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The Long Con

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rielrolling: Pepper is BFFs with one of Neal Caffrey’s aliases because ~art luv~ and they meet and hijinks with Extremis and theft.

It was about ten minutes to “we should have left ten minutes ago” at the party, not one of Tony’s parties (nobody ever regretted staying late at Tony’s parties) when Tony spotted Pepper across the room, standing near the chocolate fountain, talking to a man who was far too attractive for Pepper to be talking to.

Tony was well aware of his flaws, including aggressive, potentially perilous possessiveness, but also the fact that he was older than Pepper, had been an ass to her for more or less a decade, and was still not the most stable of business or bed partners. He could rarely afford for her to speak to attractive men without interrupting, because while she was tied to him by the bonds of contractual ownership of his company, he could easily see losing her to someone with hair as perfect as this man’s and a smile as sharklike.

So it was with some relief that, as he crept up to them from behind the chocolate fountain, he heard her say, “You can’t be here and we can’t be talking.”

"Relax," the man said. "Nobody knows who I am. I’m not here to make trouble, Annie. Well, I mean, not for you. You've got a good thing going!"

Annie? Tony mouthed to himself.

"It’s not a good thing, Nick, it’s the real thing,” Pepper said. “Look, I remember how I got here and I’m still grateful to you, but you’re going to blow everything if Tony catches you.”

"Seriously. Tony Stark."

"You have no idea what he’s capable of."

This man, Nick, looked worried. “Is he hurting you, Annie?”

"Wha -- no, Jesus Christ, Nick, I meant -- "

"Hi there," Tony said, because now he was probably going to punch this guy for inferring that Tony Stark hit his girlfriend. Neurotic and possessive, yes; abusive, no.

He offered Nick his hand and used just enough force to bruise. Nick didn’t wince, but his blue eyes widened by just a fraction. "Tony Stark. R&D. Pepp, I’ve been looking all over for you, we should have left ten minutes ago."

"Tell me about it," Pepper said, but she looked unaccountably nervous.

"Who’s our new friend?"

Pepper coughed. “Tony, this is Nick Halden. Nick, Tony Stark. Nick and I are — “

"Friends from college," Nick said.

Tony, at the back of his mind (where he tended to keep Extremis) was busily indexing the name and face of his new frenemy.

"Nick was just telling me he works for the FBI now," Pepper said. "We haven’t seen each other in years."

"Hm," Tony said, because Nick Halden of the perfect blue eyes and cleft chin and crisp black hair was screaming Neal Caffrey, work-release felon, all over his database. Suddenly all he really wanted was to get Pepper away from a felon who clearly knew more than he was letting on. “Nice to meet you. We’re going now.”

He placed a hand on the small of Pepper’s back and gently guided her away, out onto the balcony and around the horrible and ugly hotel to the valet stand.

"Thank you. I know this is weird, and I promise I will come up with a convincing lie to tell you," Pepper said, as Tony skipped the valet and summoned his hybrid with Extremis.

"No lie necessary, beloved," Tony said absently. "Promise me I don’t have to kill him. Or, ask me to kill him, either way."

Pepper glanced at him. “You know something’s up.”

"I do."

"You’re not curious?"

"I trust you."

"Wow, is that a mistake," she murmured, climbing into the back of the car. Tony followed her in, told JARVIS to take them home, and slung an arm around her shoulders.

"So why does a felon now working for the FBI call you Annie?" he asked. "Wait, scratch that. I don’t need to know. I just need to know why he thinks I hit you and whether he’s going to cause you trouble."

Pepper glanced at him. “He won’t. I don’t trust him, exactly, but he’s not...malicious. He never was.”

"Ex boyfriend?" Tony asked, slinging an arm around her shoulders.

"Ex partner."

"A romantic distinction?"

She sighed. “He...helped me get a job once.”

"Oh?"

"Yeah. Personal assistant to Tony Stark."

"Ah," Tony said. "So i should be sending him some expensive thank-you gift."

Pepper sighed into his shoulder. “He called me Annie because it’s my birth name.”

"I’m pretty sure your birth name is Virginia. Nobody would choose Virginia if they could be something else, would they?"

"Virginia Potts is a very trustworthy name," she said, as he kissed the crown of her head. "The kind of name a man like Tony Stark would find believable. He’d maybe make up a silly nickname for her."

"Well, this sounds like it’s going somewhere interesting."

She toyed with the expensive ring on her hand, the one he’d given her not long before. “Once upon a time there was a grifter named Annie, who thought she could get ahead by scamming a lot of money off a young and vulnerable billionaire named Tony.”

"Aha."

"She got a guy named Nick, who had lots of connections, to help her pass his extensive background checks."

"And we all know Tony Stark is a sucker for a redhead in five-inch heels," Tony said.

"Well, we do now," she replied with a smile. "Annie became his personal assistant. All she needed was access to his accounts. You know rich men give their assistants much more power than they should. Within a year she had everything she needed to take him for millions he’d never even miss, load up his art collection into a plane, and fly to a sandy, sunny country with no extradition laws. She would have been set up for life."

He hummed to himself, relaxing. “What happened?”

Pepper sighed. “He bought her a birthday present. The one time, EVER, he remembered her birthday.”

"Oh, hey, I totally remember that," Tony said, sitting up straight. "I was really proud of myself, Pepp, like, do you know how -- yes, of course you know how rare it is," he said, deflating slightly as she gave him a look. "What, uh, did I, did he, get her?"

"Tony bought Pepper, who was born Annie Smith, a Klee painting," she said. "Just a small one. One of his most beautiful. It was a ridiculous gift for a PA, but it was so beautiful. And Pepper realized that she liked her painting, and her boss, and her job, and that if she had to spend the rest of her life on a sandy beach doing nothing, she’d be miserable."

"So she stayed?"

Pepper smiled. “She put back all the money, and all the paintings, and she stayed. And her very long con paid off, because not only did she end up running his company, but he fell in love with her. And he definitely forgave her for being a criminal with designs on his money,” she added, half-defiant, half-hopeful.

"Forgive? Jesus, Pepp, this is such a turn-on, like, even if this was just some weird roleplay you set up. But oh my God, you really were out to rob me, this is fantastic. Saved by Paul Klee. I made you CEO." Tony cracked up laughing, falling back in his seat. Pepper’s smile eased from tense to pleased. "I love you, you lying liar."

"Mutual, you gullible mark," she replied.


Anonymous: Tony, I don't think that bruising Neal's hand will convince him you're not abusive.
copperbadge: Logic has no place in Tony’s relationships. It’s better if people are made aware of this immediately on meeting him.

ninjatwins: Oh. My. God. Tony WOULD be turned on by this.
copperbadge: One of the many beautiful things about Pepper is that she’s that rare kind of person where jaded, experienced Tony Stark actually discovers NEW turn ons around her. How did he not know he had a kink for grifters? He does now!

rielrolling: I know Tony probably gave her a nice textile-y Klee painting but I like to think he gave her this

that eyebrow tho

copperbadge: HAHAHAHAH okay I’m going to admit I did minimal research and I know next to nothing about Klee, which I should really remedy. But that one came a close second to the one I fell in love with, which I hope is small because it’s the one I really want him to have given her.