Actions

Work Header

The Promised Happy End

Chapter Text

.

The bliss that resonates in your presence
so softly
Ignites the flames that radiates
Deep in my heart

From the echoing echoing words you whispered,
from the twinkling twinkling in your eyes
I sensed a slight and different movement
Overflowing emotions
That halo of yours is so brilliant

—From the lyrics of “Starlight Keeper” by Momocashew.

.

[ Fascination ]

Norman is fascinated with Ray.

He doesn’t remember when it all had started—when he starts to find Ray so fascinating, when he unconsciously starts to observing the dark haired boy so often. All he knows is, the little laughs Ray sometimes let out, the cheeky grin Ray often exchanges with him, the soft smiles Ray very, very rarely show to anyone, it all becomes little precious moments he’s so fascinated with that he collects in his memory. Even the cute little pout Ray makes every time he finds the words he hasn’t yet to understand in the book he’s reading, or the adorable frown on Ray’s face every time he’s just some steps away from beating Norman in chess, Norman is fascinated with it all.

Norman begins to think that Emma’s silliness finally has started rubbing on him, after all these years.

Before, Norman thought that Emma was the most fascinating of them all. No, she still is, Of course, with those incredible amount of contagious joy and endless energy of hers that can’t help but draw everyone around her in to her presence.

But no, Ray is different. What makes Ray fascinating is really different than Emma’s. Norman knows, Norman understands at least that much—even though he doesn’t understand the reason and cause behind it yet. Because Emma isn’t fascinating in the way that draws Norman’s attention so often to her little gestures—unlike how Ray is. Because Emma isn’t fascinating in the way that’s making Norman eager to memorize every little details of her every rare precious expressions—unlike how Ray is.

Norman is so, so unbelievably curious. What is with this newfound fascination? What is with this sudden burst of eagerness? What is this certain feeling that he gets whenever he’s observing everything that is Ray’s?

Of course, Norman is no fool. He has his own suspicions. A hypothesis that makes his face warm whenever he thinks about its possibility. But Norman is reluctant to ask anyone. To ask Mama, to ask Emma- wait. Especially not Emma. Because Emma is kind and playful and observant. So, so playful and observant that Emma might just confirms his suspicions and then start teasing him about it all the time. …Well, no, Emma’s not that evil. But still.

So Norman does the most logical thing. That is, to just keep these newfound discoveries all to himself. For now, at least.

.

“Nooormaaan…! You’re spacing out again!”

In front him, Emma, in all her 140 cm height glory of a 8 years old body, is pouting and stares down at him as if he has just stolen her favorite dessert.

Norman smiles at her sheepishly. “I’m sorry, Emma. What was the story you were telling me again? Oh, wait. It’s the one about the merfolk, right?”

“Nooo! As I thought, you’re not paying attention, ugh! It’s about those snakes that come to life from a stone! The snake of- uh- of….al- al-something!”

“’The snake of al-something’?”

“Uhhh, don’t tease me! I just forgot the name.” Emma is pouting again.

Norman laughs at the girl’s antic. “I’m sorry, Emma. Come on. I’ll hear your story properly this time. Promise!”

But Emma is still pouting. “No. You’ll just start spacing out again in a few minutes.”

“Eeh? You don’t believe me? Even though I have promised?”

“Well, you always get like that whenever Ray isn’t around after all.”

If Norman was drinking right now, he probably would’ve choked and spilled the water all over Emma.

“W-what? What are you talking about, Emma? Me getting like what?”

“Don’t even bother to deny it.” Emma rolls her eyes and flops down beside him. “You miss Ray, don’t you? You’re always spacing out and wearing gloomy expression like that whenever Ray’s getting sick. Or whenever Ray’s too invested in his books to play with anyone. Or whenever Ray disappears to that hiding spot that he never tell us where doing whatever he also refused to tell us about.”

For once in a very rare moment, Norman is speechless. Wow, Emma is way more observant than he initially thought.

“I mean, I’m not teasing you about it or anything. Nat also gets like that whenever Anna is getting sick. And Anna gets sick a lot lately. Poor them.”

Emma then twirls her strands in her fingers and looks at him with unreadable expression.

“Ray isn’t sick. I checked the infirmary earlier. I think he’s cooped up with his books in the library again since morning. It’s been sooo many hours! It’s not healthy right? Norman, I think you should check up on him, after all,” Emma tells him with obvious concern in her voice.

Norman smiles at her and gets up. “Got it.”

“I would love to drag him out myself, but Ray always gets super angry if I disturb his reading.” Emma pouts again.

Norman laughs and reaches out to ruffle Emma’s hair before heading out to the library.

.

“Hey, Ray.”

Ray jumps from the sudden whisper beside his ear.

Norman finds the boy burying himself over a very thick book at the most secluded corner of their library. Ah, of course. That’s just so Ray.

“What are you reading?”

Ray doesn’t answer, only tilts his book up a bit so Norman can reads the title.

Electromagnetic Theory and Transmission Lines.

Norman hums internally. That, also, is so Ray.

Ray has always been interested in books that have anything to do with engineering and machinery. Ray seems so passionate about it, and it’s something Norman never really understands—Ray isn’t really a passionate person in anything else after all.

“What is it about?” Norman asks.

“Theories about electromagnetic and transmission lines,” Ray says, pretty much quoting the book’s title itself.

“Why are you so interested in this book? It’s not like we’re going to build any transmission tower or something around here.”

Ray lets out a deep sigh, a sign that he isn’t in the mood to be bothered with questions today.

“What are you sticking here for? Go play hide-and-seek with Emma and the others.”

“Mhm…sometimes I like being in quiet places too, you know?”

Sometimes I just like watching you in silence.

“Well, in that case, sometimes I like being able to read comfortably alone too, you know?”

Norman laughs. “I know. I’ve known Ray for more than eight years here after all.”

Only then does Ray lift his eyes off the book. He raises an eyebrow at Norman.

“Well, I know that. But,” Norman continues, “I don’t think I should leave you alone this time. Else you might keep continue with your reading until you pass out here.”

Ray scoffs. “Emma sends you here, doesn’t she? I see her peeking here more than a few times just this past hour.”

Norman laughs. “That’s just Emma for you. She’s just worried.”

Then, scooting in closer and purposely leaning up his head onto Ray’s shoulder, he says more quietly, “Me too… Whenever Ray gets like this, I’m worried too.”

Ray tenses up a few seconds before relaxing again and letting his body leans a bit into Norman’s. Norman closes his eyes and breathes deeply, savoring Ray’s scent. Ray has a unique calming scent, but he can’t really describe it.

We can just fall asleep here like this, Norman thinks.

They have been doing that too often—he and Ray, and often Emma too, tangled up sleeping together in random places—that everyone now are just too exasperated and given up on telling them that they have each their own perfectly comfortable and functional beds here.

“You shouldn’t worry too much about me,” Ray says after a while of silence. “I can take care of myself just fine. There are much more exciting things to be thinking about than my health, anyway.”

“Like what?”

“Like…I don’t know. Dinosaurs fun facts? Where giraffes live? How to bake the cookies without burning the oven down?”

Norman rolls his eyes, even though Ray can see it right now from his position.

“Dinosaurs are supposed to be dead from this world millions years ago. Emma is the only one here who’s excited about giraffes, and it wasn’t me who burned the cookies last week. It was Don.”

“Are you here solely to bother me with these silly things?” Ray says instead.

Getting up and move so he can face Ray, Norman pushes Ray’s book down gently to force Ray’s focus on to him. “I don’t know what your idea of ‘I can take care of myself’ is, but I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t include severely exhaustion from lack of sleep on your part.”

Ray widens his eyes. Norman smiles sadly.

“I notice it, you know. The bags under your eyes. The way whenever I wake up in the middle of night your bed is often empty. Your face becoming paler each day, and you have barely any energy to focus on anything that aren’t tests or reading these books. How can you say that I shouldn’t be worried?”

Ray avoids his eyes and looks to the side, seemingly at loss at what to say.

Norman is silently studying the expression on Ray’s face when suddenly an idea hit him.

“Let’s make a deal, Ray!” Norman says cheerfully, probably too cheerfully that it comes out as eerie. But well.

“What deal?” Ray asks warily.

“My birthday is in two days,” he begins. Ray nods, signaling that he remembers.

“Stay away from any books for a whole day that day and spend time playing with me instead. If you do that, I promise I won’t bother you in the library for a whole week.”

Ray blinks. “Well, it isn’t like your presence really bothers me. Usually. But I won’t say no to a peaceful reading time without your nosy questions every few minutes.”

“Wha– ‘Nosy’?!” Norman pouts and Ray smirks at him.

“Fine, I’ll take you on your deal,” Ray finally says. Norman beams up happily. 

 “But for now, go find a book you actually like and stop bothering me with my books.”

“Okay, okay~”

They spend the rest of the afternoon reading, until they both dozed off tangled up with each other under one of the library staircases and Emma eventually wakes them up at night for dinner.

Chapter Text

.

Don't stay quiet with such a sad face.
Blurred poison is seeping in,
Stir it, so that it wouldn’t get muddled.
Though if it’s already pitifully ruined,
We still do have some time left, right?
 
Quasi calm. I won’t just stay in vain anymore.
Quasi love. I have to move forward.
 
We can get through this.
We have each other to keep us warm.
I want to keep protecting you, so
No matter how many times
I will stand back up again and again.

—Translation from the lyrics of “Lamp” by Cö shu Nie 

.

[Realization]

Human is a creature of habit.

Or so what those psychology books say.

Unlike Ray, Norman never makes it his goal to read every single book in their library. But that’s not to say he rarely touches a book. Although he mainly loves mystery fictions and books with riddles or math paradoxes more, with his recent fascination of observing and savoring Ray’s every single gestures and expressions, he also develops a particular interest in psychology lately.

That’s how Norman found out about the Pavlov Theory.

“Behavior is learnt by a repetitive association between the response and the stimulus.”

It’s what was said in the book about Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning. And curse it, if Norman isn’t going to utilize this knowledge to his best intentions. Especially his best intentions regarding a certain person who he cares so much.

Ideally, the “conditioning” is a process that takes a considerably long time—it could last from days to years, even. Unfortunately, Norman only has a limited time of exactly one day here to give it a shot. But well, it’s all fine. What’s the use of his big brain there anyway, if it wasn’t for making and adjusting plans such as these so that it could be convenient with the circumstances of the situations.

Of course, ideally it would be best to form a plan without unrushed execution time. But Ray is smart and observant. He sure would’ve been suspicious had Norman initiated a deal with such prolonged time. That’s why, the circumstance to be offered in the deal has to be perfect. And here comes the perfect opportunity: his own birthday!

Asking someone to indulge in one’s wishes on their birthday surely isn’t a stretch, right?

Well...adding to that, Norman actually feels a kind of guilty for about to manipulate Ray like that. But, again, Ray is smart. There’s little chance of Ray hasn’t read any of the behavioral psychology books in their library selections. Still, on the off chance of that, Ray is particularly observant at things. Not really Emma’s keen sense of instinctual observation level, but still notable.

With those things in the calculation, Ray sure would be able to figure out what he’s doing in no time, and Norman would soon have nothing to feel guilty again. Ray would confront him about it, and Norman would defends himself that he’s doing it because he really cares about Ray’s well-being. Then, of course, Ray would get all embarrassed and they both would laugh about it. Everything’s just perfect.

Now to the execution of the said plan.

.

“Hap-py birth-day, Normaaan...! Here’s your gift!”

As expected, Emma is the first one who wishes him birthday.

“Thank you, Emma.”

Norman smiles at her, and Emma beams up. He lets Emma settles the seemingly hand-made pale colored flower crown on top of his head before accepting her big hug.

“So cute! It suits you!”

Norman laughs. “Thanks.”

Glancing around the sleeping room, he internally sighs in disappointment as he doesn’t find the one person he really looks forward to see today.

Looks like I’m already on a late start.

Sometimes Ray would wake up early to sneak some time to read before breakfast. It doesn’t happen often, though. Probably just his luck that Ray does it today.

Oh, but don’t get him wrong. He loves Emma, really. But he already has a special plan for Ray today, after all. And the plan won’t be able to execute itself if the subject isn’t there.

“Are you looking for Ray?”

Yup, observant Emma as always.

“Yes, I’m going to look for him.”

“I will go with you!”

“Well...” Norman averts his eyes, hurriedly thinks for an excuse. “I’d love to have your help, but I think you better go back to your room. Jemima and the other little kids must be looking for you now. They always ask for your help with dressing up in the morning, don’t they?”

“Ah, of course! I can’t just leave Gilda alone to help them. Especially since she never gets it right with braiding Anna’s hair.”

Emma giggles and waves at him. “See you at breakfast table, birthday boy!”

Norman laughs at the nickname and waves back.

This leaves me being able to talk with Ray alone, now.

Norman holds back his giddy grin and hurriedly go to the library.

.

“Gotcha!”

He pokes Ray’s cheek.

Ray, who’s just about to reach out to one of the heavy books in their library’s second floor bookshelves, jumps in surprise at the sudden intrusion.

Norman takes a brief moment to capture Ray’s startled expression before he lets out a chuckle and moves to stand between Ray and the bookshelf.

“I think you forget something.”

Norman smiles and stares up at Ray in faux innocence.

“Really? I wonder what it is...” Ray plays along.

Pushing Norman aside and putting back the books in his arms into the shelves accordingly, Ray lets Norman almost believe his words before he suddenly turns around and pinches Norman cheek.

“Happy Birthday, idiot.”

Ray smirks.

“You could do without pinching my cheek,” Norman grumbles, rubbing his stinging cheek.

Ray rolls his eyes at Norman’s reaction. “Ah, c’mon you spoiled birthday boy.”

Ray then ruffle his hair before dragging him to the dining hall. Norman blushes all along. If it was a romance novel, he’d get all embarrassed and started stammering unintelligible words at Ray. But it’s no romance novel, and Norman is honestly way more ecstatic rather than embarrassed at the gesture.

At the dining hall, Emma and the others are already waiting for him. He smiles at them. A few of the younger kids give him some drawings as a presents. Mama bakes a special cake for him.

It really is a good day.

.

For all his complex internal monologue about the plan, the execution is actually quite simple. Poking Ray’s cheek every time Ray reaches out for a book, that’s his only plan. Distracting Ray and making the other boy gets used to it.

Though, as simple as it is, the said plan actually requires more effort than Norman expected. Just in the last few hours alone, Ray already almost reaching out for a book in more number of times than Norman can count in one hand. It’s more of an unconscious act at this point, and Norman wonders since when Ray’s reading has becomes more of a habit than a hobby for the boy.

“Ray,” he calls out.

Ray is sitting under his usual tree. Thankfully, without a book on his lap as usual.

“Ray, let’s play hide and seek with everyone!”

Ray stares at him unimpressed. “It’s your birthday. You can afford to be a bit more selfish, you know.”

“Huh?”

“I mean, I thought you’d drag me to a long hours of chess match or something. Instead of indulging others playing outside under this hot sun.”

“Well...it’s not like I really dislike playing outside with them.”

And it’s true. Sure, playing chess with Ray would be a lot of fun. Ray and Mama are the only ones who can really match him in chess nowadays. And yeah, playing outside on a hot whether like this day usually drains his stamina a bit quickly. But it’s not like he particularly hate playing with the other kids. Besides, he kind of wants to drag Ray to play with everyone more while he has the chance. Maybe Ray spends too much of his time reading alone because he’s gotten used to barely spending his time with the others.

Norman wonders what he should say to convince Ray to join their game. Ah, Emma would really be a lot better with these kind of things.

Just as he thought that, Ray abruptly gets up and makes his way towards everyone.

“Everyone! Let’s play hide and seek! Norman will be the ‘it’!”

“Wha- Hey! What gives you right to suddenly deciding it like that? If anything, I should get to be the one who decides since today’s my birthday!” Norman playfully protests.

Nah. You’re the one who wanted to drag me, so I get to decide,” says Ray dismissively.

Norman huffs. Ray is good at hide and seek—despite actually rarely play it.

“Hide and seek is like a chess game, but with you body instead of the chess pieces.”

—is what Ray always says.

Norman never exactly agree nor disagree at Ray’s opinion. But if anything, Ray really does play hide and seek with the same concentration, meticulousness, and complicated tactics as he’s playing a chess game.

Forty-five minutes goes by, and he’s left with Ray as the sole survivor he hasn’t manage to caught yet. He even already caught Emma at the thirty-eight minutes mark. The faked fall act and faux sad expression always do wonders on the girl.

Oh well, he still has about fifteen minutes left.

Walking deeper into the forest, Norman changes his tactics and begins tethering down the fences instead of looking for Ray in the bushes. He blinks his eyes tiredly. The sight in front of him is getting a little blurry now.

The trees surrounding their orphanage are spare enough to get some rays of sunshine seeping through. The heat of the sun is beginning to get his mind clouded. Norman curses silently. It usually takes him at least an hour and a half before he runs out of stamina.

Must be because I just spent a good ten minutes trying to outrun Emma.

Mind busy cursing out his body and mulling over surly, Norman doesn’t notice the particularly huge branch laying down just near the fence. He trips over the branch, making him promptly lose his balance and stumble down. He’s trying frantically to grapple for some leverage when a pair of hands catch him just in time.

“Careful there, idiot.”

Norman blinks up. “Ray...?”

Ray steadies him. “Come on. You win. Let’s get back inside before you pass out on me.”

Norman scowls. “This can’t be counted as a win.”

Ray shrugs. “Whatever. Suit it yourself.”

.

In the end, Norman doesn’t get to spend time with Ray again until it’s almost diner time.

Just like in any other days, Ray seems to suddenly vanish mysteriously during midday. Norman never really pays much mind into it before. Ray isn’t exactly the most extrovert person in the house. So it’s understandable, he thinks, if Ray wants to have some hours to himself alone. But now that he has some kind of resolve to spend his time with Ray as much as possible today, he can’t help but notice just how often Ray seems to be missing.

It all brings him to another question: just what is it that Ray always doing by himself when he’s alone? Does Ray have some sort of secret that he hides from everyone? If so, what is it? Is it something interesting? Something embarrassing? Something......dangerous?

Norman bites his lip.

Does Mama know it?

Knowing Ray, it’s probably either something really embarrassing or......dangerous. Though his mind can’t really come up with anything involving any possible danger here. The only thing that springs up his mind is dangerous chemicals. They learned it on a few of Mama’s lessons. There are also a few books in the library written about it.

But...Ray experimenting with dangerous chemicals? It’s possible, but- If so, where does get the chemicals from? Mama supplying it for him? There’s also the unanswered crucial question: Why?

What is it that Ray is doing, and just why?

Everything are merely just baseless assumptions as of now. And Norman is not one with baseless hypothesis.

The thought of Ray doing something possibly dangerous makes him really uncomfortable.

Does Mama at least know it?

Come to think of it, Ray seems to interact with Mama more often than any other kids. That includes Emma, and Emma is the one who likes spending time with Mama the most out of they all.

Norman rules out the possibility of Ray liking spending time with Mama even more than Emma. As far as he remembers, Ray always avoids being dismissive of any form affection from Mama. Norman always thinks it’s because Ray is easily embarrassed. But think about it again, isn’t that weird, getting embarrassed to the point of disliking even the slightest form of affection?

Again, he only realizes these things now. For all the time he spends silently admiring and observing the other boy, it seems like there are many things that he actually doesn’t know yet about Ray.

Norman sighs in disappointment as his brain couldn’t come up with any believable hypothesis again. What comes out of his mind are instead unrealistic scenarios out of pure worry and anxiousness—and yes, that means monsters, demons, and the such. It seems that Emma’s impressive imaginative mind is rubbing off on him.

“Stop it with that pouty frown. It doesn’t look as cute on you as it does on the younger kids.”

Norman glances at Ray flatly, not amused by the other boy’s humor. Inside, he actually jumps in surprise at Ray’s voice seemingly coming out of nowhere.

“If I recall correctly, I’m sure that two days ago I made a promise with a certain person about that person to be spending time with me on my birthday. Which is, unless the calendar lies or the tart cake that I ate this morning actually wasn’t a birthday cake, supposed to be this day. But well...it seems that that person can’t really keep his end of the promise.”

“Ah, that. Sorry.”

Norman snorts at the lack trace of guilt in Ray’s dismissive tone.

“I mean, I’m sure the promise didn’t include me being a Pavlov guinea pig experiment on my part. Unless my memory deceives me, of course.”

Norman widens his eyes. “You- you realize it?!”

“Do you really expect me not to realize it?”

“Well...just not this soon. But ah, it’s you after all.”

Norman lets out a small chuckle, but his grin slowly fades out of his face when Ray doesn’t appear to be amused as well.

“You’re...not mad, right?”

He fiddles with the hem of his shirt nervously. Surely it’s not really that mean, right? He’s seen Thoma and Lannie mixed Ray’s shampoo with food coloring, making Ray’s pitch black hair turned into bright red for three days straight. Even then, Ray eventually forgave them. Surely this thing is nothing compared to that......right?

Ray raises his hand, and Norman reflexively winces. But he only feels a soft flick on his nose before Ray’s guffawing echoed loudly in the room.

Hahahah...your expression, Norman! Oh my God, you should’ve seen yourself!”

Norman scowls. “Petty,” he bites out, not actually annoyed at Ray tricking him.

Just then, they both hear diner bell ringing. Its sound vibrates down loudly through the house corridors.

“Let’s go,” Ray says, dragging him again down the dining hall just like this morning.

.

“My dearest children, we have a good news tonight. Five days from now, Sarah and Diana would get adopted together by a lovely family.”

Everyone cheers out at the joyful news. Sarah and Diana are twins. They always hope to be able to get adopted together, so that they can continue living together as twins.

“Congratulations, both of you!” he smiles sincerely at the two.

“Thank you!”

“Thank you, Norman!”

The two girls both grin cheerfully.

Norman is quite close with Sarah and Diana, since they only have two years of age difference. Sarah and Diana are the oldest ones in the house, with them both being eleven years old as of now. With them being gone, it would leave him, Ray, and Emma as the oldest one of the house.

Norman glances around. He sees Conny crying and Don comforting her—Conny always cries wherever someone gets adopted. But suddenly, Norman notice something strange. Barely noticeable in the midst of their boisterous commotion, Ray stands in the corner of the room with his face ashen.

The alarm goes off in Norman’s mind. It’s not an expression of sadness—Ray has never particularly close with either Sarah or Diana, anyway. Instead, Norman is certain, that it’s an expression of dread and terror that is on Ray's face right now.

He hears his heart beats loudly in his ear.

What prompts it?

All the horror scenarios his imaginative mind came up this afternoon comes back to him again.

An investigation is in order, he decides.

.

That night, Norman doesn’t sleep. He relaxes his body in a way that would make anyone belief he’s been asleep for hours, when in reality his brain is very much awake.

Precisely at one in the morning, he hears some shuffling from the bed on his left. Ray’s bed. Waiting about a minute or so until Ray’s already out of the room, he gets up and starts his mission.

It’s not the first time he notices that Ray suddenly disappear in the middle of a night. But as a person who values privacy, he always holds back his curiosity. Ray has the right to keep some secret to himself—everyone is after all.

But tonight, it doesn’t matter. He’s not really a person who likes to depend on gut feelings and such. But tonight, all his instincts are screaming at him to abandon his moral principles. All his the alarm bells in his head are telling him that something dangerous is going on, and he needs to investigate it soon.

Even if it turns out nothing is going on, at least then I’ll be able to satisfy my curiosity and stop all this anxiousness.

It was his last thought before he arrives at the front of Mama’s room.

What is Ray doing talking to Mama at this hour?

There are a lot of possibilities, of course. Ray having a nightmare and wants to seek Mama’s comfort, for example.

What he hears next, however, is not anything he ever imagined even in his wildest imagination.

“What an unexpected visit. What do you want, my loyal watch dog? You haven’t really done any superb work, lately. Surely you won’t happen to be asking for another reward already?”

“Stop it with the jokes! Why are you sending Sarah and Diana together?! Isn’t the plantation supposed to only send out one child at a time? Their scores never dropped even a bit! If anything, their potentials are almost as good as Emma’s. Why are you—”

“Oh, my, my little Ray. What are you talking about? Of course, it’s not me who can control who and when everyone’s getting shipped out. Those two fit all the specifications the superiors request of. What? Are you worried about you and your dear little two friends, hm?”

“It’s not—”

“Ah, worried not, Ray. ‘They won’t get shipped out until the maximum age of potential’ is what our deal was, right? Don’t worry. They’re safe. As of now, at least. Well, as long as you keep doing your job right, I won’t break my part of the deal too.”

“I’m always doing my job right!”

“Ah, that’s good then. Be sure to keep it up, dear. Especially your eyes on Norman. That boy is as much as the biggest asset as he is the biggest threat to this business. Remember, Ray. Any slight mistake on your part would be fatal and absolutely unforgivable.”

“Ck, just how many years I’ve been working for you? Of course, I understand that already by now.”

.

When Ray’s back into the sleeping room, Norman is already sleeping peacefully again on his bed.

At least, that would be what appears to any outsider’s eyes.

Laying rigid on his bed, Norman bites his tongue painfully as to not let anyone suspicious of his very much alert state. He fights hard to even out his breath, praying that the room is to dark for the cold sweats on his face to be visible.

It’s not until he hear Ray’s finally sleeping soundly beside him, that Norman finally could truly relax. The same state doesn’t apply to his mind, though.

‘Watch dog’? ‘Plantation’? ‘Shipping’? What’s going on? What were Mama and Ray talking about? 'Asset'? 'Job'? 'Keeping an eye' on him? Why is he a 'big threat'? And what is this ‘deal’ that they keep talking about?

Every single of his questions scream ‘danger’ in bold, capital letters.

He doesn’t know what to do—where he should even start investigating it.

But one thing he knows for sure, he couldn’t do it alone. It’s too risky. He can’t even rely on Ray or Mama anymore—two of few people he initially trust the most in this house. He needs Emma’s help in this, he decides. If there’s anyone he sure is innocent and very capable, it’s definitely Emma.

He will start with the planning tomorrow. For now, he needs to give his own body and mind the much needed rest to be able to think clearly—and prepare for what to come.