Chapter 1: Prologue
It was an unusually chilly day in the depths of a cave in Afghanistan. In it were two people that would rather be anywhere than where they were- one because they had grown to hate the sharp burning taste of metal and water in their tongue, and the other because of… well, you could take two guesses, and all of them would be accurate.
The former was Tony Stark. The latter was Yinsen.
'You know,' Tony said, his voice contemplative. 'When I said I had no-one to return to, I was lying.'
Yinsen raised an eyebrow, his only reaction to this piece of news.
'Yeah… his name is Artemis,' Tony's voice had gone impossibly fond, and Yinsen couldn't help but be surprised. 'He's my best friend. We've gone through some shit together and honestly? I wouldn't trade it for the world. He's always on one of his adventures and shit and I used to joke that he'll know exactly what to do when I went and disappeared on him because he did that to me so many times…' he rambled on seemingly to himself, mechanically working on his suit, looking far more relaxed than he had in awhile.
Best friend. Of course.
Which was when their base exploded, Tony cursing as he bore the brunt of the explosion.
Yinsen shielded his eyes from the sudden bright light, staring at the pale youth with blue eyes who had mysteriously appeared to their rescue.
That explained it.
One second, he was standing in front of the cave, the next, he was striding towards Tony and drawing him into a bone crushing hug.
'Never do that to me again,' Artemis said, his voice fierce, too much emotion packed into six words. It was plea, a request, a promise that would inevitably be broken.
'Wasn't planning on it,' Tony shot back, not looking as if he was going to let go of Artemis anytime soon. 'I knew you would come… just in case… was building a suit,' his words muffled.
'You're still going to build it, aren't you?' Artemis said, with a resigned and long suffering sigh, though it still couldn't hide the same impossible fondness that he had heard when Tony was talking about Artemis.
Best friends, indeed.
'I'm not taking him back to America,' Artemis said, his voice firm brokering no argument.
'Pepper,' Artemis's voice softened, taking off the edge of what was to follow. 'With all due respect, I don't think it's either safe or good for his mental health to go through thousands of press conferences, most of them who'll probably ask about Stane and his company.'
Pepper sighed through the phone, but he could hear her acknowledging his point. 'I can call a press conference. Tell them Tony's recovering.'
'How much time can you buy us?'
'9… 10 days?'
' Thank you,' Artemis said, his voice deep and edged with gratitude.
'On one condition,' Pepper hesitated, 'I get visitation rights?'
'I'm sure Tony wouldn't mind. He's still coming to terms with the fact that he has friends,' his voice was soft, taking the sting out of his own words.
'Will that be all, Mr. Fowl?' He could hear the gratitude in her words.
'That will be all, Miss Potts.'
'You're so gone for him, it's not even funny,' Foaly said, who had been conversing with Holly quietly in the background.
'I have no idea what you're talking about,' he replied, voice icy.
'Of course you don't,' Foaly retorted before thankfully dropping the subject. It appeared that he did have something that resembled tact after all. 'We were talking about Holly performing a scan on his body.'
It was in that moment that Tony appeared by their side, looking tired and haggard, yet somehow relaxed and well rested.
'You guys talking about me?' He joked, though it lacked his usual warmth.
'Tony…' Holly said, her look of someone approaching a wild animal. 'You know we have to scan you.'
'But I'm fine!' He retorted. 'I built a goddamn arc reactor out of a few scraps and I'm still intact! That counts for something.'
'You have a fucking hole in your chest, Tony,' Artemis snapped.
'Thank you so much for rubbing it in,' Tony snapped back. 'Maybe if you were here a few days earlier, this would never have happened, huh?'
Artemis jerked back as if he was slapped. Tony's look of mutiny was replaced with guilt, the others watching this With various degrees of concern.
'You would think,' Artemis said, his voice taking on the cold edge that he usually adopted when trying to conceal the hurt he was feeling. 'That my best friend would be more understanding of the position I was in -'
Tony couldn't seem to keep his mouth shut, as usual: 'Why does that have to do with anything-'
'Do you know how worried I was for you?' Artemis said, fuming. 'That my best friend was kidnapped and was going to be presumed dead any moment?'
Holly was genuinely afraid that his mouth would come unhinged at the way it clenched around the words, 'best friend.'
'Of course I know!' Tony shouted back. 'You were literally dead for six months, so don't you dare try to lecture me on that, Artemis motherfucking Fowl-'
'What's going on here?' Came Angeline Fowl's voice from the door. She took in the scene around: Holly on the sofa, Foaly on the hologram, all watching the tense argument between Artemis and Tony, shouting at each other, looking as if they as if they were a step away from either punching or fucking each other.
Angeline didn't seem impressed either, if her thunderous expression was anything to go by. Artemis and Tony's faces had lost most of their rage, replaced with a look of shame that left them unable to look at each other or Angeline. Holly couldn't blame them.
Angeline Fowl was capable of making anyone cover in rage, mid 20s in age or no.
'M-mother,' Artemis stammered. 'We can explain…'
Angeline's face softened. 'I don't think there's any explaining to be done, Artemis. I'm pretty sure the entire manor could hear you and Tony's argument, at this point.'
Angeline intervened almost as soon as Tony opened his mouth. 'Tony,' she said, placing a hand on his shoulder magnanimously. 'Why don't we go outside and talk for a bit?' She glared at Artemis, who had the sense to clear before nodding, indicating he won't interfere.
The door shut behind them with a resounding click at the same time as Artemis sank down into his chair.
'Not a word, Holly.' He said tiredly. Holly knew better. She always knew better.
Foaly, however, had no such misgivings.
'Boy, could I cut the sexual tension during that argument with a knife,' he said, gleefully. 'With a well-sharpened one, at that.'
If looks could kill, Holly was afraid Foaly would be dead by now.
Scratch that. Foaly would have been slowly tortured and then left to die, by now. He must have seen the same expression on Artemis's face since he took one look at him, gulped, and disconnected; the one sensible thing he had done all day.
Holly sighed. She had truly - foolishly - thought she'd have left behind all Artemis Fowl the Second drama once he was done being a teenager.
God damn her for getting invested.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
Tony sighed. His talk with Angeline had managed to ease up some of the anger he had felt, though he could feel the restlessness and the urge to build something still on the surface. Yet, his anger had managed to melt and was instead replaced with a sense of guilt at how he'd snapped at Artemis.
Angeline, god bless her, had managed to calm him down enough to for her to explain Artemis's single minded determination to find him, consequences be damned. All in all, it had left him feeling guilty and uncomfortable, though he knew Angeline was being gentle with him due to his reservations towards people tampering with his body, especially after what had happened in Afghanistan.
If that still left him feeling guilty.
His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on his door. He went up to absently open it, thoughts on how to make up to Artemis on his mind.
To say he was surprised to find Artemis himself at the door, clad in a pair of sweatpants and looking unfairly attractive, might have been an understatement. No-one should be able to look that sinful in sweatpants and a button up shirt, and Artemis wasn't even trying.
'I came to… apologize,' he said without preamble, and Tony had to stop himself from gasping in shock. Artemis never apologized that easily. Tony remembered one memorable occasion when Artemis had hurt Tony with a well placed insult and had grovelled for weeks, yet not uttering the words 'sorry,' at all.
'I shouldn't have pushed you to do a scan,' Artemis said, ruefully. 'I was invested in your wellbeing, yes, but that doesn't mean I had to make all your decisions for you.'
It was all Tony could do to not pull his best friend into a hug.
Okay, fuck that, he was definitely going to pull his best friend into a hug. The next thing he knew, Artemis was being manhandled into a very Tony-like hug, getting squished into Tony's bed in the process.
Tony refused to imagine all the other situations he had imagined with Artemis in his bed. Wishful thinking, and all that.
'I'm sorry too,' Tony admitted. 'All that shit was completely uncalled for and I was being a huge asshole, that really didn't take any of your feelings into consideration...'
'As always then,' Arty replied, and Tony would have taken that as an insult if it weren't for the breathtaking smile that accompanied it; not his classic, vampire, I'm-going-to-watch-your-business-burn-with-you-along-with-it smile, but a genuine smile that he only reserved for certain people.
Tony couldn't help but feel privileged every time he came across that smile.
'As always,' Tony agreed easily. He was glad the subject was set to rest, for now. He didn't want to inform Artemis of what exactly his arc reactor was made out of; Tony knew the genius would figure out the implications of that in an instant. 'So how are the others? I heard you talking to Pepper, and I met Rhodey-bear on the way… what's up with Obie? Tired of managing the company for me?'
He could feel Artemis stiffen beside him at Obie's name. Tony sat up, suddenly feeling much less relaxed as the pieces all clicked back into shape.
Ten Rings. Jericho. The ambush. Obie - Stane's - interest in Tony's tech, his eyes glinting with something that was way more than curiosity.
'No,' he whispered, the taste of betrayal thick in his tongue. 'Not Obie. ' Obie, who had been like a father figure to him, who had always covered for him when he was having a bad day. Obie, who had encouraged him to continually make weapons even when Tony was expressing interest in other areas. Ob - Stane - whose constant interest in Tony's weapons, a light of something in his eyes - greed, an unwelcome voice in his head whispered - which suddenly made sense.
In the worst possible way.
He swallowed past the lump in his throat. 'How?' he croaked out, the room suddenly feeling too restrictive, too much like confinement. Only Artemis's hand on his shoulder kept him steady as he leaned into the touch, taking all the comfort he could.
The urge to invent wanted to claw its way out of his throat, but Tony wanted the information more, taking a kind of masochistic pleasure at hearing the worst of news at the worst of times.
If Artemis noticed, he didn't comment. 'I figured it out,' he responded, brushing Tony's thumb with his own. He was surprisingly a tactile person to those he was close to, and Tony and he had ended up cuddled up in a similar position, in what felt like an entire lifetime ago, though in reality, it was a year at most.
It had been far too long since he had been to Fowl Manor, which was somewhat like a second home to him.
'Stane was the obvious suspect,' Artemis continued, his voice sharp, devoid of emotion. 'Foaly and I hacked into every security feed on the places he frequented, going as far back as two years ago. That was when we found evidence. Video footage, in fact.
'And then I dug a bit deeper, with JARVIS's help, of course. Files can be deleted, but it doesn't mean they aren't irretrievable,' he smiled a sinister smile, lacking the warmth that he had displayed minutes ago. In that moment, Tony was very, very glad that Artemis Fowl wasn't his enemy, feeling a shiver of pleasure crawl up his spine. 'The video footage would have been enough to make him inconsequential. The files were just a nice touch.'
'A lifetime in prison for embezzlement charges and attempted murder, which is nothing less than he deserves.'
'Good,' Tony said. ' Good, ' he repeated to himself, his voice taking on a savage edge in the process. He felt the itching under his skin with renewed force; he needed to invent, lose himself in the rhythm, finally build an improvement to this arc reactor, maybe even develop a new suit.
Artemis gave a frustrated growl beside him. 'Tony,' he said, in his why-do-I-even-put-up-with-you-anymore voice. 'There's a state-of-the-art workshop that I built for you, that even has JARVIS integrated in it. I suggest you use it.'
Tony was pleased enough at this that he practically ran towards the workshop, but not before kissing Artemis's cheek in gratitude.
He didn't see Artemis's flushed cheeks and loss of composure that followed after that bit of affection.
Tony had to admit, the workshop Artemis had made for him couldn't have been better if he'd done designed it himself. It had a simple, minimalistic design; all swooping angles and curves yet with so much space that Tony didn't feel uncomfortable in the least. At the centre of the room was a table reminiscent of the one he had back in his workshop in America; it seemed to be lit from an ethereal blue light at first glance, but which one quickly realized was merely a holographic projection. Tony grinned at the sight, feeling his anxiety abating, just for a minute. 'JARVIS, you here with me?' He called out, voice joyful, eyes alight with wonderment. Not for the first time, Tony wondered what he had done to deserve Artemis Fowl in his life, someone who understood, and still felt the need to make him comfortable as possible. 'Always, sir,' JARVIS replied, some his creator's own joy reflected back in his voice.
His smile, however, abated slightly as he thought of what he was going to do next, just one more thing before he really got to work. No rest for genius, after all , he thought wryly.
'Call Pep, will you?'
'Of course, sir,' JARVIS replied, and Tony couldn't help but smile fondly at his AI. JARVIS was Tony's creation, and he couldn't help but feel proud of what JARVIS had become, knowing that although he was the one who made him, JARVIS had continued to evolve on his own.
'How's my favourite redhead doing today?' He asked, more cheerfully than he felt. If Pepper noticed his lack of cheer - and face it, the only one who knew him better than her was Artemis and Rhodey, so she obviously did - she didn't comment.
Tony was grateful for it, as always.
Pepper smiled at him, something like genuine relief in her eyes as she took him in. 'It looks like staying at Fowl Manor is doing you some good,' she said.
'It's the absolute worst,' Tony replied, no hint of sincerity in his eyes. 'Artemis wouldn't even let me have a cheeseburger and I still have this huge craving for them-'
'I'm sure someone who's been tired, exhausted and in a life or death situation needs more nourishment than a mere cheeseburger,' Pepper commented dryly.
Tony laughed. 'You're right,' he admitted. 'Doesn't mean I'm going to admit it, though.' They exchanged a smile, and it was almost as if it was 5 years ago, where Tony had gotten to relax with his best friends, where none of them were that busy enough to make time for each other, Obie happy enough to encourage it.
At this, he had to hold himself back from a pained grimace. Obie.
'Pepper…' Tony hesitated, unwilling to breach the comfortable silence both had lapsed into. 'You probably guessed that this video call wasn't purely for pleasure.'
'Purely for pleasure.' Oh god. He was turning into Artemis.
'What is it, Tony?' Pepper's eyes had taken on an assessing and calculating look, not unlike a predator. Not for the first time, Tony contemplated on promoting her to someone that was higher than a PA. Maybe President. Or CEO.
He took a deep breath. Then:
'I want to shut down the weapons division of SI.'
He expected resistance. What he got instead was a surprised smile, and the contemplative glance once again. 'I'll call a press conference,' was all she said.
'Wait… You're not going to ask why? Be furious at me for crashing 50% of our stocks?'
'Tony, I would have been pissed at you if you did this to me in a press conference with no prior warning, or on the day that you got rescued,' Pepper replied. 'It's obvious that you've thought this through, and I'm not going to be the one who tells you how to run your own company.'
Tony nearly sagged with relief. ' Thank you,' he whispered raggedly. 'It's just… I've always been shifty with the idea of focusing entirely on weapons manufacturing and after getting kidnapped, I've realized just how many people are affected by such a simple decision… I'm not going to be responsible - even indirectly- for so many deaths any more.' The confession had come unwittingly, but for the first time, Tony felt unburdened, the guilt that he still carried somewhat lessening for a minute.
Pepper was silent for a long time, her eyes filled with compassion. Tony, unable to stand to stand the awkward silence, said the first thing that came into his mind: 'Rhodey's going to be fucking pissed about this.'
'I'll talk to him,' Pepper promised, and well, that was all he could ask.
'Thank you, Ms. Potts,' Tony said, a touch of fondness in his voice.
'You're very welcome, Mr. Stark,' she replied, the very same fondness echoed back at him as she disconnected their video call.
Tony smiled at this familiarity for a moment, before his gaze sharpened.
'Text Foaly and ask if he has a suitable alternative to Palladian, will you?'
'Of course, sir,' JARVIS said, almost sounding approving of Tony. He knew that Foaly would figure out the significance of the Palladium in a second; in fact, it was only a matter of time until Foaly would tell the others.
Tony knew it was the cowards way out, but he simply wasn't up for having a heart to heart with everyone around him, to see the poorly hidden grief and pity on their faces.
Tony didn't know when he had started feeling less than platonic thoughts towards the genius, but being stuck in Afghanistan had made him realize how acutely and painfully he had missed his friends, and Artemis the most of all.
The prospect of losing Artemis had been terrifying, the possibility of never seeing his soft smile too difficult to bare.
It was in that moment that Tony had realized he was well and truly, irrevocably fucked.
He knew he had to tell Artemis of his growing feelings sometime soon, since he knew Artemis, and he owed him the truth, with everything Artemis had done for him in the process.
That didn't mean he wasn't going to put it off until the last minute possible, of course.
I could do in a few years, maybe, he thought nonchalantly.
He was in the middle of constructing his brand new and improved suit - Mark III, name under revision - when he gets a call back from Foaly. The centaur looked unusually serious, an expression that made Tony unconsciously straighten up, paying his full attention to him for the first time.
'I might have found a reasonable alternative to Palladium,' Foaly said, and Tony couldn't allow himself to relax, because he knew an obvious "but" when he heard one. 'But… it's mostly a theory, and speculation of a new kind of element. There's been research done to develop it, but not nearly enough for it to be useful for you-'
'But you want me to develop it anyway,' Tony finished the sentence for him, his mind racing with the implications. If he could rope Artemis into this, well…
Foaly nodded, a smile edging into his face seemingly reluctantly. 'Don't tell Arty-boy I said this, but if there's anyone who could do this, it's you two.'
'Too late, I already recorded it,' Tony quipped. The glare that he got in return was gratifying, to say the least.
'I'll send you the files,' Foaly said abruptly before disconnecting, determined to get the last word in.
'Why didn't you tell me?' Artemis asked, careful to keep the accusation out of his voice. They were both at Tony's workshop, pouring over the research that Foaly had sent towards them, a comfortable silence settling over them as they worked.
A silence that Artemis had broken. Very thoroughly.
Tony tensed and released a short, even breath.
'Tell you what, Artemis?,' Tony replied glibly. 'What I had for breakfast? Oh thank you for asking, but I'm afraid I had nothing but coffee-'
'Tony...' Artemis sighed. 'You know what I mean. And you know I'm proud of you for asking for help instead of keeping it a secret from us and forcing someone else to take advantage of that fact but… I really would have appreciated it if you had told me you were dying personally, and not through Foaly's dubious means.' At that, Artemis smiled humorlessly.
Tony felt a sharp pang of guilt at Artemis's words that refused to go away.
'Fuck, Artemis,' Tony ran a hand through his hair, thoroughly messing up any hopes for hair-that-did-not-look-like-a-trainwreck once and for all. 'It's just… personal. Can we leave it at that?'
Artemis nodded, an expression on his face assuring him that they would revisit this same topic, later. Tony couldn't help but notice the lingering disappointment behind Artemis's eyes and hated to know that he was the one who put it there, that his best friend was hurting because of him.
Damn, this being in love business was fucking hard .
(Another, practical , voice inside of his head told him to tell Artemis, get it over with so his secrets wouldn't blow up in his face.
Unfortunately, Tony rarely, if ever, listened to the practical voice inside his head.
Instead, he forced a smile, and started working.)
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
oh. what a month. ao3 won a Hugo - does that mean i can put hugo award winner in my resume? - i got my a/level results, received a bunch of nice comments for this fic... thank you all so much for reading my fanfic and all your comments genuinely make my day and i appreciate each and everyone of them. Now, onto the story.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tony desperately needed coffee. He and Artemis had been working for over 72 hours on the new element, desperate to uncover it as soon as possible, both acutely aware of the fact that the clock was ticking away; that if they didn't remedy the poison in Tony's bloodstream, he only had two months left to live, at most.
(And 4 weeks at least, but he tried hard not to think about that.)
There was a sharp knocking at the door, and both of them jumped, too absorbed in their own world to take notice of Jarvis's 'Sirs, Ms. Short is at the door,' being repeated for possibly the fifth time, judging by the exasperation in Jarvis's words.
'Artemis and Tony, if you two don't let me enter in this instant, I will knock your doors down, I swear to Frond.'
The ire was obvious in her voice; Artemis and Tony, knowing exactly when to pick their battles (or a healthy regard for Holly's reign and her abrasive nature at following them through; knowing when to pick their battles had never really applied to both Artemis and Tony, after all) did exactly as they were told.
'Holly, I could kiss you!' Tony proclaimed as the sweet, sweet smell of coffee assaulted his senses as Holly entered, her arms loaded with breakfast.
'I'll pass, thanks,' Holly wrinkled her nose, making him laugh slightly. She grinned at Artemis who was busy running some calculations of his own, the droop of his shoulders obvious that he wasn't making any visible progress. There was fake ire in her voice as she said, 'Would have really appreciated a thank you, Arty.'
'Thank you, Holly,' Tony couldn't figure out how he managed to inject so much sarcasm into one sentence; he's always prided himself on his ability to bullshit and annoy his way out of anything, but Artemis always managed to give Tony a run for his money.
Holly wasn't fazed in the least. 'How's making a new element going, Fowl, Stark?' she asked as soon as both of them got their caffeine fix: tea for Artemis - coffee for Tony - the concern coloring her tone as she looked at Tony, taking the sting out of her words.
Well that was the million-dollar question, wasn't it? Tony thought sarcastically to himself.
Artemis caught his eyes - his pale-blue, ice-cold eyes filled with a warmth Tony couldn't name, silently asking for permission. To say what he was going to say. Artemis understood that Tony wouldn't - couldn't - tell Holly what was truly going on.
Sometimes Artemis understood Tony better than himself, and Tony hated and loved him at equal measure due to it.
He nodded at Artemis, a lump in his throat.
'We've tried to synthesize some kind of metal that Foaly wanted us to find, but most of our efforts were in vain. All the metals that we even came close to making were radioactive. ' There was a tightening around Artemis's eyes that belied his frustration and desperation despite his level tone. Holly must have noticed too; she squeezed his shoulder, something understanding in her eyes.
Tony could feel a wave unexpected jealousy hit him, surprising in its intensity, which was ridiculous. The only excuse he could make was that he was currently in the throes of death, he was obviously descending into madness. Yup. No unresolved feelings for his best friend to speak of.
Tony's always been exceedingly good at lying to himself, after all.
'Guess we only have a choice between removing the shrapnel from my chest or leaving me to die then,' Tony said, faux smile firmly in place. Holly and Artemis gave him identical looks of horrified amusement, though it was more approaching horrified, rather than amused, in this case.
Right. Gallows humor didn't work on a near-death situation. Good to know.
'That's effectively the same thing anyway,' Holly's words were blunt yet honest - Tony couldn't help but feel a rush of gratitude for his friend for being honest; even if he knew that himself, it was… nice to hear someone lay it out without belittling him and expecting him to take immediate action.
' Holly, ' Artemis hissed, sounding pained. Holly shrugged, meeting Tony's eyes.
Artemis, realizing that he wasn't about to get an apology - and wasn't that ironic, Artemis was the one who sounded the most affected by hearing of his inevitable death, Artemis, his extremely platonic best friend - simply muttered something under his breath that Tony knew wasn't complimentary.
'Didn't know you had such a mouth on you, Artemis!' Tony said, seemingly unable to stop himself from goading his best friend.
Artemis simply sighed tiredly.
'So what now?' Holly said dejectedly. 'It's not like we can find a doctor who can remove the shrapnel in his heart without killing him. Or at least slowing down time, at least.'
Artemis suddenly sat up, his demeanor radiating excitement. Holly raised an eyebrow at him, her mouth opening in a silent 'oh' as she very obviously realized the meaning of Artemis's sudden excitement.
leaving tony a bit confused, irritated and more than a little bit jealous. he knew there were shared experiences and history between them, and tony only came after -
well, that was a thought for another day.
He was interrupted from his thoughts as he heard Artemissay, 'Holly, I could kiss you!' an eerie echo of what Tony had said minutes before. Except it wasn't funny this time, not if you asked the sick feeling in Tony's gut what it felt, at least.
Holly's automatic, 'Been there, done that, and never liked it much, Fowl,' didn't help matters much, either.
Before Tony could voice anything that was going through his head - something along the lines of whatthefuckishappeningArtemisyounevertoldme that - when Holly, likely seeing the expression on his face, interrupted.
'I think,' she said. 'It's time we talked to No 1.'