Warning(s): Petra survives AU because I will never ever accept the death of Levi's squad; being vague about how she survived...; also, this takes place before/during Chapter 53 so maybe spoilers?
Note: Please bear with me if this is awful – I'm totally new to this fandom. Enjoy!
Summary: You weren't actually serious about using Armin as the decoy, were you?
Disclaimer: I do not own SnK.
He supposes she's kind of blonde, if you're really looking. He's always thought of her hair as something along the lines of copper at most times, auburn when damp, and strawberry blond at the absolute brightest. But now under better lighting and now that he's spent a good half hour leaning against the bathroom door watching her run her fingers through her hair by the sink, he can relent and think that fine, maybe she should be the one playing Historia's decoy.
She rolls her eyes at his staring. "I know you're worried, Captain," she says in a tone that she probably thinks is soothing. It makes things worse for her to call him by his title when she's completely ignoring his commands. "But I'm more than capable of hand-to-hand combat. And it would be silly to send Armin." She pauses, frowning at him. "Were you actually serious about that?"
His flat stare tell her that yes, yes of course he was.
Petra only laughs. "Levi, that's ridiculous." Or she's ridiculous. She, the one with the disgusting-looking white goop coating her hair which he can smell from across the bathroom. "Why would you want to use him when I'm available?"
He can see her logic. She's slim, she's short, she's in the process of washing out the bleach in hair meant to make it a little closer to Historia's shade of blonde, and, unlike Armin, she's actually female.
But he can't help but be annoyed by the way she blatantly went against his orders in front of his newly formed squad. It wasn't rude or disrespectful per se, but Petra has never spoken against him before. She's made suggestions, yes, and usually with a lot of aggressive, desperate shouting, but she's never actually acted without his consent. She's quick to tell him when they really, really should be switching to their 3D Manoeuvering Gear, or when contrary to what his eyes are telling him, the room Sasha and Jean were supposed to take care of actually is clean, or when he has to be joking because apparently she should be the one to play Historia's double.
Why would he use Armin when he could use Petra?
Simple. Because he doesn't fucking want to use Petra.
Of course she was his first choice. She really is the most sensible choice. She's the most similar to Historia in terms of appearances, save for the slightly darker hair which she's already taking care of. But the idea of handing Petra over to some unknown group of assholes who want god knows what from the real Historia makes him uneasy in a way that was completely different from telling her and the rest of his squad to head west and protect Eren from any titans.
Titans just ate people. Men were capable of so much more than that.
There's no knowing what they might do to her while they think she's the one they're looking for, and he can't imagine them reacting all too kindly if they ever find out she's a fake.
"Do you doubt my judgement now, Petra?" he wonders.
"What do you mean?"
He doesn't roll his eyes, doesn't scoff. "Do I really need to explain?" He sounds more weary than sarcastic, afraid that she'll tell him frankly that no fucking shit does she doubt his judgement, that she thinks he sent Erd and Gunther and Auruo off to their deaths, that she hates him for arriving soon enough to get her battered body away from the two fighting titans but too late to help everyone else.
Petra turns away from him and begins to towel dry her hair.
"I don't," she says. "I don't doubt you. Not you." He catches a glimpse of her and sees her face contort. She looks pained and broken and he wants to hold her or placate her somehow but he can't so he stays still. "I don't doubt you," she repeats softly, "but I can't let anything happen to anyone else."
He opens his mouth and closes it. He does it again and again trying to find the right words because there's no cure for survivor's guilt. "You did nothing wrong," he tells her, feeling his frustration grow. "Don't be stupid. You couldn't have taken down the Female Titan – no one could take down the Female Titan. We still technically haven't since that bitch is living it up in her stupid piece of shit crystal. You did nothing wrong by surviving, Petra."
"I'm alive while they're all dead."
"So am I."
"You weren't there."
He stiffens at the unintentional jab. "So was Eren."
"Maybe," she mumbles. "Not really. You don't get it. I shouldn't have let her sneak up on us. I should've known she was planning something when we blinded on her. I shouldn't have lost my focus." He can see each of their deceased friends with each frustrated sentence. "I don't doubt you," she assures him with a terse smile.
She doubts herself.
She doubts herself, Levi realizes, and she needs this, partly because it's the most logical option for their operation, but mostly because she needs to prove to herself that she's capable of protecting her comrades.
Levi sighs and she sighs, putting down the towel. Her hair is still a bit damp, but he can see how much lighter it's gotten. He doesn't realize he's holding a lock of it until he sees her staring at him curiously. He drops the hair like it's burned him and crosses his arms. He looks her up and down, focusing in particular on her freshly bleached hair and scowling at the smell of it.
"Don't provoke them."
She turns to face the mirror, but he still keeps his eyes on hers.
"Whatever band of merry fucking idiots grab you and Jean, just act like some scared little girl," he orders sternly. "Don't tell them they're morons even though that's what they are. Don't try to run away. Don't try to fight them." He grimaces as she arranges her bangs so that she'll look more like Historia. "Just play the victim until I get to you. Just be caref—just don't do anything stupid. Okay?"
She turns around and smiles at him and he's so fucking glad that he managed to get to her on time but so fucking scared that he's putting her in danger again, essentially handing her over to their enemies that they know next to nothing about.
"I'll be careful," she murmurs, taking his hand in hers. He grips her tightly and she squeezes back. "I promise."
She leans forward, her forehead pressed against his.
He closes his eyes and breathes.