“That’s ridiculous. You can’t possibly expect me to believe that.” Shran narrowed his eyes.
Hoshi sighed and put her head in her hands. It was a bit strange, but Shran’s question about how humans express romantic interest in one another had seemed innocent enough; she had now been trapped in a circular conversation with the Andorian for over an hour, with no clear end in sight. Every time she listed off a way humans showed interest in one another, Shran argued, groaned, rolled his eyes, or found another way to show his displeasure.
“I don’t understand what else I can tell you,” she said, laughing lightly in a vain effort to defuse some of the tension. “I’ve been human all my life, and I feel like I’ve listed off every single way humans, you know, express interest in one another-”
“Is there no simple gesture that exists for your species? Something physical?”
Hoshi chewed on her lip. “There are several ‘simple gestures’ I can think of, but they - well, what I’m trying to say is – some of them might be offensive. It might not be appropriate for every situation, or some humans might find it too - oh!” Her face lit up. “People... wink sometimes.”
“Wink? What is this wink?” Shran crossed his arms.
“You uh,” Hoshi turned her face slightly to the side, and opened and closed her eye, “just open and close one eye. Sorta like this.” She repeated the gesture.
“This is wink?”
“The action itself is called winking; the wink is - well, yeah,” Hoshi said. “It - I guess it’s the physical option that is the least likely to be perceived as being too forward. I think this would be it.”
“And you-” Shran closed his left eye, and his antenna followed along, drooping with it, “-close your eye. Just like that?”
Hoshi looked at the floor for a moment; laughing at Shran right now would not be good. “You’d, um - maybe try to keep your antenna still if you can.” She winked a few more times.
Shran nodded, and then tried to wink again. He managed to close his right eye subtly, but again, his antenna followed the motion of his eye, bending over and then bouncing back in perfect time with his eye motion. “Wink,” he said before turning and heading towards the door.
“Are you gonna tell me why you wanted to know all of this?”
Shran huffed and left.
“You’re welcome,” Hoshi called after him.
The first time Shran tried it out was in the mess hall. The Captain was seated with Ensign Sato and Commander Tucker, and all three humans welcomed him to the table with body language that indicated they were obviously happy to share a meal with him. Shran was grateful for the rare moments in which Andorian and human behavioral implications lined up. He watched and waited for a lull or a change in the conversation, which happened just after Tucker left. Ensign Sato said something, and suddenly the Captain was laughing loudly, a bright smile on his handsome face; perhaps now was a good time to try this wink, since Archer was in a sunny mood. Shran belatedly joined in the laughter, then looked at Archer and tried to wink. He was still unable to stop his antenna from drooping down despite all the practicing.
“You okay?” Archer asked with what appeared to be a mildly confused smile.
“I'm fine,” Shran muttered before stabbing his fork forcefully into his meal. He couldn't resist a cold look at Ensign Sato, who was suddenly quite interested in the ruffles on a piece of greenery in her meal.
Archer smiled, nodded, and then went right back into the conversation without any acknowledgement that Shran had attempted to express interest. If only this were on Andoria; he would already be caressing the top of Archer's head with his antennae. Shran tried to follow the conversation for a few more moments, then huffed and left without saying goodbye.
Archer waited until after lunch to bring it up. “Have you talked much with Shran lately?”
“We talk... sometimes. So. Um. A little.” Hoshi didn't really like to lie.
“Do you know what's going on with him?”
“Um, uh,” Hoshi looked at the floor and laughed nervously, “I'm not sure, sir.”
“Hmm.” Archer shrugged and smiled. “Andorians.” Hoshi could have sworn there was a little bounce in the Captain's step as he walked towards the bridge.
A few days later, Archer was in his quarters with the door open when he was suddenly aware of some movement. He looked up to see Shran standing in the doorway. Archer's face lit up into what seemed like a genuine smile. Was it a genuine smile? These damned pinkskins and their strange customs. “Hello there, Shran. What brings you round?”
“Captain, may I speak with you?”
“It's a conversation of – do you mind if I close the door?”
“Go right ahead.” Shran closed the door, turned back, and was surprised to see Archer standing and staring at him with a worried yet professional look. “Is it something serious?”
Shran let out a sharp puff of air and his antennae did a very slight twirl. “Hardly, Captain.”
“All right then. Well. You, um, care to sit down?” Archer gestured to the bed and Shran's antennae began vibrating at their bases.
“I'll, um-” how to explain to a non-Andorian that he couldn't do that unless he was absolutely certain his interests were returned? “-it's. It shouldn't take...” Shran trailed off, uncertain how to continue. He decided to try winking at Archer one last time. Perhaps one needed to be alone with the object of one's affections in order for it to work properly. Shran bowed slightly, then winked as deliberately and slowly as he possibly could while maintaining eye contact. Try as he may, he couldn't stop his blasted antenna from following along with it. It would have been so much easier with just the antennae...
This time, Shran’s eye closed a few seconds before his antenna dropped and Archer finally saw the two as separate motions. It seemed like Shran had... winked at him? Yes, that was definitely a wink. And now the Andorian was standing still before him as though he were waiting for a reaction.
Archer tilted his head, then tilted it just a hair further, and froze. “Shran,” he said cautiously.
Shran continued staring at Archer; he didn't respond except for a slight twitch of his right antenna.
“Did you just wink at me?” Archer asked.
Shran’s facial expression turned even more sour. He crossed his arms, and pursed his lips together in the way he did when he was angry (which was often), but he didn’t say anything. Which, Archer noticed, was also not a denial of the question he'd just asked.
“Shran,” Archer repeated, softer this time. “Did you-”
A series of explosive sounds Archer had learned to recognize as Andorian curses left Shran's mouth. “Yes, Captain, yes. Yes, I ‘winked’ at you. Whatever it is your kind calls it,” Shran snapped. He looked at the floor like he was about to kick it and muttered a few more untranslated words.
Archer’s brows knit together. “Why?” was all he could ask.
Shran looked up at him; his fists were clenched and he was tense all the way up to his shoulders. “I was told it was a 'simple gesture' humans would recognize as, well. I'll just leave it at that. Obviously I was given faulty information by Ensign Sato, which at this point, I should have expected-”
“Wait, wait just a second.” Archer stood in front of the door to block Shran's exit and pulled himself up to his full height. “Why were you asking Ensign Sato about 'simple gestures'? What were you trying to find out?” His heart was pounding; they hadn't been this close in quite some time.
Shran's antennae did something Archer had seen them do many times; they came towards one another as if they were about to cross, then pushed away from one another before moving to face Archer. The graceful blue antennae remained pointed directly at Archer, even as Shran's head moved in different directions. “It's nothing,” Shran said gruffly.
“It's obviously not nothing, Shran, you know you can-” Archer exhaled and decided to rephrase the question in a way that didn't place the entire burden of sharing onto the Andorian, “-I would like to know what this is about,” he said as confidently as he could manage.
There was a long silence between them, and Archer was aware of every jerky movement of Shran's antennae. “I was inquiring,” Shran looked away, “about ways in which humans show interest.”
Archer was about to ask yet another clarifying question, but didn't get any further than opening his mouth. Seeing this distinctive movement in the context of the moment caused something to click for him, and everything unfolded as in slow motion. The sour look on Shran’s face he’d thought was displeasure. The distinctive movement of Shran’s antennae he thought was annoyance. And, most of all, the current tension in the room he thought was anger.
“Oh,” he said slowly. Shran had asked how humans show romantic interest because he wanted to show romantic interest... in a human. Which happened to be...“You wanted to find out-”
“My request was of a more personal nature,” Shran said quietly, “and I am now aware that perhaps such a line of reasoning is inappropriate.”
“Hey, wait. Wait a minute.” Archer placed his hand on Shran's shoulder and lowered his voice. “What do you do?”
“What do Andorians do?”
“You, Andorians, sure. What do you do? To show... interest.” Archer held still even as his heart continued hammering in his chest. Shran was quiet for a while. His eyes darted nervously around the room before bringing their full intensity to meet Archer's.
“On Andoria, we do… this.” Shran leaned in closer; his antennae moved forward and began caressing Archer’s face. It was unlike anything Archer had ever felt; the texture of the tips was soft and silky, with more strength beneath each appendage that he'd anticipated. Archer closed his eyes as the prehensile ends of the antennae continued exploring his hair, forehead, cheekbones.
“Are you – is this all voluntary movement?” Archer chuckled nervously as Shran’s left antenna ran a smooth, cool line over his eyebrow and down his nose. He opened his eyes to see an inscrutable expression on Shran's face.
“It’s hard to explain, pinkskin,” Shran muttered, his usual insult utterly lacking its bite. He pulled back from Archer, far too quickly.
Archer swallowed the lump in his throat. Why was he so nervous? For god's sake you’re a Starfleet Captain! Display a shred of courage, why don’t you? He straightened up his posture again. “Well, since you brought it up, there are other ways that humans... express interest.” Shran’s head snapped up. “Interest of a romantic nature,” Archer quickly clarified.
Shran scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Oh, now I suppose you’re going to tell me you like me or some other noncommittal, unclear, ridiculous pinkskin use of language. It's hard to believe that your species thinks it can-”
Shran's nervous tirade was interrupted as Archer finally – finally! - cupped his face with both hands and closed the distance between them with what Hoshi had called a 'kiss.' He brought his hands up to cover Archer’s and delighted in the heady rush of the captain’s extraordinarily warm lips against his; an unambiguous gesture of affection that made Shran want to sink to his knees, grab Archer by the collar of his jumpsuit and toss him onto the bed, or punch the wall. Possibly all three... but not at the same time.