Disclaimer: I do not own the characters from BBC's Sherlock. Nor do I own the song 'Advertising Space' by Robbie Williams from which I borrowed the title.
He gets given his neatly folded green paramedic's uniform in its plastic wrapper and his face splits into a genuine grin.
Granted, it's not exactly camouflage green, but his heart rate is already rushing, the adrenaline he seeks suddenly so much closer to his reaching fingertips.
He nearly falls out of his chair at the shout, a sharp intake of breath as the strong Scottish brogue brings with it a force of sweat and heat and open desert, and Murray's contorted face as he bled onto the dusty ground.
"Yes sir," he says, as calmly as he can manage, and to his credit, it would be convincingly civilian had he not stood up and straightened his back to boast to all of his 5 foot 6 inches.
"You mentioned wanting to do night shifts?" And when an affirmative nod follows this, "I hope tonight at 8.30 is unsociable enough for you…. You others check the rota board in the on call room…"
John clasps his uniform in sweating palms, and almost plucks up the courage to catch a cab back to Baker Street.
Greg Lestrade calls in after work twice a week without fail, carefully varying the time and the day to at least attempt to make it look like he's not checking up on him.
He answers the door swallowing a mouthful of beans on toast, dressed in his full paramedic uniform.
Greg beams at him.
"My shift starts at 8.30," he explains, "I thought I'd… get ready."
It's only just gone 6, but Greg says nothing and claps him on the shoulder warmly.
"You should come round for dinner to celebrate," he offers, glancing pointedly at the plate of beans on toast, and John shifts a little uncomfortably, but takes up his offer readily.
They organise for an early meal the following Monday, which fits in nicely after John's weekly staring match with his therapist, and before his 3rd shift in the ambulance.
He's got Sunday off, and he's dreading what to do with the time.
Greg's making some joke about the streets of London at night being filled with druggies and madmen, and John stares at the floor because the flat suddenly feels so empty.
When Greg leaves, John bounds down the stairs to tell Mrs Hudson, who immediately pulls the clingfilm out the cupboard and starts wrapping up a few of her rock cakes 'to keep him going'.
"This is just what you need." She says, quietly, as though she doesn't really want him to hear, but he does anyway, and can't help but agree.
It's been 3 months of anger and grieving and more anger.
Anger at himself, mainly, because- why couldn't he be better? Why wasn't he able to help more? Why..?
Ella tells him that it's not healthy to squash all his sadness and frustration down inside him, but since that's always been what he's done, he's not really sure how else to deal with it.
She's the one who signs him up for a boxing class, which he actually quite enjoys, he used to do a bit when he was younger and he hasn't lost the speed or strength of the punch from his good arm. His other arm is quickly catching up.
Molly was the one who kept giving hints that Barts were running a paramedic training course for nurses and doctors, and after another 20 hour weekend of snotty kids at the surgery, he'd finally started listening to her suggestions.
He's paired up with a blonde mother of 5 called Mary, who likes to knit when it's not her turn to drive the ambulance, and John doesn't like to ask what the lumpy mess of wool is supposed to be, so he just keeps quiet and drives.
Mary talks (and knits).
Mary could talk for England (and could knit for a charity shop, if she stopped talking).
He listens and nods and thinks that if Sherlock were there, he could tell him the life story of all the kids and their extended families in only a fraction of the time it takes her to.
He smiles sadly and asks her to brunch on Sunday.
She laughs, and then laughs harder at his look of surprise.
"You're a bit young for me love!" She jokes.
"I'm 38," he retorts, and he's closer to 39 now, it's been that long since…
"You have young eyes," she tells him. He finds it hard to believe her.
There's a bit of a scuffle with a few drunk teenagers outside a bar, and John receives a split lip and gives a black eye after suggesting that one of them should sit on the back of the ambulance and have some butterfly stiches on the cut on his head.
He manages to patch up the guy with the cut head, and when he slides back into the driver's seat, he's grinning from ear to ear and has someone else's blood on the front of his new uniform.
Mary knits and ruffles his hair and tells him she'll be round on Sunday, probably with one or two of the kids after their football match.
He makes a big fuss of cleaning up Kevin's knee and putting on a plaster. The 7 year old asks him where his wife is and Mary keeps him quiet with the other half of a Mars Bar that his twin sister Chloe is happily spreading all over the sofa.
He ends up making pancakes and everything ends up covered in flour, and Chloe wraps her short arms around his middle as the three of them twirl out of the door in a cloud of flour and a tangle of knitting, and he his session with Ella on Monday turns into less of a staring contest and more of a discussion about his life.
He talks around the gaping hole there because things now exist around its edges.
He agrees to carry on with the boxing and offers her the first smile she's seen from him in ages.
A few weeks later, he goes to watch the twin's football match. He sleeps all afternoon and cleans the kitchen, stacking test tubes and petri dishes into a dedicated cupboard.
'Anthea' delivers him a thermos, and rejects his offer of coffee.
When he dreams, Sherlock is smiling.
The kick is potent and tangible as the radio crackles and Mary turns on the siren and the flashing lights.
"Possible DOA," they're warned, and John's driving turns as erratic as his heartbeat.
Mary kicks her knitting into the footwell and rolls up her sleeves.
Mary is the first out as well, shouting instructions to John to fetch the defibrillator and to page the A&E department.
In a blur of finding pale veins and shaking the weak body with volts of electricity, nothing quite pieces together until bowed lips rasp something that is much too like his name and he collapses in shock against Mary.
"Ex boyfriend?" She asks, replacing the oxygen mask on the actual patient from his own face and drawing up a sedative.
He rubs his face and can't help her with the stretcher until he's felt a fluttering heart beat against bony ribs.
"Fuck," he says, and Mary pushes him into the back of the ambulance and drives in almost as scary a way as she knits.
John strokes Sherlock's face and pushes shaggy curly hair out into a halo for his fallen angel.
He swears at him and shouts a bit, and feels a lot better for it, it's 4.30 am and at A&E, he's rushed into surgery, and John threatens to quit if they don't play classic FM, and everyone looks at him strangely and Mary holds his hand and asks him how long he's loved this man and why the hell did he pretend to be dead.
John blinks and blinks, but he can't stop seeing red dots in his peripheral vision.
Mycroft turns up, with 'Anthea', who has seemingly misplaced her blackberry, and unpicks Mary's knitting and re-knits what looks like a man-kini.
Lestrade bursts in, looking like he's just woken up, and then disappears to bring back Mrs Hudson, and it's like the funeral all over again, and John just sits there and… please one more miracle Sherlock…
He only catch a glimpse, and he looks like the ghost he should be, and then even Mycroft can't negotiate against hospital policy, and Lestrade takes him and Mrs Hudson and Mary home in the patrol car, and guides John to his sofa with a pillow and blankets and mutters about Anderson owing him mountains of paperwork and promises to be back in a few hours.
John doesn't sleep.
His head swirls with images of a crumpled body on the pavement and the steady trickle of blood, followed by its rising into the air, only to fall back down again, and the steady beep of a heart monitor pulsing in time with the throbbing of his head.
Mycroft walks straight into the living room and perches on the arm of the sofa John is screwed up on.
He tells him, in a low calm voice, that Sherlock was attacked and his coat stolen, and that on its recovery, the collection of passports and documents has pieced together an interesting collection of assasinations across Western Europe and Asia.
John half listens, and half wants to cry onto Mycroft's Westwood suit.
"He must be coming back to you," Mycroft ends with, and John swears he's looking doubtfully at John's bloodshot eyes and dishevelled uniform, as though to say 'though why I'm not so sure'.
"I've arranged for his identity to be kept a secret until I can be sure that all loose ends have been cut off," Mycroft says, with a grim smile.
"Take me to him," John says, and Mycroft raises his eyebrows but gestures towards the door.
'Anthea' is on the backseat, and barely looks up from her blackberry to pass him a bar of chocolate and a can of red bull.
Sherlock's not awake, has several cracked ribs, a puncture lung, and 3 broken toes, and John watches the i/v drip and dozes off to the steady rhythm of the heart monitor.
He wakes up to find himself faceplanting Sherlock's thigh, and that long delicate fingers are twisted painfully in his hair.
Sherlock's not awake, and John aches all over, and a sympathetic nurse helps him extract his head from its grasp, and he should really go home and get a shower if he wants to be ready for his night shift, but Mary arrives and tells him he's got a week's holiday, and can he watch the twins at some point.
"We're not a couple," he tells her, and she does an uncanny impression of Irene Adler's quiet disbelief.
Lestrade drags him out of the hospital, threatening more ASBOs and the questioning of his authority to hold a gun, and when he returns, he finds Sherlock snapping at everyone with scathing remarks about their personal lives and refusing opiates, but when he catches sight of him, he freezes and goes silent.
The nurse at his elbow regards him as though he has performed some sort of miracle. John wants to yell that Sherlock is the miracle, that only now is everyone going to believe in the one thing that he has always believed in.
"Bit not good, Sherlock," John says, and doesn't really care if he's just sent an area of the government into red alert with the mention of his name.
"I'm sorry," Sherlock rasps, and John gives a silent sob, and is torn with feeling the need to take his pulse, now that the heart monitor is disconnected, and he just needs to know that he's really alive.
He stumbles away, he needs air, and he needs Sherlock to tell him to fetch his phone and reel off a list of faults of his latest girlfriend and needs him not to be staring at him like he's come home to something beautiful.
Like he's worth it.
He has tea with Mrs Hudson, who makes him a cheese and cucumber sandwich, and calls Mycroft from the other room so that a sleek black car arrives and whisks him off predictably to some looming office somewhere.
"Do you want to know why he did it?" Mycroft asks, and John's not sure if that means that Mycroft has known all along, and whether this means he should hate him, or if he's been talking to Sherlock since.
"No," he says firmly.
They sit there in stale silence for a long while.
"Ask him why he came back," he requests, eventually, and Mycroft just nods, and John batters a punching bag at the gym until his muscles protest over the pain of the twisting inside him.
Molly's waiting outside the gym with a coffee for him, and tells him to sit down on the bench.
"I helped him," she says, and he just doesn't know what to feel anymore, and that's reassuringly numbing.
"You know, it's always easier to invest… longing, in people you know that are never going to feel the same way, and put energy into relationships that probably won't last."
He blinks at her.
"People who readily point out your shortcomings either share them or are trying to tell you they love you more than that."
He sits there for about half an hour after she leaves, and then walks back to Baker Street.
When he dreams, Sherlock isn't smiling, but his eyes are soft and yearning.
Sherlock's lounging in the armchair, his eyes a little brighter, his face a little less ghost like.
He's changed as well, and surely suit trousers and a grey shirt can't be comfortable clothes for recovery?
"Because you asked me to," he says, voice thick with painkillers but low with its gravity.
John walks over and kisses him, kisses the 'it's so obvious' pout off his full lips, licks inside his mouth and tastes Mrs Hudson's mint tea, and a hint of Lestrade's weak milky excuse for coffee, and is received with enthusiasm, a throaty needy noise that he didn't know Sherlock was capable of.
He's pushed away though, weakly, and his face draws in confusion.
"Gently," Sherlocks says hoarsely, indicating his flat palm pressing over his heart.
John gives a half sort-of grin, remembering cracked ribs but revelling in the feeling of a heartbeat leaping beneath his fingertips.
Sherlock draws him back in, leaning forward and opening his mouth pliant and inviting and they fall together, back against the back of the chair, breathless, with lips caressing lips and tongues tangling.
John accepts this wordless explanation and a molten heat spreads and fills the emptiness inside him.
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