Title: Turned to Steel
Fandom: Iron Man & Vampire Diaries
Ship: Caroline/Stefan as Tonya Stark/Virgil "Pepper" Potts
Summary: An Iron Man/Vampire Diaries Genderswap AU Fic featuring Caroline Fobres as Tonya Stark and Stefan Salvatore as Virgil "Pepper" Potts. Accompanied by Bonnie Bennett as Jamie "Rhodey" Rachel Rhodes, and Isobel Fleming as Obelia Stane.
A/N: Thank you to snarkystarky for beta-ing this for me!
PART ONE - The Girl in the Papers
She was used to seeing herself in the papers. Most often in the tabloids with her latest boy toy, detailing her latest drunken escapade. That is, in between the newsreels detailing the latest innovative Stark invention, followed by photos of her face plastered across WIRE and FORBES magazines, hailing her the "Da Vinci of our time". It seemed like the media were never quite sure whether they could pin her as merely a bored, reckless heiress or just an eccentric genius.
She recalled reading a human interest piece on her once. One line had read, "Antoinette Stark, fondly called Tonya by those close to her, is the product of vast wealth and misfortune." The article went on to describe how the loss of her mother, the great Holly Stark, and her father had led to depression and anxiety which catalyzed into a type of "elevated teenage rebellion", with her wild behavior enabled by the great fortune at her disposal. The author stated that it was "typical of the orphan heirs of great estates, burdened by society's expectations and their family's legacies, to act out." As if Tonya was typical.
She had laughed and told Pepper, her enduring assistant of four years, to call the journalist and arrange a meeting. The guy turned out to be a complete bore and kept psychoanalyzing her the entire evening. She slept with him anyways. The next day she bought the newspaper company he worked at and had him fired. When he screamed at her as she handed him the pink slip she merely smiled and said she was just "acting out".
Pepper had shaken his head at her in disapproval once security escorted him out of the building, she merely shrugged.
"I'm doing him a favor. The company was failing. He was going to get fired anyways. He'll be getting a quite generous severance package from Stark Industries. More than he would've gotten had I not bought them out."
"I know," Pepper had responded. "I'm just curious why you're pretending it's a personal vendetta. This acquisition has been in the making for months. We had the contracts signed nearly two weeks before you met with him."
Pepper had on a knowing look which annoyed her. Four years ago he had walked through her office door, fresh out of Harvard Business School. But even then as a fresh graduate, barely in his twenties, there was always a cool, level of calm to Pepper.
She had told everyone that she didn't need an assistant, that she could handle it. She was a genius, after all. Humility had never been her strong suit. And then she saw him and wow.
The name on his resume had read: Virgil Potts, but with a face and body that put Calvin Klein underwear models to shame – and Tonya had her fair share of underwear models – she had dubbed him Pepper. Because he was just thathot. Actually, she had originally wanted to call him Jalapeno, but he had adamantly objected so she eventually gave in to the slightly less embarrassing moniker.
When she agreed to hire him, she didn't think he'd last. He had been with her now for four years and counting, and she was quite sure she wouldn't be able to tie her shoes without him. He was as essential to her as her right hand, and, considering she was right handed, she desperately needed that hand.
"You don't have to pretend with me, you know," he had said when Tonya refused to answer his question about the journalist.
Even back then she knew he was speaking the truth. For a girl who inherited a multi-billion dollar company at the tender age of seventeen, she had very few people she could trust – three to be precise. And he was one of them.
He had stood by her through all of her antics, stubbornness, recklessness, and never once batted an eye at her ridiculous behavior. He had seen through her Paris Hilton façade and had stayed on despite the numerous times she has purposefully pushed him away. Later, he would be one of the few that trusted her to return when the military Humvee she was in was ambushed and she was taken hostage, thought for dead.
Lieutenant Colonel Jamie "Rhodey" Rachel Rhodes, Tonya's steadfast, straight-laced, and – most of all – loyal best friend, had led the rescue team that brought her back from the brink of death on that strip of desert hell, but it was Pepper who waited. Pepper, who could have easily found another job, a better job, because God knows that Tonya was by far not the number one boss in the world, and who could have easily been CEO of his own Fortune 500 by now… had stayed.
He stayed and fought off the press, legal teams, and anxious shareholders that wanted to take her company. And he was one of the first faces she saw, waiting for her at the helicopter hangar along, eyes rimmed red and arms opened, when she finally did return. For that, she was eternally grateful.
Aside from Pepper and Rhodey there was Obelia Stane, her mother's closest friend and her guardian. At least until her twenty-first birthday, anyway, which was rapidly approaching.
Her upcoming birth anniversary would mark a major transition for Stark Industries. She would be no longer under Obelia's careful guidance and the company's reins would finally fall completely into her possession. The thought was more than daunting.
Tonya was used to doing whatever the hell she wanted. So used to playing the role of a careless party girl that she could no longer tell whether or not she was even acting anymore. Or perhaps somehow in trying to make everyone discredit her to lessen the burden of the Stark name, she had begun to discredit herself. Nonetheless, she didn't look too forward to her big Two-Oh.
Despite what Pepper may have thought, a part of her had been vindictive when she fired the journalist. She had not wanted to admit that, as pseudo-intellectual as he was, the man had hit a little too close to home in his little exposé. She didn't like to think strangers could have her pegged so easily. As if she was just some normal girl falling into the teen stereotype. She was not a normal girl. Normal girls didn't go to MIT at the age of fifteen, graduate at the top of their class, and they don't have to run billion dollar companies. Their names weren't Tonya Stark.
And they also didn't moonlight as superheroes.
Snapping out of her reverie, Tonya glanced up at the wide-screen projection to her left that was broadcasting the latest news segment on the mysterious "Iron Woman", an armored vigilante that has recently been intervening on U.S. missions against war criminals and terrorists despite the chagrin of the U.S. military.
Barely twenty four hours after her return she had begun to receive weekly untraceable emails with encrypted images, data, and mission briefs from some anonymous entity. Amongst the confidential material were photos that suggested Stark Industries had been double dealing weapons with some very unsavory individuals, a suspicion that Tonya had ever since she had come back from the Middle East.
At first she'd been skeptical, thinking it was an elaborate hoax, but when she looked into the details of the files she had been sent, they all checked out. She initially suspected that it was Rhodey who was sending her the files, but after dropping some subtle hints, it seemed like the Lieutenant Colonel had no idea what she was talking about. Either that or Rhodey was playing this one extremely close to the chest.
Nonetheless, somebody was privy to the goings-on of her company – of the entire country it seemed and perhaps even the world– even better than any organized first world nation's government did. And whoever that person, or persons, was, they were quite capable of getting into the nooks and crannies of Tonya's high security confidential database. A feat which had Tonya highly impressed.
Despite her efforts, nothing Tonya had done had been able to unmask the sender's identity, and the mystery consumed her even as she took on the missions she received. For now, she'd play their little game – at least until she could figure out her next move. It was as good a pastime as any, and she liked thinking the missions she was doing would somehow counteract the little bits of evil she'd enabled in the world with Stark technology. She knew that in the long run nothing she do would completely relieve her of the debt she owed to the world for contributing to so much of its misery, but every little bit counted. At least she hoped so.
Turning her attention back to the television projection, she caught the mention of her favorite Lieutenant Colonel.
"While Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Rhodes refused to comment on the Iron Woman incidents, we have Christian Everhart reporting with the opinions of several other ranking officers on this bizarre figure," the news anchor proclaimed.
The image on the screen switched over to that of an attractive blonde, accompanied by a military officer.
"What do you think of these people calling Iron Woman a hero?" the reporter asked.
"I think it's ridiculous. And completely foolish. Iron Woman is nota hero. What this individual is doing is not only in direct violations of the U.S. foreign policy, but also endangering-"
The interview was unceremoniously cut off, and Tonya whipped around to see Pepper coming down the stairwell into her workshop.
"Hey, I was watching that! They were about to get to the good part where they call Iron Woman a lunatic with deranged heroic delusions and violent tendencies."
Pepper ignored her protests.
"I've been trying to reach you all day. Why haven't you answered any my calls?"
"I was busy," she quipped, turning her attention back to her worktable. It was currently scattered with various mechanical parts and pieces that were beyond Pepper's average human comprehension. Well, to be honest calling Pepper "average" would be an overestimation of a majority of the general population's intelligence, considering that the man graduated summa cum laude from Harvard. But still, his familiarity of the workings of quantum mechanics and the like paled in comparison to Tonya's natural talent.
He sighed and walked over to her. His arms were laden with various forms of paperwork, a pen tucked behind one ear.
"Well, I'm going to need your signature on these military contracts."
"I already told you. We're done with the military. I'm not signing any more contracts with them."
"You're not serious, Tonya."
She put down the wires she was tinkering with and glanced up at him.
"I'm as serious as a heart attack."
She tapped the arc reactor in her chest, slightly illuminating through her white t-shirt, for emphasis. Pepper did not look amused. He looked pained, if anything, and she noticed he was careful not to stare at her chest. If she didn't know about his aversion to the topic of her condition, she might have felt offended. She was vain enough to know that she was pretty, maybe even beautiful if she put in the effort, but the truth was that Pepper's strange behavior had nothing to do with her vanity. He was still coming to terms with the changes after her homecoming.
It had been less than a month since they found her barely alive in the middle of the Syrian Desert. She still had nightmares about her time in the cave, about Yinsen, her co-hostage and her savior. She could still hear the echoes of screams and explosions when she closed her eyes. Blood was on her hands. She was the one that contributed to all of this pain and suffering. She had to make amends, and she had to start now.
"This isn't a joking matter. Do you know how chaotic it's been since your little stunt at the press conference? I'm still dealing with the fallout."
"Well that's what I have you for. To deal with that stuff," she said, going back to her tinkering. "Besides isn't all this 'Iron Woman' business taking the heat off of Stark Industries?"
"Hardly," Pepper drawled. "If anything I think it just further pressures the military, who, in turn, is pressuring us. Besides, I'm sure this Iron Woman is giving Rhodey a real hard time."
"So you think she's what they say? A deranged lunatic?"
"I didn't say that."
"What do you mean then?"
"Can we just get back to business please?"
Tonya turned away from him, already preoccupied with the illuminating graphs and data suspended in the air as projected by J.A.R.V.I.S., the house's resident A.I. and internal systems manager.
"I told you. I'm done talking about anything to do with weapons or the military."
Pepper pressed his thumb and forefinger to the bridge of his nose and exhaled.
"Okay, well, can you please just at least take a look at your schedule for tomorrow?"
"Sure, sure thing. But first I need your help with a little something."
She didn't wait to hear him say yes before she walked over to the reclining chair in the center of her work room and proceeded to take off her shirt.
"What are you doing?"
There was a hint of panic in Pepper's voice that amused her. When she turned to look at him, she noticed that his cheeks were slightly pink.
"Are you blushing, Mr. Potts?" she teased. "Don't worry. I have a tank top underneath."
And indeed she did, though there was a hole cut out at the center where the arc reactor poked through. She settled herself into the chair and began to attach various wires to herself.
"Come over here," she called to him from her reclining position. "Let me see your hands."
He gave her a puzzled look, but he was used to her bizarre commands and obediently raised his hands up for her inspection.
"Yes, good. Very steady looking hands. You could've been a surgeon you know. Or maybe a pianist."
"I hate blood."
"Really? Wouldn't have pegged you for someone who'd get queasy at the sight of a bit of blood."
"I don't get queasy. I just don't like it."
"I prefer the violin."
"Really? You play? How did I not know that? J.A.R.V.I.S., remind me to read those files on Pepper more thoroughly."
"Tonya, is there a point to this?" Pepper sighed, impatience lacing his tone.
"Oh yes. I'm going to need you…" She reached for the arc reactor in her chest with on hand, twisting it like she would twist a cap to a jar until it came loose and continued, "to help me change this thing out."
With a swift gesture she yanked out the reactor, leaving a gaping hole in her chest. Pepper cautiously took the old reactor from her as Dummy handed her the new one.
"And replace it with this baby."
She held up the new reactor with pride. Newly upgraded, shiny, and beautiful.
"Well, what do I need to do?" Pepper asked.
"I need you to reach inside and grab that little copper wire at the bottom and bring it out without touching the sides. Like a game of Operation," she said cheerily.
"Is this safe?"
"Of course it is!" She was a tad too enthusiastic to be convincing. "Just remember, don't let it touch the sides."
Pepper gave her an exasperated look, but he brought his hand up and poised it above the hole in Tonya's chest. Just before he was about to reach in he stopped and shook his head.
"No, I can't. A doctor or something should do this. I'm not qualified," he said, a furrow creasing his brows.
"Sure, you are. You're the most capable person I know. You can do anything, Pepper."
Pepper, in return, gave her a pointed look.
"Please," she urged. "I don't have anyone else. I… I only have you."
The hard lines on Pepper's usually stern expression softened and he brought his hand over her chest once more.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," he muttered under his breath as he reached in, feeling for the copper wire. She could tell by the grimace on his face that he was in deep enough to touch the inorganic plasmic discharge.
"It's okay. You're doing great. After you pull out the wire and then you're going to attach it to that stick thingy part on the new reactor."
"The stick thingy part," Pepper repeated. "I thought you were supposed to be a genius."
Tonya stuck her tongue out at him.
Pepper's teasing subsided, and once more he took on a look of concentration. He was careful and precise in following her instructions, and before long Tonya had a new reactor in place of the old.
"There. Wasn't so hard was it?"
Pepper ran a hand through his hair, brushing the strands back away from his face. Tonya took a moment to appreciate the sight of him with his tie loosened and a smudge of oil smearing his right cheek.
"What do you want me to do with this?" he asked her, gesturing at the old arc reactor.
"That? Destroy it. Incinerate it," she answered nonchalantly.
"You don't want to keep it?"
She arched an eyebrow at him.
"Pepper, I've been called many things. Nostalgic is not one of them."
Pepper looked like he was going to retort to that, but at the last moment changed his mind and turned away, taking the old reactor with him.
"Hey, Pepper?" Tonya called after him.
He turned enough to look at her over his shoulder.
He inclined his head slightly, a smile gracing his lips.
"You're welcome, Miss Stark."
She watched as his figure mounted the steps and disappeared out of view.
"Tonya, your heart rate is increasing. Perhaps there is a bug in the new reactor. Do you want me to run a mechanical diagnostic?" the electronic voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. inquired.
"No need, J.A.R.V.I.S. It's not a mechanical problem," she replied and turned back to the task of putting together what looked to be a robotic arm.
Days in the workshop consumed her. After her last military mission interception, she had found several new bugs in the suit to work out. She had almost gotten blown to kingdom come when the air force targeted her as a hostile bogey upon her returning to U.S. airways. It was only by confessing to Rhodey that she was the one in the suit that the Lieutenant Colonel managed to pull some strings and somehow convince air control to not shoot her down. The incident still resulted in one demolished jet and a very shaken up flying officer who had to eject before the plane went up in flames. Rhodey kept a close lid on the entire thing and after much convincing promised to not speak of Tonya's after school activities to Obelia or Pepper. But she didn't agree do so happily. Needless to say, Tonya owed Rhodey a mighty big Christmas present this year.
In retrospect, holing up in her workshop and only venturing out either to test drive new suit upgrades or to intervene on missions while Stark Industries continued to be pummeled by the press was not such a great idea. It also didn't help that she'd been dodging all of Obelia's phone calls.
She shouldn't have been surprised when her surrogate mother showed up in her living room.
"Obelia, what are you doing here?" she said, as she plastered on a smile for the elder woman's benefit.
"You've been ignoring my phone calls, Tonya."
"I was not. I had Pepper relay all of my messages back to you."
Obelia turned to Pepper, and the two shared knowing looks.
"Look, as much as I love Pepper, I wanted to talk to you."
"Well, I'm here," Tonya said, her forced smile widened for effect.
The last thing she needed was Obelia getting on her case about the whole Iron Woman business as well as Stark Industry business.
"Uh oh. Is that pizza?" She inquired after noticing the boxes on her coffee table. "This must be serious."
"Why haven't you signed the military contracts, Tonya?"
"I already told you and Pepper a million times." Even without looking, Tonya could tell that Pepper had stiffened at the question. "I'm not signing anymore military contracts. I was serious during that press conference. I am shutting down the weapons manufacturing division of Stark Industries, for good."
Just as Tonya was reaching for a slice of pizza, Obelia crossed the room in three quick strides and slammed shut the box. Tonya was lucky to have saved her fingers.
"You want to shut down the weapons manufacturing division of a weapons manufacturing company?" Obelia added unnecessary emphasis on the last part of her sentence, making Tonya cringe. "I've been humoring you for the past week as our stocks plummeted and the shareholders clamored for your head on a platter!"
Taking her by the shoulders, Obelia shook her.
"We are iron mongers, Tonya. We make weapons."
"Well, we can start making something else."
"Like what? Baby bottles?"
Silence followed, and slowly Obelia's gaze fell to the glowing light in the middle of Tonya's chest. She had been in the workshop the entire day, not bothering to put on more than a simple tank top, so the reactor shone brightly through the thin cloth.
"Tell me about the arc reactor technology," Obelia demanded.
"It's not ready yet," Tonya replied. She didn't know why, but she felt oddly protective over the tech that she and Yinsen cultivated during those long, endless days in the cave.
"Pepper and I are flying out to New York this Saturday for the annual Fireman's Ball. Just give me a little something to feed to the press, Tonya." Tonya's lack of a response caused Obelia to press harder. "Just some preliminary specs to fend off the sharks. That's all I'm asking of you."
It was with reluctance that Tonya inclined her head in a small nod. Her compliance was rewarded with a bright grin from Obelia. The older woman raised her hand up towards Tonya's face to brush a stray strand of hair behind her ear. It was an extremely maternal gesture, and for a moment Tonya felt a pang of guilt for putting Obelia in the line of fire with the shareholders and the press.
"It's almost your birthday, you know."
Again Tonya nodded.
"Now is not the time to rebel, Tonya. We want the board to be confident in you taking over the company. It's hard enough being a woman in this industry; it's going to be even harder for you to show them that you're not just a kid genius. That you can be a leader as well."
Obelia pulled her into a hug. The perfume of the older woman stung Tonya's nose and made her want to sneeze.
"I expect the data on the reactor on my desk tomorrow morning."
And with that Obelia released her, turned on her Louboutin heels, and disappeared through the front door.
In hindsight, Tonya should have realized then that something felt wrong when a hug from Obelia felt more suffocating than it did comforting. But she didn't. And so she merely went back into her workshop and let all feelings of doubt get pushed to the back of her brain while she focused on soldering metal.
Saturday rolled around sooner than she expected, and Tonya found herself bored, twirling around on her chair in an empty house. She had finished upgrading the suit and was tired of tuning up cars.
"J.A.R.V.I.S., turn on the TV."
Obediently, a screen was projected against the white wall.
"The Fireman's Ball is now underway. Spotted is Obelia Stane of Stark Industries, but nowhere in sight is young genius billionaire, Tonya Stark," the reporter announced.
Her name caught Tonya's attention, and she stopped mid-spin on her chair to watch the procession of New York dignitaries and other very important people down the red carpet while the news anchor narrated.
"Miss Stark has just recently come back from a trialing hostage situation and was found by military troops in the middle of the Syrian Desert. Since then the young billionaire spearhead of Stark Industries has made the startling announcement that her company will no longer be manufacturing weapons, and all Stark contracts with the military has since been frozen. Stark stocks have been plummeting ever since, and the company representatives have yet to comment further on the future of the company. Allegedly suffering from post-traumatic stress, Tonya has scarcely been seen in public."
Images of the party flashed across the screen, interlaced with images of herself and a short clip of her press conference, while a voiceover continued to make commentary.
"With shareholders' discontentment apparent and Tonya's own twenty-first birthday, the date of which marks her transition as the company's CEO, looming just around the corner, what holds for Stark Industries' future seems uncertain," the anchor concludes. "One thing seems for sure; I doubt we'll be seeing Tonya Stark anywhere near the Fireman's Ball tonight."
With the words of the reporter echoing in her head, Tonya took the prediction as a challenge.
"J.A.R.V.I.S., don't you think we should do a bit of test driving for our little project? Say... to New York?"
"Miss, I think it might be a bit premature to-"
"It's called trial and error," she drawled. "We won't know if it works if we don't try it out."
The A.I. paused as if in reluctance before responding with, "As you wish, miss."
Tonya's lips curled up in a cat-ate-the-canary fashion.