Giacomo Casanova meets a man with an odd box, a beautiful companion, and a stubborn resistance to the forces of desire. "I'm right; I'm always right. And if I am, you'll owe me… a chicken."
Disclaimer: Most of this is the fault of the BBC and Russell Davies, with a prompt by Steven Moffat thrown in. Casanova will argue that he is his own man, but is perhaps best imagined as Davies (and some tall, skinny, Scottish bloke) brought him to life.
The girl's body was limp but reassuringly warm in his arms as he wound his way through the crowded marketplace. Ahead of him, the shorter man fumbled in the pockets of his leather coat for a key, and unlocked his curious larger-on-the-inside blue box, motioning for Giacomo to follow him inside.
Giac hurried across the space and laid his charge on the seats, stripping off his coat to bundle into a pillow. The Doctor crouched beside her, his face grim as he waved his blue-tipped stick across her body and then examined the wand carefully. The pinched lines in his face relaxed a bit, and he touched his palm to her forehead, her cheek, brushed strands of her fair hair back from her face and let them fall against the dark blue silk.
When he spoke his voice was rough and raw, but laced with relief. "She'll be okay."
Giac let his breath out in a rush. "Thank God for that," he said.
The Doctor stood and ran a hand across his own face. "Doubt she'll remember much of the trip, though. She was infected almost as soon as we stepped outside."
"Pitty," Giac said, looking down at her sleeping form. "I would like to be remembered by a woman like that."
The Doctor eyed him warily but said nothing, crossing instead to the door, and opening it to reveal again the busy Venetian market, filled with the calls of merchants, the cries of chickens and caged doves, the chatter of the crowd.
"And the—the plague thing," Giacomo asked, "it's gone?"
"Alien microbes," the Doctor corrected, leaning against the doorframe and folding his arms in front of his chest. "And yes. Fried 'em all into little bits, me. Your city is safe, Signore Casanova."
Giac joined him at the door, gazing out beyond the square to the line of the sea. Standing next to the Doctor, he could feel the tension in the man's body, the fear and anxious worry, the guilt at placing another person in danger, pouring off him in waves that lapped against Giac like the water that slapped the sides of the moored gondolas.
"She loves you," Giac said softly.
The Doctor pulled away from the doorframe as if it burned him, and took a couple steps back from Giacomo, his head cocked to the side, hands balled as fists at his sides. A defensive posture. A lie.
"She does," he pressed.
"I doubt that," the Doctor said, dropping his head and studying his shoes. The slump of his shoulders told Giac that this was true; he did indeed doubt the girl's affection for him.
"If there's one thing I know," he said, "it's women. Love. Desire. And that woman," he cast his eyes to Rose, swallowed hard, "that magnificent, beautiful, sensuous woman, undeniably loves you, Doctor."
The Doctor shook his head, still staring pointedly at the floor.
"Why is that so hard for you to believe?" he asked. The Doctor looked up at him, his eyes cold but sad. Again Giac studied the other man's features, rough in places, big around the ears, prone to dazzling, impish grinning, his overlarge jacket masking a torso lined with muscle and raw strength. "You're not an unattractive man," he offered.
The Doctor huffed and shuffled his feet against the floor. "This daft old face?" He huffed again, and then frowned, genuine pain knit into the lines on his brow, around the corners of his mouth. "No, Giacomo. It's not that. Even if I had a face as handsome as yours, I still don't think she'd—that we'd…"
"What is it, then?" Giac pressed. The men he knew were so sure, projected such confidence, and it was rare and almost erotic for another man to drop his defensiveness, even for a moment.
The Doctor gazed past him as if seeing things far away, things Giac couldn't see, couldn't fathom. "I've done things, Giacomo. Terrible things. I've been to places you can't imagine—she can't imagine, said and done clever, frightening, horrible things. I am not meant for someone like her."
Giac crossed to the Doctor and rested a hand on his shoulder, bidding him to meet his gaze. "And yet." He waited, felt the tightness in the other man's shoulders drop just a touch. "She loves you. And you," he was sure of it, too; he could see it in every movement the Doctor made, "you love her."
The Doctor's eyes widened, his jaw clenched. Something very like terror crossed his features, and then was replaced by hardened anger. Giac felt the fine hairs at the base of his skull tingle and lift in apprehension; this was not a man with whom to trifle. This was a dangerous man. A force to be reckoned with.
Still, Giac inhaled and lifted his chin a fraction. He'd be damned if he was going to let this frightened, anguished, broken specimen of a man intimidate him when he knew he was right. "You do, Doctor. I see it. I know it." He dropped his hand and sighed. "I hope you tell her, but I doubt you ever will. You're trying far too hard to hide it, for some foolish reason or other. And you think our Venetian codes and rules and morals are strange. Doctor, I'd bet my life that woman there loves you more than you know, and you love her more than you think you should, and you'll never have the spine to tell her so."
The Doctor's eyes narrowed and he pitched his voice low. "You may go now, Signore Casanova," he bit out.
Giac crossed to the door, but paused just inside. "You'll see, my friend. I'm right; I'm always right. And if I am, you'll owe me—" he cast around the market for inspiration, "a chicken."
The Doctor laughed outright, breaking the tension. Clearly this was not the wager he'd been expecting. "A chicken, Giacomo?"
Giac smiled. "A chicken, Doctor, a clucking, feathery hen." He tried to soften the harshness of his words with the joking wager, but the Doctor's face was still drawn and pained as his smile receded. "One day you'll know three things: Rose Tyler loves you, you cannot bear life without her, and you missed your chance to give her—and yourself—the best life and love have to offer."
"We'll see, Signore," the Doctor said, as the doors of the box closed between them. Giac straightened the cuffs of his billowing sleeves, and made his way into the throng.
As he ambled back through the marketplace, though, Giacomo heard a sound he could have sworn he'd heard before. A thrumming, whooshing, grinding sound, piercing into his memory.
Giac is six, maybe seven, no more than that, because Father is still alive. He is alone in the side street behind the big villa, when a young man calls his name. Curious, he comes closer to the stranger, the odd man with hair falling into his eyes and a tie at his throat knotted like a butterfly. "For your supper tonight," the man says, and presses the hen he's carrying into Giac's hands. His eyes look older than his face, and he seems terribly, terribly sad. "I'd have come sooner, but the"— here he says a nonsense word that sounds like 'tardess'— "has a rather literal sense of irony, and it would have only confused you later on."
Giac can't see how the present situation is much improvement, but as usual, he keeps this thought to himself. The man gives him a sort of half-smile and searches his face with those sad eyes. "One day, Giacomo Casanova," he says, "this will all make sense." He ruffles Giac's hair with an almost familiar affection, then spins quickly and disappears into the next alleyway. A few moments later, a strange humming sound emanates from the alley, but when Giac reaches the turn, chicken clasped in his arms, he finds only stray bits of garbage, and laundry rustling in a small breeze.
Giac sighed around the constriction in his chest, but couldn't for the life of him tell if it meant he wanted to laugh or cry.