Hand to Hand

By Distracted

Rating: PG

Genres: drama romance

Keywords:

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Written for: Rodlox at the Livejournal Entficathon 2008, based on the prompting phrase “Words are the weapons of war.”
Archive: Yes, but please let me know.
Rating: PG
Genre: Drama/Romance, R/S pairing
Word Count: 2,270
Disclaimer: Enterprise and her crew belong to Paramount. I do this for fun, not profit. Summary: Hoshi and Malcolm do some unexpected bonding over an exercise mat. Spoilers: Silent Enemy


Ordinarily the gym on Enterprise was virtually empty when Malcolm Reed arrived at 0530 to begin his morning workout, populated only by a couple of die-hards like himself and the occasional unlucky recipient of one of Dr. Phlox’s “activity prescriptions”, reportedly usually awarded to those who complained to the good doctor that they were “tired all the time”. Reed had yet to figure that one out.

This morning, however, Reed was somewhat surprised to find Ensign Sato at the punching bag wearing a well-worn karate uniform. The belt around her waist had seen better days. He was pretty certain, though, that it had once been black. She had knuckle protectors and instep pads on and was red-faced and perspiring as she pummeled away, but she was giving the bag a pretty good go. He pulled off his sweatpants and sweatshirt in preparation for his workout and laid them on a bench, revealing shorts and a t-shirt, and stopped on his way to the treadmills to watch admiringly as she finished with a series of kicks and punches that rocked the bag on its chain. When she stopped to catch her breath he clapped, four solid smacks of his palms that reverberated in the empty gym.

“Excellent, Ensign,” he told her, delighted by the unexpectedness of her skill. He’d had her pegged as a timid little thing. “I had no idea you were so proficient in the martial arts.” He smiled at her. She stood with her hands on her hips, breathing hard, and shook her head.

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” she gasped with a wry smile, “...but I’m afraid ‘proficient’ is definitely an exaggeration at this point.” She paused to take another couple of deep breaths, closing her eyes in concentration. To his dismay, he found himself drawn to the way her uniform gaped at the neckline over her heaving breasts. With some effort, he brought his gaze back to her face and kept his expression neutral.

“I’m so out of shape I can’t do ten minutes at the bag without nearly passing out,” she confessed, seeming oblivious to his momentarily wayward gaze. He relaxed a little.

“You seem to know your way around a punching bag,” he told her. “Why are you so out of shape?”

She shrugged. “I didn’t think I was,” she replied. “I get on the treadmill and jog, and I do some weight training, but it’s just not the same, I suppose.”

He nodded in agreement. “I know what you mean. Nothing can replace actually hitting something. The muscles you’re using are different, and having to focus your attention on the target is both mentally and physically exhausting.” Hoshi’s smile in response to his statement was fleeting.

“You sound like my sensei,” she told him shyly. “I quit training regularly when I was eighteen, but I miss the man sometimes. He was more of a father to me than my own father.” She shrugged and laughed. “It’s too bad that I hate fighting so much. I like training. It’s the violence I can’t deal with. I miss the dojo, though. I trained for twelve years....my entire childhood. My father insisted...said it was a family tradition.” She looked wistfully around her as if willing the gym to transform itself into the dojo she remembered.

It occurred to him, then, that she likely had very few people she could train with aboard ship, certainly no one that he knew of in her department. “How long has it been since you’ve done some sparring? That’s a skill you’ll lose if you don’t keep it up. I could help with that,” Malcolm offered without thinking, and then nearly bit his tongue. What was he thinking? All he needed was to get body to body with this girl. As if just standing here next to her weren’t distraction enough.

She grimaced. “I’ve never been very good at sparring,” she admitted. “No ‘killer instinct’, as Sensei used to say.” She paused with an odd look on her face, studied him for a moment, and her lips quirked up in a tiny smile. He cursed his inability to read women, then, because he was certain that she was up to something. He just couldn’t figure out what it was. Her response to his offer took him completely by surprise.

“You’re right, Lieutenant. I need a refresher course. After what happened when we tried to deploy those subspace amplifiers last week, I’ve decided that the universe isn’t as safe as I thought it was. I need to, as you say, become ‘proficient’. Just in case. I mean, what if our non-talkative enemy had decided to board us instead of just shooting at us long distance? I might never have figured out how much you like pineapple.” She grinned impishly at him. He rolled his eyes. “Just go easy on me, okay? It’s been years, and I was never much of a fighter to begin with.” She stepped away from the punching bag to the edge of an open mat, took a neutral stance, and gave him an expectant look.

Malcolm eyed her, and exhaled heavily. Well, you asked for it, you bloody bigmouth, he told himself ruefully. The lady wants a lesson.

After pulling off his shoes and socks and setting them aside, he walked to the opposite end of the mat, faced her with heels touching, and bowed. She returned the bow, and took a ready stance with one foot in front of the other, fists raised. She still had her knuckle and instep pads on, but he had none, so he’d have to be careful not to make contact. He had no desire to leave bruises on her. If anyone on board ever found out that he’d injured their meek little communications officer in a sparring match he’d never live it down, even if she were a willing participant. He mirrored her stance, and then began to circle the mat. She held back, appearing oddly relaxed after all of her protests of incompetence, and after several seconds of dancing at a distance, he got fed up with it and attacked at half speed with a simple jab, reverse punch combination. She blocked both smoothly, as easily as breathing, and countered with a blindingly fast roundhouse kick to the side of his head that she pulled at the last second. Her foot was halfway back down to the mat before he’d even gotten his forearm high enough to block the kick. He blinked, startled. So much for half-speed. She grinned and winked at him, and he suddenly realized he’d been had. Time to get serious or he might get hurt.

Malcolm circled her warily again, this time waiting for her to attack. Hoshi obligingly did so—with a flurry of swift punches and kicks that taxed his ability to keep up with them but somehow never made contact despite their speed. He realized then, that she was right about her lack of “killer instinct”. Sparring was a game to her. She wasn’t even trying to hit him. She pulled all of her blows before they made any contact. Her control was impressive, even so. He could never have done what she was doing. She stopped each blow mere millimeters from the actual target, but he could see now why she considered herself a poor fighter. Years of training not to hit her target by a fraction of a centimeter had left her handicapped by the reflex. She was an expert in almost hitting someone—and she was extremely good at it.

“You’ve got gloves on. Hit me. You can’t hurt me,” he urged. She was getting out of breath again, her reduced stamina obvious now that they’d been sparring for nearly five minutes. He stopped blocking and just evaded her blows, stepping out of the way as rapidly as he could. She still made no contact. The breeze from a roundhouse kick stirred his hair, and finally he felt a tap in his upper abdomen as her padded knuckles struck him—so lightly that he barely felt it. She stepped back, shaking her head, red-faced and gasping.

“I’m done,” she wheezed. He dropped his hands and stood looking at her in consternation, barely breathing hard.

“I think we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he told her. She was a study in contradictions, this girl. “You do realize what you’re doing, don’t you? You’re very good at not hitting people.”

Hoshi chuckled, catching her breath. “I don’t think anyone’s ever said it quite that way before...but yes. That’s the problem. I’m much more comfortable sparring with words than with my fists.” She sat down on the mat, and then flopped to her back with a groan. Rather than stand towering over her, Malcolm sat down beside her. He studied her, puzzled, with his arms around his knees.

“So, if you know you’re doing it, why not just adjust your target? You have the speed and sufficient strength, and stamina’s just a matter of doing more training,” he told her.

She sighed, lying face up with her eyes closed. “It’s not that simple, Malcolm,” she protested. “I don’t want to hit you. I don’t want to hit anybody!” Her use of his given name surprised him. Then he decided that he liked it.

“But, Ensign...Hoshi...” Her name came out with some effort, but he thought that he should reciprocate. She opened her eyes and raised an amused brow at him, but said nothing in response to his familiarity. Encouraged, he continued. “Why learn a skill if you’re unwilling to use it?”

She rolled to one elbow and sat up, and suddenly he was near enough to smell the lavender scented shampoo she’d obviously used quite recently. The scent was distracting, but in a good way. He inhaled deeply, closing his eyes. When he opened them again she had that same amused look on her face. He cleared his throat and looked away. After several seconds of silence, she began speaking again, to his relief.

“I’m just not a fighter,” she told him with a self-deprecating shrug. “I talk to people...that’s all I’m good for. It’s people like you that fight the battles, Malcolm...people who have the guts to get the job done. Me, I’d just run and hide.”

Malcolm’s eyes were drawn to her face, with its sincere expression. Her humility puzzled him. Didn’t she realize how valuable her skills were?

“No sane person or government wants armed conflict, Hoshi,” he protested. “Words are our first line of defense. Without people like you, there would be war every time one group disagreed with another. Even when I do my job perfectly, people often die. You settle things without bloodshed whenever it’s possible.” He smiled at her. “I admire that.”


Just at the point when Hoshi’s heart rate had finally begun to slow down, something in Lieutenant Reed’s... Malcolm’s...tone of voice made it speed right back up again. She held her breath. Could he hear it practically pounding right out of her chest?

Probably not, she decided. He was behaving pretty normally, except for the part where he’d called her by her first name. She was the one who was reading way too much into the situation. She schooled herself to remain calm, but all the while a part of her subconscious was jumping up and down and squealing like a schoolgirl. “Yes! I did it! He noticed!” If she had only known that all it would take to get the man’s attention was to kick him in the head...almost... she would have pulled out her old karate uniform months ago.

He admired her skills, he said. How was she supposed to respond to that? Just thanking him sounded like conceit, but arguing with him would be impolite. So she just smiled. Her blush was involuntary.

“Talking doesn’t always work, though,” she demurred. “That’s why we need your skills. I wouldn’t be of much use after the fighting actually starts.”

“Now that’s not true, either,” he countered. “Look at how vital communications are in warfare. History’s full of war heroes who ‘just talked to people’. Look at the Navajo code talkers in the Second World War, and the team of scientists who came up with the injectable amino acid-based codes for the couriers during the Eugenics War. The Augments never did crack those.”

Hoshi blinked at him in surprise, and then smiled in delight. “Why, Lieutenant, I had no idea that you were such an historian!” she teased, “And about linguistics, too. I’m so impressed.” He just smiled at her and shrugged, but she could’ve sworn his cheeks pinked up a bit. His bashfulness gave her a positively evil idea, and she decided to run with it.

“I hear that you’re an expert in several types of hand-to-hand combat,” she said, in a total non-sequitur to their current conversation. Malcolm looked taken aback.

“I’m familiar with many forms of self defense,” he told her hesitantly, “...but I’m not certain that ‘expert’ is the term I’d use.”

“You’re an expert in my book if you can teach me to actually hit somebody to defend myself,” she replied. Then she paused thoughtfully. “Or maybe that’s not the solution. Maybe I should learn something new. Something where I don’t have to hit anyone...like judo. You know...throws and pin-downs.”

“Pin-downs?” he echoed, his voice cracking just a little. The look on his face was priceless. She nodded decisively, and then rolled to her feet.

“I want another lesson, Lieutenant,” she told him with a suggestive grin. “Come and show me how to pin you down.”

End


Comments:

Asso
Eh Eh delicious! And Hoshi is priceless!:p
blacknblue
Sneaky little thing, ain't she? :D I love Hoshi's style.
Distracted
Yep. The tech gang is working on it. The pretty blue background that's supposed to be there apparently works on Firefox but not on IE.
I loved this fic. Hoshi and Mal are so cute together. Especially when she's trying to put the moves on him :p This is kinda unrelated but does any one else find it difficult to read with this background?
Buurman
Nice ... and very shippy. You can't leave 'em, can you D? :D But well written and I liked the fact that you obviously knew what you were writing about.
Distracted
That bit about being handicapped by years of training to "almost" hit someone...well, I'm not as good at it as I made Hoshi sound, but otherwise that's me. My karate instructor used to "spar" with me by just moving out of the way. No matter how hard I tried I never seemed to be able to make contact. I just couldn't catch him, and if I did I'd be so surprised that I'd always pull it at the last second. It wasn't because I didn't want to hit him, mind you. I was so aggravated with all of his fancy footwork by about a minute into each match that if I could've CAUGHT him he would've been in trouble. Oh...and did I mention he could literally evade me ALL DAY and not even break a sweat? I'd attack...and he just wasn't there anymore. :p
Linda
Nice short fic! I like the discussion of words and weapons - words to prevent war, and words AS weapons. The return to the early days of the relationships between the Enterprise characters is delightful and nostalgic. Plus the obvious knowledge of the author on the subject of martial arts rings true.

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