John should've known something was up as soon as Rosie walked through the door after school. She was only eleven, but for the last year or so she'd been behaving more like a teenager: acting excited around her friends was permissible, but sharing that enthusiasm with him was not. But today as soon as she got home she grabbed him by the hand and pulled until he followed her into the kitchen.
Sherlock was sitting at the small table in the corner, hunched over his microscope. All of his lab equipment had been relegated to the smaller space nearly a decade ago, as a condition of John and Rosie moving into the flat. John tried to keep the bigger table clear for meals, though Rosie conspired to keep that one cluttered as well; now she dumped the contents of her school bag across it. At least her mess tended to be less toxic than Sherlock's experiments.
She retrieved a sparkly purple folder from the pile and shuffled through the papers in it. John caught her empty water bottle before it rolled off the table and set it in the sink to be washed for tomorrow. "What's got you so excited?" he asked.
"It's the class trip, Dad!" She pulled out a thick packet of bright yellow papers that had been stapled together, brandishing it in the air in front of him. "We're going to Disney World!"
"Disney World?" John wrinkled his brow. Not only was that thousands of miles away and probably incredibly expensive, Rosie had outgrown her Disney princess stage about five years ago.
"Yes! Isn't it brilliant? We're going to go to Florida where it's always warm and sunny!" She bounced into the one of the chairs, sending a cascade of completed schoolwork to the floor as she bumped against the table.
Sherlock slipped off his stool and bent to pick up the papers. He was good about cleaning up after her, even if he still left his own junk scattered everywhere.
John pulled out a chair and sat down across from Rosie. "Since when do schools go to Florida for a class trip? When I was in Year Six, the only trip we took was to the zoo."
"Yes, John," Sherlock said, "but air travel hadn't been invented yet when you were in school and it would've taken too long to travel to Florida by boat."
"Can I go, Dad? I know it's a lot of money, but we're doing fundraising and it's not until June."
"Ugh, Florida in June," John said, though he'd never actually been to Florida. "Sounds horribly hot. Let me see." He pulled the packet of papers across the table and flipped to the last page, looking for the cost. It was a lot of money, but he could afford it, and though he tried to teach Rosie to be thrifty he also didn't like to deny her anything she really wanted. "Hmm. You can do some of the fundraising, and then you'll need to help out more with the chores around here to earn the rest of the money."
"All right! I'll start cooking dinner for us all." She'd inherited Mary's kitchen skills, thankfully, and already did a better job than Sherlock at planning meals that included more than just food that came in a can.
"Sounds good," John said, and pushed the packet back toward her. He would read all the details later.
"And they need chaperones. Mrs. Hicks says if they don't get enough parent volunteers, they won't be able to go." She widened those bright blue eyes of hers and blinked at him.
"Oh, no. No way. I am not travelling internationally with a bunch of eleven-year-olds, especially not to Disney World. No, thank you."
"Dad, please? Two years ago the trip got cancelled because they didn't have enough chaperones and they just went to Dublin instead."
"Dublin is very nice, especially in June. I'll go with you to Dublin."
"Da-ad!" Now that sounded more like the Rosie he was used to lately, though he did feel bad about her trip being in danger of cancellation. Not enough to be a chaperone for it, though.
"I'm sorry, sweetie. You can definitely go, but I'm just not—"
"I'll go," Sherlock said. He dropped the papers that had spilled on the floor and picked up the ones about the trip. "Doesn't need to be a legal guardian, does it?"
"You will? Really?" Rosie tipped back in her chair to grin up at Sherlock, who put a hand on her shoulder so she wouldn't fall over. "You would be way more fun than Dad!"
"Are you kidding me?" John said. "You're going to fly 4000 miles on a plane full of eleven-year-olds and then walk around Disney World with them and a bunch of their mums? You, Sherlock Holmes, internationally-known consulting detective and curmudgeon?"
"Sorry, what? Did you just call me a curmudgeon? I am not a curmudgeon. If anything, you're the curmudgeon."
"Yeah, he's right, Dad. You're the curmudgeon."
"You don't even know what that word means, Rosie."
"Yes, I do. 'Get off my lawn. Don't eat biscuits for breakfast'."
John frowned at her. "I—no, wait a minute." They were getting off the subject. "Sherlock. Don't tell her you'll go because I know you won't want to do it when you hear all the details."
"What details? I've been on holiday with her before. We had a lovely time at the beach last summer, and this time we won't have you harping about reapplying sun cream every two hours."
"You'll need to apply it more often than that in Florida."
"I've been to Florida before, John. Unlike you. Did you know that the state of Florida has the eleventh-highest per capita crime rate of all the U.S. states?"
John stared at him. "Disney World with 60 eleven-year-olds, Sherlock. There will be no criminal investigations."
Sherlock shrugged. "That's fine. I like amusement park rides. I'm not the one who gets sick from spinning."
"I love spinning!" Rosie said, and jumped out of her chair to demonstrate.
"See?" Sherlock waved his hand at Rosie as she bumped into the fridge-freezer and then stumbled back to her seat at the table. "The two of us will have a fantastic time."
"Sherlock," John said. "Listen to me. If you chaperone this trip, you will be in charge of a group of children."
"Four of us!" Rosie said. "We get to pick our own groups."
"Rosie, Abby, and Leah. Who else? Not Lindsey, please." Sherlock lowered his chin and raised his eyebrows at Rosie.
She nodded enthusiastically. "Lindsey likes Mason and so does Leah so I'm not friends with Lindsey anymore."
"Good, good. Well, you've got a few months to select your fourth. Would you like us to send you a postcard, John?"
"No, because I know you aren't going to go, so stop encouraging her. Four children that you will be in charge of, plus you will have to share a tiny hotel room with three other parents."
"What?" Sherlock looked to Rosie for confirmation.
She nodded and pointed to the information packet. "Page three. Four adults per room, it says."
Sherlock flipped through the pages so fast he tore the first one away from the staple. "Well, that's just ridiculous. I'll pay for my own private room."
"No, you can't! That'd be weird. I don't know who else will have their fathers going, but you have to stay with them. You can't be the only one by himself."
"Rosie, I—" Sherlock frowned and John knew the struggle he must be going through. He was even worse than John at denying Rosie something she wanted, but the thought of Sherlock rooming with a bunch of strangers for a week was unimaginable. John watched him pick up the papers again and study them, probably looking for a loophole that would allow him to room by himself.
And somehow, he found one. "Ah-ha! It says that adults will be assigned to groups of four per room except in the case of a child with both parents attending as chaperones."
"Yes!" Rosie shouted. "You and Dad can both come and we'll pretend I have two dads!"
John gaped at the two of them. "Rosie. Everyone in your class knows Sherlock and I are not together."
Sherlock waved a dismissive hand at him. "Please. Except for the few girls who have been here, everyone in her class assumes we're a couple. No one will question it."
Right. Of course. Everyone assumed they were a couple and no one would question it. John put his elbows up on the table so he could rest his head in his hands. "You want to pretend to be a couple so we can chaperone a trip to Disney World with Rosie's class and you won't have to share a room with a stranger?"
"Exactly." Sherlock beamed at him. "Don't worry about the cost. The Birmingham case last month paid more than enough to cover expenses for all three of us."
John stared at him for another moment, then licked his lips. "But I don't want to go to Disney World," he said. Especially not if he had to spend his time there pretending to be Sherlock's partner. Sherlock might think that would be a lark, but John could see so many ways for it to go wrong, particularly if they were around people who knew them.
"Why not? It will be warm and relaxing, even if you're not interested in rides or...what's the name of that creature they use in their adverts? With the big black ears?"
"Mickey Mouse!" Rosie shouted, laughing.
"That's a mouse?"
John smiled in spite of himself, enjoying Rosie's delight at telling Sherlock something she thought he didn't know and Sherlock's expression of disbelief. Sherlock's fake expression of disbelief—because Sherlock was an excellent actor, who would have no problem pretending to be part of a couple. John, however.... "I don't think it's a good idea, Rosie. We can't just pretend we're a couple."
"Sure, you can." Rosie reached for a flattened packet of crisps that had fallen out of the mess in her bag. "It's not like you have to kiss or anything. You just need to hold hands."
If only it were as simple as she thought. He sighed. It would not be simple at all, he knew, though it also wasn't fair of him to disappoint her simply so he could avoid being uncomfortable for a few days. He fiddled with the edge of the placemat that was sticking out from beneath Rosie's school papers. He really wasn't a curmudgeon, though he did try to be a good parent. "I don't think we should lie to your whole class, Rosie. Lying's bad."
Rosie rolled her eyes at his words. Great—he was doing a brilliant job at parenting, obviously. "I'm serious," he said. "You shouldn't lie to your friends. And don't open those crisps. It's almost time for dinner."
Rosie turned sideways in her chair to glance up at Sherlock. They shared a look for a moment, then Sherlock dragged the chair from the end of the table to sit down next to her.
"John." Sherlock folded his hands together on the table in front of him. "Please consider doing this. For Rosie. We won't have to lie outright. We'll just put both our names on the form, they'll assign us a room together, and we'll let everyone make whatever assumptions they'd like. Rosie and her friends will get to enjoy themselves, and you and I will both be there to supervise. What could go wrong?"
John slid the packet of trip information closer and peered down at it so he could avoid looking at Sherlock. What could go wrong, indeed? Besides a completely inappropriate reawakening of feelings for Sherlock that he'd buried so long ago that most of the time it didn't even bother him.
The first couple of years after he and Rosie had moved back to Baker Street had been the easiest—he'd still been grieving Mary and exhausted from parenting a toddler, and he hadn't missed having an intimate relationship. Once Rosie had started school and they'd settled into a regular routine, he started thinking about maybe dating again, but he knew he wouldn't be satisfied with any ordinary woman. Or man, for that matter. He liked dangerous, unpredictable people; it was what had drawn him to Mary, and to Sherlock himself. But Sherlock wasn't interested in any sort of romantic entanglement, so John had eventually made peace with the fact that though he and Sherlock loved each other, there would never be anything more to their relationship than a strong, all-encompassing friendship. It was good enough, in its own way. After all, John didn't exactly have a stellar track record when it came to romance, so maybe this way was for the best. But going on a trip like this and having to pretend he and Sherlock really were together could very easily...stir up things. Things that were better left unstirred.
"Please, Daddy?" Rosie said, and John lifted his eyes from the tabletop to look at her. She'd put down the bag of crisps and clasped her hands in front of her, matching Sherlock's beseeching pose. "Please?"
He knew it was a lost cause. He couldn't say no to her, and a not-insignificant part of him didn't even want to say no. He could do it. He'd gone on holiday with Sherlock and Rosie before—just last summer they'd spent a week in Italy. Of course they'd also brought Mrs. Hudson with them, and rented a villa with three bedrooms. He and Rosie had shared a room. This would be different. "I guess we could," he said. "Though I don't want to make a practice of lying, and I don't think it will be as easy as you two think to fool everyone—"
"Yes, John," Sherlock interrupted. "I know it's been a number of years for you, but surely you remember what dating is like enough to pretend for a few days."
John glared at him. Maybe if he focused solely on Sherlock's obnoxiousness, he'd be able to get through a week in Florida without dwelling on all the years he'd spent wishing they really were something more than friends.
Sherlock returned his stare for several long moments, then turned to Rosie. "Don't worry," he said. "Your father's already made up his mind. The three of us are going to Disney World."