"There could be anything on this ship..." The Doctor stalked around the corner, all prepared to start scolding whenever he found Rose and Mickey - and pulled up short as he found a horse standing in the corridor directly ahead of him.
The Doctor stared. The horse whinnied, and if the Doctor didn't know better, he'd have thought the horse was scolding him. Scolding him, though what for, he hadn't the faintest clue. Maybe it was just as startled to run into him as he was to see it.
"I'm almost positive you're not supposed to be here," he said after a moment, stepping forward and reaching for its bridle. "Unless you're... I don't know, ship mascot? Seems unlikely, but you never know..." Especially in the 51st century.
The horse tossed its head before the Doctor managed to actually grab its reins, taking one step backward to carry it just out of reach. Frowning in annoyance, the Doctor let his hand drop back to his side and shot the horse a half-glare. "Have it your way. I won't take you back to France, then."
He started to edge past it - he still did want to look for Rose and Mickey down that corridor - and then, completely by chance, he met its eyes. He barely had time to note that they were a very odd color for a horse (a blue deep and endless as the TARDIS) before something in the moment twisted. He felt the bottom drop out of his stomach, and then time seemed to slow... and stop.
He knew, objectively, that time actually was carrying on as normal. For him, though, all that mattered, all he could see, were those blue, blue eyes, casting a light on the darkest parts of his hearts, weighing, measuring... :I don't want to go back to France.:
The Doctor bolted, past the horse and down the corridor, leaving dignity behind. On the plus side, he left the horse behind as well.
He heard the horse behind him before he saw it.
At first, he thought that sound was bells, but between the clockwork robots and the French fireplace and the horse, there were only so many odd things you could find on one ship. Probably. After a minute or so, he realized those bells came in exactly the pattern you'd expect from a horse in a walking gait. The hooves were ringing.
More importantly, the horse was following him - although now that he thought about it, he was beginning to suspect horse wasn't the word. He just didn't know what else to call it. Didn't want to know.
He swung around to face it when the bell-steps sounded just a bit too close for comfort, one hand raised palm-out. "Would you stop following me?" he snapped. "I'm not your mother!" He already knew that wasn't even close to the point.
It nudged at his wrist with its nose, and tried to grab his sleeve in its teeth, maybe to keep him from walking away again, but he yanked his arm away before it could get a grip. The horse looked at him reprovingly. :No. You're my Chosen. You're mine and I am-:
The Doctor quickly constructed a door in his mind - thick, heavy, steel, as if details like that mattered - and slammed it shut unceremoniously. The voice in his mind cut off, though if he focused his attention on it, he could feel... something that hadn't been there before, some psychic connection he couldn't block out entirely.
"Choose someone else," he snapped, and walked away again.
The Doctor paused, blinking. Had he said Arthur? He hadn't meant to - hadn't meant to say anything about the horse, actually, since there was only so much it could do to help without thumbs...
"Good name for a horse," he explained quickly, the first answer that came to mind. He did his best to ignore that unmistakeable sense of satisfaction bleeding through his shields, and dropped them just long enough to inform it, :This is not as amusing as you seem to think.:
But when Rose told him he couldn't keep the horse, he argued without thinking, and he left that door in his mind hanging open just a crack.
He left Arthur in Versailles with Reinette. He'd be back in a moment, after all, no sense in dragging the Companion through the trick door just yet. As soon as he was through the door, though, he knew something had gone wrong - the entire universe seemed to lurch, and he felt something twist and tear and break...
He hadn't felt that empty space in his hearts quite so keenly since the end of the Time War.
When he stepped back through the fireplace, Reinette wasn't there. Neither was Arthur. It was just the king, and the Doctor stumbled through a curt conversation with him, somehow already knowing what he'd say. Everything that mattered to him in this place and time was gone. He turned away and walked numbly back to the fireplace.
As his hand settled on the mantle, though, the chime of hooves on a hardwood floor rang out behind him. He spun around, too startled to even process what the sound meant for a moment. A soft nose pressed against his chest and whuffed softly, the heat of breath through his shirt enough to convince the Doctor that this was real. He blinked, and looked up, and found himself falling into those blue, blue eyes all over again.
:I cannot express how much I'm sick of France. Can we go now?: