"You know," Luke said, swaying backwards so that the baseball bat just missed his nose. "You really should call first."
"That would kind of defeat the point of a surprise." Seeing an opportunity, Danny took two steps forwards, and then two more up the wall, giving him enough height to somersault over the heads of the men in front of him. He landed behind them, got in a kick to the head that downed one of them, and managed to stagger the other with a punch to the kidneys. The third spun around and Danny shifted his feet, getting a better angle. Once all three of them were down, he turned to Luke, who had grabbed the last of his attackers by belt and collar. As Danny watched, he heaved him off his feet and threw him across the warehouse. A second later, there was a dull thud as he hit the far wall.
Sensing Danny's stare, Luke shrugged. "I hate ninjas," he said, dusting off his hands and his sweater. "Although at least they don't shoot holes in my clothes."
"See, I like that we're both optimists." Cautiously, Danny poked one of the black-clad men with the toe of his boot, but he didn't stir. "What now?"
"I call Misty, she gets these guys in the system, and you act like you were never here." Luke already had his phone out. "We got problems enough cleaning up the last of The Hand in Harlem without them finding out you're around as well."
Before, Danny would have protested. He would have argued and stalled, and possibly fought to stay. Tonight, he shrugged reluctantly, said, "Sure, I get it," and made his way back over to a dark corner by the entrance.
"What's that?" Luke asked, as Danny pulled something out of the shadows.
"Dinner." Danny held up the bag, where the best Pad Thai in New York was now stone cold. "I didn't come along to interfere, Luke. I just thought we could have some food and catch up."
That got him a huff of a laugh, and a genuine smile. "Nice thought, Danny. Maybe next time." His gaze drifted away, although the smile didn't, as his call was answered. "Hey, Misty. It's Luke. Got another one for you."
Sighing, Danny buttoned his coat and gave Luke a wave - which was returned, albeit distractedly - before heading out into the night. Colleen would already have eaten, and he'd gotten a bit carried away with the ordering. They were going to be eating leftovers for days. Maybe it was time to start thinking about getting a dog.
Jessica looked over the piece of paper at Danny, only her eyes and forehead visible. "Did you write this?"
"Are you kidding me?" The couch was seriously uncomfortable, and he shifted again, hoping he wasn't about to be stabbed by a spring. "The legal team drew it up. They don't let me do things like that." He gave her what was supposed to be a self-deprecating grin. With Jessica, it was impossible to know whether or not it had landed, because she gave him pretty much the same glare, no matter what he did.
"But you came up with the number." She was still eyeing him suspiciously, which he didn't pay much attention to.
"Actually no. It's our standard retainer fee, or so I'm told. All I did was point out that given the work you do for our main legal counsel, it made sense for us to have a contract with you as well. Not everything Rand does has to go through Jeri Hogarth."
Jessica's eyes had drifted back to the piece of paper, narrowed at the corners as she read it. "Because that doesn't sound shady at all."
Sighing, Danny started to lean back, thought better of it as the couch squeaked, and leaned forwards instead, resting his elbows on his knees. "Look, Ward and I agreed that I should have basically nothing to do with the running of Rand-"
"-because you basically know nothing?"
"I don't know anything about running a business." It was easier to ignore the interruptions now that he was used to them. "And while I'm learning, there's not a lot I can contribute. But pointing the company to one of the best PIs in the city-"
"Flattery will get you everywhere." But the words weren't much more than a faint mutter, and Danny knew he was winning.
"Hogarth wouldn't use you if you weren't. This isn't just me saying it. So my only contribution was to suggest we put you on retainer, just in case."
"A really generous retainer." Finally, Jessica put the piece of paper on her desk and leaned back in her chair, watching him.
"Like I said, it's our standard fee. If you don't want it, that's fine. I just figured it could be useful." He shifted a little. "Maybe upgrade some stuff around here."
"Are you insulting my office, Rand?" Jessica asked, but there was enough of a curl to her lips that he could hear the smile underneath.
He considered. "Probably. Do you care?"
As always with Jessica, Danny had the sense that he'd been through some kind of test. She shrugged, just a little, and leaned forwards again, reaching for a pen. "Fine. I guess if I sign this, it'll get you and your stinky bag out of here faster."
"Actually, this is doro wat. I thought we could-"
"Nope." Finishing her signature, Jessica pushed the piece of paper to the far side of her desk. "Time's up, Rand. I don't know if you can afford my fee any more."
Because arguing with Jessica was as much use as arguing with the wall, Danny gave in, picking up the takeaway and heading for the door.
He turned in the hall, looking back to where Jessica was leaning back in her chair again, face turned away. "Yes."
"Thanks," she said, softly enough that he barely caught it.
He grinned. "Any time," he said, hesitating before turning to go. "Although next time, I'm going to make eating Ethiopian part of the deal."
When Claire opened the door, she gave Danny the sort of smile that was half-welcome, half-irritation.
"What happened?" he asked, straightening up from where he'd been leaning against the doorframe.
"Hello to you too."
Dipping his head in apology, Danny tried again. "Sorry. Hi, Claire. I brought take out. What happened?"
She sighed and gestured for him to follow her into the apartment. "I guess we'll be eating that heated up later," she said over her shoulder.
Inside, Danny was relieved that the apartment itself looked fine, no furniture overturned or holes anywhere there shouldn't be. There was also no Luke.
"He's getting changed," Claire said, and Danny could hear the tightness in her voice. "I swear, we're going to have to start buying those things wholesale if people keep putting bullet holes in them." She took the bag from Danny, going into the kitchenette with it. "Sorry. I guess dinner's on hold for now."
"He's going out again?" Danny leaned over, trying to peer into the rooms beyond the lounge.
"Because you wouldn't?"
That made him smile a little ruefully and turn to her. "Well, people don't try to put bullet holes in me regularly. And when they do, I try to make sure they miss."
"That's one of the three of you," Claire muttered, laying boxes on the counter. "This smells good."
"It's a lamb curry."
Spinning around, Danny saw Luke coming into the room, zipping up his hoodie. He gave Danny a nod, and Claire an apologetic look.
"I love rogan josh," he said. "Don't you dare eat it all before I come back."
"Then come back quickly." Claire had pulled a fork out the drawer and was tapping one of the boxes thoughtfully.
Danny was torn for a second, not wanting to break the moment as they looked at each other, but he wasn't really there just to deliver take out.
"Can I help?" he asked, making Claire roll her eyes and Luke chuckle.
"Danny, I told you-"
"Come on, if it's big enough that you need to tackle it right now, it's got to be big enough that you could use some back up. I've got pretty good on the roof tops these last few months. No interfering unless you need it. It went okay last time, didn't it?"
Instead of answering, Luke looked at Claire, who shrugged. "Look, the sooner you get this dealt with, the more chance there is you'll have some curry to come back to. And it doesn't hurt to have help."
Blowing out a long breath, Luke nodded, although Danny was pretty sure it was reluctantly. "Okay, fine. You stay up there unless I say so. Got it? The last thing we need is reports of Danny Rand prowling around Harlem."
"You won't even know I'm there," Danny said, having to take a few quick steps to catch up as Luke headed towards the door.
"I guess I'll just wait here, then," Claire called after them. "Just me and the curry. And a fork."
When she opened the door, Trish looked from Danny to the bag and back again, her face oddly blank.
"Of course," she said. "Because my life isn't weird enough already, now I've got Danny Rand standing on my doorstep holding a bag of…"
"Pho" Danny supplied.
"Pho" Trish repeated. "Of course it is."
Danny grinned. "Hi," he said, holding out his free hand. "I know it's a cliche, but I love your show. Are the others here?"
Still with that slightly dazed, blank look, Trish shook his hand, and then stepped aside so that he could come in. The door shut with a weirdly loud bang, catching his attention.
Trish shrugged. "Better safe than sorry."
"I guess that comes with the territory," he said, although the extreme high security seemed out of place in the beautifully decorated hall.
"It comes with knowing Jessica." Leading the way, Trish lead him into a huge living room and kitchen, that felt like it was as big as the whole of Colleen's dojo. "They're in there," she said, gesturing to a pair of sliding doors. "Shall I take that?"
"What? Oh, yes. Thanks." Danny handed over the bag, letting her take it away as he headed towards the doors.
He could hear the sound of lowered voices on the other side, and the doors slid open almost silently when he pushed them. The whole apartment felt oddly quiet, probably in deference to Jessica, who was lying on the bed, an ice pack pressed to her forehead.
"Great," she muttered as Danny came into the room. "Who paged the Iron Idiot?" She winced, pressing the ice pack harder against her head.
At Danny's questioning look, Luke shook his head. "She'll be fine," he said, his voice low. "Claire says nothing's broken, and while the bruising's pretty bad, it's nothing that won't heal." He grinned, just a little. "Apparently she has a hard head."
"Really? We needed a medical professional to tell us that?" Danny returned the grin, and it was oddly comforting to see Jessica glaring at them both from under her ice pack. It meant that she probably was going to be okay.
"Is it just the two of you?" he asked, relaxing a little and stuffing his hands in his pockets.
"Yeah, we had some, uh, help," Luke said significantly, "and it probably meant that only one of us took a tumble off a fourth floor balcony."
"He did a bunk, though," Jessica said. "Probably because if Claire caught him in that ridiculous thing so soon, he'd be grounded for the rest of the year."
"And I brought pho specially for him," Danny said, and Jessica pulled a face.
"Please don't talk about food when I have a head injury." She closed her eyes, paling a little.
"Sorry." Aware that he wasn't really doing much except hovering, and possibly making things worse, Danny started to back up again. "I guess I'll just…" he trailed off, making a vague gesture to the room behind him.
"Sure." Luke settled into a chair, apparently intending to keep Jessica company for a while.
As Danny started to back out of the room, Jessica opened one eye, glaring blearily at him. "Hey, Rand, make yourself useful and text that moron, would you? Tell him I'm okay. We don't need him going rogue on us again."
"Sure," Danny said, smiling as Jessica closed her eyes again. "I can do that."
Danny had been worried all the way to the Dojo that he was going to be too late, having made an impulsive stop for pizza. He stopped worrying as soon as he stepped into the hallway and heard the sound of someone working out, although that wasn't as comforting as it might have been.
Slipping inside, he toed off his shoes and cleared his throat, aware that there was no way he'd entered unnoticed.
"I thought you were supposed to take it easy for a few more weeks."
Matt had pulled the dummy into the middle of the space to give himself room, and from the hair plastered to his forehead and sheen of sweat on his arms, he'd been putting himself through a pretty hard work out.
"This is easy," he said. "The dummy doesn't fight back."
Rolling his eyes, Danny sighed. "I'm pretty sure that's not what Claire meant."
"I'm fine," Matt said, in the tight, sharp voice he kept using. While Danny would admit he was looking better than he had done, some of the stiffness gone from his posture and ease returning to the way he walked, to say he was recovered would have been a vast exaggeration. "I can't just sit around, waiting. You know?"
Danny knew. Most of Matt's cuts had healed, but the bruising had been deep and it would be weeks, probably months before it all faded. As he pulled off his damp t-shirt, crossing to the bench for his towel, Danny could see the darkness across his ribs, a complement to the redness on his forearms from hitting the dummy. After a while, he knew, it all became the same pain, the same focus and clarity.
He hadn't meant to stare, and most people probably wouldn't have noticed. As it was, Matt stopped still, holding his t-shirt, his back still to Danny.
"I'm fine," he said again. "Nothing that won't heal."
"If you give it a chance."
Matt snorted. "Trust me, Danny. This is me giving it a chance."
"The same way you were when you helped out Luke and Jessica the other night? Or me last week?" He'd nearly fallen off his rooftop perch when Daredevil had materialised apparently out of nowhere beside him. It didn't help that as far as he'd known, Matt was strictly confined to recovery and emergency back up.
"Look," Matt said, sounding irritated and turning to face Danny properly at last. He stopped, tilting his head a little, his nose wrinkling. "Is that pizza?" he asked.
"Huh?" Temporarily de-railed from his train of thought, Danny actually had to glance down at the bag to remember what he was carrying. "Oh, yes. Thought you could use some dinner."
"Thanks, but I can't stay."
"You never can." The words were out before Danny could stop them, the frustration of the last few months bubbling over. "Nor can Jessica. Or Luke. There's always something. There's an emergency, or a crisis, or something you have to do or someone you have to save. I'm starting to think none of you actually eat, ever. Is that one of your superpowers?"
Matt's smile had turned into an embarrassed grimace, and he'd rested his hands on his hips as though facing up to a challenge.
"Look, Danny, I know you mean well, but Jessica was right that night. We're not a team. And just trying to make us eat food together isn't going to make us one."
"I know that." Despite what they thought, Danny wasn't actually an idiot. "But it also can't hurt to try. When you're trying to get to know someone, the first thing you do is go out to dinner together."
"I'm not dating you," Matt said, tipping his head a little. "Apart from anything else, I'm much more frightened of your girlfriend than you."
Determined to stay on course this time, Danny shook his head. "You do it because you want to get to know the person, you want to share something with them. You don't do it because you're already a team. You do it because you want to start one."
That seemed to actually get through, because Matt turned away again, lifting one hand to the back of his neck.
"Look, Danny…" he started, apparently about to launch into another, gentler rejection.
Danny dropped the bag. "Just one meal, Matt. If I can get the others to agree, will you? I'm sick of just being a third wheel with them, and you owe me that much."
Even for someone as used to awkward conversations as Danny was, that one had set a new record, and they had both vowed never to speak of 'the time Matt tried to thank Danny for looking after his city' again. Still, it was the only bargaining chip Danny had on the table, and he wasn't afraid to play it.
He knew he'd won when Matt lifted his head, eyes rolling back in apparent appeal to the heavens.
"Fine," he said, his shoulders slumping a little. "Where and when?"
Colleen had told Danny at least once a day for the last week that this was a terrible idea. For once, he'd ignored her, following his instinct that while it might not seem like the best plan ever, it was better than any alternative he could come up with.
And so the four of them met at eight o'clock at the Royal Dragon, which had just reopened after some major refurbishment. For better or worse, the owners had chosen to put pretty much everything back where it had been, from the pictures on the walls to the skylight above. The only major change they'd made was not putting the fish tank back in. Instead, a tapestry of intertwined dragons hung on that patch of wall, and Matt stopped in his prowl of the room, running his fingers over the fabric.
Jessica was looking around with an unreadable expression, while Luke was shaking his head.
"So this isn't at all creepy," Jessica muttered, making Luke take a break from his disbelief to nod instead.
"You said it."
"Even the paint's the same," Matt said, hand moving from the tapestry to the wall. As though sensing the others' surprised looks, he shrugged. "It still smells the same."
"And you're still weird."
That got a laugh out of Luke, and even Matt smiled with something close to genuine humor. "No other diners?" he asked, coming over to the only laid table in the dining room.
"Not tonight. And before you ask, yes, I had to order four of everything again." Danny made his way over, leaning against the back of a chair. "Look, I know it didn't go well last time."
"Do they teach understatement in K'un Lun?" Jessica asked. Even so, she'd drifted over to the table as well, standing behind a chair with her arms folded.
Not rising to it, Danny went on, "And I'm not saying this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
"Colleen been catching you up on pop culture?"
Before Danny could reply to Luke, Matt held up a hand. "Look, maybe we should hear him out without the commentary from the peanut gallery?"
"When Daredevil is your voice of reason, you know you have a problem," Jessica said. The look she shot Matt was more concerned than annoyed, though, and when she looked back at Danny, she nodded. "Okay. Let's try this."
Luke nodded as well. "I'm listening."
Danny opened his mouth, closed it again, and then put both hands on the back of the chair, leaning forwards to far that his shoulders hunched and his head dropped down.
"I had this whole speech worked out," he said, voice slightly muffled. "And I think you ruined it."
"By actually listening?" Luke asked, and Danny could heard the undercurrent of amusement.
"Pretty much." All the thoughts and plans and ideas he'd been turning over his mind were gone. Maybe Colleen was right. Maybe they were all right. On the other hand, he wasn't about to stop just because this was getting difficult.
When he looked up, gathering his thoughts, he saw that the others were both looking at Matt, who had his head tilted upwards, expression distant and very familiar. He'd heard something.
"Oh no," Danny said. "Seriously?"
It was hard to tell if Matt was trying to look apologetic or not. "I mean," he said, "I didn't bring the suit or anything."
Danny jumped and Matt flinched as something came flying through the air towards his head. He snagged it right in front of his face, but the ends still whipped around, catching him in in the ear.
"Don't get any holes in this one," Jessica said, turning up the collar of her coat to compensate for the scarf she was no longer wearing. She gave Danny a hard look. "We are not making this a regular date," she said. "But this is New York. Stuff's going to happen that needs more than just one of us to deal with it." Drawing in a long breath, she looked from Luke to Matt, who was still running the scarf through his hands. "We should probably figure out how to do that without getting in each other's way."
"Nice pep talk," Luke said, but he was already stepping away from the table, his expression set. "I'm in."
Matt turned to Danny, raising his eyebrows in a question.
This was not how the evening was mean to go, but, Danny supposed, it wasn't the worst outcome either.
"Fine," he said, heading towards the back of the restaurant, "I'll tell Mr Zhang that we need the food to go."