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Into the Black

Chapter Text

When the invaders arrive, the whole world is turned upside down in an instant.  

Peter doesn’t misread the gravity of the situation; he already is expecting Tony’s call when it comes. He has seen the footage, just like everyone else. The new threat materializes overnight, and it comes with a vengeance. 

Two hours is all it takes for the reports to start rolling in. Attacks, robberies, acts of violence within crowds; all of it is accompanied by gritty footage showing the strange nature of the threats. 

Even though the attacks take place all over the world-- New York City, Chicago, London, Dublin, Bejing, Ho Chi Minh City, Madrid, and more-- the perpetrators share a few jarring characteristics. They all appear just like normal humans, there are almost never more than three, and the attacks are always conducted without any physical activity. Instead, reality bends to the will of the invaders, and Peter only has to watch a few of the short video snippets to know what is behind the attacks. 

Telepathy. 

They create chaos. Crimes are committed after security cameras are shattered by what seems to be nothing at all, and witnesses are injured by flying debris that obscures their view of the attackers. Homes are broken into, crowds are injured by the panic surrounding terror attacks, and personal records and belongings are broken and destroyed. 

Panic ensues as people struggle to protect themselves and their belongings, and there are riots in grocery stores and bodegas as people give in to hysteria and fight over necessities such as purified water. Peter is responding to one of these threats at Delmar’s, separating a screaming pair of middle-aged men, when the call comes in over his headset. 

“Peter, you have a call from Tony Stark,” Karen informs him. Her soothing voice provides an almost amusing contrast to the screaming and cursing of the men. Peter is so caught up in the irony that he almost gets clocked in the side of the head with a flying can of preserved green beans. He sends a web in the direction of the projectile, not bothering to make sure it hit its mark. He knows his throw was precise, and this is only confirmed by the sound of a wrist being tethered to the wall. 

“Patch him through, please, Karen,” Peter requests, turning to face the other unruly man. Delmar is currently creeping up behind him with pepper spray, and Peter nods under the mask before shouting, “Hey!” The man looks in his direction, turning his head so Mr. Delmar has a better angle at his face. In an instant, there is a hissing noise, and the guy crumbles to the ground. 

“Hey, kid-- is our connection breaking up?” Even though the normal bravado lingers in Mr. Stark’s voice, Peter can’t miss the unmistakable note of exhaustion. Peter is certain that the man hasn’t slept in days. 

“Nah,” Peter says, quickly, raising a hand in goodbye to Mr. Delmar as he ties the guy’s wrists with zip ties. Peter already called the police upon arriving, but he suspects they are too busy at the moment to show up. It’ll be alright; a wronged Mr. Delmar is probably more frightening than the cops, anyway. “Just things getting a bit heated over here.” 

“Was that a pun?” Stark demands as Peter swings out of the store through a broken window, immediately webbing onto an unlit streetlamp and swinging off into the night. “We’ve talked about the puns, kid. No self-respecting superhuman-” 

“Um… Did you have a reason for calling, Mr. Stark?” Peter redirects. 

For a moment, there is silence on the other end of the line. Peter winces as he realizes that his mentor might have been clinging to a last bit of normalcy when he initiated the banter. Before he can apologize, however, Stark has already continued on. 

“I think you know the reason.” Peter lets out a long exhale as Tony continues. “These bast- bad guys are getting worse, and we need to figure out where they’re from. I’ve been in touch with Fury, and he confirmed that they’re from off-planet, but we don’t know anything other than that.” 

“Things must be pretty bad if you’re talking with Mr. Fury,” Peter comments, hoping to offer up a little amusement for the fatigued man on the other end of the line. 

“Yeah, well. Desperate times or… Something.” Peter winces as he lands on his feet atop an apartment complex, continuing to jog and swing from rooftop to rooftop. There is silence for a moment across the line. 

“I need you to come in, kid.” 

“I know.” Peter’s voice is quiet, but it is resolute. “That’s why May is already home, and she’s not expecting me back until this all clears up.” Maybe she isn’t expecting him back at all, but that’s not a thought that he wants to entertain at the moment. 

Peter thinks he might hear Mr. Stark let out a sharp exhale on the other end of the line, but he is speaking again before Peter can think about it. “I’ve got a suite ready for you at the tower. I’ve called everyone on-planet that I can think of, so it’s going to get a little crowded around here.” 

“I can take it,” Peter assures his mentor. Even a few months ago, Peter would have freaked at the thought of getting to see any of the Avengers in person, but the circumstances have changed. “I’m on my way, Mr. Stark. I’ll see you soon.” 

“Okay, Underoos.” For a moment, there is a note of quiet pride in Tony’s voice that manages to almost outweigh the condescending nature of the nickname, but Peter doesn’t have time to dwell on it before Tony hangs up the phone. 

It isn’t until Peter arrives as the compound that he realizes the reality of it: it really is all metallic, green, radioactive hands on deck. 

He takes the subtle route to the tower, even though it takes even more time than it usually would to get there. It’s nighttime, so Peter doesn’t worry too much about being seen as he scales the complex; all the tech there has been wired to recognize him, so he’s not going to be sniped off the building. 

At least, not by any of the robots that Tony built; the new residents of the tower are another matter. 

When Peter drops to the helicopter landing deck, his super-hearing is conscious of the sound of muffled voices from below. His heart skips a beat as he wonders who they might belong to. Peter takes a minute to compose himself and brush any grime off of his deep blue and red suit on the deck before straightening up to walk through the doors to the stairwell. 

“Welcome, Peter,” Karen states through his headset, and Peter grips to her voice to calm the adrenaline racing through his body. “Your heart rate has risen to an unusually high rhythm. Would you like me to dial May Parker?” 

“No, that’s okay, Karen,” Peter murmurs breathlessly as he speeds up the stairs, nearly tripping at the bottom. “Thanks, though.” 

“You’re welcome, Peter,” Karen replies soothingly. He stops before the set of doors that lead from the stairwell into the tower. “Alerting F.R.I.D.A.Y. for entry.” 

There is a momentary pause, and then the doors hiss open, revealing one of the primary laboratories to Peter. The talk continues for a moment before several of the figures standing at the table pause in their discussion, turning to Peter.

Stark does not at first seem to notice the halt in the discussion, but when he does, he looks up from the table where a holographic model of Earth is floating. Peter can see glowing red patches in the hologram, which he assumes correlate with all of the attacks. 

Through the floating model, Peter watches Mr. Stark’s face relax ever-so-slightly. A smile doesn’t break out on his face, exactly, but the lines around his eyes become slightly more visible as his gaze finds Peter. 

“Hey, kid,” Tony greets, and Peter’s face heats up as he realizes that he’s said it in front of all of the others present. “Nice of you to join the party.” 

Peter glances around the room quickly, and he knows the robotic eyes on the suit move to follow his stare. The redhead in the dark suit-- that’s Black Widow, Peter realizes, and he feels his stomach bottom out as the reality of the situation sinks in. A mild-mannered man is beside her, but Peter knows Dr. Bruce Banner when he sees him (perhaps even better than the Hulk; a portrait of Banner adorns the science hallway at Midtown). The archer standing on Black Widow’s other side is Hawkeye, and Peter’s mind immediately races to every video analysis of the hero’s combat he has ever seen. His technique is incredible, and his understanding of physics within the heat of a battle? Iconic. 

In hopes of distracting himself so he doesn’t find himself incapable of speech, Peter snaps his gaze to his mentor, who stands at the center of the lab table in a wrinkled t-shirt. One of the red patches on the hologram is currently positioned over his forehead, creating the illusion of a sniper’s red dot sight on his brow. 

“Um, yeah. Yeah, you… too,” Peter stammers, trying and failing to keep his voice steady. 

“He is just a child,” comes a dismissive voice from across the table. The clipped accent comes from a woman with long, dark hair who is garbed in red, and Peter recognizes her immediately as the Scarlet Witch. 

Before he can think of an adequate defense, a man on the far right of the table speaks up. “We need all the firepower we can get, Wanda.” Peter’s gaze snaps to the tall, statuesque man who defended him, and he nearly loses all ability to form a coherent thought when he realizes it is, in fact, Steve Rogers. 

“The kid’s fine,” Tony hums dismissively, turning back to reposition the map of threats. “Kinda sticky, pretty strong.” 

“U-uh, yeah. Yeah, I... lift buses.” 

Okay, so not exactly his most well-spoken moment. 

The dark-haired man situated by Steve Roger’s side raises an eyebrow at Peter, glancing back to Captain America with an unreadable look in his eye. Peter’s face smarts as he realizes the Winter Soldier is thoroughly unimpressed with him. “Wait until Sam gets a load of this guy,” he comments under his breath. 

“Wait ‘til Sam gets a load of this guy during training,” Tony corrects. “I built that suit myself. It’s a marvel.” 

The man with the metallic arm raises an eyebrow, but he doesn’t continue. Luckily, this gives Peter an opportunity to ask a question. “Training?” It sounds a little more flustered than he intended as he makes his way to stand opposite Tony, but at least it’s an independent clause… Ish. “What do you mean?” 

“A lot of the work that we’re doing is research and analysis, and it takes time,” Banner replies from Mr. Stark’s side, his eyes resting on Peter for a moment. Peter can hardly believe that Dr. Banner is even sparing him a glance, but in a moment he returns to reconfiguring the model. Still, his voice is benign and instructive as he explains. “We take turns in the lab with whoever is needed. Whoever isn’t involved can train with one another and work on meshing their combat styles together.” 

“Peter?” questioned Karen. “Your breathing is shallow. May I walk you through some breathing exercises?” 

“No, no,” Peter stammers, and Banner tips his head up, glancing between Peter and Mr. Stark. 

“I’m sorry?” he questions slowly, a mix between confusion and concern in his eyes. “I mean, you could always sit back and watch for a bit, you don’t have to train right away-” 

“He wasn’t talking to you, Bruce,” Tony hums dismissively. He has taken up the job of fiddling with the tech while Bruce glances at Peter. “He’s just fangirling.” 

Peter’s eyes snap to Stark’s widening in a defensive sort of frustration. “I’m not-”

“Oh,” Dr. Banner responds, offering Peter one quick nod and a tired smile before returning to the model. “Well, if you’re not interested in training, there are other things to do. We can always look into that suit when there’s downtime. A lot of us make improvements while we’re here so we’re ready for the fights.” 

“You make improvements here because I have the best tech in this galaxy,” Tony corrects, and an audible scoff can be heard from Wanda. 

Before things can get too tense, Peter interjects. “Who else is reporting to help?” 

All eyes turn to him, and for a moment Peter thinks he can detect a knowing gleam in Natasha’s eyes. It’s gone before he can think too hard on it, and then she’s speaking. “Thor is off-world at the moment, so he’s not going to show up for the reunion,” she comments dryly, “but Wilson is going to be here in the morning.”

Steve visibly perks up at the name, and Tony rolls his eyes as he continues. “Rhodey’s coming, too. He’s about two hours away… They slow down as they get older.” 

“I take offense to that, Stark,” comments Steve from across the room, leaning against the back wall and crossing his arms. “I like to think I’m in pretty good shape for almost a century.” Tony opens his mouth to fire back, but before he can form a response, Steve is continuing. “The big-small guy-” 

“Ant-Man,” Stark offers helpfully. 

“-is off doing God knows what, and T’Challa is busy running a kingdom at the moment-- they aren’t immune to the attacks, either. These guys are pretty good at manipulating tech. But Shuri is going to try to make it out here if she can.” 

“Shuri?” Wanda questions, eyes narrowed slightly at the unfamiliar name. 

“She’s the little sister,” Stark informs Wanda, turning slightly to begin scrolling through a database mounted on a screen. “Brilliant, and doesn’t have the whole ‘furry’ thing going on.” 

“-And then there’s Vision, but he’s in hiding,” Bucky speaks up. 

Peter furrows his brow, glancing at Stark. It’s Wanda, however, who speaks up. “We’ve seen what these people can do when they have access to technology to manipulate.” Her words are simple and authoritative, and she does not bother to look at anyone but Peter to see how they are perceived. “They can turn our worst enemies against us. If there is any potential, at all, that they could turn the Mind Stone against us-” 

“-It’s not worth it,” Peter finishes, exhaling. For a moment, the only sound is Peter’s metallic eyes swiveling to find Mr. Stark. “So we’re all going to be staying here?” 

“There are several suites to accommodate guests in the tower,” Natasha replies, her fingers resting absently on the gun at her waist as she speaks. “It’ll be a little tight, but we’ll manage. If that’s everyone, you might not even have to share a room-” 

There is a quiet cough from where Tony is scrolling through the database, flagging reports as the newest ones come in. For a moment, all eyes shift to him, and Natasha raises an eyebrow. 

“That is everyone, isn’t it?” she presses, waiting for Stark to explain himself. 

“I mean, strictly speaking, that’s everyone from the usual crowd,” Tony replies, glancing up at her then back at the hologram to make sure it’s updating. “But everyone is a strong word.” 

“Who else is coming?” inquires Steve, pushing off of the wall and eyeing Tony furtively. 

“Some new blood,” Tony replies simply, tapping a few more places on the model. They turn deep scarlet as if to further illustrate his point. 

“I thought he was the ‘new blood,’” Clint retorts, waving a hand in Peter’s direction.

His eyes widen as they dart from Barton to Stark, and Peter stammers, “I-I’m not ‘new blood,’ I was here when everyone was freaking out, remember? I was, like, webbing you to things, Sergeant Barnes, and I took your shield for a minute, Mr. Rogers, sir-” 

“Hey, kid?” Tony pipes up, glancing at him with a raised eyebrow. 

Peter closes his mouth quickly. “Not helping.” 

“Yeah, no,” Tony confirms, looking back to the others. “And no, you haven’t met this one.” 

“Well, why the hell not?” Natasha presses. 

Tony looks to Steve, expectantly. Steve’s blue eyes hold only a weary sort of apprehension as he waits for Tony to speak. “What, Stark?” 

“She said a naughty word, Rogers. I thought you were going to correct her.” 

Steve scoffs, and Peter can’t tell if he’s genuinely irritated or just flabbergasted. “You know I don’t give a damn, Stark.” 

“I mean, I just thought because it was in front of the kid that you might-” 

“Are you gonna set up a swear jar? God, I can’t wait to stop being the butt of the ‘language’ joke.” 

“I can get with the swear jar if there are some ‘Buy one, get one’ deals,” Clint comments helpfully. 

“Who is it?” Natasha repeats impatiently. “If you keep this up for much longer, Banner’s gonna blow a gasket.” The scientist, who has been watching the exchange with an increasingly more awkward expression, opens his mouth in protest. 

Before he can say anything, though, Wanda speaks up, her tone dry. “And we all know how well that works out for everybody.” 

“Ohhh-kay,” Tony announces, holding up a hand in Wanda’s direction. “Tough crowd. It’s been a long night, so I guess I'll let it slide.”  Stark lets out a breath and runs a hand through his hair, glancing at Bruce, then Nat, then Peter before he continues. 

“She’s one that Fury found. Hasn’t been directly in the field before, but she’s had plenty of training with her abilities in combat.” 

“You want to bring in a new player?” Bucky speaks up incredulously. “Even the kid’s only been in a few firefights, and we’re still being careful. You can’t expect us to let someone with no experience-” 

“She’s got experience,” Tony speaks up firmly.

“You’re gonna have to go more in-depth on that, Stark,” Natasha presses almost apologetically. “You know that.” 

“Look, I don’t like spilling other people’s juicy backstories,” Tony says firmly. “But she reminds me a lot of the other kid.” He gestures in Wanda’s direction, and the Scarlet Witch narrows her eyes. 

“Call me that again and I’ll crush your windpipe.” 

“Seriously, you two are gonna hit it off. The resemblance is uncanny.” 

“What can she do?” Banner speaks up, pausing in his work to look at Stark through his glasses. 

Tony glances at the doctor, and Peter follows his gaze before allowing himself to focus on his mentor’s face again. “Her abilities are of a more… Intellectual nature,” he states simply. “They’re going to be useful in this fight.” 

“No more useful than any one of ours,” Clint points out. 

“Yeah, more useful,” replies Tony. “Think about it. These people don’t play by physical rules-- what’s a bullet going to do to them? At best, we can only hope to distract them with the sheer amount of physical attacks. We need more players like you.” Tony fixes his gaze on Wanda, letting out a breath. 

“If we’re going to fight with them, the battle needs to take place on their playing field: the mental one.” 

“This is all very inspirational,” Natasha comments. “But what does she do?” Stark turns to look at her and inhales. The words that follow leave a silence in their wake. 

“She can force any emotion she wants into your mind, and amp it up to an intensity strong enough to break you.” 

Peter feels goosebumps rising on his arms at the thought, and a shiver drips down his spine in icy rivulets. Any emotion… So this superhuman, whoever she is, could make him feel whatever she wanted him to. The idea of the grief that he felt following Ben’s death slams into him like a weight, and for a moment it feels like it is choking him. 

She could bring it all back, in an instant. 

The other team members seem to be having similar thoughts as silence settles over the room. Bruce exchanges a glance with Natasha, and they seem to be having an unspoken conversation… Peter realizes how dangerous this could be for the doctor in particular when he understands that an ability like that could will him into anger in an instant. A few looks are shared across the table. 

“I’m not comfortable with it,” the Winter Soldier finally says, finally the first to speak. Many eyes leap in his direction, but he does not seem even remotely willing to walk the statement back. “It’s too dangerous if she were to turn on us.” 

“But she won’t,” Stark replies firmly. “Fury assured me of it, and… And I believe him.” 

“As shocking of a statement as that is,” Natasha sighs, running a hand through her hair, “it’s not enough. Abilities like that could weaponize this whole team in an instant.” 

“I do not see the problem,” Wanda hums from across the room, fixing Natasha with a cool gaze. “You are willing to fight with me, and my abilities are intrusive.” 

“Yeah, they’re a damn pain sometimes,” agrees the heroine, her eyes narrowing slightly. “But the worst you can do is turn us against ourselves. Even in visions, we can realize that what we’re seeing isn’t real. Powers like this have the potential to completely erase all rational thought.” She glances at Banner, then Bucky, then back at Wanda. “It’s dangerous,” she emphasizes firmly. 

“It’s all we’ve got,” Tony says firmly. “She’ll be monitored-- we all will be. And I don’t understand the heat this is getting. I think you’re forgetting that at one point, all of us were the unpopular kid trying to break into the hot girl clique.” 

Banner lets out a dry huff of amusement, but Tony continues. “You remember how it felt, and we don’t have the time to deal with all of the hostility right now. Time is the one thing we’re losing more of every minute we don’t act.”

It is quiet for a moment, and Peter clenches his fists at his sides. He doesn’t like the crawling sensation creeping up his spine, and to distract from it, he speaks up. “Do we get to know what she’s called?” 

“She prefers to be called the ‘Dahlia’.” 

The voice is quiet, but it is as sharp and piercing as steel as it reaches Peter’s ears. He freezes, as do the rest of them, as they realize it came from the stairwell directly behind Peter. The gazes of all the others in the room fix themselves on a point just over Peter’s head, and he revolves slowly to face the new object of attention. 

What Peter sees when he turns around makes his heart bottom out. 

The girl behind him is taller than him, so he has to tip his chin up slightly to meet her gaze. Her figure is not brawny or muscular, something which sets her apart from most of the others in the room. She doesn’t need muscles to be imposing. Instead, her willowy form is striking by itself because of its naturally defensive, unapologetic posture, and her head is tucked down as if she is anticipating a fight. 

Is she wrong? They had just been discussing all the reasons she wasn’t to be trusted, and Peter has no idea how long she was standing behind him. His senses were on the fritz, caught up in the noise of all the shifting armor and technology. 

But he doesn’t want to fight her. 

As Peter looks into her deep, brown eyes, he is certain of that. They’re tired, just like his own, even though they’re lined with black to distract from the heaviness around them. From this close, though, Peter can see that she is just as exhausted as the rest of them, even more so. She puts up a good front, though. Her long, dark hair falls in slightly wild ringlets down her shoulders, loose and bold in a way that spells confidence. She is dressed in a jacket of dark leather, a top of a red so deep it’s almost violet, and in dark pants with boots that climb almost to her knees. 

She carries no weapon, and Peter becomes convinced as she returns his stare with cold, piercing eyes that she doesn’t need one. 

The girl’s eyes remain locked on his own mechanical ones for a moment before Peter realizes that he is in her way. He moves to the side quickly, barely managing to stifle an apology that would for sure kill the mood in the room. The newcomer brushes past him and strides up to the table, where she pauses once she is opposite Tony. 

“Mr. Stark,” she greets coolly, extending a hand through the hologram in a way that causes Bruce to wince. Stark looks up at the girl with the model’s red spots gleaming red in his eyes, then glances down at the hand she has extended and back to her face. After a moment, a grin of approval crosses his face, and Tony reaches to shake her hand in return. She holds his grip for a few seconds, stepping back when their hands have parted. 

“Good to see you again,” he greets, and Peter swears that there is almost a bit of the pride in Tony’s eyes that has always been there when he looks at Peter. 

“Is it?” the girl questions, arching an eyebrow in feigned nonchalance as she glances around the room. Her eyes flit across the various members, lingering on aspects of their appearance in a way that Peter feels resembles a dissection. When her eyes find him, he is frozen… He wonders what they see. 

“It is,” Tony confirms, shooting a warning look in Bucky’s direction. “We were just talking about living arrangements.” 

The girl steps away from the table, then and falls into line with Banner and Natasha. The former swallows quickly and returns to his work deliberately, but the latter stares the newcomer down from behind. Peter thinks he might be imagining it, but it looks like she’s holding a bit of tension in her shoulders. 

“I can share with you again, Buck,” volunteers Steve after a moment. Peter recognizes it for what it is: an attempt to alleviate the awkwardness to smooth over the situation. Peter doesn’t hear Bruce’s response, however, due to the sound of Karen’s voice in his ear. 

“Incoming message from Tony Stark,” she alerts melodically. Peter’s head immediately snaps to Mr. Stark, who has one of his hands strategically placed under the table. Peter realizes, based on the slight vibration of his shoulder, that he is texting. 

Peter immediately looks around to see if anyone noticed his sudden movement. He finds his gaze quickly connecting with that of the Dahlia, and her dark eyes narrow as they begin to scan him from head to toe in a manner that Peter thinks is probably more thorough than any of Stark’s technology. His heart begins to speed up. 

The intelligent, sharp gaze is only drawn away from Peter by a quick cough in Stark’s direction, which he so masterfully attempts to mask that only someone who knows him as well as Peter could dream of recognizing it as fake. The Dahlia’s eyes snap to Stark who offers her a quick, apologetic grin. 

This smile is in Stark contrast (pun intended) with the charming message that begins to scroll across Peter’s vision: 

Jesus, kid. Did I never teach you surveillance tactics? 

Peter swallows, pretending to be focused on Natasha’s statement that she and Clint will be rooming together. Instead, he dictates his message under his breath to Karen. 

sorry. what is it?

“Yes, that can be arranged,” Tony hums lazily, leaning back into his chair. His hand is still moving underneath the table. 

Take off the mask. 

why? 

So she can see she’s not the only toddler in the room. 

Peter shoots Tony a look at that, but the other man is pointedly focusing on Wanda. “Your turn, Maximoff.” 

Wanda’s gaze travels lazily around the table, and she does not seem particularly impressed with her options. “I will take Banner,” she finally decides, returning to studying the diagram while absentmindedly levitating a single mint out of the dish on the table. 

Peter has never seen a more shocked expression than the one that currently adorns the face of the doctor, and so Peter takes that opportunity to slide off the mask. He adopts a nonchalant stance, leaning against the wall with one arm and dragging his hand down his face as one does when they’re tired. He even takes a deeper breath as he removes the synthetic material to imply that he made the movement in order to breathe more easily. 

Peter swallows as he lowers the mask to his side, using the other hand to ruffle his mess of curls. He hasn’t bothered styling them in days, so they’re a fluffy, fuzzy mess that is nowhere near as bold or eye-catching as the Dahlia’s hair, which looks intentional. He knows his eyes are probably bleary and tired, and there’s a patch of skin on his left temple that he knows for a fact is acting up due to the amount of time spent in the mask, so it’s probably red and irritated. Peter gets why Mr. Stark had him remove the mask, and he’s willing to do it after the things that were said about the girl before she even had a chance to speak up for herself. Still, he’s fully aware that he probably looks like an idiot in front of his newest ally, and that she probably thinks he’s a slob. 

When he finally hazards a casual glance in her direction, though, he finds her eyes locked on him again. And this time? 

This time, they are widened a fraction of an inch, and though her lips part slightly when his gaze meets with hers, she doesn’t look away. 

“-Alright, so that settles me and Rhodey, then,” Stark comments, tucking his phone away after sending a text. “It’s not safe to text and fly, you know.” 

“It’s safer than texting and driving,” muses Steve. 

“Says the one who drove into a glacier,” muses Natasha. 

The Dahlia surprises Peter; from across the room, where she is now studiously looking anywhere but Peter, he hears a soft exhale of amusement. Several eyes around the room travel to her, and she manages to keep her face straight, but Peter thinks she might look slightly uncomfortable. Maybe that’s not the worst thing, though-- the corner of Natasha’s lips quirks up for half a second, which is more positive emotion from her than Peter’s seen the whole time they’ve filled the laboratory. 

“How about you?” Stark hums, leaning back in his chair to study the curly-haired, leather-clad girl. “Anyone you think you can share a suite with without blowing your brains out?” 

Her deep, brown eyes widen, and for a moment Peter has to hold back a wince as she scans them over the rest of the people present. This gaze is not piercing and analytical; she’s moving her eyes for appearance’s sake, trying to buy herself time. She knows no one is going to speak up and bail her out, and she’s trying to figure out how to proceed. 

Peter doesn’t remember making the decision to talk, but the words leave his mouth anyway. “I, uh, I don’t have a roommate.” 

In an instant, Peter is the new center of attention. Various degrees of surprise, amusement, and indifference can be found on the faces of those who are looking in his direction. There is even something knowing in Tony’s eyes, something Peter doesn’t feel like examining at the moment. 

Instead, he hazards a glance at the one person whose gaze doesn’t fit any of the above categories: though the Dahlia’s eyes are guarded and almost completely unreadable once again, she offers him a slow, slight nod.

“Okay,” she agrees, pursing her lips before quickly turning her gaze to Stark as well. 

Instantly, Tony’s face relaxes into its normal, smug expression. “Whatever makes you comfortable,” he comments in a voice that is a little too nonchalant to be genuine. Peter stiffens-- there wasn’t even any sarcasm in that comment, which is strange. 

The Dahlia shrugs, crossing her arms in a posture that is supposed to be leisurely but Peter can tell is defensive. “Comfort is only a system of various human sensations that are characterized as desirable, but vary among people, so it doesn’t really exist.” 

Tony stares at the girl for few seconds, face unreadable. Finally, he lets out a sigh and tips his head to the side in a gesture of tired but genuine acknowledgment. “Welcome to the team, kid.” 

“I’m about as close to a kid as your tech is to a toy flip-phone.” Tony immediately turns to Wanda, all exhaustion erased from his face as he gestures triumphantly back at the flabbergasted Dahlia.