11 | Afterthought

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Over the centuries, grief has settled over Boboiboy's entire being like second skin. It shaped his person, becoming the mask that he would wear for the rest of his days. It clung to his skin like oil on water, shifting into whatever monster he must become.

He had always been hailed as the savior of the universe. The Chosen One, they whispered. The one foretold who will rescue the world from any given evil. Once upon a time, he believed it. Once upon a time, the universe had him dancing on a spindle that knows no end.

He played that fiddle for them, over and over again. It didn't matter if his fingernails hung from his fingers by mere threads or the flesh in his shoulder carved way to bone, he would always answer the call. No matter how tired, how exhausted he may be.

The universe demanded a savior to save them from themselves. Like a fool, he'd gladly throw his own life into the fray to fend off whatever evil deity that wants to conquer the entire known galaxy.

Over time, he paid for his self-sacrificial nature. He paid in blood. He paid with the lives of his own friends. No matter how many times it happened, it never got easier.

Tok Aba was the first one to go, though everyone expected it to happen sooner or later. But it didn't make it any easier. He'd already been old when Boboiboy was 12, reaching the ripe age of 63. He'd died in his sleep when he was 97, alone in his room with his grandchild in a distant galaxy fighting endless battles for peace.

Boboiboy always blamed himself for not visiting sooner. He was so used to winning, so used to everything turning out okay that he's forgotten that life isn't fair. It never was.

Ochobot was the second, and his was the most peaceful death. Rather than perishing on the battlefield in a blaze of glory, his parts simply rusted and eroded over time. They no longer made updates or parts for outdated models like him, so he was left to rot until he calculated his last binary codes in his friends' arms, his scanners dimming for the very last time.

Maybe it was for the best, so he wouldn't have to see the kids he called family die and drop like flies.

Ying was the second, and it had entirely been their fault. She'd been stranded alone in a planet plagued by a widespread pandemic, with their only available medications being available across the globe. Despite her own dying self, she risked her life to bring those unavailable for treatment to the hospitals, bringing cart after cart of patients until she ultimately collapsed herself.

His nose still stung from that day – he recalled how his nose bled and eyes watered as Yaya found her best friend laying motionless on the floor, already well into three days of decomposition.

Kaizo was the third. He died of a battlefield protecting young cadets on a distant planet, blundered by old age and dulled reflexes. His youth was lost to time, all the while his younger brother remained the same teenager all these years. Boboiboy attended his funeral with Gopal and Yaya, but Fang did not show up to the reception.

He would later catch Fang in his brother's bedroom, sitting on the floor by his brother's bed with his hands folded on his lap. The pair hadn't been exceptionally close, but Boboiboy could never begin to imagine the grief Fang was experiencing. After all, he felt the same when Tok Aba died.

Gopal was the fourth. He'd been a coward his entire life, hiding behind his friends instead of taking the frontlines most of the time. But when a sentient virus overtook their base and threatened to hurl them into the nearest sun, Gopal had suddenly become the bravest person they have ever met. He'd clutched the burning CPU in his arms and dove headfirst into the sun while the base was forced to leave him.

Boboiboy could still hear his, Yaya and Fang's screams from that day – it haunted him endlessly. They couldn't even find a body for his grave, incinerated by the high temperatures of the star.

Yaya was the last. It was supposed to be a simple mission. Evacuate the locals from a planet with an unstable core. They hadn't taken it as seriously as they should've—with two hundred years' worth of experience under their belts, it was difficult to keep with their momentum with so many of their friends gone. That was their downfall. In the end, Boboiboy watched his closest friend fall into the flaming core, the planet exploding shortly after.

He hadn't remembered falling to his knees, but he remembered Fang falling to his. How could they still be alive after so much death that haunted their conscience? They're all that's left of them now. They only had each other.

They took up Corporal and Vice Corporal in TAPOPS after the last leader died. No longer fighting grueling battles, but instead running things in the shadows, pulling the strings of a larger operation without any of the fame or glory.

It was a much-needed change of pace, but the familiar corridors only served as painful remembers of what once was.

He knew grief like the back of his hand.

That's why he recognized it the instant he caught sight of the lonely young boy in a park built on the blood of distant past.

"Hello," he'd said.

The boy turned to him, genuinely surprised that he was noticed.

"Hello," said the boy.

"What's your name?"

"Oh." The boy tilted his head. "It's Ali."

"Hello, Ali. My name's Boboiboy."

Boboiboy didn't know why he decided to approach Ali in the first place.

Maybe it was his way of making amends. He couldn't prevent his friends' demise, but he could stop someone from heading down the wrong path.

Maybe it was because Ali seemed miserable, and his instincts had yet to fade completely. He may not be that hero anymore, but he can still be a listening ear.

Maybe it was because he saw much of himself in Ali, but that couldn't be, right?

Right?

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