Flash Thompson was the kind of man Harry always thought he should be. Harry had his money, but Flash had looks, he had charisma, he had muscle-tone and a reputation that had drawn Harry toward him by orbit. Flash's friends were Harry's friends, and that included Flash himself. Harry tended to believe… to hope… that Flash's better qualities would rub off on him, somehow.
Harry always liked hanging out with Flash, even while he was dating Mary Jane. He was always a little resentful of Peter and Flash's high school history from a couple of angles, but he made up for that with friendships with both. When Peter pulled his AWOL act -- and it happened often -- it was usually Flash Harry ended up with.
When Flash left for the war, Harry watched Mary Jane lean in to kiss Flash on the mouth for a 'goodbye', and then he watched Gwen, and for a brief moment he considered stepping forward and saying goodbye as well, digging his hands into Flash's hair and kissing him long and soft. It was a sharp pang, a second of want more powerful than anything Harry had felt in their friendship before that moment; as Flash walked toward the planes Harry questioned their friendship and himself and if he would see Flash again after today, alive.
Harry didn't kiss him, or speak to him, or touch him. Instead he stepped back, licking his lips and moving closer to his girlfriend. "Say, MJ, you acted like you enjoyed that."
Gwen Stacy was a radiant girl. She drew people into her sunshine effortlessly, coaxing smiles with her brilliant eyes and her sharp tongue. Harry and Gwen had been friends for years, always just friends; they had gone on group dates or casual get togethers for coffees or cokes, but they'd never gone together in any sort of official capacity. They'd never so much as held hands.
Harry liked Gwen. Harry liked Peter. But Harry hadn't liked the idea of them, certainly not at first, and he often wondered how much of his resentment stemmed from the idea -- no, the reality -- that Peter was pulling Gwen away from him. Their friendship hadn't been deep, but it had been important. To Harry it had been; people that cared for him weren't quite a dime a dozen.
Perhaps Gwen didn't understand him the way the rest did; not in detail. Gwen and Flash were his cool friends, they didn't always see the sides of him that Peter and Mary Jane did. But Harry always felt an affinity to her all the same, especially right after Mary Jane came into the picture. When Mary Jane and Peter gave each other those looks, when Mary Jane pulled Peter away from the diner by his tie and Gwen whispered "Bye, Peter," in a voice so quiet probably only Harry heard, he wanted to take her hand in his and forget the others for a moment. Kiss her on the cheek (and the lips if she'd let him) and remind her that they'd known each other the longest.
He stifled the urge, drinking deep from his espresso cup.
Mary Jane Watson had been what Harry's father would have described as "too much" for him. One might look at the two of them and think they were a perfect match; exuberant, outgoing redheads who knew what they wanted and how to have fun, but Mary Jane was a wildfire that Harry wasn't as prepared for as he thought he was.
He thought he loved her -- it was only in retrospect that he could see how they would have never worked in the long run. She didn't want him the same way he wanted her, and for a long time Harry couldn't come to grips with that fact. Peter Parker, Peter Parker, why did all his friendships revolve around Peter Parker?
But he remembered, dimly, her presence by his bed when he was overdosing, the night his father died, the night that Gwen died. He wanted to be held by her, to ignore all their hurt and heartbreak and have his forehead soothed, to have her kiss him and whisper that he was safe, he would be okay. He would tell it to her back: It's okay, I'm okay, we're okay, I love you, because he did. He loved all of them, even Mary Jane who made his chest so tight at times it caused his head to hurt. "You're my friend… one of the dearest friends I've ever had!" He told her, years later. "I love you!"
He thought about that night so many times. It was like an unfocused photograph in his head that he kept squinting at for details.
Peter Parker was the kind of man Harry's father had always wanted him to be. Peter might not have had Flash's popularity, but he was smart, independent, charming, and handsome. All of the women Harry knew seemed to fall in love with Peter sooner or later, and it was no secret that Norman thought of Peter as the son Harry could have been were he more fit to follow in the Osborn footsteps. Had he ever offered Harry a job as he'd offered Peter one?
He was jealous, but Harry could see why everyone liked Peter even though the front of his mind (and his mouth) always claimed the opposite. He didn't like seeing Peter with Gwen, and he even less liked seeing Peter with Mary Jane. Peter shouldn't be around any women, Harry thought sometimes irrationally, because when he wasn't stealing them away from his friends (from his roommate) he was getting so wrapped up in locking lips he forgot that Harry existed.
Harry wished often Peter was around more, even when he thought he didn't. Once they'd argued when Harry had been on his pills, Harry had told Peter to move out and Peter had agreed -- "If that's how you want it." That wasn't how Harry wanted it, he croaked, "I don't know what I want, Pete. I've never felt this way."
He thought about what he wanted, in that fleeting manic moment he wanted Peter's arms around him to stop his shaking, Peter's lips on his to restore the feeling in them. Instead he waited until Peter left before downing the rest of the pill bottle.
She teased him sometimes, about the expressions he made, about the formal way he called her "Miss Allan" at first even though they had been classmates, about how indignant he got whenever he suspected someone might be bothering her in even the most minute ways. Her teasing made him wrinkle his nose but really he enjoyed it; he could accept the humor so gracefully it was almost as if a part of his mind had gone blank.
They drew close so quickly -- maybe it was a sign of two people desperately searching for an anchor, maybe it was a sign of mad, impassioned love. When Harry stood with Liz on the roof of Peter's apartment he thought again about how she made him feel safe. "Somehow it's really peaceful up here… isn't it, Liz?"
"It's peaceful for me anywhere, Harry… so long as I'm with you."
There was nothing he could do in that moment except close his eyes and kiss her.