The Doctor paces around the console impatiently, stopping every so often to press this button or that lever or to check the viewer screen… not that anything really needs doing; he just hates inaction.
Eventually, he’s fed up with the silence and the continuing absence of his companion. “Donna!” he yells over his shoulder. “How much longer are you going to be?”
“About a minute less than the last time you asked!” her voice booms back at him from somewhere along the corridor outside. “God, you’re worse than a kid, you are; you know, this isn’t exactly - ” there’s a pause and then a huff — so he leans back and crosses one ankle over the other, knowing she’s not going to be appearing anytime soon. “Tell me,” Donna continues, “did you drive your Mum bonkers when you were little? Did you used to drink too much Time Lord Tizer and pester her half to death in a fit of hyper-activity?”
He folds his arms and opens his mouth to frame a response — but evidently that last question had been a rhetorical one, because she doesn’t wait for an answer and carries straight on regardless. “How the hell did women manage in these things?”
The Doctor recognises that as a rhetorical question straight away and snaps his mouth shut.
He waits for all of ten seconds before trying again. “Come on Donna! We’ll miss it if we’re not careful.”
“Alright, alright, I’m coming!”
He straightens up this time and grins, stuffing his hands into his trouser pockets as he hears her voice — and footsteps - getting louder.
“It’s alright for you,” she grumbles as she enters the console room. “The hardest decision you have to make in the mornings is ‘brown or blue?’.”
He looks down at his blue, pin-striped suit. “What’s wrong with - ?“ is as far as he gets before Donna stops on the opposite side of the console and launches into one of her not infrequent commentaries on his fashion choices before heading off on another tangent. Which is rather a mixed metaphor now he comes to think of it. Or — no. Maybe not a mixed metaphor, more of a —
“Are you even listening to me?”
He sucks in a breath and knows she’s clocked his guilty expression even as he wipes it off his face. “Hm?”
Donna sighs and rolls her eyes. “I said - how come you never dress up for these things?”
He pulls a face and sniffs. “Never needed to. I just walk around like I own the place and nobody asks any questions.”
She shakes her head. “Typical. Men always have it easy.” He shrugs and is about to suggest (again) that they get a move on when she starts fidgeting with her dress.
“Bloody corset,” she mutters under her breath as she lifts an arm and attempts to reach something at her back.
He swallows. He can’t remember the last time he’s had any reason to think about a woman’s undergarments. “Er - ”
“I’d like to see you try to get into one of these without any help,” she grimaces, oblivious to his — temporary — inability to think of anything to say.
That doesn’t last long though. It never does. “I don’t think you would,” he says, scratching his ear. “Besides - ” he risks a grin. “That’s not my colour.”
“Shut up, you dipstick,” she says good-naturedly, and promptly starts to fiddle with her bodice, looking as though she’s about to stuff her hand down the front and adjust her - and he clears his throat and turns his back, because, really, there are some things that should remain a mystery, even to Lords of Time and Space.
He can hear her making little grunts and groans until finally, she heaves a huge sigh.
“Right. How do I look?”
He turns around and cocks his head slightly to the side as he takes her in. Her gown is a deep amethyst and rustles when she moves; there’s frothy white lace at her elbows and bodice, and her gleaming red hair is piled artfully on top of her head.
He doesn’t say anything for a moment. Which, he can hear Donna telling him inside his head, must be a record.
He’s about to tell her how fabulous she looks when the expression on her face changes abruptly.
“Oh, God - I look like an idiot. I’ll go and change and we’ll - ”
He rushes towards her and grabs her hand before she can turn away. “No. Donna,” he says softly, looking into her eyes, and hoping she can see the sincerity he’s projecting in his. “You look…” he smiles, still holding her gaze. “You look absolutely lovely.”
And she really does. He doesn’t understand why it is that she thinks so little of herself. She’s clever, funny, compassionate… and really, quite beautiful.
But for some reason, she just doesn’t see it.
He squeezes her hand and she smiles back at him, clearly relieved.
“All set, now?”
He flashes her a grin and then precedes her down the ramp so that he can open the door for her. They emerge into the pale light of the early evening, the TARDIS hidden from view at the end of an avenue of cypress trees.
“So,” Donna says, looking around as he closes the door behind them. “Where are we exactly?”
The Doctor offers her his arm and waves his other hand around expansively. “La Seranissima!” he enthuses as they begin walking. “Venice, in the middle of the eighteenth century. Or more precisely, the Palazzo Malipiero, right slap-bang in the middle of the city. The Grand Canal,” he points ahead and to their left, “is over there, and the San Marco,” he hikes a thumb over his shoulder, “is back that way.”
Donna nods appreciatively — then shoots a sidelong glance up at him. “You sure? Last time you tried Italy we nearly got buried alive.”
He stops abruptly and frowns at her. “ ‘Course I’m sure.”
She cocks an eyebrow at him.
“What?” he can feel himself pouting. “I am.” They start walking again and very soon find themselves at one end of a formal garden, at the other end of which lies a magnificent structure, its marble façade awash with a subtle mixture of reds and golds in the soft light of the setting sun. “See?”
Donna inhales sharply, her mouth dropping open in wonder. “It’s beautiful.”
The Doctor rocks on his heels and grins down at her. “Told you I knew where to find the best parties. Come on.”
As they move through the magnificent entrance hall and ascend the staircase leading up to the first floor of the Palazzo, the Doctor pauses to dig around in his pockets and — “Ah!” — eventually locates what he’s searching for. He holds out one of the pieces of black fabric he’s found and waves it at Donna. “You’ll need this,” he tells her brightly.
She’s looking at him dubiously. “Go on,” he says, flapping it at her again.
“What is it?” she asks, taking it and turning it over in her hands.
“A mask,” he says shaking out the one he still holds, trying not to notice the look of uncertainty on her face. “Oh, come on. It’ll be fun! People pretending to be other…” he cocks his head to the side, thinking — “people. Doing… stuff they… er… Anyway, it’s part of the … thing.” Donna rolls her eyes, lifts the black velvet to her face and then turns so that he can tie the strings at the back of her head.
She turns round and watches him tie his own. He can tell by the way her eyes are dancing behind her mask that she’s resisting the impulse to burst out laughing.
“You do realise that I’m Batman in this scenario,” she asserts.
“Oh, no,” he says, grinning at her before bounding up the steps two at a time. “You’re Robin. You know. Trusty sidekick and all that.”
“You’ll get a kick somewhere else in a minute,” she shoots back as she lifts her skirts and follows him.
The main hall of the Palazzo is absolutely buzzing with people when Donna and the Doctor arrive, and there seem to be more and more arrivals by the second. She is assailed by a myriad of colours, chatter, laughter — and smells — as she waits for the Doctor to make their introductions. As usual, he’s talked his way into the good graces of the hostess with little more than a smile and a flimsy excuse in about two seconds flat, and the lady of the house gives them both a gracious - if slightly world-weary — smile and bids the ‘Signor and Signora’ welcome, entreating them to amuse themselves in whatever way they wish. The world-weariness vanishes completely however, as soon Donna and the Doctor strenuously and hurriedly point out that they aren’t in fact married to each other. After that, she’s all over him; Donna doesn’t miss the way the other woman runs her eyes over the Doctor openly and lasciviously and immediately attempts to flirt with him, laying her hand proprietorially on his arm, all fluttering eyelashes and simpering smiles - and it takes a massive effort on Donna’s part not to snort rudely when she offers to show him the ‘delights’ of the Palazzo later on.
The Doctor, however, takes it all in his seemingly oblivious stride. He just smiles politely and thanks her for her offer — and then turns to Donna, offers her his arm and begins to steer her quickly into the mass of bodies in the grand chamber ahead of them, totally missing the disgruntled look on the other woman’s face.
As they walk, Donna leans in towards him. “The ‘delights of the Palazzo’ my ar -” she snickers under her breath.
“Now, Donna,” the Doctor interrupts mock-reprovingly. “She was just being polite.”
Donna snorts. “Yeah. Because next to ‘come upstairs and let me show you my etchings’, that’s about the worst come-on I’ve ever heard.”
She can tell he’s wearing a puzzled look, even behind the mask - then, as is his wont, he abruptly changes the subject. “Want a drink?”
Twenty minutes and one glass of wine later, Donna is beginning to be alternately worried and annoyed.
The Doctor had come back with their drinks and someone he’d introduced to her as the Signore Ludovico di Pieri, a local academic. In the minute and a half it had taken him to locate the wine and return to her, the Doctor had apparently had a conversation with Signore di Pieri during which he’d discovered that there was an original or first-generation copy of some important mathematical treatise in the library here that he wanted to look at. Before she’d had the chance to say anything, he’d told her to enjoy herself, have another drink, maybe a dance — “oh, and remember not to let anything slip to anyone about future events”. She’d not even had time to tell him that her knowledge of eighteenth century Venetian history was probably not up to much, so there was nothing to worry about on that score - before he’d darted off with his new acquaintance, telling her he’d be right back.
He might be a Time Lord, but his sense of time was like any normal bloke’s. Absolute crap.
She sighs heavily, and having decided that perhaps it would be a good idea to try to find him, begins to make her way towards the door. It’s a fairly slow progress through the assembled mass of people, and she hasn’t made much headway when something — someone - catches her eye from across the room.
He stands out — not only because he’s about a head taller than everyone else, and has eschewed the ridiculously ornate and powdered wigs favoured by so many of the other men in the room, but because of the way he exudes confidence and … something else she can’t quite define. She can see that his coat is of blue satin, with lace at the cuffs, that he sports a plain, black neckcloth and that like her, he wears a simple black mask, again unlike the fanciful, highly decorated ones which many of the other guests are wearing. She doesn’t have the time to work out just what it is about him that’s drawing her gaze before she realises that she’s staring and tells herself to look away. But even as she thinks the instruction, he has turned to face her and she sees the corners of his mouth quirk upwards as he lifts his glass and inclines it towards her.
For a split second, she wonders if he’s looking at someone else, and quickly glances over her shoulder — but there’s nobody there; and when she turns to look at him again, he’s still focused on her.
He cocks his head to one side and points to the vessel in his hand.
Donna, still puzzled at his attention, shoots him a quizzical look — and then, realising what he’s doing, she smiles back and gives him a slight nod.
He points to his chest, then mimes walking towards her with his fingers. She nods again, and he flashes her a quick grin before he turns to speak briefly to someone in the group he’s standing with and begins to make his way over to her, pausing briefly to collect a couple of full glasses on the way.
So what? she thinks. The Doctor had told her to enjoy herself and have another drink — and then buggered off to God knows where, giving her no idea of how long he’d be, so what the hell. He could come looking for her this time, and if he had to hang around aimlessly for a while, well it would serve him right.
The man in the blue coat reaches her side and holds out one of the glasses he’s been carrying. Donna suddenly realises that she has no idea as to what the correct form of address might be for someone she’s just met - in the eighteenth century - and is desperately trying to think of something to say, when -
“’allo,” he says without preamble, his fingers lightly grazing hers as she takes the wine he’s brought her.
Donna feels her eyebrows shoot upwards in surprise. After feeling relieved at the fact that she can actually understand him — so the Doctor can’t be all that far away — she’s a bit surprised by his familiarity. She’s no expert, but, she’d expected something a little more… formal.
Oh, well, she thinks. In for a penny…
“Hello,” she replies.
The man takes a swig of his wine, then sets the glass down on a nearby ledge and props himself casually against the nearest pillar with a loose-limbed grace that seems oddly familiar. He folds his arms and crosses one ankle over the other, the tip of one booted foot resting on the marble floor.
From what she can see of his face, she thinks he’s probably quite handsome. Strong chin, sharp, slightly angular features, a well-shaped mouth … his eyes behind the mask are mischievous, sparkling - and quite the deepest blue she’s ever seen.
He turns his head to survey the room, then looks back at her and puffs out a breath. “Come here often?”
She can’t help it. She snorts with laughter. “You what?”
He smiles at her. “That’s better. I was beginning to think I was losing my touch.”
“What touch?” she admonishes him. “’Do you come here often?’ You really need to work on your pick up lines, mate, ‘cause if that’s the best you can do, you’re in big trouble.”
“Nah,” he counters with a slight shrug. “I do alright.”
Donna looks him up and down over the rim of her glass. I’ll bet you do, she thinks, confirming her earlier assessment of him.
He’s tall and slim, the cut of his coat emphasising broad shoulders. He’s wearing a pair of black, knee-length boots over a pair of very tightly fitted black breeches and unless he’s cross-eyed or got a pimply forehead - or warts - he’s rather more than ‘quite handsome’. All in all, he cuts rather a dashing figure. And — she suspects — he’s well aware of it.
“So,” he says crisply, turning to pick up his glass. “Are you bored?”
“What? No. No — I’m … of course, I’m — this place is…” she stops babbling and takes a breath. “Why would you think I was bored?”
Her companion cocks his head to one side. “Well,” he begins, then takes a quick swig from his glass and swallows. “I saw you from over there and thought, ‘she looks bored’ because, well - you did, and then I thought ‘I’m bored, too’ and thought that we might as well be - ” he breaks off and looks up, his mouth moving as if he’s searching for the right word; then he looks at her again and settles on - “bored… together.”
Even though she can’t see it, she’s sure he’s cocking an eyebrow at her under that mask.
“Well,” he says again, and sniffs. “Seen one, seen ‘em all.”
Donna chuckles. “Oh, alright, yeah. I am a bit bored,” she admits with a sigh. “I mean, this is lovely and all, but …”
She sips her wine and then lifts one shoulder in what she hopes is a reasonably elegant gesture. “These things aren’t much fun on your own.”
He nods. “True. Someone so lovely shouldn’t be bored.”
Donna rolls her eyes and inclines her head towards his glass. “How much of that have you had?”
Or,” he ignores her comment, puts down the vessel and continues, teasingly, “on her own.”
Next thing she knows, he’s taken her free hand and is sweeping into a deep, gracious bow.
“Giacomo Casanova,” he says, very seriously, as he lifts her hand to his lips. “At your service.”
Donna’s eyes fly open wide. “You are kidding me,” she breathes. “You’re not — no.” She looks him up and down. “Really?”
“But really, though. You’re him. The Casanova?”
“That’s me,” he smiles broadly as he straightens up, then flashes her a wink from behind his mask. “The one and only.”
“Well… this is…” She can’t believe it. She knows she’s standing there staring at him with her mouth open, but this is just… She’s seen some incredible stuff with the Doctor; new planets, new universes; she’s met ancient Romans, Ludwig van Beethoven — twice (the Doctor seemed to be especially fond of him, for some reason) - Adipose, Racnoss and Ood; been half-drowned, shot at, blown-up and tied to a sacrificial altar — yet still, the reality of it, the fact that she’s here and then, meeting someone like him is just… so — so… bloody brilliant!
She suddenly realises that the reason her cheeks are starting to hurt is because she’s grinning like an idiot; and when she looks at the man standing in front of her, she can see that he looks the tiniest bit… worried. “You alright?” he asks, solicitously.
“Oh,” she says, sobering hastily, trying frantically to gather her thoughts and find something sensible to say. “Nothing. I’m sorry. It’s not — it’s just that … I mean, I thought you’d be - ”
“Older?” he interrupts — and when she doesn’t answer immediately, he groans and looks pained. “Not younger. Don’t say you thought I’d be younger - ”
She snorts. “You’re not exactly over the hill.”
“I should bloody well hope not,” he says in mock indignation. “I’ve got a reputation to uphold.”
“Oh,” Donna chuckles softly. “You can say that again.” She lifts her glass to her lips and takes a sip of her wine — then realises that the Signore is looking at her expectantly.
“And you are?” he muses with the tiniest hint of a pout.
“Oh,” she says again, startled. “I’m Donna.”
“Donna,” he echoes. “Bella Donna!”
“No,” she smiles, “just Donna. Donna Noble. Of the — er — London Nobles.”
“So … DonnaNobleoftheLondonNobles,” he repeats, and she smiles at the silly way it sounds, “what brings you to Venice?”
She shrugs. “I’m… just passing through. You know.”
He nods in understanding and she asks, “You?”
“Oh,” he gestures expansively with one hand. “I live around here. Sort of.”
“Right,” Donna says, nodding. “What exactly do you… er… do?”
He tips his head to one side and wrinkles his nose. “Bit of this, bit of that. Depends really.”
“On what’s… required.” He takes a step closer and leans down, his mouth close to her ear. Donna feels her breath hitch at the same time as her stomach takes a dive towards the floor. “See that woman over there?” he nods towards a rather large and overdressed woman who looks like she’s wearing a pink meringue. Donna follows the line of his gaze, trying to ignore the fact that he’s close enough for her to be able to feel his body heat — and nods. “Told her she was going to meet the love of her life — and she did. And him?” he leans even closer and indicates an elderly man in a frothy white wig — “cured his dodgy leg. Aaaand…” he leans forward slightly and peers around so that Donna suddenly finds that her lips are almost level with his jaw — “that fella over there… the one in the red coat with the … er… tasselly things..?” He turns his head quickly and glances back at her, causing her to jerk her head back abruptly so as to avoid actually planting one on him — “sorted out one hell of a legal mess for him. Property disputes,” he shakes his head, lips pursed. “Right pain in the arse.”
“Yeah?” Donna says faintly, trying not to fixate on the dimple that’s just appeared in his cheek and the fact that he smells rather nice.
She’s both relieved and disappointed when he pulls back slightly. “Oh, yes,” he says, looking incredibly pleased with himself.
Donna finds herself simply staring at him for a second or two, feeling that there’s something about this man that’s both reassuring and unsettling all at once. And then she tells herself to get a grip. It may have been a while since an attractive man has paid her this much attention, but that’s no reason to start acting — and thinking - like an idiot.
Besides, he’s not her type.
A voice in her head laughs at her before she’s even finished the thought.
He’s bloody Casanova. He’s every woman’s type!
“So,” she says nonchalantly, brushing those thoughts firmly aside. “You’re… what? An astrologer?... a lawyer?… a doctor?”
“All of the above,” he says with no trace of humility whatsoever.
Now that definitely reminds her of someone, and she smiles. “Oh, so you’re modest too, then?”
“Of course,” he counters with another dazzling grin — all self-confidence and dimples and perfect teeth that — in spite of herself — makes her heart beat just that bit faster. He has a truly wonderful smile — full of warmth and charm… and just the right amount of cheek that tells her that despite the bravado and the reputation - he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
He picks up his glass and drains it, setting it back on the ledge behind him. “And what of you?” he asks, suddenly sombre. “Where are you going, Donna Noble?”
His voice is quiet, his eyes fixed on her rather intently. Once again, Donna is somewhat overwhelmed by the degree of attention he’s affording her; in her experience, men aren’t normally all that interested in hearing her talk about herself. Well, apart from the Doctor, but then, she reasons, he’s interested in everybody.
“Me?” She swallows the last of her wine, and sets down the glass, remembering what the Doctor had told her about the need to be careful about what she says.
“Oh, it’s like I told you,” she continues, airily. “I’m just passing through. We are, I mean. That is, I — I have this friend… we… travel. That’s it really. We just… travel.”
“Ah,” he nods, his eyes widening. “You just… travel?”
“More or less,” Donna responds, watching as he leans back against the pillar once more and folds his arms across his chest. He nods encouragingly, clearly expecting her to elaborate.
Donna looks down and brushes some imaginary lint from her gown, realising that she doesn’t know what else to say. She doesn’t know enough about where and when they are to be able to make up something convincing and telling the truth certainly isn’t an option. He’d probably have her committed to the nearest mental institution or prison if she told him that she travels the universe with an alien in a blue box that’s bigger on the inside; that they almost get themselves killed at least once a week and that the Doctor always eats the last of the chocolate Hob-Nobs when she’s not looking.
“I don’t suppose you even know what a Hob-Nob is, around here,” she muses quietly to herself, not realising that she’s spoken aloud.
“A what?” Casanova asks, clearly puzzled.
Donna looks up, startled, and clears her throat. “Never mind,” she says, waving a hand. “I was just…” she abandons the search for words and just shrugs instead, wondering how she can change the subject.
Before she can come up with anything however, the Signore pushes himself away from the pillar and comes to stand close to her again.
“I think that sounds like a good life.”
“It is,” Donna replies, unhesitating. “Well. Mostly.”
“So..?” he urges softly.
Donna looks up at him — at what she can see of his face behind the mask — and sees from the expression in his eyes that he that he’s genuinely interested in what she has to say.
And it’s then that she understands why so many women have fallen for him. It’s not just the looks or the smile or the effortless charm that has them queueing up to be seduced. Well, that’s part of it. But it’s more than that. It’s the way he has of concentrating his attention on one person, of making them — her - feel as though she’s the only person in the room. And even more importantly, he knows how to listen - and not just in that offhand way that blokes do when they’re trying it on.
And so, Donna finds herself telling him things she’s never told anyone. About Lance and her abortive wedding - although she glosses over the part about the Earth almost being overrun with giant spiders. She tells him that she doesn’t really get on all that well with her Mum; how much she misses her Dad and loves her Gramps. She talks about the Doctor — although she leaves out the bit about his being a nine-hundred-and-odd-year-old alien from another planet; tells him how sorely she’d regretted turning down the Doctor’s offer to go travelling with him the first time he’d asked her, and how she’d spent the next year looking for him. And she tells him that he’s changed her life forever — that travelling with him is the most wonderful thing in the world; how every day’s an adventure, never knowing what’s going to happen next or where they’re going to end up … and how he’s the best friend she’s ever had; that he’s clever and charming and funny (although she’d never tell him that - his ego’s big enough already) - and that he drives her barmy but she loves him anyway.
When she’s finished, Casanova smiles, and nods knowingly. ”Ah,” he begins. “So… this friend of yours, this doctor. He’s your lover?”
Donna supposes she shouldn’t be surprised by the question by now, but she still can’t help her startled response. “No!” she shakes her head vigorously. “Absolutely not — no! Oh, no. No. Not ever.”
Her companion looks surprised at her vehemence. “No?”
With a final, emphatic shake of the head, Donna affirms — “No.”
Casanova doesn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then he sucks in a breath and purses his lips. “So if he’s not…” he begins, slowly, evidently perplexed. “What’s wrong with him?
Donna frowns at him under her mask. “How d’you mean?”
“I mean,” he says, looking at her intently, “how is it that you travel with him and share his life - but not his bed?”
Donna feels herself blushing at his frankness, and for a couple of seconds, she really contemplates telling him to mind his own bloody business. But his next words transform her indignation into amusement.
“Is he not — capable?”
Donna lets out a most unladylike snort and then lays a hand on his arm. “You don’t understand,” she says, her voice a bit unsteady as she fights back her giggles. “ — it’s not… we’re friends. Good friends.” She smiles up at him. “And that’s enough.”
He looks doubtful. “Is it?” When she nods, he continues, “Then you’re right, I don’t understand.” He glances around the room and breathes out a sigh before his eyes come to rest on her once more. “You know who I am.” He takes her hand and holds it between both of his. “Many women I — well, let’s just say that they’re less than content when they meet me, and I… help them with that, if I can. But you. You’re happy. When you talk about him, your eyes tell me that you are — and for a man to make a beautiful woman happy - ”
“Don’t,” Donna interrupts hurriedly, her head jerking up.
“Don’t - what?”
“I’m not - ” she hesitates, not even wanting to say the word. “What you said. Not…”
He frowns. “Beautiful?”
She doesn’t answer.
Casanova’s eyes widen — and then he shakes his head, smiling as if she’s just told him the funniest joke in the world. “Oh, Donna. A man would have to be blind or dead not to think you so.” He holds his hands out towards her and then takes both of hers. “Look at you.”
Donna looks up to find a soft smile on his face, genuine warmth in his sparkling blue eyes. She’s never been good at accepting compliments — probably, she thinks, due to the fact that she’s never really gotten all that many — and she’s about to try to thank him with some semblance of graciousness when she sees his glance dart over her shoulder and feels him release her hands abruptly.
She doesn’t have to be able to see what he’s looking at to know why.
“There you are!” a familiar voice says. “I wondered where you’d got to.”
Donna turns around to see the Doctor strolling towards them, both hands stuffed deep into his trouser pockets. He’s abandoned his velvet mask in favour of his glasses, which are currently perched half-way down his nose.
“About time,” she says quietly. And then, as he comes to a halt next to her, she asks nonchalantly, “How was the maths book?”
He turns and frowns at her indignantly. “It wasn’t a ‘maths book’, Donna,” he says, peering at her over the top of his glasses. “It was a first edition of the Ars Magna — and yeah, it was great, although,” he pulls a face, tugs his earlobe and then pushes his glasses up, “ol’ Gerolamo has a few things to learn about the — oh, ‘allo,” he breaks off and turns to face Donna’s companion, ready to introduce himself.
“Ah!” says Casanova, forestalling him and making a deep bow. “Il buono Dottore!”
“That’s me,” the Doctor answers with a grin, rocking on his heels. “Although just Doctor will do.”
The other man nods, introduces himself — which earns Donna one of the Doctor’s smug ‘well, well, well’ pouts - and then gestures towards her.
“As you see, I have been keeping your lady company,” he announces, his eyes alight with mischief.
“Oh -” the Doctor immediately darts a look at Donna and then waves his hand abstractedly. “Oh. No. She’s not my… er, that is, we’re not…”
The Signore nods sagely, although Donna can see he’s trying hard not to laugh. “Yeah,” he says eventually, drawing out the word in a way which makes even the Doctor raise a quizzical eyebrow. “That’s what she says, too. But you know what?” Casanova takes a step forward and leans conspiratorially close to the Doctor before he claps him loudly on the back and says cheerfully, “I think you’re both talking bollocks.”
“Oh, he speaks that fluently,” Donna quips, earning herself an amused look from Casanova and another indignant one from the Doctor.
“What? It’s perfectly true — you’re always talking b- ”
“Donna,” he says, warningly. He’s giving her that stern professor look again, which for some reason makes her want to say something completely outrageous or slap him. Or — more usually - both.
But before she can do either of those things, their companion snorts with laughter and both she and the Doctor turn to find him regarding them with an air of amusement.
They frown simultaneously. “What?”
Casanova holds up his hands, clearly trying to suppress a smile. “Don’t mind me,” he winks at Donna. “I think that now I understand.”
“What?” they both say again, looking confusedly at each other and then at the man for whom they are providing such entertainment.
Now who’s talking bollocks? is on the tip of Donna’s tongue when, looking from one to the other of the men standing in front of her, she is suddenly struck by a completely random, ridiculous notion. She tells herself she’s seeing things, wonders if she’s had too much to drink… she even shakes her head and blinks repeatedly — but no, the resemblance between them - both in blue, both tall and slender - is uncanny.
She frowns. Flicks her gaze between them again. Squints — thus attracting a very strange look from an elderly gentleman in a preposterous wig who happens to be passing by — and then tells herself decidedly that it’s nothing more than an odd coincidence. That’s it. It’s just another in the long line of odd coincidences that are a part of her life now. There are probably loads of men out there who’d fit the same description - tall to the point of gangliness and so skinny a strong puff of wind would blow him away.
Out of the corner of her eye, she notices that the Doctor is looking at her with an expression of mild concern on his face. She widens her eyes at him innocently and he counters with an almost imperceptible shrug before returning to the conversation he’s struck up with their companion.
Not that Donna’s paying much attention to that. She catches the odd word here and there — from which she deduces they’re talking about the maths book — but she still can’t help looking surreptitiously from one man to the other as she watches them talk. It’s as though, having decided there’s nothing more than a passing resemblance between them, she’s now noticing all manner of similarities that simply can’t exist. Both of them being of a similar height and build is easy to put down to coincidence, but as she looks on, she sees other, smaller things - stance, gestures, the line of a jaw, the curve of a smile … and as she listens to them debate some point of mathematical minutiae, she notices that they even sound alike, which is really pushing the whole coincidence thing just a bit too far.
The strange thing is that neither of them seems to have noticed. She waits for a few seconds as they continue to talk animatedly about algebraic formulae (and how anyone can find that so interesting is completely beyond her), until finally she can’t help herself. She has to say something, point out what they’re missing; so she takes a deep breath and is about to interrupt - when she registers the sound of her name.
“… isn’t it, Donna?”
She snaps her mouth shut and tries to appear as though she has, in fact, been following every word they’ve been saying.
“Wha-? Oh. It’s… I. You know -”
The Doctor is looking at her as if she’s gone slightly daft. “I was just saying that it’s probably time we were off.”
“Ah.” Donna nods slowly. “Yes, indeed you were. And yes. I think it … probably is,” she agrees with a kind of forced enthusiasm that earns her another puzzled look.
“All good things must come to an end, eh?” asks Casanova, a roguish glint flashing in his eyes.
The Doctor sniffs and rubs his nose. “Something like that.”
“Well then,” the Signore says, brightly. “I thank you for a highly interesting discussion and,” he turns to Donna with a smile, “for the pleasure of your company.”
He pauses - and seems to make up his mind about something. “There’s just one more thing, Doctor,” he says, his manner so entirely innocent that Donna immediately has the feeling he’s up to no good. “Before you go — a piece of, well, I hesitate to say ‘advice’, let’s just call it something to think about.”
He leans in and rests a hand on the Doctor’s shoulder. “You’re a man,” he says seriously, “and she’s a very lovely woman.” He smiles at Donna in an almost predatory way and the way his eyes linger on her makes her breath catch. “You’re together, you make her happy… ”
Casanova pats the Doctor on the shoulder a couple of times then, and as he crosses behind him, says quietly — but loud enough for Donna to hear. “But I think you could make her … even happier.”
Donna feels her mouth drop open at the sheer suggestiveness in his tone — and then clamps it shut as she remembers that this is, after all, a man who has bedded more women than she’s had hot dinners. She glances hurriedly at the Doctor, expecting him to look shocked or flustered, or some variation thereof, but to her surprise, all she can see in his expression is amusement.
“Oh,” he says, hands stuffed in his pockets as he inclines his head towards her. “She’d kill me if I tried to make her that happy.”
Casanova sticks out his bottom lip. “You think so?” he quizzes. And then a huge grin splits his face. “But what a bloody fabulous way to die.”
Donna knows she’s still standing there agape; but before she can say anything, the Signore has moved to stand in front of her and is sweeping once more into a courtly and practiced bow. He raises her hand to his lips again but this time, takes just a bit too long over it — and sends her a look full of mischief as he straightens.
“Bella Donna,” he says. “It’s been delightful. But now you have your Doctor back to take care of you, it is clear that my presence is no longer necessary.”
She rolls her eyes. “He’s not my - ”
“I’m not her - ” the Doctor protests simultaneously — but Signor Casanova’s cheeky grin doesn’t falter as he inclines his head towards the Doctor and then strolls off in the direction of a large gathering of people on the other side of the room.
They both continue to regard him until he reaches them and watch as he is quickly surrounded by the women of the group, no doubt ready with a smile and a word for them all.
The Doctor turns to Donna and holds out his arm.
She smacks it. And then allows him to lead her from the room.
When they descend the steps of the palazzo a few moments later, the dusk has given way to a clear, moonlit night. That, coupled with the light streaming onto the terrazzo from inside and the blaze of the torches outside means that they’re able to find their way easily through the formal gardens.
As soon as they’re outside, Donna pulls off her mask and hands it back to the Doctor. He stuffs it back into his pocket and she immediately scratches the bridge of her nose and rubs her cheekbones with her thumb and forefinger.
“God, that thing was getting itchy.”
“Worth it though, wasn’t it?” he asks with a grin.
She smiles fondly at him. “Yeah. It was.”
He steers them into the walled garden, which, he tells her, is bordered by the canal on the far side. It stretches the full width of the palazzo and more, and is filled with an intricate, symmetrical pattern of knot gardens which lead to a large, ornamental fountain. The air is full of heady scents; lavender and lemon are the ones she can identify, and as she trails one hand gently over the bushes, her skirts brush against the plants, releasing more of their fragrance; and the Doctor tells her there’s rosemary, bergamot and mint there, too.
Donna breathes in deeply, the warm night air, the moonlight and the company all contributing to a sense of well-being and contentment she’s not felt for — well, for quite a while now. The time she’s been travelling with the Doctor has been the most alive she’s felt in years — and she supposes that one day, she really ought to tell him that. She knows he doesn’t expect it though. He’s shown her so much, and all he seems to want in return is companionship. And that she can most happily provide.
They’ve been ambling along together for a few minutes, when the Doctor breaks the comfortable silence that has settled between them. “So,” he begins, casually. “How was your evening?”
She smiles to herself, unable to help the tiny frisson that runs through her as she remembers the whisper of breath on her cheek, warm lips close to her ear.
She shrugs; makes a little moue.
“Oh, come on,” he insists. “I told you about the maths bo - ”
“I thought you said it wasn’t a maths book.”
They stop walking and he turns to face her. “Yeah. Well. No. I mean, technically, it’s the Sive de Regulis Algebraicis Liber Unus, which means it’s the Number One Book about the Rules of Algebra, or the - ”
She raises an eyebrow. “So what you’re saying — basically… is that it’s a book about maths. Or — to put it another way. A maths book.”
He sighs in defeat, scratching his chin. “A maths book. Yeah.”
Donna rolls her eyes and shakes her head in mock-exasperation. “You’re such a nerd.”
“Watch it,” he says in a tone that manages to convey both affection and affront at the same time.
“Well who else would come to a party in Venice and end up geeking out over a maths book?”
He pouts — but otherwise ignores that and sticks out his elbow. Donna threads her arm through his and they resume their walk. “Anyway,” he continues, stretching out the first syllable and pitching it somewhere just short of the hearing range of a bat, “How was it?”
“Oh, you know,” she says nonchalantly, a smile twitching at the corner of her mouth. “So-so.”
He grins at her. “Really. You got chatted-up by the famous — infamous, actually - Giacomo Casanova, and it was just ‘so-so’?”
“He wasn’t chatting me up,” she says a little defensively. “He was just… I dunno. Being polite.”
But the Doctor’s having none of that. He nudges her arm and leans towards her waggling his eyebrows, his tongue curled behind his teeth.
“Well, he seemed to have taken quite a fancy to you,” he teases, widening his eyes at her.
Donna nudges him back and shrugs. "He’s Casanova; I’m a woman. I’d imagine that’s par for the course.”
The Doctor’s expression changes as he runs his eyes over her. “Don’t sell yourself short, Donna,” he says quietly. “You really do look lovely tonight.”
She whips her head up sharply to find he’s looking at her intently, utter sincerity shining in his dark eyes. She swallows hard, unable to look away for a few, long seconds.
Then the Doctor dips his head and the moment dissipates into the night.
Donna takes a deep, steadying breath. “He was …” she struggles to find the right word, but ends up with something pretty lame. “Nice.”
She sees the Doctor’s unimpressed look and tries again.
“I meant — he’s not what I would have expected.”
“No. I mean, given everything I’ve heard about him I thought he’d be… I dunno, some smarmy git with too many hands. But he wasn’t like that at all. He was just -” she shrugs. “Nice. And very charming.”
“I’d imagine most men are ‘nice’ when they’re trying to - ” the Doctor begins; then he stops abruptly and swallows, looking down at his trainers. “Er.”
He clears his throat. “Thing is though,” he resumes casually, “he might have deserved his reputation as a Jack-the-Lad, but that wasn’t all he was, you know.”
“Nope. He was a musician, a scholar, a writer… even a bit of a scientist.”
“Gawd.” Donna says, deadpan. “I’m amazed he found the time. Or the energy.”
The Doctor chuckles. “Despite all the — er… he was a bit of a romantic really, you know.”
“Hah. Not sure I’d call shagging his way around Europe ‘romantic’.”
The Doctor pulls a face. “Yeah,” he concedes, puffing out a sigh. “Maybe not. But he does seem to have,” he pauses, scrunching up his face as he tries to find the right word — “appreciated women for more than just… Um. That.”
As they continue walking, Donna hears soft laughter coming from somewhere to their right, and as they reach the end of the path through the knot gardens, she notices two figures standing together on the far side of the garden at some distance from the fountain; an unmistakable, tall, slender man and a woman in a deep red gown.
As Donna looks over at them, the man turns around — and she gasps in surprise.
Her sudden stop causes the Doctor to come to a jerky halt a step in front of her. She hasn’t let go of his arm — all she can seem to do is stand and stare stupidly across the width of the garden at Signor Casanova, who has discarded his mask and is smiling at her.
“What?” The Doctor returns to her side, looking slightly worried.
“Well, I’ll be…” she breathes, staring incredulously at the familiar — yet hitherto unseen - features of the man opposite.
“Donna, what’s wrong?” the Doctor’s tone is quiet. Concerned.
Casanova holds her gaze as he inclines his head towards her before turning back to the woman in the red dress. They’re standing very close together, his head is bent and hers is tilted so that she can look up at him. It’s obviously an intimate moment, even though they’re not even touching each other.
“What’s the matter?” the Doctor insists anxiously. His eyes are searching her face and he’s running his hands up and down her arms until finally, he takes both her hands into his.
Donna snaps out of it and gives him a reassuring smile. “I’m fine, you prawn. It’s just…” she pulls her hands away from his and balls her fists on her hips. “Are you blind, or what?”
The Doctor looks at her, affronted. “Not the last time I looked.”
She swats his arm. “Look at him.”
“Him!” she hisses, jerking her head towards the fountain.
“What,” he bends forward slightly and squints “— ol’ lover boy?”
“What about him?”
Donna rolls her eyes in exasperation. “What about him? Honestly, sometimes, you’re so bloody — “ she nudges him in the side so hard that he stumbles a step sideways. “He’s — look at him - you’re - you could be - twins!”
“Well, apart from the eyes, but otherwise…”
The Doctor pulls his glasses from a pocket and puts them on. He looks across to the couple opposite who are, thankfully, oblivious to his scrutiny; tilts his head first to one side, then the other. Then he whips off the glasses and turns to Donna, his expression quite serious.
“Are you sure you didn’t have a bit too much to drink back there?”
That earns him a poke in the ribs.
“No,” she whispers indignantly. “Yes. I mean, I’m not drunk.” She grabs the glasses from his hand and holds them to her eyes.
“Blimey, you really do need these,” she says, taken aback and rubbing her eyes, which have become a bit watery after looking through the lenses.
“’Course I need them,” he says as she gives them back. “What did you think?”
“I dunno, I thought you were just poncing about or something.”
His mouth opens and closes a few times as he glares at her. “Poncing…? I do not ponce; I have never ponced; I - ”
“Oh, alright,” Donna rolls her eyes theatrically. “But I thought your lot were supposed to be the most powerful beings in the Universe.”
“Well. Yeah. But what’s that got to do wi -”
“ — and yet you’ve got bad eyesight.”
“Didn’t they get around to fixing stuff like that?”
He stares at her incredulously as he slips the glasses back into his pocket.
“Of course we did,” he sniffs. “’S why I wear glasses.”
Donna huffs disbelievingly. “Well maybe you need your eyes tested then, because if you can’t see that you and him are like two peas in a - what?”
The Doctor’s indignation has suddenly been replaced by what is possibly the most self-satisfied grin she’s ever seen him wear. He shoves his hands into his pockets and begins to saunter away with a definite spring in his step. After a few paces, he turns and keeps walking — backwards — his grin not faltering as he watches Donna lift her skirts and half-skip to catch up.
When she reaches his side, he takes her hand.
“What are you grinning about?” she asks.
He purses his lips. “Ooooh… I dunno. Maybe the fact that you just favourably compared me to the world’s greatest lover?”
Donna lets out an incredulous squeak. “I did no such thing.”
“Yep. You did. You said — and I quote — that we could be twins.”
Donna stops. Again. But this time, she tugs on his hand, making him spin around to face her. She looks him up and down. “Well, now I come to think of it,” she says, quirking a brow, “he’s much better looking than you are.”
The Doctor dips his head and snorts softly.
Donna sighs and nudges him in the ribs. “Oh, just… shut up, you.”
When they reach the TARDIS, they turn and look back at the Palazzo, still brightly lit, the torches that line the walls burning fiercely, outlining in silhouette the people who have now forsaken the crowded interior for the cooler pleasures of the terrace.
Donna thinks this is definitely one evening she won’t forget in a hurry.
“Thanks for bringing me, Doctor,” she says.
“Thanks for coming with me,” he replies, squeezing her hand. “Donna Noble.”
She smiles at him fondly. “Ol’ lover boy might have had a few barmy ideas, but he was right about one thing, you know.”
“What was that?” the Doctor asks, slipping his key into the lock.
“I am happy.”
She can see he’s touched by her admission. “Really?”
“Really,” she nods.
He smiles at her then, a warm, affectionate smile that lights up his face — and for a couple of seconds it’s as though the sun has come out. And in the face of that smile, Donna allows herself to feel - just this once - that perhaps, she really could be as special as he seems to think she is.
“Good,” he says, holding her gaze as he opens the door. “’Cause I’m happy, too.”