Scars by LN29 [Reviews - 5] |
The idea for what happened to the Doctor came from another story that I'll probably never write down, so I borrowed it for my Year That Never Was series.
***Edit (that some of you might find amusing): Well, ironically, I did wind up writing down that story that I said I'd "probably never write down." You guys might know that story as Step by Step. One of my most popular fics ever, the story that spawned a 'verse that now includes five full length stories and one in-progress, and the beginning of a turning point in my skills as a writer in general. Little did I know. Amazing how something you never thought would go anywhere can turn out to be so pivotal.***
I love the Doctor being vulnerable. Not exactly sure why...but I do. So that's why I write these. Also, I think the Year must have shattered him.
“Doctor?” Martha called as she stuck her head into the TARDIS.
It’d been a little over a week since they’d brought down the Master and reversed the Year, and the TARDIS was finally beginning to look like the ship they’d all known and loved again. The fierce red lighting had all but vanished, and while the console and rotor were still covered in unfamiliar cables and other such things, there were far fewer than before.
“Hello, Martha!” the Doctor’s voice came from the other side of the time rotor.
Walking around it, she saw him balanced on console itself, busily detaching cables from the rotor. It was a slow process, Martha knew, for removing the wrong cable at the wrong time, or in the wrong way, could be catastrophic, but the Doctor had assured her and Jack that this was fixable. The TARDIS would travel again.
“Hey,” she replied.
He peered down at her.
“Did you need something?”
The words were casual enough, but the implications were far greater, and his face was concerned.
“No,” she shook her head. “Just wanted to check in. Mum’s out doing errands, and Tish is at work.”
(Despite the fact that her position in the government had been fabricated by the Master, she’d evidently made enough of an impression that she was offered another job. Martha had a sneaking suspicion the Doctor might have been behind this career opportunity, but he only looked mysterious and denied anything.)
“And Dad and Jack are out taking apart the car. Not sure why, it isn’t broken, but…” she shrugged. “Boys will be boys.”
“So what you’re saying is I’m your last resort?”
“No!” Martha protested, but the Doctor actually smiled at her. His genuine smiles were rare these days, but were slowly appearing with more frequency.
Martha smiled as well, seating herself in the captain’s chair as the Doctor resumed his work.
He’d obviously been working hard, because he’d done something that she’d rarely ever seen him do. He’d discarded his jacket, and was wearing only a T-shirt, and the effect was slightly unsettling. He looked so different, almost more human than ever before.
A small part of Martha’s mind observed how very fit he looked in that shirt. However, that part was surprisingly quieter than she’d ever known it to be, and she found herself looking at him more critically.
The medic in her couldn’t help but notice, as he reached up for another cable, that his arms, like the rest of him, were still far too thin. The Doctor had always been skinny, but ever since the Year, he was unhealthily so, and while they made sure he was eating, progress was slow.
Still, it was progress. Slowly, they were all beginning to piece themselves back together, and Martha was beginning to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. She was sleeping better at night, though the nightmares hadn’t diminished much. Jack was beginning to relax his constant vigilance in watching over them at every moment. And the Doctor, who had been more shattered than either of them, was starting to smile again.
Still, perhaps there was some small benefit to the TARDIS being disabled. While she wished more than anything that the ship had not been tortured so, at least her current state meant that the Doctor couldn’t go running off, as he usually did. He needed more time, and for someone who was supposedly the Lord of Time, he gave surprisingly little to himself.
As the Doctor reached up to the rotor again, one of his sleeves fell back slightly, and Martha caught a glimpse of something that made all her medical instincts jump to attention.
Something that had not been there before the Year.
And something he definitely had not mentioned.
“Doctor…” she said, almost hesitant to bring it up. But she couldn’t ignore this. If he was injured, and hadn’t been saying anything…
“Hm?” he asked, distractedly. But then he glanced down and saw her face, and she instantly had his full attention. “What’s wrong?”
She took a deep breath.
“What happened to your arm?”
The Doctor’s face immediately hardened, and she could actually see him pulling back, retreating behind his usual shields. He did not want to discuss this.
But while Martha respected his feelings, she was also a doctor (almost), and she was not going to let him push her away. Not if it meant he might be physically suffering.
“Nothing,” he said briskly, but with the faintest trace of steel in his voice.
Without even seeming to realize he was doing it, he tugged his left sleeve down.
“Didn’t look like nothing.” She crossed her arms. “You’re hurt.”
“I’m fine, Martha,” he said. "It's nothing."
A moment later, his eyes and face softened.
“Really, it’s not anything you have to worry about.”
“Please,” she implored. “Doctor, don’t shut me out like this. We agreed that we’d all be honest with each other.”
She wasn’t asking him to bare his soul to her, like he had a couple of days ago. But she wasn’t going to stand for him deflecting her as though she were a child either.
A year ago, she might have been afraid to upset him, but a lot had changed in that year. She wasn’t the girl she’d been back then, and he wasn’t the untouchable hero anymore. Ever since that time on the S.S.Pentallian, she’d known that he was vulnerable, but it wasn’t until she’d seen him sobbing over the Master’s body that she truly realized that he was even more broken than she’d ever imagined. He needed help, like it or not, and if she could offer any assistance, how could she do otherwise?
She knew now that he would never love her the way that she had once desired, and she herself had changed a lot since she’d left him on the Valiant. She didn’t expect anything like that of him anymore. She just wanted to be his friend, because she saw that true, unconditional friendship was what he needed most.
And as a friend, and an almost-doctor, she was determined to at least get a look at what she was now certain was an injury. Which worried her more than anything, because as far as she knew, his body healed any non-lethal injury inflicted upon it, far more rapidly and thoroughly than any human. So why was this injury not healed?
She could actually see the Doctor debating with himself about what to say next, an inner struggle that he utterly failed to hide on his face. His own natural reserve and instinctive reluctance to discuss his own problems were warring with his friendship with Martha.
If it had been any other situation, he probably would have demanded she back off, and she might have been forced to accept defeat. But it was still too close to the Year, he was still too tired to fight her very hard, and his emotional shields were still too battered to be very effective.
And, she hoped, his trust for her had a hand in it too.
In any case, he gave a slight nod, and took a deep breath.
“Okay,” he said, his voice almost a whisper.
He climbed down from the console and approached her, his face solemn and emotionless. He met her eyes, and Martha gently held out her hand, as though he were a wild animal that might bolt at any moment. Which, she reflected, was a fairly accurate description.
He put his hand in hers, and she slowly reached up her other hand to push up his sleeve.
She couldn’t suppress a gasp of shock and horror.
Martha Jones had seen many terrible things in her year of travelling the ruined world. She’d seen more deaths than she could count, and even caused a few of them herself. She’d treated horrible injuries, had held starving children, and even been forced to perform surgery on her own knee once. Even before the Year, she hadn’t exactly been what you’d call “squeamish,” and now, there wasn’t much which could shock her.
But this did.
Partly because of the nature of the injury, and partly because of the fact that this had been done to the Doctor, of all people.
The Doctor’s left shoulder, extending from his deltoid to his bicep, was completely marred by scar tissue. Darker than normal skin, pulled tight, and raised slightly from the rest of his skin. But this wasn’t from any normal injury. The scarring was deliberately placed, forming a pattern, almost as though it had been carved.
That was exactly what happened, she realized a second later. Something had been burned, scorched into the Doctor’s arm.
The Doctor had been viciously branded.
She fought back a rush of nausea and fury, forcing herself to look at it from a medical standpoint, not from an emotional one. It didn’t look infected, and while the scars were deep and prominent, the surrounding skin showed no signs of damage. Whoever had done this (and she knew who had done this) had been very precise and deliberate, harming only the skin which made up this…this symbol.
She had no way of judging how old the injury was, considering the Doctor’s rapid healing abilities, but she knew it hadn’t been there before the Year, so it was less than a year old.
She slowly raised her eyes to the Doctor’s face, and he met her gaze solemnly. His face was calm and impassive, and he glanced down at the brand with detached interest.
“The Master?” Martha finally managed to ask.
The Doctor nodded once.
Martha hadn’t thought that she could hate the Master any more than she already did. But with that small nod of assent, rage swept through Martha, and she was honestly glad that the Master was already dead.
Because if he hadn’t been, she would have killed him.
“It…” she swallowed hard, trying to be clinical. “It’s healed well. It’s not infected.”
“No,” the Doctor nodded. “I know. It’s healed as well as can be expected.”
Martha slowly exhaled, her eyes, unbidden, moving back to that awful scar. It was clearly some sort of symbol, though Martha couldn’t recognize what it was. Clearly alien. But why had the Master done this, carved this particular symbol?
This wasn’t a wound that was inflicted all at once. The more she looked at it, the more she could see that this had been done over an extended period of time. Scarring on top of scarring, burn upon burn, reinjuring partly healed flesh so as to achieve greater scars in the end. The pain he'd have endured from this would have been agonizing. She couldn't even imagine...it must have been unbearable.
“I thought…” she cut herself off, but the Doctor merely nodded at her to continue. “I thought your body healed more extensively than humans. I thought you didn’t scar…”
Externally, anyway. Internally, it was a whole other story.
“Normally I don’t,” the Doctor said. His voice was even, and it was as if he was speaking about someone else. “Normally my biology enables me to repair damage without leaving any external marks.”
Martha remembered several occasions in the past when he had been injured, and had quickly healed without any trace of the injury.
“But when the Master aged me, he weakened me. Some of my abilities didn’t function quite as well as they typically do. Not gone completely, but weakened. And being cut off from the TARDIS…” he shrugged, a gesture which would have looked casual and dismissive on anyone else. From the Doctor, it spoke volumes for what he must have endured.
“In any case,” he continued, “most of the injuries healed, given time.”
Most of the injuries? Martha closed her eyes momentarily at the casual, matter-of-fact tone with which he referred to his torture.
“But…” she swallowed hard, “not…?” she gestured helplessly to his shoulder.
“Eventually my body just couldn’t keep up, couldn’t heal it anymore, so it just started healing around it,” the Doctor touched the brand lightly, tracing the scarred lines with his too-thin fingers. "He knew it would, knew our biology. Knew what it would take."
Martha caught hold of his hand, pulling it away from the injuries. He met her eyes, and she caught a flash of pain there, before it was hidden away again.
“He wanted this one to stick.”
“Why?” Martha couldn’t help asking. “What is it?”
The Doctor sighed, flexing his shoulder a little as he spoke.
“It’s the symbol of the Master’s House on Gallifrey,” he told her.
Martha felt as though she’d been kicked in the chest, and stared at the symbol with new revulsion.
“Basically, it’s like a family crest.” The Doctor sighed. “For us, it’s the equivalent of putting your name on someone.”
“He wanted me to remember,” the Doctor was speaking quickly now, the way he did when he didn’t want to stop and think about what he was actually saying. “No matter what happened, he wanted me to remember.”
A reminder, on the off chance that perhaps the Doctor managed to escape. Insurance, that no matter what happened, the Doctor could not forget what had been done to him.
A brand was a cruel symbol of ownership, something you put on livestock, or used to put on slaves. The ultimate humiliation, the Master’s name on the Doctor, marking him as though he were a possession, something to be owned and controlled.
Martha wondered how the Doctor could bear it. She had her own scars from the Year, many of them. Without the TARDIS’s infirmary, Martha had been forced to endure her injuries the old fashioned way. Her shoulder, where she’d been nicked by a bullet. Her knee, when she’d been forced to perform her own surgery. Her hands, battered and marred by months of hardship and running for her life. The list went on.
But Martha wore all of these marks proudly. Because they were a symbol of her resistance. Every injury, ever scar, meant that she was still alive, still fighting. Each one was a symbol of victory, gained in combating the Master.
But for the Doctor, this brand had been carved into him while he was helpless. Unable to fight back. It was a reminder of how low he’d been brought, and all the things that the Master had done to him, and to others. She knew him well enough to know that he would see it as a sign of his own failure, his own weakness, instead of a sign of survival.
Martha tried to hold back her own boiling anger.
“Can’t you…” she started. “I mean…the TARDIS infirmary…the dermal regenerator?” That device had completely mended Martha’s occasional injuries gained in her TARDIS travels.
“Martha…” the Doctor said softly, and for one terrifying moment, Martha thought he was going to say he didn’t want to remove it.
It would be just like the Doctor, to insist on bearing the marks of his own supposed failures, believing he needed to pay a price for something that had never been his fault. A constant reminder of his own alleged weakness.
“…I already did.”
Martha’s eyes widened. This was what the dermal regenerator had left behind? What had it looked like before?
“The infirmary can’t heal everything. This is as good as it’s going to get,” the Doctor concluded. “Only regenerating will get rid of it, I think.”
He pulled his sleeve back down, hiding the mark.
“Does it… does it hurt?”
“Not anymore,” the Doctor assured her. He must have seen her skepticism. “Honest. My body has healed everything it can. The crucial damage has been repaired. The pain is gone. It’s just a scar now.”
Just a scar?
“You know what they say,” he added, picking up his jacket and putting it on. You’d never have known anything was under there. “Scars are like tattoos, with better stories.”
He gave Martha a wan smile. His voice was far too flippant.
“Well, you’ve got to admit, as scars go, it’s a pretty impressive one. Must mean it’s a pretty impressive story, hm?”
Martha couldn’t help it. She let out a gasp that sounded much more like a sob, even to her own ears, and hugged the Doctor tightly. He was momentarily startled, but returned the gesture a second later, and she could feel him shaking, his hearts pounding against her.
“I don’t mind, Martha,” he whispered. “It’s all right. It's fine. It's just a scar. It doesn’t mean anything.”
But she knew him well enough to know when he was lying, even to himself.
“Yes it does,” she said, moving back a pace so she could see his face. For all his talk, there was raw pain and anger in his eyes, and she knew that she’d been correct in her assessment of what that mark meant to him. She had to say this right. “It means a lot, Doctor. You know why?”
He shook his head slowly.
“He did this to torment you. But you don’t have to let him. ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ Eleanor Roosevelt said that.”
He was watching her closely, and she felt that, for once, he was really, truly listening.
“That,” she touched his shoulder, and she saw him fight the urge to flinch away, “is what you make it. Just like this.”
She pulled on the collar of her shirt, revealing the scar on her shoulder.
She spread out her hands, palms up, showing the scars and calluses proudly.
His eyes darkened with anger at what had been done to her, jaw tightening, but otherwise, he didn’t react.
“They tell a story, all right. All of them, yours and mine. And you know what they tell me?”
He waited for her answer.
“They tell me that we’re still alive,” she said, meaning every word. In fact, she was even convincing herself more and more with each passing second. “We’re still here, and he’s not. We were the better people. We were stronger.”
She caught hold of his hands again.
"Don’t let him take that away from you, Doctor. From all of us. Because if you do, he’s won.”
The Doctor took a long breath, gripping her hands, his face suddenly hesitant and unsure. He looked so young, and so very lost. But Martha resisted the urge to hug him again, as she might have done a year ago. Instead, she had to seize the moment to drive her point home.
“Don’t let him do this to you,” she implored. “That mark is not a sign of defeat. Unless you let it be one.”
For a long time, there was silence. A dozen emotions battled on the Doctor's face, and Martha held her breath.
Slowly, but surely, his face cleared, and she saw new strength flash in his eyes. He lifted his head, and nodded once.
“Okay,” he said.
“Okay?” she queried.
It was just one word, but there was so much more behind it. Strength. Determination. Pain. Courage. Relief. Gratitude.
Now she hugged him, and he returned the embrace enthusiastically.
Then he smiled at her.
“Martha Jones, when did you get to be so brilliant?”
“Excuse me?” she demanded, unable to hold back a smile of her own. “I’ll have you know, Mr. Smith, that I’ve always been brilliant. When did you get wise enough to finally notice?”
The Doctor stared at her for a long second, and then threw back his head and laughed.
Really, properly laughed, for the first time since they’d left the Valiant.
And for Martha, it was the best sound in the whole world.