He found the bee inside the hole of a broken brick out by the washing line.
The line was bare: Mycroft’s uniforms and Dad’s work clothes and Mummy’s flowered house dresses no longer flapping like sails in the breeze. They were all furled now, folded and put away as pink paint splashed across the arch of the sky and pooled in the crevices of scattered clouds, limning them in neon hues of orange. Autumn had begun to properly set in, lending the evening wind an edge that bit deep through Sherlock's jumper—and also through the downy yellow hair over the bee’s thorax.
It wasn’t the first time Mummy had called. He ignored it. Eating was boring.
The bee's movements were slow as it stiffly crawled back inside the meager shelter provided by the quarter-brick Sherlock had tipped over to get a better look. It made no attempt to fly. At this stage in the day, all the other bees were tucked away, huddled together and vibrating as one to keep the hive warm.
Not this one.
Her voice was beginning to get an edge to it, but she would call at least twice more before he lost any privilege more serious than dessert. Only Mycroft had ever cared about that one.
He couldn’t see anything obviously wrong with the bee: no missing legs or damaged wings, but there had to be a reason it hadn't been able to make it before dark. Something slowing it down, or disorienting it, preventing it from finding its way home.
Sherlock didn’t even know where the hive would be.
“Sherl—Oh, there you are,” Mummy said, coming out onto the path, frowning. “Tea’s all ready.”
“Coming,” called Sherlock, because last time it had got her to leave him alone for another few minutes. But Mummy kept learning the rules Sherlock deduced as fast as he could work them out and it didn’t work this time.
“What have you got there?” she asked, squatting beside him to look. “Oh, Sherlock.” She looked at the bee a moment and then sat down properly on the bricks. “Are you worried he's sick, sweetheart? I'm sure he’ll be okay, he’s just waiting until tomorrow to fly home.”
“She,” said Sherlock cuttingly, and stood, sniffing against the cold. That wasn’t what this was about. “Honeybees are female. The workers are, anyway. And don't patronise me, I know it's dying! All the bees are dying, not just the ones that get left behind.”
Mummy looked up at him for a moment, her face so sad that Sherlock had to look away, away over the three tall pines in a row down the lane which tossed in the freezing wind like the masts of a tall ship. Beneath, the long grass swayed and billowed in wide blonde waves ready to snatch up unwary sailors and dash them against the unforgiving rocks beneath.
But that was no distraction either.
“He’s been around almost as long as you can remember,” said Mummy gently. “It’s okay to miss him.”
“Fine!” snapped Sherlock, appalled. “I’ll come in for tea! I was only thinking of doing an autopsy on it. Once it was dead. Seeing if I could find out why, why it lost its way home. Bees are important. They’re necessary. Dogs are… dogs are just pets.”
He strode away towards the house as fast as he could, blinking furiously against the cold wind. His fingers absolutely did not twitch at his side, seeking to dig into the useless memory of red fur. He didn’t want to be a pirate, anymore. He’d been hoping he could solve the problem with the bees instead.
Mummy didn’t follow. He could see her in his peripheral vision, still sitting beside the doomed bee in its brick on the crosshatched pavers. Even if it wasn’t going to die tonight, it didn’t make any difference. Everything died. People. Animals. Bees.
Mycroft was going to see the pattern of dirt left on her skirt, and he was going to know about this conversation, know what had been said from the depth of the creases in the fabric, from that puffiness she got around her eyes when she was feeling emotions she thought Sherlock should have been.
“He was more than just a pet,” Mummy said. “Redbeard was your friend.”
Sherlock whirled on her. “Friends aren’t important either,” he snarled. “Not like bees.”
“Sherlock…” she said, and then stopped, obviously reigning in something revoltingly trite. She opened her mouth again, but apparently didn’t like the taste of that platitude either.
“I think bees,” she eventually said carefully, “seem to think that friends are very important indeed. Even this one. She’s alone right now, but when the sun comes up tomorrow she’ll keep going, and she’ll find the rest of her hive. Come back here, please, darling.”
Sherlock made a show of dragging his feet all the way over, but let her wrap her arms around him and pull him down onto her lap nonetheless.
It wasn’t so bad.
“I promise I won’t tell Mikey,” she whispered.
“You won’t need to,” sulked Sherlock. “He’ll know anyway.” The front of her dress would be creased, too, not just where she sat, or the folds where she wiped her hands after washing them, but right over the centre of her lap, the cloth pressed into sharp lines between warm bodies. “Interfering fat busybody.”
“Be nice about your brother.” The rebuke was only half-hearted, so Sherlock immediately deleted it as irrelevant and held his mother tighter. The creases would be there in her dress either way, no one would know. “He’s just worried about you.”
Sherlock struggled, uncomfortable, and she let him up. She stood with him, dusted her skirt ineffectually. The marks were still clear enough for Mycroft to see, but it was a creditable effort nonetheless.
“Come inside,” she said. “You need to eat something. You can come and check on your bee tomorrow, make sure she’s not still stuck here.”
“All right,” said Sherlock crossly, suffering the warmth of her arm wrapped around his shoulders until she peeled off to collect the plates to put on the table.
He glared as Mycroft eyed them both. His brother raised his eyebrows briefly, but didn’t say anything.
One less dead bee was one less dead bee in the world, even if he couldn’t work out why it would have died if it didn’t actually die. But if he couldn’t solve the problem with the bees, perhaps he needed to start on something bigger and work his way downwards, rather than starting small and working his way up. Everything died. Bees. Dogs. People.
He remembered the story Mycroft had been reading in the newspaper that morning, and picked it up from the side-table, folding it open.
Redbeard’s death hadn’t even been interesting. Just… fading away. Nothing to do, except stroke him as the drugs took hold and the thumping of his tail grew weaker.
But this boy had drowned. A champion swimmer fading away in the middle of the pool, when he shouldn’t have. For a minute, Sherlock read the article, becoming more and more confused as he did so. Why hadn't they mentioned the shoes from his locker?
“Sherlock!” called Mummy, in the voice that made Sherlock jump and put the paper down straight away. She and Dad and Mycroft were all sitting at the table, looking at him over plates of sausages and peas and gravy. Somehow Mycroft was still restraining himself from stuffing his face. “Please come and sit down with us.”
Sherlock did, slumping in his seat and poking at his plate as he listened to the dull conversation about the boring things everyone had done with their boring days.
Piracy wasn’t fun anymore, not without a first mate. But a detective didn’t need any friends to solve a case.
Sherlock could finish looking for clues in the newspaper article on Carl Powers after tea. And maybe there would be a mystery worth solving.