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i.

Leeloo falls asleep on his shoulder during the Galactic Medal of Freedom ceremony. Korben had tried for the first hour or so to keep her conscious, but once the Zemynan ambassador got up and started talking about strength through adversity he sort of gave up.

Cornelius, sitting on Korben's opposite side, reaches out with all the subtlety of a brick and kicks Korben's shin with the point of his boot. Korben yanks his leg away and glares.

"Watch it, padre," he snaps, only barely remembering to keep his voice down.

"They're taking her picture," Cornelius says back, jerking his chin at the line of photographers sitting in the front row who are, sure enough, taking he and Leeloo's picture. Who knows how many others have already caught them with pupil cameras, too.

Korben rolls his eyes. "You wanna try and wake her up?"

Cornelius pales and leans back slightly. The last time he'd tried to shake Leeloo out of one of her impromptu naps she'd nailed him in the face with the heel of her palm. His nose still looks a little crooked.

"At least keep her from drooling," Cornelius mumbles, folding his hands into the giant sleeves of his robe and settling into his holy father stance, which is to say, sitting stiffly and looking disapproving. Usually at Korben. "It's improper."

"She saved the universe, Father, she can drool all she wants," Korben says carelessly. On his shoulder, Leeloo snorts loudly, one arm flying out and smacking New York's fifth district robotic Congressman on the back of the head. Korben stifles a laugh.

"Mr. Dallas," Cornelius hisses.

"Good thing she picked the android, huh, look - he didn't even notice."

"That is rather beside the point - "

"Both of you shut up," and Korben cranes his neck around to see President Lindberg giving them the evil eye. "And Dallas, lean to your left a little."

Korben wraps one arm around Leeloo and sways gently, obscuring the president's tablet from the eyes of the crowd. "What level are you on, sir?"

"Three-oh-seven," Lindberg says proudly. "Now keep it down."

Cornelius huffs silently and tucks his hands back into his sleeves.

A few days later, Korben flips on the morning news feed and sees a photo of him and Leeloo half-asleep at the ceremony, with the president behind them zoning out, staring at the ceiling. The accompanying story sounds so scandalized that it could've been written by Cornelius himself.

He shows it to Leeloo, who laughs merrily through a giant mouthful of Frutie-loo cereal. "Whoops," she says.

 

 

ii.

They found a nice place, not that they needed it, but Cornelius had insisted. Something about supreme beings deserving beds that don't buzz back into the wall whenever you get up for a glass of water, whatever, Korben wasn't listening.

"This is my favorite room," Leeloo declares, their first night there. She beams at Korben and then plops right down on the middle of the kitchen floor and goes spread-eagle, like she's making a snow angel. "My favorite room in the house, perhaps in the whole world. Definitely the city."

Korben tilts his head at her, and hey, why not, plops right down, too. "It's a good room," he agrees. "Nice, uh, natural light. Lots of counter space - "

Leeloo points at the replicator. "The food is in this room," she whispers, leaning in like she's sharing a secret.

"Ah," Korben says.

"Do you know how to use the oven?" she asks, rolling over and poking at his shin with her big toe. "Cornelius does. He made cookies once, with those little nuts that Mr. Kim uses in his sweet shrimp." She pronounces Cornelius' name like she used to, in that accent she had before her English improved. Cor-nee-lee-oos.

"Honey, I haven't even seen an oven since I was a kid." Korben reaches out and raps the side of the appliance in question with his knuckles. It's big, it's shiny, it's nice, and Korben doesn't have the first damn clue what to do with it. "Ma used to bake, a little. Not so much after my old man died." Leeloo's face falls slightly, like it always does when anybody says anything remotely sad. Korben almost laughs. "It was too expensive. Flour, sugar, all that stuff - "

"We have money," Leeloo says hopefully, like a little kid campaigning for a Christmas present. Korben lets the laugh loose.

"Hey," he says, "whaddya know. We do." He thinks about the concept for a second. "How about that."

So they go to the store, a real grocery store - and that's actually the hardest part, because those kinda places are always sub-level out here and that's just a pain in the ass. Leeloo has a recipe she wants to try pulled up on her screen, so they go down the list - milk, egg cream, brown sugar, chocolate, leavening powder, flour. It's unfathomable to Korben that some people do this for all their food, all the time. It's just so fuckin' unnecessary.

"I want to do it myself," she tells him, and shoos him out of the kitchen, slamming the door in his face. Korben shrugs and leaves her to it, and for the next two hours every time he walks past he hears a myriad of banging and clattering noises, plus some loud monologues from Leeloo in her native language that sound decidedly less Divine than usual.

When she finally emerges, holding something that closely resembles a cake but doesn't quite make the last leap into reality, she's got white dust in her hair and a frown on her face and Korben bends down to kiss, because he can and he wants to, how about that.

"I don't think I did it right," she says forlornly, plopping the pan in Korben's lap. "It tastes okay, but weird. Crunchy. Cakes aren't supposed to crunch, are they?"

"Just because they're not supposed to doesn't mean they shouldn't," Korben says, prying a corner of the cake loose and snapping it off with his fingers. It sort of - shatters in his hand, and Leeloo huffs in frustration.

"Don't chip your teeth," Leeloo warns, and Korben grins and pops a piece in his mouth. "I think I might have chipped mine a little, because I bit down on the wrong side - "

"I like it," Korben interrupts. He rolls it around in his mouth a few more times thoughtfully, nodding to himself. "It's sorta like - cake-flavored hard candy."

"Don't be silly." Leeloo snags a piece right out of his hand and chomps down messily. "It's crunchy, not hard."

"Either way, it still tastes like chocolate." Korben slides the pan onto a nearby table and snags Leeloo by the waist, pulling her down into his lap. She doesn't even flinch or make those squealing noises that Carla would when he'd do it to her, she just rolls with it, tucking her knees into the side of the chair and looping one lanky arm around his neck. "S'my favorite."

"Mine too." Leeloo leans her chin against his temple, still chewing happily. A few crumbs fall from her fingers, down the collar of Korben's shirt. "I'll get better at it, anyway."

"Ma could give you a few pointers, I bet." Korben huffs. "If you're brave enough."

"I'm very brave," Leeloo intones solemnly.

Korben closes his eyes and leans his face against her collarbone. "That's a fact," he mumbles.

"You have to help me," Leeloo says, poking his arm. "There's enough stuff left to try again, and I want you to learn, too."

"Ehhhhh," Korben groans.

"Yeeees," Leeloo replies, imitating his tone. She's weirdly good at it. "Come on. Be brave for me."

"It's an honor and privilege to serve my country," Korben says dryly, and lets Leeloo drag him to his feet by his suspenders.

"That's the spirit, now," Leeloo says.

 

 

iii.

She wants to see the ocean, so he takes her. The first thing she does is take off her shoes.

"Wait, wait, wait," he says, reaching out for her arm, "not the best idea, sweetheart - "

"This doesn't look like the pictures I saw," Leeloo says, wrinkling her nose. She allows him to hold her back from the edge of the sand, eyeing it suspiciously. The one he'd chosen is one of the best around, but even still it looms before them uninvitingly, littered with garbage and frightening-looking shards of rock.

"Yeah, those pictures were from fifty years ago, at least," Korben replies. "Pollution, land erosion, overpopulation, yadda yadda - "

"I liked the pictures better," Leeloo says.

"Me too," Korben agrees wryly. They stand in silence, elbow to elbow, for a few moments, watching the sad tourists pick their way across to the water, clad in thick boots and their shoulders hunched against the wind.

It's a sorry fucking sight, and Korben wishes it weren't, wishes the world were as beautiful in practice as it is in Leeloo's imagination. It's a familiar wish, that sits right beneath his breastbone, like the gun at his hip and the ache in his bones, the depressing reality that the world she'd almost died to save doesn't even come close to the beauty and wonder -

"Hey," Leeloo says, "can we go get burgers?"

"Yeah, sure," Korben replies.

 

 

iv.

Leeloo likes to spar on their roof, for some reason. Korben doesn't pretend to know why, and when he asks all she does is shrug and ask, "it's nice out tonight, how do you feel about swords?" He doesn't push it.

That's usually where she goes when she's upset, so it's where he always looks first. Sometimes he's right, sometimes he's not, but tonight he is.

"Kiba tokemata dat mo perod," Leeloo says harshly, the second she spots him, which is the second he emerges onto the roof. She's still in her evening dress, although she's ripped the skirt to her knees for mobility and her hair is a mess, tangled around her shoulders. "Mo too bayaterol."

Korben doesn't know what the hell that means exactly, but he has a general idea. "You want me to leave?"

Leeloo slams her palm against the training robot and resumes sparring, with an intensity she usually saves for actual fights. Korben stops at the edge of her mat and waits for her to finish.

"Danji," she mutters, spinning and executing a flawless rear leg roundhouse that frankly, makes Korben a little jealous. "Ferji, minki ou'man - "

"Yeah, I'm gonna leave," Korben says, and Leeloo flips the bot on the ground angrily, causing the left limb to splinter in half in a shower of white sparks. "Oh man, that was one of our nice ones."

Leeloo huffs, bending down in a crouch, breathing heavily. "Alollé," she says, "sorry. Don't leave."

"Are you sure?" Korben asks cautiously, kneeling down to her level. Leeloo nods, pitching forward onto the mat in a sort of yoga-esque pose, running her hands through her hair in frustration. Her hands are shaking. "Aw, sweetheart. You can't let it get to ya like this - "

"I don't let anything get to me," Leeloo says urgently, "I do not choose to feel this way. Korben." She sits up, shaking her hair back from her face. There are angry splotches of red on her cheeks and neck, bruises on her knuckles from where her punches missed the padding on the bot.

"It's okay," Korben says, reaching out with one hand. Leeloo immediately takes it and squeezes, and they kneel there for a few moments, just, holding hands. "It was a bad day, honey. I get them too, you know."

"I just don't understand," Leeloo says helplessly. Korben's chest aches.

"Me neither." He slides his hand down to her wrist and pulls her in, unable not to, and she curls in against his chest. She feels so thin and small, and he knows that she isn't, knows that she's the oldest, most powerful thing he's ever touched, but it never feels that way. She never feels like anything but a woman.

"You were given this wonderful gift and what some of you do with it, I don't understand," Leeloo says, "it's so hard sometimes, these parties, and then the other things I see, all these people who are hungry and cold and tired and hurt, how they can exist in the same world, the same city, it - zarbrras mos nilay, it is the most awful thing."

Korben hates it when she talks like this, not just because it's hard to hear but because she can't help but place herself on the outside, an observer, not a part of this world. Which - that's what she is, but it's not like he needs the fuckin' reminder. He never claimed not to be a selfish man.

"Yeah, it sucks," he says lamely.

"Sucks," Leeloo agrees, fervently.

A gust of wind hits her hair and sends a chunk of it flying into Korben's face. He sputters, batting at it with his free hand. Leeloo doesn't seem to notice.

"Do you get tired of me asking you these questions?" Leeloo asks, voice small.

"Never," Korben replies, blowing another chunk of hair away from his mouth.

"I'll probably ask them for a long time," she continues.

"I'll ask 'em right with you then," Korben replies. Leeloo makes a small noise of agreement and tightens her arms around his torso, her grip so strong it knocks the breath out of him.

"Leeloo," he says, straining, "watch the lungs, babe - "

"Alollé, alollé," Leeloo says, loosening her hold, "I forget."

"S'alright," Korben says with a shrug, sliding her arms down to his waist. "Here, squeeze here."

Leeloo obeys. "Good for squeezing," she says contentedly.

"Ah, I love it when you talk dirty," Korben replies.

 

 

v.

"I'm almost seventy years old and what do I have to show for it, no grandchildren, no great-grandchildren, you know if Frank were alive he'd have a shitfit about that orange hair of yours, is that necessary, I don't think so - "

"Mrs. Dallas," Leeloo says.

" - Gladys Northman has four grandchildren and her daughter-in-law teaches at that whatchamacallit school on Mars, something hoity-toity like science or history or something, how should I know, but with this non-disclosure whatsit I can't even tell her about the pyramid business, and now she thinks my only son's gone and run off with a fashion model of all things, can't even show my face at the holotea picnic - "

"You can hang up anytime, you know," Korben says. Leeloo makes a face.

" - I'm always sick, with this weather here, and you never visit me, but it's fine, don't worry about it, you two just enjoy your life, I'm sure all that secret government work pays you very nice so my funeral will be a hell of a party, at least - "

"Mrs. Dallas, we're coming to visit for Winter Holiday," Leeloo says.

"Two months away! All sorts of things could happen in two months, hell, you married my son after a week."

"I think it was at least a month," Leeloo says skeptically.

"Oh, a month! That makes it so much better, look at you with your month! Glory be to God that I have a daughter-in-law with such an accurate sense of time - "

"Yeah, I'm gonna go get a beer," Korben says, and starts inching backward.

Leeloo covers the speaker on the phone and glares at him. "There are over a thousand different ways to physically incapacitate someone without touching them."

"So," Korben replies, "you want one, too?"

"- are you listening to me?"

"Yes, Mrs. Dallas," Leeloo says desperately.

 

 

vi.

"Why is it always the vents," Korben grouses, irritated.

Leeloo, crawling behind him, reaches out and smacks his ass. "Stop complaining," she orders, "and turn left up here."

"You coulda gone first," Korben says, turning at the junction and clambering through, slamming his forehead on the edge of the air duct in the process. "The view'd be nicer, at least."

"Which is why you're going first," Leeloo replies. "You always get the better view. It's my turn."

Korben's maybe a little glad that he's first, because the smile on his face is probably really fucking humiliating. "Are you saying you like my ass?"

"Yes," Leeloo says, like it's obvious. "Turn right, now."

"How do you know where we're going?" Korben asks.

"I read the blueprints of the building earlier," Leeloo replies. "Twenty more feet, then there's an access point that opens to the server room. How do you know that's where the bomb is?"

"It's where I'd put it," Korben says with a grunt, smacking his head on the top of the duct again.

"Is that how you make most of your field decisions?" Leeloo teases. "Based on what you would do?"

"Like you don't," Korben teases back. "Shit, wait, do you hear that?" He stops, feeling Leeloo pause behind him, the warmth of her hands on the bare skin on his ankles.

Below them, murmured voices, footsteps, from at least two different men. They're not close enough to hear them through the plauvium vents, but still, they're close.

"They're speaking Yandavi," Leeloo murmurs. "Do you speak it?"

"Do I speak a dead language from a planet three galaxies away, uh, lemme see, no."

"It's the language of secrets," Leeloo whispers, sounding kind of excited, because of course this is exciting for her, she's always getting worked up about weird shit. "They teach it to spies on Norarhm IV, because of how difficult it is for humans to learn, and how much information you can pack into - uh, not many words."

"Thanks, Professor," Korben replies, amused. "Didja happen to pick up on the information these two mooks are packing?"

"Shh," Leeloo orders, as if she weren't the one just giving an impromptu linguistics lesson. As they kneel there, frozen, Korben hears the rumbling voices stop, and the footsteps stride away into the distance. "They're lieutenants. They were exchanging status reports."

"Of what?" Korben grunts as something sharp jabs the back of his thigh - Leeloo's elbow, probably. "Baby, what - "

"The bomb is in the cockpit. This way."

"Ugh," Korben says, "wait, Christ. Hold on."

It's a testament to Leeloo's devotion to him that she doesn't say a word as she watches the ridiculous process of turning his bulky, way-too-big body around in the tiny-ass narrow vent. Korben is very truly blessed.

"Ready, hey?" she says, lounging in front of him like she does in bed at home, utterly at ease with the situation like she always, always is, "time to go? Stop the bomb, save the day?"

"Oh hey look, you're in front now," Korben says, "lucky, lucky me."

Leeloo hops up on her hands and knees and wiggles her hips at him, laughing when he reaches out and slaps her ass the way she'd done earlier. "Lucky both of us. A fight and a floor show for both of us, what a night."

"Life is good," Korben says with a grin. "Lead the way."