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Judgement

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Rose had quit taking her mobile out of the TARDIS with her the first time she forgot to put it on silent mode and it buzzed in the middle of one of the Doctor's "Oncoming Storm" speeches. She'd thought that if she were ever facing certain death, she might want to say goodbye to her mum. The way the Doctor looked at her when the bloody thing went off--even on vibrate--had made her think death could be a lot more certain at the hands of her irate partner. So the mobile wasn't mobile; it hung from their wardrobe handle in a sock, so it wouldn't slide off the top of the bureau when the TARDIS bounced around.

When they'd tumbled back into the TARDIS after seeing the fifty-second century's largest circus safe from two Miaralets that weren't cut out for the performing life ("No such thing as tame Miaralets," the Doctor said. "They just project tameness on a low-level telepathic band until they're hungry."), her voicemail was the last thing on her mind. After a trip to the medbay for her sprained ankle and another to the kitchen, the topmost thing on Rose's mind was how edible her two blokes looked. In fact, she had her shirt off and an enthusiastic Jack wrapped around her ribs while the Doctor snogged her breathless before they heard the the mobile's annoying chirp: the one that reminded her she had voicemail every five minutes till she told it not to.

"Oh, bollocks," Rose muttered.

"Ignore it," Jack suggested. "It's not going anywhere."

She began trying to extricate herself. "Could be my mum," she pointed out.

"She's not going anywhere either."

The Doctor snorted. "I'll just be a tick," Rose said, wiggling away. "Don't start without me?"

"No promises," Jack purred, but there was a hint of laughter in his voice. Rose untied the sock and fished her phone out, watching him advance on the Doctor and the Doctor back up until the bed impeded their progress. She snickered and pressed buttons as the Doctor sat down abruptly. Jack put a knee on either side of their lover's lap, pinning him there and leaning in for a kiss.

Mickey's voice said into Rose's ear, "Rose? If you lot are all right . . . I really need you here. It's your mum. Something's wrong, and she seems all right, but . . . she's not like this, you know? And it's not just her . . . " Mickey's voice went on, but Rose wasn't hearing it. What could happen to her mum at the Powell Estate? Animated shop dummies? a small voice in the back of her head pointed out. But why wouldn't Jackie have called her? I shouldn't have stayed away this long. She tuned in again just in time to hear Mickey's message say, "Call me soon, okay? Thanks."

Rose closed the phone with a plastic-sounding snap and stared numbly at her partners, who had stopped what they were doing to stare back. "We have to go home," she said.

The Doctor looked pained. "Now?" he asked.

Rose nodded. "Something's the matter with my mum."

"Did she say what?" Jack asked. He looked torn between concern and a profound desire to lick the Doctor's earlobe, and underneath all that, he looked tired.

He always looked tired, since Culabree, and she hated that there was nothing she could do about it. "It wasn't her, it was Mickey. Jack, this can't wait--it's my mum." Rose tucked the mobile into the back pocket of her shorts and grabbed her shirt off the floor.

The Doctor spilled Jack to one side on the bed. "Right. How soon do you want to get there, then?" He got to his feet.

Being the Doctor, it seemed like he should have been protesting more, but then, he'd been waiting for her to be ready for this visit for awhile. I'm not ready, Rose thought, pulling the phone out again and handing it over. I don't know how to handle this, but I can't just wait to figure out my love life while something's wrong with Mum. "Soon after that?" she asked.

The Doctor nodded. "Jack, best put on some jeans--the twenty-first century's not really on about leather trousers." He opened the phone and pulling out his sonic screwdriver.

Thank goodness the Doctor was paying attention, Rose thought as Jack sighed and walked over to the wardrobe. Rose dragged her shirt on and reached for her hairbrush.

"So did you decide how you want to tell her?" Jack asked.

The hairbrush stilled. "No idea," she muttered. "I need to see what's wrong with her first. If she's in the hospital or somethin', I don't want to shock her."

The Doctor's hand settled on her shoulder and gave a reassuring squeeze. "Right, then. We'd best go see what Mickey-the-Idiot's on about."

***

"If I never have to grade another freshman essay again, it'll be too soon." Cora stared blankly into the refrigerator. "I want to shake the snot-nosed brats and tell them that if they don't know what to do with a semicolon, they shouldn't be using one."

"Bugger your semicolons," Maile told her flatmate, stepping out of her shoes by the door and wriggling her toes happily. "The results might be wrong, but at least they're interesting. I didn't realize I was going to spend half my assistantship sterilizing glassware."

"Bugger them? Do you have any idea how funny that sounds in an American accent?" Cora pulled out two bottles of cider. She opened them, tossing the caps in the bin before handing Maile one.

The bottle was already sweating by the time Maile pressed it to her forehead. Which made it a fine match for her skin, she supposed. She'd have worried about wandering around reeking, but everyone else in the city was in the same sticky boat. Everyone who didn't own a car, anyway. "Says the woman who told me I didn't wear 'pants'." She took a long pull from her bottle and considered the kitchen window. If she took a knife to it where it had been painted shut, they might be able to finally lever it open. On the other hand, every other window in the flat was open--one more probably wouldn't help any. "I could've told you to close your eyes and think of England. I'm a science geek; I'm not completely illiterate."

Cora strolled past her into the living room and flopped down on the ghastly floral sofa beneath the front windows. "I shall think, instead," she announced, "on that happy day when I have a dozen publications under my belt and you're back in Hawai'i doing pure research, and we have grad students of our own to grade papers and sterilize glassw-- Ow! Little bastard!"

The resounding smack that went with the exclamation stopped Maile on her way toward the tacky green side chair Cora's sister had foisted off on them. Looking slantwise at her friend, Maile found Cora inspecting a bottle-green smear on the pale skin of her hand. "What 'ow'? They don't bite and they can't sting."

"Says you," Cora complained, looking from the smear to the red mark where she'd slapped her arm. "'Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting?'"

"Says me," Maile agreed. "I study them. When I'm not sterilizing glassware." She settled into the chair.

"'In his tail'!" Cora held her cider bottle against the supposed sting. "Yours is in an air-conditioned building all day. I have been sitting here with the windows open for hours, grading. Trust me, they sting."

"They're harmless pollinators, Cora. Kind of pretty. No stingers, I promise."

"'In his tongue'!" Cora tried, waving the hand with the smashed bug around for emphasis. She sipped from her cider.

Maile rolled her eyes. "Gods save me from sloshed MFAs. How many of those did you have before I got home?"

Cora focused on her and blinked. "That's a funny thing to ask. You know I don't drink and deride. Er, grade--but let's face it, the only fun part of that is the mocking of freshmen."

Maile felt a sharp pain on the back of her neck, under her ponytail. She reached for it, reflexively grabbing the determined little insect and trying not to flatten it in the process of getting a good look at it. She wasn't entirely successful, but enough to confirm that it was, in fact, a false bottle fly. It waved two legs feebly, and she put it out of its misery. "You're not supposed to bite," she told it, leaving her cider on the end table and walking back into the kitchen to wash green bug splat off brown skin. She looked back to the bottle on the end table, regretfully. "You can finish my cider, Cora," she said, going for her backpack.

"Where are you off to?"

Maile shrugged and collected her shoes. "I need some new specimens."

***

Nothing else made a noise quite like the TARDIS's engines. Jackie swore that sound would be forever lodged in her brain--right beneath whatever bit made adrenaline. She heard it in her dreams, sometimes--the bad ones, mostly, where Rose showed up in trouble, or the Doctor carried her out of the TARDIS hurt. Now it dragged her right out of the argument with Mickey. She left a box of biscuits open on the counter and ran for the flat's door, not slamming it only because Mickey was on her heels.

Not that she wasn't put out with him right now, but it wasn't enough to make her really want to break his nose.

The TARDIS's door was open and Rose was outside by the time Jackie reached the street, sweat sticking her fringe to her for head in the moist, miserable heat. The Doctor popped out of his box, followed by another bloke, but Jackie couldn't be bothered waiting on introductions. She swept Rose into the world's biggest hug--and had it returned. "Thank God you're all right. What was that, missy--couldn't be bothered with anythin' more than a 'We're okay and I'll see you later'?" And then nothing for months? Don't do that to me!"

Rose squirmed in her arms like she was seven. "We're fine, mum, it just took awhile. Didn't mean it to be so long, really. How 'bout you? Are you okay?"

The question rubbed her entirely the wrong way just then. Jackie let Rose draw away, leaving her hands on her daughter's shoulders and studying her face. "'Course I am. Why wouldn't I be?" she asked, with an unhappy suspicion she knew the answer. When Rose studied her in return, Jackie turned her head to glare at Mickey, standing just beside her on the pavement. "You called her, didn't you?"

Mickey took half a step back under the force of the glare and held his hands up in front of him. "Oi, look at it this way—you wanted to see her, right?"

Jackie let go of Rose. "Mickey Smith, if--"

"Mum!" Rose interrupted. "What's wrong? Why're you all hacked off at Mickey?"

Jackie stopped, suddenly. She looked back at Rose. "Mickey thinks I'm mental," she said tartly.

"Can't imagine why," the Doctor said.

Jackie pushed past Rose to give him a piece of her mind, wishing she looked more imposing and less like her makeup was running down her face in the heat. She settled her hands on her hips and said, "And I suppose you think it's funny, keepin' her away for months on end. She's my daughter, can't you get that through that alien head of yours? What do they do, grow people from sprouts on your planet, that you don't understand this? You've never been a parent! And gallivanting around in that blue box with no one else to see--who knows what goes on?"

The Doctor's scowl might've impressed other people, but not Jackie Tyler. She knew what was right, and this wasn't right.

"Why, Jackie Tyler," a man's voice purred, "did you just accuse him of asexual reproduction and of taking advantage of Rose's virtue in the same breath? Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but still, that's far more creativity than the 21st-century usually gets away with. That's got to give you points for style."

Jackie turned a little to find the most gorgeous man she'd ever seen in person smiling at her. She softened and smiled back, wishing she were wearing a different blouse. "And who might you be?" she asked.

Rose shot her half a look, but mostly, she was too busy whispering with Mickey and the Doctor to step in and do proper introductions. "Captain Jack Harkness, ma'am." He had the bluest eyes. And that chin . . . oh, Jackie did like a man with a strong jaw. "Rose has told me so much about you, it feels like we've already met."

***

"That captain friend of yours is just lovely," Jackie said. Rose cringed and wiped the back of her arm along her forehead so she wouldn't sweat onto the cheese she was chopping. It was way too hot for London in the spring. "And I don't just mean he's gorgeous, though he is, isn't he? I mean . . . "

Under other circumstances, Rose would have been thrilled that her mum was interested in someone like Jack. And Jack was probably closer to Mum's age than her own . . . but he was taken. He was hers, hers and the Doctor's.

And Mum wasn't in her right mind, according to Mickey. "Yeah, Jack's great," Rose said. "But we aren't here for him, we're here for me, and for you. I'm sorry it took so long. How have things been here?"

It was exactly the right question. Jackie spent the next fifteen minutes complaining about the local yobs messing about with the garbage and playing silly buggers at all hours of the night, the lift that always got fixed but never stayed fixed, her best friend Bernice's new boyfriend, and other things Rose couldn't have cared less about except that it gave her a chance to listen to her mum, really listen. And Mickey was right, something was just wrong with her. She just . . . swung too wide. She loved too hard, hated too much, and didn't know what the world was coming to while she chopped cucumbers for sandwiches so hard Rose didn't want to get her fingers anywhere near there, slammed cupboards, and generally used far too much force assembling tea as they sweated together in the small kitchen.

It's like she's drunk. But Mickey swears she's been like this for days. She's got no patience for that kind of drinking--she had no sympathy when I drank myself sick after Jimmy took off.

And there was no reasoning with her; Mickey had proved that outside.

Not that Mickey was doing so well himself. Mum had been driving him barmy, and it sounded like he'd just run out of patience: with her, with work, with everything. He'd been giving the Doctor an earful about how long they'd been gone out in the living room when Rose had followed Jackie into the kitchen to make tea. Not that she could blame him--the heat was enough to make anyone cross. Just as well she'd worn shorts to the circus earlier today. She was sticky already, and the flies that had got into the flat seemed determined to get up under her hair where it stuck to her neck. She swatted at one absently.

She hoped the Doctor would have some better ideas about what was wrong by the time they all sat down for tea, or it was going to be a very uncomfortable meal.

Rose hadn't had to say more than two words to her mother by the time they had the sandwiches on plates and the biscuits ready to follow. They walked into the living room, where Mickey had turned on the telly. She couldn't imagine how blokes were playing football in this weather--just watching it made her feel out of sorts.

Jack and the Doctor exchanged a look: warning on Jack's part and annoyed on the Doctor's. Rose didn't know what that was all about, but she had a nagging feeling she was about to find out as the Doctor got up from the sofa and walked toward them. Rose set the biscuits down on the coffee table and took the plate of sandwiches from her mum as the Doctor pulled his sonic screwdriver out, pointing it at Jackie.

"Oi, you can just point that somewhere else, mister!" Jackie shook her finger at him, making Rose glad she'd rescued the sandwiches. She put them down next to the biscuits.

The Doctor raised his screwdriver, looking at it as if it had some kind of readout Rose could never see. "Jackie Tyler, something is very wrong with your brain."