Batman, The Joker and all related elements are the intellectual property of DC Comics.

I make no money at all out of this.

TOKEN OF AFFECTION.

"What would it take for you to love me?"

The words hit his mind harder than one of Bane's punches. And yet, his face barely betrayed his emotion. He was well used to the nemesis' mindgames, even ones as abrupt as this.

He only allowed himself a brief glare to his side, where the clown sat handcuffed and shirtless, his feet tightly tied together. "What?"

Joker was not looking at him, choosing to stare through the Batmobile's window at the rainy streets of Gotham instead. His voice was oddly distant, soft and musing. It was only an act, of course, and both men knew it too well, but that was part and parcel of his show.

"When you took my shirt off and threw me inside your car, I was expecting for... something different."

"The last time I handcuffed you while leaving your shirt on, you pulled a saw from your sleeve and cut free."

"Give me a break. I had to go pee."

"To the other side of the city?"

"Well, not everyone is willing to let me use their bathroom!".

Joker tilted his head back towards him, squinting his black and swollen left eye. "Our relationship is built entirely on abuse, and honestly, it's becoming too unhealthy even for me. We should go see a therapist".

The Bat gritted his teeth. "You're the one who always keeps rising the stakes."

"Only because you won't give me the time of your day otherwise," Joker sighed. He paused. "You still haven't answered my question. What would it take for you to love me?"

"I never could love you. Not like you even understand the meaning of the word."

"There you go, being so rude again. Just because my concept of love doesn't exactly match with yours, it doesn't mean I don't love you. I have built my whole life around you, and what do I get out of it? When you aren't ignoring me because I'm locked up like an animal, you are punching me in the face."

Batman sighed inwardly and pressed on the car's accelerator a bit more. The sooner they arrived to Arkham, the better.

"If anything, I'm too soft on you".

"Yeah. Because you pity me. Because I'm crazy. Your pity disgusts me. I'm not a thing to be pitied."

"Now there's something we can agree on."

Joker half-smiled fighting the pain on his pummeled face. "Oh. Good one. Sometimes, you come close to get it."

He paused, seeming to look for the right words before pressing on, "There must be something about me that you like."

"I like when you shut up."

"Then why haven't you gagged me?" the clown asked.

"Because that would give you more time to think. And I prefer when you aren't thinking."

"Oh, not another insult! What, do you think I can't talk and think at the same time?"

"You always think what you do, but you never think of what you talk."

Joker blinked, seeming to concede defeat on this round too. He sulked. "You're very complicated."

Another brief pause. Only a few minutes more to Arkham.

"If I could bring everyone I've ever killed back, could you love me then?" he spoke again.

"Like you'd ever do that. An egomaniac like you would never ruin his handwork."

"We're just playing pretend!"

"No, you are playing pretend. I never play around."

"Yeah, that explains everything that is wrong with you. Listen, your former sidekick is back to life, and odds are they'll find a cure for Gordon's daughter someday. After those, all that there would be between us would be a few dozens of dead non-entities. Two-Face had his fair bodycount too, and you forgave him..."

"And I regretted it later."

"Well, excuse those of us who can't be as perfect as you!"

"You don't get it, do you, Joker? It's not a matter of nothing but those who were close to me. It's not only about the dead. It's about all those you hurt, all the lives you ruined, all those for whom there aren't magical fixes. And mainly, it's all about how you'll never change, how you'll never try to get better, and how that makes your stupid mental exercise totally useless. Also, you forgot Gordon's wife."

"Ah, yes. Her."

The clown lowered his head.

"That night at the fair, when you gave me a chance to take your hand... I was afraid. Afraid to take it. That's why I couldn't do it."

"Because it'd have meant to actually try to quit your mania."

"No. Because it'd have meant to quit... the only way I have to show my love for you."

"No one would ever want that kind of sick love. Even Quinn got fed up with it. Face it, Joker. You blew it all for yourself. And because of that, you'll always be alone."

"I know. But hey, at least I have my mementos of love. And you have yours. We have left deeper marks on each other than any woman could ever leave. Sharp as Kitty's claws and Harley's... ahem... blunders at bed may be."

"We arrived."

The car took a sharp, screeching stop at the Asylum's gates. Doctor Arkham and ten orderlies stood there, watching silently how the vigilante dragged his prey out of the vehicle and handled it to the burly men. Before they carried him away, he still could say a few farewell words.

"Batman!"

"What?"

"Actually, I was just messing with you. I know you already love me."

"Yeah. Right."

"Batman, yours is the greatest love I'll ever have. Yours is the greatest forgiveness, the greatest compassion. You may call that a no-kill vow, but we know better. No mere vow is enough for all you've done for me. Time after time I've pushed you beyond what any man could ever take, and time after time you have allowed me to live, no matter the cost, no matter the price. You have forgiven all my transgressions, and if that isn't true love, then nothing is. You forgive Two-Face because he has a good side; you forgive Freeze because he is tragic; you forgive Hatter and Scarecrow because they just are too pathetic; you forgive Croc because it's not his fault he was born being what he is. But I don't have any of their excuses. And yet, with no reason, you allow me to go on. Because love takes the reason away. Thank you, Batman. Thank you forever."

And then he was gone.

Doctor Arkham cleared his throat. "Ahem! I'm... sorry he escaped us again" he humbly said, standing under the rain shaking his head. "Look, I don't say this often to anyone, but yes, I'm sorry. We do all we can, but... we should try to do more. I promise we'll take steps to-"

"No," Batman said, dryly. "It's me who should be sorry."

"Excuse me?"

"It's me who should do more about it," he said, then turned away and walked back to his vehicle. It zoomed away as Arkham shook his head again, returning to the asylum's darkness, muttering to himself.

"Yes, all of his reason taken away..."