When Kate was nine, she hit her head on the goalpost during a soccer match and needed 11 stitches. In doing so, she made the winning save, so it was totally worth it. When the stitches came out, she was left with a scar that disappeared into the hairline over her left eye - it was her favorite conversation piece for years.
When Kate was twenty-four, she had an ectopic pregnancy and needed emergency surgery. After she recovered, her husband left her because the doctors said she'd never have children.
It was the first scar she didn't talk about.
When Kate was twenty-seven, she had an accident while doing a dissection in her anatomy lab class, and needed six stitches on her left hand. It was a small price to pay for getting her MD. For years afterward, she would rub at the scar when she was nervous, reminding herself that she had accomplished something with her life, and that no one could take it away.
When Kate was thirty-two, she won a research grant to work in Antarctica studying closed-societies. A month after she arrived, she took a hard fall and scraped up both of her hands. They didn't need stitches, but she checked in with the base doctor just to make sure since they were deep scrapes. While she was there, she noticed a knick-knack sitting on one of the desks, and picked it up.
It glowed bright blue, and the nurse went running out of the room in a panic. Kate set it down (it promptly turned off again), and leaned back in her chair to wait for the arrival of whomever the nurse had gone to find. It was a long afternoon.
After a year in Atlantis, Kate stopped keeping track of her scars. What was the point? Everyone had them, and everyone knew what had happened to you.
There was the time that she had accidentally triggered the Ancient shaving device in her bathroom - the one with the broken sensor that had taken a chunk out of her arm before she'd made it out of the room and called for help.
There was the time that she'd called a "girls' day off" and gone swimming in that beautiful lake on the mainland, only to discover when they left the water that Lantea had leeches the size of hot dogs.
There was the time that the environmental controls had shorted out, and the city had sucked all of the atmosphere out of her office before the window had broken. She had walked away from that, unlike Doctor Michaels in the room next door whose window hadn't blown. Kate's back had never been the same, though; it was criss-crossed with lacerations from the shards of glass, some of them up to eight inches long. It had taken five months to fully heal, and the mass of scar tissue meant that she wasn't as flexible as she had once been.
There was the time that Doctor Parrish had been late for his appointment and she'd gone down to drag him away from the greenhouse. She'd ended up wrapped in a thorny vine for four hours, and had come away with over a dozen inch-long lacerations that had festered for weeks.
Then there was the brand that the Athosians had given her when she had been made an honorary member of their camp - a sign of trust, which opened doors and allowed her to help them in the ways she knew best. The brand was more of an artistic dotting with a hot needle than a single pressing, and was placed just above her left breast. Sometimes, she would catch sight of it in the mirror as she left the shower, and trace it to remind herself that she belonged.
By the end of the first year, everyone had a few burn scars from Ancient crystals shorting out on them - not just the natural scientists. They were mostly on the hands or arms, but every once in a while you saw them on the torso, too. You learned to hot-wire your own quarters and lab space, because it could be a long wait for one of the maintenance teams to get there and let you in.
All of the scars, every last one, were just the cost of living in Atlantis. Nothing special, and nothing to brag about.
When Kate was thirty-six, she was transferred back to Earth. Seven weeks into her return, she met a man in a bar in California who stopped her from giving herself alcohol poisoning after quitting her job. The morning after, he asked her about the scars on her back.
That was the moment when it truly registered that was she back on Earth for good, that this wasn't some sick dream. No matter how many times she had dreamt of "home" while in Atlantis, no matter whom she had invented, they had never asked about her scars. She didn't think about them; whenever possible, she blocked them from her conscious mind. There was never the time to dwell on what-ifs and might-have-beens - you lived in the moment or you died, it was that simple. Scars were about the past, and were something you couldn't change. They didn't matter, not like the ability to use a weapon or save a life.
The root of the problem was that in all the confusion of the sudden recall, Kate had made a basic, if understandable, mistake. In taking care of the rest of the expedition, she had forgotten herself - that she was a stranger to Earth, too. She had been given two weeks in which to adapt a group of five hundred to a world that was no longer home; it shouldn't have been as hard as it turned out to be. Earth was, after all, where they had all come from; familiar in all the ways that didn't matter, and none of the ways that did. Her rational mind could accept that, and in time she knew she would adapt as she had told her colleagues they would.
She just hadn't remembered that Earth was so superficial.