The teacup was still on the coffee table.
John found it hard to believe, even after screwing his eyes shut and shaking his head didn't make the image vanish. It sat there, almost primly, undisturbed despite the chaos to which his home had been subjected.
The Met and Mycroft's people had both been through the house several times, scouring it for bugs and other surveillance devices. The police had brought in sniffer dogs, which had made Sherlock jumpy and snappish, which only made John worry more. He doubted there was anything illegal in their flat – or at least illegal enough to get Sherlock slapped with an arrest for possession. He'd barely had time to come home, after all. John didn't want to think that he'd already had the opportunity – let alone the need – to get his hands on some drugs.
Of course, with Sherlock, it was more likely that he'd stashed some questionably acquired body parts somewhere and was concerned that they'd be discovered.
The worry had been for naught – none of the very thorough teams had uncovered anything more suspicious than a package of hidden cigarettes, which Sherlock had sniffed, declared well past stale, and would have thrown out the window had John not intervened and made him bin them properly.
The fact that nothing turned up made him uneasy, though. It wasn't that he thought Mary had been listening in on his life – why would she, when she'd had such immediate access to it? – but that Mycroft hadn't been. Mycroft was always listening. John had paid careful attention when the news had been delivered; Sherlock's brother had been put off, no matter how much he'd tried to cover it.
Sherlock had seen it too, of course, whispering the observation in John's ear, bringing them into such close contact that the message had almost been lost on the doctor. He knew that was what Sherlock had been intending, at least outwardly – using intimacy to cover his tracks. John supposed he'd have to get used to it, and he could always insist later that Sherlock make good on some of this exploitation.
Mary, it seemed, had blinded Mycroft. John hadn't missed the implications of that, nor what it meant that she had quoted from a supposedly private discussion in Mycroft's office between the brothers. Sherlock had transcribed their conversation as accurately as he could remember, and John had no doubts that it was completely correct.
He hadn't left anything out, nor hidden anything from John, even if the doctor hadn't missed the reluctance with which the transcripts had been presented to him. Mary had pegged Sherlock almost exactly – the answers she'd given would have been enough for the detective. But he hadn't refused to share that knowledge, bracing himself for a dressing-down John hadn't bothered with.
He hadn't seen the point. Sherlock was Sherlock and that wasn't about to change – at least not entirely. The fact that the detective hadn't concealed or refuted Mary's assessment was all the proof John needed that there would be small changes.
It was enough. If he were completely honest with himself, he didn't want any more than that. After nine months and all the losses that had been piled upon him in the past several days, John needed Sherlock to still be Sherlock.
The police and Mycroft's people had done their best to restore order to the house they'd turned upside down, but it scarcely seemed to matter. Everywhere he looked, John found something out of place he had to fix. It felt like living one step to the side, everything just slightly askew. It made his home a stranger to him, starkly compounded by Mrs. Hudson's absence.
Sherlock's presence helped, but didn't erase the abandoned, isolated feeling in the downstairs flat. It leeched into their flat as well; John could feel it like an accusation with Mary gone and Harry barely speaking to him.
The interview with Lestrade and Hassard had been worse than the disruptions at Baker Street. John had gone in armed with the knowledge that it would be bad, but completely ignorant of how. Rage and yelling he could have dealt with. Indignation and stony silence would have been tolerable. Even a flat out refusal to let him in he could have handled.
It had nearly killed him when his sister had started to cry. No anger, no cold shoulder, no shutting him out. Just an engulfing, sucking sadness so deep he hadn't even worried she'd go back to alcohol. He'd spent the night, arranged her short leave from work and for friends to come stay. He didn't want her to be alone, but wondered if she'd still feel it, even surrounded by people who loved her.
Of course she does, John told himself, unaware of the scowl that creased his features. He'd felt the same way after Sherlock's faked death.
But Sherlock hadn't stepped out of his life as easily, without regret, as though it had meant nothing. He doubted the destruction had meant anything to Mary beyond the mild inconvenience of having to establish a new identity. She'd become part of his family, then torn that family apart.
Maybe that was why no one had moved the teacup. Not to leave her final reminder, but to avoid letting her touch their lives again.
It's not working, he thought. The small china cup sat there, a mute and accusatory reminder of everything she'd done, of why she'd been in John's life in the first place.
There was a sudden movement behind the cup; John refocused with a start as Sherlock crouched down with uncanny grace. Grey eyes met his levelly across the table, and before John could protest, Sherlock stood again, scooping the cup and saucer up as he went.
"Oi!" John called, but his voice sounded weak and the protest was predictably ignored. The faint clattering from the kitchen had him on his feet and hurrying through the flat to find Sherlock rolling up his shirt sleeves as hot water spilled into the sink. There was a small pile of cups and saucers on the counter; the detective didn't spare him a glance as he sunk them into the basin, rims and handles bobbing gently amidst the suds.
"What are you doing?"
"Washing up," Sherlock replied in his 'obvious' voice, one eyebrow arching despite his gaze fixed on his chore.
"But what?" Sherlock asked, raising his eyes this time. John sighed, pressing his lips together, and gave his head a curt shake.
"This is her best china," the detective observed.
"It's not being used. Gathering dust. She left everything to you, John, and since you're sentimental – but curiously rational at the same time – you will extend that into she left everything to us, which means I have some say in what happens to her possessions. There's no point in this going to waste, don't you think?"
"Yes?" the detective asked over the sound of the tap running again as he rinsed the cups and set them in the drainer.
"She– Mary used one of those."
"I don't know; you've washed them all."
"And now none of them are the one that Mary used," Sherlock replied, stacking the plates in neatly next to the cups. "Sentiment, John. Either one of them was the one Mary used, or all of them are the ones Mrs. Hudson used. Which would you prefer?"
Despite himself, a smile stretched over John's lips and he shook his head again, almost disbelieving.
"What do you know about sentiment?" he asked.
"I'm a genius," Sherlock sniffed. "By definition, I'm a quick learner."
"Is that so?"
"I should think you've had ample evidence," Sherlock replied. The points of contact of a finger and thumb on his chin were stronger, the fading heat from the hot water radiating from Sherlock's skin. John let everything drop away for a moment, relishing the feel of soft lips moving against his. In the back of his mind, he knew it should have seemed strange, but it had never ceased to amaze him how quickly the new became normal with Sherlock.
"Everything's changed, hasn't it?" he asked.
"Everything always changes, John. That's the nature of life."
"But she's out there," John sighed. "And she pulled one over on you and Mycroft. Doesn't that bother you?"
Sherlock's expression stayed sombre, but there was a hint of light in his grey eyes.
"Right, yes, you like seeing Mycroft put in his place," John sighed. "But this is serious."
"She won't be back," Sherlock assured him.
"How do you know?"
"She said so. No, John," he interjected when John drew a breath to protest, "she's not Moriarty. This isn't a game, this isn't personal. Moriarty was insane; Moran was a psychopath. Mary's a business woman. As far as she's concerned, we're no real threat to her, and therefore not worth more than a passing interest."
"But– she's out there, Sherlock! How can that not bother you? Okay, maybe what she didn't to Harry doesn't matter to you–"
"It does to you, so it does to me," Sherlock interrupted. John stared at him a moment, then exhaled a hard sigh.
"If Moriarty was just the tip of the iceberg, who knows what she's got going on! Even your brother didn't know about her, and he managed to catch Moriarty and hold him prisoner! Is it– are you just going to let her walk away?"
At this, Sherlock did smile, but it was cold, leaving John feeling stripped bare beneath his penetrative gaze.
"You misunderstand," his partner said. "She won't come after us, but there's no reason for us not to go after her."