"That word might be the hardest thing to stomach. It was Jack's dying wish, his hopes for a safer life for his daughter and his home. Manifest into a single word, his final word, his final thought."
Your name is Roswell.
This is the most truthful statement you can make, really. It's your name, because it's the name Isaak gave you when he found you wandering the edge of the gulch. It's your name, because it's the only other word tied to the magic that made you. It's your name, because it fits like feathers or an out of tune guitar or the halberd's grip in your palms. If there is one thing in this world you know as Refuge that is yours, it is Roswell.
You ain't have a last name, and it's not as if you haven't thought about that before; there was a time, slow in the Sheriff's office, when you asked if you had one to give yourself.
Isaak hadn't even looked up from his cigarillo when he said as a joke: "Canary."
You decided you weren't going to name yourself after a bird whose only job was to die in the mines.
Now, you don't talk about names anymore. You're just Roswell, and he's just Isaak, even though you know what name he has. But Roswell Freeman was his father, and you won't touch that. Unlike your boss, you know where you stand with ghosts.
"Roswell, I'm outta smokes." He tosses you a small bag of diamonds and you catch it in one hand. "Go on down to Helpington's."
"Sir, due respect, but I don't think using a civil fine on tobacco is appropriate. That's town money." you fidget, wringing your gloves in what Ren once said was 'real personable of you'. You linger near where your chair once stood. Anxiety is becoming a closer friend than you've anticipated, and it seems to follow you now.
"It's fine. Just do it." he's snappish. He's irritable. He's, as the good neighbors call him, a sourpuss. Every moment with him is another moment he could blow up at you.
"I'm askin' you to run out and do a task, ain't I? Get."
Isaak doesn't get to finish-- you flee like a child whose parent is counting to ten, your feathers fluffed and your big hand holding onto your hat. It's been like this a lot, recently, and you wish you knew what you were doing wrong. You just want what's best for Refuge, and you thought Isaak did too. Part of you is right ashamed of being so big, being so good at protecting, when you can't even stand up to a man and his word. You think Isaak is the only person in the world who could make a big fella feel small.
Once upon a time you felt like the biggest in the world. You had your mile and a half diameter world, and you could care for everyone and everything inside it, and Isaak would help. But days are slower now, and the townsfolk show their worry more, and while Refuge never had many folks going in and out, the lack of anything outside the woven gulch is unsettling to the people who knew what out there was like.
But you can't fix that kind of thing, especially not when Isaak's only words these days seem to be for yelling.
Your feet drag through the dirt road, but before you turn the corner to head over to Helpington's, you realize the bank is closer, and you aren't under command. It's a quick stroll and a quicker talk to the teller-- she's understanding and takes the fine that'd be going to the bank either way. You guess you'll be paying out of pocket for Isaak's cigarettes, but you don't mind. There's not much you spend on allowances anyways, and if it'll make Isaak happy then that's good too.
(Happy or less irritable? At what point did you stop noticing the difference?)
You buy the cigarettes from Helpington's diminishing stash without incident, holding the box in your bird foot so as to not crush it or get it covered in clay. The errand has cleared your heads a bit more, and there's a bit less worry on your shoulders.
It's when you get back to the Sheriff's office that you feel the dread.
You don't know humans, but you do know Isaak, and when you ease open the door especially carefully (there have been times when the door and you have had disagreements, and it is several generations fixed), he's got a hand tangled in his greying hair and is biting on his thumbnail. There's no way for you to walk silently, not with the weight of your boots and the state of the floorboards, so once you close the door behind you, you linger. He doesn't look up at you for what you think must be long time. Times like these it's best you stay out of the way unless he specifically wants you.
"I got 'em."
You're still unwilling to cross the threshold. There's a bubble here, purely imaginary, and your little golden glow dims when you get too close. The bubble wasn't always there, but Isaak became less approachable to the townspeople, and then to you, and the bubble kept everyone at bay, which you can only guess that he wanted it all along.
With a flitter you alight from your big body (and you're thankful Isaak's bubble isn't too big, because it hurts to go too far from yourself) and set the cigarettes in his hand. He looks at you from under the brim of his hat. His eyes look yellow in the imperfect lighting of the room, with heavy bags that weigh down his whole face. In between his fingers he plucks off your hat to ruffle your feathers, and he puts it back on clumsily. It's nice, and niceness is rare lately, so you take what you can get.
"Is there anything else you'll have me do?"
For a long moment he's silent.
"Isaak?" When there's no response, you try again. "...Sir?"
"Go on home, Ros."
You pick yourself up off the desk and flutter back to perch on your shoulder, and the wake of your wings beating upsets his papers. Your big hand tips the brim of your big hat, and both parts of you turn back out the door to leave Isaak to his ledger and his smokes and his ghosts.
But you ain't goin' home just yet. You're going to try and do good in this world of yours you call Refuge.
"Oh, I know exactly the types of men that you are. I seen it. You're the types of men that abuse every drop of power given to them. Men like me."
Your name is Isaak Freeman: Mayor, Sheriff, and remaining Town Elder.
The Elders' Manor stands empty before you, its statue tarnished and one of the doors hanging crooked its hinges. You ain't been inside much at all let alone lived in it since Jack died, so it's stood a year and a half empty. You didn't even move out proper; all your books and old stuff is where you left it, dusty and sun-faded.
You ain't have time for ghosts, you tell yourself, but your thought stops halfway through and what comes by, bone-white truth, is "I ain't have time".
If you were a man who wore his emotions more plainly, you mighta been blindsided by that l'il miniature revelation. But you stay on your feet, your eyes half-lidded.
You want your shit, dammit, but Jack's standing in front of you like the bubble June put 'round herself, keeping you out of your old home. You know this building isn't yours anymore, not even since you became Elder, but ghosts or none you want your old books and your old bed-sheets. If the Liberation Brigade hasn't looted the place yet you might even find your old camera.
You were damn proud of that thing; it's the only one in Refuge. It's a Pearsall Compact Camera, manufactured in Neverwinter. In town borders, it's served its use twice.
The first picture taken was of you and Jack and June and the Visitor, before whoever decided they didn't want that big old brick shithouse of a man to have his face out. The other's of a red hedgehog cactus in full bloom, and among the petals and the needles, a l'il red vermilion flycatcher.
They're probably in this house that you have no right to, fading away in scrubland's relentless white sun to an even white-blue. Something-- recognition-- tugs your heart and your lungs from your chest and into the clay under your boots.
Roswell's off doing fuck all, and good, because you don't think you can stand to look at them without getting sick.
Everything seems so much harder now. Everything's tiring, and everyone's left you to your ledger and your smokes.
'Cept for Roswell. Can't keep their mind in their boots like they ought to. Always looking skyward, always asking questions.
Canary. That was mean of you.
Who cares. You didn't ask for Roswell. You didn't ask to pick up the pieces, and you didn't ask for that fucking cup that made you break the glass in the first place.
You count the shards in your palm, and ball your hand into a fist. What are you gonna do, pick up glass and try to pass 'em off as diamonds in this damn purgatory you're trapped in?
You hate to think it, but the only damn good thing that came out of that fuckin' day is that you're in charge now, and ain't no one going to question you. Least of all Roswell.
"Just as well," you say to Jack's ghost. "Just as well, ain't it?"
And like that, you push open the door to the manor and step inside.
Roswell finds you. They always manage it, no matter where you fuck off to. You'd curse Jack for making them so damn tenacious, but there's no good in cursing ghosts.
The elder's manor is even more rickety than the rest of Refuge; no one has been on the upkeep. The good news means it's not cobbled patchwork like the rest of the buildings. The bad news means every step is a cloud of sawdust and a dangerously creaking floorboard. Roswell's big body can't go up the stairs, so when you hear them outside caling your name, you pop into your old room.
Your old quilt's hanging in the closet, not even moth-eaten in this dry heat. You pull it down from its hook and give it a good shake. The blue dye is still as blue as the Sword Coast, and you run a finger lovingly over the stitches.
Somewhere in this room ought to be a camera. There's some old papers from your first years as Sheriff, back when you spelt it Sherrif, and an old deputy star pin.
You find your camera ubder your bed and tuck it under your arm with the quilt. There's nothing else here for you; clothes that won't fit, a letter written in poisoned ink from the underdark about a missing girl, mine property contracts. Things that belong to the Isaak who didn't kill no one.
You whirl. Roswell, of course, fluting little voice in a house dead quiet. It's only half of them, and the sight makes you shudder. Only one part of Roswell just looks... Wrong.
"Where's the rest of you." You walk to them and sit on your haunches.
"Downstairs." their voice is a little thinner from the distance, you can hear. "I was worried, and folks said they thought they saw you 'round. Then I noticed the door was open, and--"
They see your hand move, but not in time. You've spent years practicing as a quick draw, and no gift of flight can get them off the ground long enough. You snatch Roswell out of the air, whip quick. Their little hat falls to the floor, and for a blessed moment, they have no words. They just let out a little trill.
You can feel their little heart thrum-thrum-thrumming under your fingers. Their head turns, erratically like a bird is wont to do. Yellow glow leaks onto your hands like the jaundice in your eyes.
"Can't ever just let me be, can you? I didn't ask for you. Didn't want you." you mutter. They don't reply, but that's fine, you ain't looking for answers from them. "How many times have I told you to? Stop looking for ghosts."
"Isaak," they peep.
"You're hurting me."
Lucidity cracks across your face like a well-aimed spell. You've been very close to squeezing, and magic or none, you could've hurt them. You open your fist and they flitter out the door of your old room and back to their big body.
You sigh and tug your hat over your eyes. Roswell's is still on the floor and is already collecting dust. You pick it up and dust it off; there had been a time when you were grieving, and you didn't know what else to do but play guitar or harmonica. In times like those Roswell's smaller half would flit off their own shoulder and onto your or your hands and sing along, and you'd ruffle their feathers.
Sure, that man was after Jack, but that ain't the man you are now either.
When you stand up, you see a smattering of little red feathers lead out the door.
You don't want that poor soul to follow the footsteps of ghosts.