Again I let out a groan, held my head with both hands and pressed my eyes shut. Images swapped over me, snippets of conversations, smells and sounds and the feelings of different times. Too many and too fast to distinguish any of them, enough, however, to make my head hurt again, make it spin and foggy.
Who am I?
The question wasn't so unjustified, but its answer still slipped through my fingers as if each component of it were a tiny grain of sand. The TARDIS must have had something to do with this, although I could not understand how she reached me here.
When I looked back up the images didn't vanish. Instead they continued to rattle through the room like they were running through a broken slide-projector. The Master stood there, fascinated and also confused, trying to make sense of it. He turned and squatted down in front of me. The look in his eyes was cold and unnerving.
"How are you doing that?" he demanded to know. "How can your mind spill out like this? Not even Time Lords can do that."
"I… have no idea," I breathed, as much puzzled by all of this than he seemed to be.
But he should know!
I pinched my eyes shut, unsure where those thoughts came from, even though they were my own.
He should remember me!
But how? And why? We had never met before.
A hand on my collar tore me out of the musing, Tore me upwards to my feet.
"What are you?!" The Master demanded.
A searingly hot… thing shot through my mind, a bundle of emotions and questions and memories. The Master winced, but still held onto me. My whole mind seemed to bleed out of myself, affecting him maybe as much as it did me.
Who am I? What am I?
The gnawing pit in my stomach, amplified by the countless times I had asked myself those exact questions. Images appeared around me, fragmented, blurred, like viewed inside the shards of a broken mirror. I remembered and with the memories came the images.
Of me at various ages, glaring up at the sky, sitting in secluded spots, hiding from people, always staying in the back. Asking and asking and asking myself what in the world I might be that people hated my very existence so much, wondered who I actually was after years and years of copying behaviours and desperately trying to appear normal. At least normal enough not to be pushed around, not to be discarded at every opportunity.
All of what I had tried had changed me to an unrecognizable… thing. And it didn't help, made no part of my life even slightly easier, but I couldn't help it, was doing this all on instinct and so automatically that I couldn't just… stop.
Layers and layers of masks, of disguises, of being nothing but an empty shell with rehearsed patterns of speech and movements. Because everything I was was not allowed. Because everything that was not them made me a target.
I heard a low chuckle and glanced up, finding the Master in the same place as before, although he had released my clothes. Instead he held my head, almost gently, not even trying to get inside. What for when all of me was just dripping from my mind into the world around us?
"Tell you what," he whispered - or were my thoughts so loud that I barely understood him? "I know how that feels. Being the odd one out. Never… never knowing why."
Around us the images steadied, slowed. There I was again. As a child, running away from classmates, who wanted to steal my school bag. Me, sighing at the sky as I came out from another fruitless job interview. Me, wincing in terror as the doorbell rang, too terrified to answer, because I didn't know who was on the other end.
"You can't control it," came the Master's amused voice and he dragged me right against him, forcing me to bend my head in his hands backwards and meet his wolfish grin. "Show me. What scares you, if I cannot?"
The command tingled in my head, spread there like poison and gnawed its way into my memories. Not hypnotism, but a simple trigger. Immediately the images changed, rushed backwards to halt at a scene that only lay a few years behind.
There was a simple flat, me lying on the sofa, trying to sleep, while my boyfriend snored in the bedroom. The image cut, changed. The same scenery, but some hours before. I was still on my phone, preparing for a late evening online session with friends. My boyfriend stood there, leaned against the sofa rest and regarded me with a dark, accusing look.
"Come on, don't make such a fuss and sleep in the bedroom again."
I sighed tiredly. We had had this conversation so many times, I knew each and every word of it, but still repeated my part as if it belonged to a play. "I can't sleep when you snore so loud. You know that." And he refused to even try to take any action against it. Simply awaited me to put up with it. And for years I had. I had denied myself so many hours of proper sleep only for him not to get mad at me for leaving the room.
A derisive look crossed his eyes, then they wandered over my body. "At least come over for a bit. A few minutes."
Inwardly I flinched, knowing what this actually was about. Same as always, same as every single time we had this or a similar conversation.
"My clan is waiting," I shot out. It wasn't even a proper lie. The people I played MMOs with were actually doing an event at this moment and had asked if I wanted to join.
The look on my boyfriend's face darkened even further and he huffed. "See? You never have time for me."
And with that he stormed away, leaving me behind, relieved and still shaky.
"That didn't look so scary," the Master snickered behind me. I hadn't even noticed that he had let go of me.
I swallowed down a lump in my throat. "No, it doesn't. Everyone who didn't know him well would have thought of him like a really nice person. But the subtle things… those you only pick up when you really know a person..."
Before I could say anything more, the images in the room changed. We were in the same flat, he on his computer, I just came back from a rare trip with friends. It had been a nice day with them, we had seen each other for the first time in over a year. My mood was great and I blabbered on after he had greeted me, told about what he had done and was about to show him some photos we had taken. A quick glance at my watch told me it was almost two in the morning already.
"Oof, dang. I'm really tired now." I let out a yawn. "Can barely keep my eyes open. Guess I'll go to bed now."
My boyfriend said nothing, not even a good-night. I already guessed he hadn't listened to half of what I had told, because his attention had been with his monitor for the entire time, only interrupted by some vague words and noises. So I was about to stroll to the sofa when he suddenly grabbed my arm and tore me into his lap.
"You've been gone all day," he said, a slight accusation swinging within his voice. "And I had such a bad day at work, really."
"Uh… sorry 'bout that," I mumbled and picked up my phone, trying a smile. "Here, you'll like that one. We took it in the park."
He grunted and didn't even look at the picture of a squirrel I wanted to show. "I tell you about a bad day and all you think about is yourself," he blamed.
"Hey, not true!" I protested. "Just thought it's cute and might cheer you up."
"No, you don't want to listen to me. You never want to listen. I'm feeling bad and you don't care."
Completely taken aback by this I stayed silent, unsure what to even say. It wasn't true, not at all. I simply had no clue how to make him smile again, despite the bad day. And before I could think about it any further, his hand was on my bum and I froze.
"I know how you can make me smile again," he said with a grin, letting his other hand wander to a much more obvious place.
I squirmed and wanted to get up. "Hey, it's really late already," I said. "'m really damn tired. And don't you have to work, tomorrow? Why're you even still awake?"
His face got angry, even though he let me get up. But only to grab me once more and let his hands wander to places they had no business to be. "I was worried," he told.
"I wrote you a message just an hour ago."
"Yeah, but not after."
I sighed and pushed his hands away. "Stop that."
"Oh, come on," he whined. "If you don't let me have you, at least let me touch you."
A wave of disgust washed over me and squirmed out of his grip and stepped away. The scene faded, got replaced by a bunch of others of similar nature. They rushed backwards, to the beginning, when everything had still been great and fine, then wandered further to where my boyfriend had started to demand more and more and getting angry when I didn't want or couldn't deliver. It went on for a few years, getting worse and worse until I started to feel nothing but disgust when he came near me.
But I stayed anyway, convinced this was the best life had to offer for a broken thing like me. I stayed, although he kept telling me what a heartless monster I was. I stayed, even though it was impossible to even give him a hug without him trying to get into my pants. I stayed, even though his fake-concern and his controlling behaviour made me develop a gnawing social anxiety.
The room went black.
For a while I stood there in silence, feeling miserable and bare. Dirty. Every moment I awaited to hear a nasty comment from the Master, a laugh or some other sign that he revelled in what I had experienced.
Eventually he stepped next to me, eyes fixated on the reappearing sparkles, rather than on me.
"Do you want to kill him?" he asked calmly, quite as if he wanted to know if I wanted milk in my coffee.
Hesitantly I glanced up at him. "What use would that be?"
A grin spread on the Master's face, although he still didn't look in my direction. "You managed to flee already, why not bring it to an end?"
I swallowed, shook my head. "I didn't flee," was what I mumbled.
I had stayed, because I didn't dare to leave the house anymore.
I had stayed because he had separated me from my family and from the few friends I used to have.
I had stayed… because I had lost the will to care any longer.
"I was… too weak… too scared to do so. He… threw me out, in the end. With nothing but a bag of clothes. No money, no place to stay."
"Uh-oh. Nasty." Another chuckle, telling me he had too much fun with my misery. "You're still here, though. Stubborn thing, eh?"
I huffed. "Yeah. Might be the only quality I possess."
The Master stretched out his hand and tapped against a cluster of sparks that looked as if an image was trapped inside them. The gesture made me wince as if he had touched the spot right inside my mind.
And again the sparks flared to life. Showed me sitting in the streets. My phone was almost drained as I typed a message into a chat window, asking an internet friend I had never in my life met in person to pick me up. Then the phone died and I waited, hoped not to be abandoned for just once in my life.
Hours later I saw a figure approach and recognized the face of said friend. I only knew a few photos of him. He picked me up, took me home and let me stay with him and his wife for a while, so I wouldn't have to live on the streets.
But it still was a hard process. My anxiety still sat deep and I had so many troubles finding an apartment for myself that I nearly landed back on the streets again. My friends didn't want me to stay for longer than necessary, urged me to get out, because their landlord didn't like them having another person with them.
The first successful offer was a randown, cheap space within the poorest part of my town, but I still took it, because it was better than getting kicked out again. Even though it was only an empty room with nothing inside. Not even a bed.
The images went black again, leaving me with a tight knot in my stomach. I didn't want the Master to see all of this, didn't want to relive all the fear and pain I had felt. Was this really how the TARDIS wanted to help me? Was this just some cruel joke? A tiny spark of hope for something better, only to be left on my own, tossed away in the darkness with nothing but my worst memories.
I felt the Master's eyes on me, felt how curious he was to learn more about what he could use to torture me.
But, to my luck, the sparks around us finally faded, the colours returned to the room and left me with an eerie feeling of being stranded in a half-reality, trapped between memories and the present. All I could do was to take some shaky breaths and clench my hands to fists.
The Master snapped his fingers against my forehead, chuckled when I jumped.
"Well, that's a start," he commented amused and tilted his head a little. "You're still standing upright, though." A mad grin crossed his face as he bent down to my eye level. "Thought you'd crumble to a sobbing mess."
"Stubborn, remember?" I grumbled. "You have to do better than that."
"If that isn't a challenge!" He giggled madly to himself. "Don't worry, though. I'll find out how to break you. One way or the other."