None of us said anything for a while. I looked at the characters, daring them to do something, but nobody said a word; the authors, intimidated by the outburst, were even more withdrawn.

"We didn't know, you have to understand that." I didn't see who spoke, but it was a female. Well, they all were. "We didn't know you were fictional."

Alex stood up and walked over to the window, looking out. He seemed calmer than some of the others, though his hands gripped the sill so tightly that his knuckles were white, and he looked almost as though he was trying not to get angry. "Anna," he said, surprising me by his use of my first name.

"What is it?"

"You're not the first shrink I've seen, you know," he said, coming back to join us. "And I doubt you can make me let go of all my problems without first taking the problems away, can you?"

"I'm not sure I understand. I can't interfere with your story, no." It was something I had learned early on in my career. Authors tended to take it personally when you tried to make them change a plot, and you never wanted to get on their bad side. The paperwork for that sort of death was a nightmare.

"And you can't get rid of the scars." He looked down at himself, at the shirt which hid the silver marks, and the more ordinary ones all up his arms. "So there'll always be a reminder, won't they? How can you claim to make us forget when we'll always have these?"

Shard nodded - he knew where Alex was coming from.

"Some of those you did to yourself," I pointed out. "And ... well, I'm guessing you quit, since they're not fresh. But does looking at the scars make you want to do it again, or make you wish you'd never done it."

Alex looked perplexed. "It makes me wish I'd never done it, of course."

"Well, there we go then," I said. "Sometimes we need scars to stop us from going back."

After all, if the best piece of advice anyone had ever given me when I was twelve was still true for me, then it would be true for them, too.

The End

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