The next time was when Peter had come home late and saw Aunt May sitting at the kitchen table. The rest of the team had been asleep – at least so he thought – and she had eventually caved to her nephew's gentle but insistent line of questioning. About bills she thought she had under control suddenly spiralling into financial black holes into which she threw money but never seemed to satisfy them. Peter had thought he'd heard soft steps in the hallway, but a quick look had revealed....nobody. Yet two days later, Aunt May came dancing home, ecstatic because she had received a bonus that not only covered the outstanding debt, but left enough to start building a significant nest egg, in case something like that ever happened again.
The look on Danny's face had been a combination of peaceful and satisfied. Which had set off Peter's spidey-sense. But in a good way, for a change.
And that was when Peter had gone ahead on the library's computer system to do a quick background check on his chilled-out roomie, and discovered that Danny Rand was heir to a multi-billion dollar tech company that was third in size in the country – just behind Stark Technology and Oscorpe.
After printing out the articles and escaping the library, Peter had done some huffing and puffing and some screaming into a brown paper bag that mostly consisted of 'What the flamin' hell?' before he'd been able to sit down and look at the situation rationally, number one point of which was that apparently Danny did not want this to be common knowledge. Peter could honour that, even if he couldn't fathom the 'why' behind it. Money spoke quite loudly to the kids at Midtown high and the fact that Danny's bank account had more zero's in it than Harry Osborne's, could have ensured him greater popularity in less time than it took Pete to change into his Spidey-suit... and yet that apparently meant nothing to the blond Zen-master.
Okay, well, that kinda made sense. Danny had offered Peter 'all his worldly possessions' back when they'd dealt with that 'returning to Kun L'on' issue – and hang on, did his worldly possessions include his bank card? Okay, Peter was gonna have to look into this a little more thoroughly. Especially if Danny tried to pull this stunt again next year. Not that a billion bucks would make up for the loss of his highly valued and respected team member, but these things were good to know. For security purposes, and to answer the question of whether Pete was going to be able to afford an excess of web fluid for the rest of his life.
Peter shook his head, going back to the matter at hand. Danny was worth a trillion dollars and had somehow arranged for Aunt May to get a portion of it to help cover the cost of four additional moochers taking up residence in his home – SHIELD. They must have had a hand in that.
“Who had a hand in what?” a soft voice asked from behind and damn it if Peter wasn't gonna bitch out his Spidey-sense for not going off to keep him from looking like a chicken-shit newbie in front of one his teammates. Bad enough he leaped halfway up a wall.
“Make some noise when you walk,” Peter snapped lightly in reply. “Forget the cat-lady - I am going to string a bell around your neck!”
“I do not think bells would serve as a proper accessory to this outfit.” Danny chuckled as Peter leaped back down to the ground. “My apologies, friend.” He pulled his outstretched hand back, returning it to the folded position he'd taken up. “I came to see if everything was okay. Sam and Ava are on patrol in Manhattan and I was concerned. It is unusual to see you brooding so.”
“Nah, it's cool.” Peter leaned against the ledge, peering out at the city. Danny joined him quietly. “Just contemplating stuff... life...”
“While I commend you taking the time out to enlighten yourself, would it not have been better to do so inside? Without the costume?” Danny asked, one eyebrow raised. “You promised us you would take the night off and allow your back to fully heal from last night's escapades.”
Peter snorted. “Batroc the Leaper is not what I consider a class A villain,” he said, referring to the charts Ava had begun making – cataloguing all the repeat villains they tended to face during nightly patrols. Last night's patrol had seen him take two direct Batroc-patented jump-kicks to the back – the first of which drove him through one of the Bugle's large display monitors; the second into the fire escape of the same building. “Spider-healing is a go! I'm fine.” He pointed at Danny's Iron Fist costume. “I could also say the same thing about you.”
“You commonly find yourself mired into..shall we say, strange situations,” Danny said serenely. “I felt it best that I follow you as Iron Fist – just in case.”
Spider-Man scowled. “That's called profiling, and it's incorrect. Everything's fine.”
Danny nodded. “Then what has you so concerned?”
“Concerned is not the word,” Peter said. “Confused is more correct.” And reluctantly, he pointed to the article in his hand, dated two years previous, and showed Rand Corp earnings and it's chain of... inheriting? Was that the correct word? Well, whatever, and next to him, he heard Danny inhale sharply. He turned to see him looking a shade of pale that could almost pass for Ava's costumed colouring. “Danny?
“I....” Danny shook his head, looking at Peter almost fearfully, and then he stepped back.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Peter out and snagged hold of Danny's arm. “Hang on, wait a minute. Calm down!” Danny was breathing hard, like he was about to panic, and this just wasn't good. “Danny, I'm your friend, remember? I know me knowing this is as huge as you knowing my secret identity – something so special to you that the idea of anyone else knowing makes you sick with fear. I know. I trust you with my secret – believe me when I say you can trust me with this! With yours!” Danny froze into position, the whites of the eye plates set into his green mask narrowing, and then finally, Pete felt his muscles relax. When he was sure Danny wasn't going to run, he released his grip and stood there, trying to look non-threatening, hands up in a classic surrender pose. “I'm serious, Danny,” he said quietly, just loud enough to hear over the hustle and bustle of every day life in New York. “Set the secrets aside for a minute and just breathe.” He yanked his mask up enough to reveal his mouth and smiled in an attempt to be reassuring. “It feels weird to be telling you to calm down.”
Danny finally smiled weakly in return, nodding slowly. “I am sorry, my friend. I have done much to keep my name out of the news and the media in general. I am impressed you found out so easily.” He folded his arms, looking away. “I suppose this means you want me to move out--”
“Okay, stop right there.” Peter exhaled loudly and held his hands up. “I don't know what exactly is going through your head, but let me say that the only reason I started looking you up in detail was because of the 'raise' you gave my Aunt May. Too curious for my own good.” He lowered his hands, pointing his right one at Danny. “I said nothing about kicking you out.” He smiled. “If anything, I should be thanking you for helping her out.”
Danny tilted his head to the side. “Thanking me?” He joined Peter at the ledge.
Peter nodded. “I hate seeing her worry about money all the time. There's not much I can do to help out with that, except for slipping the money she gives me back in the cookie jar on the fridge where she keeps her spare cash. I know she's been worried since you all moved in.”
Danny winced. “I know. I never should have moved in to begin with, to create more of a burden but I wanted to stay with the team – with a--” His mouth snapped shut before he could say anything else.
“A family. I get it.” Peter nudged him with his shoulder. “If I didn't want you there – all of you – then I wouldn't have gone to Aunt May in the first place and asked her to open up a shelter for homeless heroes.” He shrugged. “Now, why you would prefer a sleeping bag on the spare bedroom floor when you could be living it up at the penthouse of any ritzy hotel in the city, well, those are your issues, not mine.”
Iron Fist laughed, and then pulled his bandanna off, revealing the youthful warrior face beneath it. Peter did a quick scan around them for intruders with cameras, and then followed suit. “I owe much to you, Peter,” Danny said softly. “SHIELD has trained our group to be fighters. But it was you who reminded us of our responsibilities. Our obligations.” He tugged the yellow fabric between his fingers as he spoke. “I know it is a hardship for your aunt to pay for four extra people--”
“--which she – and by extension, I – would do again in a heartbeat,” Peter interjected.
“I know. We know.” Danny shrugged. “We had been worrying about it before – it took Coulson time to work his influence into Aunt May's office so the bonus could be offered honestly. It was simply the amount that was otherwise determined.” A small grinned toyed at the corner of his mouth. “Sam wanted to offer triple the sum and throw in a cruise to the Bahamas. Ava and Luke managed to convince him that that was not a typical 'raise' one gained in Aunt May's line of employment.”
Peter stifled a sigh of relief at that. The extra money would always be welcome, but Aunt May would never feel comfortable accepting a 'bonus' that she had not earned. “That's good to know.”
“Though Sam's second suggestion of SHIELD - or in this situation, though he does not know, Rand Corp - acquiring Aunt May's office and promoting her to the head of the company has been placed in the stack of suggestions marked 'things to consider'.”
Peter groaned and leaned down to gently bap his head against the ledge.
Danny smiled. “You and your aunt, you are so much alike. Both of you, so eager to extend a helping hand to whomsoever needs it, yet you recoil from accepting help in return. Especially you.” His eyes narrowed slightly. “You fight so hard to keep us out of battles when we should be at your side.”
He didn't follow up with the obvious 'why' but Peter could hear it plainly. “Force of habit,” he joked weakly, raising his head. Then he shook his head, eyes skimming the city skyline automatically. Personality and upbringing forced him to answer honestly. “I just don't want to see any more people I care about getting hurt.”
There was a pause before Danny replied, as though Iron Fist needed a moment to download and absorb his words. When he did speak, it was cautious and gentle. Questioning. “Do you think we don't care about you? That we don't wish for the same thing? To protect our leader from harm?”
Peter blinked, head coming up. It was true. The others were highly trained, highly skilled agents and thinking that they needed his protection was laughable. And yet, there it was. Peter didn't believe his personality would ever allow him to think otherwise. “No. Like I told you all the other day,” he said, referring to the Day of the Implemented Patrol Plan,”I trust you all implicitly.” He smirked. “Even the Bucket-Head.”
“You never allow us, or anyone to leave you out, regardless of their wishes,” Danny continued in a quiet voice. “You force yourself into missions that would have you sidelined, if only because you care for the people involved. Actually, you join in even if you don't. But you get angry with us if we do the same thing to you.”
“I am the worlds biggest hypocrite,” Peter admitted cheerfully. “And I am your team leader. And I will never stop trying to save your lives, even if that means pushing you out of mine, sometimes.” He shrugged. “It's a personality flaw.”
Danny shook his head and reached out again, placing his hand on Peter's shoulder. “It is not a flaw. It is a sign of true heroism. And it is something we are doing our best to emulate.” He smirked. “Despite your best efforts.”
Peter grinned, somewhat abashed, but completely unapologetic. He would never apologize for keeping his team out of danger, despite the fact that they were technically more trained than he was, and just as determined to do the same thing to him. “So that means I get a new laptop for Christmas this year, right?”
There was a burst of laughter, and then Danny shook his head. “I would consider that if we both didn't already know Mr Stark intends to furnish the team with new Starkware.”
“Yes, but I need something that isn't bugged six ways from Sunday,” Peter pouted, and then clapped a hand on Danny's shoulder. “Your secret is safe with me, okay? Laptop or no laptop.”
Danny nodded, and then gestured down to the road below them. There were sounds of pounding footsteps and loud voices raising from around the corner. “Despite it not being our night for patrol, I believe we are being summoned.”
“Duty calls,” Peter agreed, and then the two of them leaped off the ledge. Iron Fist took the lead, being slightly faster, but Spider-Man didn't mind that one bit.
He'd always be there to watch his friends back.