John Murdoch had left Mr. Hand alive because he knew the creature was dying. They had both known it. The changes John made to the city were sure to kill Mr. Hand off, even if his imprinted memories didn't finish the job.
Sometimes John dreamt about Mr. Hand and the other Strangers. They were nightmares usually. There was one reoccurring dream where John was running after Emma through dark, twisting back alleys. Every now and then Emma would look back at him with an expression of terror. In this dream he could never figure out why she was so terrified of him until he would catch his reflection in a puddle. Instead of seeing himself, it was the face of Mr. Hand. The alley would begin to break apart and John would open his mouth to scream.
Then he'd snap awake.
These dreams came rarely, however. He discussed them with Daniel whenever they occurred and both of them agreed it was simply his subconscious processing all that had happened and spitting it up into his sleeping mind.
While John wasn't overly concerned with Mr. Hand coming back from the dead, he was becoming concerned about Emma. She had been growing distant from him over the last six months. It was painful. John knew he hadn't been paying her proper attention, but he had a lot on his mind. He had told Emma that he worked for the government, which wasn't exactly true, but it wasn't a lie either.
He was keeping the city together. It was close to how the Strangers ran the city before everything that had happened. There was a time when everyone fell asleep and John occupied himself doing slight repairs around the city. He never moved anyone but he did his best to make sure everything in the city ran smoothly. He kept the streets free of potholes, no buildings fell into disrepair, and everyone had heating, water and electricity. John did his best to keep the city's inhabitants safe and well taken care of. He felt that because of his powers, it was his responsibility.
Daniel agreed with him, yet cautioned him not to work too hard. He said that John was apt to rupture his brain if he tried to do too much while Tuning. John was powerful, but he didn't have anyone else to help buffer the power like the Strangers had. John's strong human emotions made him greater than any Stranger had been, but the lack of thousands of minds to keep everything in control made things more difficult for John.
There was something about Emma that John was losing. When he had awoken prematurely from Daniel trying to imprint him, he had fallen in love with Emma. After everything was over, she had become Anna. John struggled sometimes to call her by the right name. He sometimes got the chills thinking that she wasn't exactly the same person he had known. John also knew that even though he felt he knew Emma, their history together had been fabricated. Yet no matter how much John's brain rationalized it, his heart still said different things.
In all, it was confusing, but John worked as hard as he could every day to keep things perfect for everyone in the city. He did a good job, too.
Yet despite all that he did for the people of the city, things were not perfect for John.
During the day, while he was supposed to be at his "government job", John spent his time at Shell Beach. It was an obsession, he knew it, but he had to be somewhere to keep up the illusion that he actually worked.
It was a Friday night and in a dim pub and John rolled a half-full pint of beer between his palms. The glass made faint noises as it dragged over the tabletop. Daniel looked at him from over a menu. "Something on your mind, John?" he asked in the halting breaths that had become endearing.
"You made up Emma's memories, right?" John asked absent-mindedly.
Daniel put the menu down slowly. "Yes, why?"
"Could you tell me if she was cheating on me again?"
Daniel dropped his gaze and stared at his hands, which were clasped over the menu. He didn't like the undertone in John's voice, the rumbling anger and confusion. It worried him. What would a man with god-like power do when slighted? Walk away from the problem as a wise god would or would he destroy the root of the problem as a vengeful god would? "Do you think she is cheating?" he asked hesitantly.
"Something you need to realize," Daniel said carefully, "Anna's memories may be manufactured but she isn't. She is her own woman."
John narrowed his eyes. "I know that," he snapped. "I'm not stupid. I just want to know the truth."
"The same way Anna knows the truth about you?"
Daniel regretted his words. John pushed the beer away and stood up. "I can't tell her the truth!" he snarled, "How can I?"
"I'm sorry, John," Daniel motioned for him to sit again. "Please. Talk to me about this."
Running his fingers through his hair, John sat. He shook his head and sighed. "I can't tell her the truth. Emma would think I'm crazy. And how could she look at me the same way afterwards? I can barely live a normal life without her knowing about Tuning, let alone trying to have a normal marriage if she knew."
"How much do you focus on her needs, John?" Daniel asked. His friend blinked.
"Her needs? What do you mean?"
Daniel gave a calculated shrug, one that said it was just a fleeting thought. "Every weekend you two head to Shell Beach. You spend hours on the water but Anna says on the sand, reading. Or she goes back early. Have you ever asked if that's what she wants to do?"
John was silent.
Anna looked at her suitcase. It was the biggest one she owned and she had packed as much necessary things she could fit in it. There were huge stacks of money hidden in the clothes. When she had gone to the bank she was astonished to see how much money was in the savings account she shared with John. She had never really looked at it before; John dealt with the books and balanced their finances. Although she supposed this could have been a front to conceal what he actually did during the day when he claimed to be at work.
She zipped the suitcase shut. It just fit. She lugged it to the front door. It hit the floor with a thud. The noise seemed to knock Anna out of a stupor. She rubbed her face a few times and sat at the kitchen table. Murdoch was coming to get her soon. The finality of the situation and possible consequences hit her all at once. A mix of emotion rose in her throat and tears were on the verge of spilling down her face.
Guilt was one of the strongest emotions she was feeling. John was going to be devastated when he got home. Her leaving was going to be completely out of the blue for him. She hadn't mentioned her unhappiness; she hadn't said a word about Murdoch. She hadn't even hinted she was seeing someone new.
A knock at the front door. Anna took a deep breath to calm herself and went to answer it.
Murdoch stood on the door step, still clad in black. He tilted his head to the side, reading the complex emotions on Anna's face. He gave her a sympathetic smile. Anna accepted the condolence with a smile of her own and ushered him in.
As Murdoch stepped in and removed his hat, Anna was struck by how much healthier he looked. His skin had lost the pale, sallow look it had when they had first met. He instead had the normal sheen and glow of someone who spent a moderate of time outdoors. There was some colour to his cheeks as well.
"You are ready, yes?" he asked, indicating to the suitcase.
John began running down the street. A man had just entered his house.