Here it is, dear readers: the elusive Chapter 6! I'm so sorry about the looong delay (Real Life happened), so I made this chapter the longest chapter to date as a lame attempt to make it up to you amazing people. Thank you all so much for your infinite patience and support!

Special Thanks to:

Aayla Security for inspirations and suggestions

Blissaster (Lavie) for being lovely and sticking with the story since the very beginning

Waruitenshi for being awesome and awesomely supportive (Love ya, girl!)

justkeeptyping for being responsible for this chapter's completion before this year's Christmas because she just had her birthday – Happy Belated Birthday! Sure, it's late, but it's just to catch you off-guard :)

Last, but not least… YOU for reviewing, favoriting, following, or simply reading!

I'd really like to reply to all my reviews, so please don't forget to log in if you do review so I could personally thank you!

By the way, Happy Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day!

-:-

The Aftermath

Chapter 6

In Which There Is a Gala

"How was your day?"

Peter quickly swallowed his mouthful of roast beef and grinned at his friend across the dining table. Harry had just asked him about his day. A normal conversation. Christmas miracles were –

"Not that I care either way, but you keep giving me this pathetic Look."

Peter sighed long-sufferingly and, not feeling like backing down for once, fought back instantly. He asked in the most mocking and snarkiest voice he could muster (which wasn't really that mocking or snarky), "What pathetic Look?"

Harry put down his knife and fork and looked at Peter calmly, "The Look that screams 'I've had a shitty day! Ask me about my day! Ask me about my goddamn day!'"

Once again Harry's impression of Peter was just sad. You'd think someone as smart as Oscorp's CEO would know Peter Parker would never sound so whiny.

"Harry," Peter said condescendingly. See? Harry Osborn wasn't the only one that could do condescending. "I don't sound like that. And I don't even know how to put so many words in one single Look. That, my friend, is your specialty." Yup, totally condescending. This was not the first time Peter wondered if Harry's nastiness was the result of extremely early male menopause. Because that would explain a lot.

Harry didn't look impressed. "So you don't want me to ask you about your day,"

"No!" He did want Harry to! He just wanted to first prove the nonexistence of the Look Harry was on about.

"No as in you don't?"

"NO!"

It was as if a floodgate had been opened. Peter immediately launched into a long-winded rant about Mary Jane and Derek and why Derek totally wasn't that great and why M.J. was way too good for him. At some point during the rant, he'd dropped his fork and started illustrating his many points with hand gestures. Afterwards when he reflected on the whole incident, he would feel ashamed for badmouthing a guy he'd never even met, and he especially wouldn't be proud of the whining. Yeah, that was what this rant was, essentially: one long whine from a freshly dumped loser.

Harry listened patiently, attentively even, and didn't look like he was judging him.

To be honest, Peter had been in a sort of sour mood ever since Mary Jane started talking about Derek this and Derek that and oh, you have to meet Derek, you'll love him. So Peter might have hoped (there was no Look involved, jeez) Harry would ask him about his day, just so he could complain and bitch about how unfair it all was and get this whole unpleasant afternoon out of his head.

Peter's sour mood wasn't so sour that he was bothered too much by it. Hanging out with M.J. was like…drinking lemonade. It was sweet and sour at the same time. And he couldn't believe he just made that comparison. It was all Derek's fault; if he hadn't been so perfect, M.J. wouldn't have talked about him and sipped lemonade at the same time, and Peter wouldn't have thought like a girl. Totally Derek's fault. Jerk.

But the point was, Peter was once again caught in the lemona – conflicting emotions caused by hanging out with M.J. And the sheer amount of happiness made him think the unhappiness wasn't so bad.

Peter didn't realize just how badly he'd needed to talk about the shitty afternoon (yeah, he said it, because it was shitty) until Harry basically made him start talking. With nonsense about a Look. Such nonsense.

After half an hour of passionate ranting, Peter finally got it all out of his system. Memo to self: No more friend-dates with Mary Jane. Ever.

Unless she called him, which was another matter entirely, and that did not make him a smitten idiot.

Finally done with his rant, Peter stopped, slightly out of breath. That felt good; that felt really good. If he'd known complaining to Harry about his love life (or lack thereof) was so therapeutic, he'd have done that a long time ago.

Harry looked thoughtful for a moment before asking, "Is that Derek guy an actor?"

Peter nodded bitterly, "And a good-looking one."

Harry sniffed, "Douchebag."

Peter straightened in his seat in a sudden bout of enthusiasm and energy. "I know, right?!"

"And he doesn't even have the decency to make honest money like the rest of us. While we're working our asses off, he's off trying to scam us with his pretty face and random Shakespeare bullshit."

"Exactly!"

They weren't being exactly fair to the fair thespians, but Peter didn't care about that right now. Bitching was good, bitching with company was glorious. And he realized Harry had just as much cause to find Derek annoying; they were both Mary Jane's ex-boyfriends, which made them…kindred spirits. Which was distinctly awesome. Even though Peter was kind of, fine, completely responsible for Harry's "ex" part (something he wasn't proud of, mind you). Anyway, since Harry seemed to have put this behind them and even reminded Peter of his friend-date, Peter was going to venture a guess that Harry was no longer romantically interested in M.J.

Wait. They were bitching about M.J.'s current boyfriend…

"I can't wait to see how Derek is going to survive in the harsh, cruel world when he no longer looks the part of prince charming…" Harry trailed off when he noticed Peter looking at him anxiously. "What?"

Peter swallowed, "Are you…still in love with her?"

Harry made a face at the words "in love" as if the idea of him being in love with anyone was utterly distasteful. "Who?" He demanded clarification in the most obnoxious way possible. Early male menopause must have struck. Poor guy.

"M.J.!" How could Harry not know? There was only one girl in the world worthy of this discussion!

Harry actually gaped at him, in a rare, completely open display of non-negative emotion. Not that he never gaped before (he'd gaped plenty in high school and college, and middle school, especially middle school), but these days all Peter ever got out of him were irritated grunts, impatient sniffs, disdainful scoffs, condescending sneers, the usual. Though this gape was categorized as "display of neutral emotion" at best (shock was neutral, right?) and not nearly as nice as those cherished instances where Harry openly displayed positive emotions, Peter would take every non-negative emotional display he could get.

Peter was beginning to realize that Harry was always caught off-guard, almost vulnerable, when discussions of his feelings arose. Huh. He supposed as much as being Oscorp's CEO had hardened Harry with regards to almost all kinds of professional emotions, it didn't give him any practice with matters of a personal nature.

Peter was…relieved. Because Harry hadn't become a corporate jerk like Gordon Gekko after all. Because he was still the Harry Osborn Peter grew up with, the Harry Osborn who was awkward with personal feelings, romantic or otherwise, the Harry Osborn who always had trouble picking presents for his dad because he couldn't decide on the one specific feeling he wanted to express, the same Harry Osborn who didn't understand Jane Austen's works but could recite her bibliography backwards because he wanted to understand.

Maybe it was the delicious roast beef, or maybe he was just mellow after recalling adorable childhood memories of his best friend – whatever the reason, affection and fondness for Harry bloomed in Peter's chest and warmed his stomach – okay, that was definitely the roast beef.

"Peter!" Harry's snarky voice snapped.

Peter caught himself. He'd been smiling at Harry like a besotted idiot looking at his old dog and remembering the good old days. Harry probably wouldn't appreciate the analogy, however touching it was.

"What?"

Harry sighed impatiently, "You asked me if I was still in love with M.J., then suddenly you started staring at me like an idiot looking at his old dog and remembering their treasure-hunting days."

It was so amazing that it was downright insane. Peter laughed. He couldn't have stopped himself if he'd tried. How did Harry do that? It wasn't even like mind-reading anymore, it was like…they had some sort of mental connection or something. The thought only made Peter laugh harder.

Harry regarded him in a very unflattering way: annoyed, exasperated, but resigned. He began with his customary narrowed eyes, "Since you're determined to be a complete waste of my time this evening, I'm gonna –"

Peter shut up immediately. "No, wait, you haven't told me if you're still in love with M.J.!"

Harry looked at him skeptically. "Does that even matter?"

"Yes,"

"You do realize she's not breaking up with Romeo anytime soon, right?"

"Well, duh,"

"Even if she did, I don't have time to be a love-sick moron like you, so if you're worried about competition or something equally stu –"

Peter groaned. "Come on, Harry! I told you my feelings all the time!"

"Unfortunately,"

"And I helped you pick out birthday and Christmas gifts for your dad every year!"

That got Harry's attention instantly, and he softened, marginally, soon after. Looked like recalling their childhood memories together made Harry mellow, too. Peter wanted to hug him. He really was still the Harry he knew, who cared about ordinary stuff like that as if the ordinary was actually extraordinary, who always remembered and treasured the good memories (and the bad ones, obviously).

Harry eventually sighed, muttered an irritated "Jesus Christ", and said, "No, I was never in love with her to begin with."

Peter was relieved, beyond relieved. So Harry probably wasn't pissed at him for "stealing M.J." anymore. Then his relief turned into outrage. "But you dated her!"

Harry drawled, "That was payback for stealing my dad,"

This conversation was definitely going in a direction that was not ideal. Why the heck did everything have to be about Norman "Green Goblin" Osborn?! The good thing was, Harry no longer looked accusing and resentful when they talked about his dad, and Peter's classical condition of shouting "I didn't kill your father!" had finally subsided.

Focus on M.J., Parker. This was about defending her honor.

Peter continued, "So you asked an innocent, angelic girl out, and led her to believe you actually had feelings for her, just to get back at me?"

Harry leaned back in his chair, infuriatingly not defensive about it at all, "That wasn't one of my proudest moments, but M.J. was no saint or victim, either. And if memory serves, you rescued the damsel from my evil clutches quickly enough. Or did she rescue herself and jump into your waiting arms instead? She always does have a tendency to throw herself at attractive people."

Peter was outraged and filled with righteous fury. "How could you talk about Mary Jane like that?! She's an angel!"

"So angels always find new boyfriends before dumping the old ones?"

Peter's brains stuttered. …Huh. Well, when he put it that way…

Then his brains stuttered again. "Did you just call me attractive?"

"No," Harry answered a little too quickly, "I was referring to Derek. Don't flatter yourself."

Oh ho, he did. He totally did. Wow. This evening just kept getting better. He knew Mary Jane and Gwen dated him for his charming sensitivity, keen intellect and Nobel-worthy wisdom, and Aunt May's decree that he was the handsomest young man alive was due to maternal bias, but actually getting called "attractive" was, just – Focus, Parker, focus.

"But you said you still loved her when you wanted to lure me to your evil lair and kill me!"

"Exactly, genius, I was trying to murder you." Harry looked immensely relieved at the change of subject, and Peter wanted to kick himself; apparently he could've gotten more out of the guy if he kept pushing. Missed opportunity. Crap. But at least Peter's theory was proven: Harry was vulnerable when you talked about his feelings; he had never let slip so much in one single conversation before. It was like Harry's Achilles heel. Peter dutifully stored that piece of information in a safe place in his mind.

"Just so we're clear, you're not in love with M.J., you've never been in love with M.J., and you won't ever be in love with M.J.?"

Harry's patience was apparently wearing thin again, "Precisely." Then just to be difficult, as usual, he asked in return, "Are you still in love with M.J.?"

Peter answered without missing a beat, "Of course I am! She's my soulmate!"

Harry snorted and commented patronizingly: "Typical,"

Peter knew he should feel sorry for someone with early male menopause, but Harry Osborn really got on his nerves. He replayed what they'd just said in his head and decided he should give the question its due consideration. Because, really, it was about Mary Jane, his soulmate, his one true love, the girl of his dream, the love of his life, the one that completed his soul.

Judging from his prior bitter (and whiny) rant, Peter would say it was pretty obvious he was still hopelessly in love with Mary Jane. But then he thought about it, really thought about it, and realized he had no idea. Time for a thought experiment. Well, Bohr and Einstein did those all the time, so it couldn't be that hard, right? Right.

"Hold on, you know what? I'm gonna do a thought experiment first." Peter helpfully informed Harry, who had gone back to stuffing his face with roast beef.

To show his support for such an important, soul-searching moment for Peter, Harry gave him an unimpressed look and said, "If Schrödinger and Maxwell knew you were conducting a thought experiment on a question like Am I still in love with Mary Jane?, they'd set their Cat and Demon on you."

Peter's brains stuttered again. Did he just reference Schrödinger's Cat and Maxwell's Demon? Yes, he did. Yes, he did.

"Harry, you're such a nerd." Peter couldn't control his snickering. This was awesome. Who'd have thought Harry was just as big a nerd as he was? Granted, he was a Star Wars nerd, but now he was also in the cool, the awesome Science Nerd category like Peter. Calling someone a nerd for a change rather than being called one yourself was very refreshing.

Harry narrowed his eyes. "You're the one doing a thought experiment."

"Yeah, but you're not supposed to understand what I'm talking about," Peter kept on snickering, "But you not only did but also made a reference to famous thought experiments!"

Harry just looked at him, calmly, patronizingly, unflattering and judgmental thoughts probably going through his judgmental mind right now. Then Peter choked on his roast beef because Harry leaned forward and said: "Remember how Bohr crushedEinstein with Einstein's very own Box?"

It was Peter's turn to gape. Harry leaned back and said primly, "I made Charlie and everything I used to kill you; you think I would be bothered by being a nerd? Nerd equals smart, buddy." He then smugly resumed consuming roast beef.

Peter wanted to hug him. He really, really wanted to. He'd been trying to tell people that for ages, but no one even let him finish. Harry just uttered it as if it was the universal truth. Kindred spirits. Brothers-in-arms. Smart brethren. It was unthinkable to think he'd ever find someone besides his classmates and professors to talk science with, but here they were. Sure, he couldn't exactly discuss his quantum mechanics problem set with Harry, but at least Harry was a semi-scientist. He wouldn't make fun of Peter for being smart, he respected Peter for doing science stuff, he understood all the science references, and in a perfect world he might even laugh at Peter's science jokes.

"I swear, Peter, if you stare at me like your favorite old treasure-hunting dog for one more second, I'm gonna –"

"Thought experiment!" Caught red-handed, Peter quickly interrupted him sharply, channeling Dr. Connors' stern something-important-going-on-here-so-be-quiet-or-suffer-the-consequence glare.

Harry respected science enough to shut up immediately as soon as he was informed a thought experiment was in progress. Good person. This also meant Peter had better finish the thought experiment soon. Where was he again? Mary Jane. Right.

Scenario: If Mary Jane broke up with pretty boy Derek and asked, no, begged Peter to take her back, would Peter say yes?

Result: Yes! Definitely yes! A thousand times yes! …Actually…no. It was blasphemy, but seriously, he probably wouldn't get back with her even if she asked. Not because Mary Jane wasn't perfect and amazing and beautiful and kind and sweet, but because, well, he wouldn't be able to look at her without seeing her so much happier face when she was dating Derek. He'd always be reminded of how much better Derek was compared to him, how much happier Derek could make her than he ever could. And to be honest, dating M.J. was kind of exhausting. Just a little, but it still was. And frankly, finally living a life that Mary Jane wasn't really a part of helped him realize one thing: Mary Jane and him were better off as friends.

Yeah, his mind was weeping – the hope and dream of a lifetime, gone – but his heart was telling him however sad it was, it was the truth. This relative distance from Mary Jane had been enlightening: spending less time with Mary Jane meant he had spent more time with his classmates and Harry. It'd given him a chance to see just how much he appreciated the company of people that took what he said seriously when he spoke science. People might say "come on, dude, it's just science", but science was never just science to him. Science was what he loved, what he was willing to spend his whole life pursuing. Science to him was like acting to Mary Jane! But it was okay for Mary Jane to gush about acting and theater. If he gushed about science? He was a nerd.

It had gotten frustrating. Mary Jane was an angel despite what Harry said, but they weren't really suited for each other. Being friends with M.J. allowed him the luxury of enjoying her sunlit presence and friendship and spared him the frustration that came with dating someone who didn't really understand what you were passionate about. Not that he blamed her. She never meant to belittle science; she just assumed science was only for nerds, the uncool people.

Being in love shouldn't be like this, it shouldn't make him feel so frustrated and powerless. So…no, he wasn't in love with Mary Jane anymore.

And that concluded the thought experiment. It stopped being a thought experiment after the initial eighteen seconds, but at least Peter found the answer he was looking for. Schrödinger would've been proud. Or set his Cat on him.

He found Harry still eating roast beef, so that couldn't have taken more than a few minutes. Felt like a lifetime, though.

"Harry," Peter called.

Harry looked up at him, swallowed what he'd been chewing, and said passively, "You done?"

Peter took a shuddering breath and said, "I'm not in love with M.J. anymore."

It was painful to say, but it was also a relief. He felt – liberated. Free. At last.

Which was a really good thing now that he thought about it, because Mary Jane was decidedly highly unlikely to ever break up with her precious Derek, so this thought experiment discovery actually saved him further heartbreak.

Harry's eyes widened in surprise, "Isn't she your soulmate?"

"Harry," Peter sighed patronizingly. Ha, right back at ya, Sir Patronize-a-lot. Wait, that doesn't sound right. Should've used some word with only one syllable. "Soulmates are made in pairs. If Mary Jane's soulmate isn't me, then how could my soulmate be her?"

"You know," Harry regarded him thoughtfully, "for someone who actually takes this soulmate thing seriously, you've changed your mind surprisingly fast. I mean, it's been only one thought experiment and already you're denouncing your original soulmate."

"Hey, thought experiments are very conclusive,"

"So she isn't your soulmate?"

"No,"

"Or your one true love, the girl of your dream, the love of your life, the one that completes you?"

"Nope,"

Harry suddenly glared at him, "Then why the hell did you ask me if I still goddamn love M.J.?!"

Peter raised his eyebrows in surprise, "What, that? I wasn't even thinking about competition."

Harry's frown deepened thunderously, "Then why were you hounding me about that?"

Peter knew what was going on now. Harry, biased ol' Harry, thought this was all about Mary Jane. …Which wasn't that unreasonable an assumption considering Peter's recent preoccupation.

"Harry, Harry, Harry," Peter shook his head in amusement, "I was just making sure you weren't still pissed at me for the, uh, stealing M.J. part." Voicing it out loud restored some anxiety back in Peter. One should never forget Harry Osborn was perfectly capable of killing decent people.

Harry stared at him, slack-jawed and wide-eyed. Peter would even go so far as to say Harry was feeling flattered. And he very well should, because that whole long conversation was actually all about grouchy him instead of angelic, fair Mary Jane.

Harry eventually snapped out of the staring and cleared his throat awkwardly. "Yes well, for the record, I'm not pissed at you for stealing M.J. anymore."

"Good to know," Peter grinned, feeling for the first time that he wasn't the weaker party in a conversation with Harry. He could totally get behind this.

Harry narrowed his eyes at Peter's pleased look, but before he could say something to ruin the moment, his cell phone rang. Peter chanced a jokingly smug smile at this interruption, but Harry just scowled at him, gave him a glare that said don't push your luck, and answered the phone.

As Harry talked to Joe, Peter observed Harry's demeanor. He looked tense as usual, but he also looked kind of different. It took Peter a minute to realize the difference was the subtle relief that always came with having discussed your feelings with someone. Harry was aware of this difference and supremely uncomfortable with it. Peter hid a genuinely smug smile as he put more roast beef into his mouth and started chewing again. Harry might be an evil business overlord, but Discussing Feelings was his domain. Welcome to my turf, pal.

Harry sighed his patented I am annoyed sigh to the cell phone, "Fine, let those MBAs talk. 3 P.M. They have half an hour."

Harry then ended the call and gave Peter another warning glare. Peter just shrugged – even he knew not to poke a grumpy bear too much – and commented instead, "You talk like Gordon Gekko,"

Harry, finally safely back in his domain (because Peter was nice), arched an eyebrow sarcastically, "Do you even know who Gordon Gekko is?"

"Who doesn't? He's the king father of you corporate jerks."

Harry rolled his eyes, "Gordon Gekko is an investment banker that did insider trading, genius. He's the kind of guy corporate jerks like me avoid."

Peter was in too good a mood to argue, so he simply shrugged again.

-:-

Another uneventful afternoon patrol. Peter knew he should be grateful because the pressure of finals was getting to him without criminals making things even more difficult, but he couldn't help but feel this peace was the famous calm before the storm.

Speaking of finals, he was damn proud he could now think of them without wanting to scream in panic. Because, honestly, FINALS WERE NEXT WEEK! …Er, right, so he should probably keep working on his inner calm regarding finals.

But he really had a feeling that shit was about to hit the fan for him. He was behind on almost all the readings, his homework and lab reports were all B's and C's, and he still wasn't done with his Quantum Mechanics paper. And now, and now finals were upon him and he seriously didn't have time to study for them properly! Did he mention they counted for 60% of his grades?

The image of his brilliant classmates' confident, smiling faces and "I'm so pumped for next week!" only served to make him even more depressed. Peter sighed. He would lose his scholarship if he didn't at least score 90% on all the finals. He was doomed.

But now was not the time to wallow in despair and self-pity. He needed to cheer up so he could focus and get started on the study marathon he'd just planned out in his efficient head. And what better way to cheer himself up than to visit his best friend?

As Peter landed on a ledge above the windows of Harry's office, he heard voices on the other side of the glass. Unfamiliar, nervous voices. His curiosity, as always, got the better of him, so he peeked into the office covertly.

Four men in their twenties in (probably) expensive suits stood in front of the long conference table (where Harry and his guys were seated) with a projector screen displaying some flashy slides behind them. Peter had to admit the technology in Harry's office was top-notch; the projectors at Columbia always had this depressing yellow hue about their images while this projector right here was so magnificent that Peter could watch IMAX 3D movies with it. The colors were so crisp and sharp and – okay, he needed to focus here.

The four guys were doing a presentation of some sort, talking about confusing stuff like "discounted present values" and "inventory buildup diagrams". Peter didn't understand any of it. He was about to return to the ledge to wait the meeting out when Phil suddenly interrupted the presentation.

"So what, exactly, do you recommend us do?"

"Well," one of the four guys said, with an air of anxious confidence but genuine pomposity. "Because we've already provided you with our analysis and possible solutions to the problem, we think the decision of which one to use is yours to make."

Phil frowned. "You're here to give an actual recommendation, not options. That's not what we pay you for."

"And those numbers you use," Bob (or was it John?) didn't even bother concealing his doubt, "What are the calculations? Are you sure your model is sound?"

Another one of the four young guys quickly changed the displayed slide to one with tiny graphs and spreadsheet tables all squeezed in together. "As you can see, we've done the calculations, we've run all the regression tests, everything's correct. So don't worry about it, we know what we're doing."

Bob looked like he was trying very hard not to snort, "Of course you do. But if you don't bother explaining your reasoning, why should I bother listening to you at all?"

The four young guys looked shocked, insulted, and even more insulted. Before they could get defensive, an Oscorp guy Peter had never seen before joined the fray, "You said the market is growing, but according to –"

One of the young guys interrupted him, "I know what you're gonna say, Mr. Valkanov, but based on the –"

Then Harry interrupted him in kind, "Don't presume to know what Roger's going to say." He said passively, "You guys might be from Harvard, but he's been doing this longer than you've been alive. Besides," he paused for dramatic effect (Peter stood correct: Harry was a drama king), "We are your clients. We pay you." Then he narrowed his eyes in the way he always did before delivering a death sentence. "Or were going to, anyway."

The young guys paled.

Harry changed his tone to the This-Is-Final tone he loved so much. Peter had been on the receiving end of that one frequently enough to start feeling sorry for the young guys. "Your credentials are impressive, and we don't doubt your capabilities. We have every confidence you'd do Harvard proud after you graduate, but I'm afraid, right now, the skills you offer don't align with our needs."

One of the young guys opened his mouth to speak but another one stopped him and shook his head, dejected. Peter felt so sorry for them that he couldn't watch any longer. Even though he wasn't entirely sure what was going on, the whole thing was too reminiscent of his countless rejections during job search.

He heard the young guys collecting their things and thanking the Oscorp guys for their time before leaving the room. Peter sighed. He didn't like those Harvard guys, oh no (Columbia rules!) but the Oscorp people might have been too harsh.

Then Peter remembered Harry talking on the phone last night about MBAs and talking and 3 P.M. So those were the MBAs. Harvard MBAs. Peter felt even more sorry for them because they were his fellow Masters students. But Columbia was still better than Harvard, obviously.

Peter heard the Oscorp people start standing up and collecting their stuff as well.

"Harvard MBAs…never trusted 'em."

"You're just jealous you didn't get into HBS yourself."

"Hey, I'm from Stanford, asshole, unlike you Tuckies."

"Are you guys seriously comparing degrees now? What are you, twenty?"

"This is not a healthy conversation,"

"No, no, we should've known having these Harvard MBAs here would remind these guys of their painful memories."

"The hell is that supposed to mean? You guys don't even have MBAs."

"Exactly, we don't need some fake degree to earn our keep."

"How dare you? MBA's a real degree."

"What was that crap about Tuck?! You insulting my alma mater?"

"How can your alma mater not suck when it calls itself Tuck?"

"As if your Kellogg is so much better. Cereal company."

"Hey –"

"Guys," Harry halted the argument firmly, "Enough about the degrees. I don't have an MBA, do you see me bitchin' about it?"

The guys looked chastised and left the office, grumbling and a couple of them still arguing with one another under their breaths.

When the door was closed, Harry sighed, seemingly still annoyed at the Harvard MBAs, and said aloud, "If I didn't know better, Spidey, I'd suspect you of collecting information on us for Jim Plates."

Peter popped his head into view, "Jim who?"

"Synthetech,"

"Oh," Synthetech again, seriously? "You know I'm not,right?" One could never be too careful around paranoid people like Harry Osborn.

Harry snorted as he moved to stand next to the windows, "Of course. Peter, stop being so paranoid. It's starting to get annoying."

What? "Who are you calling paranoid, Mr. Paranoid?"

"You've got 30 seconds to change my mind about scraping you off of my goddamn windows."

Peter was unfazed, because he now knew Harry enough to tell it wasn't a real threat. The sentiment might be there, but Harry would never act on it. Because Peter was Peter. Oh yeah, Peter felt pretty good about that.

He considered telling Harry outright he needed to be cheered up, but he then decided it'd sound pathetic and would just be giving Harry free oral ammunition against him. Well, talking to Harry about random stuff always helped improve his mood.

"What was all that with the Harvard MBAs?"

Harry scoffed at the mention of the earlier meeting. "The four of them, all first-year MBAs, are doing a startup consulting firm. They wanted to offer their service to us, we said 'not interested', they said 'just one chance', so we let them analyze Energy's current situation. We knew they wouldn't be up for the job since they'd only been in the MBA program for a couple of months and none of them has any experience working in business. One veteran, one scientist, and two liberal arts people." He snorted again, "But we gave them a chance anyway because we thought maybe they could surprise us. They're from HBS, after all." And he snorted again.

Peter had trouble understanding 53% of what he was talking about, but he knew one thing for sure: the Harvard MBAs' embarrassing performance did not warrant such level of disdain and annoyance. No, it was almost as if it was personal.

"You're jealous," he declared smugly.

"What?" Harry asked sharply.

Peter grinned behind his mask, "You're jealous they got into Harvard!"

Harry looked like a deer caught in the headlights; not too obvious, but Peter knew what to look for.

"Why would I be jealous of a bunch of self-important morons?" Harry retorted defensively.

Peter's grin widened. "Because they're in Harvard?"

Harry tried to conceal his anger and, yes, jealousy, but failed miserably. "I'm from Columbia, hello?"

"Yes, our dear old Columbia is perfect and wonderful," Peter thought of his own alma mater fondly, "But, they are getting their MBAs."

Harry looked as if he was about to deny it again, but then he huffed through his nose and glared at Peter with narrowed, warning eyes, "What do you want me to say? That I'm insanely jealous that they're getting an MBA from Harvard while I'm not, even when we're about the same age? 'Cause you're right, you're right about everything. There, you win. Happy now?"

Harry actually looked genuinely dejected and sad. For a smart guy, Harry could be such an idiot sometimes.

"You do know they're jealous of you, too, right?" Peter explained patiently, "Look at you: twenty-something and already the CEO of a huge, big shot corporation; while they're out there looking for jobs and trying to start their own company, you already have a bunch of people, young and old, calling you boss." It was gratifying to see the jealous grimace disappear from Harry's face, replaced by an increasingly self-satisfied smile. "I mean, you literally control millions of dollars!"

"Billions," Harry corrected immediately, smiling happily, "though I'd say it's the Board and the Shareholders that actually…"

"The point is, I may not know much about business schools, but most people go there so they could become people like you, right? So you're basically ahead of the game!"

"True," Harry nodded solemnly, thoroughly in the Smug Zone now.

Looking at Harry's once again not-jealous-of-Harvard-MBAs face, Peter gave himself a mental pat on the back. Good job, Parker. Frankly, he didn't know business people liked comparing degrees just as much as everyone else. But considering how materialistic they were as a whole, he shouldn't be surprised. Then again, scientists could be real assholes, too.

"Feeling better?" he playfully asked Harry, who was still smiling smugly.

Harry snapped out of whatever Smugland he was in, and cleared his throat, "Much better, in fact." He then added awkwardly, "Thanks."

"Anything for you, buddy," Peter said cheerfully. Huh. Turned out talking to Harry about random stuff did cheer him up. This wasn't the first time Peter was amazed by his own Nice-ness. He was so very nice that cheering others up would in turn cheer himself up. "Just so you know, I poked you about the jealousy part not because I thought it was fun,"

Harry looked at him wordlessly for a brief while before softening subtly, "You did it because you like talking about feelings."

It was a friendly jibe, as rare as non-negative emotional displays, so Peter treasured this one as well. "Exactly!" he said, "All that bottled up jealousy couldn't be healthy for you, especially when said jealousy was stupid in the first place."

Harry actually nodded. Wow. They just had an almost normal conversation.

"Just so you know," Harry said, suddenly awkward again, "I fired them not because I was jealous of them,"

"I know, buddy. I know." Peter said gently. Honestly, he was elated. He didn't think Harry would ever feel the need to explain himself to him, but apparently they were making such progress with their friendship that they were now equals instead of avenger and the accused. Harry now worried about how his actions would look like to Peter. Peter was glad for the mask, otherwise Harry would ask him about the doubtlessly stupid smile on his face. "You have way too much integrity to do something petty and low like that. I saw their presentation, it really was horrible."

The corners of Harry's mouth twitched vaguely, "I hate to say this, but I'm actually glad you came over today,"

Peter perked up, "Does that mean from now on I can just drop by whenever I want?"

Harry raised an eyebrow, "Haven't you been doing that already?"

That wasn't a no.

"Yeah, well, you were never happy to see me," Peter didn't want to sound whiny, just stating an objective fact, but it still came out whiny and a little accusing.

Harry paused. Then he frowned at a spot on the far wall. He was in fact frowning at something in his head, probably. He looked like he was mulling something over, albeit tensely and uncomfortably. Then, after 79 seconds of tense silence, he finally exhaled through his nose, annoyed (as usual) but resolute. Peter almost jumped when Harry abruptly returned his attention to him.

"Peter," he began solemnly. Which also sounded like pulling teeth. Based on past empirical data, Peter knew whatever he was gonna say, it had to be good, probably something along the line of thanking Peter for being awesome.

"I have reached a conclusion," Harry continued, still sounded like pulling teeth.

Go ooon.

"You're not as big a jerk as you used to be,"

Oh. Okay, maybe not exactly what Peter was looking for, but close enough.

"You've been," Harry grimaced, "good to me. Even though you're still an asshole, you've been surprisingly nice, and you've been a," he grimaced again, "positive influence in my life. So far. Since you showed up at my door like a hobo. Not before, of course. You were a certified douchebag before that."

If Harry grimaced one more time before he was going to say something nice about Peter, Peter would start feeling offended. And trust Harry Osborn to be the one human being on Earth that had trouble appreciating Peter Parker; he'd managed to make it sound like a thank-you, a compliment and an insult at the same time.

"Anyway," Harry continued awkwardly, eyes reluctantly but determinedly still on Peter, "I want to," Seriously, another grimace? "thank you for…doing what you've been doing. Dragging me out to the Central Park, being supportive, and, you know, nice things. So," he grimaced one last time, "Thank you."

Was it weird that Peter could now read Harry so well that he'd actually correctly predicted his actions? Probably. Was it awesome? You betcha. Peter was about to say a heartfelt You're welcome! when Harry kept on talking. "And," he shifted awkwardly but still kept his eyes on Peter's face, "I'm sorry that I may have been…a little too mean to you." Understatement of the Century, pal. "You did deserve it at first, but I shouldn't have kept it up after, you know, all those nice things you did. So, in conclusion," What a nerd. "I apologize. For being an asshole."

Harry must be the only one who apologized to someone and then glowered at the same person afterwards with a look that said Don't expect me to EVER say that again. And, right there and then, Peter couldn't have cared less about the glower.

Ever since last night's Derek-bitching session, Peter had sensed that something'd changed between them. Well, things had been changing between them since he moved in, but last night was a turning point. Since then, Peter had felt much bolder in their interactions, more confident, more certain of where they both stood.

And now Harry'd thanked him and apologized to him, again, and it wasn't even like the last time after the Central Park trip. This time, Harry acknowledged he was a better person than before and thanked him for all the things he'd done so far, and then he apologized for being an asshole the whole time. Peter wanted to cry. He'd been waiting for this moment for god knew how long.

He wasn't so naïve as to presume their friendship was completely restored, but he knew things would be different between them now.

Harry was waiting for his reaction awkwardly. Happy and hopeful and full of joy, Peter grinned behind his mask and said, "Can we do that again after we get home so we don't have this giant piece of glass between us?"

Harry narrowed his eyes and warned, "Don't push your luck." But he was smiling grudgingly; he knew Peter was just joking and he was indeed amused by it. Wasn't it amazing that Peter could crack a joke now and Harry would actually find it funny? In his reluctant, grudging way, of course.

Clearly relieved he could finally turn away from Peter now (and stop talking about feelings), Harry sat down at his desk and proceeded to look through a depressing stack of documents. Still dizzy and euphoric, Peter decided to leave Harry to his work. He'd come here to be cheered up, and cheered up he was. Man, Harry was good at this. Who'd have thought Harry Osborn would excel at making Peter Parker feel better? First last night, now this. Peter smiled fondly – and potentially sappily – at his hardworking best friend.

Before he could bid said best friend farewell, though, Harry looked up at him. "Where made you come over in the first place, anyway?"

"Oh, that," Peter shrugged, "I was feeling down, so I thought you might cheer me up."

"I didn't realize I run a psychia –" Harry visibly snapped his mouth shut to stop the no doubt snarky comment he was gonna offer out of reflex. Peter smiled; things really were different between them now. Harry cleared his throat and asked, albeit impatiently, "What happened?"

"Nah, it doesn't really matter now. I'm plenty cheered up already." Peter told him the truth brightly, "You're really good at this."

Harry, being Harry, wasn't satisfied with the answer, of course. He probably sensed something big was going on. "Good to know. What happened?"

Peter considered not telling him, because it was kind of embarrassing and pathetic. But then again, he'd made Harry admit to feeling jealous of other people's degrees, so fair was fair.

"Finals are next week." Peter had thought he was able to, at last, think of the finals without panicking. How wrong he was. Speaking the four words out loud gave him an entirely new perspective on how dire his situation was. He was definitely hyperventilating.

Harry's eyes were big like saucers. "But you haven't been studying at all!" It was very bizarre that Harry looked like he was panicking, too.

"I know!" Peter agreed in despair.

"What were you thinking?!" Harry accused, as if the finals were in fact his finals, as if he still felt strongly about exams even after all these years he'd been out of school.

What followed afterwards was surreal in and of itself. And very, very bizarre.

Harry made Peter go home and study immediately. When Harry got home himself a couple of hours later, he actually interrogated Peter about his progress.

"Do you have a plan?" Harry asked over dinner, spreading butter on his bread roughly (poor bread), "How much do you need to catch up on for each course? How many finals do you have, anyway?"

Peter rolled his eyes, "Harry, relax, you're not my mom."

"You're lucky I'm not your mom. If I were, I'd make you clean the toilets with toothbrush for being a goddamn slacker."

Peter gasped theatrically, "Mom! How could you swear in front of your kid?"

"Very funny," Harry glowered, "What's even funnier is you might lose your scholarship if you flunk the finals."

Peter winced and bit into his garlic bread to comfort himself. "Don't remind me."

"Then get to work already!" Harry scolded, "Eat faster! Quit wasting time! Move! On the double!"

Okay, Harry wasn't a mom. He was a crazy drill sergeant.

What made the whole thing surreal and bizarre was that Harry, of all people, Harry the B-Student, Harry "I suck at school" Osborn, was pushing him, forcefully pushing him, to study harder and not fail his finals. And he was actually pretty serious about it.

Peter got a rude awakening at 5 A.M. every day the whole week, which really made him regret moving into Harry's bedroom in the first place, because apparently it was all too easy for Heartless Harry to wake a peacefully slumbering superhero with shrill alarm clocks, incessant hollering and, sometimes, ice-cold water. Peter had always wondered when Harry got up each morning, but he didn't ask for this. As if waking him up before the sun even rose wasn't bad enough, Harry made him study once he had his outrageously early breakfast. It was so early that they had to have the lights on during breakfast! Jesus Christ. Peter (very) briefly considered moving back to his haunted guestroom, but. Yeah. Haunted. So that was out of the question. And a locked guestroom door probably wouldn't be able to stop Harry from barging in anyway.

Harry also took away his police radio, saying Charlie would keep an "ear" on it for him. And no, since criminals were staying home to keep warm in this cold weather, he didn't need to patrol, either. Fine, he could go out and patrol when he really needed a break from all the studying. Patrols equaled study breaks, study breaks equaled patrols. Multitasking was the key, never forget that. Peter had no idea Harry was a results-oriented maniac.

Harry must have sicced Charlie on him because now he saw Charlie practically everywhere in the mansion. Charlie wouldn't let him watch TV, read newspapers, or even listen to radio. Hell, he even took away his right to daydream! The robot poked him pointedly whenever his thoughts strayed to non-study-related topics. He was just getting a bag of chips and Charlie instantly descended upon him like a vulture and cruelly snatched the chips away. The only thing he was allowed to do at home was study, study, study. Sick of studying? Get out and patrol. One day, Charlie even brought him a book, a "gift" from Harry: How Not to Get Booted from Your Graduate Program for DUMMIES. They were definitely in cahoots.

Bernard, bless his soul, was the only normal person left. He prepared extra-healthy food and offered Peter sage advice on winging exams. Wait. He was in cahoots, too!

Harry still went to work early and came home late, but he called Peter, actually called Peter, to check on his progress throughout the day. Peter took back what he'd said about Harry. He wasn't a mom OR a crazy drill sergeant. He was a mutant combo of BOTH.

Harry might drive him hard, but he made sure he'd stay healthy for the big days because "sneezing and blowing your nose through the finals would completely defeat the purpose". Peter was a little offended that Harry thought he couldn't handle being sick and acing finals at the same time. He was Peter "Straight-A Student" Parker, after all! Or at least he used to be. But there was no arguing with Stubborn Harry when he set his mind to something, so Peter was shepherded off to his good old mattress on the floor at ten, sharp, every night.

What made the whole thing really surreal and bizarre was Harry was actually good at it, too. No matter how much Peter whined every morning and grumbled every afternoon and complained every night, he knew he was swiftly making progress and getting readier and readier for the finals. Working at Oscorp seemed to have made Harry a professional multitasker, not to mention much more responsible and good at pushing for results. The only downside was his friend had also developed an unhealthy sense of urgency regarding finals. Regardless, this whole Finals Week Initiative of Harry's was working exceptionally well, and now Peter was more than confident that he just might be able to save his scholarship.

Well, not that he couldn't have done that on his own, because he was a brilliant genius, the next Albert Einstein, really. But he was also…touched. Touched that Harry cared so much, that Bernard and Charlie cared so much. He'd always been an A+ student, so Aunt May and Uncle Ben never needed to worry about his grades, trusting him to stay motivated and study hard. Even when his grades suffered during that unfortunate period of balancing Spider-Man duties, financial difficulties, and Mary Jane-pining, he didn't tell Aunt May any of his problems at school, not wanting to worry or disappoint her. Aunt May was used to his depressing, nonexistent love life and inability to hold onto a job, but potentially failing a class? No, that would worry her sick.

But now, he wasn't alone in his academic struggles, not anymore. Now he had people that encouraged and supported him (Bernard), people that pushed him to do the best he could (Charlie), and, of course, people that worried and hollered and just basically bossed him around (Harry). It was a relief that he could just come home and complain about his troubles with schoolwork to people who'd already seen him at his worst. It'd been so nice that he didn't have to deal with his academic crises all by himself. So, yes, he was moved and grateful to the three of them, even though they forgot he was the second coming of Einstein.

"Can quantum mechanics and general relativity be realized as a fully consistent theory?" Harry asked intently over dinner on Saturday night.

Peter groaned. "That's not fair – that's an unsolved problem! How am I supposed to know the answer when the greatest scientists in the world haven't even solved it?"

Harry narrowed his eyes, "But don't you at least have some opinions about it? What if your Quantum Gravity final asked you to comment on that?"

Harry might have stopped being an asshole to him, but he was still grouchy and easily annoyed.

Peter sighed long-sufferingly; he was so ready for winter break. Harry looked unrelenting and demanding, so Peter gave the problem some consideration. "Well…would a consistent theory involve a force mediated by a hypothetical graviton, or would it be a product of a…discrete structure of spacetime itself? Are there deviations from the predictions of general relativity at very small or very large scales or, or in other extreme circumstances that flow from a quantum gravity theory?"

Peter could've just spouted some random bullshit with scientific terms thrown in to sound authentic, but it was Harry. Peter had too much respect for the guy to do something like that. Plus, Harry was just trying to help. Plus, Harry unfortunately knew just enough about science to recognize scientific bullshit when he heard one.

Harry nodded, satisfied with the answer. "I have no idea how quantum gravity works, but I think you're ready."

Peter beamed. Coming from his mom-drill sergeant, that really meant a lot. It was Saturday already, one day left before his first final on Monday, and although Peter was still kind of anxious about how he'd do on the final exams, he felt rather calm and confident about them, no longer having the urge to panic as he told himself finals are next week. It had only been a few days, but it certainly felt like months had passed since that fateful afternoon at the Oscorp Building. Peter even felt a little bit of excitement at the prospect of finally taking the finals. Right now, he just wanted to get them over with and begin celebrating Christmas properly.

"Thanks, buddy. I couldn't have done it without you." Peter said with feeling.

Harry grimaced, "Don't jinx yourself. Thank me after you're done with them."

Peter smiled cheerfully, because someone had to balance Harry's pessimistic gloom with optimistic cheer, but he did remind himself to stay focused and not get too relaxed.

"You know," Peter said conversationally, deciding that some not school-related conversations would be refreshing for his study-weary brains, "Betty told me there's this charity gala coming up next weekend,"

Harry grunted grumpily, "Unfortunately,"

Peter perked up, "You're going?"

"Every. God-forsaken. Year." Harry enunciated each word gloomily.

"You're so lucky!" Peter said cheerfully, "There'll be celebrities and good food and drinks!"

"And politicians and my fellow businessmen," Harry made a face, "The politicians always expect hefty donations from companies like us." He sniffed, "As if it's our duty to fund their political ambitions."

"But you guys are rich,"

"Negative earnings, remember? Besides, even if we're profitable, we've earned every single goddamn penny. Those politicians, they just talk and scheme and talk and look pretty and then ask for money."

Well, someone had the businessman's government complex. What a bunch of Scrooges, didn't want to make donations when they probably had billions of dollars in reserve. But that was between Corporate America and the Big Brother, so Peter would politely stay out of this age-old battle.

Harry cut his grilled tuna intently with a fierce scowl, as if he was already imagining how horrible the gala would be and he was blaming the poor tuna for it.

"C'mon, buddy," Peter tried to cheer him up with sheer will power, "You get to go every year. That means you're important enough!"

Harry scoffed, "More like Oscorp's wallet is big enough,"

"But don't you feel good about yourself?" Peter soldiered on, "Mr. Jameson would kill to get an invitation."

"I didn't know he was so eager to give his hard-earned money to a bunch of –"

"Nah, he just wants to send his people in there so the Bugle could do a full-on cover on the gala like the big boys." And really, it wasn't very fair that New York Times got to attend but the Daily Bugle didn't.

Harry looked up at him thoughtfully. Peter knew that look. Harry was scheming.

"So, hypothetically," Harry said with a calculating gleam in his one good eye, "if one of Jameson's employees, say, a photographer, was able to get in, he'd love that employee so much that he'd never fire said employee ever again?"

Peter had no idea what he was getting at. "Probably, yeah."

Harry was obviously displeased with the look of confusion on his face. He sighed in irritation and demanded bluntly, "Do you want a press pass to the gala?"

Peter choked on his mouthful of tuna and coughed. "What?"

Harry was nothing but impatient, "You wanna get in or not?"

So Peter hadn't heard it wrong. …Huh. "Are you saying you can…get me into the gala?"

Dear sweet mother of Jesus. Imagine, him, at the charity gala, where the cream of New York's society gathered! Movie stars, musicians, athletes, the Mayor, physicists! Chemists! Biologists!

Harry gave him the stink eye. Was his internal gushing that obvious? "The purpose of all this is to get you onto Jameson's good side,"

Oh. That. Peter really should start thinking more about holding onto his job and less about meeting celebrities. Speaking of galas, though…

"Hey, Harry?" Peter asked cautiously.

"What?"

"Remember John Jameson's 'hero's welcome' gala at the planetarium…?"

Harry raised an eyebrow, "Where M.J. agreed to marry him, sure."

Peter pushed down the surge of guilt; he still hadn't apologized to Mr. Jameson's son for stealing his bride who left him standing at the altar. "You're not gonna…y'know, get drunk and slap me again, right?"

Harry glared at him, "What, you want a repeat performance?"

"No! No no no no no!" Peter shook his hands and head desperately, "Just making sure, that's all!"

Harry glared at him hard, but then he must have remembered he was supposed to try to be nice now, so instead of a snarky comment, he opted for an annoyed sigh. "I haven't been drunk since the Board gave me my job back after the Octavius Incident. And I haven't really had any drinks at all since you threw a bomb in my face."

But you threw that bomb at me first! Peter might be sorry about what happened, but Harry really needed to get it into his stubborn head that not everything that went wrong that night was Peter's fault. Peter was going to remind him of that very objective fact –

"Shut up," said Harry preemptively, "I know I threw the thing at you first. So, just, shut up."

So maybe Harry wasn't as thickheaded as he thought. Good. Peter grinned, "Don't you find it weird?"

Harry sniffed, "Find what weird?"

Peter's smug grin widened, "That you always know what I'm going to say,"

Harry gave him the stink eye again, "Because you're predictable, as I already told you?"

"Or," Peter dared to point out playfully, "maybe we're mentally connected! Like there's a bond! Like Kirk and Spock! Like –"

"Don't you dare say it,"

"Soulmates!"

Harry looked like he was going to throw up. "Are you so desperate for a soulmate that you've changed the very definition of 'soulmates'?"

"What, you think best buddies can't be soulmates? So last century," Peter pfft'd condescendingly. No wonder Harry got a kick out of being condescending; being condescending was fun, especially when he did it to condescending jerks like Harry.

Harry, looking supremely annoyed, narrowed his eyes at him and offered one of the lamest and most clichéd responses of all time: "Don't you have finals to study for?"

Peter sighed theatrically before letting his grouchy friend off the hook, "If that helps you sleep at night, fine." He dared send him a joking wink, "Soulmate."

Harry actually gave him the finger.

-:-

Peter checked his name and student I.D. number for the eighteenth time before finally handing his finished final exam to Josh the T.A. He didn't feel like repeating last semester's incident where he, for some unfathomable reason, put the name of the classmate sitting in front of him on his own exam. It was so stupid and embarrassing that it wasn't even funny.

"Happy Holidays!" Josh said merrily as he rearranged the stack of completed exams into a neat pile.

Peter breathed a deep sigh of relief. That was the last final. It was over, it was finally OVER! Happy Holidays, indeed!

As soon as he was out of the lecture hall, Peter pulled out his cell phone. Before he could call Harry, though, he got an incoming call from Harry himself.

"Hey, soulmate," he answered the call giddily.

Harry, just like a mom, let him get away with almost anything during Finals Week. Harry even stopped flipping him the bird whenever Peter felt daring enough to call him by his brand new nickname. Everything was excusable as long as he didn't flunk his finals. Even though the pep talks at 6 A.M. were a little too much, they kept Peter from oversleeping and being late to the finals – there was this one time last semester where he got to a final two hours late and it was only the memory of his star-student days that moved Dr. Connors enough to let him take a makeup final.

"For the last time, if you say that one more time –"

"But you always call when I'm done with a final,"

"Because I have your Finals Week schedule, genius. It's on Columbia's website."

"But you always do that exactly as soon as I'm outta the building! If that doesn't count as a soul bond –"

"I took at least five finals there, moron. Of course I know how long it takes to leave the building."

"You're in denial. It's okay, I understand. You're just shyyyyy. Soulmate." Peter knew his Week of Free to Do Anything could end any moment now that his finals were all done, so he tried to exploit it as much as possible while it still lasted. Suffice to say, he was in an extraordinarily good mood. He didn't know the grades yet, but he had a good feeling about all of them.

"Anyway," he cleared his throat solemnly, suddenly not in the mood of teasing his grouch of a friend anymore, "Thank you for, you know, everything."

Harry snorted, "You'd better pray you've scored at least 90% on all of them,"

Which was Harry's way of saying "you're welcome", so Peter grinned, "Still, thank you."

"Does that mean you'll stop calling me 'soulmate' now?" Geez, only Harry would have such a stubborn one-track mind.

"Never!" Peter declared happily.

"Trust me, bug, you don't wanna force my hand." Maybe it was just Peter, but Harry sounded increasingly not-scary by the day. Ha.

"So are you pumped for the gala tomorrow?" Peter deftly changed the subject. He'd become a pro at that.

"Oh, I'm just stoked," Harry said nastily, though the nastiness wasn't aimed at Peter, so that was okay. "Did you tell your boss about the press pass?"

Oops. "Yeah,"

"I knew you'd forget,"

"I didn't!"

"Right,"

"I'm just waiting to deliver the good news to him in person, because I'm actually going to the office right now."

"Just don't forget it again on your way. Bugs are so easily distracted."

"Hey!" Peter was seriously offended, "What did my crawling brethren ever do to you?"

"They're your brethren. That's reason enough for me."

"One day, we bugs will unite and overthrow your tyrannical reign of terror."

"What did I tell you about being easily distracted?"

"…Shut up."

-:-

"Parker, you're officially my most distinguished employee!" J.J.J. announced grandly. "I don't care how you pulled that off, but you secured a pass one day before the gala! Are you a miracle worker or what?"

"Just got some friends in high places, sir," Peter couldn't help but feel, just a little bit, smug about it.

"Well, make sure you keep those friends," Jameson ordered solemnly, "Never know when we'll need 'em again."

Peter happened to have every intention to keep this slowly improving friendship going.

-:-

Harry was, well, he was ironing his dress shirt when Peter got back to the mansion.

"Someone's stoked about the gala tomorrow night," Peter joked, his blissful post-finals Friday-Winter Break-Christmas-New Year mood had only intensified after J.J.J. proclaimed him his Favorite Person on the Planet.

Harry scowled at his dress shirt resentfully and looked up at him, "Black tie required, pal, better get to it."

Peter frowned, "Get to what?"

Harry gestured at his dress shirt with the iron, "It's not even business formal; it's black tie." He waited for Peter to respond, but Peter, utterly puzzled (There's a difference between business formal and black tie?), only stared at him blankly. "As in dinner jacket, bow tie, and all that?"

Peter still stared at him blankly.

Harry sighed in exasperation and switched tactics, "Those events in the movies where people wear tuxedos?"

"That's black tie?" Peter couldn't understand why people of wealth or power make everything so complicated. Wasn't it bad enough that people had to wear suits already? Nooo, there had to be tuxedos, and bow ties, and whatever other bullshit they cooked up. Peter wept for humanity.

Harry finished up with his ironing and put down the iron before eyeing Peter with an assessing gaze, "You don't even have a tuxedo, do you?"

-:-

Peter felt…smart. Oh, very, very smart, indeed. He was born to wear a tuxedo and bow tie and all that! And he was born to attend black tie events like the New York City Charity Gala! The sophisticated décor, the elegant atmosphere, the graceful music, the fine food! Beautiful men and women dressed in their finest! He could totally die here. Harry must be crazy to actually hate all this.

"Enjoying yourself?" Peter was interrupted from his star-struck, gushy train of thought and he found Harry standing next to him with a glass of wine in hand.

Peter grinned, "Thanks for getting me in, buddy. This is glorious." He then, for the twenty-eighth time that night, checked himself out again. "And thanks for the Hugo Poss."

"Hugo Boss,"

"Who is awesome. No wonder James Bond wears tuxedo – I've never felt handsomer my whole life!"

Harry gave him a judgmental You're completely missing the point look, but then obligingly looked him over, "You're all right,"

Of course Harry should know, because he was the one that dragged Peter out to a Hugo Boss store to buy the full black tie attire the night before. Who'd have thought emergency shopping could be so fun? Harry even said he could keep those as Christmas presents.

Harry himself, except for the sourpuss look on his face, looked particularly dashing in his own big-brand-that-Peter-didn't-know formal wear. Seriously, every guy looked handsome in his tuxedo and every lady looked beautiful in her gown tonight. Black Tie Required made complete sense.

Peter was utterly in love with his splendid surroundings. John Jameson's planetarium gala didn't even come close. Speaking of the guy, Peter still needed to apologize to him for ruining his wedding.

"You're not too shabby yourself," Peter cheerfully responded in kind.

Harry just shrugged and sipped his wine gloomily. He then looked up and seemed to have recognized someone, "Duty calls, Peter." He left Peter's side, but not before saying judgmentally, "Don't forget to do the job you're hired for." And he was gone in the mingling crowd.

Wondering vaguely if the government paid for this expensive yet majestic event with taxpayer money, Peter wandered around in search of something to dr – was that Viggo Mortensen?!

Peter quickly meandered through the celebrities and business people in desperate pursuit. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, Peter had to take a picture of him and – was that Madonna?! Oh man, which one to take pictures first? Peter was overwhel – Holy shit, Bill Murray!

…Peter had no idea he could be such a fanboy. Internally. That was kind of embarrassing. Thank goodness no one knew what was going on in his head. However, it was all in the spirit of – Bill Nye! Bill Nye the Science Guy! Peter's own legs were already carrying him towards his childhood idol at full speed before he could recover from the joyful shock. His legs worked faster than his brains. Like a cockroach.

Pride and dignity were overrated, anyway.

A long dizzying talk with Bill Nye, numerous photos taken of various celebrities, businesspeople and government officials, consuming a nice assortment of expensive food and drink, meeting two reporters from Wall Street Journal, and running into Bill Nye again and acquiring a simply beautiful autograph from him later, Peter began looking for Harry again.

He sincerely hoped Harry wasn't holing up in a corner and drinking himself to craziness again. That would not bold well for Peter's face. Or Harry's reputation among New York's elites. Peter probably wasn't giving his friend enough credit, but with Osborns, you could never tell for sure.

This place was huge. Peter knew it was big, but he never truly understood just how big it really was until he honestly needed to find a particular person. Peter was thinking about giving up and calling Harry's cell phone instead when he heard a sly old voice saying:

"Ah, Harry, Harry Osborn."

Peter looked to his right and, lo and behold, there was Harry holding a different glass of alcohol and turning around to face an approaching tall old man that was smiling widely but obviously insincere. The old guy's hair was all white, but he still retained a remarkable amount of hair, all neat and slick. His eyes were cold and hard, not unlike that unpleasant, self-serving schmuck John Morgan. Must be another businessman, then.

Harry smiled his own fake, insincere smile when the old guy stopped in front of him. "Jim," he greeted with a distinct undercurrent of dislike and So, we meet again, asshole.

If Peter didn't know better, he'd say this "Jim" was Harry's archenemy.

Old Man Jim's smile widened, "How have you been? We've heard so much about good old Oscorp lately."

Harry inserted enough patronization for Old Man Jim to notice but not enough for him to actually accuse him of being patronizing, "Of course you have." His fake smile widened, too, "And Synthetech is –"

"Doing better than ever," a much younger guy, around the same age as Harry, probably Old Man Jim's son since they looked so much alike, joined the conversation uninvited, wearing his own fake, insincere smile. What was with these people?

Hold on. Synthetech. Jim. As in Jim Plates. As in Synthetech's founder and supreme ruler. So he was Harry's archenemy, after all.

"Hey, Jeff," Harry greeted Probably Jim Plates' Son curtly, polite and passive. He didn't show it, but Peter knew he was Seriously Annoyed that his comeback was rudely interrupted, and by none other than Probably Jim Plates' Son.

Despite the strong family resemblance, Jeff was also very different from Jim Plates. Not only was he much younger, he was also much less subtle. Where Jim Plates would just offer passive-aggressive disguised as polite observations and comments, Jeff would just tell his opponent I'm superior, you suck. He certainly looked like that kind of unsubtle guy, at least. Peter disliked him already. And Jim Plates. Both jackasses in their own right.

Because they're assholes to Harry. Assholes.

"So, Harry," Jeff said with such slyness and a blatant tone of foreboding that it was so obvious what was coming out of his unsubtle mouth would be an insult, "I heard they fixed your face with skin from your ass,"

Peter was thankful he didn't choke on his champagne, but he was definitely close. Can you believe this guy?! What the hell is his problem?! Peter felt horror and, more distinctly, anger surging through him because how dare he? How dare he speak of something he didn't even understand, something Harry had to suffer through? How dare he bring the unfortunate incident up here of all places?

It would be extremely bad manners, not to mention potentially making a spectacle, to dump that bowl of gravy over there on the buffet table on Jeff's head and his oh-so-expensive clothes, so Peter pushed the anger and impulse down and waited to see if dumping gravy on the guy would really be a bad idea. Just in case.

Jim Plates regarded Probably His Son with a stiff smile, which spoke volume about how much he disapproved and thought Jeff lacked taste and finesse, but he couldn't exactly shut Jeff up at that moment without breaking the image of a united front against Harry.

Harry didn't react at all. Peter could tell from his tightening hold on the wine glass that he in fact wanted to punch Jeff and send his Semi-Sentient Explosive Flying Sharp Objects after him. Probably Charlie, too. Harry must have anticipated something vile from Jeff, but he definitely didn't think Jeff would have the indecency to talk about that in polite company. In public. At the Charity Gala.

Harry still didn't react. Perhaps because Jeff was obvious and boisterous and he obviously still had a punch line to deliver.

Jeff didn't disappoint. He was so proud of his punch line that he couldn't even wait for a response from Harry.

"That's lucky for you. I mean, now people don't even need to bend over to kiss your ass."

Okay, he was so getting the gravy.

Harry actually offered a genuine smile; a genuine, smug, You're dead meat smile. Peter, for a moment, very briefly considered if he should feel sorry for Jeff.

"Jeff," said Harry deliberately slowly, "At least I can still see who are kissing my ass."

Jeff's face contorted in shock and insult, "Are you saying I can't tell who the ass-kissers are?"

"No." Harry looked at him calmly, "I'm implying it."

Oh no. Harry just made sure he'd really pissed Jeff off. However big of an asshole Jeff had been, Peter wasn't sure that was a smart move from Harry. Harry must have been really pissed himself.

Jim Plates looked like he wanted to sigh at the rate things were swiftly deteriorating, because Jeff then took a step towards Harry as if he was going to strike back, figuratively or literally or both.

Things were about to get real ugly.

Well, two against one was never fair, anyway.

Peter walked up to them, calling out cheerfully, "Mr. Plates!"

Peter now knew for sure that Jeff was indeed also a Mr. Plates since he'd snapped his head to Peter's direction instinctively the same time as Old Man Jim as soon as he heard Peter's enthusiastic call.

Harry regarded him curiously while both Plateses eyed him with caution and feigned friendliness.

"Peter Parker from the Daily Bugle," Peter introduced himself eagerly, channeling the eager-to-meet-famous-people reporter stereotype. Jeff unsubtly glanced at the press pass on his front. Paranoid jerk.

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Parker," Jim Plates, ever the smooth one, offered pleasantly.

"Would you comment on the fact that SEC has launched an investigation into Synthetech's –"

"My apologies, Mr. Parker," Jim Plates interrupted politely, as if he really was sorry. What a fraud. "But I do believe I see Senator Molina. If you'd excuse me…"

"Oh, of course, of course!" Peter assured him cheerfully, "Don't let me keep you!" See that? Peter should at least get a Golden Globe for that performance.

Jim Plates gracefully exited the scene with Jeff in tow, who glared at Harry one last time before following his father to disappear into the crowds.

That's right. Run away, assholes.

As soon as they were gone, Peter scoffed in disdain at the father and son. He asked Harry, "Is that ass-clown his son?"

Harry sent the departing pair an especially nasty death glare, "Yes,"

He then turned to Peter, "Peter,"

Maybe it was the food and alcohol talking, but Peter could swear Harry sounded friendlier, so much more affable in that one single word than he had the last couple of weeks combined.

Harry continued once he made sure he had Peter's attention, "Thanks for earlier. I mean it. It was, it was brilliant. How did you even know SEC's onto them?"

"We only get Wall Street Journal at home," Peter shrugged and tried to play it cool, as if it was no big deal, even though he was practically beaming inside, "I had no choice."

But of course Harry saw right through him. "You're really something, Pete." He said earnestly, "Thank you. Really. I didn't want to crack Jeff Plates' skull open, at least not here, with so many eyewitnesses around, but he didn't look like he'd give me a choice." Was it weird Peter now found it endearing that Harry had actually given the idea of cracking Jeff Plates' skull open disturbingly thorough consideration? "And then you showed up and you were just so…" Harry frowned like he was searching for a compliment worthy of Peter's heroic deed, "You totally deserve a Golden Globe for that. At the very least."

Peter's heart sang. He said emotionally, "I was just telling myself the exact same thing," and, because Harry probably wouldn't give him the finger here at the gala, "Soulmate."

Peter's brains promptly short-circuited. Harry was smiling at him. Fondly, gratefully, really smiling at him. It was open and bright and even more amazing than the one by the Lake, because it was directed at him, because of him, no adorable ducks, no picturesque half-frozen lakes. All him. Just him.

"Harold!" An old gentlemanly voice called merrily.

Harry grimaced at the use of his full first name and turned quickly to walk over to the merry old man standing by the buffet table.

The moment was over but Peter was still standing there gaping like a fish. A codfish, actually. Or maybe it was a trout. The point was, Peter was stricken by a flash of genius. Because, you know, he was a genius.

He'd just made a major discovery. One that rivaled those of Archimedes and Pythagoras.

He, Peter "Spider-Man" Parker, Bringer of the Christmas Spirit, had fallen in love with Harry "Bah! Humbug!" Osborn.

Talk about Christmas miracles.

Peter knew it was true because, honestly, Harry wasn't the most attractive person on the planet, personality OR appearance-wise, but he still was the first human being that managed to short-circuit his brains with one single smile. He emphasized on Harry's species because, throughout his brilliant and genius life, his brains had also been short-circuited by a scientifically artistic poster for a science exhibit, an ancient Tesla coil, and a strangely adorable electron.

He wasn't bothered with the homosexual nature of the whole thing because, well, according to the latest research, 97% of all human beings are bisexual or homosexual, anyway. Only 3% of them are strictly heterosexual. Peter had been out of the normal distribution ever since he was bitten by that weirdo spider, so it was actually a relief that he was still in the lovely, symmetric bell curve in his own way. Or maybe he was destined to be out of the lovely, symmetric bell curve the moment he was born with these magnificent brains.

But he digressed.

The point was, the more he thought about this unfortunately-not-qualified-for-Nobel-consideration discovery, the more it actually made sense. Despite everything, all the snarkiness and grouchiness and immature vindictiveness and that unbecoming tendency for petty revenge, Harry was an awesome person who had always been there for him, looking out for him; he'd been nice when it mattered. Moreover, the discovery also explained why he felt the urge to tell Harry every (occasionally admittedly random) detail of his life, to just see the guy all the time, to just be near him.

It had to be true love, because he just found Harry increasingly gorgeous and wonderful as he thought more and more about him when he knew full well Harry wasn't that wonderful or gorgeous, pretty eyes notwithstanding.

Wow, Peter had it bad. Like a teenager. How disturbing. And hilarious. Better share it with Harry.

Wait, no.

What's wrong with you, Brains? Is this how you behave after I've been adoring you my whole life? Be productive. Now.

This must be how Einstein felt when he was handed the key to ultimate knowledge and secrets of the universe when he discovered Relativity. Now that Peter had acquired this knowledge of him being in love with Harry, he didn't have the slightest idea of what he should do with it.

Well, the dilemma was pretty unsophisticated, to be fair. To tell Harry, or not to tell Harry, that was the question.

What a no-brainer. Given Peter's hopelessly romantic nature and inclinations, not to mention the convenient truth that Harry obviously found him attractive, of course he was gonna tell Harry as soon as he could find the guy –

"Peter, Bill Nye just went that way," Harry showed up out of nowhere and gestured at the other side of the grand hall with his plate full of food.

Bill! Oh yeah, Peter was now on first name-basis with the Science Guy.

"Thanks, buddy!" Peter quickly hurried after the awesome, the incredible, the amazing Bill.

Romantic feelings could wait until after he'd asked Bill to visit Columbia and sign his plasma globe, too.

-:-

To be continued...

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Author's Note: The unsolved problem of quantum mechanics and general relativity was taken directly from Wikipedia.

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