The first indication that something unfortunate had happened was Hanji's disposition. Even after the deaths of comrades she somehow managed to avoid falling into a depression. Many soldiers developed the skills needed to mourn their comrades in a night and move on. Yet every time Levi caught her gaze, she flashed her brown eyes elsewhere, distracted by some gloomy thoughts. She'd made herself too easy to read, always putting out smiles and shrieks and wide eyes. Solemnity did not suit her.
The next day provided the same looks from the squad leader but Levi said nothing, knowing that stoicism could be hard to maintain.
It wasn't until Erwin and Hanji had locked themselves away in the Commander's office that Levi realized secrets were being kept from him. Doors were rarely closed to Levi. If the Commander could not share sensitive details with Levi, he wouldn't share them with a subordinate. Hanji Zoe's behavior revealed more than sadness. She was skittish. Nervous.
His eyes trailed Hanji as she left Erwin's room at lunch, and he followed her movements again when she returned to the office after dinner, ignoring her own room. Indignation washed over him and he shadowed her, opening the door just as it clicked shut behind her.
"Tell me, Erwin. Have I been demoted? Am I not privy to the same information squad leaders receive?"
Hanji stood from her seat when Levi entered the office, a yellow envelope in her hand. Never had the captain's rank pulled the brunette to her feet.
"What is it."
"Perhaps we should go somewhere more private." Erwin remained seated, unwilling to match Levi's aggression.
There was no way to put it gently. Pillowed words only ever angered Levi. Any attempts at tip-toeing around him were sniffed out and rejected.
The commander bore holes into Levi, his clear blue eyes betraying nothing.
"Listen, Levi…" Hanji stood mere inches from her short captain, closing the gap between them before Erwin could open his mouth to speak. "The bodies of your squad - they've been sent to HQ's medical center to be prepared before their families…" The heat of his gaze burned her. Her incessantly open mouth was forced shut by his gaze. The yellow envelope was being pushed into his palm.
The envelope was unremarkable, save for the stamp of the Recon Corps doctor. A chill creeped over Levi's chest. The impossibility of knowing what the envelope held made him uneasy.
"What the hell is this?"
"Captain Levi." The sudden formality gave him pause, and that unguarded moment left him wide open for the next words out of his commander's mouth.
"It is my sincerest regret to inform you that the soldier Petra Ral was found by our doctors to be pregnant at the time of her death."
Nothing could prepare a man for such a moment, not even a man so stubbornly stoic as he was. He'd always held fast to the façade of composure but now he was falling, falling, falling. The unflappable captain was crashing right through the floor, his innards scrambled up. Heart in his throat, stomach by his knees, brain nowhere to be found. Then, of course, denial seized him and he realigned himself, his face sliding back into its blank expression.
Hanji's eyes shined behind their glasses.
Wild thoughts ran through his mind. Every excuse imaginable wiggled into his brain. He would have known. She wouldn't have joined his squad. She wouldn't have joined him on the mission. She would never have gotten so close to the female type titan. She would have told him. She would have told him.
"I don't appreciate your shitty jokes."
Levi watched the dust swirling in the air behind Erwin's head, the orange sunlight sinking low, casting his face in shadow.
"My understanding was that you and Soldier Ral -"
"Stop fucking around." He clung to the delusion, not looking his comrades in the eyes. He'd fought so hard to forget her. To forget the image of Petra's broken body, her hazel eyes locked on heaven. This couldn't be happening.
"And take your shitty envelope"
Hanji and the commander exchanged glances, the squad leader for once bewildered. Levi was ripping apart at the seams and it rendered her speechless.
"I said take it."
Impatience overtook him and he shoved the envelope against Hanji, wanting it far away from envelope crumpled against Hanji's chest, the smooth paper bending with the force of Levi's palm. Erwin stood up in a flash, his shadow looming over them both.
"Captain, I think it would be best if you returned to your quarters."
His veins chilled. How much force had he used against his comrade? Too much. He was getting hysterical now and it was showing.
His shoes click clacked against the floor, the sound stark against the thick silence in the room.
"Wait, Levi. You oughta have this." The envelope was waved beneath his nose again, the doctor's stamp unrecognizable now.
Without a word, he grabbed the packet and resumed his march towards the door. He took measured breaths all the way to his private quarters and once in his room, flung the package as far from himself as possible. The following hour was spent sitting in a peculiar rage. What was he angry at? Who could he blame? He didn't even believe it. But it had to be true. No. He avoided all thoughts of Petra. He thought only of Petra.
After an hour he became sick of himself and retrieved the envelope from the other side of his bedroom. Carefully, he smoothed out the sharp wrinkles with his fingers and retrieved a letter opener, only to find the package had already been opened. Inside was one letter, folded neatly, the wax seal already broken. At the bottom was a smaller, white envelope. Printed in a familiar slant were the words "In event of death, deliver to Commander Erwin. For C.L"
He set aside the white note, his stomach growing hard and cold at the sight of Petra's handwriting. He turned his attentions to the first letter, opening it carefully.
The next shipment of little water and witch hazel should arrive at the barracks shortly. I have sent Squad Leader Zoe instructions on the latest wound binding techniques. Kindly have these implemented at the barracks as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, most of the gear found among the dead was not salvageable.
All recovered bodies are being embalmed at the time of writing, with two exceptions. As per the wishes of Soldier Gunter Shulz's family, his body will not be embalmed and has already been shipped off to them for personal burial. The remains of Soldier Erd Gin were beyond restoration and without any immediate family, he has been buried in the Corps' cemetery.
Also worth note is the status of Spec Ops soldier Petra Ral. The process of embalming has begun, but during the inventory of her personal effects I found an unusual amount of peppermint and ginger. Upon further anatomical investigation I confirmed that Soldier Ral was approximately three months pregnant at time of death. The fetus was killed instantly along with the mother. As is custom with these situations I searched for a fiance or husband listed under her next of kin. I was unable to find one and so the rights over Soldier Ral's body and belongings remain under her father's control, save for the effects I found to be expressly marked for you. Please advise me if you find Soldier Ral's partner, so that I may know whom HQ shall send the remains to."
Reading any longer proved impossible. A pounding rage swelled in Levi's skull.
Of course she had known. She'd known and she'd hidden it. Herbs and roots and teas to keep the sickness at bay, to keep it from him. And he couldn't blame her, anger drowned out by an overwhelming sense of loss. His hopes had died in that god forsaken forest. Petra's entire future was dashed away and he'd been the one to lead her into it. A future with no name, no face.
Now all that was left was that one little envelope. With unsteady hands, he slid the letter opener into the envelope, careful not to cut the paper. It was written entirely in Petra's hand, and the familiar ache of seeing it after her death made Levi want to look away.
I've written dozens of these notes but they always end up a mess, so I will be as plain as possible. We are days from our mission and I am pregnant. I have been for some time. I'm sorry for keeping it from you. I'm sorry that this is how you are finding out. I just wasn't ready to give up the life I'd always known for something I never dreamed would happen to me. Serve the corps and be with you. That was always the plan.
I know this may be the riskiest task you've ever given me. The chances that I survive are low but they've never been high either.
I don't know what I'll do if I see this mission through. But this letter isn't about that. If I die"
Levi covered his eyes with his hand, wishing he could rend the letter into tiny pieces. Erase it all from his memory and from history itself.
His jaw clenched so tight it hurt, he picked up the note and continued.
"If I die, don't give in to guilt or grief. All the choices I've made, I did for myself, and I wouldn't change a single thing. I want you to know that there isn't a moment I would take back. Not one. Not even this. That may be a little foolish, but love makes fools of us all, I suppose.
Without a word, Levi returned the note to its envelope. The doctor's report he burned over a candle. Then he changed into his sleeping clothes, all the while ignoring his foggy vision, drying his tears with his rage.
That night he dreamt of the word "love" written in Petra's hand. Of a nameless creature with her hazel eyes and his inky hair. And of his blades sinking into the nape of the female titan's neck.