Rebecca Catalina was not one to ignore gossip.
Gossip was useful. Well, at least sometimes. In most cases gossip was petty half-true information, handed to the people by someone wishing to serve their own purpose. Be that purpose slandering one's rival or killing one's boredom. But good gossip, the kind that stuck in people's minds, was based on some small truth, something that people could verify and that lent credibility to the story told.
As a female member of the Amestrian military, Rebecca had learned to value the advantage that gossip gave her in a prevalently male-dominated world. Colonel Gordon was meeting his mistress during lunch break? Rebecca met them at their café – completely by chance, of course. The next time he tried hitting on her (despite the fraternization laws!) she sweetly mentioned that she had seen his wife on her latest shopping trip, and then asked innocently whether his wife knew he had enough time to frequent the café during his lunch break. Colonel Gordon never approached her again. Second Lieutenant Rivers was a lesbian? Rebecca discreetly introduced her to a good friend of hers. And while they didn't fall in love, the two did start a life-long friendship and Rebecca had won the confidence of a very capable colleague. That idiot Colonel Mustang had once again stolen one of Second Lieutenant Havoc's girlfriends? Maybe it was time she made a move...
But gossip was not only useful, it was also dangerous. During Riza's and her time at the State Military Academy they had witnessed a classmate being expelled because some rather juicy piece of gossip had reached the ears of their higher ups. And only two months ago, there'd been talk of a Brigadier General being a bit too ambitious, which led to said officer being transferred to a more obscure unit from where he was unlikely to return.
With this in mind, Second Lieutenant Catalina took great care to store any such information safely in her brain until it would come in handy, whenever she got her hands on gossip.
So when she heard her best friend's unit mentioned in the canteen, she did her best to work out the details of the conversation.
“... alchemist, that small one with the braid and the red cape.”
“Indeed, he's way too young to be a State Alchemist.”
Edward Elric was indeed the talk of the military, lately. His temperament did nothing to subdue the interest in his person that he'd garnered after his behaviour during the entrance examination.
“... let's be honest, no child could do that, it's ridiculous.”
“It's not just ridiculous, it's not fair. Just because Mustang and Hawkeye can't be bothered to use protection when they go at it, we now have to deal with a self-absorbed, immature little demon.”
“Wait – are you saying that the Flame Alchemist and the Hawk's Eye are having an affair? What about the fraternization laws?”
“I'm not saying anything. But I do know how to put one and one together.”
“Well, it's true that Fullmetal's hair colour resembles hers a bit. But still – ”
“Are you blind? I think Dawson is right. Hawkeye and Mustang are inseparable. Have you ever seen one of them without the other?”
“But what about all his girlfriends?”
“Pah! That just goes to show how much of a womaniser he is. I mean, sure, it probably takes a lot to woo the Lieutenant, but Mustang could probably get any bird he wants.”
Idiots. As though Riza Hawkeye would ever let herself be seduced by that impossible State Alchemist. Sure, from what Rebecca had gathered, Riza was utterly in love with that imbecile, but Rebecca knew her friend well enough to be sure that she would never be as careless as these morons at the table behind her claimed.
“... suppose Mustang does have enough influence to get any child of his into the State Alchemist programme.”
“It's understandable though that they'd want their love child close to them. I mean they probably didn't get to see him all that often when he was hidden away in that little village – what's it called again?”
“Resembool. It's more of a town, actually.”
“Who cares?! It's reasonably close to East City but most likely, they didn't get to see their kid more than once a month...”
“So what? - They go and get their son a State Alchemist license? That's hardly a good idea.”
“Well, that Roy Mustang is full of not so good ideas. You must have heard him talking about making all the female officers wear miniskirts once he becomes Fuhrer... Once! As if anybody'd make him Fuhrer!”
Rebecca had indeed heard about that. Riza had told her about the incident when they'd met for a coffee earlier that week. Honestly, why Riza decided to follow that idiot was beyond her.
“I'm still not convinced. The Fuhrer would never tolerate such nepotism.”
“Who knows what the higher-ups do or don't tolerate. Maybe Mustang bribed him.”
“You know, you sound like you have a grudge against the man. Are you sure Mustang didn't steal your girlfriend?”
“Why, my girlfriend is too smart to fall for his charms! She would never leave me for that bastard.”
“Back to the topic, the Hawk's Eye is too sensible for an affair with her superior officer. I think you'd do well to be careful about spreading those rumours.”
“Hah! Sensible! Have you ever looked at that woman? She'd probably do anything for a promotion.”
“I heard she refused several promotions because it would have meant being transferred to another unit.”
“And from what I've heard, it really is unlikely that she needs to sleep with her commanding officer. Heymans, Lieutenant Breda that is, told me she's the one who actually keeps their unit going.”
“So you're saying she's Mustang's babysitter?”
“Well, if you want to put it that way..”
Rebecca grinned. That description was not that far from the mark, even though it was a bit harsh. Not that she'd admit it. Mustang was an asshole, but he did care about his work. He just didn't care for the paperwork...
She had to hand it to the men, though. This piece of gossip was just the right mix of sensationalism and half-truths. Colonel Mustang was well-known for being a ladies' man. And everyone knew Riza was damn good at what she's doing – whether as Mustang's adjutant and bodyguard or as sniper. It would only be a matter of hours till most of East City would know about the rumours.
When Rebecca entered the office, she couldn't help the grin that stole onto her face. The scene before her was perfect proof for the babysitter theory. Riza was basically staring her fellow officers into doing their work. Rebecca knew that especially Mustang, Havoc and Breda would have used the opportunity to ignore the stack of papers in front of them.
As it was, the team had their heads bowed over their desks, apparently concentrating on the forms lying there. Only Mustang was looking at her, raising an eyebrow in an invitation to speak. This was going to be interesting.
“Colonel Mustang, Sir!”
“What is it, Catalina?”
Ugh, was it so difficult to remember her rank?
“Colonel Mustang, I have a question for First Lieutenant Hawkeye, sir.”
“No need to be so formal, Catalina. Go ahead, she's right here.”
What an asshole. He knew that as the highest ranking officer in the room, she had to address him first. Well, she'd wipe that smile of his smug face soon enough.
Turning to her friend, she put on a grave mien and asked: “Riza, why have you never told me about your and the colonel's love child?”
The reactions were instantaneous.
Fuery had jumped in his seat and had managed to topple his chair. He seemed too shocked to move.
Falman just looked at her with his eyebrows raised alarmingly high.
Breda kept looking back and forth between Mustang and Riza as though worried about their reactions.
Havoc was laughing so hard he was gasping and he kept hitting his desk with his left hand.
Mustang, however, choked on his coffee and was now sporting a rather large spot on his otherwise immaculate uniform.
He was also staring at Riza, who – to everyone's surprise - had started blushing.
Now the whole team was staring at the First Lieutenant.
If Rebecca hadn't known that there was no way that Riza could have hidden a pregnancy (and the child), she might have started to have her doubts as well. As it was, she was enjoying the spectacle around her. Despite popular belief, Riza was not averse to mischief, and if the opportunity presented itself, she did like to mess with her colleagues and friends.
“But – but... Riza, that's not... I mean, we never...”
If Rebecca didn't know better, she'd say there was an unmistakable tone of longing in Mustang's voice. Well-hidden underneath a load of incomprehension and disbelief perhaps, but it was there.
“Relax, of course there's no child.”
Noticing their relieved glances, she added: “I just wanted to see your incredulous faces.”
She ignored their indignant cries and turned to Rebecca.
“Where did you hear that?”
“I was in the canteen and heard some men talking. Thought I'd warn you. I mean, it can't really hurt either of you, can it? After all, it's not true and you can prove it.”
“Some warning that was, Catalina. There's no need to give everyone a heart attack.”
“Sure, Mustang. But how was I supposed to know you'd be so easily shocked by a little rumour.”
“Well, it's not just a little rumour, as you call it. It's about Hawkeye here, and I won't let anyone slander her name because they're jealous little –“
Rebecca didn't have a very high opinion of the Colonel, but in that moment, she felt her esteem for him rise. Just a tiny bit.
Maybe he did care about Riza after all.
Riza put her hand on his arm. The small gesture seemed to calm him down.
“Tell me, Catalina, who is spreading that nonsense?”
“I don't know their names, sir. But by the sound of it, many of the officers were already acquainted with the rumour.”
“I'd imagine so,” added Riza. “I've heard it yesterday, and one of the officers even dared to ask me if it was true that Edward's our son.”
“Who else did you think they're talking about?”
“Well, I thought they were talking about a child in general. How was I supposed to know they had a specific little kid in mind?”
He threw an irritated look towards his team, who were still laughing at his expense.
“Ha! I so hope Fullmetal hears of it. Imagine the tantrum he'll throw!”
At that, the men cracked up again.
“... always thought the Flame Alchemist and the Hawk's Eye were his parents, but apparently the Fullmetal Alchemist really is not their son. Apparently, he became a State Alchemist after...”
Edward turned his head so fast, he nearly toppled over. But the voice had vanished in the crowd.
Swallowing down his initial instinct, namely to shout at the person who'd issued such an ignorant thought, he started muttering under his breath.
“Mustang, my father! Hah! What a joke, the Colonel Bastard can't even take care of his paperwork without Hawkeye – why would anyone assume he has a child?”
Making his way through the crowd, he continued his monologue, half enraged, half bemused. When he finally found his welcome committee in the main hall of the train station, an evil grin stole on his face.
He let his bags fall to the ground and threw himself towards the two officers waiting for him.
“Hello Mum, hi Pops.”