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Cultural Sensitivity

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Lena sips the last of her tea and glances at her watch. Her shared lunches with Kara are often the highlight of her day, but she can’t quite bring herself to regret them ending, considering what comes next.

“I should get back to work.”

“Aw, already?” Kara pouts, but gets up for the hug. Lena’s heart is already thumping away its pavlovian response.

Kara squeezes her tight, a mindful, heartfelt pressure, and outlines the slope of Lena's shoulder in a lingering caress as she draws back. She stays close, fingertips now light at the base of Lena's neck, eyes warm and smile gentle. "Can I..?" She gestures at her own mouth, like a delicate ingenue, like the boldest flirt to walk the damn Earth.

"Uh huh," Lena chokes out, because Kara's fingertips are at her throat, because Kara's breath is on her skin, because Kara asked, and there is no other answer.

Kara beams, she frankly glows, as if nothing could bring her greater pleasure than this ineloquent permission to kiss a Luthor on the mouth. She slides one hand to the small of Lena’s back to pull her closer against her body, secure like a snap button fastening sans the audible pop. If her heart could make such noise, Lena’s sure it would. Kara cups Lena’s face in a searing hot hand, brushing a thumb at the corner of Lena’s lips as if rendering an outline, indelibly anointing this space on Lena’s skin: about to be kissed by Kara Zor-El Danvers.

There, the intake of breath, the tilt of the head, the hand flexing at Lena’s back; there, the hot dry confident brush of closed lips. Lena has carefully observed and catalogued these, and has them ready for perusal in a multitude of flavours. She’s become quite well versed in this, an old hand, really, and this time for sure she is not going to fucking—

Kara’s lips part, as they always do, and Lena lets slip a horrible pathetic little whimper, as she always does.

Kara’s fingers curl into her in response, her body pressing closer, her mouth hot and wet and open and her tongue in Lena’s goddamn mouth, and Lena, what else, completely gives up the fight, and makes noises, and kisses back.

The cooldown is as sweet and ineffectual as usual, Kara’s kisses slowing to stillness, her forehead to Lena’s, holding her close.

“Bye,” Kara husks, and gives Lena a last happy little peck on the lips before letting go.

.

.

So… this has been going for a while. Lena could likely recreate the experience of their first kiss—their first kiss holy fucking shit—down to the individual neuron activity, but she could not for the life of her explain exactly how this whole thing started.

She’s pretty sure they’d been sharing lunch, but they were always sharing lunches. They’d been laughing together, but they’d been making each other laugh from the start. Lena had been basking in Kara’s radiance, but when is she ever not? There wasn’t any particular crossing of thresholds, no little trumpet sound to signify a friendship level up. One day Kara was snorting strawberry milkshake out of her nose, and the next she was asking, “So, can I kiss you goodbye?” and making it rather French-Kryptonian.

Kara is always the one to initiate. This is Lena's most stringent, and only, rule. Since she has no understanding of the causality and mechanics of this strange, beautiful magic, she has to take utmost care not to dispel it accidentally.

And Kara… Kara always asks. It's been over three weeks now of this mystical, electrifying ritual, and Kara still asks every single time before sucking Lena's face like it's her favorite flavor of ice cream.

Lena's asked around. Discreetly, of course. If only Kara had been, oh, any other alien species, Lena could have opened a random yahoo search and found a million how-to guides explaining greeting and parting etiquette in detail. But no, Kara had to be the very last daughter of superhero planet, and Lena was stuck asking her combat-trained sister weird questions.

"Kryptonian goodbye rituals? Like, last rites? Why do you wanna know?" The combat-trained sister was, predictably, immediately suspicious.

"More like, post-lunch friendly goodbye rites," Lena tried to explain.

Alex's face swiftly changed from assessing threat level to assessing idiocy level. "No," she said, incredulous. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."

It’s not really a sibling thing, was the conclusion Lena drew from that. Thank god.

.

.

"Hey, Lena?" Kara says while they’re waiting for their moussaka. "There's, um, something I've been meaning to bring up with you."

Kara fidgets with her hands, twisting and untwisting her metal spoon and putting it down guiltily, slightly worse for wear. Lena goes through the three stages of holy shit and oh no and what if real quick.

"So, um." Kara reaches for the spoon again, changes her mind, and tucks her hands under the table. "I've sorta noticed that you don't really, uh, initiate? But you always say yes when I ask, and I think, I mean, it feels like you're into it, but you never really… bring it up?"

Lena blinks at her, stunned.

"It's—it's totally cool!" Kara rushes to reassure. "If you'd rather I—but if you don't want to? I think I may have been overbearing. I just don't want you to feel… you know?" Kara looks at her pleadingly, clearly begging for a rescue.

But Lena doesn't know. Lena doesn't have the greenest goddamn little sprout of a clue.

She gives it a brave try anyway. "Are we, uh," she clears her throat, where her heart is, incidentally, "talking about the kissing?"

Kara nods eagerly, adorably. "Yes! Do you like it?" she asks, painfully earnest. "Do you… wanna stop?"

"I like it," Lena says, unable to prevent a bit of feeling from seeping through. She hopes it's not overstepping. "I don't want to stop."

Kara looks so immediately and powerfully relieved, Lena is struck with the urge to hug her. "Okay," Kara sighs.

"I would very much enjoy initiating, in fact," Lena says carefully. "I just… wasn't sure what was appropriate."

"It's appropriate! Super appropriate!" Kara rattles the table slightly with the force of her response. "You can, um, also hold my hand. If you want."

Kara's hand brushes Lena's knee under the table, seeking and electric. Lena grasps it without hesitation. "Is that part of the… whole thing?"

Kara looks briefly confused. "I think so? Yeah? If you like it?"

Lena smiles indulgently. Kara had been so young when she'd lost her home, and Kal was raised on Earth. If she's a little shaky on the finer details of Kryptonian customs, it's really no surprise. "I like it," Lena confirms again. Clarity is so important, in any relationship.

Kara smiles, and squeezes her hand, and leans slightly across the table, chin tipped up, gently expectant.

It’s not a goodbye this time—their food hasn’t even arrived yet—and that feels strangely significant. Lena swallows that presumptuous giddiness down, swallows her anxiety too. Kara has trusted her with this, a part of her identity, her culture, a part so precious and tenuous she barely has a grasp on it herself. She’s trusted Lena to understand, to be respectful, to be culturally sensitive enough to initiate it herself without crossing any boundaries. There is no way in all heaven and hell that Lena is going to take that trust, and make it weird.

Lena holds fast to Kara’s hand and strains forward to meet her halfway. She presses her mouth to Kara’s, feels the way her lips part in practised greeting all the way down to her toes, and slips her just a hint of the chastest, friendliest, most appropriately platonic tongue.

.

.

Things settle down some after that. Not the kissing, oh, no, that has been ramping up significantly. They do it at hello and goodbye, and sometimes also just because. But now that they’ve aired it out, talked about it clearly and openly, now that they’re on the exact same page, Lena’s anxiety has simmered right down. They are simply two good, close, respectful friends who engage in open cultural exchange, and there is nothing weird about that.

If Lena’s daily cold shower rate has gone somewhat up, well, personal hygiene is so important these days.

.

.

Lena is wedged into the very corner of her couch on movie night, draped quite snugly in affectionate Kryptonian. Kara has slipped her hand just below Lena's hemline, thumb rubbing circles directly onto the skin of her hip. The sensation is hypnotic. Lena hasn’t the vaguest idea what kind of movie they’re watching.

Kara lets out a contented little sigh, shuffles closer, rests her chin on Lena’s shoulder. Lena tips up her chin by pure instinct, and Kara promptly fills the space, nuzzling along Lena’s throat, lips grazing the sensitive skin, emitting a satisfied, bone deep hum.

"Go out with me," Lena blurts out.

Kara rubs the bridge of her nose, the arch of her brow against Lena's cheek, noses at her earlobe, and makes a questioning little trilling sound Lena can feel all the way in her toes.

"On—on a date," Lena forces out before this strange nuzzling-induced courage can dissipate. "Would you? I'm sorry if—I don't mean to make you uncomfortable."

Kara's face parts with Lena's skin, which is about the worst possible outcome. She blinks at Lena, still looking rather blissed out.

"You can say no," Lena adds weakly.

Kara’s contented expression complicates to confusion before distilling into plain horror. Her thumb pauses above Lena’s hipbone. “W-what?”

Lena struggles not to cringe visibly. Wow. That was… not quite the reaction she was hoping for. “Sorry,” she says hastily. “Forget I said anything."

“Lena? What do you mean, would I go out with you? Haven’t we been…?”

“I’m sorry to have suggested it,” Lena says stiffly, looking away. “Please, disregard it. I value our friendship dearly. Please believe me when I say I’ll do everything in my power not to make things weird.”

“Lena. Lena. Look at me.” Kara squeezes closer, leans partway across Lena’s lap, practically chasing her gaze, the villain. And here Lena thought she might make it out of this dry-eyed. “Lena. What exactly did you think we’ve been doing for the past two and a half months?”

That brings Lena up short. She blinks, and tears fall. “What?”

Kara bears down on the palm braced against Lena’s thigh, an indescribable look on her face. “We’ve gone on… so many dates,” she says, a little desperate, a little deranged. “Have you not noticed the kissing?”

“I… I’ve definitely noticed,” Lena says, completely adrift. Metaphorically speaking, that is. Physically, she is pinned down as securely as a flower under a paperweight.

“Oh, she’s noticed,” Kara repeats. “Did you think I was, what, falling onto your face by accident?”

“I thought you were being polite.” Lena’s voice is coming from a place quite outside her own body, she’s sure.

Kara’s mouth works on air. “Lena,” she says, helpless. “I’m—I—Oh my gosh. I love you.”

Lena tries her very best to react reasonably to this. Say something like, ‘Sorry, could you repeat that,’ or ‘could you possibly clarify the precise nature of this so-called “love”,’ but she opens her mouth, and what immediately comes out is just the saddest little squeak.

"I love you,” Kara repeats anyway. “Wow, I really love you a lot. I'm in love with you, Lena.” Her face is lightly flushed, eyebrows drawn, radiating sincerity.

“Holy shit,” Lena whispers, and then she’s straining forward—it requires barely a stretch, she’s so close—and presses her mouth to Kara’s. This kiss is soft, practiced but tentative, and Lena pours into it every shred of held back feeling, every stray romantic thought deemed inappropriate and nipped in the bud. It occurs to her quite abruptly that this might not be the clearest of responses under the circumstances, actually, so she pulls back to breathe, “I love you too,” and dives right back in.

Kara makes a sweet, decadent noise into her mouth, and climbs more fully in her lap, hand sliding underneath Lena’s shirt, trapped between the couch and Lena’s back. She rocks into Lena, her whole body moving along with the kiss, and Lena grabs her by the hips, sinking a little further into the sofa. If she’s tabulated every element of Kara’s kisses like sheet music, then this is the thrilling, distinctive reprise.

“Is there—is there really no Kryptonian farewell ritual...?” Lena gasps when they come up for air.

“Involving kissing your acquaintances with tongue?” Kara lets out an incredulous laugh. “Lena. No. It’s just for you.”

Just for you. Kara, sitting in her lap, bearing down on her with her full, anchoring weight, nuzzling her face and touching her back and kissing her silly and making these noises that fill her heart fit to burst. Just for Lena.

Lena wraps her arms around Kara, buries her face in her shoulder, and groans. "All this time, we could've had this."

"We can make it up if we move fast. I vote we start now."

Lena lifts her head off Kara's shoulder. "Let's go," she says, determined, and finally makes out with her girlfriend, without one single itty bitty shred of platonic feeling.