She’s much stronger than him, actually, telepathically. He’s just never been very good at making those connections, or at maintaining them once he’s made them. His distractible mind ends up going quite literally elsewhere. But he wants her here with him, so much, and he does his best to relax and stay present while they curl up mind to mind, balancing his awareness between his presence in her mindspace and hers in his.
Her thought’s presence is soft and cool, like silk and pearls. He wonders if his feels warm to her.
This is nice, she says inconsequentially.
A single wisp of her awareness traces over some of his memories. They’re amusing ones. He opens them to her and she laughs.
Tentatively, she reaches further. There’s a scar in there, where some memories should be—he’s not sure exactly what, of course, just remembers the disorientation of finding them gone. He knows she’s found the scar because he feels her sorrow. Not so much pity as he’d expected. That’s rather nice.
What happened? she asks, and he just shrugs, trying to be nonchalant. He really doesn’t care that much—he’s done a lot of things, stands to reason he doesn’t remember all of them.
Now that she’s looking, she’s seeing a lot of them, scars and holes and places that never healed right. He’s lived hard, taken too many risks, definitely been possessed more often than a well-regulated Time Lord should. He has the mind of—well, of someone who used to let people practice hypnosis on him at school and hasn’t gotten any less reckless in the intervening centuries. And she’s reaching for all of it with love.
He reaches back to her, concentrating his awareness on her. Her mind by contrast is neat and beautiful. Each thought and memory is laid out with heart-stopping precision that could inspire Fabergé or the Versailles gardens. He’s sure that, when she someday regenerates, the divide will be marked with a crease as precise as origami.
He wanders through at her invitation, smiling as he passes their adventures together, holding her even closer when he sees the small memories of her lonely childhood.
Then he almost stumbles over it: not a hole, although he thought so for a moment. It's the opposite of a hole: it's what he would think of—with the capital letter, if Romana wouldn't laugh at him—as a Presence. It manifests to his mind as a black box, almost the height of a person, with an unpleasant ultraviolet glow to it. And it's wrapped in chains.
He doesn't say anything. He doesn't have to. She feels his alarm and turns her attention to him in a silent query.
What’s this? he asks. Confusion. This mindblock, he says. What’s in there?
I don’t know, she says. Maybe an embarrassing childhood memory.
I don’t believe you ever could do anything as embarrassing as that would indicate, he says.
I was a very sensitive child, she replies. She’s already roaming elsewhere in his mind, though. It’s like she can’t keep her attention on the black box.
This worries him, but she says, you’re one to talk, look at this. Shock in her tone.
He’s about to be a bit offended. It’s not entirely polite to critique the state of someone’s mind while you’re still inside it. But then he follows her attention and sees what she means.
If her mind is a garden, his, seen through her eyes, is a jungle, rich and tangled. Except now, she’s standing at the edge of what he can only describe as a chasm. It looks like a quarry that someone’s been having a nuclear war in.
If the thing in Romana’s mind was a Presence, this is an Absence. Big enough to contain whole lives—and he has absolutely no idea what could ever have been there, or who obliterated it, or why.
He doesn’t want to know. He’s suddenly sure that he doesn’t want to know. Wrong wrong wrong, it’s shouting to him. No place for you. He turns and holds onto her like he’s afraid she’ll vanish too.
She clutches him back. They both have secrets from themselves. They’re so alike in some ways.
They’re frightened. It’s like a storm coming on. The instinct to seek shelter, but there’s nowhere to turn. What’s he forgotten? What’s she suppressed? they ask each other, as one.
All they have is each other’s presence. She’s been thinking of him in his shirtsleeves and waistcoat, so she buries her face in the rough warmth of the wool. He kisses the imagined waves of her dark hair as ruin and chaos break over them.
They return to themselves and find they are in each other’s arms.
“Did something odd happen?” asks Romana hesitantly.
The Doctor thinks for a moment. “Maybe we fell asleep together. Shared dreams can be strange.”
She purses her soft lips. “That’s probably it.”
But it really is odd, he thinks, that he can’t remember what they saw.