Peni rarely called the man the nickname the rest of the crew adopted, often opting for a half-joking ‘Pa’. After the dimensional shenanigans and Noir sympathizing with a lack of parental units as a child, he had sort of taken the girl under his wing anytime the gang met up. The lack of the familiar term had not gone unnoticed.
“What is it, kid?”
She bounced nervously on her feet. “Can we talk outside for a sec?”
They shared a step on the stoop of Aunt May’s home. The night was brisk. Noir, familiar with the dark and frigid, an unfortunate reality of his New York’s streets. At least here, there weren’t people begging or selling what they could on every block. He had seen a few beggars in Miles’ universe, always tossing them a coin. His own Aunt May had always advocated economic equality. After all, one could end up in close quarters to a beggar pretty quickly in his day and age.
Peni was clearly not as intimately acquainted with the cold. She shivered in her school uniform. Noir tossed his trench coat over her shoulders. She wrapped it around herself gratefully.
“Aren’t you cold?”
“I at least have my sweater. You don’t freeze in your New York?”
“Global warming.” She said simply. Noir didn’t really understand all of the atmosphere mumbo jumbo, only that it was a severe issue of the other spiders’ realities. Other than Ham, he supposed.
“Hey, kiddo, what’d ya wanna talk about?”
Peni stared down at her shoes, biting her lip. She seemed lost in thought.
“I… don’t know if you have a word for this in your time, but it’s really important to me that you know.”
She took a deep breath.
“I’m a lesbian.”
Pete remembered a night, not unlike the one surrounding him now.
There was muffled speech downstairs. He had hoped the soft background noise would ease him into sleep, but it seemed his insomnia continued to get the best of him. After several hours of one of Aunt May’s get-togethers that he had to avoid, he decided to investigate. He had always been the curious type.
He grasped the banister of the stairway. His hand was so tiny compared to it, in equal parts due to his young age at the time and the size of the wood fixture. He held his slippers in his other hand. It was quieter to move around without them, anyhow. Pete was easily hid by the wooden slats in the staircase, able to observe the festivities without revealing himself.
People danced, a small band of some people he recognized as friends of his aunt and uncle. However, it wasn’t the band that caught his eye. He liked music just fine, but there was something far more attention-grabbing to him. Two men danced together. They grinned at each other, not a care in the world. As he surveyed the room, he saw more couples made up of two men and two women, all dancing together. A woman swung her partner and kissed her. No one batted an eye.
Peter Benjamin Parker, although he had not taken up that name at the time, stared on in his white nightgown. He felt a sort of longing. A draw to the couples dancing. But he also felt so, so scared. He had seen what others did to people like this. His body was a contradiction. He felt so free, so proud as women in suits swung their gals. How men laughed in the arms of their male lovers. But his heart squeezed so tight, knowing why they had to do this in the privacy of a home.
He felt sick.
He felt unbelievably, undeniably strong.
A young woman in a suit tapped his shoulder. He stumbled, falling onto the stair behind him.
“Apologies. You’re May and Ben’s niece, right?” It was true, at the time.
“You should run to bed before you get called out on the carpet.” She smiled.
He nodded again. Turning to run up the stairs, he looked at the woman.
“Are you here with another girl?”
The woman humored him, pointing to a person in a shortly cut hairstyle, common with the working men, and a dress.
“She has boy’s hair.”
The woman paused, clearly thinking over her next words carefully.
She exhaled loudly. “She has to pretend to be one.”
The next morning, he had asked his aunt about the couples.
“We shelter them so that in the future, they may no longer need shelter.”
Aunt May had explained that these men and women were gay, the women being lesbians. How the woman with the short hair had been born a man, but was a woman, despite society’s trappings. That all of these people needed protecting. His heart felt heavy. He tightly held the Star of David pendant of his necklace.
“I know what lesbians are, Peni.” He looked at the girl with what he hoped was an accepting expression. “I’m not that old.”
The girl looked like she was on the verge of tears. She almost knocked Noir over with the force of the hug she gave him. She pushed her head into his chest.
“My universe is fine about this stuff, but when I’m here…” Peni said.
Pete’s heart dropped through his chest. He was used to having to hide everything he felt, including his own desires. He hated that Peni had to cope with a society centuries behind her own, not only in tech, but also in ideology. He had the reverse problem, he supposed.
“I know, kid, I know.” He held the girl close to him. “I’m gay, too.”
The smile on Peni’s face meant everything to Pete. He was going to protect this girl from anyone who dare try to stop her in this dimension, whether it was regarding where she was allowed to park her mech or her sexuality.
The two privately vowed to themselves that they would protect the other from whoever or whatever the world was going to hurl at them.
“You’re a good egg, Peni.”
“Whatever that means, right back atcha, Pa.”