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While You Were Studying The Blade

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"I think he likes you, pinkskin."

"I wouldn't go that far."

It's odd how relieved he feels when T'Pol and Soval leave the ready room. After being on edge for hours, he was finally letting go of the tension building up since he'd first received the subspace message from Admiral Forrest. He needed to relax, and it was long overdue, but it was surprising how his body let its guard down before he was alone. Especially given his current company.

Shran was watching him, his usual smirk in place. He looked far too confident for someone whose second-in-command almost triggered a war only hours earlier, with no signs of the stress and exhaustion Archer felt dragging him down. Or maybe he did, and Archer simply didn't know enough about Andorian biology to recognize them.

Not for lack of trying, apparently. Though they'd only crossed paths a few times before, Shran had specifically called Archer in to negotiate the peace talks with the Vulcans. He somehow made a large impression on his Andorian counterpart in a short amount of time, and his curiosity was begging him to find out exactly what that meant.

After their last encounter he researched Andorians in the limited section of the Vulcan database that Starfleet had access to, but found the entries less than complimentary. For all their talk about logic and stoicism, he found their reporting incredibly biased, and armed with enough firsthand knowledge about just how petty the Vulcan High Command could be, he brushed off the worst of it, chalking it up to simple xenophobia.

After all, no species would be paranoid enough to carry nine different weapons on them at all times.

Shran regained his attention by refilling his glass. Not quite the champagne he'd dreamed of, but after the day he had, he'd settle for whatever was in front of him. Doubly so, if it was being offered by Shran.

"I hope you're not planning to toast to our mutual dissatisfaction again."

"We've both had too much of that lately," Shran agreed, topping up his own glass. "How about, to improving Andorian and Terran relations."

"Is that something you want? The Imperial Guard, I mean," he added, after a curious look passed over Shran's face. "Not that it wouldn't be mutually beneficial, but I didn't know it was a priority. Correct me if I'm wrong but diplomatic relations don't exactly strike me as your usual style."

"I'm known for my diplomacy! Back on Andoria I-" Shran hesitated, as though he was choosing his words carefully, a rare moment of contemplation for a man of action. Archer had never seen him look so thoughtful, and immediately counted it a shame, considering how cute Shran looked with his forehead wrinkled in thought, anger dissipating and antennae scrunching.

"I serve Andoria," he finally said, in an even tone, clearly holding his emotions in check. "My purpose is to further the aims of my people, and I will, as I see fit. And in a universe with so many enemies, it seems foolish to cast aside any potential allies."

"Allies, huh," Archer chuckled, leaning against the table. He finished his drink and carefully placed the empty glass down, using the extra time to avoid looking too closely at his companion. The tension in the room seemed to shift slightly, but if Archer miscalculated, it would be a major setback in Andorian/Human relations, a subject he now had a very personal stake in. "I didn't take you to be such an easily trusting people."

Shran stiffened but his voice was soft. "No one else had given us a fair deal like you did exposing that Vulcan intelligence base."

"That's no guarantee you could trust me again."

"Maybe you just have a trustworthy face, pinkskin."

He blushed a little at that, more than living up to the nickname. "You're not so bad yourself."

The silence was heavy, the weight of it filling the room. Archer could sense they were on the precipice of something, and he was almost afraid to step off the ledge and find out exactly what it was. Shran wasn't, purposefully meeting his gaze with a determined look.

"I researched you p- humans. The Vulcans had a rather large file on Earth and its people. I read all I could before their base was destroyed."

Archer smiled. "What did you learn?"

Shran scowled. "I wouldn't trust those pointy eared bastards to tell the truth about anything."

"Seems illogical to lie," Archer pointed out, crossing his arms. "Tell me anyway, and I'll help you sort the truth from the lies."

Shran shook his head, his antennae swaying slightly. "They're fond of you, in a condescending way. Like a master and his misbehaving pet. You'd think you were the most impulsive race in the galaxy. Incapable of rational thought."

"Agree to disagree."

"Overly sentimental."

"At times, yes."

"Far too preoccupied with mating."

Suddenly Shran was much too close, all taut lines and barely contained energy just centimetres away. "Funny," Archer squeaked, his voice roughly an octave higher than intended. "They said the same thing about you."

"What did they say about us?"

Shran was crowding him now, such a large presence emanating from that compact body. It was impossible to look away, and even if he tried, Archer suspected a firm blue hand would reach out and hold him in place.

"Arrogant. Angry. Violent. Passionate."

"And?" The right antenna twitched, akin to an eyebrow arching.

Archer swallowed, weighing the fate of his entire diplomatic career versus the heaviness of the moment. "I'd love to find out if it's true."

In a flash of strength, Archer found himself lifted and pushed back until he was suddenly sitting on the table, with strong arms pinning his wrists down, bracketing his legs. Shran smirked again, and Archer wanted nothing more to kiss him, desire spreading warmly out from his chest, thrumming in his veins and filling his whole body. But Shran's eyes looked deadly serious, almost uncertain despite the slightly mocking tone. "Still want to find out?"

Archer grinned. "We're known for our curiosity, even when it's foolhardy. I'm surprised the Vulcans didn't mention it."

Shran leaned forward, hovering intoxicatingly close to Archer's ear. "If you mention the fucking Vulcans again, you're not going to get the chance to learn anything."

Any rebuttal died in his throat as Shran kissed his neck. He gasps as antennae shift in his hair, an odd sensation, softer than he'd been expecting. Another gasp and Shran moves to hold his hip, strong fingers tightening with every sound moan, as if he's trying to squeeze more noise out of him.

Cool lips are replaced by teeth, scraping down his neck roughly, followed by the slow drag of antennae against overheated skin.

"I couldn't sleep," Shran says, ragged and raspy. "I thought about you every night. Couldn't get you out of my head. I needed to repay my debt to you."

Archer pauses, afraid of the implications of that phrase. "We're even now."

Shran nods, nuzzling closer. "Still can't get you out of my head."

Another precipitous moment, with the same level of fear and tension of a live bomb defusal, and Archer really didn't want to unpack why exactly he found it so arousing. "And now? What do you need now Shran?"

He groans when Archer says his name, as if he was waiting to be called and now it's turn to show, to explain, to do everything he'd been planning for months instead of sleeping.

Between kisses and bites he does eventually answer the question, with words muttered against skin, only a rare few picked up by the universal translator. From the tiny amount Archer does understand, his skin blushes even pinker, and he's unsure if he should be grateful or not that Hoshi hadn't thought to program these phrases yet. The idea that he might be the first human to hear these words has his head swimming.

He spreads his legs wider in invitation, and when Shran doesn't immediately take the hint, he wraps one leg around Shran's waist and tugs the Andorian closer. They both groan at the contact, a delicious but inadequate bit of friction against the hard line of his arousal. Shran seems to read his mind and thrusts his hips, grinding erratically in a way that has Archer arching his back, straining to keep the angle right.

Panting heavily, he runs his hands over Shran's shoulders and down his arms. "Clothes. Off." he managed between ragged breaths. At the rate they were going, he wasn't going to last long, and he wanted to at least get a glimpse of bare skin first before completely embarrassing himself.

Shran smirks again and god, if that isn't quickly becoming one of Archer's favorite sights. This time he can't resist the urge to pull him close and kiss the smug superiority right off his face, earlier priorities be damned.

He's cold but inviting, blue lips parting to make way for the icy expanse of his mouth, and suddenly Archer's imagining that bracing chill mapping out the rest of his body, cold fingers and chilly tongue raising goosebumps on his warm skin, not to mention what else Shran's hiding under that uniform and-

"Clothes. Off. Now." He pulls off just long enough to sound demanding before diving back in, kissing along Shran's jawline.

"Yes, Captain," he says, with enough of a hitch in his breath to undermine the sarcasm. Quick fingers slip off his belt as he takes a step back, dropping it to the floor without a second thought about the disruptor or communicator attached.

Next comes the top layer, with an outer flap of leather concealing a more intricate fastening system a few centimeters further in. Archer's caught off-guard by a flash of silver peeking out. Or, more accurately, several flashes of silver, neatly lining the inside flap.

They somehow glint despite the artificially muted brightness of the Enterprise light fixtures. All slightly different shapes, but with the same basic features- sharp, jagged blades and compact handles. Archer frowned at the idea of carrying anything that dangerous that close to anyone's skin.

"You really walk around with those things?"

"Which things?" Shran pauses as he looks up from detaching a series of interconnected circles, eyebrows knitted in confusion and a touch of annoyance in his voice.

Archer shook his head. "Never mind. Keep going."

"Impatience was another valued trait," Shran noted wryly.

Archer intercepts his wrist on its way back, brushing his lips against Shran's palm, before pulling him closer and taking over the job.

"Not to make liars out of the V- out of anyone, but we've been known to drag things out." His fingers fumble around the foreign materials. He didn't expect the Andorian equivalent of unbuttoning a shirt to be so complex, but thankfully his inexperience works in his favor. Leaning forward, whispering softly into a blue ear, he attempts his most seductive voice. "Savor the moment, increase the suspense, take things achingly, painfully slow."

Shran's shivering in anticipation by the time his fingers finally slip under the jacket, reaching cool skin instead of an expected secondary layer. Archer immediately goes to the sides of the ribs, hoping Shran's ticklish. He has yet to see the other man truly laugh, and he's hoping to touch and tease, curious to see if he can wring a genuine giggle from him.

Instead Archer's fingers stumble over something firm and cold, and he pulls back in surprise. He changes direction, pushing the jacket off Shran's shoulders to get a better look at this new mystery. Tucked under each arm, wrapped snugly around his body in some sort of holster, sit a pair of miniature phasers. Not as deadly as the disruptor, but if he's learned anything about Andorians by now, it's that the smallest things pack a big punch.

"You're a walking armoury."

Shran frowns. "Hardly any more than the average Imperial Guard commander. You can't honestly expect me to believe you're not carrying anything yourself under that ridiculous jumpsuit."

For a minute he considers lying. The current Starfleet uniform did have exceptional pocket space, but after his debriefing earlier, he emptied most of them back in his quarters. Mobile communicators weren't practical onboard, and he had a strict rule about no weapons outside of the armoury when they weren't on tactical alert. Most days he carries nothing more than a padd and some of Porthos' treats.

Instead he unzips, slipping his arms free and tugging his shirt over his head. He swings his arms and twists at the waist, offering Shran a good view of his bare torso. "Sorry to disappoint but there really is nothing to hide. No weapons, not even a scanner."

Shran stares at him, eyes sharp and antennae pulled back, and once again Archer found himself wishing the Vulcan database covered more Andorian body language other than How to Spot an Oncoming Physical Attack With 74% Accuracy. In all the ways Archer imagined his first time with Shran, and he had imagined it often, it never occurred to him that their biggest cultural difference could be over how well-armed a prospective partner should be.

Of course the Andorian Imperial Guard is a tightly run outfit, and Shran is nothing if not their version of a model officer. And for a minute Archer's heart freezes in his chest, waiting for Shran to sneer at his unpreparedness, for Shran to get dressed while calling him inadequate and unfit, disgust in his voice and-

"You pinkskins are full of surprises," he says, and he's rolling his eyes, but there's fondness and warmth in his words, and his fingers twitch closer, the need to touch obvious in the gesture.

He pulls Shran back to him, threading a hand in his white hair to keep him close. A firm presence pushes hard against his lower stomach and he groans at the contact. "Another weapon?" he asks, carefully brushing around the presumably sensitive antennae in what he hoped was a seductive move. "Or are you just happy to see me?"

"There's a, fuck, do that again, ugh, traditional blade, strapped to my thigh. But you're gonna have to trust me on this one."

Archer's fingers slide down to cup Shran's cheek, pulling that now familiar smirk in for another kiss. "You're lucky you have a trustworthy face."