Author's Note: This chapter is almost long enough to be a standalone story in it's own right, but it kind of got away from me a bit! For the final time, I do not own any of the songs used in herein and the copyright belongs to the artists/performers, including Alicia Keys "Fallin", ELO's version of "Roll Over Beethoven" and Billy Joel "Piano Man".
Thursday night arrived, and the mess hall was transformed; the chairs were arranged in their usual Movie Night rows, but the projector and screen were gone, replaced by a raised dais to function as a stage. A backline had been provided – the crew had worked hard to rustle up kit including drums, a couple of guitars, an electric piano, a trumpet, a trombone and, of all things, a cello. The engineering team had excelled themselves to manufacture a couple of small amplifiers, while Hoshi had put in place a few microphones and had balanced the whole sound output system to perfection. Rehearsals had been run through the day, the mess hall strictly off-limits to anyone not involved in the performances, and even Captain Archer had joined in the preparations by permitting changes to the duty rosters to allow the artists extra time to practice their acts.
Trip had been invited to assume the role of host, which he delighted in. Wearing an outrageously bright Hawaiian shirt and stonewash blue jeans, he greeted each crewmember as they arrived; some were in uniform, just off shift or expecting to go on duty after the performance, others had dressed down for the occasion. Dr Phlox was there, fascinated and excited to see the demonstration of human musical talent. Even T'Pol had been persuaded to attend, to further her study of Earth culture. Archer arrived just as the rest of the audience were taking their seats; he took his reserved front row chair, between T'Pol and Lt. Reed; next to Reed was Phlox, and then Hoshi Sato and Travis Mayweather. Archer exchanged a murmured greeting with Reed; the lieutenant still looked too pale and too thin for the Captain's liking, but he seemed much healthier and his eyes were bright and alert as he spoke to Phlox, explaining what each of the instruments was on the stage, and how each could be played differently to produce harmonic sounds. Archer settled into his seat, nodding to T'Pol, and after a few minutes, Trip stepped up onto the stage. The mess hall lights dimmed, save for those over the stage, lighting the dais to make it the focal point of attention.
"Good evenin', ladies and gentlemen!" Trip announced, cheerfully, "I hope y'all enjoy this evenin' and the performances you're about to see. I always knew we'd got some serious talent aboard this ship – 'specially in engineerin', of course – but tonight's gonna prove it. We got music of all styles, we got some jokes, we got a juggler an' we got some good ol' fashioned dancin' – so, here we go. First up – Ensign Aimee Okinawa will be playing a classical cello selection!"
There was polite applause, and the ensign stepped up, took up her seat and her instrument, and played through several short pieces. Archer smiled to see T'Pol nod slightly in approval; classical string instruments clearly held appeal for the Vulcan. The acts that followed varied hugely in their content and success, but each one was met with cheers and uproarious applause as they concluded. At the interval, Chef served canapés and drinks, before the talent show resumed; Travis Mayweather performed an acrobatic display to cheers and whistles; Trip demonstrated his appallingly bad juggling skills while telling even worse jokes which were nonetheless hysterically funny. Even Hoshi had been persuaded to join in, singing a traditional Vulcan lullaby, though T'Pol assured Archer it was a song designed to teach Vulcan children the art of meditative discipline by inducing a clear-minded state.
The music was the thing that held each act together; the majority of the performances surrounded a range of instrumental and vocal talent that surprised even Archer – he knew each of his crew's personnel files, and he realised that some had been more forthcoming than others about their musical inclinations. Pieces played ranged from classical to rock, jazz, industrial, modern pop and everything in between. However, it did not surprise him to see Ensign D'Arcy take the drum kit for many of the acts wanting a backline; the ensign even performed a couple of skilful solos that Phlox in particular appeared to enjoy. Lt. Brogan joined in one or two of the acts; usually playing guitar and providing backing vocals. Eventually, however, she and D'Arcy took to the stage together and she went straight for the main microphone. Chief Petty Officer Romano picked up an acoustic guitar; Archer turned to ask Reed what he thought Brogan might be performing, but to his surprise, the lieutenant was getting to his feet and heading for the stage; Archer could only watch in stunned silence as Reed took a seat in front of the electric piano; sitting side on to the audience, facing Brogan. She grinned at him and nodded; even Trip looked shocked. Clearly, this part had not been included in rehearsals. Reed flexed his hands, and then, to everyone's astonishment, except for possibly those on stage, and T'Pol of course – he played through a quick but unerringly accurate warm-up scale.
"Well I'll be damned," Archer muttered, leaning back in his seat.
"Captain?" T'Pol queried.
"I had no idea Malcolm played piano."
"Lt. Reed is extremely reserved – for a human. Perhaps he did not wish to boast of his musical accomplishment?"
Archer made a non-committal noise, his attention already back on the makeshift stage. Brogan stepped up to the microphone; she sang the first line unaccompanied.
"I keep on fallin'..."
Reed joined in on the piano; the music was slow, melodic, soulful and heartfelt. Romano took up the melody, plucking soft notes on the guitar, her husky voice adding depth with sympathetic backing vocals, as D'Arcy tapped out the rhythm and kept a beat going.
"... In and out... of love... with you. Sometimes I love ya... sometimes you make me blue. Sometimes I feel good... at times I feel used. Lovin' you darlin'... makes me so confused. I keep on fallin' in and out of love with you. I never loved someone, the way that I love you..."
The song was an old one, by Archer's reckoning, but then Brogan seemed to know an awful lot of very old music. She sang softly, the words laden with feeling, but it was Reed who held Archer's attention; head bowed over the piano, he played with an accuracy and smooth skill that indicated a life-time of practice at the instrument.
"Oh, oh , I never felt this way... How do you give me so much pleasure, and cause me so much pain? Just when I think I've taken more than would a fool... I start fallin' back in love with you..."
The chorus repeated several times and the song faded away, as Brogan and Romano held that last note in perfect tune. The audience clapped appreciatively, but the applause was almost ignored as Brogan held up one hand and gestured a rhythm in the air; D'Arcy matched it with a single drum beat.
"And-a-one, and-a-two, and-a-three, and-a-four..."
Reed struck a sudden, hard chord on the piano, and Archer recognised the opening bars of Beethoven's fifth, a classical piece. The other three on the stage waited patiently as he played a few bars, reached the crescendo, and then the music took a sudden wild, frenzied turn, sliding back down the scale and picking up a faster, lively pace; drums, guitar and vocals joined in, bang on cue.
"I'm gonna write a little letter gonna mail it to my local D.J!" Brogan sang, fast, her voice taking on a rougher, raw edge, "it's a rockin' little record I want my jockey to play, yeah! Roll over, Beethoven, I gotta hear it again today!"
Archer found himself nodding slightly in time with the fast beat, and he could see other crewmembers similarly nodding or tapping their feet; a few had given up their seats altogether to go to the back of the room to dance properly. Phlox was observing the whole proceedings with undisguised delight.
"You know my temperature's rising, and the jukebox's blown a fuse. My heart's beating rhythm, and my soul keeps on singing the blues. Roll over Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky the news!"
Brogan paused, with a smile, meeting Archer's gaze briefly, and then she leaned into the microphone.
"I got a rocking pneumonia, I need a shot of rhythm and blues. I think I got it off the writer, sittin' down by the rhythm review. Roll over Beethoven - we're rockin' in two by two! Well if you feel you like it, then get your lover and reel and rock it. Roll it over and move on up now, just jump around and reel and rock it... Roll it over; roll over Beethoven, a rockin' in two by two, oh!"
There was an instrumental break for a moment as Brogan caught her breath, grinning broadly across at Romano, then D'Arcy and finally at Reed, before she resumed; "Oh, early in the mornin' I'm-a givin' you the warnin', don't you step on ma blue suede shoes! Oh, hey diddle diddle, gonna play my fiddle, I ain't got nothin' to lose. Roll over Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky the news!"
Archer found himself smiling in return; while the lyrics made little to no sense, the fast tune and lively pace were catchy.
"Ooh, you know she winks like a glow worm an' dances like a spinnin' top! She gotta crazy partner, y'oughta see them reel and rock. Long as she's got a dime, the music'll never stop, yeah! Roll over Beethoven, roll over Beethoven, roll over Beethoven, and dig these rhythm and blues, yeah!"
The song ended with a crash from the drum cymbals and the audience cheered, applauding loudly. Brogan smiled, nodding, her face flushed, whether from the effort of singing or embarrassment at the response Archer could not tell. She put her hand over the microphone and turned to Reed, asking a question. The lieutenant shrugged and Archer saw him wince, putting his hand briefly to his recently injured arm. Brogan queried something but Reed shook his head, flexed his hands, and rested them lightly on the small, upright electric piano. Brogan turned to D'Arcy and Romano, but they were already setting down their instruments and bowing their way off the stage to rapturous applause. Brogan unhooked her microphone and crossed to the piano, leaning on it, as Reed played a few soft chords. Silence fell across the expectant, crowded room; the only sound came from the piano, until Brogan began to sing, softly, quietly.
"It's nine o'clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles in... there's an old man sittin' next to me, makin' love to his tonic and gin."
Archer nearly fell out of his chair in shock when it was Reed, not Brogan, who sang the second verse in a clear, crisp tenor; "He says; son, can you play me a memory? I'm not really sure how it goes... but it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete, when I wore a younger man's clothes."
Brogan rejoined singing and the chorus became a tuneful duet; "La, da-da, diddy da-da, da-dum, dum, dum, dum... Sing us a song, you're the piano man – sing us a song, tonight. Well, we're all in the mood for a melody, and you've got us feelin' alright!"
Leaning her elbow casually on the piano, Brogan addressed the audience; "Now John at the bar is a friend of mine, he gets me my drinks for free; and he's quick with a joke, or to light up your smoke, but there's someplace that he'd rather be. He says, girl, I believe this is killin' me, as the smile ran away from his face; well, I'm sure that a could be a move star, if I could get out of this place!"
"Now Paul is a real estate novelist, who never had time for a wife," Reed took up the song, still concentrating on the piano and the microphone in front of him, "And he's talking with Davy, who's still in the Navy, and probably will be for life."
A crescendo built as Brogan joined her voice with Reed's to sing; "And the waitress is practicin' politics, as the businessmen slowly get stoned. Yes they're sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it's better than drinkin' alone!"
A few of the braver and more attentive members of the audience joined in with the simple chorus, as the two lieutenants on stage continued their duet.
"Sing us a song, you're the piano man – sing us a song, tonight. Well, we're all in the mood for a melody, and you've got us feelin' alright!"
The tone softened a little, as Brogan and Reed sang together, their voices perfectly matched, her alto to his tenor; "It's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, and the manager gives us a smile, 'cause he knows that it's we, they've been coming to see, to forget about life for a while..."
A crescendo climbed with a slight key change and Brogan lifted her voice powerfully, even as Reed sang the tune with her; "And the piano sounds like a carnival! And the microphone smells like a beer! And they sit at the bar, and put bread in our jar, and say; man! What are you doin' here?"
Brogan made a broad, sweeping gesture, and this time most of the audience joined in with the now-familiar chorus:
"Sing us a song, you're the piano man – sing us a song, tonight. Well, we're all in the mood for a melody, and you've got us feelin' alright! ...Sing us a song, you're the piano man – sing us a song, tonight. Well, we're all in the mood for a melody, and you've got us feelin' alright!"
The song – and the night – ended with a standing ovation. Brogan took an exaggerated bow, and then flung her hands in an open gesture towards Reed, who stood, and bowed with a lot more reserve. He stepped off the stage to be almost knocked off his feet by the enthusiastic Trip congratulating them both on their performance; Archer smiled as Reed, clearly embarrassed, tried to wave off the praise. Shaking his head, he stood up, and stepped onto the stage. Immediately, the noise and clapping ceased, as all eyes turned to the Captain.
"Don't panic," he smiled, "I'm not going to torture you all with my singing!"
"Thank God for that!" said a very Southern-accented voice from somewhere to stage left.
Archer gave his chief engineer a mock scowl, and then continued; "I just wanted to personally thank everyone who has make tonight possible; those who manufactured and donated items for use this evening, to all of those behind the scenes who made it possible, and of course, a big round of applause to all of our performers!"
The applause was loud, enthusiastic and punctuated with whistles and cheers; even T'Pol joined in with a single, dignified nod of acknowledgement.
"Thank y'all for comin'!" Trip announced, as the applause finally quieted, "now, anyone who wants to volunteer to stay an' help clean up is more than welcome...?"
There was a smattering of laughter as the assembled crew got to their feet; most left to take up duty shifts or return to their quarters while a few remained to reclaim props and instruments or to help return the mess hall to normal. Archer saw Brogan helping D'Arcy to disassemble the drum kit and crossed over to them.
"An excellent performance tonight," Archer commended them, "really well done – we will have to do it again some time."
"I was thinking of petitioning to have the piano as a regular fixture in the mess hall," Brogan grinned, "now the engineers have built and programmed it they don't really know what to do with it and Malcolm says it won't fit in his quarters."
"Permission granted," Archer told her, with a broad smile, "leave it in the corner, perhaps Lt. Reed will grace us with a concert some time! Speaking of whom, where is he?"
"Hopefully, on his way to his quarters," Brogan replied, passing the cymbals to D'Arcy carefully, "He wanted to escape the crowd... besides, I think his arm's achin' him and he looked knackered. He's just left – you might still catch him if you're quick."
"Will do. Thanks. And congratulations again – it was a great night!"
Archer left the mess hall, nodding to a few crewmembers as he passed, moving swiftly through the corridors. He made it to the nearest turbo-lift, waited impatiently for a few moments for it to arrive, and then finally stepped inside, selecting deck six. As he stepped out onto the deck, however, his rapid pace immediately slowed, and he winced inwardly; a familiar figure was leaning against the bulkhead, head down, as if fighting to stave off a wave of dizziness. However, as Archer approached, Reed straightened up, glancing over his shoulder. His eyes widened fractionally and he quickly brought himself upright; "Sir!"
"At ease, lieutenant," Archer smiled and waved his hand, and then aborted his gesture to grab Reed's arm as the lieutenant swayed slightly on his feet; "Whoa, easy there – looks like you overdid it a bit this evening. You're supposed to be taking it easy, remember?"
"Aye, sir," Reed mumbled, taking a deep breath and steadying himself, "I'm... I'm fine, captain. Sorry."
Archer released him, and then silently gestured down the hall. With a nod, Reed moved away from the wall, heading towards his quarters. Archer fell into step beside him, deciding to confront the evening's revelation head-on.
"So... I didn't know you played piano, Malcolm."
"Nobody does, sir," Reed replied, with a tired snort, "My parents – well, my mother really – forced me to learn. My father had the Navy and his insect collection, and my mother had a piano. I had to learn to please both of them... I practiced every day from the age of five until I left to join Starfleet. I gave it up immediately, just as I gave up the Navy..."
"But...?" Archer prompted him, when he trailed off.
"But Brogan," Reed huffed, but there was amusement in his tone, "and bloody Section 31. We were in some grotty little bar in one of the smaller outposts adjacent to '66, following a lead, but our contact stood us up. To pass the time we were drinking a few beers and there was an upright piano in the corner. I don't know why but I started to play, just a few old tunes, nothing too refined, didn't want to give myself away. That's when Brogan found out I could play and I found out that she's got a head full of ancient song lyrics. It became a perfect cover that Section 31 took full advantage of..." Reed hesitated, and then, quietly, added; "When I quit Section 31, I stopped playing again, but I regretted it that time."
"Well, it looks like the piano is about to become a permanent fixture in the mess hall, so you can play whenever you wish, Malcolm," Archer told him, as they arrived outside the lieutenant's quarters, "though if I were you, I'd wait until your arm is properly healed. Get some rest – you look like you need it."
"Thank you, sir," Reed smiled softly, "good night, captain."
"Good night, lieutenant."
Reed watched as the Captain turned around and walked back the way they had come. He keyed open the door to his quarters and stepped inside. He stripped off his uniform and pushed it into the laundry chute, before climbing into bed and dimming the lights, settling back into the pillow as he tried to ignore the dull ache from his still-healing arm. He was just dozing off when he heard a couple of crewmen singing in the corridor as they headed towards their own quarters; "Sing us a song, you're the piano man – sing us a song, tonight. Well, we're all in the mood for a melody, and you've got us feelin' alright..."
He groaned as the realisation dawned; it was going to take months to live down the inevitable "Piano Man" nickname...