"The iceman cometh!" exclaimed the Joker, as Mr. Freeze entered the Rec Room at Arkham Asylum.
"Very droll, Joker," sighed Jonathan Crane. "But I doubt you're at all familiar with the play."
"With the what now?" said Joker.
"The Iceman Cometh is a play by Eugene O'Neill which premiered on Broadway in 1946…ow!"
"Too much information, Professor," interrupted Joker, striking him across the back of the head. "No one likes a know-it-all. Joke's not funny if you gotta have a lot of background info to get it."
"You're the one who made the joke…" began Crane. "Ow!" he cried, as Joker punched him again. "What was that for?"
"Just for being you, Craney!" chuckled Joker, leaving the room laughing.
"How are you today, Victor?" asked Crane, glaring after Joker as he rubbed his head tenderly.
"The same as always," murmured Freeze. "My condition never changes, nor does my emotional wellbeing, if that is what you were inquiring about. My emotions are all frozen within me. They do not alter."
"Must be a blessing, in a way," replied Crane. "At least there's no pain."
"The numbness is worse than the pain," replied Freeze. "To feel anything is preferable to feeling nothing."
"I think you could debate that issue until the end of time," said Crane. "And I think many philosophers have."
"And I think none of them have ever experienced true pain," murmured Freeze. "Or true numbness. As one who has experienced both, trust me, the pain is preferable."
Crane didn't know how to respond, so he merely returned to his book. It was difficult to talk to Freeze. He never interacted with the other inmates much – his inability to exist outside freezing environments except when surrounded by his protective suit was one factor. And the other was his complete apathy for the rest of humanity in general. No one in Arkham Asylum could be considered loving, tender, affectionate people (maybe Harley Quinn, but even she enjoyed her fair share of random violence), but they all seemed to have emotions – even the Joker had his likes and dislikes. But Freeze had nothing, or at least, no emotions that he showed. His dealings with his fellow lunatics were rare by preference. He just didn't care about anyone, whether as a friend or as a foe. And unlike every other inmate, he didn't even hate Batman. He was apathetic toward him, as he was toward all things. He didn't care about anything or anyone. Except one person, and she couldn't even be called a person anymore, frozen as she was in a cryogenics tube, as cold and silent as if she were dead. But she wasn't dead. And that knowledge kept Freeze's heart beating, as slow and sluggish as it was. It was alive. She was alive.
"Time for tea, Jonathan," said Jervis Tetch, entering the room at that moment. "Oh…Victor," he stammered. "Good day to you."
"Good day, Mr. Tetch," murmured Freeze.
"Would you…ah…care to join us for tea?" asked Tetch.
"I would be unable to drink it," replied Freeze.
"Yes, well, I didn't mean to actually drink it, I just meant to…um…sit and talk with us," said Tetch.
"And why would I wish to do that?" asked Freeze.
"Well…I don't know," replied Tetch. "Only in my experience one can get terribly lonely sitting by oneself all the time…"
"You do not know the meaning of the word lonely, Mr. Tetch," murmured Freeze. "You may have lost your Alice, but you may still see her again one day. You may touch her, you may take her hand and feel the warmth of her skin, and her smile. Even when my Nora awakes, I will never feel that again. I will never feel anything again, because I am truly separated from humanity. For you to be alone is metaphorical. For me it is my reality, and my life. Forever."
"I'm…terribly sorry," stammered Tetch. "If there's anything I can do…"
"Do not waste your kindness on me, Mr. Tetch," interrupted Freeze. "It is meaningless to me. I do not feel gratitude. I do not feel anything."
Tetch nodded. "Well, good day to you, Victor."
"See you soon, Victor," said Crane, standing up and following Tetch out of the room.
Freeze sat alone in the room for some time, thinking. That was all he did these days – think about the future, and remember the past. He did not live in the present, because there was no present to him but an eternity of misery, loneliness, and cold.
He rose at last and walked back to his cell. There at least he could remove his suit. His cell was kept at subzero temperatures, and he was more comfortable unburdened by the frozen shell which encased him constantly.
As he headed down the cell block, he heard a giggle, and turned to see Harley Quinn being pressed against the bars of her cell, beaming in happiness as the Joker covered her face in kisses.
"Got a problem, Freeze?" he asked, looking up suddenly and noticing him.
"Many," retorted Freeze.
"Aw, ain't that a shame?" sighed Joker. "Well, you're welcome to stay and watch me rev up my Harley – might bring back good memories of you and the ice dame, huh? Or it might just be twisting the knife in a bit further for you to see that some of us, psychotic lunatics though we may be, can still have a woman, while you, Vicky, if I'm not mistaken, will never be able to again. That even if your wife wakes up one day, you're gonna have a pretty platonic marriage. Or things will have to be really chilly in the bedroom. And ain't that a funny thought?" he chuckled.
"Perhaps it would be. To enjoy humor, one must invest in the joke. And I do not care about anything so silly," replied Freeze.
"Nah, the only thing you care about is some frozen cold popsicle of a dame," retorted Joker. "She can't really be worth all this crap you go through for her, can she, Freeze?"
Freeze looked at him. "You have never been in love, have you, Joker?"
Joker chuckled. "Like you said, Vicky, to enjoy that kinda crap, you gotta invest in the joke. And I ain't the kinda guy to invest in silly jokes like that."
"Love ain't a joke, Mr. J," murmured Harley. "It's the most powerful thing on earth."
"Right, kid, and I'm Batman," he retorted. "Just shut your useless mouth, would ya? Or will I have to do that for you?" he chuckled, kissing her again.
"You should listen to her, Joker," replied Freeze. "She is wiser than she looks."
"Wouldn't be too hard, would it?" chuckled Joker. "Aw, she's a dumb blonde, but I love the little minx, really," he said, pinching her cheek. "So there ya go, Victor."
"You don't love her," muttered Freeze, leaving them to it. "You don't even know the meaning of that word."
He returned to his cell, shutting and securing the door, and then slowly removed his suit. "It is a weakness, love," he continued, talking to himself. "And the Joker is strong, very strong. Too strong. It does not take much to break a man. Just deprive him of his love, the one thing he needs to live. A man who loves no one is truly invincible."
He picked up the snowglobe he carried with him always, of a ballerina dancing in the snow. A ballerina with golden hair and a beautiful smile. "I am not that man," he whispered. "Perhaps I wish I could be, but I cannot. I love you too much, Nora. That is my weakness, and my only joy. The one thing that makes me feel alive again. To remember you, in all your beauty, to remember us, as we were, in happier days. In days when I could feel the sun on my face, and the taste of your kiss, and warmth…I remember what it is to feel warmth, but it is a dim memory now and will soon fade. Soon there will be only cold and ice and numbness. Nothingness. Like death."
He shut his eyes. "But I lived once," he murmured. "We lived once. And we were happy…I suppose no man can ask for more than that. But it was so short a summer, to be followed by so long a winter. A never-ending winter…for both of us."
He clutched the snowglobe tightly. "I will save you, my love," he whispered. "I swore to you…it is too late for me, but for you…there may yet be a summer. There will yet be a summer. And you will be alive and beautiful and warm, as you always were. So warm that you melted even my frozen heart. Well, now my heart truly is frozen, my love. And I need you to come back to me, to melt it again, to give me more than just memories. To give me life and hope and happiness, so long denied me. I would kill everyone on this earth for just a touch of your warmth once more."
He curled up in his cell, shutting his eyes tightly. "The memories…still warm me," he murmured. "But I do not know how much longer they can last against the cold. Things so precious and beautiful and delicate, like flowers, must die when the frost comes. And someday these memories too will die. But until then they will warm me. I will remember you, and remember warmth. Until I can bring you back to me."