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Seven shots in, he started to notice the drunkenness that the energy drink chasers had hidden from his system.

Fourteen shots in, a pleasant, fuzzy warmth had settled in his head and over his whole body, sponging up his thoughts and feelings.

Over twenty shots in, a vague voice in the back of his head said that his liver was probably fucked , but there wasn’t much else besides that. Not much else he could remember, anyway.

When early morning light seared Jeremy’s vision as he cracked open crusted shut eyelids, everything came back at once. A wave of debilitating nausea washed over him, and he stumbled out of bed and to his bathroom, dropping to his knees in front of the toilet bowl with a heave.

“Fuck,” he gasped, tears pricking his eyes, rolling down to mix with the mucus and bile burning through his nostrils and forcing its way up his throat. Jeremy gagged again and hung his head, forcing himself to get all the vomit out of his system. The stench of liquor and acidic saliva didn’t seem so bad compared to the headache pounding in the back of Jeremy’s head. The only thing his body was concerned with was getting all of it out, out, out .

With the last of the alcohol expelled from Jeremy’s system, his ragged breaths began to even. He wiped his face down with a wad of toilet paper, throwing it in the bowl before closing it and flushing. The sink crossed his mind for only a split second before he decided against it, instead stripping off his clothes and stepping into the shower. The shock of cold water was unpleasant at first, but his body soon adjusted to the temperature and his head began to clear.

It was pathetic, really. One of the worst days Jeremy’s had in a long time, and what does he do? Fucking goes home and drinks. Because apparently it wasn’t enough to be pissed off, too pissed off to try to relax with his friends, no. He couldn’t just go home and take a Nyquil and pass the fuck out. He had to get blackout drunk like a totally reasonable and functioning adult would do, right? All without a word to his crew that probably had equally bad situations, but hadn’t thrown a shitty tantrum over it.

Clear water sped towards the drain. Water. He didn’t even drink water because he wanted to get stupidly, dangerously drunk last night. Jeremy slammed his fist against the tile wall of the shower, holding back at the last second because god knew he didn’t need to break even more shit.

The annoying brrrrrinnggg of Jeremy’s doorbell snapped his attention back to the present, and he wanted to scream. Why the fuck did he have a visitor this early? It must’ve been no later than 6 AM, based on the sun just rising outside his window. He shut the water on the shower and toweled himself dry hastily.

“Coming!” he shouted hoarsely. He threw open his dresser and pulled on an acceptable pair of boxers, sweatpants, and a ratty old tank top. Whatever.

Jeremy pulled open the door abruptly, expecting to have to civilly decline some go-getting political campaigner’s stickers and pamphlets. Instead, his eyes met a solid chest and slid up to greet a familiar face fraught with concern.

“Ryan?” Jeremy said, his voice rough. He cleared his throat and ran a hand nervously over his head. “What are you doing here?”

It startled Jeremy when Ryan stepped forward abruptly, grabbing Jeremy’s arms and pulling them up suddenly. Blue eyes roamed over Jeremy’s body, which would normally have flustered the man, but it seemed more like Ryan was examining Jeremy, like a doctor would to a patient.

“You’re okay?” Ryan asked, his voice strained. He stepped back and placed his hands on Jeremy’s shoulders. A feeling of unease settled in the pit of his stomach, and he nodded.

“Yeah… Recovering from a hell of a hangover, but otherwise okay,” he said, trying to lighten the mood.

“That makes sense,” Ryan muttered. “Do you remember last night?”

“Not much,” Jeremy admitted. “Why? Did I tell you something dumb? Because I was drunk as fuck , dude-”

Wordlessly, Ryan pulled his phone from his pocket and unlocked the screen. He passed it to Jeremy. The messages were sent around 3 A.M.

Battle Buddy: Sorry i suck

B: And left early

B: Its my fault everything went bad

B: I dont think i should stay in the crew

B: Llllllllllllllllllllll

B: Sorry i didnt mean to send that

B: Just forget it sorry i dont know what im doing

5:41 AM

Ryan: Jeremy? I’m sorry I just woke up

R: Don’t do anything rash. We need you in the crew.

R: Jeremy are you there?

R: I’m worried.

R: I’m heading over right now.

Ice ran through Jeremy’s veins, and he felt a pit in his stomach. I don’t think I should stay in the crew . Despite having no memories of the texts, the words sent cold familiarity reeling through Jeremy’s mind. He was really considering that. Him and his big mouth, the fact that he wasn’t around nearly as long as the others, his shittiness at paying attention that would one day actually cost the life of one or more of the crew. He couldn’t have the others cleaning up after him all the time, like yesterday.

He remembered the events clearly. It was a firefight, one of the most tense they’d had in months. Panic had invaded Jeremy’s head. Lindsay was wounded, Trevor was missing, and Geoff was frantically shouting directions into their comms. The words turned into a meaningless jumble in Jeremy’s head, and the next thing he knew he had caught a pulled grenade with no idea what to do with and six voices screaming in his ears to move, throw, do something Jeremy we’re going to fucking die please .

He’d frozen. It felt like a swarm of flies buzzed in his skull, preventing any messages from reaching his body. In the end, it took Jack running from cover, luckily taking bullets in her body armor rather than her head, and a tackle to knock the grenade out of Jeremy’s hand far enough where it wouldn’t harm anybody. It didn’t end up anywhere near the intended target, but Jack had saved Jeremy’s life from his own stupidity. The crew was forced to evacuate, reaping nothing from the heist except wounded crew members. Jeremy was in shock for long afterwards, unable to comprehend what the others were saying. Michael was angry, so angry that Jeremy almost killed himself, and Gavin was scared and uncharacteristically silent. Geoff was angry too, but the disappointed kind that a parent would aim at a misbehaving child, and Jack was silent as well, nursing the wounds she sustained from cleaning up after Jeremy’s mess.

So yeah, once he collected his senses, Jeremy was in the worst mood possible. And he was pissed, pissed at himself for being such an absolute, undeniable liability. Then he drank.

“I…” Jeremy’s voice broke. “I don’t… I don’t remember sending those,” he said, purposely withholding his thoughts and praying Ryan would just leave. Ryan didn’t buy a second of it, and he closed the door behind him, guiding Jeremy to the sofa.

“Jeremy. You don’t seriously blame yourself for what happened yesterday?” Ryan asked.

Something snapped in him suddenly, the pent up self-hatred lashing out like a whip. “What the fuck? Of course I do, what the fuck else would I do! I fucking froze , Ryan. I know you’re a fucking liar by trade but you don’t have to pretend I wasn’t terrible!” He bit his tongue to prevent more bile from rising out of his mouth, this time not physical.

Ryan’s eyes hardened, and he clenched his jaw, clearly working hard to keep his composure. “You made a mistake . Everybody makes mistakes .” He carded his hair with his fingers, and Jeremy noticed the dark circles under his eyes, a pang of guilt hitting him in the chest. His voice sounded pleading. “We were in the bad situation long before the grenade. All of us made mistakes, I know I-” he cut himself off. “It just happened that the one with the most obvious impact landed on you.”

The bile rose in Jeremy again, and he choked it down, grimacing instead at how cold his voice sounded. “So? That doesn’t change that mine was the one that almost got me and Jack and probably the rest of you killed because you’d be missing the two of us. It’s not so fuckin’ easy to excuse shit like that.”

“Well, Jack did something and we’re all here, aren’t we?” Ryan replied, voice equally icy. “So we have to move on.”

“Just like that? And what if it happens again, and again, and Jack’s not there to fix my stupid fucking mistakes the next time?” Jeremy spat, cursing himself for taking out his frustrations on his friend.

“Then you’ll learn ,” Ryan said. “And it won’t happen again because you’ll know what to work on.”

Jeremy’s vision blurred, and he covered his face with his hands, not in the mood to break down completely, again. “Isn’t it better to eliminate the risk completely?” he said, muffled.

A weight settled on Jeremy’s back briefly, but withdrew just as quickly when Jeremy tensed his shoulders and flinched. The hand retreated, and Jeremy hated himself for being so difficult, for contradicting and pushing away the person who woke up and immediately drove to Jeremy’s just because he was worried. It was hard to feel like any more of an asshole. Jeremy peeked through his fingers at Ryan, who was sitting stiffly with his hands planted firmly on his knees.

“All I know is I want you as part of the crew,” Ryan said, deep voice shaking slightly. Jeremy slid his hands down enough to see Ryan’s eyes glisten and his teeth digging into his lower lip. “I... “ He seemed at a loss for words, and Jeremy wanted to let his guard down, to reach and hug this man who internalized all his problems and shoved them behind a black mask traced with silver veins. But he didn’t, because he was a coward.

“I’m going to stay here to make sure… Nothing stupid happens,” Ryan said, parsing his words carefully. Jeremy realized Ryan was including himself in that statement, too.

The sun rose above the horizon and the city was grey.

“Okay,” said Jeremy.