John and Rose returned to Baker Street together, their arms laden with Tesco bags, and giggling.
"He arrived, his first day in Vietnam, gets shown to the local pub, and gets talking to some people, right? He tells them he's a helicopter gunner, and they ask him who his pilot is, and he tells them, and they all start laughing. Someone points to what he thought was a local drunk, passed out in a pool of piss in the corner and tell him that's his pilot."
"Oh my god!" Rose cried, equal parts horrified and amused. "And he made it home?"
"Best pilot in the entire theatre, he said. They always made it out alive, and then he'd go and drink himself into a three-day stupor." John shook his head, remembering. It wasn't often that he could recall those old army stories with humour, but Rose brought it out of him in the best ways.
"So what are you planning on doing with all this?" John asked, nodding to the bags she carried as he unlocked the building door for her.
"You and Sherlock need some vegetables in your diet or you're both going to die of a nutritional deficiency. I'm making chicken and vegetable curry for tea. The rest of it is because your flat has almost no food in it. How do you two survive without milk even?"
John shrugged. "As long as we have coffee, Sherlock doesn't usually complain. I generally eat out or get take-away."
"Man cannot live on fish and chips alone," Rose said, as though imparting great wisdom. "Don't tell Mickey I said that, but it is actually true."
They were at the top of the stairs by that point, and John shoved open the door to their flat as he laughed at her.
"There you are, you're finally back. Where have you been?"
Both John and Rose froze for an instant. It wasn't Sherlock's low-registered complaining that met them, it was a much higher-pitched voice with the accusatory timbre that only a mother can conjure up. Even as adults, it made both of them start in guilty fear.
"Mum," Rose said, finally registering who was sitting in Sherlock's chair in the sitting room. "What are you doing here? Where's Sherlock?"
The man himself emerged from the flat's kitchen in that moment, bearing a mug of tea which he handed to Jackie.
"Here you are, Mrs. Tyler," he said, extremely polite. He then turned toward the door to see Rose and John and gave them a smile. "Ah, you two are back. How nice."
John and Rose looked at each other in shock. Every time Rose had brought Sherlock to her parents' place for tea or dinner he had been nervous as a rabbit and so terse as to nearly be rude. What on earth was he doing serving her mother tea and acting the cordial host as she sat in his flat?
Jackie sipped her tea and then made a face. "This needs milk. Bring me a bit, please, and some sugar."
"We're out of milk, but it looks like John and Rose have just come back from Tesco. Did you two bring some?"
"Yeah," John said, pulling the bottle of milk from one of his bags. "Here you go, Mrs. Tyler."
Jackie rolled her eyes, but opened the bottle without demur and poured some milk into the cup. She took another sip and smiled to herself.
"Er… it's wonderful to see you Mum," Rose said, hesitantly, "but is there some reason you're here? I was just about to start making tea, you see."
Jackie raised an eyebrow at Rose that she stubbornly ignored. It wasn't her flat, which meant it wasn't her place to invite anyone to stay for a meal, even if she was making it.
"You'll stay and eat with us, won't you, Mrs. Tyler?"
Had she not seen him say it, she'd never have believed it. Sherlock had invited her mother to tea.
Rose wondered if there'd been an alien invasion that she hadn't been notified of. Sherlock was too slim for the Raxacoricofallapatorians, but there were other species who could invade the mind rather than the body.
"Yes, I think I will," Jackie said, smiling smugly.
"Right… okay… no problem," Rose said, dazed. "I'll just… get working on it then, will I?"
She moved like an automaton toward the kitchen, followed by John, where they piled their bags on the countertop and turned to stare at each other in disbelief.
"Has he been taken over by aliens?" Rose suggested, knowing John would see it as a joke.
"Is he on drugs?" John countered.
From the living room, they heard the rustle of fabric that said that Sherlock had settled into John's chair across from Jackie. "How are Pete and little Anthony keeping?" he asked her politely.
"Aliens," John said with a nod. "It has to be."
Rose pursed her lips. She had a scanner in her purse, but she didn't really want to pull it out in front of John. The explanations would ruin dinner, and if Sherlock wasn't being controlled by aliens and was just… doing this for reasons unknown, she didn't want to alarm John.
She began rummaging in bags, pulling out what she needed for the meal that evening and putting away the remainders as she tried to think about how to get Sherlock alone for long enough to scan him, and how to avoid the alien's notice if she did.
"I'd best go out there and be sure he doesn't start trying to suck her brain through a drinking straw or something," John said, glancing nervously into the sitting room.
"Actually," Rose said, with sudden inspiration, "would you sit with my mum for a few minutes and send Sherlock in here. Tell him I need to ask him something. I've got to get to the bottom of this."
"Good luck," John said, sounding dubious.
There was a bit of conversation in the sitting room as John ousted Sherlock from the hot seat and sent him to talk to Rose. By the time he finally made it through the gauntlet of Jackie's suspicion and John's hints, Rose had oil heating on the stove and was chopping chicken breasts into chunks.
"What's going on, Sherlock?" Rose asked in a soft voice that wouldn't carry into the sitting room where Jackie was asking John if Rose usually cooked for them.
Sherlock shook his head and sat down heavily at the small table with its scatter of newspapers.
"I returned sometime after you and John must have left for the store and your mother was here. Mrs. Hudson was inviting her in for a cuppa and I… panicked."
Rose looked up from her work, a crease between her brows. "Panicked?" she asked, bewildered.
"Yes, panicked. Do you know what our lives will be like if your mother and Mrs. Hudson become allies? It's hard enough with just you and her plotting against me! What will I do if it becomes you, your mother, and my landlady?"
The thought of her mother and Mrs. Hudson combining their mothering against her did give Rose some qualms, but she had to laugh.
"Sherlock, if you think you're going to keep Mrs. Hudson and my mum from meeting each other, you're mad. It's… inevitable."
Sherlock frowned. "I can try putting that inevitability off a bit longer, thank you."
"What's she doing here?"
In the living room, Jackie was questioning John about what he did for a living. John was stumbling through an explanation of his work at the clinic, and his army days as she glared him down with a gimlet eye.
"I have no idea," Sherlock said, shrugging. "I asked her how she knew where I lived and she rolled her eyes and said that everyone in the English-speaking world knew that."
"Well, where she's from, they do."
"I'm perfectly aware. I asked if she were looking for you, and if so, why she hadn't gone to your flat or called." Sherlock hesitated for a moment, frowning at Rose. "She didn't call, did she?"
"No," Rose said, shaking her head. "Nor did she text. She dropped in completely unannounced."
Sherlock rose and wrapped his arms around her from behind where she was chopping onions to go in with the chicken that was browning on the stovetop.
"I'm sorry," he murmured into her hair. "If I could find a way to send her away, I would."
Rose sighed, set down the knife, and leaned into him, tipping her head back to rest on his shoulder. "It's not your fault, but thank you."
They stood that way for a long moment before Jackie's voice came from the sitting room again.
"Rose, that chicken smells like it's burning. You have to watch it all the time or it won't be fit to eat. What are you two doing in there?"
Rose sighed. "Yes, mum. I'm keeping an eye on the chicken, I won't let it burn."
She disentangled herself from Sherlock's arms and turned to toss the chicken chunks.
"And don't put too many onions in it," Jackie called again. "You know I hate curry with too many onions."
Rose took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment. "If you want to, you could come help me," Rose said. "Sherlock can't be trusted with a knife, but I'd love a second set of hands cutting vegetables."
"No, I'm chatting with John just now," Jackie called back. "If Himself isn't helping you with the cooking, what is he doing in there? You get back in here and stop distracting Rose or we'll never get dinner."
Rose shook her head, and mouthed sorry to Sherlock.
"I'll go… sit with her," Sherlock said, sounding unenthusiastic.
Rose nodded and, as she continued chopping vegetables, listened to the conversation in the sitting room.
They'd long since gotten past the point where Jackie felt the need to cross-examine Sherlock on his intentions every time she saw him. She seemed willing to accept that Rose and Sherlock were dating in that peculiar way of adults who weren't quite willing to label whatever it was that they were to one another.
Rose had, some weeks back, told Jackie that if she asked about Rose's sex life one more time, Rose would never see her again. Rose hoped the threat would still hold.
"So… you two aren't… together, are you?" Jackie asked from the living room.
"What?" John said, shocked.
"Who?" Sherlock asked, confused.
"You two boys. You've lived together for awhile. You work on cases together. You're not… together, are you?"
"What?" Sherlock said, offended.
"No," John said, angry.
"Mother!" Rose said, coming from the kitchen to confront her mother.
"Well," Jackie said, ignoring the fury aimed at her from all three sides, "you won't call him your boyfriend, and Martha, the landlady, said something about it while she and I were talking, and I just wanted to be sure you weren't taking advantage of my Rose."
Rose rolled her eyes. "Mother, you're being extremely rude, and if you can't control yourself, you're going to have to leave."
"I was just checking!" Jackie said, holding up her hands as though in surrender. "No need to get so offended! Not like I accused them of being criminals or something!"
Rose shook her head and returned to the kitchen in a huff.
"You should go help her," Jackie said to John in an undertone. "She'll need someone to vent to about me."
John frowned, but took the excuse to leave the tense and charged atmosphere of the room with alacrity.
After he'd left, Jackie stood and joined Sherlock on the sofa.
"I've something to give you," she said, very softly. "It's what I'm here for, but I don't want Rose to know about it."
Sherlock frowned, but nodded warily.
From her purse, Jackie drew a small, black velvet ring box. She opened it to show Sherlock a rose gold, art deco band set with white and pink diamonds.
"It's an antique. It belonged to Pete's mother. The other Jackie hated it, and when he and I got married… well… I was pregnant and so swollen I couldn't wear it, so he got me a new ring, and I just… couldn't give it up. Besides… I think it would suit Rose better than it ever suited me. So I want you to have it."
Sherlock blinked in confusion. "You want me…"
"I think so, yes. Not right now. Not just yet. What you have here is good for both of you I think. But someday, yes. I think you'll know when you're ready. Don't do it before then though."
Sherlock sat gaping like a fish for a long moment.
Jackie patted his hand, gently. "You take care of her, okay? She thinks she can take care of herself, and she mostly can, but you'll watch her back, won't you?"
"Yes, of course," Sherlock croaked.
"Good." Jackie raised her voice and called into the kitchen, "Rose, you're putting too much garlic in that curry. It'll be inedible!"
There was a sound a bit like a growl from the kitchen and a sound very much like a slamming cupboard door.
"Why do you do that to her?" Sherlock asked.
Jackie grinned. "Because I'm her mum, and it's one of the things we mums do. We can't let you all think you're too grown up, can we?"