Notes: By request of FriendshipIsPriceless, who wanted more Maya/Karone. :)
Lovely and Strange
"Earth must be a strange place," Maya said to Karone one evening as they sat shoulder-to-shoulder at Kai's table. Her voice was a low murmur that couldn't be heard over the spectacle of Leo waving a cardboard crown in the direction of a resigned-looking Kai and entreating him to "wear it just for the picture, come on. It's your birthday!"
"Just for the picture is what I'm objecting to," Kai grumbled, leaning out of Leo's reach. "It's my room, and I will kick you out."
Mike snickered at the opposite end of the table while Damon sat beside him and fiddled with the camera.
"Lovely," Maya said, "and strange."
"Yes." Karone giggled as Leo finally succeeded in smashing the crown onto Kai's head. "It is."
"It's too small," Kai complained, reaching up to tug at it. Leo batted his hand away. "Why am I even wearing this?"
"Because," Leo explained patiently, "we can't eat your cake until we sing happy birthday, and we can't sing happy birthday until you wear the birthday crown. It's a tradition."
"No," Karone said, when Maya nudged her gently. "I've never seen this before."
"That's what I thought," Maya whispered back. "We didn't do this for Damon's birthday."
It seemed new to Kai, too. "It's not my tradition."
"Nope," Leo said, far too cheerfully. "It's mine."
"Does he make you do this?" Kai asked Mike. "Really?"
Mike was spared having to answer by Damon, who triumphantly fit all the pieces of the camera back together. "Picture time!"
They moved to gather around Kai. Leo stood directly behind him, one hand resting on Kai's shoulder and his other arm slung around Mike's shoulders. Karone stood at Leo's side and pulled Maya in next to her. Neither of them wore sleeves, and the warmth of skin against skin made her shiver.
"Say "cheese", everyone!"
Damon passed the Polaroid around afterwards. His shape was a little blurry around the edges from having just barely made it into his place beside Mike before the timer went off, but his smile was perfect. Leo was beaming into the camera, and even Kai was smiling though it looked like he was trying hard to frown.
"What do you think?" Damon said. "We could do another."
"No," Kai said firmly. "We are not doing another."
Later, after they sang and ate their cake, Karone followed Maya back to their room. "I think," she said, "that Damon didn't have to wear the silly crown because it wasn't important to Leo to include him in his family traditions."
"Oh," Maya said in understanding, as she sank down into her hammock. "So it's a courtship thing."
"Oh," Maya repeated, head tilted in thought. "That's not how we did it on Mirinoi, but it makes sense."
"What was it like, there?" Karone watched Maya carefully. She wouldn't always talk about Mirinoi, but now she smiled and twisted in the hammock, swinging her legs up into place and leaning back. "I've been to many worlds, but I've never been to yours."
"Come sit with me," Maya said, "and I'll tell you."
When they lay side-by-side in the hammock, Karone could feel the length of Maya's body all along hers, and her hair tickled Karone's bare shoulder. When she inhaled, all she could smell was Maya, warm and reassuring.
"It might seem as strange to you as Earth does," Maya warned her with a little smile.
For all that she'd grown fond of the place, Karone doubted it. "Like you said," she murmured. "Lovely and strange."
"We don't really celebrate birthdays, for one," Maya told her.
"They don't on KO-35, either." She'd been so confused, that time she crashed Ashley's birthday party. Karone smiled wryly. "And Dark Specter certainly didn't."
"Well..." Maya paused in consideration. "Maybe this is a little bit like a birthday, but you do get a celebration in your honor when you reach adulthood. We don't have cake, though."
"I'm... not sure what they do on KO-35," Karone admitted. "I'd have to ask Andros. Whatever it is, he probably didn't go to his."
Maya laughed. "You look like him, but when I first met you I would've said you had nothing in common."
"What?" Karone gave her a little push. "I was still Astronema when I became an adult. I'd have loved a party in my honor."
"Even without cake?"
"You have to admit, though," Maya said, "it's one of Earth's better inventions."
"There are other good things, though," Maya said, and her pinky finger carefully hooked itself around Karone's thumb.
"Oh?" Karone gave her a sidelong glance. "And what would they be?"
"Courtship on Mirinoi involves a lot more ceremonial gift-giving." Maya gave her a mischievous smile. "And a lot less kissing."
Karone gave a quiet "hmm" in response. "And courtship on KO-35 involves a good deal more."
"Gift-giving?" Maya tilted her head towards Karone in a way that suggested she knew the answer, the long ends of her hair spilling forward.
Karone twisted a curl around her finger and tugged playfully, smiling in answer. "The other thing," she said softly.
"Ah." Maya squirmed closer. "You'll have to take me there."
"Someday," Karone murmured, and closed her eyes as Maya leaned in all the way to kiss her.