A tag scene for "Vox Sola," just because I felt like messing around with a couple of these characters--and, really, because I felt a certain aspect of the episode had to be addressed, if only for my own satisfaction. It might be a tiny bit H/M, but probably no more than you would have seen this season on the show. ;-) The standards: don't own characters, make no money off story, intend no copyright infringements, only writing for entertainment purposes. I might have some of my terminology wrong...too many years spent watching the other Star Treks, you know...

Is That in the Job Description?

Malcolm looked around; the corridor was empty besides himself and his quarry. He'd been discreetly following the other person ever since they left the lift, working up his courage to speak, and it was now or never, as they had reached their quarters.

"Hoshi!" he called out, freezing a few metres away from her.

She paused by her door, then turned--a trifle unwillingly, he thought. "Yes, Lieutenant?" she asked, adopting an at-ease position with her feet spread slightly apart, her hands--holding a disk or two--locked loosely behind her. Her voice was carefully neutral. Malcolm felt that if he'd been a comm officer, he could have detected nuances, inflections, he was otherwise missing. As an armory officer, he had had some little training in observation and sublteties. That training seemed to be failing him now, unfortunately.

He took a few steps closer, lowering his voice to a normal pitch and trying to keep his tone light, friendly, not tight and breathless with nerves, nor the crisp, efficient tones he used on the bridge. He wanted to talk to her as a friend, not as a superior officer. "I wanted to commend you on what you did with the--alien--back there. If you hadn't been able to understand its language, figure out how to communicate with it, we might very well have lost the captain and the others."

She blinked up at him. "T'Pol helped," she said simply.

Malcolm nodded, taking another step or two closer. "Yes, but it was your idea in the first place." He swallowed. "You were right. We did need to communicate with it."

A subtle shift in expression crossed the ensign's face, and she turned away to open her door before Malcolm could discern what it was. "I'm glad you think so, sir. If you'll excuse me, it's been a long day. I'd like to turn in."

"Really?" Malcolm tried to inject just the right amount of disappointment into his voice. It was so much easier to do this sort of thing with strangers, with people he'd met at a space bar and wouldn't have to face across the bridge tomorrow morning. "They've rescheduled the movie for tonight; I was hoping you'd come watch it with us. We might still need that translator, you know."

She paused, head bent over the door controls. Finally she exhaled and turned to look up at him again. "I'd rather not, if it's all the same to you, Lieutenant," she said.

He frowned and straightened, biting the bullet and asking. "Is something the matter, Ensign?" He tried to make the words sound light, but he knew there was too much of an edge in his voice for her to be deceived.

She glanced up at him, expression unreadable. "No, sir," she replied and keyed open her door. "Good night, sir."

"Something's wrong, Hoshi." He slipped around her quickly, before she could enter her room, standing in the doorway and blocking her, not thinking through to the fact that this behavior might seem a tad peculiar. "You've barely spoken to me since this situation first came up; you can barely look at me now, it seems. What did I do?"

He hated being this direct, this insistent; it went against his nature to invade someone else's privacy when he took such care to keep his own. But he really had started to feel like an integrated part of this crew, and ever since that shuttlepod incident with Trip, he'd been even more determined to keep and build on the relationships he'd forged here. Hoshi had always been warm and friendly; he enjoyed listening to her voice as she spoke all those alien languages across the bridge, and she was the one who'd figured out his favorite food for his birthday.

So he couldn't let this go.

Hoshi was staring up at him, a hint of anger, a hint of fear, in her eyes and in the stiffness of her shoulders. He was surprised and backed up a step, further into her room, instinctively and suddenly needing to give her space.

"Tell me. Please," he said.

She shot him another unreadable look before brushing past him into her room and keying the door closed behind her. Malcolm turned to watch her pace the narrow space she had between bulkhead and bed. He remained in the doorway, unwilling to get in her path. He had the feeling she'd just pace right over him.

"You were willing to kill that alien," she said at last, pivoting gracefully on one foot to face him.

The lights were dim, but he didn't need to see her face to hear that she sounded accusing. "Yes," he said calmly. "In order to protect the captain and the others, I was willing to kill that alien."

"Dr Phloxx had to stop you running some experiment on it--"

"I needed to run those tests in order to compare how much energy the force field would need--!" Malcolm started to snap back angrily.

"You didn't care if you caused it pain! You knew it was a sentient, intelligent lifeform, and you didn't *care*!" She paused to take a deep breath, regain control. "Sir," she added uncomfortably as an afterthought.

He waited, giving them both another moment. "Yes," he agreed at last, quietly. "It was my duty, Hoshi. I couldn't stand by and see my captain and my friends--*absorbed*--into that...thing."

"You scare me sometimes, Malcolm." She stepped closer, looking directly up into his eyes, which he could see clearly now that his own eyes had adjusted to the lower lighting. He'd often thought her eyes quite pretty; now he found it difficult to hold her gaze. "You take your job as armory officer so damned--seriously."

"As you do your job as communications officer," Malcolm answered reasonably, keeping tight control over his voice, emotions, temper.

"But my job doesn't include shooting people!" She stopped, holding her hands up and blowing out another breath. He waited stiffly. "Sometimes your dedication to your duty makes me...uncomfortable."

"Uncomfortable?" He blinked, dropping all posture, surprised and a little unnerved by the statement. He didn't want her to feel uncomfortable around him. He didn't want *anyone* to feel uncomfortable around him, and yet it seemed to always happen. He thought he'd gotten beyond that here, though-- "Hoshi. I don't mean to make you--"

"I know!" She paced away restlessly. "I know you don't mean to do it, Malcolm, you don't even notice it. And it's really a good thing that our armory officer takes his job so seriously, considering some of the lifeforms we've met since we've gotten out here; I mean, some of them are really--"

"Ensign," the lieutenant cut across her gently, "you're babbling."

She sighed. "I know that too." She paused, fidgeting, then took a step closer to him again to look up at him honestly. "Just don't forget we're explorers first, Malcolm."

His jaw tightened, and he nodded in understanding. "I--worry," he bit the words out with difficulty, unsure why he was telling her this, beyond a need to make her understand, beyond a need to know she wouldn't always be uncomfortable around him. "I worry about keeping the crew safe. It's...my responsibility. Perhaps sometimes I take that too far...but I worry."

She gave him a long, considering look, and he waited silently, his turn to fidget, shifting his weight from one leg to the other uncomfortably. "I understand," she told him with that wry smile of hers. He wasn't sure if it was safe to risk smiling back yet, so he simply kept waiting, though he did let his own expression soften slightly. "And it's part of what makes you so great at your job...but you're not the only one watching out for the safety of the crew. So is the captain. So's the doctor. We *all* are." She had stepped close enough to him again that she could lay a small, cool hand on top of the sleeve of his uniform. He could feel the touch of her skin even through the fabric. "You don't have to take all that responsibility by yourself."

He looked away to the side, then nodded again, smiling wryly himself. "You're right, Hoshi. I'll...try to bear that in mind." He met her gaze again, seriously. "But I still have to--"

"Shoot people. I know," she finished for him, rolling her eyes and backing away. "It's your job, Lieutenant. I understand." Another smile quirked her lips upward. "Thanks for talking to me about this, Malcolm. I...think I needed it, actually."

"Well, I'm glad I could be of service," he replied with a lop-sided smile of his own.

She nodded, still looking up at him with that frank gaze of hers. "Now, if you don't mind, I really would like to get some sleep."

"Oh." Malcolm suddenly realized he was standing in Hoshi Sato's quarters. "Oh yes. Of course. Uh...sorry. Sorry. I'll just go then..." He stumbled as he turned around, fumbling blindly for the door controls. He could feel his face heating up at an incredible rate. Oh God--

She slipped up behind him, smoothly keying open the door. "You know, on second thought, I think I will go see that movie with you," she said, taking his arm and ushering him discreetly out of her room. "Who all did you say was going?"

"Oh, well, that I know of, Travis and Commander Tucker, and I think Dr Phloxx and Ensign Cutler..." Malcolm found himself walking down the corridor toward the lift with Hoshi; the transition had happened when he was still distracted by his fervently prayed wish that he could fall into a deep, dark hole. The blush was fading, his racing heartbeat slowing to its regular and even pace. He took a deep, surreptitious, calming breath.

"Sounds like it'll be a great party," Hoshi was saying. She had let go of his arm as soon as they were out of her room, but she remained walking by his side.

"I'm told the movie has explosions," he offered as an incentive, smiling hopefully.

She burst into laughter as they entered the lift. "I'm sure it'll be great," she said with a grin as the doors closed behind them.