerald eyes widened, her mouth slightly open "Are you sure there's some way to help mama?"

"I can at least try. " Norman didn't want to give her fake hopes but a miracle would be needed - not that he would tell her that-, for now, that hopeful smile was all he wanted to keep on her.

Without any warning, Emma leaned in, catching Norman by surprise as her lips were placed on the corner of his own, only hearing Phil let out a shocked, yet playful "yuck", before the woman backed away her smile widening.

"Thank you, Norman."

"Can you warn the next time you do that so I can cover my eyes?" Phil pouted, earning a chuckle from Emma.

"Sorry, Phil." She apologized, her arms coming to wrap the young boy and pull him to them, hugging him close as she leaned comfortably against Norman.

This felt too nice for Norman, holding Emma and seeing Phil so comfortable with them made Norman recall of his long lost family and being able to feel this again just made him want it to last much longer.

For when Phil was left by the gate, having gotten the chance of the rain stopping for moments so that Norman and Emma could return the boy safely, it was still day, unlike the other times, however, he didn't expect Ray to be waiting under a tree, right in front of the gates.

"I have some questions for you, Phil. Who is that one with Emma?"

Phil remained in silence, not wanting to give away Norman's trust. He knew Ray would be smart to figure out about Emma's condition but by his tone, it didn't look like he knew about Norman yet.

"Sorry Ray, I need to see Mama!" Phil gave his a bright fake smile, quickly rushing away, taken Ray by surprise and using Emma's ways to run in a way that Ray wouldn't catch him.

Needless to say that in all avoidance, Ray's annoyance only seemed to grow and so, he had to think in another plan, one that would be able to bring Emma's back.


A couple of days passed and Norman started to grow angrier by each minute he stared at the rose in his office. By now he was sure Emma loved him as he loved her so why the hell didn't the full petals turned red and free him from this curse?

An owl came by his window, looking alerted and by the growls it made, Norman could easily assume it was an unwelcoming visitor, causing him to walk to the window, even if he could smell the scent of the guest but seeing them there only caused his anger to grow without much of a reason other than frustration.

"Oh Norman, are you going somewhere?" Emma asks, catching him on her way to the library, seeing his rush to walk outside and the owl on his shoulder that only meant he was taking some sort of business.

"I have to leave for a couple of minutes, will you be okay here?"

The ginger-haired nodded, smiling at him "Of course, I'll be at the library, please take care and be careful."

"I will, thanks, Emma." He saw how her emerald eyes shone with expectation and his sudden frustration from the unexpected appearance suddenly vanished.

Carefully, his hands tilted her face upwards, only for him to lean down and place an affectionate kiss on her temple, leaning away to see blushed cheeks cutely adorning her cheeks.

Norman had to found a huge strength to back away and not lean in again, this time to not stop his kiss at her temple. Emma beamed a smile to him before continuing her way, allowing Norman to do the same.

He met the other demon outside the gate, more deeply into the forest than usual and as he expected, there she was, waiting for him.

" You're here often now Mujika..."

"I felt that you needed help." She replied, her hands hidden inside her cloak.

"Actually, yes, I do have one question. Why doesn't the last petal change?!" Norman stormed out, annoyed. He had done everything and anything for making her love him, and it seemed to be working so why didn't the stupid flower gave in to his wishes?

He wanted to be back to normal, even if Emma was okay with him like that. He wanted to be able to just... Be normal. Norman simply wanted to have a regular life with Emma, with her married with a human-like it's supposed to and not as an aberration that was a mix of a demon and a human.

He wanted that someday, he and his bride could finally start a family of their own, without their kids to be aware of this part of his past or... even worse with the genetics matters.

Until a theory appeared on his head about the rose:

What if Emma still didn't love him?

"I have no doubts that your soulmate returns your feeling Norman." Mujika spoke as if reading the cursed human's thoughts.

"Then... Why...?"

"Norman... You know what they say. If you love someone, you have to set them free." Then it finally clicked on what Mujika was aiming for. Norman knew how badly Emma still wanted to return to Grace Field, even more with the news of Isabella's condition getting even worse but... Could he really send her away?

"I have two things to reassure you." The maiden continued, removing two items from the pocket of her cloak, giving first a small jar with a blood-red liquid "This is a potion. If Emma gives this to Isabella, the woman will live on, but she needs to give it before it's too late. After that, there will be no problems that will keep her away from you and if she does indeed love you, she'll return to you."

Norman stared at the bottle, thinking about what was just said. So, it would be an even shorter period of being without Emma but still... There was the extremely concerning option that she would prefer to stay with her siblings rather than him.

"And this." Mujuka's voice broke his trail of thoughts once again, making Norman look at a necklace that she held. Although simply adorned with an eye-shaped item with a transparent jewel in the middle, Norman still felt a strong sensation from it "This is what we demons use in our own unions. It's a powerful spell that unites two souls together. You and your soulmate turn into one, slowly you'll start to sense their feelings and thoughts. It's like a wedding ring, actually, but as you know, we demons only mate with one only soul so this brings a deeper meaning to this jewel."

Norman took even more carefully the necklace, watching it getting warmer with his touch. Norman was sure Emma was the one for him but what if the necklace didn't react to it when she touched it?

If for one side his reassurances would be fulfilled if the necklace responded to her, on the other side if the chain didn't have the result he expected than the probabilities of his worries was even bigger.

After giving some more advice, the maiden bid her goodbye, wishing Norman good luck on his decisions and leaving the cursed human returning home with his worries.

Things didn't get any better when he unexpectedly saw Emma outside the house, her back leaning against the door as her concerned eyes widen up when seeing him.

"Norman, we... have guests."



When Emma was by the library, reading medical books that could help her finding something that would help, she wasn't expecting to hear the door being opened and closed but there was something that made her concerned.

Norman didn't have taken barely any time and he hadn't told a thing as soon as he entered.

Carefully, Emma peeked over the edges of the walls, looking for whoever had invaded the house and when reaching the kitchen, she picked out a frying pan in case of an attack in the last case scenario like the one that had broke in hadn't yet said a word.

Finally, she saw a shadow and tightening the grip on her weapon, she walked to behind the person, only to let the kitchen accessory fall to the ground with a loud thud when realizing who she was facing, causing the said individual to also turn around and seeing his eyes widen.


"Oi" He lifted one of his hands, the other staying inside his pocket "It's been a while, Emma."

"What... What are you doing here?"

"I came to bring you back home. Although I need to say I was expecting to have more troubles." He saw how Emma gulped, unsure of why such reaction. Didn't she want to return home?

"I-" Emma took a deep breath, trying to collect her thoughts "I can't leave Norman, Ray... This is my home now."

"So wait, are you seriously saying that you won't even be with mom in her last moments? Not even going to visit her?"

He was trying to make her guilty, or at least she felt that. Of course, she wanted to see mama, hug her and tell her how much she missed her but her words still remained. She couldn't leave Norman.

Maybe, she could try and make an offer of at least staying a month or so back in Grace Field... How would Norman even react to just request?

The sound of the owls echoed on the hallways, alerting Emma and Ray of the coming of Norman, which caused the confusion of Ray and the panic of Emma, who glared at the raven-haired "You stay here."

"Am I a dog...? Oi Emma, your boyfriend forgot this." Ray threw her the mask he had found on the other night, yet Emma didn't even bother to answer, only grabbing the mask out of instinct and quickly ran to outside, trying to think of something that would make this situation peaceful.

"what do you mean we have a guest?" Norman asked, walking side by side with Emma, fixing the mask she had given him.

"I think she means me." Ray's step coming to a stop as he had found his way to their direction, both of the parties stopping in either side of the empty hallway. "Who are you?"

"Ray!" Emma scolded him and just hearing the said name caused Norman's blood to run cold. And it seemed to be noticed by everyone present. The woman looked over the two presences in the room, trying to find a way to bring some peace "This is Norman... My fiancé."

"Your... Fiancé...?" Ray repeated, confused and letting the thought reach his brain before his laughter was so loud that it echoed throughout the whole house "Emma, that is a nice joke. Now seriously, why are you here?"

"Emma has no explanations to give to you." Norman spoke in an unfamiliar cold voice that Emma never recalled hearing... It was even scary if she didn't know how gentle Norman was. She could see how annoyed he was and it should be probably the first time the ginger-haired thought that Norman could also be annoyed or angry.

"So, basically, according to what I learned, you kidnapped her." The raven-haired pointed out, clicking his tongue as if he had solved a lost case, which only arouses Norman's anger.

"I came willingly." Emma interrupted both, coming to stop the discussion. Trying to calm down the albino, her arm interlocked with his, leaning her side against him and such response wasn't ignored by any of the men "And I love to live here with Norman."

"Hm. So, does your lover even knows about mom's condition? And even so, he doesn't allow you to visit us? Is he that possessive?"

In that Ray had caught her. Norman knew about Isabella's conditions but she didn't have time to talk to him about the issue to start with. Maybe if she would be nice about it...

"Emma, I have work to do. You know where to find me if you need me." Emma felt his arm slip from her grip, looking sad as the man walked past Ray, seeing how the raven-haired glared at him as if responding to glare from the demon. "Please escort the guest to the exit."

"I'm not leaving without Emma." Ray rose his voice and Norman could feel his nails ripping the inner cloth of his cloak.

Looking over his shoulder, Norman glared at the raven-haired "Then enjoy your stay."

None of the two moved until a loud slam coming from Norman's office door echoed in the hallways. When Ray turned around to face Emma, he was shocked to see the sadness that was in her eyes, those emeralds that were currently focused on the white floor underneath them.


"Ray... I know what you're trying to do but the situation is not that easy."

"What do you mean?" Ray asked but only received a sad smile in return, what was she hiding?

"Let's talk over dinner... You must be hungry and tired. I'm sure you can use one of the free rooms. So now, let's make pancakes! I miss them."

Something about the familiar excitement brought a smile back to his face, as if nothing had changed over all this time. He allowed himself to be dragged to the kitchen where they took their time with baking the pancakes,

As Ray cleaned some flour that was on Emma's cheek as it stood there from when they had cooked, only noticing it as they ate but to her surprise, he didn't tear his hand away after cleaning it, instead, she felt how he allowed his touch to linger.

"Ray? Is everything ok?" She asked concerned, her hand moving the raven bangs away from covering the hidden eye.

"Emma..." A stop, a deep breath, and then he continued "I missed you more than I expecting."

"Huh?" Emma was not sure where such speech was coming from, it was not at all in Ray's personality to act such away.

"I didn't think that the house would be so dull without you there... I look at you now and there's just something this comforting in you..."

"Ray..." She didn't like it. She didn't like where this was going at all. She couldn't allow Ray to leave with a heartbreak.

"Please come back to me-" With shock, Ray saw how Emma broke away from his touch, getting up from the table as she took the chance that they had both finished the meal and letting the dishes in the sink.

"You're tired. I'm going to show you one of the rooms. We can talk tomorrow."

Ray looked disoriented but he still allowed Emma to direct him to a vacant room, to where he would spend the night. Only when Ray's door was closed, Emma could let out a sigh of relief that even herself didn't know she had been holding on.

Looking ahead, she saw how Norman's office door was still closed, to which reminded her that he didn't come out to dinner.

"Norman? Can I come in?" She knocked on the door, calling out to him and was a bit surprised to see it actually opening.

"Is everything okay Emma?"

"I'm the one asking you that." She took the freedom to step into his comfort zone, her hands coming to his face and gently tracing the line of his mask and smiling when feeling his arms pulling her closer to him in a hug.

"I'm fine.. Was about to go to sleep, you should go to." He leaned down, kissing her forehead. His words told her to leave him but his body only urged her to never let go.

"You didn't even eat..."

"I'm not hungry. Come on, let me take you to your room." His grip on her softened as he started to release her but to Norman's surprise, Emma wrapped her arms around him, pulling him closer again.

"Take me to your room instead." The words caused that Norman felt his entire face on fire, only being able to mutter a "Heh?", which made Emma continue speaking " I want to stay with you tonight."

This didn't sound like a good idea. At all. But how could he ever refuse such look...

He couldn't. That was the problem.

He found that out when finding her tangled with him on his bed, her arm loosely hanging over his stomach while her other hand gently caressed the horn on the side of his head, earning soft purrs from the demon. His hand made small circles on her lower waist while the other bushed her wild hair.

His mask and cloak were currently tidily saved, while he had given one of his shirts to Emma to sleep with.

"Norman... " Emma broke the silence that was settled, hearing Norman hum in order to know she had his attention "Do you think... I can go back to Grace Field until Mama is better or... you know..."

The albino looked down, watching the sadness and concern that he hated to see but then Mujika's words were again on his head, making him untangle himself from Emma and going to his jacket, taking away the collar and the jar and walking back to the bed, sitting down on the edge and watching Emma getting closer to him.

"I went to see Mujika... An... An old friend, I guess. And she gave me this to help Isabella." She saw her eyes widen, carefully taking the bottle in her hands and watching the Licor " Mujika is fair when it comes to helping people. You can trust that Isabella will be fine."

"Wait... Does that mean you're allowing me to go...?"

Norman stared at her for a long time, before giving a small nod, trying to ignore his doubts about it and seeing how tightly Emma hug him it seemed like it was worth it.

"I also have another thing for you..." Placing his hands on her shoulders so he could back her away barely, just enough to look at her "I remember that I never really gave you any sorts of an engagement ring... But I found something that means even more."

"Norman... " Emma started but Norman went to put the necklace around her neck, watching as the eye in the middle changed the transparent jewel to an aquamarine tone.

The demon smiled as Emma looked at the necklace "It is indeed rightfully yours." She had his soul submissive to her, she belonged his body and soul, even if she wasn't aware of that. He moved her hair from her cheek, making her look at him again "I know this isn't exactly the perfect moment but I've been holding this question for a long time... Emma, marry me?"

"Norman..." her hands came to his cheeks, pulling him to her and carefully placing her lips on his. Just an innocent peck. "I don't need any ring or whatever... I really want to marry you when everything is solved."

He smiled, his hand coming to tangle in her hair and pulling her to him again, feeling her smile in his kiss, Their lips moved in sync even if the occasional inexperienced nose-bump still happened and caused them to laugh into the kiss, breaking it. However, it didn't stop them to just lean in once more.

"I promise I'll always return to you." Norman felt her whisper against his lips as they fell to the bed and Norman just wanted to fall for those words, wanting to trust in the woman he loved so deeply. Allowing himself to lean in into her kiss and letting the night's magic overtake their moment.

Yet when the morning rose up, as he watched Emma leave with another man, no matter the reason behind it, his heart twisted in pain.

As if it was mocking him, at the corner of his office, the twelve petals shone a blood-tone red and despite not feeling his horn, his claws or sharp teeth anymore, he couldn't find his happiness at the moment.

His curse was finally broken but he felt more pain than he had ever felt before.

Then finally, he realized something:

He would rather have to accept his whole existence as a curse but hold his sun in his arms than living free and without her.

Chapter Text

On the moment that Emma crossed the orphanage's door with Ray, it wasn't too long until she was crushed in a hug by all the tearful children than had came to greet her, surprised and excited to see their sister back with them.

"Emma! You're back!" She heard Shelly, who hugged her by the waist, her hug so tight it almost squeezed her.

Looking back at the child, Emma gave her a bright smile, ruffling with her hair "I am! But it's not permanently. You can consider it a short stay again.

Allowing the children to properly greet her and then proceeding to lead the younger ones to another room so they would be entertained while being in the warmth of the halls, there only stayed the younger adults of the place, gathered in one of the tables of the cafeteria with one cup of hot chocolate in front of each of them.

"Your return was not really that expected Emma. Everyone missed you." Gilda pointed out as she cleaned the blurriness that the puffs of smoke from the hot chocolate resulted in when in contact with her glasses, using the edges of her white shirt to clean up for the third in the past half-hour.

"I know but knowing the state Mama's in I just couldn't ignore it and rushed here again, at least until I'm sure Mama's okay."

"It was really nice of your adoptive family to have let you come back on your own. I mean, even worse when they knew that Ray went to grab you. It almost seems like a lovesick fool that went to grab you with the lame excuse and you two proceeding to leave the country or whatever."

"Actually... I wasn't really adopted." Emma confessed, dismissing Don's playful joke in the situation "It's a long story..."

And then she proceeded to explain that instead of a family, she was sent to be engaged to Norman, deciding with Mama to go and not giving any struggle with her decision.

She briefly told them what had happened in the past half-year, smiling fondly at the memories and that fact wasn't dismissed by any of them. However, as much as she felt good reminding how nicely Norman had treated her, she still kept the most intimate moments to herself, as well as being careful to not spill Norman's curse as she knew how he repulsed his part of his.

As she reminded herself of the good times she spent with Norman, she stared at her drink, the reminders of how tenderly he hugged her back when they were alone sitting in front of the fireplace with their own mugs of the same hot drink returned to her.

She saw how her melancholic smile disappears in the reflection of the cup and she has the need to take a long breath as she felt something wet running down her cheek.

"Emma?" She heard Ray's voice calling out, breaking her out of her trail of thoughts and looking up at the small group gathered, just for them to notice how teary her eyes were starting to get "Why are you crying?"

"I-" The ginger-haired looked as shocked as them, bringing her hand to her cheek to indeed confirm the trail of the tear that had escaped. She didn't fully understand why she had that kind of reaction, it didn't even pass a full day since she had last seen Norman yet it had seemed just distant memories and the thought of them caused her so many mixed emotions that made her heart tightening but she didn't want to concern her family so she tried to give them the best smile she could make in the moment "I'm just happy to see you all again."

It wasn't a full lie and she could see their expressions softening, even if she still recognized the uneasiness in Ray's forest green eyes, to which she looked away, still not sure how to feel in his presence.

Talking for a little longer, Emma was then directed to Isabella's room, where she laid in her bed, staring at the window. She saw how the amethyst eyes widened as they were laid on Emma, who was accompanied by Gilda and Anna, and Emma couldn't help but rush in to embrace her sick motherly figure, burying her face in the older woman's chest as she did as a child, looking for the comfort that only a mother can provide.

"I can see that Norman took good care of you." Isabella commented, her hand softly brushing Emma's long tresses as the girl relied on her warmth, feeling her nodding and letting out a quiet hum in agreement.

"He did Mama." The ginger-haired moved away a little, enough to allow some personal space and sitting on the edge of the bed to have a more decent talk "Norman is such an amazing person. He gave me this to help you."

With a smile, Emma removed the small bottle that she hid in her pant's pocket and gently placed it on her mother's hand, sensing how all eyes were curiously looking at the blood-red liquid.

"What is this Emma?"

"Medicine. Norman told me to give it to you..."

"I see. I appreciate it." Isabella gave a small smile at the concerned and Gilda sees that Emma and Isabella would appreciate some time alone, with that in mind she quickly thought of something.

"I'm going to grab a cup of water to help in case it tastes bad, Anna will you come with me?" Anna hums in agreement, probably also sensing Gilda's reasons and following the green-haired as both girls leave Emma and Isabella alone in the room.

"How are you feeling Mama?" Emma asked when silence overtook the room once again, her mind still trying to take in that she was indeed in front of her mother again.

"It's nothing you need to worry Emma, I'm fine."

"Last time you said that I was still here and now look at you... You look so fragile... But I promise you, Mama, I'll make sure you're fine and back to take care of us."

Isabella smiled at the bright determination in Emma's eyes, something she had seen all these eighteen years.

"If Norman sent this, then I'm sure of that. Until when do you plan on staying?"

"Actually..." The mother saw how the glint of the emerald eyes disappeared lightly as the girl shifted her glance to the floor "I will stay here until I'm sure you're okay."

The answer shocked Isabella a little as she still remembered the deal she had made with Norman. He wanted a bride, and Emma was obviously the right choice, so why would he let her go after having what he desired?

"The remedy can take months to do an effect... Are you sure you shouldn't be with Norman?"

The smile was once more in Emma's face, either to reassure Isabella - or even Emma herself- of her own words "He said he trusted me when I promised that I would return. He should know better than anyone how that potion works."

Isabella still had her doubts but it wasn't a good time for them, they were finally reunited again and the woman was just glad to see her girl again, to which she smiled at.

"Well then, let's appreciate the time when you're with us again. I still want to know everything that happened these past months, young lady."

The ginger-haired laughed and then excitedly repeated the same story she had told to her siblings, reviving the memories she had created with Norman and entertaining her mother, who smiled tenderly at the happiness that Emma shone with.


Days passing to turn into weeks and the poison was finally starting to show its effects, much to Emma's happiness.

Even if the first days had all been happiness and fun, with Emma being constantly sharing her stories and playing with her siblings, it didn't take too long for her to start dozing off and excluding herself from the rest, deciding to spend her days - and sometimes nights- in the attic of the orphanage, the place where she still could see Norman's house through the window.

Anna and Gilda still remember Emma's breaking point to that state. It had been another evening the three girls had stayed with Isabella as the older woman rested in her bed and once again the ginger-haired spoke about her stay with Norman, this time opening up to share one of their intimate moments.

"And I just had this huge dress and even so I somehow managed to not fall, well, it helped the fact that Norman held me the whole night as we danced" Emma exclaimed, excited, even giving one small twirl as she still could feel the dress floating around her with her movements.



Both Gilda and Anna asked at the same time, which caused Isabella to laugh and Emma to hum at the curiosity of the ladies in the room, smiling even brightly "oh it was the best night I could ever even dream of. It was so magical and how disappointed I was when it ended... "

"Emma dear, don't take this the wrong way but..." Isabella interrupted the giggling mess that the younger ones had turned into, having her moment to interrupt the illusion that Emma was creating of her memories "why did you return? You know you're always welcome here but we both know you don't belong here anymore."

The question shocked the girls but Emma was the most affected one. Didn't mom want her there anymore?

Seeing the fear and sadness overtaking the happiness Emma carried, Isabella reached out to grab her hand, rubbing the back of it softly as she tried to explain herself better.

"Both your heart and mind know your place and you know it isn't here...You've grown so much, you turned into an even more beautiful person that what you already were and everyone can see that."

"But Mama... What about here? I lived here my whole life, believing this was my place..."

"You know something, Emma?" Isabella broke out of character as she interrupted her daughter but she refused to let her hurt herself right in front of her "In life you have to make many choices, it's implied in the process of growing up and even if you said that you want to stay forever here the future plays tricks on us."

"Are you saying I need to choose the orphanage or Norman?"

"Not necessarily saying you need to fully let go of either but tell me, Emma, how do you imagine a future with Norman?"

The ginger-haired girl's cheeks turned a light tone of pink as her gaze looked anywhere but the present girls in the room, yet everyone noticed the lovesick smile she carried as she thought of the question.

Getting no answer out loud, even if Isabella only wanted the girl to think about the scenario and not necessarily give her any explanations, she then proceeded to ask another question.

"And now, how do you imagine a future without him?"

Her emerald eyes now looked at Isabella shocked, how could she even think of such a scenario? Emma couldn't and refused to think of a future without Norman, it was just impossible for her to keep her brain from thoughts of him for five minutes left alone never more be able to think of a scenario where he wasn't there with her.

"Emma, dear. I want you to be happy and nothing makes me happier to know you're with someone that loves you so deeply to let you go. You should follow what you want and I know you want a future that you yourself created, with Norman."

Emma smiled under her mother's advice and mother does indeed know what's best, doesn't she?

That had been the last time someone had seen Emma with a smile.

That had been the last day where Emma didn't drift away from them.

And Ray felt guilty of seeing her like that, no matter how much he admitted to like to have her around again... It just wasn't the same and he knew he needed to solve things quickly.


A month had passed since Emma had arrived back to Grace Field and Isabella was finally back to her normal healthy self, or at least far much better as she could already do the normal chores in the house.

Ray knew it wouldn't take too long for Emma to go back to Norman as he saw how she seemed to cheer up day by day, for sure not just happy to see changes in Isabella's condition.

He had his opportunity to talk to her when the two of them got in charge of washing the dishes after one dinner, the house was in complete silence aside from the water running as they cleaned the dirty food off the plates.

"Why do you want to stay with him...? He's a cold lonely man" With those questions Ray had broken the silence in between them, however, he wasn't expecting how quickly Emma got into her defensive mood.

"He's not! I mean, yes, he was lonely but he's far from being a cold person... Norman's so kind and smart... And he always smiles so warmingly bright." Her glare that she had dedicated to his insults started to slowly fade away as she went back to focus on the dishes as she spoke, a warm smile that Ray had never seen on her was on her lips as she spoke about the other man "He showed me so many amazing things and just showed me another world that I never knew I was even looking for. Every day was just so fun even if it were just the two doing the same things over and over. Sure, it's a lot more calmer than here but there's always such a home-like feeling."

As she closed the water after finishing cleaning the last dish, there was no noise, to what made Ray's realization echo through the empty and dark hallways of the house.

"Emma... You really love him, don't you?"

"I-..." Her green eyes widened, for what she didn't fully understand. Maybe it was due to the realization had also hit her for the first time? Sure, she knew she felt something really strong for the demon but being so straightforward called out like that... It took her out of shock, yet she knew her answer "Yes. I love him. I love him so much, Ray."

"I see..." Ray's arms fell to his side in defeat. He couldn't do it anymore. No matter how much he longed to have her there, he couldn't bring himself to force her to stay away from what she loved.

"Ray..." He didn't even know how but suddenly, her arms were around him as she pulled him into a hug, burying her face into his neck as she reached there "I love you, never forget that. You're my best friend and I have no idea how my life would be without you."

Smiling sadly, his arms wrapped around her, returning the hug and taking in the scent of the shampoo that still lingered in her "I love you too. You better make me the best man at the wedding."

As Emma laughed it seemed like everything had been solved, the awkward atmosphere that surrounded them for the past days finally fading away as they hugged it out.

" It stinks." That was until Ray decided to break the comfortable silence with a lame joke that caused Emma to scold him with a playful slap on his shoulder but he quickly grabbed her own shoulders, after taking a sniff of the air and Emma saw fear in the green eyes "Emma, we need to bring everyone to outside."

"Heh? RAY?" She called out, rushing to run after the man as he ran to the rooms, trying to wake up everyone and ordering them to rush to outside. As Emma got closer to the rooms she finally started noticing the strong smell that Ray was pointing out "What is this smell?"

With the most serious expression she had ever seen Ray using, she gasped in shock as he mutters the word.



A figure stood outside the Grace Field's Orphanage as he watched how the flames engulfed the house, the red overtaking the light colors of the building as they silently destroyed the house.

"Sir Ratri, there are no sounds or way to escape from the part of the kids, they are surely all dead by now." One tall man walked to the said figure, warning them on the results of the plans, to which the slender figured gave a soulless chuckle.

"Good. Thank you for the information, Andrew. " The green eyes of the man looked at his sidekick, before looking again at the burning house with a large, twisted smile "Finally this will repay the debt my brother should have paid. It was all his fault, right Andrew?"

"Of course sir. This is all just a payback. A fair payback."

Sparing a few more seconds to look at the house, Ratri then walked back to his horse "I'm not sure how nicely the wild demons will appreciate burnt meat but that's not my problem. I shall still receive the money that my idiotic brother made me lose with all of this protection pact he had with this house. However, even if my brother is not around anymore, there's still a business I have to take care of."

Andrew nodded, silently agreeing with his boss and without any other word, they both galloped away from the scene, not bothering to notice how two kids ran from a bush back to the back of the house, where everyone was busy trying to gather water from the fountain and trying to stop the fire from spreading.

"Mama!" Isabella turned to see Thoma and Lani rushing to them, both speaking at the same time, to which Isabella had to turn their sayings into one single coherent line of thought "We saw this creepy guy! He was the one that did this and was without a doubt planning on killing us because of a protection pact of the Minerva family with Grace Field."

Emma immediately turned around, leaving the bucket of water that she carried as she rushed to the trio, looking at Isabella, who quickly understood Emma's worries.

Norman was in danger.

The older woman turned around, seeing how determined her children tried to extinguish the fire, and the looked again to Emma, putting her hands on her shoulders "Emma, please be careful."

"I will. You guys be safe too." The ginger-haired gave a quick hug to her mother before rushing to the stables, hearing steps following her and was shocked to see Ray running alongside her, giving her a smile.

"You didn't think I would let you go die alone, did you?"

Despite the situation, Emma couldn't help but chuckle, feeling a little more comfortable with Ray's support. She would truly need help in case of things coming to turn worst than she expected. Thankfully the children and Isabella would take care of the fire easily as they were already into the task so Emma knew she wouldn't need to worry that much about it.

Emma never remembered to have had rushed so badly, her horse ran so fast that the animal's legs seemed they could break anytime but the woman couldn't think straight.

She needed to reassure Norman's safety.

Just the thought of something happening to him was making her eyes tear up, causing her vision to get blurry so she quickly shook away such thoughts before the tears could damage her capacity of vision.

Please, please, let him be safe. It was the only thing she could think of, hoping she would reach him before Ratri would.

Emma wouldn't allow anything to happen to her fiancée.

She swore that she would keep Norman safe.

Even if it costed her own life.


A/N: this was a lit episode! It brought the house down with the intensity of the scene.

Okay, Okay, jokes aside. The villain finally revealed itself and now I'm curious to know how many thought about this guy to be the antagonist of the fic.

Ray was honestly never my pick as the bad guy, even jealous I don't think I can ever see Ray as a character to go down to the level of going the extra mile to wanting to kill someone because of jealousy.

And now either good or bad news according to your point of view: Guess what's coming next? That's right, the big finale of The Demon's Bride!

Even if this fic will only have 10 chapters, there will be some side chapters - not really that relevant to the story as they're random ideas that I had while writing but didn't fit in the main story.

Either way, hope you enjoyed the chapter as always and thanks for reading!