Disclaimer: Enterprise is the property of Paramount Pictures.


Whatever peace Shran has come to know is attributable entirely to Jhamel.

At first, they're bound by their experience on the Enterprise; by battle, and then loss and heartbreak. He doesn't handle his grief well; he never has, his emotions quick to rise and plain to see, and anger and stubbornness have always masked his hurt. When he tells her to be strong for him, in the Enterprise's dim sickbay, it's not because he really thinks he needs her strength, but because he thinks it will help her. She is, after all, young, afraid for her brother and probably herself, in a place that's both completely alien to anything that she knows and full of actual aliens. Later, he realizes he was wrong. She is his strength, and was, even then. But at that time, he doesn't recognize what's begun between them. So she goes back to the Aenar, and he goes back to the Imperial Guard, knowing he'll be punished in some fashion for the loss of the Kumari, and wondering only how severely.

He's given a desk job in the capital until the Guard can find him another command. So they say, at least. Shran has his doubts, which he makes known to his superiors. As usual, it endears him to no one. It's his punishment, there's no doubt about that, and being stuck behind a desk with endless paperwork and bureaucracy is enough to make him want—something, he doesn't know; hyperbole says a court martial, or to be cashiered, because it would be an outlet; something to direct his anger towards. He wants, every day, burning inside with the feeling of it, but he can't articulate what he's looking for. One minute it's to leave Andoria, to be given a new command and soar off into deep space, the next he can't fathom leaving home. He wants…to not have the burden of Talas's death pressing on his heart and to forget how much he misses her; but to forget that would mean forgetting what she meant to him, and that, that is something that he knows he can't part with.

Her family comes to see him, grieving, looking for closure. It's harder than he anticipates, seeing pieces of her in all of their faces, or in the way they walk, or tilt their heads, or a dozen other small habits that mark them as her relatives. He speaks to them as her commanding officer; as her friend – not as her lover. Her intended. Talas hadn't told them yet and he thinks…well, it was her place, not his, and he doesn't see the need to remind them that they've lost more than a daughter, they've lost the possibility of her children; grandchildren, and so on. And seeing their sorrow fans his, anyway. They can probably tell what Talas meant to him. He's never been good, after all, at hiding his feelings.

When they leave, he hopes he's given them the closure that they've come looking for; impressed upon them that she was a fine officer; honorable, patriotic, brave and loyal and smart. A credit to the Imperial Guard, Andoria, and her family. And him, Shran thought, but didn't say it, knowing that their tearful pride in their daughter was what mattered now.

And three days later, he hears his name and looks up at his office door to see Jhamel standing there. She's arrived completely silently, unexpectedly; for a moment all he can do is stare at her, in her intricately bound clothing and Aenar veil. "I didn't expect to see you again," he finally says.

She smiles gently, her antennae testing the air in the room, while she looks not-quite-towards his face. "Really?" she asks, sounding as though she doesn't believe him.

"You're reading my thoughts again," he says in response, confirming her doubts. His voice comes out gruff; he wishes, for a moment, that she could see him so he could alleviate his tone with a smile, but she seems to know that he isn't really accusing her.

Jhamel shakes her head. "No. I…feel as though I know you. And I thought that, perhaps, you'd hoped to see me again?"

"Hoping isn't the same as expecting," he murmurs, and then, seeing the way she's just standing in the doorway, says, "Come in. Sit down. There's a chair—" he begins to add, standing up to show her to it, but she moves across the room to it without his help, and there's that gentle smile again. He returns it, knowing she can't see it, and knowing, at the same time, that she can. "You're a long way from the Northern Wastes," he says, remaining on his feet and bracing himself on the front of his desk.

"Not so very far," she replies. "Certainly not as far as I've been." She pauses, then asks, a note of anxiety in her voice, "My presence here doesn't displease you, does it?"

"No," he assures her. "No, I'm very glad to see you." There's a warmth that she brings into the room with her. Ironic, considering she comes from the most hostilely frigid part of their world.

Her smile lights her face again; Shran finds himself charmed by it. "Good. I'm very glad to see you, too." She bows her head slightly, her antennae waving, and says matter-of-factly, "You seem as though you'd be happier on a ship than in an office."

Shran chuckles. "Is it that obvious?"

"You did say it's never been hard to figure out what you're thinking," she reminds him, still smiling.

"I did say that." He tilts his head and his antennae twitch forward, and then he asks her, his tone serious, "How are you?"

There's a moment where she tries to maintain her expression, but then her smile falters and turns sadder. "I'm still getting used to Gareb being gone," she sighs. "Really gone, I mean. Before…"

"Before, you still hoped that he might come back," Shran guesses when she trails off.

Jhamel's antennae droop and she folds her hands in her lap. "Still getting used to it, like I said," she replies quietly, her tone forlorn. He isn't sure what to say, besides that he knows how she feels – except that he's not getting used to Talas being gone. But then she pauses, uncertainty on her face, before finally offering, "Gareb was my best friend. My parents used to say that we were like twins, we were so inseparable." She pauses again, this time for longer, and her eyes shine for a moment with unshed tears before she blinks them away and takes a fortifying breath. "I suppose I'll always miss him."

Shran watches her, thinking about confirming her supposition but then deciding against it. Instead, he says, "I lost my brother, too." When Jhamel's antennae rise in surprise, he goes on, "He was killed in the border disputes with the Vulcans. I wasn't much younger than you are now."

There's a sad look on her face. "And do you still miss him?"

He hesitates, then says, "Yes." When she nods resignedly, he glances at the open door, then crosses the room and taps the door panel, sealing his office shut. Jhamel's head turns towards him, and her antennae swivel in his direction as he paces towards her. Kneeling at her side, Shran takes her hands in his and says, "I won't tell you it isn't hard. But if I can do anything for you…"

Her fingers tighten around his. "This is what I needed. To speak with you again. To prove that…it was all real, somehow. That I helped Gareb. Sometimes it seems like a dream; traveling so far from home, and…all of it." She smiles slightly; it's a little mirthless. "You must think I sound very silly after everything you've seen and done."

"Not at all." He stares into her eyes, cloudy blue like glacial ice, and his antennae are drawn forward in curiosity. It was obvious enough when he first encountered her, but her presence in this unlikely place drives home the fact that he's never met anyone quite like Jhamel. He's used to Andorian women; hard-edged and aggressive; constantly in motion, with their bravery worn on their sleeves for everyone to see. Jhamel is so still, her courage quiet and hidden but no less steely; her current turmoil not enough to destroy the core of peace within her. She's lovely, and meeting her is one of the only good things to come out of the past few months.

With a certain amount of wryness, Shran realizes that he probably needs her far more than she needs him. She'll be all right; he knows that somehow. Eventually, that peace that he senses in her will grow, until it overtakes her grief. She does make being brave look easy. He's never known what to do with his grief besides lash out; at the Vulcans for killing his brother, at the Tellarites for the loss of his crew, and then for killing Talas. At Archer, for…being there. Getting in the way. Dealing with loss requires a different kind of bravery, one that the young woman in front of him possesses, and he never has.

But hearing Jhamel say she needs him, of all people—it eases something within him. And somehow, it brings him closer to happiness than he's been for weeks.

They remain that way for another minute, her hands warm in his, before he stands. "Can you stay long?" he asks her.

"A few days," she replies. "I was hoping you'd show me something of where you're from."

He smiles. "It would be my pleasure."

Pain fades. Shran knows it, and yet he's still surprised every time he realizes he hasn't missed Talas for minutes, for hours, even for a day. The knife's edge of grief heals to an ache and one day he lets it rest; lets her rest, and lets her go. There's pain in that, too, he realizes. He's gotten used to carrying around his hurt, but he's seen another way to live, now, from Jhamel.

She's become part of his life; a presence, even when she's not physically there with him – though he finds, more and more, that he wishes she was there with him. He misses her gentle smile, her quiet laughter, her way of making things that Shran has always found complicated seem simple. Her curiosity about his world impresses him, and he admires her bravery at unhesitatingly stepping into it. When he mentions this last part to her once, she laughs and says, "But it's nothing you haven't done a hundred times on a hundred different planets."

He doesn't correct her overestimation of his planetary exploration. There's satisfaction in impressing a woman, after all. "It never gets any less nerve-wracking," he replies. "I just get better at hiding it."

That makes her laugh. Laughter makes her even more arresting, though he's long thought that she's beautiful, with her long hair and white, delicate-featured face. But recently he's been thinking of her beauty in a different way, not as an abstract observation, but as a feeling, a physical sensation that isn't localized to any one part of his body. Gradually, Shran comes to realize exactly what's happened. Jhamel isn't just a friend or a woman who he's shared a bond of grief with. She's become much more. Everything, maybe. And he thinks, from the way that she says his name – his given name, which he rarely hears anymore – and the way she smiles at him, that perhaps she's been trying to tell him that she's realized the same thing.

So he finds himself in the Northern Wastes without much more thought, accepting Aenar hospitality, though he can't help but wonder what they'll think when they find out why he's here. Maybe they already know. He doesn't understand their telepathy but he imagines that he's radiating his intentions, and maybe they can't help…overhearing. The idea doesn't bother him as much as he thinks it should.

Jhamel embraces him when he arrives at her living quarters, the tight loop of her arms around his neck feeling like…home. He holds her for a long moment, burying his face in her hair, before letting her go. Neither of them says anything at first, and he reaches up to touch her face lightly. She swallows and leans into his touch, and he takes a breath. Thy'lek Shran doesn't play games, and they both, he thinks, know why he's here.

"Would it bother you," he finally asks her, "to be with someone who could never share your thoughts the way one of your own people could?" It's the first either of them has spoken of…of what's between them, this thing that's been so gentle and slow that he didn't recognize that it has the same indomitable power as the glaciers that creep across the surface of Andoria. But now that he does, he won't pretend about the depth of his feelings. Nor can he pretend that she isn't Aenar, and that by making his intentions known, he's asking her to give up more than he has any right to expect.

Jhamel's small hand takes his; her face turns upwards. "Thy'lek," she says softly. "You already share my thoughts."

His heart pounds like he's a much younger man who hasn't loved and lost already; and he lifts her hand to his heart, then takes her other and raises it to his lips, brushing them across her knuckles. It's never been very hard to figure out what he's thinking, but he says anyway, "Then take mine." He can see, by the luminous smile that spreads across her face, what she finds when she does.