Three of a Kind

Disclaimer: Star Trek belongs to Paramount/CBS. No copyright infringement is intended.

Rated T

A/N: I've always found the thought of writing to a prompt with a strict deadline to be hugely intimidating. After this 'writing experiment', I now only find it moderately intimidating, and, as a bonus, I've written some POVs and, um, subject matter (see #2...) that I doubt I would have tackled prompt-less.

My extremely grateful thanks to Delwin for not only throwing me over these three prompts, but then beta-ing the resultant ficlets.

First Line: "I'm guessing this wasn't part of the plan?"
Pairing: Kim with Paris, Torres or another character of the author's choice.

Stage Fright

"I'm guessing this wasn't part of the plan?"

Harry answered Tom's question with a rhetorical one of his own, which he delivered with a mixture of self-depreciation and a blatant lack of approval at his friend's cheerfulness in the face of imminent disaster. "Was it in the plan for me to look like an idiot in front of her? Of course it wasn't."

The two men watched – Harry in horror, and Tom in open-mouthed fascination – as, far across the holographic theatre on its otherwise empty stage, Neelix unpacked the separate sections of what was, apparently, a large musical instrument from a metal trunk. The Talaxian grinned as he began to fit the pieces together to make a long, coiled tube that looked something akin to a didgeridoo crossed with a tuba.

"Didn't you tell him there was no …" Tom turned to his friend. "What's that thing called?"

"He says it's a Talaxian bugle." Harry almost choked on the words.

"Didn't you tell him there was no Talaxian bugle part in, um … ?"

"Copland's Clarinet Concerto," Harry finished impatiently. "I tried. I told him there'd be holographic musicians for all the other parts that were needed, and there isn't even a brass section. But he says that once the music starts, he'll be able to improvise. It's some Talaxian tradition with that instrument."

Shaking his head, Harry knew that he only had himself to blame. If he'd kept his big mouth shut, this situation would never have arisen. But he'd made the mistake of expressing to Neelix that he was nervous about performing in the upcoming talent night, and the self-appointed morale officer had immediately insisted on accompanying Harry on stage. In Neelix's own words, he would be Harry's 'wingman'. Snorting as he recalled the conversation, Harry concluded that Neelix's involvement in this debacle would result in him providing Harry with completely the opposite service than that which a 'wingman' should provide. And from where had Neelix even heard the term 'wingman'?

Tom, unusually, seemed at a loss for words, merely continuing to watch Neelix fuss over his instrument.

"Can you imagine what it's going to sound like?" said Harry, consciously keeping his voice low, but unable to keep the agitation from creeping in. Several other Voyager crewmen were scattered around in small groups, discussing their plans for the show, or just hoping to get a preview of the upcoming acts. To one side, Chell stood spellbound by Pablo Baytart's juggling prowess as the pilot rehearsed. "It's her favourite piece of music," Harry continued, "and she'll never be able to listen to it again without remembering how I ruined it for her…" Harry subtly tipped his head towards the oblivious Neelix. "… with that. The piece is twenty minutes long. It'll be torture."

He was seriously regretting not taking up Nicoletti's offer to join him in a duet, to play one of the old standards that they'd often practised together. Instead, he'd asked her to make some covert enquiries regarding the quieter Delaney sister's favourite music. How he'd never gotten around to asking Megan himself was confounding. But he never had, and, for the plan he'd had in mind to work out, he needed to know.

The result of Nicoletti's enquiries had surprised Harry greatly. He'd been expecting her to come back with something more modern – certainly something less obscure. And in all honesty, he'd hoped for something a little less demanding. But with the knowledge that Megan clearly liked the sound of the clarinet – his specialist instrument – how could he not make the effort to learn the piece she liked best?

Tom frowned, biting his lip as he considered his response to Harry's fretting. What he came up with was clearly meant to be consoling. "To be fair, Harry," Tom said, "she'll probably just think of Neelix whenever she listens to it again, not you."

"But, exactly," Harry hissed. "I've put weeks of effort in to this. And it's not as simple as just trying to impress her. I thought … I know it sounds kind of stupid when I say it out loud, but I thought that, if I could make it so that she associates me with this piece that she loves listening to, then … you know?"

Tom smirked. "Every time she hears it she'll think about what nimble fingers you have and wonder what else you can do with them?"

Harry shot him a glare, though to be honest Tom wasn't far off the mark, even if Harry himself wouldn't have phrased it quite so indelicately. As Harry turned back to see Neelix finish his construction task, the Talaxian caught his eye and waved. Harry gritted his teeth and raised a listless hand in reply. Tom waved back more eagerly. A little too eagerly in Harry's estimation.

"This isn't funny, Tom," Harry chided under his breath.

"So, what are you going to do then?" Tom's voice took on a more serious tone as he gauged that the alarm on Harry's features was turning to unadulterated panic. "I could speak to him for you," Tom offered. "Explain that it's a delicate situation."

"No. I should be able to handle this myself."

"Then just tell him outright. He can't play that … thing. Tell him you're not nervous anymore. There's no crisis of confidence with you for him to fix."

"I don't know if that'll work now. Look how enthusiastic he's getting over the thing."

Neelix had begun to polish the 'bugle', and his humming had carried about the room, drawing curious onlookers to crowd in around him. Even Chell and Baytart had gone to investigate.

Tom's eyes widened. "Did you tell her that you're playing this piece tonight?"

Harry shook his head. "I didn't want to tell her myself. I was hoping it would be a surprise when the music started."

"Then you can back out," Tom said. "No harm done."

"But I think the line-up was announced on Good Morning with Neelix."

"But Neelix didn't know the specifics, did he? Like the name of the composer? Megan won't know you were going to play her favourite piece."

"No. I guess I could come up with some excuse to get out of playing," Harry said, thinking quickly. "Maybe some problem in astrometrics. Though, I don't want to let Neelix down by leaving him with an empty spot to fill."

Tom stifled a laugh. "But your replacement is warming up over there."

"Right. That could work." Harry's face brightened. "Neelix gets to play – and take the limelight, Megan doesn't have to suffer through her favourite piece of music getting ruined, and I manage to come away without looking stupid."



"You could still play, just not the piece you've prepared. Something else from your repertoire. Neelix will be none the wiser. If he's going to improvise, it won't matter a bit to him."

"Then, I'll still come out of this looking like an ass."

"Pick something short. How about Chopin's minute waltz?"

"That's for the piano."

"See the funny side, Harry. The point of talent night isn't just to show off, it's to make people laugh and to give them something to talk about other than the usual old routine."

Something prickled at Harry's memory at that, a recollection of an old Earth composer who'd written an experimental piece intended to last four minutes, thirty three seconds with the performers not playing. The audience would hear only ambient noise. Could that work? It would certainly be different. It couldn't make Harry look any sillier than he would playing any of Earth's musical classics with Neelix improvising alongside. He managed half a smile at the thought of the bewilderment that would cause. As for filling the rest of his twenty minute slot, maybe he could find out if Nicoletti was still available. And there was always Chell with his Bolian nose flute. Perhaps Naomi Wildman would play the triangle and complete the farce. Harry ran a hand across his face. As a senior officer, it really wouldn't be right for him to cut and run. He had to salvage the situation as best he could.

Tom tried to point out the positives. "Maybe, see this as a sign. You've been too subtle for too long. If you like Megan that much, it's about time you took a more direct approach. Less subliminal messaging, more … giant billboard."

Harry raised his eyebrows. "And what do you suggest, exactly?"

"I'll think of something," said Tom, confidently clapping Harry on the shoulder. "Just because I'm with B'Elanna now, doesn't mean I can't still be your wingman."

Shuddering at Tom's word choice, Harry turned away from the hubbub across the room and sighed to himself. One thing was for sure: today, he had certainly found a new meaning to the term 'stage fright'.