Agent Deacon of the Railroad kicked an old tin can as he walked through the dust of University Point, long since cleared courtesy of Agent Charmer, General Aubrey Wilson of the Railroad, vengeful parent extraordinaire.
Now it was empty, dead.
Silent as the town had been as he cut down her body from the balcony and carried her home, with her blood soaking through his clothes.
Joseph Manning had gone from having everything he could've wanted in the palm of his hand to having nothing. They'd killed her, and burned their fields. All that remained was the shell of the shack they'd built. But he'd carried her back, and buried her at the top of her favorite hill, with a small hubflower bush as her grave marker.
She was the light in his dark life, guiding him away from the path he'd been on, and telling him he could be something better. That he decided his own fate. Fate decided to show him better.
It started with her wanting him to come inside; to rest from the heat of the bright summer day.
Should've stayed out there. His mind told him. Would've been able to see them coming.
He went inside, and they ended up putting forth some more effort for children.
Then he smelled smoke.
Agent Deacon of the Railroad crested the small hill outside of University Point.
A long abandoned shack stood solemnly in the valley between the hill and the roadway, by what had once been a tilled field. A hubflower bush bloomed nearby, a splash of color on the torrid palette of the surrounding soil. He dropped to his knees in front of it. "Sorry I took so long, Barbara." He whispered, letting his fingers dig into the earth beneath him. "I'm sorry for everything. Again."
He could hear her in his mind; could feel the phantom touch of her hands on his shoulders. "You big goof. There's no need to apologize. It was never your fault."
Joseph Manning had run out into the field with a shotgun, told her to stay inside; to stay safe.
She didn't listen.
They knocked him over the head, but he knew who they were. And he knew why they'd come, if they did this. They thought Barbara was a synth.
He didn't care.
He'd dragged himself, bleary eyed and half unconscious towards her frightened screams, but all he got for his troubles was another club to the back of the head.
Agent Deacon of the Railroad cried. He sobbed, harsh and ugly. It was the one time a year he let himself be open, let the scars on his soul show for a few measly moments. Images of Barbara's soft brown hair, her green eyes, that cute little patch of freckles under her ear passed through his brain and he doubled over, tears pooling on his sunglasses.
Joseph Manning came to, just barely scrambling out of the burning field before the flames got too close. He sprinted after her, screaming her name, begging any deity that might bother to listen to sinner like him that she'd be okay.
No deity answered.
The town was silent as he practically forced down the gates.
She was dead. Blood leaked from the marks on her face and the gashes on her torso; leaked from the cable around her throat.
He cut her down, his tears mingling with the blood from the word they'd carved into her forehead.
He didn't care. He just took her home.
Agent Deacon of the Railroad shook with empty sobs, his body having nothing more to offer in the face of his grief. He could feel her phantom touches again, this time she kneeled in front of him, cupping his face in that way that only she did. He choked and sniffed. "I'm sorry, God, I’m fucking sorry."
"It's not your fault, my love."
He closed his eyes, gritting his teeth and reached out to touch her. But his hands only closed around the stem of the hubflower. "I miss you."
Joseph Manning killed them all. He took a swatter, wrapped with chains and razor blades, and destroyed them. And then he'd run to the church; had thrown himself prostrate on the ground by the pulpit and begged for death.
Death didn't find him.
A detective who smelled of cigarette smoke and oil did. They helped him up and told him to go to a highway outside of Lexington. The detective said someone there would meet him.
He went. He hoped he'd be killed along the way.
Agent Deacon of the Railroad finally stood up, and wandered to a nearby church, and for a half a second, he saw a flash of Barbara's tan skin, dressed in her favorite green dress. He lingered by the open church doors, but nothing happened and he stepped forward, sitting on a ruined pew.
Joseph Manning met a redheaded woman at the highway at Lexington. She asked him to join her; asked him to help others like his Barbara. He said he couldn't save her, how could he help?
"You couldn't save your wife, no. But you can help stop it from happening to any others like her."
Agent Deacon of the Railroad held the canister of Jet he'd nicked from Hancock.
He turned it over and over again in his hands, then felt the needle of Med-X beside him.
"You don't need them. I'm right here." She said, her voice seeming to echo in his head.
His hands shook, looking up over his sunglasses to finally see her. Unharmed, unmarked, skin as golden as the day he'd met her. He threw the chems away from him and reached forward, aching to hold her.
She stepped back.
Joseph Manning followed the redhead back. He shaved his head, letting his own red locks fall to the ground. He put on a pair of sunglasses, to hide his grief-filled eyes from his packages. Joseph Manning took the name Johnny D.
Johnny D. trained. He learned. He watched. He reported. He helped. He saved others.
Then they were found.
He hoped he'd die.
He didn't. Eight people didn't die, and they took shelter in another church, far from their old hideout and far more famous.
Agent Deacon of the Railroad gave a hoarse cry as her image started to fade in front of him.
She kneeled in front of him and smiled. "I'm always with you, Joseph. Forever." Her voice was fading as she repeated the lines she'd told him when they married.
"Forevermore." He repeated his line, voice dry and gravelly as her image finally faded completely, leaving him alone in the church once more.
Johnny D. found an old office, with a broken and dusty nameplate lay on the floor, knocked there when the previous occupant had died.
He vowed to never be caught off guard again.
He promised himself that he'd find that lead from the far northwest.
He read the nameplate.
And Johnny D., once Joseph Manning, became Agent Deacon of the Railroad.