When Archer wakes, Shran is gone. He paws around the other side of the bed, but there’s no familiar warmth under his hand. Just empty space.
He sits up and looks around the room. Antennae peek up from the back of the couch, backlit by the pale light of the stars beaming in through the window. “Shran?”
The antennae straighten from where they’d bent forward almost to his hair, but Shran neither moves nor responds. Archer rolls out of bed and walks around to sit next to him.
While he’s only met Shran a handful of times across the years he’s known him, those interactions were always driven by a defiant passion that defined the Andorian in his mind. The Shran he sees on his couch is like a totally different man, none of his usual energy holding his head high and confident. He almost looks fragile, his small frame curled into itself with his knees against his chest.
Archer isn't sure what to say. He knows what it’s like to lose your crew, and there are no words to soothe that pain. With Talas’s injury on top of it, all he can do is wrap his arms around Shran and pull him close.
“Go back to bed, pinkskin.” His weary order is undermined by the way he leans into the hug, so Archer doesn't follow it. Shran sighs.
Archer kisses his temple. They sit in silence for several minutes, Shran looking at the stars, Archer looking at Shran.
Shran speaks first, a hesitant question. “Have I ever told you about my brother?”
“He died in the war with Vulcan.”
“I was… eight.” He turns his head a little towards Archer, and there’s something in his eyes that speaks to a vast, formless pain. He quickly looks away again, but the vulnerability is still clear in his shaky voice. “I wondered every day for years if- what if I had been the older one, and he could have lived? He didn't deserve to die.”
“And you do?”
Shran doesn't respond immediately. It's quiet until Archer hears a half choked exhale and he realizes Shran is crying. “I don’t know, pinkskin. I only knew that he died, and it was the Vulcans’ fault, and I wished it had been me. I still do, sometimes.” He pauses and looks up at Archer again, struggling to hold eye contact. That nebulous hurt burns in his gaze and Archer feels like he’s taken a phaser blast to the chest. “I wonder who he would have been today.”
“I can tell you exactly who he’d be. A proud older brother.” Shran shakes his head and laughs through the tears streaming down his cheeks. “Proud that his brother is brave enough to take a stand for peace despite everything he’s suffered. Proud that he didn’t let war twist him into someone with no love left.”
They sit there a while longer, until Shran cries himself out. Archer holds him through it.
“I know I’m not exactly a bastion of peace, Archer.”
“You’re trying, which is more than I can say for your commanding officers.”
Shran chuckles. “Does it count if I’m only doing it because I want to endear myself to a handsome alien?”
Archer smiles back. “It’s working.”
Shran detangles himself from Archer and grabs his hand. “Let’s go back to bed, pinkskin.”