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Those That Teach us How to Grow - Ch. 1: The Witch's Gift

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The thunderous sounds of metal meeting metal filled Akito's dreams most every night. Too vividly did he remember the battle cries and screams of his comrades as they fought and died beside him. They were briefly his friends, but their names would never be forgotten to him. He could recall the details of all of their deaths: there was Akira, tall and loud, obnoxious as he was gregarious and possessing a penchant for smoking and drinking. He was shot down before he could deploy his wings. His knightmare crashed into a lake and was never found. Toro and Tsughi, brother and sister, both ripped to shreds as Tsughi tried to drag her brother away from the incoming machine gun fire. Akito retrieved their bodies himself. Then there was Naoko, someone he had dearly hoped would live. A man who had dragged Akito up from the dirt when he thought he couldn't move on, forcing him to live when all he wanted was the release of death. Naoko was killed protecting Akito from a charging sutherland's lance, desperate to save the boy who replaced his son.

"Akito..." his weak voice filtered through radio static. "You must live."

Akito woke suddenly. Once, long ago, he would've screamed, but by now he was used to these night terrors. Besides that, he had no desire to wake the sleeping girl who clutched him so tightly, as if she was trying to protect him from himself. Tenderly, he moved her hair from her face, letting the moonlight fall upon her pale skin. He felt her warm breath against his skin and watched her eyes flicker and dance behind the lids, engrossed with a dream of her own. Akito buried his nose into her hair, breathing deeply, and letting his chest fill with warm feelings he never would've allowed before. Here, in this little wagon with her so close, Akito had found peace and happiness. Not even the dreams of his fallen friends could encroach upon that. Not even the fact that their deaths resulted from her orders. Strange though, he'd never felt that way before.
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In the morning the birds would sing and the crickets would chirp. The rising sun would creep over the hill any minute and the water would turn into a river of fire and gold, even if for only a few moments.

Akito and Leila had not missed this miracle since they had begun living in the gypsy camp. To Akito, these mornings reminded him of days he couldn't remember, sitting in a garden he didn't know, with his mother's hands in his hair. That he could remember vividly. To Leila, it represented everything she sought for, and for the people around her; tranquility and beauty, nothing more.

Like two stone statues, they sat together on the riverbank, letting the creeping vines and soft moss grow and bind them to this land, and together.

Leila looked down into the cool, clear water, noticing a rock she had moved with her foot. She reached for it, breaking the surface of the water and the sense of peace at the same time. What she had pulled up appeared to be a smooth black stone, but engraved on one side was a symbol that made Leila shiver.

"That's..." Akito began.

"Geass," Leila finished. She began to tremble ever so slightly, and Akito moved his hand across her back instinctively, pulling her closer to him. His comfort was welcome, for this power Leila possessed was unknown to her, and a source of anxiety. She was filled with questions she had no answer for: who was the witch who gave her this power? Would she return? If so, when? Would she ever learn what geass was, and what her's could truly do?

Following the battle at Castle Weisswolf, Leila and Akito had had a long discussion about what they knew of geass.
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"You have the same power as my brother?" Akito was visibly shaken by this, and Leila reached across the table to hold his hand. They were sitting outside the castle in one of the few areas not reduced to rubble by knightmares. A stone's throw away, Akito and Leila could see Shin and Jeanne's graves.

"I do not think it is the same power. I mean, it is, but I don't think I could do what he did. You said he gave you an order to die, and he tried to do the same to me. I never ordered anybody with mine though. I'm still not entirely sure what I did."

Akito nodded, still uncomfortable with the idea, but quickly regaining his stoic air. Leila had grown to enjoy witnessing these rare moments with him, not for any sadistic reasons, but because Akito was never this vulnerable with anybody else. She wondered what had been a bigger influence though: her tenderness towards him, or his new teammates understanding of him. Sometimes, they could tell what he was feeling before she knew something was wrong, driving her up a wall.

"Do you think we should test it then?" Akito asked, breaking Leila from her thoughts.

"You would be okay with that?" she asked, struck dumb for a moment.

'Yes commander. I trust you."

Her heart skipped a beat, twisted its ankle, and fell flat on its face for just a moment. She blushed, feeling like a young girl, even though he had said those meaningful words in his usual monotone.

"Oh... Oh.. Okay, here," she said, reaching for his other hand. They sat opposite each other, each as stiff as rod, but feeling like they could melt in that moment. Internally, they blushed and brought their focus back to the task at hand. Staring into each other's eyes, Leila activated her geass, and as she did, the only thing she could think about was how pretty his eyes were in that mid-afternoon light.

In a moment, that all fell away, and she felt like she was looking through a different set of eyes, looking at herself, but still seeing Akito. Rose tinted shades made them softer than they were, but then this moment too rushed away, replaced by the sound of crashing waves and clapping thunder. The intensity of emotion almost overwhelmed her, the grief, the fear, the rage, all locked away for so long, too eager to get out. She was lost in a sea of violent swells and catastrophic power, but wherever she stepped, the waters quelled themselves at her feet.

A deep longing replaced all this as she was ripped raw, fresh from the womb as the effect of the geass ended as quickly as it began.

Leila fell backwards into her chair as though she was shoved by an Olympic wrestler. Akito must've been pushed by a sumo though, as he flew backwards out of his chair, falling heavily on the floor.

"Akito!" Leila exclaimed, rushing to his side. He stared with wide eyes at the ground as he attempted to get up. Leila knelt beside him, supporting his head with her legs as she laid him down and removed his jacket, making sure his numerous wounds had not started to bleed again. Concern filled her eyes, followed by confusion, and then embarrassment as the past few moments came to the forefront of her mind. She realized he was staring at her now, far more intently.

'Lt. Hyuuga, I..." she tried to finish her thought, but the need for an excuse or explanation was erased as Akito, without a word or warning, lifted himself to her face and kissed her. It was strong and deep, yet tender; and in the gentle warmth of his lips Leila felt again the powerful emotions straining to be free from under the water's surface.

After an eternity, he slowly removed his lips from hers. She savored the feeling of their skin sticking together, as though they refused to be separated. Moments like this only ever existed in the back of Leila's mind, long buried in favor of reality, and as such she fumbled to regain her composure, too shocked to know what she was feeling or to form a coherent thought. She tried to speak, but Akito beat her to it, "I love you too, commander."

This felt like a dream, and if it was, Leila had no desire to wake up. Yet no dream had ever felt so real. She was suddenly aware that her hands were on Akito's face, and that his were supporting his battered and torn body. She guided him back to the ground and laid his head on her lap again.

"Lieautenant, I've never..."

"That's what you wanted to say to me then. Isn't it commander?"

Leila thought back to that moment in her study, when Akito had entrusted her to carry out his funeral rites should he perish. She remembered the longing she had felt, and the anticipation... wait, that wasn't her anticipation. Her eyes focused on his, and neither broke contact. With the faintest of whispers, she confirmed his question, "Call me Leila, Akito."
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That moment had cemented something neither of them knew existed. A connection far deeper than that of ordinary lovers was forged that day. There was no courtship, no flirting or games. There was only an understanding, and a decision to love. They were struck by lightning, and thus were forever bonded, galvanized by geass.

Since then they were nigh inseparable, stunning their friends into silence when they had returned to the castle, holding hands and walking nonchalantly towards Leila's bedroom. To Leila, it felt like she had loved him for fifty years, yet still on their first date. Every day held joy now, and every night pleasure. And in the morning, when she woke up to his deep blue eyes, she remembered the feeling of being locked in the eye of the storm, surrounded by danger, but immune to it. She counted herself lucky then, because she loved that feeling.