His face leers at me from the mirror while I shave.

There isn't much of a beard -- that's because of the acid exposure, the doctors tell me -- but what growth comes through is irregular and coarse, and it's easy to get scraggly if I'm not careful. The razor is an old electric on a very short cord, so I have to lean very close to the mirror if I want to see what I'm doing. It makes shaving difficult, but that means the cord is too short to strangle anyone with.

I asked for a newer razor, one with batteries, but it's been three months and I don't think I'm going to get it. Even though I filled out the forms with my nicest crayon. Still, I wish it had come. For the same reason I saved the last clean pair of socks from my laundry allotment, and wore dirty scrubs this week so I could save my fresh set for this morning.

I have a visitor today.

I've never had a real visitor before. Not that I can recall, anyway. I wonder who it is. Somebody with pull, probably. I'm not in a position to hear much gossip, but word is the administrators aren't too happy about letting somebody from outside come to see me on a purely social call. Which means they feel that they have to do it. Is the visitor rich? Powerful? Political? I hope it's not a politician. I've seen politicians: the mayor, the D.A., the governor. It's been a while since I've seen someone who wasn't a politician. Or a police officer. Or a psychiatrist. Forever, really, so long as I know.

Of course, my "forever" is only about eleven months. That's how long ago the Me'turi invasion came. Invasion attempt, anyway. Earth's heroes beat them back, of course, but any attempt by a hive-minded telepathic army to impose its will on the minds of the planet's entire population is bound to cause a few side effects. One of which was me.

I'm dressed when the doctor comes. The scrubs are soft; I wish I could get them starched, or pressed, or something. And the slippers are comfortable, but a little -- well. Underdressed. Can't be helped, I suppose.

"Are you ready?" he says to me.

As ready as I'll get. I nod wordlessly.

"All right," he says. "Let's go."

The path we take isn't the one I expected. "We're not inside?"

"No," he says. "We talked it over and thought you might go for an early tea. Outside."

"That's very nice. Thank you."

It's a beautiful afternoon in the arboretum -- at least, that carefully-fenced-off section that I call my own. I'm proud of it. I've spent a lot of time working here. When you're gardening, it's surprisingly easy to forget that there's a man bent over a rifle in a tower watching your every move.

The table is set up on the lawn. "Just wait here," the doctor says. "She's a little delayed getting through security."

She? "Thank you," I say again. He leaves, and I stand there. Waiting. Wondering. I can't imagine who it would be. All the women I'm supposed to know are already in here.

And then I see her. It is a woman. Around thirty years old. Red hair, blue eyes. And she's in a wheelchair. Not one of the Arkham issues, either. This is a top-of-the-line job. I think I strapped somebody in one of those and sent him into the middle of the Gotham Demolition Derby. That's what the clippings I found in the library say, anyway. So probably I did.

The wheelchair tires are fat, so she doesn't need to stick to the path. The woman wheels her way to me across the grass. I stand there and let her come. To go to her would be a mistake, I think. I don't know who she is, but there's something about her face.

I feel that I should know her.

"Hello," she says.

"Good afternoon," I reply. The deja vu is becoming unnerving. "You look familiar," I say. "Have we met?"

"Yes," she says.

"I'm sorry."

She doesn't say anything to that.

"They've provided us with tea," I say, pointing at the table. "Would you care to have some?"

She looks startled, then glances over her shoulder toward security. There must be an all-clear signal that I don't see, because she turns back to me and nods. "All right," she says.

I pull out my own chair -- now I know why they brought only one -- and wait to be seated until she's at her place at table. Everything is laid out precisely. Very neat. I have to save a napkin. Use it to write a thank-you note to the kitchen. Wish I'd brought my crayon.

My visitor still seems wary. I look down and realize what she saw that made her nervous. The lemon has been cut neatly into quarters. Her glance flicks rapidly over the table. It's a natural thought. She's looking for the knife.

"Pre-cut," I say. "Very thoughtful of them."

She looks at me in surprise, then seems to relax. She doesn't apologize. Good. I'd cut her off if she tried. No need for it.

"Tea?" I say.

She reaches the pot before I do. "That's all right," she says. "I've got it." She pours for herself, then sets the teapot in front of me. I pour for myself, add milk and sugar, then take a small sip. Impolite, perhaps, but reassuring. She watches me carefully. I think she understands. I notice his face, upside-down in my spoon. I stir my tea; he slides beneath the surface and disappears.

She leans forward to reach the sugar. The neck of her blouse is loose, and it falls to one side, showing a flash of creamy skin. I look away, but the fleeting sight brings as brief a glimpse of memory, and as she stirs her tea I realize I know what she looks like naked.

I wonder if I raped her.

It occurs to me it would be very easy to conceal a weapon in her wheelchair. I wonder if she has. I wonder what I'd do if she tried to use it. I used to play this game, I think. I must have. "What if the crimelord has a gun?" "What if the victim has a knife?" "What if the nice woman in the wheelchair wants to kill me?"

I know the answer to that last one, at least. There's no fooling myself: I'd let her. I'd turn my breast to her knife. If her hand shook, I'd use my own to guide her -- no, I couldn't do that; my touch would be offensive. Well, it's the thought that counts.

"You know," she says quietly, "you're not at all what I expected."

Not surprising. "What did you expect?" I ask.

"I don't know," she says. "Not... not this. You seem like a very quiet, pleasant man. Old, somehow." She stirs her tea, and by now the sugar must be quite dissolved, but I wouldn't mention that. "Do you remember anything?"

"I know what I've been told. What I've read. Memories? Flashes here and there. Never much of anything, really." I allow myself a small shrug. "I can't even be certain which ones are real." Another flash, audible this time. Somebody's talking into a microphone, in a strange, echoing room. I can't quite make it out at first, but then it comes clear: "...if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!" The voice is shrill and mad, and I recognize it as my own.

"Do you remember anything from... before?"

I shake my head. "No. I don't know what good it would do if I did. They never identified him, you know. Nobody ever claimed him. Nobody called or wrote, saying, 'That's my brother' or 'my nephew' or 'my son.' Or 'my husband.' Even now... well, I think the world's just as happy he stays unknown."

"You say 'he,'" she says. I see his face in the teapot. I try not to look at it. "Do you feel guilt?"

A difficult question. I'm not sure of the answer. "Not exactly guilt. More responsibility."

"What's the difference?"

"One's heavier. I think."

"Yes," she says after a moment. "I understand."

"Do you?" I say wistfully. "I'm not sure I do."

She smiles at that, and tries to hide it. I hope I didn't say something too funny. I try not to.

"May I ask you a question?" I say.

"What kind of question?" she says. Her voice is guarded.

"I was just wondering your name."

"Oh," she says. She bites her lip a moment. It makes her uncomfortable to offer me even that, and I'm about to apologize when she says, "My name is Barbara Gordon."

It's utterly unfamiliar. It must show on my face. "I'm sorry," she says. "I just thought they'd have told you."

I shake my head. "There's a lot they don't tell me. After a while, you learn to quit asking. The menu, the schedule... visitors' names."

"Do you have a name?" she says.

"None that I remember. I keep meaning to try one or two out. Although before the staff realized what had happened to me and moved me out of my cell in the old wing, I had no clue who, where, or what I was, but I was fairly convinced my last name was Jay."

She doesn't get it. I take a sip of tea to prime my larynx, then force myself into a squeaky falsetto. "'Are you all right, Mistah J.?'"

The Harley imitation catches her off-guard. She stares for an instant. Then she snickers. She puts a hand over her mouth to stifle it, but can't quite stop. I chuckle quietly myself. I can't help it. It is funny, the first funny thing in ages. We catch each other's eyes, and as often happens that makes the whole thing funnier, and then I laugh -- oh God, I laugh --

Her laughter stops as if someone cut it off with a switch. She pushes against the table, shoving the wheelchair back so she has room to move. There's panic in her eyes, and I know she's looking for a weapon.

I hold up a hand and fight my laughter down. "I'm sorry!" I cry, louder than I meant to. "I'm sorry. I try not to do that. I know how I look when -- how I sound -- please, wait."

"I should go," she says.

"Wait. Please. Just -- just one minute. Please."

Her knuckles are white on the rims of her wheelchair. Then her grip loosens, slowly. She doesn't come any closer, but she lifts her hands to the arms of her chair. Her breathing begins a slow return to normal.

"I have a question," I say. "Advice, really."

"I'm probably the last person you should be asking," she says.

"If my guess about that chair is right," I say, "then you're the first."

She looks at me hard then, and I worry I've upset her. But her voice, when it comes, is steady, though it travels from beyond clenched teeth. "Go on," she says.

"Do I have any right whatsoever to go on living?"

"Don't ask me that," she says. Her voice is trembling now, and she speaks hurriedly. "Jesus, don't ask me that. I don't want that kind of responsibility."

"It's not your responsibility," I say quickly. "It's mine. I'm not asking for a command."

"What *are* you asking for?" she says. "*Permission?!*"

"No. No. ... not exactly. It's just that you seem like a very kind person, and if I... if I *did* -- I just want to be sure it wouldn't trouble your sleep."

She snorts. Then looks off into the distance. The man with the rifle watches us from his tower. I keep myself carefully positioned to offer him the best possible shot.

"Nothing you do could possibly trouble my sleep any more than it is already," she says quietly.

That's as close to permission as I'm likely to get. It's a weight off my shoulders. I close my eyes and let relief wash over me. "Thank you," I say.

"I think I'd best be going," she says nervously. She pushes her chair back from the table and turns to head back to the building. She doesn't move to shake my hand. I don't make the mistake of offering it. That would be obscene. I do rise as she goes.

"Good afternoon, Ms. Gordon," I say.

"Good afternoon," she says. She hesitates, then adds, "'Mr. Jay.'"


In the mirror, his face leers at me again.

I try not to look at it, most of the time, but now I take it all in. The eyebrows, a green just darker than the hair; the skin, white and dead; the red, red lips, curled back in a grimace that never goes away. The teeth.

It helps to see it, knowing it's for the last time.

I close my eyes and take a breath.

"You had a visit," says a voice.

My eyes snap open. The guard shouldn't be back this way for another ten minutes. And that doesn't sound like the guard. And there's nobody looking through the little barred porthole in my door.

Then I turn and look at the window.


It's him.

He must be on a rope. I don't see a rope. Maybe he can fly. Everything else I've read about him, it wouldn't surprise me.

"Yes," I say. "You know, you're my second visitor now?"

"This isn't a social call."

His voice sounds like nails on concrete. "I know," I say. "I'm listening."

"That's not a safe way to operate that razor," he says.

He must be referring to the sink full of water. "No," I agree. "A fellow could get electrocuted."

"Is that what you want?" he says.

He asks me that as if it matters, and I tell him so. "Doesn't it?" he says.

"I've done too much," I say. He doesn't argue, and for some reason that makes me want to convince him more. "Before she came today, I was dreaming. I took a nap and I dreamed I was in a warehouse with a young boy in a red tunic and yellow cape. I dreamed I beat him to death with a crowbar."

"You didn't quite beat him to death," he says.

There's the wildest moment of hope, like birds fluttering around my heart. "He's alive?"

"No. He lived long enough to throw himself in front of the bomb you left there. He sacrificed himself trying to save a woman's life."

Oh. "But she lived?" The birds' wings flutter faintly now.



Hope turns to ashes so quickly. I turn my head away from him and back to the sink. The cord is just long enough for the razor to enter the water. I'll keep a tight grip on it. The short-circuit should kill me. I hope. I hope, I hope. It's so strange that that hope is such a positive thing.

"I won't stop you," he says. "But I only have one question. It's been eleven months. You've known most of that time. What's taken you so long?"

"Do you want the truth?" When he inclines his head slightly, I press on. "Because it doesn't seem that it's enough."

The grim shadow on my windowsill doesn't move. "That's because it's not," he says.

"So what is enough?" I say. "What can I possibly do? What can I possibly suffer to make it balance out?"

"Nothing," he says. "It doesn't work that way. Believe me. I've tried."

He sounds as if he has. I wonder what he blames himself for. The boy in the red tunic? Some other life he failed to save? Or is it something older, deeper?

"Tell me what to do," I say.

"Someone is going to kill you," he says. "You've destroyed too many lives, too many hearts. There are a lot of people who want you dead. In here -- " he nods into the window " -- and out there." He inclines his head to the city lights, twinkling in the dark beyond. "It *will* happen. No matter where you are. If you're here, if you're free, it'll happen. Somewhere, there's somebody lying awake tonight who can't sleep knowing you're drawing breath in the world. Whose rest will only come when you're rotting underground, and then only if he put you there. That person -- those people -- will come. And I won't stop them. Until then, you have to live. For their sake, not for yours. Your penance is to live every day knowing your death is coming, and when it comes, to die well. Can you do that?"

My God. I nod wordlessly, frantically. I can't move my lips, my tongue; if I try to speak, I'll cry. The emotion is just too much. He's done it again. But this is more fantastic than anything he's ever done. All those plots he's foiled, those death-traps he's escaped. Now he's done the impossible. He's given me something to live for.

He waits for me to calm down, and finally I do. I wait until I can speak evenly. I want to give him that much courtesy.

"I can try," I say. "God, I can try."

"You can't give rest to all of them," he says. "But maybe you can give rest to one who can't get it any other way."

"Then it'll be worth it," I say. "To stay around."

I pull the razor's cord loose from the wall, then hit the drain on the sink. The water spirals away, and some of the darkness in me spirals with it. It's such a good thing to have a purpose. Even if that purpose is my end. But for that end to serve somebody, somehow -- it's more than I could ask for.

He rummages in his belt for a moment, then reaches through the bars -- he opened the glass, somehow -- and holds something out. It's a razor. Battery-powered. A small charging station. The cord's too short to go anywhere near the sink. I take it gladly, and hand him my old razor. His glove brushes my hand in the exchange. It's not a handshake, but he's the first person in all this time to even come close. He looks at me, and nods. And then he's gone.

The razor goes on the floor, near a wall plug. I'm not sure how I'll explain it to the doctors; maybe they'll think my request finally came through. I straighten up and turn to see the mirror over the sink.

I look into the mirror and see his face. No. No more of that. Not his face. *My* face. It's my face and there's nothing I can ever do about it and that's as it should be. Because seeing it, every day, that gruesome reminder... it's one small part of my punishment.

And somehow, knowing that makes it easier to bear.