everything is more beautiful because we are doomed
(you will never be lovelier than you are now)
[petra rall first sees levi when she turns thirteen, and by then it's already too late.]
Petra Rall first sees Levi when she turns thirteen, and by then it's already too late.
Her father sends her to do shopping in the village the day the Survey Corps return. She does all of it tensely, hurriedly – do try not to drop those vegetables, Petra dear. Don't be in such a rush, you have all the time in the world! She laughs and thanks the shopkeepers. "Sorry, sir. I have to be somewhere today."
The meat vendor smiles kindly, accommodatingly. "Ah, that's right – they're returning today, aren't they?"
She smiles earnestly. "That's right. If you'll excuse me, I'll be on my way." She makes her way to where she knows they will be passing through, nimbly weaving her way through the crowd.
The people cheer the Survey Corps on as they march through the gate – it is still new, too new for mortality and mistakes to tarnish its reputation, still the gleaming beacon of hope the nobles had meant it to be. Petra stands, bird-like, on crates, craning her neck to get a better view. I feel like I can fly. One day, I will.
The soldiers look tired, but she thinks nothing of it. Relief only floods you when you know you are okay. They're safe, she tells herself. They're home.
She stands on her tip-toes. She does not see her mother.
There is a knock on their door the next day. Petra and her father are eating breakfast in silence, afraid to say what they both know is true.
"I'll get it," Petra says quietly.
Standing on their doorstep is a boy, lithe and slight and dark-haired and harsh-eyed, draped in the green cape of the Survey Corps. "This is the Rall residence, right?" he drawls, "I'm looking for either Petra or–"
"Speaking," she cuts in before her father can hear. "I mean. I'm Petra Rall."
"Levi," he says, shortly. He hands her a wooden box. "Corporal Rall left this behind. I was ordered to give it back to you."
Trembling, she takes the box. "Thank you," she says. Her voice does not crack.
"Petra?" Her father is standing up from the table. Petra flinches. "Who's at the door?" Suddenly he is behind her, tall and strong and unsure.
"Oh." She can hear the exact moment his heart breaks.
"I should get going." Levi almost looks nervous. "Have a good day, sir. I am so sorry for your loss."
Petra wonders if he means it.
Inside the wooden box is several things – her mother's favourite scarf, which Petra had knit for her one winter – She had been so happy, and I had been so proud. Her wedding ring, which she had stopped wearing – to keep it safe, she had laughed, kissing her father on the cheek. A picture of the three of them under a tree, long ago – her mother had been beautiful, weaving flowers into Petra's hair. A piece of paper – a letter, dated little over a week ago. Her father reads it over her shoulder.
Happy thirteenth birthday, darling! I am so sorry I can't be with you today, but the expedition is scheduled to end in a few days, so I will be with you soon. It is becoming difficult, but rewarding. Petra, I think you will like it in the Survey Corps, although I know your father would rather you not join the military at all! But you're a smart girl, darling, and practical. You would do well.
Always remember that I love y –
The letter is unfinished, the last word ending in a hurried dash as if something bad had happened before her mother had gotten the chance to. Petra's father begins to weep.
Her eyes burn, but she does not cry.
The rumours get to her eventually, trickling up from the shadows and cracks on the sidewalk, reaching out to her.
"Here are your vegetables, dear." The marketplace shopkeepers look at her sympathetically now, and always ensure she gets prime cuts of beef and an extra couple grams of beans. Poor thing, losing her mother like that.
"Thank you." She can do nothing but accept their pity.
"Have you heard of that new recruit, that boy named Levi?" asks the shopkeepers. "They say he's as good as a hundred regular soldiers."
"He racked up twelve solo kills during the last mission! And it was his first, too!"
"That's amazing. If only all soldiers were as good as him."
But they aren't, thinks Petra, but she knows better than to say anything.
"I want to join the military."
Her father does not look up, but she knows what he would have said.
"I know you don't want me to. Especially after what happened with Mom. But I've always wanted to, and you know that, and I know that. I don't think I would be happy any other way. I'm sorry."
Neither of them say anything. For a second, Petra feels engulfed by the silence.
"I promise I'll write. I'll write all the time."
Her dad sighs, as if he's given up. "Do your best, Petra."
It is only then that Petra lets herself cry. "I love you, dad."
The three years of training pass by faster than Petra realizes, and in no time at all she is standing at her graduation ceremony, listening to commanders give speeches about their branches, already knowing from the very beginning which one she will pick.
There are only twelve of them. They are not people Petra was particularly close to during training, most of her friends having gone to join the Garrison, and for a second she feels a little lonely.
The next day, they go out to meet their Squad Leader, and Petra smiles a little.
"Squad Leader Levi. Good morning."
His face does not move as he eyes his new recruits, but his eyes gleam a little when they pass over her. "Petra Rall. It's been a while."
The older members say she is talented, that she will probably surpass them on the field, but Petra knows she is distinctly average compared to the Corps's elite. She can tell by the sureness of the way Hanji carries her blades, of the distinct cool which which Levi walks. She cannot compare.
She takes a liking to Eld and Gunther, childhood best friends a year ahead of her in training. Eld teaches her how to tie her laces in three seconds and how to feel the wind in her hair when she rides a horse, and Gunther sneaks her cookies and tells her she's prettiest when she smiles. Her squadmates worry and begin wish they'd picked the Garrison instead, but Petra is happy.
One day, they simulate the Titan-slaying exercise they did back when they were cadets, except Levi groups them into teams of three. Petra's grouped with a long-term couple who spend more time cuddling with each other than they do focusing on the actual mission, but Petra knows they're competent. Deadly, even. When the exercise starts, Petra takes a deep breath and launches at the first wooden Titan she sees, quickly finishing it off.
"Good work!" says the girl, clapping her hands together. "But let us have some of the action, Petra!"
They encounter a wooden 15-m one next, forming a triangle around it. "Stay calm," says the girl as the wooden form moves back and forth. "Petra, you're the fastest. You move in for the kill. We'll cover you."
Petra nods, waits, and leaps.
There is a wooden arm swinging towards her.
She screams and jumps back, before the flash of red hair and the boy landing on the opposite branch, the wooden arm dropping to the ground with a thump.
"I told you we'd cover you," he says. "Stay calm."
When the exercise ends, Levi approaches her. "Cadet Rall," he says, his voice calm. "May I have a word?"
"Of course, Squad Leader."
"I trust you've read your assessment for this exercise."
"I have, Squad Leader."
"Then you'll find I agree entirely with your teammates' evaluation. You're quick on your feet, but you're skittish. You don't trust your teammates enough."
"Tch. Cadet Rall, on missions nothing ever goes the way you think it will. You can't do everything by yourself. Let your teammates help you."
"I'm sorry, Squad Leader."
Levi stares at her for what seems like a very long time. Finally, like he's exhaling a breath he forgot he was holding in, he says, "Your mother was much the same."
Petra's eyes widen and she forces her jaw shut. Her mother had never talked about her time in the Survey Corps when she came home, preferring to hear all about her husband and daughter's exploits in the village, deeming her work not "child friendly." "I wouldn't know, Squad Leader."
Levi's face softens then, and Petra thinks it's the most regretful she's ever seen him look. But his stoic facade is up again a second later, his composure flawless. "She was my commanding officer, Cadet Rall, on my first mission."
And her last. Petra's mouth is dry. "If it's not too much to ask, Squad Leader," she says, softly, "How did she die?"
Levi's eyebrows crinkle a little. "An Aberrant Titan found its way into the camp near sundown," he says. "Either none of the Scouts saw it or it ate them all. We certainly didn't see it coming. Your mother lost her life trying to save the newest recruits, making sure the Titan came after her and not us. She told us to trust her, that she could take care of it. She probably could have in broad daylight, but the sun was going down. Visibility was low. She was careless."
It's the most she's ever heard Levi say all at once. She was careless. A human life brushed away so quickly by three words. Petra's fists clench. If you were so good, why didn't you help her?
Levi sighs irritably. "She didn't trust us enough."
Petra doesn't say anything, cannot bear to think of her mother like that. It's not that she didn't trust you. It's that she couldn't trust herself enough to look out for you.
"You look like her," Levi says quietly after what seems like a very long time. "Anyway, I'm glad to have you in the Survey Corps, Cadet Rall. Get some sleep, you're going jogging in the morning."
It's the most beautiful thing he could have said. Petra smiles.
Petra looks at Levi and sees all the ways her soul can bruise and all the ways she can heal, learns to laugh at his fingers blistered from cleaning and his need for caffeine in the morning, learns to love his moods and his love for his men. When Eren Jaeger joins the team, she smiles at him and listens to his story and hopes she can teach him how to look beyond himself, too. It's the least she can do, to let him fly free too.
(Levi is thirty when he last sees Petra Rall, and by then it's already too late.)
Notes: Written two weeks ago for what I thought was going to be the Team Levi bloodbath. I was wrong, it was actually this week.
Crossposted to Ao3.
Title from the film "Troy" which doesn't really have anything to do with SNK at all except for walls and people dying and stuff.