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"A Hair's Breadth From Death"

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A moodboard depicting blood splatters, a shoe print, Joel Hokka and Niko Vilhelm, and newspaper and book clippings.

Niko’s hands are shaking. He feels sick. 

He can feel his palms sweating, slick on the handle of the gun. Joel is pressing hard against his back, a large hand holding Niko’s arm in place. Keeping the silencer of the gun pressed tight against the man’s temple. 

Niko doesn’t even know his name. The man is on his knees, arms bound painfully behind his back. In front of him is a large hole that Joel had made Niko dig before they’d wrested the man out of the back of Joel’s van. He’s sobbing through the gag, his face a mess, wet with streaming tears and snot. 

Niko adjusts his finger on the trigger and the man wails, his pleas muffled. He can feel tears on his own cheeks and he sniffles. Joel leans forward to press a cheek against one of Niko’s, his other hand coming to rub gentle circles over Niko’s belly in some semblance of a comforting gesture, but it does nothing to soothe the sinking pit in Niko’s stomach. 

“You can do it,” Joel murmurs into his ear, but it’s missing something, another gesture that should be comforting and instead feels hollow. 

Niko takes a deep, shaking breath, and begins to squeeze the trigger. The man is watching him, eyes wide and bulging. He’s sobbing and pleading and shaking his head, making the end of the silencer move and bump against his temple.

Shut up, Niko begs in his mind, please, God, just shut up . The man sobs loudly and Niko can’t stand it anymore. He squeezes his eyes shut tight and pulls the trigger.

There’s a muffled crack and suddenly the crying stops. Niko opens his eyes just in time to watch the man pitch forward, his body landing in the grave with a thump. His blood soaks into the soil. In the light of the van’s headlights shining over the scene, Niko can see pink and white shards next to where he’d shot the man. There’s blood there, too, a spray of red barely glistening over the dirt.

Niko’s ears are ringing, and he can feel fresh tears welling up and spilling down his face. He chokes out a single sob, weak knees folding under him. Joel catches him, arms wrapping around his middle. “You did well,” Joel whispers. Niko doesn’t hear him. The dead man’s eyes are wide and white, and staring at him from the bottom of the grave.