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At Least

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When the third attack came around, Burt started keeping a list of all the people killed by graboids and their life cycles. Most of the names were friends for a while. Loved ones he hadn't been able to save. After El Blanco showed up, the majority slowly became strangers Burt could barely fit faces to. It didn't make him feel any better every time he had to add another name, or a date if there wasn't enough left to identify the body, or a number if there were too many casualties on an assignment to learn who they were. But it didn't stop him from being grateful that at least he didn't know this one. At least he hadn’t known the last one, and likely wouldn't know the next. At least there wasn't a familiar name on the list since Miguel.

He started adding the victims of mixmaster as well when it appeared. By then, they were used to living with deadly creatures-even if they were grossly unprepared for wildly unpredictable genetic monstrosities-and the initial onslaught resulted in another group of names Burt didn't know. He felt a sense of pride and relief at that. Proud that his fellow residents knew how to handle themselves in dangerous situations. Relieved that his paranoia and survival lectures had paid off. Outsiders might not stand a chance, might be too irresponsible and insolent to pay attention to the rules and warnings, but at least the ones who lived here knew what they were doing. At least they could survive.

Maybe that was his first mistake. When he started to slip. It had been so long since he'd lost one of his own. Fight after fight, day after day, ended with every single one of them walking away, bruised and battered perhaps, but alive. “Could” became “would” and Burt got too confident in their ability to survive without realizing.

Of course having Tyler for a partner didn't help; the man had a penchant for getting in trouble. Except he also had a penchant for getting out of trouble, and after a while Burt expected little else. He learned early on it was less stressful to wait before assuming the worst. Even when the worst was the only possible outcome. Somehow, they always made it.

Too cocky. How many times had he complained about that in others? Not that he could have prevented it, but he should have been ready for it.

At least it had been quick. At least it had been painless. One assblaster dropping from the sky, two long, sharp talons piercing the back of his skull; Tyler was dead before he hit the ground. And then there were two lifeless grey eyes that Burt couldn't tear his gaze from because they would blink any moment now, they had to, they always did.

A part of Burt still couldn't bring himself to really believe it. Kept expecting Tyler to waltz through the door, already ready for his next brush with death. Maybe complaining about their lack of faith in him, thinking him dead when he'd just been stuck somewhere. It had happened before. It could happen again.

Except it wouldn't. The funeral had been held earlier that afternoon. Open-casket, body there for all to see. No mistake, no mystery, no way out of adding another name to the list.

Burt held his pen loosely over the paper, reading through the names, dates, and numbers. So many strangers… now another friend.

As he slowly scratched the painfully familiar name onto the bottom of the list, he let himself fall back on his coping method. At least they were prepared enough to survive most of the time. At least they were lucky that this was rare now. At least he didn't know the last one and probably wouldn't know the next.

Tyler Reed

At least it was only one of them this time.