The problem with being old - well, one of the problems - was that it had made John complacent.
When he'd been a younger man, waking up alone in bed had been the norm, even after he and Sherlock had become partners in that final sense of the word. Sherlock could rarely be bothered to sleep for more than a handful of hours at a time, and John would just as rather Sherlock bugger off in the early hours of the morning and let him sleep than try and fail to entertain himself and wake John in the process.
But today, John woke up to an empty bed and promptly panicked.
"Sherlock?" he called, jerking upright quickly enough to make his back twinge. The house echoed silently around him, and John swore, fumbling for his glasses with one hand and his cane with the other. "Sherlock!"
He hobbled down the stairs as fast as he could, heart pounding so hard he was dimly worried that he was going to give himself a heart attack.
The front room was empty, as was the kitchen, looking untouched since last night. In desperation, John banged his way through the back door and into the garden. "Sherlock!"
"John?" Sherlock appeared around the side of the cottage, fully dressed and blessedly alive. His silver curls were a tousled, flattened mess, a sure sign that he had been out attending to the hives in his veil and coveralls. "What are you doing out here in your pajamas?"
Trying not to have a panic attack, was apparently the answer to that question. John doubled over with his hands on his knees, fighting to breathe past the fear and adrenaline snarling up in his throat. "Sher- Sher-" he tried.
Sherlock was there a moment later, hands solid and warm on John's upper arms. "Breathe," he ordered. "In and out. Come on, John."
It took a few moments for John to regain control of himself, by which point he felt thoroughly mortified. He could feel Sherlock's eyes on him, dissecting him with an intensity that hadn’t dulled one jot over the decades.
"Sorry," John muttered, trying to pull away.
Sherlock, of course, refused to be moved. "Care to explain?"
"It's nothing. Really. Just being a foolish old buffer, as usu-"
Sherlock's big hand curled around the back of John's neck, forcing him to tilt his face up to meet Sherlock's expectant look. "John."
Damn him. Three decades at this man's side, and John still couldn't resist that tone of voice. "I woke up and you weren't there," he admitted.
Something in Sherlock's face softened. "As always, you see but don't observe," he said, almost gently. "The sheets were rumpled, my pillow dented. It's the first clear day we've had this week. You should have known I would be tending to the hives."
"Yeah, well I wasn't exactly in the right frame of mind for checking the creases," John retorted. He brushed a trembling hand over his eyes. "God, Sherlock, I thought…"
He didn't need to finish, he could see it in Sherlock's eyes, but the words wouldn't stop.
"I thought I'd dreamed the whole thing, that you were still in the hospital, and you hadn't come home, and I was… here." Alone again.
"I'm fine, John. It will take more than a silly illness to kill me properly."
John glared at him. "You're not invincible, Sherlock, now even less so than usual. The doctors said..."
Sherlock made a dismissive noise. "You're my doctor."
"And no less a doctor for it!" Sherlock snapped back. Be reasonable, John, you know I'm fine."
And he did. It seemed as though Sherlock was determined to continue his hobby of escaping certain death even in retirement, because John could still scarcely believe that he was arguing with Sherlock right now when a fortnight ago he'd been receiving funerary service flyers from the nurses. Trust Sherlock to be the one man on the planet capable of outstubborning death no matter what form it came in.
But that didn't make it any easier to overcome the fear.
All of which was clearly scrawled right across his face, because Sherlock's grip tightened to just shy of painful before abruptly relaxing.
"I should have anticipated this reaction. You should let me make it up to you," he said, in that rumbling purr of his that still made John's pulse quicken even though the body was less quick to follow along these days.
"Sherlock, it's fine," John started, only to have the words melt into a startled hum of pleasure when Sherlock kissed him. This was one thing that had never changed in all their years together: the way that kissing Sherlock was like drowning and flying all at once. Of their own volition, John's hands gripped at Sherlock's arms, anchoring himself and pulling Sherlock deeper into the kiss.
Sherlock hummed in approval, showing a flagrant disregard for the fact that they were outdoors as his clever fingers slipped beneath the waistband of John's pajamas to curve around his arse cheeks, proprietary and familiar.
And John would have complained, but their closest neighbours were nearly a mile away, and the dregs of adrenaline were still coursing through his veins, getting him into the mood far faster than he usually managed these days.
Sherlock chuckled, the sound buzzing between them. "So predictable, John."
"Shut up," John managed, between deep, drugging kisses.
The drone of the bees was everywhere as Sherlock lowered them both into the grass, mixing with the thunder of John's heartbeat until he felt dizzy.
He didn’t resist as Sherlock tugged down his pajama bottoms, revealing his growing erection to the warm air. Overlong grass tickled at his exposed skin, tripping down his nerves in a maddening caress.
"Sherlock," he murmured, arching under Sherlock's appreciative gaze.
"Quiet, John," Sherlock answered, before licking a long line up the underside of John's prick and neatly robbing John of his entire vocabulary.
"Hah, hah," John gasped, as Sherlock's lips closed around him, applying just the right amount of suction to make him writhe. Sherlock always had known just how to play John's body.
Dazed and overstimulated, John melted back into the grass, hitching into the perfect heat of Sherlock's mouth. The air was thick and heavy with the smells of lilac and heather, and John breathed in deeply, trying to fix this moment in his memory forever. This moment, the likes of which he thought he'd never have again.
Sherlock's tongue stabbed into his slit, and John choked on a yell, only the still-strong grip of the hands on his hips keep him from bucking too far. "Sherlock, I'm-"
Sherlock hummed around him, the bastard, and John was gone. He shuddered through the aftershocks as Sherlock swallowed his release with the ease of long years of practice, then released him and flopped down like he was the one who felt like all his bones had just liquefied.
They lay there for several long minutes. The sun was warm, shining down from an unusually cloudless sky, and John felt utterly content.
"What about you?" he asked, when he'd caught his breath. "Can I-"
Sherlock shrugged bonelessly, still draped all over John's lower half like he planned to stay there for the rest of the day. "I'm not currently equipped," he said into John's hipbone, which wasn't surprising. Sherlock's libido had never been all that active to begin with, and these days usually required some chemical support. "You can pay me back this evening."
John hummed in absent agreement, letting his fingers card idly through Sherlock's curls. "Fancy a cuppa?" he asked eventually.
"Later," Sherlock said, which suited John just fine.