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When Dylan woke up the morning after she visited Norman, Norma had been awake at his side for hours. This time, however, she witnessed his delight upon seeing Emma, and her heart ached for the couple, so young, so battered, so desperately in love. Perhaps life would be kind to them, since they'd suffered so much already. Maybe Norma had finally suffered sufficiently, and life would permit one of her children happiness for long enough for his life to be considered a good one, on the whole.
Norma ignored all entreaties from Emma, Will, Dylan, and the nurses to go home or to the motel to get some rest, but she didn't know how to make them understand that she never wanted to sleep again. What little sleep her body forced her to take always ended in the horrors of her subconscious, new trauma mingling with the old. After she woke up screaming and scared Dylan half to death, she began setting alarms, one every hour, to ensure she didn't sleep long enough for her REM cycle to kick in.
Despite Emma's gentle urging, Norma initially kept her experience at the station to herself. Emma had been waiting up for her in Dylan's room when Norma stumbled in, eyes red and puffy, limbs functioning on autopilot, still clad in her bloody clothes. Her only response to Emma's queries was a pitiful plead.
"Please don't make me say it."
Dylan's questions the next morning, however, demanded more concrete responses.
"Come on, Norma," he insisted, some of the familiar edge with which he addressed her returning to his voice. Had it only been yesterday that he'd been calling her "Mom" and holding her hand? "I know you went to see him. You've changed clothes."
"For your information, I went by the house for her to get those clothes," Emma snapped. How Norma wished the young woman had stayed quiet. It made the truth harder to admit.
"It's not what you think," Norma murmured, even though she knew how it sounded.
"It never is," Dylan huffed. "Even when Norman nearly stabs me to death, you still take his side."
Emma opened her mouth to interject, but Norma anticipated her. "Yes, I went to see him, but only to get answers, to hear for myself how this happened, how we got to this point." Answers she desperately wished she could forget, answers that skewed every memory of her sweet boy because his manipulation made impossible for her to tell when he became a monster.
"I already told you what happened, Norma! What bullshit did he convince you of this time? That he was blacked out? That he didn't mean any of it? That he doesn't remember what he did?"
Norman had tried. When the officers took him back to his cell, Norma pushed past the cops assigned to restrain her, and bolted out into the hall. Even now, she couldn't determine why she felt compelled for Norman to see her, to know that she could never love him in the way she always had.
Mother! Mother, I'm sorry! His cries had chased her down the hallway as she ran away from her own son. She'd heard it all before.
Norma Louise, I'm sorry. I'll never do it again.
Jesus, Norma. I didn't mean it. I'm just stressed.
Suddenly she couldn't handle being quiet and subdued any longer. "I watched him confess!" She hardly recognized the shrillness of her voice, and her breath quickened to match its hysteria. "I listened to that detective hurl every horrible accusation in the book and then to Norman admit to every single one. You wanted my eyes open? I can't close them. Every time I do, I picture the terrible things he wanted to do to me, the terrible things he's done to so many women already, and the terrible things she did to you and Alex. Are you happy now?"
"No!" Dylan tried to bark the word at her, but the tears on his cheeks took any bite out of his intentions. "You think this is what I wanted? I wanted Norman back in Pineview, not prison." His voice cracked on the last word, and for the first time since the argument started, Emma moved, entwining her fingers with Dylan's.
Though Norma could feel Emma's eyes on her, she couldn't bring herself to look at her. Instead, she stood with her arms wrapped around her middle, eyes locked on Dylan, who couldn't seem to look away from her either.
"I'm sorry for shouting at you," she said, embarrassed at how small and childish she sounded. "This isn't your fault. None of this is your fault." She paused, grasping her sides a little tighter, as if she were trying to suffocate herself to lower her heartrate. "Because of who I am, I needed to hear Norman say what he'd done. Then I wouldn't have any excuse to protect him. Even now—"
Bile crept up her throat as she remembered the look in his eye when he said he knew what it sounded like when she enjoyed sex.
"Even now, I want to protect him, but I know that I can't, that you're the only one I can protect. I went there for answers, and now that I have them, my goal is to protect you and ensure that Norman is safe from himself. Dr. Edwards has him on a suicide watch."
The last admission came tumbling out before she could question the wisdom of giving Dylan this information, so when he only stared at her instead of filling the deafening silence, she sank into the chair closest to his bed. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "He heard me screaming, and when they took him away, we—we ran into each other in the hallway." Her strength in that moment was a distant memory. "He saw me, and he—he knew that I'd heard everything he'd confessed to and he said he'd rather die than know that I knew what he'd done." When she risked a glance at Dylan, his face was streaked with tears, so she reached for his hand without expecting him to squeeze hers in return. "But he's going to be okay if—if that's what you're worried about. And you're safe. He's never, ever coming home."
Without the will to say another word, Norma succumbed to her emotions, weeping bitterly into one hand since she couldn't bring herself to let go of Dylan's limp one. So when his grip tightened and his thumb brushed over the back of her hand, Norma rested her head on the bed next to their joined hands and cried harder.
For the next two days, Norma, Dylan, Will, and Emma survived in a nearly joyless routine. Physically, Dylan continued to improve, but his and Norma's mental health waned with every waking hour. During the day, Norma and Emma stayed at the hospital while Will slept at the motel. When Dylan napped, Norma left him in Emma's care and kept vigil next to Alex, silently begging him to wake, even thought she had no way of knowing that he'd ever want to speak to her again. In the evening, Will brought Norma and Emma dinner, and took Emma back with him to the hotel so that she could sleep under his supervision.
So for the first time in years, Norma found herself alone on Christmas Eve. Long after Dylan drifted off to sleep, Norma stayed wide awake in the chair next to his bed, watching the steadying rise and fall of his chest. After only a couple of days, her expectation of finding Alex awake had morphed into a fear of his never opening his eyes again. Emma blamed the sleep deprivation, but Norma knew that she would feel the same way had she gotten more than an hour of sleep at a time.
Out of habit more than hope, Norma trudged upstairs, barely mustering a smile at the nurses who greeted her by name and whispered behind her back. She found Alex as she'd left him—sleeping—but with fresh bandages. The bandage over his eye was now small enough for her to see the stitches peeking out, and blood from his sutures no longer leaked through the fresh bandages on his chest and legs.
As she leaned down to kiss Alex's forehead, Norma's hand slipped automatically to her pocket, where Alex's wedding band lay in a ring box. The morning after Norman's confession, Norma spent the time she should have been at Alex's side at White Pine Bay's only jewelry store and perused the men's selection of wedding bands. Despite the employee's best attempts to help, Norma ignored him until she numbly pointed at a white gold band and requested an inscription.
For when he wakes up, she'd thought then. So everyone knows he's mine.
To bury him with, she thought now. So everyone knows he was mine.
Norma's next alarm hadn't sounded yet when she felt the weight of a hand on her head and heard Alex's heart monitor beep more rapidly. Surely not, she thought, but when she lifted her head, she found his eye wide with panic. With a gasp, she sat up and pressed the call button at least three times, her eyes fixed on him. His gaze bounced around the room, and his chest heaved.
"Alex, it's okay. You're on a ventilator. It's just to help you breathe," Norma murmured. She pressed her lips to his forehead and combed her fingers through his hair, desperate to calm him. "It's okay. You're safe. Dylan is safe. I'm safe."
Apparently, Alex found no comfort in her assurances, and in his panic, his arm jerked up to his intubation tube. Just when Norma was about to scream for a nurse, two of them burst in, Alex's surgeon on their heels. One of the nurses wrestled down his other arm, and Norma held tight to his hand.
"It's alright, Sheriff," the doctor said. "You're on a ventilator to help you breathe, but I can see you're doing that on your own now. We're going to extubate. Mrs. Romero, you need to step aside."
Now that Alex had hold of her hand, however, he refused to let go. "He—he won't let go of my hand." As one of the nurses rounded the bed, Norma locked eyes with Alex. "It's okay. I'm not leaving. I'll be just over there. Let them help you." When the nurse pried Alex's fingers from Norma's, she took only three steps back, and his eyes, frantic and pleading, followed her. The doctor demanded Alex's attention, so he reluctantly tore his eyes from Norma's. After all she'd seen over the last two days, it felt silly for her to bury her face in her hands to avoid seeing Alex extubated, but the sounds were nearly just as nauseating as the sight would have been.
A gentle hand on her arm made Norma flinch, dropping her hands. One of Alex's nurses stood next to her with a sympathetic smile. "You can go hold his hand now."
Unable to choke back a pitiful whimper, Norma lunged for the side of the bed, where the doctor and nurses had propped Alex up on a couple of pillows to keep him from choking as he coughed. "Is he alright?" she asked.
Before the doctor could answer, Alex grasped her hand again and tugged.
"What is it, honey? Everyone is safe—"
"Norman," Alex rasped between coughs. "Where's Norman?"
"Jail." Norma didn't bother to cover the break in her voice. The hand Alex wasn't clasping drifted up to cup his cheek, her thumb brushing tenderly against the bandage on his eye. "He's in jail. He can't hurt you." Over and over she repeated the truth that tore her in half just to see the panic slowly drain from Alex's eye. She didn't stop until he sank back against the pillows and the doctor took over, peppering him with questions about his breathing and his pain level.
To her surprise, Norma could focus on the doctor's questions and Alex's answers, cataloguing each piece of information to remember when Alex forgot or couldn't answer for himself. The relief of being made useful again, of doing something other than waiting, shot through her like the jolt of electric shock. As the adrenaline of his awakening wore off, Alex became less lucid in answering the questions put to him, so Norma was doubly grateful for her ability to pay attention, to answer what questions for him that she could. By the time the doctor was satisfied, Alex's eyelashes were fluttering as he struggled to stay awake.
"It's okay, honey," Norma whispered, carding her fingers through his hair, damp with cold sweat. "Close your eyes. I'll be here when you wake up." Please wake up again. Please don't leave me.
Alex shook his head. "Need to give my statement."
"I'm the only one who can call the station and tell them you're awake," Norma said, trying and failing to sound teasing. "And I'm not calling anyone until you're well enough."
To her immense relief, Alex's lips quirked up in an amused smirk. "That's not fair."
Norma kissed his forehead as she'd done a hundred times over the last couple of days, only this time, she knew he could feel it. "We'll argue about it later."
With a hum intended to be a chuckle, Alex nuzzled into the touch of her hand on his cheek and closed his eyes. Norma combed her fingers rhythmically through his hair for a few minutes, until she was convinced of his deep sleep. Then she tip-toed into the hallway and pulled out her phone to call the station. She'd promised Regina to call as soon as she had any news, and she had confidence in Regina's ability to keep Alex's officers away until he was strong enough to make a statement.
Before Norma could consider the possibility that Regina had the night off, she answered the phone with a weary drawl. "White Pine Bay police station, how may I direct your call?"
"Regina, it's Norma Bates."
Instead of the questions Norma expected, Regina's silence hung heavily for a few seconds. "Is he…?"
"He's awake. Well, he was. He's sleeping on his own now. I knew you'd want to know. He's chomping at the bit to give his statement, but he's not well enough yet. I'll keep you apprised."
When Regina spoke again, her voice wavered. "Thank you for telling me. I know we're not your favorite people right now—that is—I just—"
"You're welcome," Norma said. "Happy holidays, Regina."
"Same to you, Mrs. Bates."
When Norma hung up, she had an inexplicable, overwhelming urge to see Dylan. Now that she knew both Alex and Dylan would recover, the reality of the second chances she'd been given hit her like a freight train. She had things to say to them both, but right now, Dylan needed to hear from her more than Alex did.
Norma thought about calling Emma to tell her the good news, but decided that interrupting her sleep wouldn't benefit anyone, that it would be better to deliver the good news on Christmas morning. With one last peek at the steady rise and fall of Alex's chest, Norma told the nurse at the reception desk that she was checking in on her son and to call her if Alex woke before she returned.
She took the stairs, bounding down the linoleum and rushing out the stairwell door at a speed she couldn't account for. By the time she reached Dylan's room, she had to stop herself from bursting in and accidentally waking him, but when she opened the door, she found Dylan tossing his head and mumbling in his sleep. Norma crossed the room in four long strides, reaching for him even before she could actually touch him. How many bad dreams had he endured alone while she was upstairs with Alex?
"Norman, stop," Dylan murmured, his brow furrowed and sweaty. "Stop. Don't hurt her. Mom—"
Unable to bear hearing any more, Norma shook him. "Dylan? Dylan, honey, wake up. It's just a dream." She gasped when Dylan's eyes snapped open and he grabbed her wrist, his hold painfully tight. "It's okay, it's okay. It's me. It's Mom." With wide eyes, Dylan instantly released her arm, and she held his hand, watching him settle into reality. "You're alright," she whispered, brushing his hair out of his eyes. "You're okay."
When Dylan's breath settled enough for him to speak, he turned to her with watery eyes and blurted out, "I'm sorry for what I said when we argued."
Startled by his abrupt apology, Norma stared at him for a moment before realizing what exactly he was apologizing for.
You've never been a real mother to me!
The memory of his accusation hurt almost as much as it had when he first spat the hurtful truth at her. Ducking her head, she shrugged. "It only hurt because it was true."
"No, it wasn't. I was just angry."
"You had every right to be."
"Maybe. But not to say something like that." When he squeezed her hand, Norma had no choice but to look at him, finding her own tears mirrored in his eyes. "I know you love me and that you're trying to make up for everything. And I know this whole situation has…crushed you. And it's okay for you to still love Norman. I…I get it."
Norma shook her head and swiped angrily at her tears. "No, no, this isn't about how I feel—"
"Just because he didn't try to kill you doesn't mean you're not a victim in this, and I'm sorry I've been too angry to see that."
"Please don't apologize for how you feel," Norma begged. "I've disregarded your feelings your whole life." She covered her mouth with a shaking hand and squeezed her eyes shut, horrified by the verbalization of such an awful truth. It took everything in her to open her eyes, to meet his gaze. "And I'm sorry for everything."
"It's okay," Dylan said, but immediately shook his head. "I mean—it's not yet. But it will be. I'm willing to try if you still are."
Holding her oldest son's tear-stained face in her hands felt so surreal that Norma was afraid to blink. "I love you so, so much," she whispered. "And I'm sorry that I haven't made you feel that. You're so precious to me, do you know that?"
The way Dylan's bottom lip quivered when he nodded told Norma that he truly had no idea. "Come here, honey." As soon as she wrapped her arms around him, Dylan hid his face in her neck and wept like the child she neglected, her sullen, resilient child who turned out to be her sweet boy after all.
"I love you, Mom."
Norma held him tighter. "I promise," she whispered, "to spend the rest of my life making you feel as loved as you are."
Norma watched the run rise on Christmas morning from Alex's room's window, crying once again when she realized this would be her first Christmas without Norman since he was born, the first of many Christmases without him. When she thought she'd recovered from that realization, another accosted her. This would be her first Christmas with Alex, but after everything that happened, it may be their last Christmas.
Only when she returned to Alex's room the night before did Norma consider the possibility of him not loving her anymore. How could he live in that house, where he was nearly killed? How could he look at her without seeing the man who hated him enough to make him suffer in death? How could he still love her, the woman who raised this monster?
Whirling around, Norma found Alex gazing at her, squinting a little in the light. "Hi," she whispered. She turned and fumbled with the blinds, in part to make it easier for him to see and in part to wipe her face clean of tears. "Are you in any pain? Should I get the nurse?" Without waiting for an answer to either of her questions, she strode to the bed, reaching for the call button.
Alex reached up and caught her sleeve with two fingers, too weak to reach higher and hold her hand. "No, no. I'm fine. Just sit with me."
Sinking into the chair next to his bed, Norma's hand slid into her pocket, the ring box feeling conspicuous now that Alex could see her. Her panic must have slipped through the easy smile she tried to mask her emotions with, for Alex's brow furrowed.
"What is it, Norma?
Nothing teetered on the tip of her tongue, but Norma choked it back, producing the box from her pocket and placing it on the bed. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas, Norma." His face fell. "Your gifts are—"
"It's okay." She stopped just short of holding his hand, suddenly unsure of herself. "Emma called earlier. She's bringing all the gifts from the house." No matter how Alex received her gift, it was better to give it to him now, before Emma arrived.
With a tenderness that made Norma want to weep, Alex slipped his hand under hers where it rested on the mattress, his thumb skimming over the backs of her fingers. "That's good." With a fascination Norma had loved since she first noticed it, Alex studied Norma's hand, but she slipped it from his grasp, suddenly sure he didn't really want to touch her, sure that he just wanted to let her down gently. "What is it?" he repeated.
"Just open your gift." Just, as if the rest of her life didn't depend on it.
Absurdly, she couldn't meet his gaze, so she took a page out of his book and settled for focusing on his hands. He unwrapped her meticulously wrapped gift with the same tenderness he showed her, carefully running his finger under the tape and wincing when the paper ripped anyway, like it was something precious instead of a last-minute purchase at the shop downstairs.
He realized what the box contained long before he finished unwrapping it. Norma watched his hands stutter as he peeled the paper back, studied his free hand as it hovered over the velvet, scrutinized every micromovement of his thumb as he toyed with the lid. Only in the dreadful silence did Norma find the need to look at him impossible to suppress, no matter what disappointment she found in his eyes.
Fortunately, his gaze and any emotions that accompanied it were trapped on the promise of eternal love in his hand, not on her, so she found the strength to speak.
"When I first got to the hospital, I kept thinking that you could die without knowing what you mean to me. That you could die and my last words to you would have been that I'll never trust you again." Slowly, she reached for the box he refused to open, and pretended not to hear Alex's little gasp when she revealed the ring to him. She couldn't bear any false hope right now. "I know that I have so much to atone for—probably too much—and I'm sorry for all of it. You loved me and you wanted to cherish me and take care of me, so the least I can do is buy you a ring and tell you I'll always love you and I hope that I never hear you say that this isn't forever because it is." When she paused for breath, she clasped his free hand, laying limp between them. "If you can't forgive me for what happened, I—I'll survive. Whether I want to or not, I always do. This isn't desperation. This isn't me begging you to stay, and this ring isn't an apology. It's me telling you that even though I'm shattered and I have no idea how I'm going to go on, I want to go on with you."
After what felt like an eternity of silent study of Alex's unreadable expression, Alex tore his gaze from the ring to her face. His unbandaged eye brimmed with tears. "You bought me a ring."
"Yeah," Norma breathed, shoulders sagging with the relief of his next words not being a rejection. "And, um, I got it inscribed."
Running his thumb over Norma's palm, Alex tried to smile. "You may have to read it to me."
Despite herself, she giggled. "Okay," she said, absurdly shy after her proclamation. With adorable care, he gingerly removed the ring from its pillow. When he offered her the ring in his open palm, Norma gently closed his fingers around it and locked eyes with him. "I always feel safe when you're here."
The hitch in Alex's breath was so subtle that she thought she imagined it, especially when he opened his fist and held out the ring to her. This was it. This was the moment he'd slip through her fingers.
"Will you put it on me?"
Naturally, Norma's relief manifested in the extreme, so her choked sob had Alex reaching for her face, wiping her tears with his thumb. As good as his touch felt, Norma peeled his hand from her face and studied his ring finger in disbelief. With her tears dropping on the back of his hand, she slid the ring on his finger and kissed the skin just above the white gold, warmed by their touches.
Alex caught her cheek before she could go too far, tugging her forward to rest his forehead against hers and nuzzle her nose with his. "I'm going to keep you safe forever," he whispered. "I love you so much, Norma."
With a pitiful sniffle, Norma returned the sentiment and repeated it as she kissed his nose, cheeks, forehead, and, finally, his lips. Their kiss was nothing but gentle, both of them too overwhelmed and exhausted for anything else, but they reveled in the expression of love they never thought they'd make again. "I never thought I'd hear you say that again," she whimpered against his mouth. "At first I thought you'd never wake up, and when you did, I thought you'd want to leave me."
Alex pulled back just far enough to shoot her an incredulous look. "Norma," he murmured, tucking her hair behind her ear. "You're all I'm here for."
When Emma snuck into the room an hour later, she found Norma and Alex cuddled up together on the bed. Norma had curled up on her side to be as close to him as possible without laying her head on his healing chest, and Alex lay with his head turned toward her, their faces only inches apart.
Presents could wait.