I strongly recommend listening to a track from this video as you read (I personally like the first one)
He cradled the train of fabric in his hands, letting it balance on his palm as if it were a fragile shard of glass. Snowy satin flowed against his skin like seawater – something Levi hadn’t seen in years, something he’d promised to take her to see one day. All circumstances considered, he might have to break that vow now.
Levi crumpled the light satin in his fist in one motion, clutching it so tightly his knuckles nearly matched its color. Was this the shoulder of the dress? The skirt, the neckline? He tried imagining her in the gown, radiant and smiling and brilliant as she always was. Even though he had been doing it since the day he met her, he couldn’t do it now. All he could picture in his mind was blank emptiness – a strange thing to try and picture, but something to be pictured nonetheless. Where are you?
The Lance Corporal was sitting alone in the small storage room, which had been emptied out save for the dress form which the gown was – had been – draped on. His back was to the door, legs crumpled on the floor underneath the weight of his torso. Any soldier who walked in on him would have been shocked to see his posture, crumpled, defeated, and so very vulnerable. Levi was never vulnerable in front of his subordinates – which was why he was spending what private time he had inside the dress room, the room his hopes had been built up for so long. Now his hopes were the scraps of satin that had been scattered on the cold wooden floor, dismissed.
Was that a streak on the dress form? Levi narrowed his eyes and focused his sights on the dark red swipe on the waist of the form. He glanced down at his left ring finger, the nail of which was crusted with the same dark color. The blood ran from his cuticle down to his lowermost knuckle, where the thin metal band had been stained with a few drops. Levi stared down at it, the emptiness in his mind diminishing to recall the source of the injury.
“Thank you for doing this for me, Hanji.” Levi leaned on the doorway of the storage room, eyes fixed on the white fabric that had been draped on the dress form. “It’s almost finished, isn’t it?”
Hanji glanced from the dress to him as she ran her needle and thread through the holes of a loose button on the back of the bodice. “Hey, I’m glad to help. The dress is nearly done – it should be completed in time for you to surprise her with it when she comes back.” Her glasses were pushed up to rest on her head, eyes narrowed in concentration as she secured the button and stood back to examine her handiwork. “Any news on when they’ll return?”
He shook his head as he entered the room to take a closer look at the gown. Hanji had both surprised and impressed him with her sewing skills – she had designed the gown with her figure in mind, fashioning a fitted bodice with a dipping neckline and a flowing skirt. Levi could picture her wearing it, a shimmering veil draping over her hair and eyes as she walked towards him with a bouquet in her left hand and expectation in the outstretched other. In his mind, she was full of both immense beauty and joy – though he wouldn’t admit it, he hoped she’d always be that way with him. “It’s really beautiful, Hanji. I think that she’ll like it.”
“I hope so, Levi. I did design it according to your descriptions of her style and preferences, as well as spend three weeks straight working on it,” Hanji boasted jokingly as she smoothed down a crease in the skirt. Her eyes met Levi’s, and her expression became serious. “In all honesty… I wanted so badly to help you with your wedding, you know.” Sensing the Corporal’s quiet surprise, she continued. “You are so much happier. You’re more relaxed, y’know? Like you aren’t hiding anything away anymore. She’s been good for you.”
Levi looked down, his eyes automatically landing on the silver band encased around the fourth finger of his left hand. “Yeah.”
In his heart, he knew Hanji was right. She had been good for him. It was like she saw right down to his innards, the way she knew him. If Levi was being honest, he had wanted to get away from her at first. Not many people could do what she had done, but somehow she’d done it. Somehow, she got through to him and even made him fall in love with her – what were the odds? He loved her, though it took many a coercing to get him to admit it out loud, and she loved him. She had wanted to marry him earlier, even though she knew she’d have to leave on a mission soon. At Levi’s insisting, though, she had waited, promising to return to become his wife – the one person he’d share his heart with for the rest of his life.
Levi was about to smile at the thought of her when a knock at the door interrupted his thoughts, and both he and Hanji turned to see Erwin standing where Levi had been minutes before. His face was unreadable, something rare for the Commander. Levi felt his heart tighten in his chest.
“Commander,” the two soldiers said in unison. Levi noticed a waver in his own voice.
“Levi.” Erwin looked at him, and he looked back.
The Corporal had been reluctant to let her go on the mission at first, but he knew she wanted to gain experience and skill. He knew she wanted to grow to be like him someday. She had wanted the innocence in her mind to be killed and replaced with knowledge, but he hadn’t. When Erwin had assured him that the mission was simply something like reconnaissance, he had still been hesitant. It wasn’t until she begged him herself that he let her go.
As Levi stared at his friend, silently begging him to smile and tell him that she was back – tell him that she was waiting outside, she was here for him, she had come to him – his heart contracted even more in his chest. His left hand curled into a fist so tightly, it was trembling. The stack of fear that had been adding to itself since she left began to crumble.
“A Titan dispersed the group.”
“We don’t know if she’s –”
The whole stack fell, crumpling like a pile of bricks toppling over. They shattered upon impact on the ground, sending shards of pain searing into him.
This hurt was unlike knives or swords or the grip of a Titan. This hurt burned him. This hurt cut him into ten thousand pieces that scattered everywhere and left no trace of him behind. Levi felt no blood leave his body, but he still felt drained.
The people in the room exited without him noticing, closing the door and leaving him in his mental prison. Levi noticed that at some point in time, his gaze had drifted to the dress on the form in the centre of the room.
What a beautiful dress it had been, back when it was waiting for someone to come and slip herself into it. She would have looked like an angel, back when it was the color of snow and clouds. She would have been the only person he had ever set eyes on. Now the dress looked off, yellowed and old, like it had been made with care but ended up unwanted.
What a beautiful white dress it used to be.
His hands had torn the front of the bodice away from the dress form before he’d realized it. The satin ripped so easily, it was like a piece of paper. Levi demolished the cloth with what felt like relish, the same feeling he’d used to get when tearing away a Titan nape. Beautiful savour, blessed elation. His face contorted into a bizarre mixture of rage and pleasure.
The way he separated each segment of the dress – bodice from skirt, lining from waistband – was formulaic. It was almost like he was back in his Trainee Corps days, learning how to kill a Titan – one metre wide… ten centimetres long. He tore the skirt into strips, one metre wide… ten centimetres long.
Horrible satisfaction filled him with each tearing sound that filled the room. Hatred filled him as he shredded the wedding dress, the dress which had been sewn for the girl who would never be able to wear it no matter how much he willed her to. His heart was gone from his chest, no longer beating and no longer pumping blood through his veins. Levi didn’t know where it went – he suspected that she had cut him open and torn it from his chest when she left.
Before long, the dress lay in tatters all around the room. When Levi ran out of satin to destruct, he went for the dress form itself. His fingers scraped at the rough material, tearing open the skin of his left ring finger without him noticing. Because his nails were short, he barely left dents in the form before he collapsed to the ground with his hands scraped and bleeding. His fingers shook so hard he could barely put them into his mouth to suck away the red fluid. It tasted like metal, like the ring his lips would occasionally skim when he kissed her hand. He savoured it momentarily, one final taste.
And then there he sat, waiting for nothing.
The dress was finally gone, she was finally gone, everything was gone and soon he would be gone too. He released the scrap of fabric in his fist, looking at the crumples he had made. There was rusty brown smeared all over the satin, staining it for good. Some of the liquid had transferred from his ring finger to the white, flecking it with maroon – a beautiful colour in some contexts but not this one.
The world is cruel, huh? he thought as he gently stroked the piece of cloth. It’s not beautiful anymore. It was beautiful to us, but it’s cruel to me.
“The dress is nearly done – it should be completed in time for you to surprise her with it when she comes back,” Hanji had said. Levi’s mouth pulled itself into a painful line, a stretched painful line as he rose to his feet and let the satin drift back to its resting place on the floor.
“It’s completed, Hanji,” he assured her even though she wouldn’t ever hear him. “It’s finally completed.”