Petra - Banquet

Even when she was a girl, the Interior's Season was always a source of tedious dread for her. Of course, the parties, dresses, and dancing had utterly delighted Zsófia, who dragged her everywhere she went. But for Petra, she could never abide the cloistered chatter, sickening perfume, and crowded banquet halls. All those long dinners and painful shoes, not to mention the lessons leading up to these events. Arrogant lords. Viciously judgmental ladies. Endless and pointless. When she joined the Survey Corps, Petra had assumed she'd be washing her hands of the frivolous matter in its entirety.

Commander Erwin had other ideas.

If he had been anyone else, she'd have thought it was a joke. Attending a nobleman's dinner dance? Surely, that was just a joke. But when she said nothing, the commander opened a desk drawer and produced a crisp, white letter, addressed not to her but to Levi. Then she understood. Levi's Underground upbringing left much to be desired where the noble class was concerned, and Erwin had found a use for her experience.

"I won't go to an event like that in uniform, Commander." She had asserted herself with a sharp voice, looking the man in the eye. "The only uniformed soldiers at high class banquets are the MPs patrolling the party." That meant the Corps would be purchasing an obscenely expensive evening gown for the event, a condition she imagined the Commander would refuse outright, and that would be the end of her trouble. Nothing to it.

She underestimated him.

In all fairness, the dress was an agreeable, royal blue thing. A noble girl's castoff, a little old-fashioned, and purchased secondhand from a small shop in Trost. Very modest and elegant, like a court dress from Northern Wall Maria, with loose sleeves that concealed her muscled arms, which would please the upper crust of society. It was unseemly, a strong woman. But it was a good dress, and though a castaway, it fetched a price that horrified and impressed her. She might've known better, Petra had thought dismally when a rookie Scout turned up at her quarters with the wrapped package in hand. Regarding the Survey Corps, there wasn't a line Erwin wouldn't cross and all her attempts at playing stubborn would only end badly for her. It took all her self-control not to strangle that poor messenger, though.

Whether the fan was an accessory that came with the dress or something the buyer had picked up simply because he or she thought it matched, Petra didn't care to ask. In the darkness of the carriage, she held it in her right hand, desperately trying to remember all those silly techniques Governess Leclerc had taught her and Zsófia, the ones that made her fingers ache and her wrist cramp. She wanted to remember which hand motions signaled an invitation to conversation and which did not. They all seemed the same now, blending together in an indistinct blur that left her frustrated but satisfied she'd filled her head with more useful things since. Such as how to adjust the angle of the ODM grapples, the physics and practical application behind using the gear, and the mental calculation of gas usage. That was all important.

"Remind me why we're putting up with this again." Levi muttered across from her, keeping an irritated gaze out the window.

"You know why." Petra snapped the blue fan shut. Go away? No, that's not right. She sighed, having had three variations of this discussion already and she'd already given up on complaining. At least her male counterpart looked less ridiculous than she did. The higher ups of the Corps had stuffed him in formal soldier's regalia, the kind she'd seen MPs wear to events like this. The ones invited, not on guard duty. Although where they found a uniform that small…Petra stifled a giggle. "I know it's an annoying fuss. Believe me, I grew up on this nonsense."

Levi didn't answer.

Petra opened the fan as wide as it would go and frowned. Wait for me. She held it in both hands. Forgive me. Then hid her eyes behind it. I love you. She remembered seeing Zsófia use that one a couple times. Silly girl. "You're a war hero, Levi." She pointed out, flipping the fan around to study the motif of blue birds. It didn't quite match the dress, so the effect was tacky at best. Could she forego the fan? "Did you think polite society would turn a blind eye to that?"

"They turn a blind eye to everything else that is the Corps."

Wasn't that the truth? Petra winced as the carriage lurched over a bump in the cobbled streets. During the parties she once attended with Zsófia, she overheard the men speaking of it. She, of course, never joined in, as it was unbecoming of a lady to participate in grim topics. Be a perfect, smiling doll. But overhear she did, small whispers about the death toll, grumbling about the wasted taxes, and disparaging words about Commander Shadis. Occasionally, there was the odd scandal that Lord Whomever's eldest son had thrown everything away, enlisted in the Corps, and had consequently been disowned, but those stories were rare.

Petra sighed. Throwing away everything….it wasn't as easy as those lords made it sound. Their conversations never brought up the inner turmoil, how it tore families apart, and how, in the end, it was a matter of selfish pride that prevented disowned Scouts from returning home and trying to make amends. She glanced toward Levi again. "It's frustrating, but it's very important the Corps maintains a certain level of good grace in polite society. Like it or not, a lot of the guests tonight are responsible for funding our regiment, so if they decide they want to meet humanity's strongest soldier, then we are obliged to fulfill that request."

"I just do as I'm told. I hardly see how that makes me a war hero." Levi growled.

At that, Petra snapped her fan shut and chucked it under his chin, forcing him to look her directly in the eye. "Listen, I don't want to be here any more than you do, but as it happened, the Commander wouldn't take no for an answer. You were especially invited, and I'm along to make sure you don't make a fool of yourself, Rogue." The reminder of his old nickname made his brow furrow, but she continued, "So as a personal favor to me, could you 'do as you're told' and try to effect a pleasant personality tonight?"

Levi stared at her in surprise, and possible intimidation, as she snapped the fan away and flipped it open, batting it slowly over her nose and mouth as she stared out the carriage window. I am married? No using that hand motion tonight. She held it still. I am single. That one could invite unwanted attention. Petra closed her eyes, lowered the fan, and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. She'd worn it short—a rather boyish cut, really—since her near-death experience in the Forest of Giant Trees beyond Wall Maria. It was easier to take care of and she didn't have to worry about it flying in her face or getting caught in her ODM. No doubt the aristocratic ladies would find something to say about that. Unless long hair and ornate styles had gone out of fashion while she hadn't been paying attention.

"At least you wrangled a fancy, new dress out of Erwin." Levi ventured, almost hesitantly it seemed. Petra turned to him. Rose, had she actually cowed him into showing some semblance of courtesy? "That's a victory in itself, right?"

"Levi, this dress is absurdly heavy, laughably uncomfortable, and it was a three person job getting into it." A grin found its way onto her face. "Probably need help getting out of it, too."

"Was that an invitation?" The man cocked his head to the side, returning her quip with a smile of his own.

"Oh, take it as you will. I really don't care at this point." She yawned and began fidgeting with the fan again, having nothing else to do with her hands. Holding it closed on the cheek means something, right? Both cheeks mean something different. "Sina, this damn…"

"Tell me something, Petra."

She raised her eyes. "Hm?"

"Why is a Scout woman whose family runs a small flower shop so well-versed in high society etiquette? I see what you're doing with that fan there. Not to mention the reason Smith has you here at all."

Petra's grip tightened. "That's none of your concern." She answered immediately.

"I think it is if you're going to be ensuring I don't 'make a fool of myself'."

He had a point, but she turned away. "It's not worth talking about. Not now. Just…stick with me and I should be able to help you through most of the conversation obstacles."

Mercifully, her friend did not press the issue and the only sound to be heard was rattling wheels and hooves clopping outside the carriage. Petra winced as one of the front wheels hit a bump, and again as the rear one followed suit. She wondered who would be at this banquet anyway. She'd been so concerned with how to handle the situation, not to mention how to keep Levi's coarse behavior in check, she hadn't even thought to look at the guest list. Would any of them be friends of the Svobodas? If so, would any of them recognize her? Did that really matter? The young Scout in the guise of a Sina noblewoman sighed.

"How should I address you?" The Rogue turned to her with a frown. "I would assume it's 'unseemly' for two unmarried adults showing up at a party together without having some established and publicly accepted relationship. So what's the cover?"

Petra blinked and looked at him. She hadn't considered that. Let's see, we don't look very much alike to pass as siblings. We could claim I'm a merchant's daughter he agreed to escort, but that would raise questions. We're clearly not married, but… She grinned wickedly, tilting her head to the side. "If you claim I'm your paramour, it may deter the silly, unmarried noble ladies from approaching you. They usually don't show much interest in men who are taken, and it's unbecoming if they do. Plus, I don't want to be approached by the rich, fool lords either, so that works in both our favors. And…" She held up a finger for emphasis. "That relationship dances on the line between acceptable and scandalous. Do you feel like making a bunch of aristocrats and merchants squirm? The only downside is it will probably start rumors about us beyond tonight."

"Rumors lose steam if they have no truth to feed on." Levi muttered shortly.

"See? You're learning." Petra glanced out the window as the carriage slowed to a halt and one of the Holzmann's footmen came forward, opening the door and bowing politely. "Officer. M'lady."

There was a title she hadn't heard in some time. The young woman sighed and wrapped her shawl around her shoulders. "Well, Humanity's Strongest, that's our cue. Just remember what I told you, okay?"

"Right."

-0-0-0-

Author's Notes: Okay, I'll admit it, this one does kinda tease at a Levi x Petra pairing here, but on the whole, I wouldn't say it's an established ship in Tavern Ventures. I just prefer to write their interactions in a teasing manner like this, since most of the time I do see this kind of pairing, Petra's always written as the meek subordinate. And that's great. It's sweet and sometimes comedic, depending on the writing. I wanted to try something different, though, and if anyone else has done this, let me know. I'd really like to read it.

Anyway, see it as you like, leave a review, favorite, and/or follow, and I'll see you all in the next venture.

Shingeki no Kyojin/Attack on Titan is owned by Hajime Isayama.