Author's Notes: First of all, kudos to Mara and Lindsay for the wonderful beta reading job. And thank you for whomever posted http://www.effingpot.com/slang.html to the MHE list. It came in handy. ;-)

"Laundry Day"

It was a plain, blue, standard issue Starfleet shirt. There were many others just like it on board the Enterprise, and indeed, several in Hoshi's closet alone. But this was not her shirt. For one thing, 'REED' was stenciled just inside the collar. The last time Hoshi checked, she was definitely *not* Malcolm Reed.

The laundry detail must have screwed up again. They were always getting things mixed up. The last time, one of her brassieres wound up in Phlox's laundry bag. The doctor had been "fascinated" by it and when she'd gone to retrieve it, had inquired if she might demonstrate how it was worn. Hoshi'd been mortified, and had she not known Phlox's curiosity about all human cultural aspects, she might have been offended. Ah, well. She'd just have to place another complaint with the laundry detail supervisor.

She was halfway to the comm panel when she realized it hadn't been Laundry's mistake. It *was* Malcolm's shirt, but it had also been in her laundry bag when she'd sent her clothes down to be cleaned. Of course, *that* had been Laundry's fault, too, actually. The day before her fateful excursion into the ducts, she'd been "regretfully informed" that they'd lost her laundry bag altogether. Misplaced, they'd called it. Therefore, when she lost her only clean shirt falling through the duct and into Malcolm's quarters, she'd had absolutely nothing on underneath it.

Heat burned in her cheeks as she remembered standing there, arms folded over her chest, as the door slid open to reveal a very shocked Malcolm.

Hoshi couldn't remember exactly why she hadn't returned the shirt yet. She'd been busy, she supposed. Might as well do it now, she thought with, a sigh that suggested more than just a full schedule had held her back.

++++++

Hoshi could hear a raised voice coming from the other side of the door. It sounded like Malcolm was arguing with someone. Maybe this wasn't the best time, after all, she thought, hesitating. She turned to leave, but--remembering how it she'd taken to return the shirt in the first place--decided against it and pressed the button to let him know she was there.

She heard him acknowledge her presence with an irritated "come in" and she entered to find him pacing in front of the comm panel. An all-too-familiar voice was trying to placate him from the receiving end of his rant.

"No, I most certainly will *not* calm down! This is the third time this month alone. I demand that you find my--" he turned suddenly, facing Hoshi, and when he did, the anger faded from his face. "Never mind, it seems to have found its own way home." He ended the transmission abruptly, staring at Hoshi silently as his face slowly turned red.

She held the shirt out to him timidly, and he reached for it. Their fingers touched and both of them averted their eyes out of reflex.

"I had forgotten where this shirt got off to," Malcolm said, wincing as though he'd just realized the slightly sexual play on his words. The last time he'd seen the shirt, it'd been when he gave it to a half-naked Hoshi. It wasn't the sort of thing either them would forget anytime time soon.

Hoshi blushed as well. "It's my fault, really. I kept forgetting to bring it back." Putting it off, really. To avoid something awkward--exactly like this.

"No--" Malcolm gulped as he busied himself by returning the shirt to a drawer. "No harm done."

"Well, you *did* just ream out Ensign Lowery," Hoshi pointed out.

"Do you meant to tell me he didn't it deserve it, at least a little? They bodge things down there all the time."

"True."

"The last time, I got a batch of Commander Tucker's unmentionables. The man has cowboys on his pajamas!"

This brought a smile to Hoshi's face, which turned into a fit of bubbly laughter. "I got someone's 'Day of the Week' underwear once."

"Day of the Week?" Malcolm queried.

"They're... women's underwear with... the names of the days of the week on them," Hoshi explained.

"Dare I ask whose they were?" Hoshi hesitated, and then leaned towards him, whispering in his ear like a conspirator. "No!" Malcolm was incredulous.

"I swear!" She promised, and they both began to laugh.

"Of course, I'll never look at her the same way again," Malcolm chortled. Suddenly, Hoshi found him looking at her very seriously, and instinctively, they both stepped back--away from each other. "I, ahhh... thanks," Malcolm said, seeming a bit flustered. "For bringing the shirt back."

"Yeah... you're welcome." She turned towards the door, feeling it was time to flee before anything even more strange and awkward happened.

"Hoshi!" His voice stopped her flight, however. "Wait a moment." She turned back.

"Yes?"

"I, ah, wanted to tell you... to say..." He looked like he was fighting to get the words out. "I thought that was quite brave... what you did to help save the captain."

He sounded almost as if she'd made some great heroic effort that he was in awe of. "All I did was crawl through some vents." And fall half-naked from the ceiling. "It was nothing special."

"No! It was!" Malcolm sounded adamant. "You really came through for us when no one else could. You could have said no, after all. I know you haven't always been comfortable with potentially dangerous situations. As I said, really quite brave."

Hoshi shook her head. It was a compliment and one she hadn't expected from him, but also one she was sure she didn't deserve. Especially not from Malcolm Reed. He was the one who'd gone out and let the Suliban take him captive. He'd been beaten and had actually spent some time in sickbay because of it. Her conscience prompted her to correct him, but then she thought better of it. Malcolm didn't give compliments often. He was actually usually pretty reserved, and she had to admit, she liked seeing a more approachable side to him. Even if it meant accepting praise she wasn't sure she deserved.

"Thank you," she said, starting to lower her eyes modestly.

"Hoshi..." His voice was different--almost sensual in its sudden intimacy. She looked up and found oddly soft, tender expression on his usually stoic face. "I do mean that," he insisted gently.

She believed him. "Thank you," she repeated, this time with much more genuine feeling. She ventured a shy smile, and he smiled back.

"Have you had dinner yet?" he inquired. She shook her head. "Join me?"

"Sure," she accepted with another smile, not so shy this time. "Just give me about an hour. I still have some laundry to put away."

"An hour's fine. I'll meet you there? Or would you rather I stopped by your quarters?"

"We could meet," Hoshi echoed. This felt vaguely like a--

"Good, then it's a date." Malcolm was smiling as he walked with her to the door.

"Right, um, see you soon," Hoshi said as the door slid closed, blocking him from her sight. A date. Well, that wasn't quite what she'd expected.