Title: Respect
Author: Jordanna Morgan (librarie@jordanna.net)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: Very, very mildly PG at most. Just a bit of harmless flirting and roughhousing…
Characters: Noa, Edward, Alphonse.
Setting: First anime, with a twist. Takes place a few years after my story “Blood Ties”.
Summary: A damsel has the prerogative to expect rescue—even if she isn’t exactly in distress.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: Well, it gives away some of my plans for future fics… but this one-shot is set a few years after my story “Blood Ties”, when subsequent events will have brought Noa to a reunion with Ed in Amestris. (Honestly, I never intended or expected them to become a pairing for me while I was writing “Blood Ties”—but they decided otherwise!) I’ve wanted to write a full-on Tiesverse Ed/Noa fic for a while, and this was the result, after a handful of ideas randomly collided one morning.

 

Respect

 

The root of the problem, perhaps, was that there was a distinct shortage of women in Bramlett.

It was called a mining town, but that title suggested the place had more permanence than a tumbleweed—which it didn’t. The ramshackle row of buildings was waiting to be torn down, or burn down, or simply decay where it stood as the vein of gold in the hills petered out. More than half of the structures were abandoned and sagging already. Most of the men who worked the mines had moved on, causing the folding of saloons and boarding houses whose existence was tenuous to begin with. Only a few of the hardiest establishments survived, serving a handful of men who stubbornly hoped there was one rich strike still buried deep in the earth.

By this point, the few married men had long since taken their wives away from the dying town. The only women who remained were the wizened and toothless landlady of the last rooming house, and a few haggard harlots, too homely or too unhealthy to make their livings off of men who were any less starved for female company.

Considering all that, Noa was not surprised to see heads turn when she walked into the only remaining saloon.

Demurely she paused just inside the swinging doors, sizing up the layout. Dim light, low ceiling, scarred paneling of dark wood, a dozen tables. A long mirror behind the bar, which was good… and a bartender and six burly patrons, all staring at her with wide eyes.

Noa grimaced slightly. Although heavy black clothing fully obscured her figure below the neck, there was no escaping the attention earned by her graceful brown features and her eyes like warm chocolate. The miners’ expressions reminded her of other men from the past, whose faces she didn’t want to remember.

It wouldn’t be that way this time. Never again. She was strong now… and she wasn’t alone.

Without another glance right or left, she strode up to the bar as if she owned it, and fixed her gaze on the fat bald bartender. He swallowed hard, his jaw working up and down a few times before he managed to choke any words out.

“Wha—what’ll you have?”

“Just the answer to a question.” Noa slid a gloved hand beneath her coat, and withdrew a faded photograph. “Have you seen this man?”

The man in question was a renegade alchemist, once highly acclaimed for his research, but now charged with performing illegal and dangerous experiments in weaponized alchemy. It was believed he had fled to Bramlett because the mines there, although depleted of gold, were still rich in other minerals he needed for the processes he had developed.

As Noa set the photograph on the bar, the bartender glanced down at it. His fleshy face twitched, and she knew he was going to lie even before he stammered roughly: “Er—no. Can’t say as I recall the face. Sorry.”

One of the patrons of the saloon had stood up, and sidled toward the bar as if to ask for another drink. Having no illusions that this was his real intention, Noa kept half an eye on him as she continued to ply the uneasy bartender.

“It’s important that I find him, as quickly as possible. I’m willing to pay a reward to anyone who can tell me where he—”

“Whadaya need the guy for, sweet thing?” The words were accompanied by a gust of boozy breath as the approaching man leaned on the bar, much too close to her. He was a prize specimen alright, twice her age and built like a bull, with grizzled hair and a scar-pocked face.

Although Noa’s stomach turned at the disgusting endearment, she couldn’t rule out the chance that this drunkard might be more forthcoming than the bartender. She held up the picture, turning cool eyes to the man as he towered over her. “That’s my own business—but if you can tell me anything about him, I’d be grateful.”

The drunkard’s glance barely touched the photograph before returning to her eyes. “Haven’t seen him. Guy done you wrong, baby? That’s a shame. You oughta forget him… Somebody like me could do you right.”

And along with the words, his left hand dropped onto Noa’s right hip, firmly and possessively.

Every fiber of Noa’s being turned rigid with indignant loathing—but she cast a glance at the mirror behind the bar, and calmly resisted the urge to damage a few of the drunkard’s internal organs. She took a deep, slow breath, and steadily met his leering gaze.

“Take the hand off, please.”

In response, the drunkard only tightened his grip a little more, showing rotted teeth in a grin. “Feisty, eh? That’s okay. I like that. And the way you dress. Makes me wanna see more.”

Another glance at the mirror. Noa sighed heavily… and the corner of her mouth turned up very slightly in a smile.

“Remember, I asked nicely,” she said in an ominously sweet tone, narrowing her eyes at the drunkard, and then looking past him as her smile deepened. “Now you’ll just have to discuss it with my husband.”

The eyes of the drunkard grew wide as windows.

Hunh…?” he mumbled, turning to follow her gaze—which conveniently turned his jaw straight into the full force of a metal-fisted punch.

Things got very lively after that.

 

A few minutes later, Noa primly adjusted the lapels of her coat, aided by the last surviving fragment of the mirror behind the bar. In that same reflection she watched Edward, as he picked his way around unconscious bodies and broken chairs to lean on the bar behind her.

He had gone around to the back of the saloon, while she went through the front… and the timing of his entrance was perfect, as always.

She liked the ways he looked at her, when he thought she wasn’t looking at him. There were many, all of them so complex. The expression she saw in the glass now was one of her favorites: pride and vexation and a devious, boyish delight, all at once.

“You didn’t exactly need me to deal with that louse.” His tone was not at all accusing, one eyebrow raised in quiet curiosity.

With an impish smile, Noa turned and made her way around the bar to him. “Of course not—but just because a girl can stand up for herself, it doesn’t mean she always wants to be the one who does. Sometimes it’s nice to see the man she loves defending her honor.” Reaching Ed, she slid her arms around his waist to lean into him, and he held her as she laid her head against his heartbeat.

“And sometimes… I just like to watch an artist at work.”

Ed twitched and let out a surprised chuckle. His flesh hand skimmed down her hip in the place where the drunkard had manhandled her, as if to brush away any uncleanness left by the other man’s touch… and she smiled as, with a casual deliberateness, his fingers passed over the silver chain of her pocketwatch.

That was one of the things she loved about Ed most of all. He respected the strength and skill that had earned her the title of State Alchemist, but he never let it keep him from treating her like a lady—or even more importantly, like a woman.

“An artist, huh?” Ed looked over Noa’s shoulder, surveying the carnage that was the remains of the room. Then his lips brushed against her hair, and his voice fell to a lower and huskier tone, close to her ear. “And how do you like my work in… other mediums?”

A warm, sultry laugh escaped Noa, and she raised her head, pressing a kiss into the hollow of Ed’s throat as her arms tightened around him. “Even better…”

Their moment was interrupted by a crunch of footsteps across broken glass, and they turned to see Alphonse bemusedly stepping through the gaping portal where the saloon doors had been. He swept one quick glance over the room, and then turned to his brother and sister-in-law with a fondly dismayed roll of his eyes. Al loved them both dearly, but between the two of them, even his everlasting patience could only cope with so much.

“Okay, add Bramlett to the list of towns we’re never allowed to come back to…” He put his hands on his hips. “In case anybody is interested, I just spotted our rogue alchemist at the boarding house.”

Noa felt the way Ed’s muscles tensed, responding to the call of duty. He squeezed her ribs once more, tilting his head down to whisper, “We’ll get back to that discussion of art later!”—and then he withdrew from her. He followed Al out of the ravaged saloon, and Noa went after him.

Even if a girl didn’t always want to be the one to look after herself, being strong meant being able to take care of business quickly… and after that promising taste of her husband’s embrace, Noa was in a hurry.


© 2011 Jordanna Morgan