Nora Fries gazed out her window, watching the snow drift gently on the wind, a framed photograph pressed close to her chest. How long had it been since she last witnessed the snow falling? It seemed impossible to recall. Almost as difficult as it was to remember the sound of his voice, the touch of his hand. All those memories were faded now, more like remnants of a dream than something she experienced in reality. And that had completely transformed when she had asked about her husband.
Her arms tightened around the picture. The doctors had told her what became of him, his criminal record, the people he had hurt, and of his death after the oil rig exploded- a fact that had recently been called into question due to the police not having yet recovered a body. Tireless, the police launched another investigation. Over the past few weeks, Nora had kept herself appraised of the situation courtesy of the officer assigned guard duty in the hospital. It was then she began to believe her husband had not died, and she longed to see him. There was only one person who could make it happen.
Wind rustled the long curtains. She turned, finding a tall shadow standing in the corner. His mouth was a grim line, his eyes slightly narrowed. "I was able to find him," he reported, and a wave of excitement quickened her pulse. "Do you still want to do this?"
Nora gazed down at the photograph. The two people stared back at her, completely at peace with one another and the world, their eyes forever frozen in happiness. "Yes," she murmured, running her fingers down the image. Her ring seized the moonlight, shining as brightly as the snow slowly piling on the window sill. "I have to."
"He's not the man you remember," Batman pointed out.
Tears blurred her vision, and she blinked them away. Again her gaze drifted to the picture. "I know what you're trying to say," she said, sighing. "You, and everyone else, are probably right about it being too soon. But I'm not changing my mind."
His face was impassive. "And what about Frances? He cares for you."
Nora fell silent. Frances, chief doctor assigned to her case, had been instrumental in her rehabilitation, both physically and, to her surprise, emotionally. Yet the feelings for her husband lingered, even though he had been responsible for stealing all that time from her. Frances had been adamant about reminding her of that fact, leading to a confrontation that resulted in his abrupt departure. Nora could still hear the echo of the slamming door.
"I care for him, too," she admitted. "He has been with me every step of the way these past few months. It's just..." She touched the picture again, fingertips resting upon his face. "Do you know what it's like to wish for something? Even if it seems foolish?" She turned to face him, drawing the frame closer to her chest. "I just don't think I can live the rest of my life without seeing Victor again. There's so much I want to say to him."
Batman absorbed her words in silence. Then: "Make sure you wear heavy clothing," he advised in solemn tones. "I must warn you: we cannot linger there long. The temperatures there will drop quickly."
Relief swept through Nora, and she bowed her head. Batman informed her to venture to the rooftop before exiting the room as quietly as he arrived. Nora took the photograph, set it on the windowsill, along with a piece of paper addressed to Frances. Then, shrugging into a heavy coat, she took her leave, closing the door behind her.
The stars are beautiful tonight.
They spread across the expanse of black sky like streaks of glitter against the breathtaking backdrop of the aurora borealis. Victor Fries smiled. Cold and distant, still they inspired delight, and none more so than when featured in a winter sky.
He extended his hand, as if to palm the stars. Are you looking at the sky as well, my love? Is there someone standing beside you, waiting to claim your hand as I once did? He turned his hand over, stared at his palm, as stark white as the snow. His mind filled with images of her, all in rapid succession, ending, always, with the last moment he saw her: draped in Batman's arms, his hand grazing the top of her hair. The old pain surfaced, and his throat tightened. I have only ever wanted you to be happy, Nora. I only wish I could be with you.
The distinct sound of an approaching aircraft alerted him. Sitting up, Victor scanned the sky, his eyes narrowing at recognizing the craft. What was he doing here? How had he known where to find him?
Casting these thoughts aside, Victor Fries made his way down the slope back for the cavern. Its interior was sparsely decorated- he was a man of few comforts, after all. He approached a wooden crate, grasping the freeze ray that lay atop it. He then glanced at the suit leaning against the wall. If Batman thought he was going to bring him in, he was sorely mistaken.
Nora held fast to the seat as Batman maneuvered the plane to land. She could feel the landing gear lower, then sink into the snow as it settled. A slope rose up nearby, the small cavern a black circle against the brilliance of the snow drifts. She drew in a sharp breath. Was this lonely, desolate place truly Victor's home?
Batman flipped a few switches, released the safety harness and turned to her. "I'm going in first. Wait here until I contact you. I have to make sure Freeze isn't a threat."
It was impossible to associate her husband with the man Batman referred to as Mr. Freeze. She nodded slowly. "You won't hurt him?"
"You have my word," he assured her. The canopy lifted with a push of the button, snow and cold wind swirling inside as it opened. Nora watched Batman vault to the ground below, his cape settling around him like wings. Slowly he trudged forward, the wind obscuring his footprints as soon as they appeared. Nora leaned forward, watching the entrance to the cave very closely. Her hand closed over her wedding ring, gripped it tightly. Victor, she thought, her heart in her throat. Victor...
Batman felt this to be a bad idea from the moment Nora had pitched it to him, but now that he was standing in the mouth of the cavern, there was no turning back. Her quiet determination to see her husband had struck a chord deep within, compelling him to honestly admit it was necessary. He, too, knew what it was to wish for something; just as donning the mask and eradicating crime was essential to him, so too was seeing Freeze for Nora. They both needed the closure, if either was to truly move ahead.
Moving slowly, Batman crossed the threshold, his eyes and ears alert, for detecting Freeze via heat signature was impossible. Fortunately, these conventional methods were made the easier due to the limited mobility of Freeze's suit. The same could not be said for his freeze ray. Even at his swiftest, Batman had difficulty in avoiding being hit. He just had to make sure Freeze didn't get the chance to fire first.
As he drew further in he identified footprints, both booted and otherwise, as well as an imprint of where the suit stood near the wall- and the fresh prints leading toward the back of the cavern. He rose, slowly, clouds of breath circling his head.
"I know you're in here, Freeze," he said.
Armored footsteps sounded at his shoulder. Batman glimpsed the barrel of a gun hovering at his temple in his peripheral. Freeze's face was a stone mask, brows lowered dramatically. The red lenses of his glasses stood out against his pale complexion. "Why have you come here, Batman?"
Batman turned to face him, his arms at his sides, hands in plain sight. "I'm not here to fight you, Victor."
Freeze's arm did not waver. "Then turn around and leave," he instructed curtly. "I wish to be left in peace."
"I'll leave, and gladly, but only after I have concluded my business here."
Freeze's mouth twitched downward into a frown. "Which is?"
Batman discreetly signaled the Batwing and said nothing.
It was clear Freeze was in no mood for this. "Enough. If you leave now and never come back, I-" Abruptly he stopped, for his gaze had gone past Batman's shoulder. His raised arm trembled, dropped to his side. Astonishment was etched onto his face.
"Nora..." His voice was no more than a whisper.
Nora Fries stepped past Batman, her long coat and furred hood making her appear every inch of a winter princess. She lowered the hood, her long, blonde hair draping around her face like a golden curtain. Her eyes shone with affection, tears. She spoke Victor's name, very softly.
The gun clattered to the cavern floor.
Batman judged it safe enough to make his exit. He lingered in the entrance long enough to see Freeze take a single step forward before venturing for the warmth of the Batwing.
He had dreamed of this moment for so long, and now that it was happening, he was as slack-jawed and tongue tied as a boy confronting his crush. Nora, his Nora, as beautiful as ever, smiling her special smile at him, stood mere feet away, and all he could do was stare. The paralysis left him when she stepped forward, her hand extended. Joy he had not felt in years swept over him, and he reached for her.
Yet the sight of his gloved hand checked him. It was with shame that he turned away. "You shouldn't have come here," he said quietly. He kept his gaze fixed on the floor. "You should go back to Gotham."
"Victor? Please, look at me."
He did so, unable to refuse her anything.
She gazed up at him, her blue eyes shining with tears. Her hand lifted, slowly, for his helmet. Her gloved fingers curled, as if she were cupping his cheek. It was a long moment before she spoke again, her voice soft.
"I have these visions of you looking at me from the other side of the glass," she said. Her expression turned sorrowful. "It must have been so awful for you."
He swallowed past the lump in his throat. "Every day," he replied in anguished tones, seeing not her face, warm and alive, but forever closed off, distant. Cold. The emotions plaguing him all these years burst forth in a guilt-ridden confession. "I beg you to forgive me, Nora. I had to do it. I couldn't lose you. I wouldn't. If Boyle hadn't stopped me-" He broke off, the anger too great, even now.
Nora's hand slid down his helmet, came to a rest on his chest, just over his heart. "What Boyle did to you is terrible," she murmured. She spent a moment studying his suit, then peered up at him, imploring. "Is it true?"
This had been a question Freeze expected, and dreaded. "Yes." The word was heavy with regret. "I can no longer live outside a sub-zero environment. I will never feel the warmth of the sun again." He touched her hair, let the strands slip through his fingers. Even in the bleakness of the cave, it shone like the sun. "I will never again feel the warmth of your skin, the softness of your hair. They are only memories to me now."
His admission brought pain to her eyes, adding to his misery. "And if I touched you?" she questioned in a small voice.
The answer took every ounce of courage he could muster. "It would be as if you touched ice."
Nora's eyes filled with tears. Faced with her anguish, detesting his inability to comfort her as he should, he reluctantly stepped back. "I am going to tell Batman to bring you home now. Thank you for coming to see me, Nora." He smiled sadly. "It will give me a wonderful memory to visit in the long years ahead of me."
"Victor, wait," Nora pleaded as he strode past. He waited until she stood in front of him again. Her throat flashed as she swallowed. "Let me touch you."
The request drew him up short. "Nora..."
Her eyes were bright with emotion, and that something he could not identify. "Please."
Freeze searched her face. Try as he might, he could not deny her, or himself. With a nod, he watched, heart pounding, as she lifted his right hand and pulled off his glove. He resisted the urge to clench his fist. He did not want her to see his blackened fingertips.
Nora laid her hand upon his. A brief flash of surprise entered her eyes, which was something he sadly expected. The chill that penetrated his body had seeped past the protective layer of her glove. When she drew her hand back he could not help but feel intense disappointment. It would have been wonderful to feel her touch him, even if all he could do was sense the pressure of her hand.
That was when she surprised him.
Rather than release him, she guided his hand to her cheek. Freeze started, prepared to pull away out of want to protect her when he felt her lean into his touch. She closed her eyes, sighed. The tears that streamed down her cheeks came into contact with his hand, froze. But still she snuggled against his palm. Her expression was that of gaining a long cherished wish.
The shock was so intense all he could do was stare. It was as if all his knowledge of cryogenics abandoned him. He could not think beyond the miracle of Nora surviving his touch. He felt himself tremble.
But when she opened her eyes, and he saw the profound love shining in them, it suddenly came to him: had the long years she spent in a cryogenic state somehow altered her tolerance for colder temperatures?
Could this mean...?
His trembling intensified, but for different reasons as he unsealed his helmet. It came away from the suit with a hiss, a puff of air. He dropped it to the ground. The goggles soon joined it.
Nora smiled through her tears as he held her face in his hands, lowered his lips to hers. For the first time in many years warmth- true warmth- spread through him, melting her frozen tears and reawakening a feeling he had long since abandoned.