Notes: This is a standalone and does not fit with any of my 'verses. There is a little bit of swearing, because teenagers. There is more than a little bit of Captain Jack Harkness, because reasons. Fill in whatever AU explanation you like, and tell me what you think!
It's been three months since Midnight, and Jethro still can't look his parents in the eye. He's not sure he'll ever be able to again. He despises them for what they did. He despises himself.
Not that he really is himself, anymore, or so everyone says. He's cleaned up his act and bumped up his grades and even changed his music and his wardrobe and his hair, to the point where he can barely recognize himself in the mirror. His eyes are the same, though, uncertain and young and haunted with shadows which he can't seem to shake.
"Maybe something good came out of that nightmare after all," says his mother, and he wants to scream. His teachers shower him with slightly stunned praise, but all he can think is you don't get it; cleverness isn't worth shit, not when it comes down to the panic and the horror and the madness . . . . But he bites his tongue, because he can't bear the thought of spending one more year with his parents so he has to get into University, hopefully one several star systems away.
Today, he's been dragged to the fair with his parents. He hates the fair, hates the noise and the lights and the frivolity. Most of all, he hates having to stand there and listen to his parents chatter on just the same as always, his father telling some tired old story and his mother laughing too loudly, as if she hasn't heard it ten times already. Even the cacophony of calls and laughter and bells and whistles can't drown out their voices, even though he tries with all his might to let it.
They're eating lunch – something fried and dripping with grease and, Jethro has to admit, absolutely delicious – when he sees him. The café they're sitting in is open to the air, and where he sits across from his parents Jethro has a clear view of the stalls and booths which lie across the way from them. He watches the people as they pass, if only so he doesn't have to watch his parents – and then his gaze catches on one person in particular, and his heart stops.
At first he thinks he's imagining things, or mistaken – even if the Doctor did happen to be at this particular fair on this particular day, he wouldn't be wearing the same suit, would he? – but then he turns, and there's no denying those sharp, striking features, or the shocked recognition which flashes across them.
Jethro's parents haven't noticed the momentary hitch in his breathing. The tall, dark-haired man who sidles up beside the Doctor is not so oblivious, and follows his gaze. Jethro can't tear his eyes away from the exchange which follows: the Doctor shakes himself, tries to pull the man away down the street; the man holds his ground, and his expression slowly morphs from confusion to fury as the Doctor, presumably, explains. The man makes as if to cross the street, murder in every line of his holo-handsome face – Jethro's blood freezes in his veins – and the Doctor stops him.
One thin hand on a strong arm and the broader man stops in his tracks. A few words, indiscernible through the din of the crowd, and he falls back. Another moment and one last, dark glance backwards, and they're gone.
Jethro lets out the breath he didn't realize he was holding. He's not sure if it's in relief or disappointment.
It's dark by the time they get back to the shuttle port, dark enough the Jethro doesn't realize there's anyone else around until, in one violent movement, his father is spun around and slammed into the wall.
His mother shrieks, his father grunts, and Jethro stumbles backwards with a startled oath, fear flooding through him as he recognizes the assailant – it's the Doctor's friend.
"What do you think you're –" his father begins, but the man cuts him off.
"Shut up," he snarls, shaking him roughly. Jethro's father isn't short, but the stranger manages to tower over him, more, Jethro thinks, because of the tangible rage which radiates from him than because of his actual height. "You have nothing to say to me," he growls, with another shake. The movement shifts his coat, revealing an old-fashioned gun at his side, and Jethro swallows hard.
If he wanted to kill them, he would have done it already. If he wanted to frighten them, he would be waving his gun in their faces. That leaves only one possibility: he wants to hurt them. Jethro doesn't blame him.
"We don't even know who you are!" says his mother, probably aiming for indignation but sounding closer to hysteria.
"He knows the Doctor," Jethro hears himself say, as if from very far away. "I saw them earlier."
His mother goes white and his father turns green.
"I don't know what he told you, but we didn't do anything wrong!" says his mother frantically.
"We were all victims!" his father defends, while the man's bright blue eyes blaze with fresh fury. His parents keep babbling, and Jethro wants to sink into the ground, to run, to hide, to hit something; it's just like Midnight all over again, they never learn, they're still trying to use anger to cover their terror and incompetence and they don't have any idea what they're dealing with; Jethro has no doubt that this man is more than capable of doing whatever he wants to them without even blinking and he has every right to, as well –
They all freeze at the voice, low and commanding and horribly familiar. Jethro's gaze jumps to its source, and his already racing heart stutters in his chest.
The Doctor looks utterly alien where he stands at the very edge of the light, his eyes shining eerily from the shadows which shroud his face. His hands are in his pockets, his incongruously casual posture making him look all the more disconcerting. Then he steps forward into the cold, artificial light, and he just looks tired. He still has the same weariness in his posture, the same age in his eyes. Jethro wonders vaguely if he always looked that unhealthy, or if it's just the unforgiving light of the shuttle port which makes him appear so thin and pale.
"Let him go," he tells his friend – Jack – softly.
"Can't I just punch him in the face a couple times?" asks Jack, not really joking and not loosening his grip.
The Doctor holds his gaze steadily. He doesn't say 'he doesn't deserve it' or 'he's not worth it,' and Jethro is glad for that, because he hears piles of bullshit every day from his parents and teachers and classmates, and he doesn't want to hear it from the man who is (ironically enough) the only person he feels he can really admire anymore. Instead, the Doctor just says,
"Not in front of his son."
Jack releases Jethro's father, his lip twisting unkindly as he stumbles. All malice melts from his face as he turns towards the Doctor, and the tenderness with which he takes the alien's hand makes Jethro wonder if the two are more than just friends.
His parents stand frozen in fear and shock as the men depart, and by the time Jethro can force himself into action they've almost been swallowed up by the darkness.
They turn, Jack's grip tightening protectively on the Doctor's hand as Jethro runs up to them. He stops, panting, and says the only thing he can.
The Doctor just stares at him, eyes dark, face inscrutable. The silence stretches, and Jethro's heart sinks.
"Never mind," he mutters, dropping his gaze. "I just – thought you should know." He turns to go, but a hand on his shoulder stops him, and he looks up.
The Doctor is grinning, wide and bright and genuine. The expression lights up his eyes and takes years off his face.
"Jethro Cane," he says, shaking his head with something like wonder. He drops down so that he's at eye level with him, and says three words which Jethro never dreamed he would hear. "I forgive you."
It's Jethro's turn to stare, speechless and dizzy with relief.
"You have potential, Jethro," the Doctor says. "You can make a real difference. Just remember, nothing's ever going change unless someone like you stands up and makes it happen."
"Yes, sir," says Jethro breathlessly as the Doctor straightens again and releases his shoulder. The Doctor smiles, Jack gives Jethro an approving nod, and they both turn to go. "Thank you!" Jethro calls after them, but they're already gone.
Jethro turns back towards his parents. He still hates the thought of living with them for any longer than necessary, but now, that's not the only reason he'll be redoubling his efforts once he gets back home. A weight has been lifted off his soul. He feels like he's been given a second chance.
He's not going to waste it.