I spent most of the day with Ben after Mark dropped off the blanket and things. He wouldn’t let me get up for longer than a few minutes it would take to go to the bathroom and come back. Even then, he was usually pacing the floor or twitching his tail nervously. It was late in the afternoon when the Sheriff arrived to check on us and by that time, I pretty much had it worked out that I was going to be stuck in the great hall for the night. Ben was showing no signs of changing back.
“Marlowe, I hate to ask you this..”
I took my attention away from my book and looked up at him standing at the gate. I sighed when I spotted the small army of officers behind him.
“Let me guess, you want to place him under 24 hour guard?”
He looked a little startled. “Um, no. You’ve already gotten him calmed down enough. He’ll be okay for the evening. What I want is permission to search the house.”
Ben growled and I placed a hand on his muzzle. He quieted down. “Why do you want to search the house?”
“The other dragon’s homes had hex bags. That’s what was causing them to change out of cycle.”
“So you think there’s one here?” I looked up at Ben, who nodded. “Okay. Be my guest. You just can’t come in here.”
The Sheriff nodded. “I understand. We’ll search the rest of the house first. If we don’t find it there, it’ll have to be that room.”
“Then I’ll have to search for it because he won’t let you come in here. He wouldn’t even let Mark bring me lunch. He’s scared, Eric.”
The Sheriff sighed. “Okay. Search the room. If you find it, burn it right away.”
I nodded and got up out of the nest I’d made in between Ben’s front legs. He rumbled in his chest, so I patted his muzzle.
“Now Ben, I need to find it so you’ll turn back. You can’t stay like this forever. I was kind of hoping we could finish what we started this morning.”
He huffed out a breath that smelled of sulfur and nuzzled my midsection gently. I smiled and scratched his chin.
“Help me search? Will you pick up the heavy furniture?”
Ben nodded and picked up the couch so I could examine underneath. No hex bag. It was the same for every place that I looked in the hall. Even with Ben’s help and lifting me to the high places to look, there was no hex bag to be found anywhere.
“No bag, Eric. Anywhere. Ben and I looked” I said when I saw the Sheriff come back to the gate.
“Well that’s okay. It’s a big castle, we’ll find it.” He said, then he looked up at Ben. “Where was he when he first started to change?”
“The Master suite. Bedroom and bathroom.” I said, blushing a little.
The Sheriff didn’t say anything, just gestured for the deputies with him to go upstairs. Miles followed to show them the way.
“You two aren’t planning on children anytime soon, yes?”
The question for me came out of no where. I was confused at first, but then I realized why he was asking.
“No, we haven’t discussed it yet. Or marriage. The houses moved us in together this morning.” I said as Ben nuzzled my back. His other self knew I was worried.
The Sheriff sighed. “I’m glad you’re not miffed at me. You know why we keep the dragons under careful watch.”
“I know. If they’re not at home after the change where they can calm down, they end up like George.” When the Sheriff looked puzzled I gestured to Ben. “He explained what happened shortly after the scarecrow incident.”
Sheriff Stiers nodded. “Well, at least he told you what’s going on.” There was a smile on his face suddenly. “So when are you two getting married? There’s a pool going around that says it’ll be next year. I’m down for New Years Eve.”
I let out a startled laugh. “How much?”
“How much what?”
“How much is in the pot?”
The Sheriff scratched his chin. “Well, I’d say there’s around five grand in the pot right now. I’m in for a hundred.”
I smiled and made my way over to the chair where my bag ended up. Plucking the wallet from inside, I pulled out a fifty and handed it to the Sheriff, who looked at me funny.
“I know Ben. I’ve got fifty says he proposes on Thanksgiving.”
Sheriff Stiers looked from me to the fifty and grinned. “You’re going to say yes, aren’t you?”
“I dunno, I guess I’ll make that decision when he asks.”
“Not very helpful, are you?”
“You’ve already made your bet, moving the date based on insider information wouldn’t be professional, would it?” I said with a grin.
Before he could answer back, a shout came from upstairs. I tossed my wallet into my bag and trotted over to the gate. Ben made a keening noise so I didn’t step outside, but rather pulled the gate closed. Just in case. I watched Miles come running down the stairs wearing a pair of gloves and holding a bag.
“Where was it found?”
“Bathroom, just behind the towels.”
“How could someone have gotten it in there? with out us knowing?”
“Well, we’ll ask Ben if he’s had any unusual visitors lately after you burn this.” The Sheriff said as he passed me a pair of gloves. “Make sure Ben doesn’t set fire to it himself.”
I pulled on the latex gloves and took the bag from him, running over to the fireplace, I started a fire and threw the bag in to it as soon as the flames got high enough. I heard Ben growl from behind me, then start lashing his tail. For the first time since that morning, I was scared.
“Come here, Marlowe.” Miles called and I jogged over to the gates again.
Ben made another keening noise and I stopped just shy of the gates. Turning back to him, I watched Ben move very slowly and very deliberately in my direction. He looked like a wounded animal in need of help. I couldn’t leave him. I met him halfway and knelt down to put my face even with his as he laid down in the middle of the room. I scratched his chin and heard Miles and the Sheriff curse at me for staying.
“I’m not leaving, Eric. I’m staying here with him.”
“He’ll eat you.”
“No he won’t. He’s in too much pain.”
I watched Ben keep from the transformation and slowly his wings retracted in to his body. His eyes were glazed over. Now I understood why he always changed after falling asleep. No one would want to be awake for this torture. I rubbed my hands over his muzzle and head, singing his lullaby softly as he changed. Looking up at the clock that was still on the mantle over the fire-place, I marked time.
“Marlowe? How’s he doing?” The Sheriff asked me after a half hour had passed.
“Pain, that’s all he feels right now, but I can see his toes and fingers turning back now.” I rubbed Ben’s muzzle more, leaning my head down on to his.
I could see his chest collapsing inward so that it was more human shaped and flinched when he moaned deeply. Wiggling my fingers at the blanket I was wrapped in earlier, with my talent I forced it to come to me. The edges were stitched with gold thread and I wasn’t sure that it would work, but I was happy that it did. I can control most metals. They also talk to me, tell me stories and the lives of the people who’ve touched them. Right then I was profoundly grateful for my weird ass talent.
“Marlowe? I didn’t know that worked on blankets.”
“Gold thread on the edges.” I replied as I wrapped Ben’s lower half in the blanket.
“Oh, but aren’t those precious metals?”
“Still metal, Miles.” I didn’t bother saying anything else, Ben’s head and shoulders were beginning to turn back to their original form.
I had to close my eyes. Hearing it was bad enough, I didn’t need to see the bones in Ben’s face reshape themselves. After nearly two hours of changing, Ben was finally back to himself again. His head was in my lap and I rubbed my hands over his back and shoulders. He sighed and passed completely out.
“He’s out, Eric. You can come in now.” I heard the gate open behind me and the shuffling of feet.
“I need you to step back, Marlowe.”
I shook my head and stayed right where I was. I wasn’t leaving him. I heard the Sheriff sigh and motioned for the two EMTs that arrived while Ben was changing, to check him over.
“Sheep?” Miles said as he knelt next to me.
“I think you should let them take him to the hospital. You don’t know what damage could have been done to him because he changed outside the cycle.” Miles said as he put a hand on my shoulder.
I almost shrugged it off, but I could hear real concern in Mile’s voice. Before I could answer, Mark knelt next to me too and echoed Miles’s concern. I gave in. Anything to make sure Ben wasn’t harmed.
“Eric?” I said as I watched the EMTs take Ben out the door.
“I want you to find the bastard that did this to Ben. I want them to pay for hurting him. If you don’t, I will.”
Sheriff Stiers just nodded. There wasn’t much he could say that would calm me down. I was angrier than I’d been in my life. Not even when Timothy would hurt me was I this angry. I turned on my heel and stormed up the steps to shower and change before going to the hospital. I had to give myself enough time to calm down or other wise I’d freak out over seeing him on a hospital gurney. That wouldn’t do anyone any good.
I made my way back downstairs thirty minutes later to discover that the Sheriff had left a Deputy behind to take me to the hospital. I was grateful, because I was still too angry to drive.