“Hurry up, pinkskin, Blykea is only open until the evening lights are turned on, which is-“ Shran looked at the swirling Andorian timepiece on the wall, what was it called – the t’handuur? Jon couldn’t remember – “about two hours in your Earth time. Come. We must leave.”
Jon sighed as he put on his third parka. “Okay, okay, I’m almost ready, stop-“
“Stop what?” Shran barked in his face.
“Oh for god’s sake,” Jon stepped towards the front door, opened it to the street, “why are you always like this?”
Jonathan Archer had been Earth’s ambassador to Andoria for three years now, and Thy’lek Shran’s live-in partner for two of those years. He had grown familiar with the bustling streets of Laibok, he’d adjusted to the cold and the lack of sunlight, and he’d learned how to smooth over the frequent diplomatic incidents between the Andorians and literally everyone else, but he still wasn’t used to going shopping with Shran. The energy Shran brought to every shopping trip, no matter how mundane, was similar to using a flamethrower to kill a fly. Which is why Jon, despite his intermediate grasp on Andorian, did almost all the shopping for the household. Except when it came to furniture... then, and only then, Shran would join in a trip to Blykea.
Shran huffed as he stepped onto the metal walkway. “I am not always in a rush, nor ‘like this.’ I simply – I wish to have enough time to fully enjoy the outing.”
Jon bit back laughter; it wouldn’t do well to get Shran even more riled up before they arrived to the sprawling, four-story home goods and furniture store. He looked down to see Shran’s elbow sticking out from his torso slightly more than normal, and took the hint to tuck his hand into the crook of the Andorian’s arm. The walk to Blykea went by quickly; Jon listened intently as Shran shared the mundane details of his day. He’d asked for a transfer into a civilian position the minute Jon arrived on Andoria, and while the change in his career was what enabled the two of them to finally enter into a relationship, Shran was still adjusting to the slower pace of life outside the Imperial Guard. This month’s main project was drawing up plans to resolve a low level conflict between a few regional leaders over mining territory.
“And then Ry’kvel threw up all over the wall,” Shran said as they arrived to the inviting front entrance of Blykea.
“Over the walls?”
Shran held the door open for Archer. “Oh yeah. It was terrible. Truly awful.”
“Poor me! I’m the one who had to clean it up.” Shran pulled a flat shopping cart out and then set a large blue basket atop it.
“What happened?” Jon followed Shran as he pushed the cart to the right, following the silver arrows on the floor.
“Fishing trip gone bad, I suppose. Oh, will you look at that…” Shran trailed off and walked towards a small tent made to resemble an Andorian ice cave, complete with a fire on the inside constructed of plush logs and flames. “That’s so – I think that’s – do you think Talla would like that?”
“I think so,” Jon said. “It’s cute. Get it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Get it. There’s room.”
Shran rubbed a hand over his face, walked around the tiny tent, labeled ‘Th’loomth.’ “I’ll have to see if Jhamel has room for it over there.”
“Mmm,” Jon offered.
Archer would be lying if he said he had a firm grasp on Andorian relationships, although he’d be hard pressed to admit that to Shran. Apparently he was Shran’s partner, and Jhamel was still Shran’s wife, although they hadn’t lived together in nearly seven years, and judging by the reaction they got whenever meeting new people, the only thing that surprised other Andorians was Jon’s pink skin. There were never any other questions about their relationship. Shran didn’t seem to hold any grudges against Jhamel or the three other Andorians she shared her home with. He never expressed even the slightest annoyance with Jhamel, and certainly no critiques of her child-rearing. Jon had enough to worry about and decided it was best not to ask questions. Talla, Shran’s daughter, spent most of her time in an immersive school environment. There were so few children on Andoria that the Andorians insisted on allowing them to spend as much time together as possible. The complicated process of Andorian reproduction was a serious societal problem that desperately needed a solution… but Blykea was not the place to have such a conversation.*
They had now wandered into the “indoor life” section, which had many living things and many fake living things. On Andoria, “indoor life” could mean anything from animals being kept in terrariums to plants and even fungi. Jon still couldn’t recognize most of the flora and fauna, but he was proud that he could tell the difference between real and fake. A small life form with round, stout leaf-like forms caught Archer’s eye, and he carefully picked up the ice blue ceramic pot in which it resided. He held it up to the light and saw what looked like veins running through the white leaves. It took him a moment to realize the veins were pulsing in time, beating, alive.
“Jonathan Archer, if you don’t put down that hideous indoor-animal life, I will leave you here.”
Jon sighed as he set down the ‘indoor-animal,’ which to him looked very much like an African violet with all pigment removed from the leaves. “I think it’s pretty.”
Shran scoffed. “You already have one that looks just like it.” He wasn’t wrong.
They wandered through kitchen needs, dining room, living room, warmth room (Jon’s favorite of the Andorian interior traditions), and then finally into sleeping room. While Jon’s attention wandered around the brightly lit Shran had been picking up bobs and bits of decoration, mostly textiles, and Jon looked down to see that the large basket on the cart was nearly full.
“What do you think of this?” Shran pointed to an elaborate four poster bed in immaculate white, the posts curving upwards in clean lines to form an arch over each side of the bed. It appeared as though it was constructed of four circles linked together at ninety degree angles.
Jon crossed his arms, tilted his head. “It’s nice.”
Shran grunted and then began pacing around the bed, flicking the posts made of Andorian brell.
“But, uh, don’t we have to put that together?” Jon laughed.
Shran turned to him with a wicked glare.
“I mean, isn’t that the deal with this whole place? Buy it for a good price, put it together yourself?”
Shran sucked in a breath and pursed his lips, then came close enough to Jon for the former Starfleet captain to instinctively back up a few steps. “Do you think that your thaan lacks the ability to assemble basic furniture? Your thaan who once served in the Andorian Imperial Guard?” he asked.
Jon sucked in a breath. This didn’t bode well. He stepped closer to Shran and put a hand on his waist. “My thaan lacks in no abilities,” he said tenderly.
Shran caressed Jon’s cheek with his antennae; god, Jon was never going to get over how good that felt. “I think we could put it together in no time.”
Jon held up his hands. “Okay. If you want it, let’s get it.”
“Don’t you want it?”
“If you want it, then-“
“That’s not what I asked.”
Three years. Three years here, six years of knowing Shran, and two years of living with him, and Jon still wasn’t used to Andorian communication. “I like it. Let’s get it,” he said firmly, with his chin tilted upwards. Strong body language, assertive posture, he reminded himself. Andorians did not like partners they called t’grelth [wishy-washy, coming from the Andorian term for a native arachnid and its many legs].
Shran mirrored his posture and nodded, then took the blue ticket from the wall with the item number on it. “Hope you’re up for the challenge, pinkskin. This is assembly difficulty level Black,” he said solemnly, almost in the same tone he’d used when challenging Jon to the Ushaan.
Suddenly on the spot, Jon decided to bluff. “Eh, I served on a starship for nearly a decade. Nothing we can’t figure out.” Jon thought he heard Shran mutter something under his breath, but didn’t catch it, and didn’t feel like pushing it. Shran picked up a few blankets in the textile section, and then they headed towards the tills. Payment was easy, with Jon’s diplomatic account already on file. In a few moments, their textiles were bagged up, and a large flat package labeled “Jho’K’thearm” was loaded onto their cart. Jon tried to read the rest of the Andorian that was on the side of the package, but he couldn’t make it all out.
“We ready to go home?” Jon looked up and was surprised that Shran wasn’t next to him. He searched for his thaan in the crowd, but couldn’t see much over the sea of blue antennae moving in all directions.
“Let’s get out of here.” Suddenly, Shran was back by his side, two tiny bags in his hand.
“Oh, you got the – what are those called?”
“Roughly translated, ice crisps.” Shran opened the bag and popped one of the pale green, flat circles into his mouth. Jon did the same, stuffing two sugary cookies into his mouth before they had even made it outside. The taste was sublime, like fresh mint blended with caramel, and the treats fizzed on his tongue like champagne. Jon tried unsuccessfully to snag an extra ice crisp from Shran’s bag after he finished his.
The walk home was somehow shorter than the walk there, and Shran pulled the cart up to the entrance of their home. He took the bags of smaller items up to the stoop, and then they brought the large box up through the curving metal door into their cave.
One of Blykea’s many great features was the cart return service. A small deposit was charged to one’s financial account in order to hold the cart, because you were allowed to take the cart all the way back to your home. Once a week, Blykea employees would pick up all the carts, and a few days later your deposit would be returned. Sometimes a young Andorian in need of blowing off extra energy would steal a cart and run them all over the curving walkways, but that was rare.
Archer stepped inside the cave, and took off his shoes and his many layers, carefully hanging them up on the racks near the door. He padded across the heated floor and sighed. He’d gotten used to the climate here, but he would always feel better in the warmth of his and Shran’s cave.
Shran walked by and smacked Jon’s thigh hard enough to make the human jump. “What was that for?”
“Get up, pinkskin. We have a bed to put together.”
Jon groaned. “Are you sure it can’t wait until tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow is a planet-wide day of celebration.”
“Exactly. We don’t have to leave the cave if we don’t to.”
“Which is why we should do the work that needs to be done tonight.”
Jon pouted. “Please? Just… sit here with me?” he asked, patting the open space next to him on the sh’tarvit, the most comfortable piece of furniture he’d ever experienced.
“No!” Shran ripped open the box with one hand and took out the curved white forms. “Come on.”
Jon let out a loud, passive-aggressive sigh as he got off the couch and was met with an icy glare from his Andorian. “I’m up, I’m up.”
“Get the rest of it,” Shran said dismissively before starting up the stairs.
Jon tried gathering up the assorted bolts and metal bits and bobs in his hands. It didn’t work; he went into the kitchen and grabbed a tote to toss all the parts into. How could one bed need so many screws, fasteners, rods? He heard a bump, and then a suspicious scraping sound, and looked up to see a gash in the wall of the stairwell.
“Watch the walls!” Jon said.
“I am watching where I’m going!”
Jon took a deep breath. “It’s just a bed,” he said to himself as he walked into the bedroom to see the light fixture swinging back and forth from having been whacked by the bed’s outer forms.
“Here.” Shran pointed to the floor, and Jon set the bag of bolts and bits next to his feet.
Shran decided early on that Jon wasn’t actually ‘up for the challenge,’ and quickly took the lead in assembling the new bed frame. For the next hour or so, Jon watched as Shran dropped bolt after bolt, put several new scratches in the wall, and nearly broke one of the delicate top beams. Jon valiantly hid his frustration, but it seemed as though Shran was deliberately mucking up the assembly of the new bed. He watched Shran try and fail to snap a support band onto the base of the post, said support band slipping off Shran’s fingers and ricocheting right into Jon’s calf. Shran kept shoving and pushing his way around Jon, asking him to hold things one moment, to stand here the next, and then demanding seconds later that Jon ‘get out of the way.’ After Shran installed two sides incorrectly and had to take a corner of the bed frame apart, Jon pushed the (thin) manual closer to Shran’s feet. When Shran didn’t notice, Jon coughed and tilted his head towards the manual. Shran laughed, and then dropped one of the small metal tools onto Jon’s toe.
“Move over here and hold this.”
Jon placed his hand on the joint and attempted to hold it together. Shran picked a bolt from the bag. It wasn’t the right size. He kept fiddling around with various parts and pieces until Jon finally sighed dramatically.
“Don’t you want to see the instructions?”
“I don’t need the instructions! This is something so simple, a child could do this. You’re just impatient. As usual,” Shran snapped.
“Okay.” Jon looked out the round window and began doing a breathing technique Hoshi had taught him years ago, before he’d set foot on the NX-01. A few minutes later, he was feeling like he might survive this wacky adventure with his Andorian partner.
“Come on,” Shran said. They were now about three-quarters of the way done with assembling the bed, and Jon scooted over to the last corner. “Hold this.”
Jon placed his hands at the base of where the white curved forms met. Shran got on his knees and set to work tightening the bolts. Jon was too busy watching Shran’s fiercely focused face to realize that he’d left his finger in an unfortunate spot. He yelped while trying to extricate himself from the junction of the two white posts.
“Will you watch what you’re doing!”
“You asking me to watch, when you’ve spent most of this process staring out the window into the dark of night?”
“Oh my god,” Jon said exasperatedly.
“No gods on Andoria.”
“For fuck’s sake, will you just – I’m trying to help you!”
Shran dropped the metal tool and stood up. “Help me? You’re not helping me. How patronizing. You don’t help your life partner with a task you both undertake.”
“And I’m – fine! We are doing this, but-“
“There are no buts!” Shran placed his hand on Jon’s chest and pushed him backwards. “Either you’re in this with me, or you’re not!”
Jon stood his ground, put his hands on his hips. “Why is this fucking bed a loyalty test?” he yelled.
“This… fucking…bed… is not…” Shran was staring right through Jon at this point, his piercing eyes only momentarily distracting Jon from the fact that Shran’s lips were trembling.
“It’s not what, Shran? It’s not what?” Jon thundered. Now that his patience had finally run out, he was comfortable matching Shran’s voice in pitch and volume. He felt his blood pumping as though he’d just returned from an outdoor workout. But before he could derive satisfaction from the fact that it seemed he’d stunned his hot-blooded Andorian lover into silence, Shran had grabbed him by the back of the neck.
“Kiss me, you crazy pinkskin,” Shran snarled.
“Kiss you, what-“ was all Jon was able to get out before Shran’s lips were on his, hot, soft, and smelling faintly of the minty ice crisps they’d shared on the walk home.
“I can’t believe it took you this long to figure this out, I’ve been trying to pick a fight with you since interior life,” Shran said before biting down firmly on the side of Jon’s neck.
“Oh,” Jon said slowly, understanding finally dawning on him. “You’re such a bastard.” His back hit the fluffy rug next to the steam-powered hearth. “You’re such a bastard,” he repeated as Shran began working open his trousers.
“Ah, but I’m yours to fight with, don’t forget that,” Shran breathed against Jon’s neck.
“Shran.” This particular Andorian declaraction of affection always undid Jon, and Shran’s hands working their way down his now-exposed thighs didn’t hurt. He felt the same familiar warmth rising in his chest that he’d felt the first time Shran had said these words to him and explained their meaning. “Oh, Shran.”
“Hope you’re not too tired from today’s… activities,” Shran said, his eyebrow raised, his antennae rapidly twitching.
“What does that mean?”
“You know what it means, pinkskin.” Shran pinned his wrists to the floor, and Jon laughed as he finally gave himself over to pleasure.
Several hours later
Jon’s chest was heaving, his calves were cramping, and he was drenched in sweat. “That was – wow,” he said quietly before grabbing his shirt and mopping his brow. Next to him, Shran was nonchalantly running his fingers over his antennae with all the energy of a cat that had just woken up from a nap. Honestly, it really wasn’t fair. Jon finally caught his breath, and his mind wandered while Shran stroked his back. The passionate romp had exceeded his expectations (as always), but he wondered if he might try to gently discuss some human relationship ideas and standards.
“You know, next time you want to, um, you know, you can just grab me, or – I don’t know, slap me around a bit and say, hey pinkskin, I want to fuck you senseless. You don’t have to go through the whole routine every time.”
Shran wrapped his arms even tighter around Jon and let out a little ‘psssk,’ the Andorian equivalent of clucking your tongue at someone. “Where’s the fun in that?” he said quietly into Jon’s ear. “Although I do enjoy slapping you around.”
Jon laughed and tried to ignore the fact that he was again hardening against his thigh. “I suppose you’re right. As you always say, ‘when in the underground cities of Andoria.’” He attempted to roll onto his side, but Shran’s hand was on him before he knew it.
“Oh, you’ve not had enough yet, have you?”
“Shran,” Jon closed his eyes as Shran started running his antennae all over his face, “I just about pulled a muscle earlier. I’m not as young as I-“
Shran kissed him and ran the velvet pads of his antennae over the outer edges of Jon’s ears.
Jon groaned. He’d heard the rumors and numerous idioms about how difficult it was to keep up with an Andorian lover starting the minute he’d set foot inside the embassy. Before the first time he invited Shran to spend the night in his flat, he thought he was prepared. He was not. “Keep this up and I won’t be able to walk tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow’s a holiday. You don’t have to.”
Jon made a small, delicious, familiar sound against Shran’s lips, half protest, half resignation. “Thy’lek,” he whined as he turned towards his Andorian.
“Tell you what,” Shran rolled Jon onto his back again, “this time I’ll take it easy on you.”
Jon laughed. “You win.” He wrapped his large, warm hands around Shran’s back. Oh, what a treat for an Andorian to have one’s own personal heater at all times. Shran was a lucky bastard, and he knew it.
“I always win, I have you.”
Jon bit his lip to avoid saying something truly [k’ydvor], ‘overly sentimental,’ and instead hid his face in Shran’s neck. Shran caught the tell instantly, and decided not to tease his pinkskin about it. A curious being, his Jon was.
“You thaw me,” is what Jon thought he heard Shran say before he was once again being ravished.