Disclaimer- The lyrics used do not belong to me. I do not own them.

XxX

The Batman grunted, bleeding and half-shocked from the attack. Everyone else seemed to be paralyzed with some sort of grim fascination.

Everyone that is, except for Harley and the clown. Harley was still standing there, clutching the smoking gun and gritting her teeth angrily. The Joker just swung limply in the air, laughing as if this was the funniest thing he'd ever seen in his life.

Hyde was beside himself with bewilderment. He'd never thought that the Batman would get wounded like this. What was going to happen now?

The Batman was fumbling with his weapons, throwing one at Harley and grazing the edge of her cheek. Harley didn't even flinch and just towered over him, staring down at him coldly like some sort of feral animal.

"Atta girl, Harl!" Poke and the cousins were saying once they had recovered from their shocked stupor. "Kill him! Blow his fucking head out!"

Hyde felt himself back away, bumping into Cutter. The older man regarded the situation with silence, almost as if reflecting.

"Quinn…" the dark vigilante muttered, shifting his position so as to get a better shot at her, oblivious to the small bullet wounds in his armor. Harley had shot him with enough force to wound both his leg and his lower hip. If he wasn't in pain, he'd probably be somewhat impressed.

Hyde felt sick to his stomach. He really hoped he didn't give away. That was the last thing he needed. Looking over at Harley, he felt his heart curl with a combination of both pity and fear.

Harley…are you even still here? Is this really you? Or is it the shadow of you? Which is it?

He was standing here, watching the girl he was in love with wound his only protector, his only chance to escape and return to a life of normalcy and decency.

The Joker licked his lips, still suspended upside-down, but not looking the least miffed about it. Then, sighing as if he had been just willingly hanging there, he whipped out one of his knives and cut himself loose, falling down to the ground but not injured in the least. Then he gleefully pranced over by Harley's side, eyeing the Batman and making amused clucking noises. The others, wounded and tired, hobbled over in back of him. All except for Hyde who was still frozen on the spot, his eyes wide and darting from the Joker to the Batman to Harley.

"Harley," Rocco whispered. "Enough waiting. Kill him already."

"Yeah, kill him, Harley!"

"Kill him! Do it!"

Harley glared at the wounded man and then bit her lip, her old colors finally starting to reappear again as she gave the Joker a questioning look. The dark markings under her eyes were starting to run down her face. And while it made her look a good deal more Joker-ish, it was a rather gloomy sight at the same time.

Hyde felt himself shuddering a little on the inside. There you are, Harley…there you are…

The scarred man chuckled, petting Harley's head as if she were a trained dog. "Nice shooting, my pet. But what-oh-what to do now?"

"Do you…do you want me to kill him, Mr. J?" Harley's voice quivered slightly. She remembered the last time she'd nearly killed the Batman. It had resulted in her being pushed out a building to nearly plummet to her demise. Her baby-blue eyes glanced at her lover timidly, giving her the look that she was worried that he would strike her at any moment.

The clown giggled, knowing very well what she was thinking about. "Now, Harley, we can't have that, now can we? I think this operation was something of a bust. Even if we managed to get a little bit of Batsy out of this. I think you've done quite enough." He gently took the gun away from her, ignoring the cries of protest in the background.

Hyde swallowed, feeling his throat as dry as cotton. So then what was going to happen now?

"Boss, are you just going to let him lay there?" Cutter sounded just as eager to know as Hyde was. "You're just going to let him lay there and either manage one of his miracle-escapes or get caught by the GCPD?" The others murmured their concern as well.

"We can kill him right now, Puddin'," Harley said, her eyes sparkling, leering back over at the man she hated before turning back to the clown. "We can be done with it…"

The Joker growled, shaking his head. "Are all of you a bunch of morons? No, no…we're not going to kill off Batsy. At least, none of you are." His eyes lit up. "Actually, I think I just got the perfect solution."

The Batman grunted, trying to pull himself up. "What are…you planning?"

The Joker frowned. "I don't plan. How many times do I have to tell you? I guess nothing gets through that thick bat-shaped cowl of yours. No, Batsy, I'm not going to do anything to you. Right now, that would be something expected of me." His grin widened. "…But as for Hyde…"

Hyde blinked in the background, his jaw dropping and chills rippling down his spin in fear. "M-me, sir? Y-y-you want me to kill h-him?" Ohgodohgodohgod! I don't want to kill him! If I do, I'll never escape! I've already killed Bromley—I don't ever want to kill another living being again!

The Joker giggled, amused at both Hyde's and the others' reaction. "Now, Hyde, you make it sound like you don't really want to."

"Boss," Cutter said gently. "Don't make him do that. It's too much trouble. Plus, Hyde is a lousy shot."

"Yeah," Harley agreed. "Please, Puddin', let me be the one to kill Batsy. Pretty please? Hyde's no good for this sort of thing. Look at the poor guy; he's shaking in his boots!" Her voice was full of genuine concern. Hyde would be touched if he wasn't in a state of utter panic.

The clown chortled, licking his lips and kicking the Batman lightly with his foot. "Our little Hyde's been awfully courageous these many weeks. He offed Bromley with no problem. If he can do that, he can certainly kill off Batsy-boo."

"Boss—"

"Are you kidding me? I'd rather do it…"

"Puddin', let me—"

"Hush," The Joker growled, his eyes glowing. "Stop whining. Well, Hyde-boy? What are you going to do?"

"Do I…have a choice?"

"Dunno. Do you?" The scarred man licked his lips, eyeing Hyde closely. "I'm actually being generous for once. After all, I don't really want anything bad happening to my little toy here. He's supposed to do this with me forever. But then again, that's considered planning I suppose. And I do like a good bit of fun. So you have the choice here and now to kill him."

"…"

"Now the real question is will I kill you if you don't kill him, or will I not even bother laying a finger on you? Oh yes, I can see that on your face. Who knows? You'll just have to find out. You should be honored, I suppose. It isn't every day that I allow someone the opportunity to end the Batman's life with my own permission. Hey, Batsy, wouldn't old Harvey Dent just love the idea? It's all up to chance. You have the chance to kill him, Hyde. And you have the chance of me blowing your brains out instead of his. And there's also the chance that you both might very well live through this. I dunno. It all really depends on my mood. I'm a…spontaneous sort of guy."

Harley opened her mouth as if to say something, but closed it again and looked at Hyde sadly. Hyde felt that he was the one receiving pity. The mournful warmth in her gaze was almost as bewildering as the whole situation.

At that gaze and in the midst of this horrible, urgent situation, he could feel a void opening within him followed by a realization that he didn't want to face. He honestly didn't want to leave Harley to the Joker. He didn't want for her to become an even bigger monster than the clown. He didn't want that because he loved her, because he couldn't bear the thought of it.

"Hyde…" The Batman groaned, his glowing eyes meeting Hyde's distant ones. Hyde knew everything that look meant. It was as clear as the sunrise through the morning fog.

Don't slip over the edge. No matter what, don't cross the line the Joker has crossed.

Hyde swallowed, feeling the gun being shoved into his arms by the clown. Everyone's eyes were now on him. He wanted to die and wither away from existence, anything that could prevent him from doing something this crucial. If he killed the Batman, not only would he lose his chance for freedom, he'd lose a part of himself. He'd never come out of the abyss. He'd be trapped there forever, stuck in a world of madness. And the Joker knew that. Hyde could read it on his war-painted face.

And what about Harley? If I kill the Batman, I'd get to be around her more. She needs me. I can't…I can't just leave her to the Joker…

If he were to kill the Batman, he also had the chance of getting killed by the Joker in the same way he had the chance of living and dying if he didn't. But if he were to kill the Batman and live, his name would become legendary. And he no longer would be the weak, soft-hearted Hyde from before. And if that was the case, would he ever be the same to Harley?

The Batman just continued to stare at him from the ground, his glowing eyes all-knowing under that dark cowl. Hyde felt his heart tremble as his thoughts centered again.

What am I doing? This whole thing…I can't…I won't…

No, he couldn't kill the Batman. No matter what, he was not going to willingly murder a person. The Batman was his key out. But either way, Hyde knew that he was not going to go free today. It was a mystery when that day would come. Or if it would ever come. But what he knew was that he couldn't kill Batman and he couldn't leave Harley. He had to make a decision, had to take whatever risk might come. He had lasted this long, he was not about to lose his wits.

Wordlessly, before the Joker could utter another wretched sentence, Hyde shot the Batman directly on the top of the shoulder, piercing through the dark armor, but not hitting a vital point. The Batman grunted, but lay back on the ground, breathing heavily but still very much alive. Hyde turned and stared at the Joker, his eyes radiating with a sort of resolved defiance. Even Harley and the others had to shrink back a little.

"I took a shot, sir," Hyde said, standing up straight as if he expected for the clown to kill him right then and there.

The Joker licked his lips, cocking his head and looking at Hyde and then back down to the injured, but still alive Batman. "Hm…so that's a 'no' I take it…"

"Charlie…" Harley whispered softly.

The sirens of the GCPD began to flare up in the distance, making the others flinch. But Hyde stood his ground, ready for whatever happened. If the Joker killed him, fine. And if he didn't, Hyde knew what he would do. There was to be no freedom today or tomorrow or the next few days. And maybe even never. But there was still the chance to remain with Harley, watch over her and continue to play the part of the reluctant Joker-follower. That would be his future if he lived.

The moment was tense, everyone standing there in silence, waiting for the outcome. Harley looked the nervous of all of them, her lower lip trembling and her eyes wide and anxious. Hyde gave her a small smile.

Harley…I really do love you. You'll never know that, but I do. If he kills me…what will become of you? I thought today would be the day I'd see you brought to justice, see you brought to a place where you could get the help you need. But it won't be. And it might never be. Harley…oh, my poor, poor Harley…

More silence. Hyde felt his fists trembling slightly in anticipation. Everyone was utterly silent, even usually loud fellows like Poke. Perhaps they were all too weary and exhausted and injured to bother. Or maybe they just didn't care. Hyde wouldn't really mind at this point. Harley looked like she cared and that was enough for him.

Finally, at long last, the Joker sighed, shrugging and walking ahead of them. "Fiiiiine, oh well. Whoopsy-doodles. Either you really do have a horrible shot, or you just flat-out refused. Or maybe you're being courteous enough to save him for me for another time." He tilted his head back and grinned at the Batman. "Well, Batsy, looks like you get to live to fight another day. Albeit, probably a very battered, frustrating day removing all those bullets assuming Gordon and his little cronies don't find you here. Come along, boys. We're leaving now. I've had my fun."

Hyde blinked at the clown, his eyes wide and the tenseness in his body loosening. "…Sir…?"

The Joker grinned and licked his lips. "You still have a lot to learn it looks like, Hyde-boy. But I'm not in the mood to kill you. I've had my fill of this. Tomorrow's another day after all."

Cutter, Poke, and the cousins started to limp behind the clown, each looking a bit disappointed but not willing to say anything. Hyde felt Harley tug gently at his arm, feeling her cheek brush against his briefly, voicing her relief that he was okay.

"Come on, Charlie. We're going home…"

"Harley, I…"

Before he could say anything to her, Harley scampered ahead and Hyde felt the clown's stare in the background beckoning for him to follow. The sound of sirens in the air grew louder and Hyde felt himself torn.

On the ground, the Batman lifted his head weakly, trying to get to his feet, grunting and staring up at Hyde. "Charles…you can't let yourself slip…you can't go back…"

Hyde swallowed, backing away from the injured man, hoping that they would both have the chance to escape before the GCPD arrived.

"Hyde…don't go with them…you can't…"

"I have to," he said softly, knowing that the others couldn't hear him. "I have to for now. I'm not going to die. I'm going to live through this. And when it's over, I'll go back. I won't change into what they try to make me. Not now, not ever."

"Hyde…"

"I won't change," He repeated, finally turning and running ahead, leaving the wounded man behind. When he looked back, the man was gone, leaving only a small puddle of blood behind him.

"Come on!" Cutter called out as they all ran into the murky haze of the streets, heading back for their vehicle. "Let's run! They're coming! Hurry!"

Hyde sensed Harley running beside him, panting and keeping her eyes focused on what was in front of her.

I'll stay with you, Harley. And I swear that one day I'll make sure you better. One day, I'll be free again. And I won't change. The Joker can't make me. Until the day I'm free, I'll wait. I'll keep waiting for as long as it takes. I swear.

And the air was filled with the sound of running footsteps and the sound of missed gunfire, echoing long into the night.

XxX

And the shadow of the day

Will embrace the world in grey

And the sun will set for you

-Lyrics by Linkin Park

XxX

A/N- So concludes the fourth arc of the Until We Bleed series!

Whew! It's been quite a trip, hasn't it? Well, folks, it isn't over just yet. We've got the fifth and final story coming your way. Thanks, as usual, to all my wonderful reviewers. You guys are the best and I love hearing from you all.

COMING SOON: GRAVITY—the last arc of the Until We Bleed series. Stay tuned!

-CAT