The first impression that Spencer had had of Pepper Potts hadn't been much. There hadn't been time. Too much else had been going on and he'd been too focused on his own issues to do more than give her a perfunctory look when he'd come to Tony's suite. Then he'd found out, well… things had changed after that. He'd barely paid attention to the people he did know. He hadn't really spared any time to think about her.
The second time he met her, the impression he got of her was capable and smart, followed quickly by dangerous.
After Spencer and Tony's morning talk, the inventor had given him a day. One day to lay around, to sort of hide out in Tony's suite. He didn't have to see anyone but Peter or Tony – or FRIDAY – and Tony refused to talk about any of their future plans. He just told Spencer to let him worry about it and then called for the next episode of their show to be put on. Doctor Who, specifically, because Tony enjoyed it, Spencer loved it, and Spencer was also enjoying finding the difference between the series he knew and this one. Like the fact that the sixth Doctor was a woman here.
Peter declared them both "giant nerds" and then proceeded to steal Spencer's popcorn. The brat.
One day was all they could afford to give him, though. The next morning he and Tony met up with Pepper in one of the many conference rooms the Compound held and they set about building a plan. She was there waiting for them when Tony led Spencer into the room. The older man had his hand on Spencer's shoulder, a supportive and comforting gesture. As much as Spencer hated to admit to it, to any kind of weakness, really, that touch helped. It kept him grounded and reminded him that he wasn't alone. Plus, it let him feel the steadiness of Tony's emotions even more than normal, and Spencer was surprised just how much that relaxed him.
The two made their way towards the part of the table where Pepper was waiting for them. She sat at the head, once more looking impeccably put together in a navy suit that flattered her figure perfectly. She had one leg crossed over the other and her hands folded to rest on a stack of folders in her lap.
Spencer was kind of grateful when Tony took the chair next to her. It left Spencer free to take the chair next to him, one seat away from Pepper. The little bit of distance helped ease just a tiny bit of Spencer's tension. Not just because he wasn't fond of being close to people he didn't know but because his shields still seemed to be just a bit shaky after everything he'd been through these past few days. He was grateful as he slipped down into the chair at Tony's side, tucking one leg underneath himself.
Pepper smiled at them both. "Good morning, boys."
Grinning, Tony shifted his seat so that his leg brushed against Spencer's, though he kept his eyes on Pepper. "Morning, Pep! Aren't you looking gorgeous today?"
The way she looked at him said clearer than words that she wasn't going to fall for any lines from him. It didn't diminish his grin at all.
Rolling her eyes, Pepper shifted her focus over to Spencer. Though nothing showed on the outside it was easy for him to feel the mirth she felt on the inside.
The mirth didn't last, though. Spencer swore he could almost feel it as Pepper pushed all of that aside and focused on what she'd come here for. Her emotions became a little bit different, shifting into something that was sharper and more focused. Then her eyes were on him and Spencer knew that avoiding all of this was done with. There was going to be no more hiding. It was time to face up to the fact that this was going to be his life now. He needed to keep himself together and focus here, so he could help them plan what needed to be done instead of just leaving it all in the hands of someone else.
Pepper and Tony both saw the way that Spencer straightened himself up. Shoulders back, chin up just a bit, eyes clear and deceptively calm as they watched Pepper. This wasn't the kid who'd stayed curled up in Tony's bed yesterday, who'd shaken and cried at the idea of what Tony was offering him and what it would mean. This wasn't a teenager at all in front of them. Here, in this moment, they got to see the steel that had helped Spencer get through everything he'd lived through. They got to see the man who'd lived the kind of life that not many could even begin to understand and who had somehow made it out the other side without it destroying him.
There was a steadiness to Spencer's voice when he finally spoke that hadn't been present before. One that was reminiscent of how he'd been when he first came to them. "I appreciate you taking the time out of your day to come out here and help us with this, Ms. Potts. I know you're a busy woman."
"It's not a problem, Spencer," she reassured him. "And please, call me Pepper."
He gave a small tip of his head in response to that permission. "Either way, it's appreciated. I understand from Tony that you have a few different plans in mind?"
Pepper nodded at him. With a deep breath, she switched fully to business mode, giving off a strong impression of competence and control that Spencer could definitely respect. "Tony and I have been messaging back and forth about things since the two of you came to your decision and we've got a few different ideas right now. But, before we really get started, I just need to check it all with you and make sure this is really what you want." Seeing the serious, earnest look on her face was hard to bear. She'd already reminded Spencer so much of JJ; this just made it worse. Smart, capable, loyal. There was both affection and intelligence in her eyes as she watched him carefully. "If Tony adopts you, it's going to mean quite the change of lifestyle than it sounds like you're used to. Being Spencer Stark won't always be easy. Privacy is going to be a thing of the past. Everything you say, everything you do, it's going to be right out there for public consumption, and they're going to do everything they can to find the worst possible way to portray it."
"Don't sugarcoat it, Pep." Tony said dryly.
She shot Tony a look that was just as dry as his tone. "I'm not going to lie, Tony. I want to be absolutely sure he understands what he's getting into before we go any further."
There was a shift in Tony's emotions that took Spencer a second to place. Hurt, a hint of old grief, resignation. None of it showed on the outside. His lips quirked up into a smile and he held his hands out, palms up, in a sort of 'be my guest' gesture. The ease with which he did it made it clear just how much practice he had at it.
Spencer didn't think about his actions before he reached out to curl his hand around Tony's wrist. The past few days had lowered some of Spencer's barriers where Tony at least was concerned. It didn't seem strange to Spencer to reach out to him. Especially not after he'd climbed all over the man more than once recently. This touch? It was almost instinctive, as was the calm aura he projected. His eyes stayed on Pepper as he did it, taking note of her surprise and dismissing it, not sure why it was even there. The larger chunk of his attention was focused on his next words. "I'm quite aware of what I'm getting into, ma'am, thank you. I assure you, I wouldn't make a decision like this without thinking of all the possible outcomes."
She didn't back down from his words. He had to admire her just a little for that. "Are you sure? Once we do this, there won't be any backing out for you."
"I feel the benefits far outweigh the downfalls." As if to underscore that, he gave Tony's wrist another gentle squeeze.
The shifting of that wrist under his hand was enough to draw Spencer's attention to it. As he looked down, finally realizing that he'd grabbed on to Tony, he watched as Tony's hand shifted until it twisted in Spencer's grip. Only, instead of pulling away, which Spencer loosened his hold in preparation for, Tony just drew his hand down until he could lace their fingers together.
Pepper watched the two of them carefully. She hadn't missed the touching between them and seemed to find it surprising, though not for Spencer. For Tony. The way she looked at him, the arch to her eyebrow and the twitch to her lips, even how she tilted her head just a bit as if studying them, all of those spoke just as clearly of her surprise and what he read with his empathy. If Spencer had to wager a guess, he would say that she hadn't realized just how committed to this Tony was. Maybe she thought he was just doing this to be polite, or that it was some sort of spontaneous idea of his or something else that Spencer didn't know. But, strange as it may be to think, there was no way that Spencer could deny that Tony cared. This wasn't – it wasn't something he'd decided lightly. Everything he did showed that he was committing to it with everything he had. Committing to Spencer.
After a brief pause, Pepper nodded her head. "All right." Without asking any more questions, she pulled the folders from her lap and brought them up onto the table. "Let's take a look at our options."
Their options, it seemed, were more than Spencer had expected. Or, more varied, at least. The general basis of them wasn't going to change. No matter what they did, Spencer was going to be adopted by Tony and become Spencer Stark. It was just his general backstory that would change.
Because there was no Spencer Reid in this world, nor anyone connected to that name, it was the name they were going to build his identity over. Tony was the one to bring that up and explain it all, like it was no big deal, trying to brush it off by saying "I figured it'd be easier for you to remember your past if we kept some things the same. It'll help you sell it if your Mom still has her same name and such."
Tony acted like it was no big deal for him to do it, but Spencer felt more than a little grateful for it. Being able to have this made him feel like he was able to hold on to at least a little of his actual family. He didn't believe that was accidental.
There were a few other things that they wanted to keep close to the same, too. "We want to make things easy for you to remember," Pepper told him. "That being said, it'd probably be smart to keep some of it as close to your actual information as possible."
Spencer nodded his agreement with that. There were a few basic things that there shouldn't be a problem with him keeping. "My birthday is October 12th. I'm assuming you don't need the year, as that's not exactly relevant anymore, but that's the date."
The hand still holding his – not once had Tony let go of him, even when using his other hand to gesture wildly in the air – gave a squeeze that brought Spencer's eyes over to him. He found the man looking him over speculatively. "Everything we checked out puts you at around fifteen-ish. So, 2000? Ooh," Tony's whole face lit up. "That means you'll be sixteen soon! We'll have to throw you a hell of a sweet sixteen party."
Spencer rolled his eyes even as he gave a faint smile. "I find myself suddenly quite worried."
The grin that Tony gave him wasn't exactly reassuring. Spencer didn't have time to worry about it, though. Pepper brought them back on track by pointing out "Bicker later, boys. We need to lay out the past between you two."
Spencer was pleasantly surprised at just how much thought they'd put into this. Pepper and Tony had a whole file prepared for Spencer to glance over. It only too him a moment to skim through it and find all the pertinent details. Now that they had his birthday, that was filled in – October 12th, 2000. It had his height, weight, and a few medical records thrown in that were faked but weren't any big deal to memorize. It was the story itself of his life that was going to take some remembering.
According to the file, Tony had met Diana almost sixteen years ago. Tony seemed to be going with the easiest and most basic of stories, claiming that there'd been some social gathering where they'd met, had a one night stand, and moved on from each other. It kept from having to lie too much on Tony's part. But the story of Diana and Spencer was that of a single mom raising her son the best that she could. In some ways, that really wasn't too far off the mark. Hell, FRIDAY had even made up some mock-records for Spencer to have been homeschooled by Diana for a few years, plus some random traveling through the western states – with time spent in Las Vegas – before they had medical records of Diana getting sick. After that point, Spencer was listed as a resident of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters where he'd stayed, right until the moment Diana passed just shy of a month ago and temporary guardianship was granted to Charles.
"It'll be simple to tell people that maybe Diana and I talked off and on over the years, just letters or whatever here and there, and that I had a general idea that you might be mine but she didn't want me in your life." Tony fiddled with Spencer's fingers as he explained this, projecting a calm and confidence that helped make this just a tiny bit easier. "When she passed, Charles got guardianship of you, but I've applied to officially adopt you."
"I'll have the paperwork in as soon as we're done with our meeting," Pepper reassured them.
This was just – it was so much to take in. Even with his quick mind and his ability to process information at a higher speed than most, Spencer felt like he was reeling from it all.
They weren't done yet, either. Pepper was shuffling through papers and already moving on to the next item on whatever list it was she had. "We'll need to discuss school, too. If we're having you listed as being at Xavier's, you'll have to put in some time there. Or we could see about transferring you to a high school closer to here."
That thought brought a frown to Spencer's features. This was one area he hadn't been able to come up with a satisfactory response to. Logically, people would expect someone of his age to go to high school. Yet, when he'd originally been fifteen, he'd already graduated high school, had been at Caltech for two years and had just obtained his first doctorate.
It seemed he didn't have to think of an answer, though. Tony was already one step ahead of him – which, really, he should've expected. "Oh, that's an easy one." He waved his free hand in the air dismissively. "I've already talked to Xavier about faking Spencer as a student there. He's ready to make up the transcripts and everything. Making a degree or two wouldn't be that hard either."
That sounded, well, it sounded pretty good. The last thing that Spencer wanted was to go back to high school.
"A degree or two?" Pepper managed not to look skeptical, though Spencer could feel it. She was too professional for that. "I understand that he's smart…"
"He already had his first doctorate by now the first time around."
That very obviously threw Pepper for a loop. Her emotions showed her surprise, while physically she managed to contain it to a brief widening of her eyes and then a small raise to her eyebrow. When she turned her gaze over towards him, clearly trying to clarify, Spencer shuffled a little in his seat. Having that look turned his way made him feel more like his physical age than anything else had so far. Whatever she felt about what she'd learned, she didn't press, and Spencer was grateful. Instead, she took it in stride and kept on going. "Should we see about keeping you at Xavier's, then, or should we see about giving you a small break so you can look into colleges in the area?"
Spencer shifted in his seat and dropped his gaze down. For a moment he stared at the hand still threaded with his. Seeing it there, feeling it, it still stunned him how relaxed he was. How normal this felt. It was just another little thing that brought home to him how different he'd become in his short time here. He wasn't the person that he'd been even just a few weeks ago. He definitely wasn't the person he'd been the first time he was fifteen. The goals he'd had then – college, and a life after – those weren't the same goals that Spencer had now. Not that he actually had any goals at the moment. But… maybe he had time to think about it?
Still staring at Tony's hand, he let his thumb trace over a faint scar on Tony's thumb. An old burn? "I'm not entirely sure what I want to do about school. I'd like to… take time to think about it before I decide if going back to college is something I want to do." He'd been that route before, and while he loved learning and he'd be more than happy to get a few degrees again, he wasn't sure he wanted the whole college experience again.
"I imagine the mathematics degree was your easiest one for you to get, right?" Tony asked. When Spencer looked up and nodded, Tony nodded back at him. "All right. That'll be the easiest one for us to prepare. We can see about getting you your doctorate in that. Might take a bit of work on your part, though. With that under your belt, plus the whole situation itself, people will find it easy to believe you're gonna take some time to settle in here and find your feet before making any decisions."
There was at least one part of that where Spencer could offer some help. "I'm pretty sure I still remember most of my dissertation if that helps."
Pepper's eyebrows shot up and she blinked a few times in open surprise. Tony, however, just shook his head and laughed. "Of course you do. Nerd."
There was nothing but affection in that term. Spencer let himself smile, just a little. As Tony and Pepper began to debate what would be needed to start getting a lot of these things in order, Spencer got a little more comfortable in his chair and, for the moment, just listened. Later, he'd take the time to process all of this. Not just mentally but emotionally as well. For now, he simply stayed there at Tony's side and watched the man he'd agreed to essentially trust his life to. Somehow, he didn't find himself worried by that.