Irresponsibility

Spider-Man, Peter/Harry.

Bernice

I wrote this in July 2004 because the only Peter/Harry stuff I could find on-line seemed to be rape fics, which are not my cup of tea. Deliberately writing fluff. It's taken me nearly a year to get around to fixing it up for posting. Slack. Partly because it took me a very long time to get going on this as it bored me to tears after I wrote it, and partly because I sent to my beta reader in November and she never got back to me. I guess it bored her, too! Be warned.

Thank you to millifiore for her excellent alpha reading. I've borrowed heavily from her suggestions (butch it up, butch it up!), but ignored some of her sound advice – so any errors are all mine (it was just too dull to put heaps of effort into it).



It took a few moments, after he awoke, for Peter to realise that the thumping he could hear was coming from the door and not from inside his head – probably Mr Ditkovich, making yet another attempt to collect the rent. He sat up, stretching his legs to get the blood flowing again from the awkward position he'd been sitting in before he rolled over backwards asleep. Textbooks sliding off his chest and onto the bed next to him, then onto the floor, made a counter point thud to the pounding on the door.

He slipped a little on a book as he went to answer the pounding, but the door came ajar before he got there. Whoever it was didn't come in, which was odd as Mr Ditkovich never hesitated to barrel into Peter's room whenever the desire to harangue him for rent overcame his landlord.

Peter grabbed the side of the door and pulled it open, gripping with both hands as he fought the temptation to slam it shut again when he realised it was Harry. He hadn't expected to see Harry again. He'd spent so long pushing Harry away – out of cowardice, mostly – that he hadn't thought Harry would ever voluntarily come to see him again, not unless it was to put a loaded gun in Peter's face.

Harry said nothing, gave Peter no starting point, but at least he wasn't completely drunk, Peter realised. His clothes had a lingering reek of old booze, as if he'd slept in this suit since his last binge, but if he'd drinking already, at least he was still steady on his feet.

For the first time in a long time, Peter didn't see the red lines of angry tears in Harry's eyes. For the first time in a long time Harry's eyes were dry and clear. This troubled Peter more than the tears ever had. He wondered what had taken the place of Harry's all consuming grief and could only think that Harry's rage was now firmly redirected at him.

Still clutching the edge of the door with both hands as if to let it go would mean to fall down, Peter backed up a little, wordlessly inviting Harry in.

Harry stalked through, and went to stand at Peter's window, looking out over the city.

"This place is a dump," he stated, making sound as if he thought that was Peter's fault.

"Yeah, I know," Peter had no idea what to say to Harry now. At school they talked about everything. Girls, homework, how much they hated Flash Thompson, family problems, whatever, and they'd clung to each other with the shameless desperation that only geeks and losers understood. Now that Harry knew Peter's secret identity was the person that he hated most in the world, the friendship that had been their only buoy, that held them fast through differences in class and money, was shattering under the pressure. Norman Osborn's hatred and insanity spread its poison even from the grave.

Peter wondered if it was selfish of him to hate Mr Osborn for that more than he hated him for the murders, but the pain of losing his only friend to Mr Osborn's madness was leaving him paralysed and choking on his own tongue.

"Harry?" he tried, then stopped.

"I suppose this is why you can't hold down a job?" Harry stated, more than asked, his voice brittle.

"Yes," Peter was relieved to have been given a conversation topic and laughed nervously. "It's hard to be reliable when you have to go fight crime all the time."

"Reliable," Harry said quietly, as if trying out the shape of the word. "I relied on you to be my friend. I relied on you not to lie to me!" By the time he'd finished speaking he'd turned to look at Peter and his voice had risen a loud octave.

"I didn't lie," Peter said, "I just didn't tell you... or anyone that I was... who I was." It sounded weak even to him.

"You just let me go on thinking you'd murdered my father, all this time. You let me go mad with grief and you never said a damned thing, Peter!" Harry had moved so that they were standing face to face, and Peter could smell the scotch on Harry's breath.

"Harry," Peter spread his hands like a supplicant, "I didn't kill your father."

"I know." Harry's voice was calm again.

"You know? How?" Peter desperately wanted Harry to say 'because I know you, because I know you're not a killer,' anything to make him feel they could salvage their friendship.

"Because what you killed wasn't my father. Because I found the gear," Harry said instead.

"Gear?" Peter's stomach fell as he realised Harry still believed Spider-Man had killed Norman Osborn, that his efforts to protect Harry from the truth had come to nothing.

"The Green Goblin glider, the costume, the bombs, the fucking mask, Peter!" Harry's voice rose again. "You didn't even see fit to tell me that, did you? You didn't see fit to tell me my father was a raging psychopathic, homicidal murderer, did you?"

"He begged me not to, Harry," Peter whispered.

"What?" Harry looked at him, shocked, his face young and soft with confusion.

"He begged me. His last words were 'Don't tell Harry'." Peter used the 'in' Harry had given him to ply his side of the story, even it was blatant emotional manipulation. "His last thoughts were of you. At the end, all that mattered to him was you. He wanted you to still love him, be proud of him. He didn't want you to remember him as a murderer, and I wasn't going to take him away from you, Harry. He loved you."

Harry slumped, as if the weight of the world was suddenly bearing him down. "He loved me," he said it in a flat monotone. "He loved me so much he gave me the gas, too. He said he had to balance 'certain inequities', then he gave me the same treatment he took that turned him into that monster."

"Harry... no..." Peter felt numb with disbelief. He knew that Norman had been insane, but he couldn't believe he'd go so far as to drag his son down into his madness. Then again, Norman was beyond rational thought towards the end, and drunk on the power the gas gave him, it may even have seemed a good idea to make his son as strong as he'd been.

"He said it would make me strong. Make me a man. Make me like him."

"Harry," Peter felt panic rise. This couldn't happen again, not to Harry. Not to fragile, lonely, desperate Harry. "I read what I could on the gas, Harry, after what happened with your father. Not every trial leads to insanity. We can work it out."

"'We', Peter? Is there a 'we'? You betrayed me."

Peter stepped back from Harry's anger, searching his eyes for signs of insanity.

"And stop cowering. We both know you could crush me like a-" Harry stopped before he said 'bug'. "Did you kill him?" he asked, reasonable again. "I mean, I know he was the Goblin, and he deserved to die, but did you actually..."

"No, Harry. Please believe me. I didn't."

"How did he die?" Harry had returned to staring out of the window.

Peter paused for a long moment, trying to gather his thoughts. He'd wanted Harry to know, so desperately. He'd wanted to tell Harry the truth so that Harry wouldn't hate him so much, but he wasn't sure that Harry wouldn't just hate him all the more if he found out the truth. Peter's life was a lie. Harry was right there; Peter lied to everyone about everything. But like telling Aunt May he'd been responsible for Uncle Ben's death, it was all out in the open now.

"He called the glider to him", Peter said, reluctantly. "It slammed into him and he bled to death when it severed the femoral artery," he said flatly, then seeing the sick look on Harry's face he tried to soften it. "It was over in seconds. He didn't suffer."

"Why didn't he get out of the way?" Harry's voice was sharp with suspicion.

Peter drew a nervous breath. "He had called it to him to try and impale me, but I felt it coming."

"So you ducked and let him die?"

Peter could only answer honestly. "Yes."

Harry was quiet for a long time. When he spoke, it sounded as if he was speaking from a great distance. "If you hadn't, he would have killed M.J.."

"Yes."

"And incidentally thousands of others."

"Yes."

They were both quiet for a while, and Peter wondered if he dare lay a hand on Harry's shoulder, but Harry looked as if he'd break if he were touched.

"It wasn't his fault, Harry. The gas destroyed his moral conscience. He wasn't responsible for his actions."

"He was always a ruthless bastard, Peter. The gas just gave him an excuse. I think he knew full well what he was doing and just didn't care who he hurt." Tears had started again, or at least Peter could see one silvery line on Harry's face. Harry had never been afraid to cry – something his father had not been able to crush out of him. "He knew who he was hurting, and why, and he was fully responsible. He had no excuse. Just like you had no excuse to lie to me."

"Harry-"

"And don't tell me you didn't lie. Don't tell me you just overlooked telling me. I'm your best friend and you couldn't share this with me. Do you know how much I would have loved this? We were in high school when it started, right?"

"I couldn't tell you, Harry…" Peter started, but Harry cut him off.

"I would have loved to have been a part of this back then. Instead you made me hate it. You let me go on hating for years. Just because you didn't trust me enough to tell me the truth."

"It wasn't just you, Harry. I didn't tell anyone."

"I'm not everyone! I'm your best friend!"

"Still?" Peter asked hopefully and hated the begging note in his voice.

"I don't know, Peter," Harry drew a deep breath. "You lied. For all this time you've lied. Lied and lied and lied. To me. To everyone. You killed my father-" Harry put up a hand to stop Peter's protest. "You did, not deliberately but you're responsible for his death. You let me go on, not knowing why my father had died. Didn't it occur to you that it would have been better if I'd known that my father had died for a reason rather than just some random attack by some mutant freak who likes to jump around the city in his underwear?"

"I'm not a mutant," Peter protested, then withered under Harry's glare. "I thought... it would be better if you just... loved your father. If you never found out about him."

"You were wrong, Peter. I needed to know the truth. I can really lay that monster to rest now."

"Harry, I'm sorry. I didn't want you to lose him altogether."

"I guess, not having a father, you don't know how these things work."

That was a low blow and one Peter knew had been deliberately meant to hurt. He didn't rise to the bait, though, he knew Harry needed to draw blood, but Peter let the hurt colour his voice. "I guess I don't."

Harry turned and almost looked at him, but dropped his eyes before turning back to the view. That was all the apology Peter was going to get for that.

"At least your Uncle Ben died a hero, not a monster."

"Your father..." Peter trailed off.

"He was a monster at the end, maybe he always had been and I was too blind to see it. And all I ever wanted was to be like him. I wanted to be just like my father."

"You won't, Harry. You're a good person, not a monster."

"You know this, do you?" Harry said, biting out the words.

"I know you," Peter was firm on that.

"Do you? I certainly don't know you."

"You know me, Harry. We've known each other forever. It was only one thing that I didn't tell you."

"One thing?" Harry looked like he was going to laugh. Or break. "Not exactly a small thing, Peter! Kind of a big thing, don't you think? Why didn't you tell me?"

"At first... it was embarrassing."

"I wouldn't have cared. I wouldn't have laughed at you, Peter."

He was right, Peter knew. Harry never laughed at him. Not when he fell over his feet, or said horribly embarrassing things because he didn't know how to talk to people, not when others found every reason to laugh at Puny Parker – the ubernerd. Harry had never laughed at him.

"Then I used it to try and make money, and I didn't want you to know that."

"Did you think I'd make fun of you for being poor?" Harry asked, and Peter wondered if he was laying on the guilt deliberately.

"No... but I didn't want anyone to know. And then Uncle Ben... died because... he died, and I started with the crime fighting and started making enemies."

"You never were very good at making friends," Harry observed.

"No, never have been. I just irritate people too much, I guess," Peter attempted a grin.

"You didn't me. Until now. Now I don't know if I can accept this. Keep talking, Peter. Make me understand."

"If the people I fight find out who I am, they know they probably can't hurt me, but they can hurt the people I love – my friends and family. I don't want anyone getting hurt because of what I do."

"And you thought I'd blab?"

"No, Harry! I didn't tell anyone! It wasn't just you. I couldn't!" Peter felt they were arguing in circles. His desperation to break through Harry's hurt, and Harry's refusal to see his side, and neither could let go.

"So you didn't tell me in order to protect me?"

"Yes!" Peter had a moment of relief that Harry understood.

"That's just so much bullshit, Peter."

Maybe not.

"Harry, you don't understand, I couldn't tell you. I just couldn't. Protecting your safety has to take precedence of protecting your feelings!"

"Who else knows?"

"M.J.."

"You trust her more than me? When did you tell her?"

"She found out after you. She saw me without my mask when I was fighting Doc Oc.

"You didn't tell her deliberately?"

"No, I'd never put her in jeopardy like that."

"I don't know... I think it helps to know that at least if you didn't trust me, it wasn't less than anyone else."

"If I was going to tell anyone..."

"Don't lie again, Peter. Does your Aunt know?"

"No, I think it would kill her if she found out."

"I think she'd kill you!" There was a ghost of a smile on Harry's face.

"I guess I'd get a smack upside the head and a lecture until my ears bleed, at the very least," Peter tried to lighten the mood.

"I bet M.J. loves it," Harry changed gears again, face falling back into anger. "She always did love her men larger than life. She loved Spider-Man before she loved either of us."

"I'm not sure, I think it frightens her. I mean, she understands why I'm such a flake now, but I don't think she's prepared to watch me go out and fight all the time. I think she feels one day I won't come back."

"At least you have her to come back to now," Peter was expecting the bitterness behind that comment.

"She didn't leave you for me, Harry. I never tried to take her from you."

Harry didn't respond, but a muscle twitched in his cheek.

"And I never tried to take your father's love from you," Peter took a risk and harked back to Harry's comments from the party.

"Did it hurt?"

"Did what hurt?"

"When I slapped you. Could you feel it? I mean with your strength, could you even feel that?"

"Yeah," Peter put a hand to his cheek, remembering the slaps. "It hurt."

"I'm surprised."

It hurt that his best friend hit him in public, on one of the most crushingly depressing nights of his life. It hurt that Harry could think those things. It hurt to watch the woman he loved agree to marry another man. It hurt to lose two of the only people he loved. It hurt to watch Harry try and destroy himself with drink and drugs. "It hurt."

They were quiet for a long time, and Peter watched Harry's shoulders slump a little, relax a little. Peter realised that knowing he could hurt Peter made Harry happier, as if Harry could use that knowledge to realise Peter was still human, that Harry was still important enough to Peter to be able to hurt him.

"Show me," Harry made some vague hand gesture towards Peter's chest, and Peter looked down uncomprehendingly.

"Show you what?" he asked.

"The suit. Well, let's see it up close, then. You were always such a prude, Peter. Baggy shorts and your T shirts were always too big at gym, and now you're running around in tights."

Peter shrugged to disguise the flash of anger he felt at the dig, and started to undo a few buttons. "I guess that's all part of the disguise. Who'd think of Puny Parker jumping around in a lycra body suit?"

Harry didn't say anything else, but watched Peter remove his street clothes with intense concentration. Harry's eyes glittered, but not with tears or drunken rage as he followed the movements of Peter's hands.

Peter didn't strip down as quickly as he would if it were an emergency. He couldn't quite justify why he was so reluctant to get down to his costume in front of Harry – he'd been seen in his tights by many thousands of people and never given it a second thought, but Harry's intense gaze made him feel uncomfortable.

Harry was frowning at him by the time he'd shucked his loose jeans and pulled on the gloves.

"I still hate it," Harry said when Peter had the mask in place.

Peter's startled yelp surprised both of them.

"What was that for?" Harry asked.

"You said 'it'. You said you hate 'it', not me."

"I guess... I guess I can't really hate you. Take the mask off, Peter. I hate that face – I can't read it."

Peter took the mask off and still felt like he was standing in front of Harry in his underwear. Hadn't he had dreams like that?

"What does it feel like?" Harry asked.

Peter didn't pretend not to understand. "Freedom. When I'm out there," he gestured towards the city beyond his window, "I leave Peter Parker behind. It's just Spider-Man, the buildings, the wind, the crooks, and the responsibility."

"Responsibility?"

"With great power comes-"

"Oh, don't say it, Peter. Do you know how often your Uncle used to say that to me?"

Peter laughed. No one had escaped Uncle Ben's homilies, and he laughed harder when Harry's face cracked and he laughed, too.

"Oh, Peter, where did I fuck up?"

"You didn't..." Peter was confused.

"I must have... if you couldn't trust me with this. I guess I just got everything wrong again. Father was right, I'm nothing but a fuck up."

"Harry," Peter rushed to offer comfort, then saw the smile quirk the corner of Harry's lips. "Oh, don't play me, Harry," he scolded, and they laughed again.

"You're a complete sucker for every sob story, aren't you, Pete."

I'm Pete again, Peter realised, "Yes. How do you think I got into the super hero biz in the first place?"

Harry stepped closer, put a hand on Peter's shoulder, and Peter held still, barely breathing as Harry explored the texture of the costume.

"Puffy Paint?" Harry asked, fingering the web pattern.

"A kind of extruded rubber."

"Clever."

Peter grinned, "You don't want to know the hours that go into making this."

"Fag."

Peter laughed again, the relief at Harry's melting making him almost dizzy.

"Pete..."

"Yes?"

"Take me up there."

"Up where?"

"With you. When you go, whatever that is, swinging."

"On patrol?" Peter's euphoria evaporated. After all he'd sacrificed to protect Harry, Harry was now asking to be taken right into the thick of things.

"Patrol? Could you sound any more like a wannabe geek, Peter?"

"All right. Swinging. But that makes it sound like I'm into wife swapping."

"That would be interesting to watch. Do you shoot webs out of your ass as well?"

"Harry!" Peter scolded, hearing his Aunt in his tone.

Harry grinned. "Made you blush! So will you?"

"I guess... as long as we don't do anything dangerous, and we don't get seen together by anyone. Maybe I we should get you some sort of mask before we go. And if anything dangerous happens, you have to stay well back, okay?"

"Now. Do it now," Harry pulled a silk handkerchief from his pocket and tied it around his face – bandit style.

"Now?" Peter fiddled with his mask and quietly panicked inside. It was too fast. Harry still hadn't stopped hating Spider-Man. What if there was an accident? A crime? A super villain?"

"Now!" Harry said, and held out his arms as if for a hug.

Peter caved once again, put his mask on and went to stand by the window.

"When I leave here, I go really quickly, so people won't notice. I'll have to web you to me so you don't fall off."

"Okay," Harry came up behind him and wrapped his long arms around Peter's middle, as if they were just sharing a ride on Peter's scooter. Peter wrapped a line around their waists to hold Harry on securely, opened the window, waited until his spider sense gave the all clear, then launched himself into the air.

Harry grunted at the first few seconds of free fall, and dug his fingers into Peter's ribs.

"You okay?" Peter yelled, the wind whipping away his words.

He felt Harry nod, and could also feel, through his mask, where Harry pressed his face against Peter's neck, that Harry was grimacing and grinding his teeth.

Peter took it slow, swinging in graceful arcs over the city. He took each corner carefully, travelling well known pathways where he could place his webs easily, making sure that the ride was smooth and as slow as possible. He could feel Harry start to relax against his back. He allowed just a little pride to slide in through his nervousness. It was actually pretty good to share something so personal with his best friend again.

"This is great, Pete!" Harry said, "Can you go faster?"

"Sure!" Peter said, and laughing, he let go of his webline and spun from free fall into a perfect roll before shooting a line that brought them upwards in an abrupt arc.

Harry screamed like a kid on a roller coaster, and wrapped his arms around Peter's throat as Peter spun and pirouetted, dropped, grabbed flag polls and pin-wheeled around them, and flew at full speed past all of his favourite city landmarks.

He introduced Harry to a few of his gargoyle friends, and was laughingly called a weirdo for his troubles, and finally stopped on a rooftop, letting Harry see the city as he did, high up, far from the messy details of ground dwelling life, pure and efficient, with the people and cars moving like a well controlled ballet.

"Wow..." Harry breathed.

"Yeah... this is what makes it all worthwhile, Harry."

"Hey, Pete... think we could go stop a mugging or something?"

"Too easy, Harry. Crime never happens on cue. It's like the phone – it only goes off when you're in the bath! Anyway, I'm not dragging a civilian into a crime scene."

"A 'civilian'? Jerk. Go on, let's go see what we can find." Harry slung his arms around Peter's neck again, and screamed like a kid at a fun fair when Peter threw himself off the building and dropped 20 stories before shooting out a webline.

Peter knew he shouldn't do this, that he was taking unnecessary risks, showing off to get Harry's approval. Showing off never ended well and after all the pain and trouble he'd gone to keeping things a secret in order to protect Harry, he didn't really want to take Harry directly into danger now. He kept to the quiet areas, the areas he knew were rarely targeted by gangs, the wealthy areas, and the heavily policed areas, giving Harry a carnival fun ride through the air but trying to avoid any of the 'excitement' Harry was after.

They spun over the city for a short time, then Harry pointed downwards. They dropped to the side of a building, watching a young man who was following behind an oblivious couple. The young man had his hat down over his eyes, collar up, and the shuffling guilty walk of the new-to-crime.

Peter gnawed his lip. He had tried to avoid this, but he couldn't turn his back on people in need. He'd learned that lesson the hard way.

"You've got a good eye for this, Harry," Peter said grudgingly, as he scuttled on the side of the building into the nearest ally, Harry clutching his shoulders like a limpet. Their target took a few sudden steps forward and thrust his hand against the back of the man he'd been trailing, muttering something that forced him and his female companion into the ally where Peter was waiting for him. Peter let Harry down to the ground, as far from the action as he could get, then sprung over to tap the would-be mugger on the shoulder.

"Hello Handsome!" he said, and laughed as the mugger turned around and looked at him in terror, "Not your night, is it!"

Peter only had to flick the thug's face with one finger, and he went down like a sack of wet cement. The man who'd been held at knife point screamed, apparently more afraid of Spider-Man than of the mugger, but his girlfriend waved and smiled.

Peter heard the sound of running feet and realised he had missed the thug's partner, who had apparently been waiting in the ally for the victims to arrive, and made to chase after them, when a long arm came out of the darkness, clothes lining the other criminal, sending him to the wet cement, choking and writhing, and gasping for air.

In the dim shadow, the only part of Harry he could see were the glittering eyes, and Peter grinned back before he remembered Harry wouldn't be able to see it. He turned and saluted the young couple who watched with amazement as he webbed up the criminal pair, then grabbed Harry again, leaping back into the sky.

"That was so cool!" Harry yelled, sounding like a kid again. "Man, Pete, I can see why you do that. That felt great! Did you see the way I nailed that guy?"

"Yeah, Harry, you did good! But be careful, you don't have super powers, you could really get hurt."

"Don't be so lame, Pete. You sound like an after-school special. Besides," Harry said as they touched down on the roof of Harry's penthouse, "I think I might. Not in your league, I guess, but after what my father did, there's a good chance I might have super strength or something. I don't know."

"Be careful, Harry, you don't want-"

"This is great!" Harry ploughed on, pulling off his make-shift mask, as he went inside, kicked off his shoes and threw himself onto his bed, "Can you imagine it?"

"Imagine what?" Peter perched on the edge of the bed and stripped his mask off, dropping it on the floor near Harry's shoes.

"You and me! Fighting crime together! What a team!"

"Oh, Harry, I don't know about that..."

"You can be Spider-Man," Harry put his hands behind his bed, staring at the ceiling, "And I'll be... um..."

"Spider-Boy?"

"No. Something cool. I'll think of something. Something with no green in it."

"Harry... The gas, it just makes you strong. I don't think it does anything else. You can't fly or anything."

"Hey, sour puss," Harry reached up and grabbed Peter, dragging him down onto the bed with him. It reminded Peter of when they'd been much younger, when they'd do their homework together on Peter's bed, and spend the night reading comic books and talking, sleeping together in a pile of paper and cake crumbs. He chortled at the image – it really had been fun to spend an afternoon free of guilt, having a good time with his best friend again.

Harry turned to look at Peter and threw an arm over his waist. "I'm serious, Pete. I mean, maybe I shouldn't be out there, on the front line, but I can still help. My money and your muscle? Your super powers and my media savvy? I can have anything made that you might want. I can make you... Spider-Cars!"

"I can't drive a car, Harry!" Pete laughed. "Oh my god, can you imagine that? It would have to be all red and blue and spider webs!"

"And talk like the car from Knight Rider?"

"Totally!" Peter rolled his eyes and they laughed again at the ridiculous image.

"No, really, I'm serious. Imagine what you could achieve with my money behind you. A nice little crime-fighting head quarters. I could put Osborn Industries at your disposal, patch you into the police computers. Instead of just jumping around hoping to run into crime accidentally, we could be real detectives. With my brains and your brawn we could totally sew this town up. Okay, your brains and your brawn and my money. Whatever works."

"Hmm... so you'd be like Arthur to my Batman?"

"Better than Lex Luthor to your Super-Man, right?" Harry was still smiling, but his eyes were quite serious, a flash of glowing green, and Peter got a good glimpse into what could have been.

"Yep. Much better," he agreed. And what if they did? They'd always been a formidable team as friends, and now... maybe it would work. Maybe with Harry on his side, behind the scenes, he really would achieve more. He leaned his forehead against Harry's until Harry's face became a slightly unfocussed blur and he could feel Harry's warm breath against his chin.

"You can just think of me as your manager. I'll make sure you don't get any more negative press-"

"How can you do that?"

"I'll buy the Bugle. Jameson won't print a damned thing I don't like."

"That's not very ethical, Harry. I won't-"

"I was kidding!"

Peter gave Harry a sceptical eyebrow, but said: "The temptation to web that guy's mouth shut gets to me sometimes."

"Ha! Okay, well, you won't have to work again."

"Huh? Why not?"

"I'll support you. You can do this full time and not have to live in that shit hole any more."

"Harry, how many times have we discussed that kind of thing?"

"I know, I know, you like to stand on your own two feet. Can't blame me for trying. Again. Anyway, it'll be fun, you'll see."

"It might be kind of cool. Have someone to talk it over with, get a fresh insight into things."

"Spider-Copter!"

"Oh, great, Harry. I'm looking for deep and meaningful personal connections," Peter put a hand over his heart in a soap opera parody of emotional pain, "and you want to talk about Spider-Copters!"

"You'll get your 'personal connections'," Harry made finger quotes with the arm he wasn't lying on, "when I get in on the fun. I want to be a part of this, helping you bring down the bad guys, getting some of the kudos. Even if it's just as your sidekick at first."

He knew a lot of Harry's enthusiasm stemmed from the child-like joy of having their friendship back again and he didn't want to point out there was very little kudos in being Spider-Man, but listening to Harry's excited business plans, Peter couldn't help feeling some of the excitement rub off.

"Sounds like we should make you a costume. Something with short-shorts and a cape so you can be Spider-Boy!"

"Hey!" Harry protested, "I told you, no Spider-Boy. I'm nobody's boy! And I'm never wearing short-shorts!"

They both chuckled at the image of Harry in bare legs and short-shorts and as they quieted down, Peter closed his eyes and grinned, feeling himself relax for the first time in a long time. All the secrets and lies were out, the boil had been lanced and now healing could begin, now that he had his friend back, just like it had been when they were kids.

Harry's laugh ended in an undignified snort, then silence. Then Peter felt the warmth and pressure of Harry's lips on his forehead.

Peter froze, eyes still closed and waited for Harry to make a joke of it, but instead, Harry waited a beat or two then leaned in and did it again.

Peter lay completely still, and wondered, if he pushed Harry away, would the rejection shatter the fragile peace they'd made? Or maybe Harry was just joking around. Peter was afraid to open his eyes to confirm it was a joke, in case it wasn't, and then he thought he'd left it loo long – that Harry would take his still acquiescence as acceptance of Harry's kisses and that Harry would accuse him of being gay because he hadn't pushed Harry away. Peter simply didn't know how to react – a spider-sense was just no use at all against the onslaught of a friend's inappropriate affection.

"You okay?" Harry asked.

Peter decided he couldn't ignore Harry's questions and stay silent or he'd have the same problems he'd had with the whole 'not opening his eyes' thing. "Yeah," he said, before the silence went on too long.

He wasn't shocked, he told himself. It wasn't all that gay, he decided. Friends did that. He was sure they probably did. He hadn't had enough guys friends to be sure, but he guessed that along with the back slapping and butt touching that Flash used to do with his football friends, they might have kissed each other on the forehead now and then. Harry was just showing him that he was trusted again, and Peter sighed happily and when Harry kissed his cheek, he kissed Harry back, a quick peck on the end of Harry's nose.

Maybe it was a rich kid thing. Maybe rich guys who'd been to expensive boarding schools could do stuff like this that poor kids from Queens couldn't do for fear of being labelled a fag and getting beaten up.

Sure, Peter had never kissed another guy before, but then he'd never had a friend like Harry before. Other than Harry, he'd hardly had any friends at all, so if Harry wanted to kiss his chin, Peter was sure it was all right. Peter found he had a number of ways he could rationalise what he was letting Harry do.

Peter closed his eyes and enjoyed the warmth and comfort of lying quietly with Harry, Harry's hands stroking his back, Harry's lips peppering little kisses over his cheeks, over his eyelids. Blindly, slowly, Peter returned the kisses, pressing his lips to Harry's brow, the long line of his cheek, the sharp edge of his jaw.

Even when Harry's lips met his, soft and dry, Peter didn't try to stop him. He decided if he ever needed to explain why he'd let Harry kiss him, he could always say it was an exercise in trust building, but to be honest it was just so nice to be gently touched, and Peter could never remember a time when he'd felt so cherished. Even M.J., who he loved like life itself, had kissed him like it was a gift. And it was. A gift she'd bestowed on him like a blessing from the angels. Harry's kisses where from the other side, he took with a hesitancy that made Peter feel like the angel, the one giving, the one who was desired, rather than the one begging for acknowledgement.

"This is nice," Harry murmured.

He'd left it too long to protest, Peter knew. Harry wouldn't graciously accept being pushed away now. And Peter thought he didn't really want to. He'd loved Harry – as a friend – nearly as long as he'd loved M.J., and he knew Harry had loved him, just the same, for longer. Maybe it wasn't so bad for two guys to kiss each other, in the privacy of a penthouse bedroom, if no one else ever found out. Just one more secret in Peter's life.

"Hmm," Peter finally agreed, and kissed Harry back again, lips closed, feeling the warm give of Harry's fuller lips against his own.

When Harry started to deepen the kisses, pressing a little harder, pulling Peter against his body with a firm grip on his hips, Peter opened his eyes at last. He felt the need to point out: "Harry? This is getting kind of gay."

"Kind of?" Harry said, his eyes sparkling with amusement, then he rolled partially on top of Peter, pushing him down onto his luxurious sheets, stroking his chest and stomach with one hand while his tongue teased at Peter's lips.

Now would be the time to stop this, Peter thought, but instead he wrapped his arms around Harry's neck and held him closer. It was getting harder to worry about how this could be gay, it was getting hard to remember that he was still holding out hopes for M.J., that he and M.J. had kissed passionately and she'd left John Jameson at the alter for him. Harry had been his friend for so long, Harry had always tried to be his friend, Harry had never found other friends, or ever screwed Peter over. He'd been loyal, supportive, caring, and despite his wanting to kill Spider-Man, had always been there for Peter. Peter knew that if he stopped this now, he might hurt Harry beyond all recovery. And he found, as Harry's lips nipped at his own, as his tongue teased him with gentle persuasion, he really didn't want to stop it.

Harry broke off the kissing to ask: "Have you done this before? With a guy, I mean?"

Peter shook his head.

"Cool," Harry grinned. "I get to be your first, then."

"I guess," he wished Harry would get back to the kissing.

"I'm clean," Harry looked at him earnestly.

Peter looked at him blankly.

"I mean, I've been tested."

"Oh," Peter caught the clue bus. "I see, I mean. Good."

Harry smiled at him, and Peter was so glad to see the warm, sweet, and guileless face of his old friend replacing the harsh pinched look Harry had worn lately, that he didn't even complain when Harry tugged at his tights, getting them down over his hips.

He helped, and managed to get them and one boot off, leaving them on the bed. He felt ridiculous, with his Spider-Man shirt and one boot still on, but Harry really didn't seem to care. At least Peter no longer had to feel like a scrawny runt, or embarrassed to let anyone see him naked.

Harry went back to the kissing, and Peter threaded his hands through Harry's curly hair, holding his head close as Harry finally slipped his tongue carefully into Peter's mouth. Clumsy and awkward, their teeth knocked together as Harry struggled to remove his belt, pants and underwear without breaking the kiss. He swore a little under his breath and had to break away.

"Huh?" Peter questioned, his intelligence having left about the same time Harry had started teasing the roof of Peter's mouth with his tongue.

"Forgot to take my shoes off first," Harry said, kicking and making the bed rock a little before he laid back down over Peter, pressing him back on the bed, surrounding him with the scent of warm sweat and exclusive cologne.

Both of them naked from the waist down, Peter pushed up to meet the bump of Harry's hips, groaning as Harry licked the palm of his hand and reached down to take them both in one large fist. He jerked them both with slippery, assured strokes until Peter was blind to anything but the pull at his groin and Harry's mouth fixed on his, as if Harry could suck out his very soul.

Harry anchored himself with his free hand, grasping Peter's hair, a slight sting as a few strands were pulled loose.

Peter put one hand in the middle of Harry's back, and another on the top of Harry's and nearly choked on Harry's tongue. The heat, made slippery with his own precum and Harry's sweat, combined with the sure, experienced grip and Peter groaned as he felt the first burning jets of his orgasm hit. His legs straightened and his toes pointed, and all the super villains in the world could have attacked New York at that point and it wouldn't have been as important as what was happening here.

He shuddered and tried to suck the air out of Harry's lungs as the last spasms of pleasure rocked through him. He wrapped his arms around Harry as Harry's orgasm followed his. Harry finally released their kiss and buried his face against Peter's neck, panting and groaning as he spilled his seed over his hand, over Peter's stomach.

He didn't let go, and lay on top of Peter, still holding their softening flesh as his breathing returned to normal.

Peter's breathing was back to normal in seconds, and he wondered if his high pain threshold also affected his ability to feel pleasure, if it was shortened along with his healing time, but he felt relaxed and calm, and his nerves tickled pleasantly through his whole body. He signed and stretched a little, enjoying Harry's warm, comfortable weight.

Harry licked the edge of Peter's ear, his tongue tracing the pinea, then softly kissed Peter's ear lobe.

"Well, now we're both out," Harry murmured, sounding like he was on the edge of sleep.

"Out?"

"You're out to me as Spider-Man, and I'm out to you as..."

"Gay?"

"In love with you."

"Oh," Peter looked deep into Harry's eyes and saw no sign of trickery. Just a little abashed, just a little nervous, just a little hopeful. Peter really didn't know what to say to that, the only people who'd ever said that to him had been his aunt and uncle, and right now he didn't feel he could give Harry the standard response in return. He just didn't know if he did… at least he wasn't sure if he did in the way Harry meant. He didn't want to hurt Harry again, but he wasn't sure what was an honest answer here. If he compared his feelings for Harry to his feelings for M.J…. he cut that line of thought off as Harry blinked, and some of the bright hope faded from his eyes.

"That's why you could hurt me so badly, Peter."

Peter held his gaze and promised solemnly, "It won't happen again, Harry."

He wasn't sure he could keep that promise. He'd always had a knack for hurting those he cared about. So he thought he'd better add the caveat: "At least, I'll try not to."

"That's all I ask, Peter," Harry said, looking relieved out of all proportion to Peter's declaration. "That's all I ask."