Neel Dervin and The Dark Angel

He was a teenage super soldier.
There were certain questions that fourteen year old Neel Dervin had never thought to ask himself.
Like how much pain he could endure before passing out. Or how many times he could be shot and still keep running. Or how often he could lie to his friends and family without feeling remorse.
But then that one fateful day changed his life forever, and set him on a path towards immeasurable power as well as inconceivable terror.
Now the only people who can help him deal with the situation are complete strangers who are using him for their own ends. Trapped in circumstances beyond his control with abilities he barely understands, he must navigate a treacherous path mired in betrayals and difficult choices to take back control of his life


20. CHAPTER 14: Broken

"This is very disappointing." Mr. Rai said heavily, staring down at the table in front of him.

Mr. Rai, General Bakshi and Doctor Fahim sat in the doctor's office at Swan labs. Doctor Fahim had just finished telling the other two about Neel's response to their test the day before.

"So there is no progress?" Mr. Rai asked.

"He's gotten worse." Doctor Fahim said quietly. "This was the second time that he had gotten overconfident in his abilities, and the attack hit him worse than ever. And now whatever strength he once had to fight has been crushed."

There was a long silence in the room. General Bakshi was staring at the doctor, his face unreadable. "What would you say are the chances of recovery for the boy?"

"Very little." Doctor Fahim said quietly. "Due to a number of factors." He studied the other two men closely, waiting to tell them the gravest news of all.

The General sighed, leaning back in his chair. "Then he will have to be removed from the project." He stared broodingly ahead. "All that time and money wasted. We will have to begin again. And find a way to deal with Dervin's involvement in this matter as well."

"I'm afraid that is not all, General." Doctor Fahim said somberly.

His voice brought the other two men's out of their separate musings. They looked at him with a feeling of foreboding as the General spoke. "What else can go wrong now?"

"I have been conducting some private researches into Neel's accident in the last few days." Doctor Fahim said.

"Why? We know what's wrong with him."

"Not entirely." Doctor Fahim said. "My tests were of a biological rather than psychological nature. I examined the blood and skin samples we had collected the night Neel was shot. I have also conducted some other tests on him in my office since."

"Once again, doctor, you fall into the error of supposing we care about your experiments." The General growled. "Just tell us what you found."

"There is a very significant lowering in secretion of Cortisol in Neel's body as a result of the ingestion of the serum." Doctor Fahim said quietly.

"And that means?" The Minister's brow was furrowed.

"Cortisol," Doctor Fahim said. "Is a hormone responsible for stress management in our bodies. Low production of Cortisol is found to be responsible for most PTSD cases."

The two men sat frozen, staring at Doctor Fahim in shock.

"Which means that there is a physiological reason behind Neel's current condition." Doctor Fahim continued.

"This is a mistake." The General muttered. He rose from his seat and began to move around agitatedly. "This has got to be a mistake."

"My tests were conclusive." Doctor Fahim said. "It would explain why Neel did not feel the effects of PTSD for some time after the accident. The effect of the hormone's reduced secretion was slow but steady."

"Perhaps this is an isolated case." The General said, his eyes urgent. "You yourself said

the effects on children are different from the effects on adults. Perhaps-"

"Not like this, General." Doctor Fahim said. He shook his head slowly and with an air of finality. "Not like this."

Suddenly the General glared at him. "This is your fault, Doctor Fahim! You were supposed to make sure this serum was adapted for humans."

"And I also told you that no experiment is considered complete until its effects have been tested in the real world." Doctor Fahim replied evenly. "Which is why the serum was intended for a test subject first. I admit this is disastrous news, but I tried to warn you and Mr. Rai from the start that this whole exercise was still part of an experiment."

"So," Mr. Rai's voice was very quiet. "So that means…"

"The same effect will take place on any other soldiers who uses the serum." Doctor Fahim said heavily. "They will also have a dangerously high susceptibility to PTSD. The more missions they go on, the more their condition would worsen, and the more unstable they would become." There was a long silence in the room. "I'm sorry." Doctor Fahim said quietly.

"Perhaps… perhaps" Doctor Fahim could see the General struggling with the staggering news. This was not an unpleasant situation that could be shouted away, or an enemy that could be beaten into submission. They were dealing with cold hard facts. "There has to be a way." But the doctor shook his head.

The General's shoulders slumped. Doctor Fahim had never seen him look so crushed. For the first time in his career, he seemed to have accepted defeat. "Then it's over. Project Alpha is a failure."

"I am very sorry, General." Doctor Fahim repeated quietly. The General was not looking at him. He was staring at the wall opposite. So many hopes and ambitions dashed to the ground…

"As soon as the boy is cured," he spoke up slowly. "This whole facility will be shut down. Thank you, doctor, for your help to the army." The General turned and walked out of the room without looking back. Doctor Fahim and Mr. Rai were left looking at each other, their hearts too heavy for speech.

Three days after the car incident at Swan Labs, Neel sat with Aryan and Priyanka in her house. It was Priyanka's birthday. There was going to be a party later, and they had already given her a purse and a salwar as presents.

They were talking and eating their way through siwayin that Mrs. Das had made. Neel was trying to relax, but his mind was threatening to fall into the same pattern that it had been in for days.

"I'm not going to school by cycle anymore." Neel spoke up suddenly.

Aryan looked at him in surprise. "Why not?"

Neel shrugged, avoiding his gaze. "Makes me feel tired. Maybe because of the injury, I don't know. But I'll take the tempo from Bhar road from now on." He did not add that the fear of roads and cars and even his cycle was growing inside him steadily, so that the thought of cycling near a car made him feel ill. Suppose he was to fall off… Suppose a car was to crash into him…

"What's going on?" Aryan asked him abruptly.

"What do you mean?" Neel finally looked up at him.

"You've been acting really strange for a long time, Neel." Priyanka said quietly. "And we hardly ever see you in the evenings these days."

"I'm fine." Neel said, still not looking up from his plate. "Just tired out. Injury."

"How long could that injury affect you?" Aryan asked him impatiently. "You look fine."

"But I don't feel fine!" Neel snapped, finally looking up with a frown on his forehead. For some reason he felt unaccountably angry at the moment. "I don't feel well enough to cycle. What's so hard to understand about that?"

"There's no need to get angry." Priyanka said in a placatory tone.

"Then stop asking me stupid questions about things that aren't your business." Neel said irritably. Priyanka looked like he had slapped her. He could not believe what he had said, but he felt still too angry to care.

"There's no need to act like an idiot." Aryan said, his own temper rising. "She's just concerned about you. We all are."

"I don't need your concern, all right?" Neel said angrily. "I know I'm just a big crybaby to you two, but I can handle my problems on my own. If I were to tell you-" He stopped abruptly.

"Tell us what?" Priyanka asked.



"Look, just drop it, all right?" He was almost shouting. He got up abruptly and stood frowning at them, breathing hard. "I don't feel well." He said through gritted teeth, fighting to calm himself down. "I'm going home. Happy birthday."

He strode out of the house and into his own. His mother sat reading the paper in the kitchen.

"I have a headache." he said to her abruptly. "I've already wished Priyanka. Is it okay if I lie down in my room?"

His mother looked surprised. "Fine, but if you really feel sick, I-"

"I'll be fine." He turned away before she could finish. He made his way up the stairs quickly and entered his room. Locking the door behind him, he turned off the lights and went to sit on the floor in the darkest corner of the room, alone with his thoughts.

That night he had the nightmares again. A car was coming towards. He could not see it clearly. It seemed just on the edge of his vision. But he knew it was after him. He was completely helpless to stop it, or to run away. He stood frozen, knowing it was only seconds away. His heart was hammering painfully, and he felt suffocated as he waited for the end.

Suddenly the scene changed. He was lying on the floor, screaming. Blood was everywhere and pain consumed him. The giant, metal monster was somewhere nearby, lying in wait for him again.

He kicked involuntarily, and woke abruptly from the sudden jerk. He sat up in his head, sweating and pale. Wearily, he took off the earphones he'd been wearing. He breathed heavily as he stared at the shaft of moonlight falling on his bed, blinking away the wetness in his eyes. Months of therapy, and he was no better. He felt exhausted just from having a bad dream! How could he have been so deeply affected by that accident? And why was it so hard for him to move on from it? He felt like screaming in frustration.

Suddenly his stomach growled. He had eaten very little that night, and his mother had been at Priyanka's party. Now he felt he would not be able to get any sleep until he had eaten something first.

He made his way quietly downstairs to the fridge, and peered inside it. There was last night's vegetable stew, and other odds and ends that did not look particularly appetizing. He spotted a bottle of flavored milk at the back, and remembered someone telling him a glass of warm milk was ideal for getting to sleep.

He took out the bottle and uncorked it. He felt too drained to go through heating it, and took a deep draught. The sweet but ice cold liquid rolled chillingly into his stomach, and he placed the bottle on the table. But his hands were still shaking, and the bottle tumbled forwards, crashing to the floor and breaking with a shattering sound that seemed ear splitting to him.

Neel felt a sudden and inexplicably powerful wave of panic. He seized a rag from the kitchen table and bent over the floor, rubbing feverishly at the mess. He did not really know what he was doing, but his speed never slowed as his hand moved rapidly over the floor.

"Neel?" The lights in the kitchen turned on, and his mother stood in the doorway, looking at him in surprise. "What happened?"

"I couldn't sleep." Neel muttered in a low voice without taking his eyes off the floor. "I felt hungry, and I came to get a glass of milk." His voice shook suddenly, uncontrollably. "I dropped the bottle on the floor by accident. Don't worry, I'll clean it up."

"Is something wrong?" his mother asked in concern, bending down on the ground next to him. "Are you all right?" she reached out to touch his shoulder softly. "Priyanka and Aryan told me what happened earlier. You've been acting strange for days."

"I'm fine." Neel mumbled, flinching slightly at her touch, his face burning. He had no idea why he suddenly felt so overwhelmed.

"Neelanchan, sweetheart." His mother put her arms around him comfortingly as her voice became even more soothing. "Tell me what's wrong, honey?" Suddenly, he couldn't take the pressure anymore. Tears streamed from his eyes. His shoulders shook uncontrollably as he leaned against her and cried, sobs racking his body. His mother looked down at him in horror, then recovered quickly and hugged him hard, speaking in a low, soothing voice the whole time as she massaged his back.

"Just tell me what's wrong." she said again and again. "Just tell me and I'll promise we'll fix it." She hugged him tighter. "Tell me what's wrong, darling?"

But he did not tell her what was wrong, and he did not hug her back. He sat on the floor leaning against her as he cried his heart out, while the night seemed to grow darker around them. Finally, there were no more tears left, and he sat staring blankly at the space in front of him. "Sorry." he muttered mechanically in a low voice.

"Neel?" his mother spoke again softly. "Please, darling. Please. Tell me what's wrong?"

Neel was silent for several moments, feeling completely removed from everything around him.

"Bad dream." he spoke up finally, his voice seeming far away. "I had a bad dream…"

He did not go to school the next day. He told his mother that the headache was back, and he did not feel like going to school. His mother argued, but he was quietly adamant.

He did not go to Swan Labs either. He had switched off the mobile they had given him. He spent the morning roaming around the house, and for the first time in days felt completely safe. He knew things were messed up badly, and eventually he would have to face up to it all. But the future seemed strangely unreal, and unimportant. Who knew for how long he would even be alive? At least for now he was safe.

His mother returned in the evening, and tried to talk to him about the previous night. He stared at her and lied with a blank expression. He had been stressed from school. Yes, maybe the coaching was putting too much pressure on him. No, the feeling had only come recently. It would go away soon. He was fine, really. He would be all right soon. No matter how hard his mother tried, he kept repeating he would be fine. If she tried to force him to talk, he simply kept quiet. Aryan called in the evening. He told him he had to go to the hospital for a check up. Priyanka called, and he told her he was finishing homework. What did it matter if he lied? He'd been lying for months. Ever since the accident.

Next day he again took a holiday from school. His mother did not even try to convince him to go this time. She left for the office, and he again spent the morning wandering about the house. He was starting to feel so comfortable there. Every nook and cranny of every room was familiar and safe. No surprises. Nothing dangerous.

He went up to the terrace to sit in the nest and stared around at the neighborhood he had grown up in. On the opposite side of the street was the house of the Sharma's. They had lived on the street for years, yet Neel knew virtually nothing about them. They were extremely reclusive people. Mr. and Mrs. Sharma had always been polite but distant towards him. They had a niece called Megna who lived with them. Neel had never seen her come out of the house, and had at most caught a glimpse of her eyes peeping out of the shuttered window of her room on rare occasions. Her lifestyle had been a source of great speculation for Neel and Aryan when they had been younger. Priyanka knew her slightly, and sometimes visited her in her house, but refused to talk about her to the other two. Over time, the mystery of the Sharma's house had palled, and they had come to be accepted as simply a peculiar part of the community.

Now Neel found himself thinking about the girl Megna. If she felt anything like him, it was no wonder she never set foot out of her house. He imagined living that way as well. Maybe he could pull it off for a few weeks. And he did not care to look into the future beyond that. He could not really see a future at all. He wondered how easy it would be to kill himself now that he had these powers. And the thought did not disturb him like it used to before.

The door bell rang once downstairs. He ignored it. Probably the maid who sometimes came to clean the houses of the people on the block, or the sweeper. They would go away soon. But the bell rang again. Slowly, he made his way downstairs as the ringing continued. He reached the door and opened it.

His mother stood outside. Divya stood beside his mother, and was looking at him in concern.

"Hello, Neel." she said. "Your mother told me you're not feeling well."

Neel said nothing and looked at his mother.

"I met Divya in the street outside my office." she said, entering the house and beckoning to Divya to follow. "Please come in. I told her about the way you've been behaving these last few days, and she told me about a man who might be able to help you. We can go and see him now."

"I think you should." Divya said gravely. "I know him personally. His name is Doctor Fahim, and he is one of the best men in his field in the world."

Neel raised his head to look at her. She gave a small nod, smiling at him encouragingly. But Neel shook his head. "He can't help me."

"Neel, Divya has a PhD in neurology." his mother said, coming towards him. "She's been in contact with the best people in the field of medicine, and she is sure Doctor Fahim can help, or at least refer us to a good doctor for whatever is upsetting you."

"I really do believe he can help you, Neel." Divya said quietly.

But Neel shook his head again, turning away from her. "He can't help me." he repeated mechanically.

"Neel!" his mother's voice had sharpened in an instant. "Don't turn away when we are talking to you. Since when did you start behaving so rudely? Look at me." Neel turned around slowly. His mother was still frowning.

"Now, I don't know what's wrong with you, and I can't help you if you don't tell me. But you are not going to just keep on worrying me like this." his mother said sternly. "You are going to stop sulking. You are going to go to your room, get dressed, and then come with us."

Neel did not move. His mother's gaze hardened. "I said now, Neel." she repeated in a dangerous voice, her voice rising. "Go to your room and get dressed."

Neel stood rooted, feeling as though someone had thrown cold water on him. He turned slowly and trudged up the stairs.

His mother massaged her temple slowly with one hand. "I'm sorry you had to see him this way, Divya." she said. "I wish to god I knew what was wrong with him." her voice shook slightly. "But he won't say anything."

"We'll find out soon." Divya said comfortingly, laying a hand on her shoulder. "Just wait till we get to Doctor Fahim's office and then I'm sure you will get some answers." Neel's mother nodded.

Fifteen minutes later, Neel and his mother were driving with Divya in her little car.

They were at the college where Divya had studied, and where Doctor Fahim's office was. A few minutes later they parked outside the west block of the campus.

"He says he'll meet with your mother first." Divya said as she came out of his room. "The two of us will wait here."

Neel's mother rose and made her way to the office, and Divya took a seat next to Neel. "What happened to you?" she said softly, reaching out for his hand. "We were all so worried."

"Nothing." Neel said quietly.

"You have to stay positive if you want to beat your condition." Divya pressed on. "You have to have the right frame of mind."

"I'm never getting rid of this PTSD thing." Neel said, still in a listless voice.

"Don't think like that!" Divya's grip tightened on his hand. "You can beat this illness, Neel. But give yourself time. It won't happen overnight."

"I've had plenty of time." Neel said. "It's not getting better. It's worse now. I can't eat. I can't sleep. I'm afraid to go outside." His voice was rising uncontrollably. "And every damn night it's the same dream. The car's coming towards me, and I'm dying all over again."

Divya wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly. Neel continued to stare ahead without responding. She searched desperately for something soothing to say, but nothing came. They sat in silence for several moments.

Fifteen minutes later, the door of the office opened. Neel's mother emerged, looking much more relieved. "How did it go?" Divya asked.

"Quiet well." Mrs. Dervin said in a hushed voice. "He's a very nice man, Neel. And he explained a lot of things very clearly to me. He wants to see you now."

"Go, Neel." Divya said to him quietly. "Please."

Neel rose slowly and made his way into the office. Doctor Fahim was sitting there behind a desk similar to the one at Swan Labs

"Good morning, Neelanchan." he said. His familiar quiet, piercing gaze made Neel feel uncomfortable. He felt a strong desire to leave the room, but fought it down. "Your mother has been talking to me about your behavior for the last few days. What happened?"

"Nothing." he muttered.

"You stopped coming to Swan Labs." Doctor Fahim said in a neutral tone. "You stopped attending school. You stopped using your cycle. You no longer meet your friends. That does not seem like nothing." Neel remained quiet.

Doctor Fahim gazed at him in silence for a moment. "I told your mother that, from the symptoms she explained, I was sure you are dealing with a mild form of clinical depression." he said. "I will give you these tablets to ease her worry. They're harmless." He put a bottle on the table. "And that leaves us free to talk about what is really bothering you."

"I don't want to talk about it." Neel said.

Doctor Fahim leaned back in his chair. "We agreed, at the start of the therapy sessions, that there would be total trust and cooperation between us."

"Therapy isn't helping me." Neel said bitterly. "Two months I've spent on it, and it's worse than ever."

"You have to give it time." Doctor Fahim said quietly.

"I have given it time." Neel's voice had risen suddenly. For the first time he was looking straight at the doctor. "I can't do it." He dropped his gaze again and went back to studying the floor in silence.

Doctor Fahim leaned back in his chair with a sigh. For a long time neither of them spoke.

"I understand you are passing through a very stressful time right now." Doctor Fahim said finally, his eyes trained on the ceiling, the tips of his fingers joined together. "Have you talked to anyone outside of Swan Labs about what you're feeling?"

Neel shook his head. "I know I'm not supposed to." he mumbled.

"You have an enormous amount of stress in your life." Doctor Fahim spoke quietly. "It is not easy to remain objective under such circumstances. But shutting yourself away from your loved ones is not the answer, Neel. You are only hurting yourself further. We all want to help you. But you need to let us in first."

Neel continued to stare at the floor in silence. Doctor Fahim did not try to press him further. Again there was silence in the room for several minutes.

"I have come to realize that I really don't know you as well as I thought." Doctor Fahim said at last in a conversational tone. "I believe you know more about my family than I do about yours. Are you close to your mother?"

Neel did not respond at first. But then he nodded quietly. "I love her more than anyone else in the world." he said in a low voice. "And I've been lying to her for months." Doctor Fahim remained silent. Neel was determined to blame everything that was going wrong with his life on his own actions. It was classic self destructive behavior. And in his present frame of mind he would not listen to any arguments which would try to convince him otherwise.

"And your father?" Doctor Fahim prompted gently. "I have never heard you speak of him. Do you remember anything about him?"

Neel shook his head. "He died in Africa when I was a couple of months old." he said, his eyes still on the ground. "I've only seen his pictures. Mom says I look a lot like him."

"It must have been difficult growing up with only one parent." Doctor Fahim said, his eyes fixed intently on Neel. "I imagine it must have been very lonely. For your mother, and for you as well."

"I'm not the only one." Neel said. "There's another guy in my class, Arvind. He's the class topper. His dad died when he was six years old. He lives with his mother and sister. His mom doesn't make much, so he really wants to study hard so that he gets into some IIT college and can get a good job and provide for them."

"That is an admirable sentiment, and I sincerely hope he achieves his dream." Doctor Fahim said. "Do you often think about your father?"

Neel shrugged. The truth was, he had spent his whole life with one parent, and he was used to it. Sometimes, of course, he wondered what it would have been like to have a father. Sometimes he could not suppress a twinge of jealousy when he saw Aryan with his dad…

"It is how it's always been." Neel said finally. "I have mom. And gran visits us. I've never met my dad, so I don't know him well enough to miss him, or anything like that. I don't have any memories of him. Only the stuff mom told me." He stared at Doctor Fahim and suddenly added in a burst of candor. "At the beginning, after you'd talked to me about the accident and the project, I'd wished he was there so I could ask him what I should do."

"I am sure he would have been proud of the choices you have made." Doctor Fahim said quietly. "And I am sure he would have hated to see you in this condition now. The love between parents and their children is stronger than any other bond that humans can experience. I would give everything I have, all the years of my life, to get my son back." Neel said nothing but he nodded slowly, and as he stared at Doctor Fahim he felt closer to him than ever before. "I am sure your father tried very hard to return to you and your mother. It is a terrible thing to love someone so much and yet never be able to meet them."

They sat in silence again, but it was not the tense silence of before. For the first time in days Neel was beginning to feel comfortable talking again.

"The experiences you have passed through this year," Doctor Fahim continued after a pause. "They required a great deal from you, and you have had to deal with it all alone, without the support of your family and friends."

"It's not been that bad." Neel said quietly. "I had you, and Divya, and Arjun and Negi and Premi. I never felt I was alone in this."

"I am happy to hear that." Doctor Fahim said. "Even the General, despite his initial reservations, was impressed with your work."

"Yeah, he used to scare me." Neel said with a very small smile. "Still does a little." He was slowly starting to emerge from the shell of silence he had surrounded himself with. After a long time, it was a relief to talk to someone he wouldn't have to lie to. Someone to tell all the things he had thought about sitting in his room alone for all those hours. "But Mr. Rai was always nice. And I know they just wanted the project to succeed." Doctor Fahim nodded.

There was another pause. "I've been thinking about something else, too." he said finally. "You asked me once why it was so important to me to go after Mehta even after finding out about the PTSD thing. I wasn't really sure myself back then, but at some point while all of this was going on, I realized why I still want to help with the missions."

"And why is that?" Doctor Fahim asked, leaning in closer.

Neel hesitated for a second, trying to pick his words carefully. "Do you remember what I was like when I first came to Swan Labs? I mean aside from my powers."

"You were a perfectly normal young boy." Doctor Fahim replied, watching him intently

"Yeah, but that's not what I meant." Neel leaned in closer as well as he tried to explain. "Before this project, I had never done anything that felt, you know, important. I was never very good at anything either."

"It is not necessary to be the best at something to be happy." Doctor Fahim said in a strangely tired voice. "Trust me, I know that from years of experience. You were exactly what a normal, healthy young boy should have been like."

"I was just ordinary." Neel said in a low but steady voice. "I wasn't good enough to get into any teams at school. I tried to study hard, but I was never among the toppers in class. I didn't have any talents or any special skills or anything. If you'd told me then, that I was to be trained and made into a soldier, and help fight criminals, I would never have believed you. During the first few days, I was sure I wouldn't be able to handle it. But I was too scared to say it out loud."

"But you did handle it." Doctor Fahim said. "You handled it exceptionally well!"

"Exactly!" Neel said, enthusiasm creeping into his voice for the first time. "It was amazing, and exciting, and looked impossible at first. But then I realized I could do it. I could learn whatever Arjun and Negi and Premi taught me. For the first time in my life, I was really good at something!"

"And how do you think this change came about?" Doctor Fahim asked.

"Because for the first time in my life, I felt I was doing something that was really mattered." Neel said. "I'd found something that was really important. More important than getting into a team, or scoring marks. More important than me. I didn't think that I was allowed to fail, and I worked harder on it than I have ever done in my life. And it worked. I felt like I was actually making a difference." Neel voice trailed away and he sat back in his seat. Doctor Fahim was smiling at him now.

"And then I blew it." Neel said, his voice turning unexpectedly bitter. "I grew overconfident. Arjun and the others warned me about it. But I didn't listen, and that cost me the mission."

"Your PTSD condition cost you the mission, Neel." Doctor Fahim said steadily. "And that was something that was out of your control."

"Yeah, well." Neel shrugged, looking down again. "But that's why I wanted to complete this mission. This is the only thing in my life that I've ever taken seriously, and I wanted to see it through to its end."

He shook his head slowly. "But now." He said in a low voice. "Now I can't hear a car pass by without feeling afraid, even though I know it's stupid. I'm this complete… mess." Tears were forming in his eyes again. He fought them back fiercely, but couldn't stop the words from pouring out. "This weak little crybaby who's too scared to do anything but cry and hide in his bedroom." His fists were clenched tightly as his sides as he struggled to keep the tears at bay.

"Any person who can look at the world and find nothing to cry about is either blind or a fool." Doctor Fahim said in a quiet voice. "Neel, look at me." His voice was gentle, but it felt like an order. Neel raised his head slowly. "Your tears do not make you a coward or a weak person. They show that even after gaining all these powers and witnessing the ugliness of the world, you still feel your emotions just as intensely as before. You still have a conscience, and you still care just as much about your mother and your friends. It hurts you to think that you are failing them. You have great strength of character, Neel. That is what separates you from the criminals you hunted."

"It's not enough." Neel said, barely managing to keep his voice from shaking. "I have all this power, and all you people helping me, and it's still not enough. I tell myself it's all in my head, but I can't… I just can't…"

Neel lowered his face into his hands as his shoulders began to shake. Doctor Fahim rose swiftly from his seat and was beside him in an instant, holding onto the thin frame that seemed anything but impervious at the moment. There was a profound sadness in Doctor Fahim's eyes as he cradled Neel's head in his arms.

"I wish I could tell you that one day this will all pass." he spoke at last in a low voice filled with grief. "I wish I could tell you that one day you will recover completely, and this incident will be banished forever from your mind. And I wish I could tell you that you nothing will ever hurt you like this again." Doctor Fahim took a deep breath and spoke slowly. "But I can't. You will live. And you will fall. And you will hurt and you will cry. We all have to go through it. It is a cycle that repeats itself all through our lives, and it will make you want to give up time and again. But you can't. You do not exist in this world alone, and your pain hurts those who love you. For your mother and your friend's sake as much as your own, be strong, Neel." His arms tightened around the young boy. "The older you grow, the more scared of life you become. Because you begin to understand your own limits, your helplessness, and move ever closer to your mortality. But it should be a gradual process. We talk about preventing waste. Of our time, our energies, our resources. But don't you see? If you shut yourself off from emotions and experiences, that is the greatest waste of all. The waste of your life! Because what else is life for if not to see it in all its shades? From the darkest to the brightest! If you spend your youth hiding in your house, you will only ever watch life pass you by. And that is as great a waste as taking your own life. You have to have hope, Neel. You have to have hope for a better tomorrow." Neel sat staring at the ground, the words ringing in his ears. For a long time the two remained motionless, holding onto each other.

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