Part 2

After Hoshi arrived back her quarters, the fact that Malcolm Reed had asked her on a date--even if it was just dinner in the mess hall--finally hit her. A date... she could have ignored that fact if he hadn't actually come out and called it one. She suddenly found herself fussing over what to wear. Should she go in uniform or her casual, off-duty clothes?

By the time she decided on something casual and comfortable, she was twenty minutes late to meet him. He was waiting for her just outside the mess hall when she got there, an uneasy look on his face, as though he was starting to doubt she would show up.

"Sorry, I'm late," she told him as she approached. She noticed he'd also changed out of his uniform. Aside from their one and only shore leave, she couldn't recall ever seeing him in casual clothes. Which wasn't surprising, Hoshi reasoned--Malcolm was one of the hardest working crewmembers she knew. He always seemed to be on duty, usually at his post, and rarely seemed to take a break.

"Perfectly alright," he told her, smiling tentatively. "Shall we?" he asked, nodded towards the dining hall. Hoshi nodded, and they went inside.

The mess hall was relatively deserted, which eased Hoshi's nerves considerably. Not that she was at all worried about being seen with him. She wasn't, but Malcolm always seemed like such a private person and just that fact alone would have drawn attention to them dining together.

"I guess we missed the rush," he said, cutting into her thoughts with an oddly appropriate comment, as if he'd been thinking the same thing.

"Yeah." She followed him to an empty table in the corner of the room.

They ate in silence for a few minutes before Malcolm spoke up. "So..." he said in a momentous tone, as if saying the monosyllabic word was somehow important.

"So..." Hoshi echoed. She smiled at him, hoping the gentle warmth would coax something else out of him.

"You..." he looked awkward, but sounded sincere. "You look lovely this evening." She was wearing a simple cotton dress, pale peach in color. She'd left her hair down after failing to fix it any way she liked.

"This old thing?" It was a clich├ęd response, but it elicited a more genuine smile from him. "Thank you," she said, accepting the compliment more honestly. "So do you. Well... not lovely but... " The linguistic fumbled over the right words until they both started to laugh. "You know what I mean," she said, stifling a giggle. He did look good, she thought, in the burgundy colored shirt. It deepened the color of his eyes, which she'd never really noticed before, she realized. They were intense and currently regarding her in rapt...

Malcolm chuckled self-consciously, the sound of which broke into Hoshi's thoughts--thoughts she never would have imagined having about the solitary lieutenant. "I, ah, know what you mean," he echoed, the laughter on his lips erasing their earlier awkwardness.

Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all, Hoshi thought as she asked what he'd be doing right now if they weren't having dinner.

"I'd probably be back in the Armory, or going over tomorrow's duty roster," he admitted.

Hoshi winced. She'd known Malcolm took his work seriously, but she truly hoped he wasn't all work. "Please don't tell me that's what you do for fun."

"I like to read, actually," he told her. "And I have a bit of taste for old Earth movies. Black and whites, 1930's and 1940's era."

"Any favorites?" she asked, curious.

"A few, actually. Bogart mostly. He's the only one who ever did Sam Spade justice."

Now, why hadn't Hoshi seen that one coming--Sam Spade as a possible hero for the always brave, often tight-lipped armory officer.

"What about Philip Marlowe or Rick Blaine?"

"Also good roles for Bogie."

Hoshi nodded. "He was good at playing the tough guy with the heart of gold."

"Indeed he was." Malcolm looked thoughtful. "I don't suppose you'd care to... no I probably shouldn't ask. It might be... awkward."

"As awkward as seeing me without a shirt?" Hoshi supplied.

"No, I suppose you can't get much worse than that, can you?" he conceded. His cheeks flushed slightly. "Not that I thought you're... I mean... what I... oh, bloody hell! You know what I mean."

Hoshi smiled, blushing in her own right. Somehow, she was certain she did know what he was trying to get at. It was somewhat flattering, actually, that Malcolm was fumbling over his words. It meant that he'd thought about... that he saw her as more than just a co-worker. "I know what you mean," she assured him with another smile. "You... were going to ask me something?"

"Yes. I thought perhaps you might like to... watch a movie with me? I just happen to have quite a few in my quarters."

"Dinner and a movie?" Hoshi said, sampling the words as well as the thought behind them. Almost the perfect way to spend a real date. "I'd like that," she told him.

++++++

"Hoshi..."

Malcolm was whispering. Why was Malcolm whispering? Hoshi opened her eyes, and found the armory officer staring thoughtfully down at her. Down?

"You fell asleep," he continued to whisper, brushing a strand of hair away from her eyes, and then stopping to stare at his own hand as if shocked by the closeness of the action.

She had fallen asleep, she realized, and somewhere between then and the closing credits of "The Big Sleep," she'd managed to snuggle up against her host. Her head rested in his lap as if using it for a pillow.

"What... what time is it?" she asked, sitting up suddenly. She inched away from him, but only just a little. Lying in his arms felt inexplicably comfortable... enjoyable.

"About twenty-two hundred, I should say," Malcolm answered. He looked slightly worried by that. She wondered if he feared someone would catch her leaving his room so late at night.

"I guess I should go, then. I have to be on the bridge in six hours."

"Me, too, actually," he admitted. They both rose, and Hoshi headed for the door. Malcolm followed her. "I'll... I'll see you there, then?"

"Yeah," Hoshi lowered her eyes, staring awkwardly at her feet. She wanted to say something to him, thank him for the wonderful evening, but waking up in arms... technically in his bed--since they'd been sitting on his bed when the movie started--made things a little weird the more she thought about them.

She looked up again, eyes meeting his. When she did, another wisp of hair fell in front of her face. He reached out to her, brushing the hair away with such gentleness. The look on his face was tender and contemplative, and for a moment, Hoshi was certain he was going to kiss her. "Well, good-bye then," Malcolm said, the tone in his voice suggesting that he might have been thinking about it, even if he hadn't done it.

"See you tomorrow," she said, following his casual lead. As she turned towards the door, however, Malcolm suddenly seized her hand in his, squeezing it gently.

"Tomorrow," he whispered, almost as if it were a promise.