Nova was trying not to stare.
At the bandaging on William's hand.
He was stirring his drink, laughing, talking about something in his usual bright, flippant way, but his words were floating past.
He hadn't even meant to hurt him and he'd scarred him.
" No-o-ova! Hello, paging Nova?"
William waved his uninjured hand in front of his face.
" What, Wille?" ... His voice sounded harsher than he intended.
" Well, what do you think we should name the cat? It's an orange tabby, but like, light orange? I was suggesting we name it Stick Of Butter Baby but Kirie said that's not serious enough. Like she knows how to name cats."
" Wille, that's the stupidest name I've ever heard," he replied in disbelief, taken off-guard by the sheer idiocy of it.
" You don't even know what a cat is, how would you know what's a stupid name for one or not?" William asked, mock offense taken.
" No living creature from this galaxy or beyond should be made to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being named Stick Of Butter Baby, what the fresh hell's wrong with you? Did you grow up in a barn? Don't answer that! Knowing you, you did, you feral animal," he griped. William laughed.
" Alright, what's a good name, Nova? Are you any good at naming things, Nova?"
... He realized, in that moment, in a flash of clarity, that he loved the carefree and lightly teasing way William said his name.
Had always pushed that away, asked for formality, but... William never accepted formality. Always poked and prodded and displayed affection openly, even if only to tease.
" Why are you asking me? It's your cat," he said pointedly, and downed his drink. " You take responsibility for your things for a change."
" Ohhh, Nova, I'm the most responsible thing in the fleet," William assured. " Even Rosenthal's average losses are more than mine!"
" Now, are they."
William drew his hand away, sat back, expression dropped several levels of warmth and became more reserved.
" Admiral. I didn't think you'd be out today. You said you were busy, after all."
" Need I remind you that you're calculating average losses per capita without factoring in the drastically different environments in which our careers have been served, boy?"
" Hmmm, you do have a point about that, I suppose? But I'm just teasing Nova, so-"
" William Masterson. You sit here at the base's bar with a Starka prince and speak idly of losses? You never had to deal with the things we dealt with. Do you know what war crimes were committed, before this peace we have today?"
" I apologize for my ignorance, Rosenthal. But please mind that I'm the reason we have this peace today," he said, still smiling. " I understand that you went through many struggles. I didn't mean to make light of it."
She was glaring. It was unbearably harsh; looked like an expression Irdat would hold.
" You wouldn't've lasted a second against The White Wind," she spat. " Sitting here fraternizing with a fucking cat. The younger generation really is a waste."
Nova dug his claws into his legs, stared down at his empty cup.
" ... Don't call it that. The Silver Fleet."
He felt the tip of a blade in his face, William standing, other patrons staring. So much for peace and cultural understanding. He felt sick.
" And why shouldn't I?" Rosenthal demanded.
He swallowed, thickness that he couldn't get down.
" Admiral, please, you've clearly said something to offend him, and this is peace time-"
" Why shouldn't I, Lyena?!"
He looked up at her.
" When he came home, he wasn't like that," he said. " He didn't like doing it. He was the only one there who loved me."