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what's my chance, love?

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Galavant is very sure that the woman with Sid is a hookup for about the first five minutes she's in his house, so he does them a favor and keeps strumming on his guitar (if it's just the four-chord progression, nobody has to know but him, and probably Sid, who said last month that he's had Pachelbel's Canon stuck in his head for months now).

Of course, after five minutes Sid clears his throat and stands in front of the couch, gesturing to her like he's presenting her. “Galavant, this is Isabella Valencia.”

Galavant looks from Sid to Isabella and back again. “Yes, well done, Sid, the metaphorical sock is officially on the door, but I'm not making you breakfast.”

Sid looks pained. “This is Isabella Valencia, who wants to look at the room that we're renting out.”

After a second, Galavant puts down his guitar, because the conversation does not seem likely to end as quickly as he wants it to. “Are we renting a room, Sid?”

“We discussed this last month when I said you had to either start recording your new album or we needed someone's rent to keep us in house and home. You approved the ad I wrote. It was very charming.”

“It was,” says Isabella Valencia, who's frowning at Galavant like she can smell how long he's been sitting on the couch wearing this t-shirt and drinking beer. It's been a while. “And Sid just showed me the room. I like it.”

Galavant turns back to Sid. “No.”

Sid crosses his arms. “She's here, she likes it, we have that whole bedroom going to waste and did I mention that we need the rent?”

“I'm a pop star, Sid, I don't need someone to pay rent.”

“You're a pop star who hasn't put out an album in three years,” says Sid, who is merciless, and come to that Galavant never actually liked him very much. “Could you just … please not ruin this?”

Galavant looks back at Isabella Valencia, who has progressed to scowling at him. She's wearing a red dress and tapping her foot against the floor, and he would probably like her, if he wasn't annoyed about her being sprung on him. “I am very loud and very messy and don't intend to change either of those things,” he says.

“Good. I play four different instruments and will not touch anyone's mess but mine. As long as you occasionally move your dirty underwear into your own room, I don't care what you do.” She looks back at Sid, probably sensing that he's the softer touch. At least she's smart. “I really need this room, Sid. If I don't find somewhere to live soon my parents are going to start lobbying for me to move home, and I told you about my creepy little cousin.”

“She has a creepy little cousin,” says Sid, as though Galavant couldn't hear that perfectly well, turning to Galavant again with the big doe eyes that got him a room in Galavant's house after Madalena moved out. “You can't send her back to that.”

“Fine,” says Galavant, even though he immediately regrets it from the twin grins on their faces. “She can stay. For a while. Until I get my next album out, and then both of you are out of here.”

Sid grins at him. “Absolutely, Gal, we'll be out of your hair just as soon as you get going on that.”

Galavant scowls at him and picks his guitar up again, and is very grateful when both of them seem to understand that they're dismissed.

It's only been a year since Madalena married Richard. It's completely logical that he still has song-writing block, and his label just doesn't understand that it takes time and that of course he's not going to start performing someone else's songs in the meantime.

Sid and Isabella are already giggling as he shows her away to the kitchen, and Galavant scowls again and strums a very definitive E minor before he goes back to his chords. They're the best combination in popular music, something is bound to come of them eventually.

*

Galavant is on the couch again when Isabella starts moving her things in. Sid is at work, so it's just the two of them, her dragging her boxes in from her car and him sitting on the couch with his guitar. Again. Man On Couch, With Guitar. Someone could paint a portrait, it would no doubt be very artistic.

Isabella stops in the living room on her second load, with a guitar in one hand and what looks like a keyboard stand in another and a backpack that sounds suspiciously like tambourine whenever she moves. “Are you going to help me?” she asks. Galavant has a strong suspicion that she would have her hands on her hips if they weren't full.

“Probably not.” He grins when her mouth falls open and she squeaks at him. She and Sid really are two peas in a pod. “I'll give you some unpacking music, if you like.”

“If you play that chord sequence again I will end you,” she says, and stomps up the stairs to her new room.

Galavant plays it again, and loudly, and enjoys the aggravated noise from upstairs far too much.

*

“And in other news, pop sensation Madalena has announced the release of her next album! Since we haven't heard anything from her since her marriage, not a tour and not any new recordings, we're excited to see if our pop princess has grown up into a queen of the scene. We're still waiting to hear about anything new from ex-flame Galavant, but he and his agent have both been pretty quiet … what do you say, Gal? Ready to—”

Galavant turns the television off even though Sid and Isabella both make protesting noises because they have terrible taste in entertainment. “You can turn that back on when they aren't talking about Madalena anymore,” he says, holding the remote above Sid's head. “And if you complain I'm going to turn on something where people live in the woods and have to light their own fires.”

Isabella crosses her arms. “It was a five-minute bit, and we're going to miss the start of the next one.”

“You're the one who suggested roommate bonding night,” Galavant tells Sid, who has given up trying to get the remote from him and has started pouting. “Are you regretting your choice yet?”

“Pretty much immediately,” says Sid, and then looks hopefully between Isabella and Galavant. “We all play music. Maybe we could have a jam session.”

Isabella sniffs. “Well, he only knows four chords, so I'm afraid that would be very difficult.”

Galavant frowns at her. “I know more than four chords. I just also know which chords sell.”

“I'm learning how to play the harmonica,” says Sid, with manic cheer.

“You should teach Galavant, it might shut him up.”

“We all play lots of instruments,” Sid continues, bless him. “We're like the Von Trapp family band!”

“We are both hotter and somehow less appealing, unfortunately,” says Galavant. “I would make a very good captain, though. I suppose you're Julie Andrews, Sid.”

Isabella frowns at them both again. “Don't be silly.” She takes the remote from Galavant and turns the television back on. They've moved on to discussing someone's outfit at some awards show, which he can live with. “I would be Julie Andrews, of course. Sid is collectively all the children.”

“I'm moving out,” says Sid, which is very ridiculous, as he settles right down in between them and will probably be asleep on Galavant's shoulder before the end of the night.

*

It's been silent in Richard's office for approximately four minutes, and Galavant doesn't feel very inclined to break the silence. A summons from his agent is never a good thing, and he gets a sort of petty delight in sitting there with his arms crossed waiting for Richard to break.

Richard eventually does scratch his nose. Ha. Galavant wins. It's cold comfort, winning the staring contest but not the girl, but he's willing to take what he can get.

“Sooooo,” says Richard about twenty seconds after the nose-scratching. “Label's probably dropping you, FYI.”

“You are the worst agent. I mean, aside from marrying my girlfriend. Just genuinely the worst. Singers have taken time off for heartbreak before.”

Richard purses his lips. “Are you going to rise from the ashes with a great heartbreak album for me? They'd bite on that. Or a Eurovision entry, you can get your little roommate involved.”

“Which one? I have two at the moment. And none of us is entering Eurovision, thanks. I don't have a heartbreak album for you, Richard, you know I don't. Madalena inspired all my songs and now she's gone.”

“I could get you some paparazzi photos so you could write your heartbreak album. Never tell me I didn't offer you help when you needed it.”

“You are just genuinely the worst.” Galavant sighs. “I can't promise anything. I'm not Taylor Swift, you know, girl's a genius, you can't expect 1989 from me.”

“Don't worry, I don't expect genius out of you. Just a pop song or two? For me? We're getting such good press for Madalena's new album, yours would be the whipped cream on top.”

“Right, that's what I'm here for, to provide a sales push for my ex-girlfriend.” Galavant stands up. “Let me know when the label drops me so I can find representation that does not seduce people I care about.”

Richard wiggles his fingers at him. “Let me know when you've got some songs for me!”

So, the staring contest thing is a battle won, anyway. Pity about the war.

*

Galavant doesn't leave the house very often, so he's not used to walking into the middle of anyone else's day. When he gets home from his meeting at the label, though, there's music pouring out of the front window and he stops with his key in the lock to listen for a moment.

Sid and Isabella are both singing, one of them on the guitar and one on what must be the ukulele (probably Sid, the more ridiculous an instrument the better at it he is, he is a veritable kazoo prodigy). Galavant doesn't recognize the song, but that doesn't mean much. He hasn't been listening to the radio lately.

They're tossing verses back and forth easily with the kind of synergy he's only heard from musicians, and good ones at that, ones who know how to take cues from each other, and Galavant is abruptly jealous, even if it's stupid. He never had a band, but he and Madalena did plenty of duets, and they were good at them. He and Sid would sing and play together as well, and very rarely still do, but it's been a while.

He only realizes he's standing stupidly outside his own door when one of the kids from the neighborhood goes by on a bicycle and slows down to stare at him standing there with his key in the lock, and he shakes himself and opens the door a few seconds later.

They don't stop playing until the door is shut behind him and he takes a few steps down the hall, but they do stop in a scramble of discordant notes like they're afraid he'll shout at them for having a jam session in the living room. It's possible he's been a bit too much of a grouch.

When he pokes his head out of the hallway and into the living room, Sid is looking guilty and Isabella is looking mutinous, she with a guitar on her lap and Sid with a ukulele, with a tablet on the coffee table where they've probably been looking up chords. “Sounds good,” he says. “Do you two often have secret duets while I'm out? Just curious.”

“We might if you were ever out,” says Isabella.

Sid frowns at her and then looks up at Galavant. “You can join, if you like. We're just taking turns picking songs, and Isabella says she'll teach me one of hers later.”

Galavant raises his eyebrows at her. “You write?”

“More than you do, anyway. I'm trying to talk Sid into showing me some of his, as well, but it's not going as well.”

“You should, Sid, they're very delightful.” Both of them still look like he's the ogre crashing their tea party, so he sighs. “I'm going upstairs to beat my head against the wall until I forget the whole conversation I just had with my agent, please excuse me. Enjoy your jam session.”

Sid looks like he wants to say something, and Isabella frowns like there's something on her mind, but neither of them actually objects, so he gives them a nod and goes upstairs.

He turns on the keyboard in his room when he gets there, a rare occurrence since it isn't his best instrument, and he taps out a few tunes, nothing at all inspiring (and he's pretty sure at least one of them was stolen from Justin Timberlake), but at least it's something.

*

“So,” says Isabella, catching him off-guard in the kitchen a few days later wearing nothing but a pair of boxers with dragons on them and socks, and then pulls herself up short, staring at him. “Are you just eating frozen waffles frozen? Do you not know how to warm them up?”

Galavant shrugs. “I was hungry. Did you have something to discuss with me besides me eating habits?”

“Look,” she says, and he can tell she's trying to have dignity, but he's really thrown her off her game. Not her fault, he does that to a lot of women. “You don't like me and I certainly don't like you, but I am a decent person, so I felt I should tell you that your agent called me last night and offered to pay all my rent for me if I spied on you and recorded anything that sounds like an original composition and sent it to him, and I don't think it was so he could use it for your album.”

“I wish I could be surprised that my agent is that despicable, but I'm really not. You could take his money and then we could record me singing every annoying song in the world and you could send him the tape and I could think fondly of him having 'The Song That Never Ends' stuck in his head for the next six years.”

“Tempting.” She tilts her head. “Aren't you worried about this?”

Galavant sighs. “He married my fiancee. He can steal my shitty music if he wants, I haven't written anything worth stealing in over a year now.”

“That's just sad, you know. You could do more. You were a ridiculous pop star and your arrangements were very overproduced, but I did like your tunes, and even some of your lyrics.”

“Thanks, I think.”

“You should write again. Fuck your agent. Sid worries about you, and I like Sid.”

“Sid is sort of an unspeakably good person. I'm a little worried he's actually an angel and eventually he'll get fed up with me.”

Isabella opens her mouth, shuts it again, and then sighs. “The saddest thing about that is that I think you made perfect sense. Look, I'm working on a song after work today, I can work in the living room and maybe you can contribute, if you want.”

“You're like a regular kindergarten teacher.” But playing with someone else again sounds rather appealing, he has to admit, and it's not as though he wants to sulk forever. Isabella might just be the kick in the pants that he needs to get some writing done. “Sure. I'll be there.”

“Good. I suppose.” She gives his waffles another dubious look. “I'll let Sid know as well. Bring whatever instrument you feel like playing most, I'm using my guitar today.”

“I'll be there with bells on. Actual bells. I'm not sure if you knew, the jingle bells are my best instrument.”

Isabella rolls her eyes. “Well, as long as you think you're clever.” And with that, she leaves the kitchen, and leaves Galavant in an unaccountably better mood.

*

Galavant brings his acoustic bass downstairs when he hears Isabella come through the door. He doesn't play it often—a solo artist whose best instrument is the bass isn't any good to anyone, Richard was fond of saying—but it's his favorite, and if Isabella is playing the guitar he can back her up more easily on it.

“Sid says he'll be home late,” she says when he's halfway down the stairs, calling up to him. “Some sort of weird marketing disaster, he has to rewrite a jingle because half of it doesn't rhyme anymore.”

“He likes coming home to music, he'll probably join in when he gets here.” Galavant brandishes his bass when he catches sight of her, already getting her guitar out in the living room. “Ready to work? I'll back you up.”

“I've been working on a song for almost two weeks now, and I've got the lyrics, but the melody isn't sitting quite right, so you can help me with it.”

Galavant generally doesn't like being bossed around, but it's rather refreshing, this time. “Of course.”

Isabella sits cross-legged on the couch, guitar across her lap, and stares at Galavant until he takes a seat on one of the kitchen stools, dragged in for the purpose, since the neck of the bass is long enough that it would hit the arms of any of the more comfortable chairs and there's not enough space for the both of them on the couch. “I'll play, you join in if you like.”

As it turns out, Isabella is good with lyrics, has a clever turn of phrase or two he never would have thought of and yet never manages to do something so unexpected it would throw off someone trying to sing along the second time through. Galavant joins in on the second verse with a simple bass line and does his best to follow her, waits for the song to get through. “You're right, tune isn't quite clicking, and I'm not sure I like your chords in the chorus,” he says when she finishes.

“Always good to start out with criticism. What do you recommend?”

“I think your tune is distorting your meter a little, and … have you got the lyrics written down? Can't do them on my own yet.”

Isabella opens a document on her tablet and points it around to face him, and he takes a second to try to remember how to do chords and not just bassline on his bass before he starts in, changing the melody around so the lines last a little longer and then plays the chords that feel better to him in the chorus, something a little more interesting than what she had. “Show me that again,” she says when he finishes. “I'm not sure I like how it transitions into the chorus that way, and I'm going to have to change the bridge.”

“The bridge was a placeholder anyway and we both know it.”

“I'd like to see you do better.”

“I think I shall.”

When Sid comes back an hour later, Galavant is arguing with Isabella about the bridge for about the third time, and he stops in the living room door with a look on his face like five years' worth of birthdays have all come at once. “Neither of you move,” he says. “I am going to get an instrument.”

“He's very excited,” Isabella says, sounding bemused, as Sid runs up the stairs at full tilt.

“That's Sid for you.” Galavant strums a few chords. “He's really been pining for us to be in the same room, hasn't he? Poor man.”

“He kept trying to tell me you aren't awful.” She gives him a sideways look. “I suppose I begin to see his point.”

“I'm a little offended he hasn't tried to convince me of the reverse.”

“Well, of course he hasn't, he knows I'm delightful.” Galavant thinks she's trying to sound snobbish on purpose, which makes him like her more, he has to admit. “Perhaps we ought to make more of a show of it. You know, for his sake.”

“Of course, for Sid's sake,” says Galavant, right as Sid comes thundering down the stairs, ukulele clutched tight in his hands.

*

Galavant doesn't think it happens immediately, but it seems like after that the house is never quiet. Either Sid is sitting on the couch making up silly songs about groceries or zoo animals, or Isabella is writing a new song, or Galavant is on his endless quest to make the same four chords work for him again, or all three of them are there playing whatever songs all three of them can figure out.

It's good, though Galavant wouldn't tell that to Sid or Isabella in a million years. He could deal with an end to his music block, but he's always got a tune stuck in his head these days, and Isabella seems to be appreciating his help on her own work, and all three of them enjoy the jam sessions, trading instruments around and picking the songs with the worst chords so the other two will swear at them.

Of course, the day after Galavant decides he's quite happy with how things are, Madalena shows up on his doorstep.

“No,” he says to her as soon as he opens his front door to find her there, looking as perfect as ever, and then for good measure he looks behind her to the small entourage following her, two incredibly skinny and intimidated-looking hipsters and one man he's fairly sure is just there for eye candy. It's really stupid to be jealous of Madalena's arm candy, but he can't help thinking sadly of the time when that was him. It's possible that the press is right and he is really pathetic. “No,” he adds to her entourage.

“Don't be tiresome, Gal,” says Madalena, transitioning immediately from using her most charming smile to rolling her eyes and tapping her foot. “I just want to talk to you, that's all.”

“So, first time in a year and a half that you actually want to talk to me? You're up to something.”

“The paps are about ten minutes behind me. I can stand here on your doorstep and make quite a damning scene if I want to.”

“It is possible, horrifyingly, that you actually deserve Richard. I suddenly really hope that I didn't deserve you.” He sighs. “Fine. Your poor minions look like they need feeding. I'll make toast.”

For once, Madalena looks wrong-footed, which is nice. Galavant so rarely has the upper hand. There are far too many limbs in his mental commentary. He steps aside and ushers all of them inside and points the entourage at the living room, which is a mess of novelty percussion instruments and Isabella's keyboard from a very weird jam session. “You come with me,” he tells Madalena. “You're not getting toast because you feed off the joy of others and the blood of the innocent, but I can yell at you in private there.”

Madalena, to his surprise, actually follows him, and she leans against the doorway like she used to when they lived here together, showing herself off to her best advantage. It's the first time they've talked since he tried to stop the wedding, and he thought he would feel more heartbroken than this. More like he was still in love with her.

“Gal, baby,” she starts, and he already knows he's going to hate it. “I'm here to propose a reunion tour.”

“No. If that's all, you can feel free to go.”

Madalena pouts. That's still fairly devastating. “You're being unreasonable, I told Richard you would be, but he's both of our agent, darling, it would be good for both of our careers. The press would love it, you've been out of the public eye for so long after, well ...” After spending two weeks in the tabloids for loudly trying to stop a wedding. “You could write us a reunion duet, something suitably angsty that makes it clear I'm not in love with you, they'd lap it up.”

“That sounds appalling. Still no.”

She sighs, like she's so put-upon. He used to find it much more appealing, he's quite sure. “Don't shoot yourself in the foot, Gal. You know you'd like it, really, and I miss having you around.”

“Well, you should have thought of that before you married someone else.”

“You are so charmingly black-and-white about everything.”

The toaster pops up for the first time and Galavant busies himself with the raspberry jam. If the actual guests who are not capitalist succubi do not like raspberry jam, that is their own problem. “I am charmingly a lot of things, in fact, but you are barking up the wrong tree here, Madalena. Go find a boy band or something, I'm quite happy.”

“You're throwing your career away.” She interrupts his jam-spreading with a hand on his face. She still smells like some kind of orchid, which really isn't fair. “Don't do that, you're good, Gal, you know you are. And we're good for each other.”

“You aren't good for him at all,” says Sid from the doorway, and Galavant almost jumps out of his skin, because Sid is not stealthy, and neither is Isabella, who is standing behind him with her arms folded like the world's tiniest bouncer. And then, blinking at Galavant, “Are you making toast?”

“We have guests. Ones who aren't her. I'm told it's customary to feed them.”

“Unfortunately, they aren't staying.” That's Isabella, several inches shy of Madalena and glaring at her like she'd like to set her on fire. Galavant is half embarrassed that his roommates think he needs his honor defended and half pleased that they want to do it. “We'll eat the toast, Galavant.”

“They can leave.” Sid frowns. “Although Chef and Gwennie and Steve all seem really nice.”

“You found out their names?” Galavant asks, and then goes over the list again. “One of them is named Chef?”

Madalena is frowning too. “Wait, his name is Steve?”

Isabella looks at Galavant. “I cannot believe you dated her.” She turns back to Madalena. “Out of our house! He's already said no, he doesn't need you standing here with that expression on your face.”

“He did promise the other three toast,” says Sid in an aside that everyone can hear. “Chef said they were waiting for it. I'm a little worried he's starving.”

“They can share these two slices as a snack,” says Galavant, putting them on a plate he doesn't like at all. “And I'll make some more for the two of you.”

“They are dragging you down,” Madalena says, but she seems to know it's a battle lost, because she storms out of the kitchen a second later, shouting for her people on the way, although Galavant is pretty sure she calls Steve “Jester,” which is a story he does not particularly want to hear.

Sid trots out after them with the toast, and Galavant and Isabella trail out into the hall as suddenly the house is cleared of all intruders. Sid comes back looking pleased with himself and saying that the other three really are very nice and apparently Steve is Madalena's opening act these days.

“I'll make toast,” says Galavant.

All three of them end up making the toast, getting bread crumbs everywhere and ransacking the cupboards for honey and strawberry jam and Nutella, getting their fingers ridiculously sticky for adults.

“A toast,” says Sid, raising one of his pieces when they're all done, “to our house.” It seems a little silly that he remembered two words in the middle of Isabella throwing Madalena out, but, well—Galavant remembers that she's the one that said them. That's probably fairly damning.

“Our house,” Galavant and Isabella chime, and Galavant doesn't even mind it.

*

“Let's play a game,” says Sid, during a jam session, and starts playing Galavant's favorite four chords.

Isabella instantly starts looking martyred. “Let's not.”

“We go around, each of us does a song with the chords and passes it on to the next, and if we can't think of one we have to write one.”

Galavant knows it's a transparent ploy to get him to write something, but it's a kind one, so he rolls his eyes and picks up the line on his bass. He's playing it more now these days than he has for years—it's how their jam sessions settle, him on bass, Isabella on guitar, Sid on the ukulele or on percussion.

It's easy at first, the three of them tossing songs back and forth, joining in on each other's because no one can resist “Someone Like You,” but it gets harder as they go along. Sid is the first to falter, and to make up a few lines of a silly song about ladybugs because Sid really ought to be writing for children's television.

Galavant cracks next, and whatever he makes up is shoddy and easily forgettable and he knows it's something he would have written for Madalena on an off day, but it's something, and Sid smiles at him for it.

Isabella takes two more rounds to crack and cheats by rapping instead of writing a tune for her turn, although her facility with a lyric stands her in good stead.

They make up drabs of songs for the next three rounds, though at one point Sid rallies and remembers some obscure children's song that fits the chords, and then it's Galavant's turn and he finds himself making up a few lines about sitting up on the roof of a building watching the stars, something he used to do with Sid when they were roommates the first time, before Galavant got famous, and he brings it to an awkward halt because he can hear the next line, the way the melody's got to move away, the way he can change chords, finally, finally.

“We did it,” says Sid, beaming at Isabella. “Told you it wouldn't take long.”

“You're right,” she says, and smiles at Galavant. “Shall we leave you to it?”

The tune isn't running away, is staying with him, building itself in his head, and he lunges for a notebook before he can forget the lyrics. He feels bad, ending their jam session early, but it's what they were out for, and he would be annoyed at how high-handed it is to trick him into writing a song if he weren't so grateful for it. “Yes, yes, go on, listen to songs with other chord structures, please be quiet.”

“He's still so rude,” says Isabella, grinning, and grabs her guitar and tows it upstairs, Sid fast on her heels.

*

“We should start a band,” Sid says a few days later, when Galavant has finished his third song and is feeling a little dazed and disoriented from suddenly being back in his groove. “The three of us, I mean. I don't know what we'd call ourselves, but we should.”

Galavant has been a solo artist from the very beginning, and his first instinct is to say thanks but no thanks, before he starts wondering what going on tour without them would be like, now, leaving Sid back at the marketing firm rattling around the house and Isabella doing whatever it is she does all day (he's a bit embarrassed to ask this late). “Rock Paper Scissors,” he says, which Sid will know to take as a yes. “We can all write songs, you'll be like our Ringo, weird kids' songs that we'll sing with great enthusiasm.”

“Rock Paper Scissors is a terrible band name, you can't just list off sets of three things to make a band name.” Sid pauses to consider. “I'm paper.”

“Nobody picks paper, Sid, that's rubbish.”

“That's why you always lose the game, and that is why I am paper. You're probably rock. Isabella is definitely scissors.”

“Have you run this band idea past her?”

Sid leans into his shoulder. “I've known you longer. I figured maybe I should ask you first. Also, I'm really sure that she's going to say yes.”

“She came up with it, didn't she?”

Sid doesn't even dignify that with a response. “We should come up with some arrangements. Record a demo. Maybe you can fire your agent and we can find someone else so you don't end up roping us into touring with Madalena.”

“Well, then.” Galavant coughs, a bit awkward with the way Sid's eyes are shining, far too happy about Galavant saying he'll join a band. “Perhaps you'd best hear what I've been writing, then.”

“Wow me,” says Sid, and he actually sounds like he could be wowed, which is a nice change from Isabella.

*

“I'm Scissors,” says Isabella that night. “Now play me that song again, your meter is a mess.”

*

Galavant can't say he's ever really had fun rehearsing. He has fun writing songs, and he has fun in concerts, and he has fun in jam sessions, but that's all very different from practice.

As it turns out, practice in his living room with his roommates is quite different from practice on the road or in a studio with Richard or Madalena breathing down his neck the whole time. Though in all fairness, Madalena was usually doing it in a sexy way.

“We can't possibly open with one of your songs,” Isabella tells him. “Not unless you write something uptempo very quickly. I don't care if you're famous.”

“I didn't even say we should,” Galavant points out, which brings her up short. He relishes the moment; Isabella is not easily quieted. “I just said that we should practice one of mine right now because it's a good warm-up and it's slow enough that we can figure out which parts won't collapse under the weight of three-part harmony.”

“Oh,” she says, all the wind out of her sails. “That makes sense. Plus we need to figure out who's counting us in, and how, and what to do with instruments, and—”

Sid clears his throat. “We could maybe just sing it through and then argue about who gets to count us in?”

“You're no fun,” says Galavant, but he starts the bass line, and the other two scramble to follow him, fitting together awkwardly while they get used to his chords (he's a little offended when Isabella falls naturally into the four-chord structure, but it's not as though he can really blame her for it).

They're all good at finding harmonies, and on the second chorus Galavant takes himself down to bass, nods at Sid to do the lead and lets Isabella pick up treble, nods when it clicks and keeps going through the second verse that way.

It's nowhere close to perfect, but the three of them are still grinning when they come to an awkward stop. “Okay, tell me about your chords in the second verse,” says Sid once the sound has died away. “They're a little different and I like the variation but I missed it. We need to workshop this a little.”

“And it's weird if you two both get to do melody in a piece and I don't—one person taking the lead is fine, and three is fine, but two of three feels weird to me,” says Isabella.

Galavant grins at her. “I see what it is, you just don't want to be outshone by me.”

Isabella makes her usual offended noises until Sid calms them down and gets them back on track, and the three of them pay attention to the song again, spending the evening working on it until they finally lean back after a run through, all in unison, and Isabella says “I think we've got it.”

“I think we do,” says Galavant, and laughs when Sid strums a triumphant chord.

*

They do their first gig at a coffee shop open mic nearly a month later, when they've got enough covers and pieces of their own work ready to fill an album or two.

Sid is the one to book them the gig—it's where he goes for his coffee most mornings on the way to work, apparently, and they won't get anything but exposure and free baked goods for the night, but it's a good training ground. They record a three-song demo on the recording equipment Galavant keeps stuffed in his closet, a song for each of them, and all of them do a very poor job of hiding how nervous they are in the lead-up to the open mic.

When they get there, though, Galavant discovers the only real flaw in the plan to ease themselves into being a band, which is that he's terribly famous.

“You're Rock Paper—oh my God,” says the girl at the counter when they go to check in with her, blinking at Galavant and making the sort of swoony face he associates with teenage fans and anyone he winks at.

“Please don't leave out Scissors, Isabella gets very put out,” he says, and puts on his most charming look. “Possibly keep my presence on the down low, if you don't mind? Just here in a band with my roommates.”

“Oh my God,” she repeats, very high pitched, and then nods. “Right, uh, Rock Paper Scissors, you guys are on fourth for two songs, right?”

“That's the plan,” says Isabella, who can't seem to decide if she's annoyed or amused. “We'll just go find ourselves a seat in a corner, shall we?”

The shop is pleasantly crowded for the show, and Galavant is pretty sure that he hears a few camera phones go off in the crowd while they're sitting there, waiting for the open mic to start, and even a few times during the first few acts, which is terribly impolite if you ask him. The real tumult doesn't start, though, until the girl who checked them in takes the stage and says, looking like a deer in headlights, “Everyone, please give a really warm welcome to Rock Paper Scissors.”

It takes the audience about halfway through their set-up, the three of them fiddling around with microphone heights and instruments, for them to really realize that Galavant is up there, at which point the high-pitched noises begin. Galavant opens his mouth to try and say something that will quiet them down when Isabella strums her guitar loudly and then says “Oi, if you keep yelling you aren't going to be able to hear it when he starts singing.”

By some miracle, it works, and Isabella gives Galavant a sharp nod, telling him to take over. “So this first one is a cover,” he says. “Since this is our first gig together and we're a little nervous—no, hold your applause, Isabella was right, it is very hard to play with that kind of noise. Sid, do you want to count us in?”

Sid does, while there's a brief lull, because as it turns out he's the only one of the three of them who can do it with any authority, and they start the song.

It isn't their best time through it, because first performances never are, but the audience is willing to be won over and they hit their harmonies, and that's all Galavant can ask for, when he's performing for the first time in far too long. He'd almost forgotten what a high having an audience is, and by the time they finish the song he's grinning. “Okay, okay, we're awesome, we get it,” he calls over the applause, keeping an eye on the amount of phones he sees held up in the air recording. It's a lot. “Yell for Izzy, she's the one who wrote this next one.”

“With help from Gal,” she admits, which is nice of her. “It's the opener on our demo, which you can buy for five dollars from us before the end of the night.” More screaming.

“I'll just count us in, shall I?” says Sid, and raises his voice. “We're Rock Paper Scissors, or Galavant and Isabella and Sid if you're feeling friendly. Tip your barista, isn't that something people say at these? Anyway, here's the song, which they won't agree on a title for. One, two, three, four.”

Galavant has to scramble to catch the beat, but once he does they click, like they do in rehearsals, all of them doing their best for Isabella's song.

All of them grin at each other when they finish, taking a bow in something vaguely resembling unison, and troop off the stage to find their table mobbed by people wanting to buy their demo. They sell out flatteringly fast and shoo people away to watch the rest of the acts. Some of them are probably better than Rock Paper Scissors, more practiced and together longer, but Galavant still feels good, like they're starting out where they should be.

“I'm kicking you out of the band,” Isabella tells Galavant on the walk home. “I can see it already, you're Diana Ross and I refuse to be a nameless Supreme.”

“You are supreme above all others,” he says with a roll of his eyes, and just grins when she hits him on the arm.

*

The media is ecstatic, playing clips from the show and the demo and rhapsodizing about his sabbatical to get in touch with his more folk and indie roots (which is rubbish, he hasn't got any of those, he was brought up on David Bowie and Queen).

Richard is less ecstatic.

“I am not ecstatic,” he tells Galavant in his office after another staring contest.

“It's a band with my roommates, not the end of the world.”

“The problem is that it's a good band. If it were a shitty band it would be better. The label is not happy. You're writing music and you aren't writing it for your solo album.”

“I finished up my three-album deal with the label, is the thing. I never signed anything new. They could drop me. You could drop me.” Which isn't ideal, but Rock Paper Scissors is going to need their own representation anyway. He probably shouldn't get them tangled up.

“You could open for Madalena on tour.”

“That sounds like the opposite of anything in the world that I might want to do.”

“Galavant. Help me help you.”

“I think you just heard someone say that in a movie once, you actually do not help me at all, you realize that, right? You are the world's worst agent. You stole my girlfriend.”

“And you are forgoing any opportunity to take her back from me, which is poor form on your part, really.” Richard sighs at him. “You're so difficult. I really should have pawned you off on Gareth.”

“Tell the label to drop me, Richard. It's better for everyone in the long run.”

Richard stands up and holds his hand out, apparently expecting a shake even though he's got the world's weirdest handshake, like he's only seen it done by aliens who were told only the basics of what a handshake is. Galavant stands up and shakes his hand anyway. “It's been awful working with you, Galavant. I will wish that your band crashes and burns with every breath I draw,” says Richard, quite cordially considering.

“And I will hope that you and Madalena make each other miserable for the foreseeable future.”

“Do send me an album when you get them, for old time's sake,” says Richard, and waves him out the door.

Galavant is never going to admit that he's the tiniest bit fond of Richard, but he will admit that he knows how to say goodbye with class.

*

He doesn't know why he's surprised, when it happens. It's what he thought was going on in the first place, after all, and it only makes sense. They get along, always seem to be attached at the hip, spend a lot less time haranguing each other than either of them spends haranguing Galavant, and they're both attractive adults. It makes sense.

Galavant still isn't ready to run across them kissing in the upstairs hallway.

“Oh my God,” says Sid when Galavant trips over a maraca in the hallway and makes a terrific amount of noise attempting to escape before they see him.

“I'm just going to make myself scarce. Maybe go out for coffee, or something. You two ...” He waves a hand. “As you were.”

Both of them try to say something, but Galavant escapes, in another crash of maracas, and gets downstairs and out the door before they can get themselves moving, which is probably a good thing, because other than a stiff congratulations, he has no idea whatsoever to say to them about their new romantic relationship. Or he assumes it's new, anyway. Sid's hands were fluttering in the air like he wasn't sure if he was allowed to touch Isabella, and anyway, people, in his experience, are generally quite obvious when they're trying to keep relationships secret.

He ends up at the coffee shop where they did the open mic and hides himself at a corner table after ordering a coffee and thinks very seriously about asking if they have anything behind the counter to Irish it up.

Galavant can't say that he's exactly surprised when Sid shows up ten minutes later, looking sheepish and flushed. He's glad it's Sid. Sid is nice and soothing, Isabella would probably yell at him for ruining the moment or something.

“As the homeowner,” says Galavant when Sid sits down, “I feel like I should add a no-canoodling-in-hallways clause to your rental agreements. You have rental agreements, right?”

“I wrote them. And that can happen. We'd … this is really, really new, Galavant. We just hadn't found a way to tell you yet, that's all.”

“Your private business isn't my business unless it's likely to have any impact on the band,” he says piously, even if he wants to badger every single detail out of Sid.

“It sort of is, though. You're our roommate, and our friend.” Sid stares down at the table. Galavant at least has the cold comfort that both of them find this conversation equally awkward. “I just like her. And she likes me. And I didn't know if you were really over Madalena so I didn't talk to you about liking her, or anything.”

“I'm very over Madalena. And I'm very happy for the two of you.” And he thinks he even is, under the mire of confusion and mild resentment over not being told and suddenly being the spare person living with a couple in his own home. “You think it's serious?”

“Very much so,” says Sid. “Do you want to come home now? Only we were all supposed to practice this afternoon, Isabella has that new song and wanted you to help with it.”

“You leave five minutes before me and get all your new-couple loving gazes out of the way, and then I will come home and practice. It will be like we're spies.”

“You would be a very bad spy,” says Sid, already standing up. “I know you have delusions of Bondeur, but it's just not going to happen.”

Galavant laughs and toasts Sid with his coffee mug. “I might already be a spy, you don't know my life. Now go home, I'll be right there.”

Sid smiles at him, one of his same old warm smiles, and Galavant allows himself a moment to pretend that absolutely nothing is going to change because of this.

*

Thing is—and it's not like he resents it, Galavant is the very soul of hospitality and tolerance and not being a dick—Isabella and Sid cuddle sort of a lot.

It isn't the disgusting sort of coupley cuddling that Galavant knows well and did with Madalena. He isn't having to plug his ears to stop the kissing noises. They're just welded at the hip, Sid's head in Isabella's lap or Isabella asleep against Sid's shoulder while they watch a movie, and it's all very comfortable and terribly sweet.

And Galavant is jealous. Or perhaps envious, he never quite figured out the difference between the two. But he wants to be cuddled. It isn't the general sort of loneliness he had for at least six months before Isabella moved in, when Sid was living there but didn't quite dare to do anything but tiptoe around Galavant's misery, but a very specific kind directed right at Sid and Isabella, and how it's now two and one instead of three.

They still practice, of course, and Sid and Isabella both line them up a few gigs while Galavant makes a list of agents and labels to call who will take on all three of them, and they jam, and Sid still clucks over Galavant's terrible cooking and Isabella still scolds him for leaving his wet towels on the floor. If they weren't dating each other now, in fact, he would be quite happy, the three of them muddling along in some kind of harmony. He just feels left behind, he supposes, and all the worse for not being able to talk to either of them about it.

So Galavant really can't be blamed for making what he acknowledges even as he's dialing the phone is a bad decision.

Madalena, after he's convinced her that he is not calling to a. have phone sex, b. tell her he'll go on tour with her, or c. drunkenly ask her to take him back, laughs at him for three minutes solid when he tells her the problem.

“This is adorable,” she finally says when he's starting to think about hanging up on her. “I'm never going to fuck you again, it would be like fucking a precious polyamorous teddy bear, and I really can't do it.”

“You weren't going to be able to fuck me again anyway, because you are married to someone else and also terrible,” he says, sulking, and then thinks over what she just said. “Wait, polyamorous?”

That starts her laughing again. “You've got a crush on both of them and they're dating each other, I think it's really obvious that you want to be in a menage a trois.”

“That's ...” Probably not untrue. Huh. “Huh.” It does seem to neatly solve a lot of problems about band dynamics and who gets to cuddle whom. “That is not the worst idea you've ever had in your life.”

“No, that was dating you, I should have known you and Sid would end up shacked up and in love and in some kind of ridiculous indie band where you'll eventually start wearing clothes with mustaches printed on them. What's-her-name is a surprise, though.”

“Nobody's wearing anything with mustaches printed on it, for the record. Ever. I will personally burn the item of clothing.”

“It's a relief to know you have standards. Anyway, just tell them that you want to have a threesome only with cuddling, they'll figure it out from there.”

Galavant doesn't know what it says about him that his ex-girlfriend thinks that his roommates, who she probably hates as much as they hate her, are more competent to arrange a threesome than he is, much less that she's probably right. “You are terrible.”

“Also the only friend you've got, sweetcheeks. So, I know I can't talk you into a tour right now when you're in a delicate situation with your incipient threesome, but maybe a nice Christmas duet for some charity event come December? I look fabulous in Santa hats.”

Galavant sighs. “I'll think about it,” he says, and they both know it's complete capitulation, but he's somehow managing not to hate her right now, so he doesn't mind so much.

*

Trouble is, there's really no good way to bring it up. Sid and Isabella are happy, and he cares enough about that to worry about ruining it. Besides, it's really hard to come up with threesome-related pick-up lines.

In the end, Isabella is the one to get him to say something, two weeks later during rehearsal when he's just presented them with another new song. They've been coming pretty easily, since his conversation with Madalena, or really since Sid and Isabella started dating.

“You've been writing a lot in waltz time lately,” says Isabella as she starts working her way through the chords, squinting at his lyrics the way she always does, like she doesn't trust his skills even though he wrote three albums nearly on his own without her. “Going through a phase? We're going to have to do an album in three at this rate.”

“It's, ah … three is good, you know? It's a good time signature.” Galavant winces.

“Right.” Isabella transfers her squint to him. Sid is looking adorably nonplussed, and Galavant probably should have realized that he has feelings for Sid much sooner given how often the word “adorable” appears in his mental monologue as regards him. “That makes … no, you're being weird. Sid, tell me he's being weird.”

“He's being weird,” Sid confirms. “It's a familiar kind of—oh my God!”

“Um,” says Galavant, because he's meant to be suave and proactive about this, but they are going to Sherlock Holmes their way to this threesome and never let him forget it.

“This is pining weirdness! This is like pre-Madalena pining, even, not post-Madalena. Tell me who it is. Oh God, it's the girl at the coffee shop. Or Chef.”

“Chef is obviously dating the other one. Not Steve. Gwennie, that's it! They look sort of related, but I'm just trusting them on the matter, they're adults.”

Isabella looks at him, and he really hopes that the expression on her face is disappointment. It will make all of this so much easier. “Are you pining for someone, Galavant? Pining makes for good songs.”

“Are you saying my songs are good?” She just looks at him, unimpressed, and he sort of adores her helplessly too. They're going to be able to convince him to do all manner of things, Galavant is very sure. “Not someone, precisely. Someones.” He considers continuing on with the plural noise for a second to really get his point across, but judging by the looks on their faces they have the right general idea.

“Rock stars,” says Isabella after a while, with an impressive amount of exasperation considering she's still gaping. “Can't just be sparkly girlfriends with terrible taste in studio accompanists, no, there have to be threesomes involved.”

“Maybe shush?” says Sid to Isabella, which is possibly the most assertive Galavant has ever heard Sid. “Because I'm pretty sure he doesn't mean whoever you think he means. Like, this is Galavant. He's not talking about seducing supermodels.”

“I think I'm offended,” Galavant says to no one.

Isabella makes a face of sudden realization. “Wait, us?”

Galavant offers them his most charming smile. “I am really good at sex and I would not be accidentally reverse Yoko Ono-ing the band.”

“I don't even know what a reverse Yoko Ono is, but yes,” says Sid, and then blinks and looks at Isabella. “If you also say yes? This is not me breaking up with you, this is—”

“I thought you two were boyfriends for kind of a while despite his sad mooning, this is not a problem.” Isabella looks up at Galavant with a little smile at the corner of her mouth, one he recognizes from rehearsals when something goes exactly, perfectly right. “We could all date. The three of us. It honestly wouldn't change that much and you wouldn't keep trying to give us space and running off right before one of us has some kind of inspiration and we miss our bassist.”

“So you want me for my bass?”

“Also for kissing.” Sid looks at Isabella again. “Right?”

“We'll have to see.” And with that, she loops her arms around Galavant's neck and pulls him down to kiss him. Sid squeaks, and Galavant is a bit afraid that he does as well, but Isabella doesn't seem to mind, giving him a firm, warm kiss before she pulls away. “Also for kissing,” she says, with the air of a pronouncement.

It's Sid's turn then, to pull Galavant down for a kiss, and it's strange for a second, thinking about kissing Sid of all people, in reality and not just the abstract, but his mouth is soft and their lips keep coming apart because they both keep smiling. “Definitely for kissing,” says Galavant when they pull apart. “And jamming with, and perhaps becoming famous again with, and cuddling on the couch with because it's really not fair you've been doing that without me.”

“We'll start with the cuddling,” says Sid with great authority, grabbing each of them by a hand and towing them over to the couch even though they're meant to be rehearsing. Galavant gives it eight minutes of cuddling before Isabella tells them to quit it and get their instruments back out.

In the meantime, though, Galavant finds himself in the entirely pleasant position of being in the middle of the cuddling, for once, with Isabella's head on his shoulder and Sid curled into his other side nuzzled into his neck.

“Does this mean you'll quit it with the waltzes?” Isabella finally asks, when they're all settled, and all three of them laugh.

*

“—and there's a debut album coming up from new indie sensation Rock Paper Scissors, headed up by your ex-boyfriend, Madalena. Any comment on that?”

Galavant, on the couch with Sid's head in his lap and Isabella perched on an armchair with her guitar, turns the volume up on Madalena's dazzling smile. “Very glad Gal's finally over me, though I do hear there's a song on there about me, so I'll look forward to seeing it. They're a great band, though, still trying to talk them into touring with me.”

“She's going to be really upset when she realizes the song about her is actually the one about eldritch horrors from the deep that all the Lovecraft nerds are weeping over,” says Galavant.

“And you, Richard?” asks the interviewer. “You were Galavant's representation for the whole first part of his career, you must have some opinions on the sudden and unexpected direction he's gone in.”

“Well, I take credit for a lot of his success, really, and don't pass it around too much, but I'm the reason he found at least part of his band. And I certainly encouraged his songwriting talents.”

“They are just the worst,” says Galavant, to Sid's laughter, because Sid thinks this rivalry is hilarious now that they've got their feet under them as a band. “The actual worst. How are they at the Grammys while I am watching from the couch?”

“Well, we'll keep an eye out for Togetherness from Rock Paper Scissors in two weeks, and hopefully a tour later in the year. Thank you for your time, Madalena and Richard!”

“If you two are quite finished,” says Isabella pointedly, waiting until Galavant turns the volume down again, “I need some help figuring these chords out, if we're doing this cover for the festival stage we need to have it down.”

“Yes, fine, fine, your wish is my command,” says Galavant, while Sid groans and sits up.

“Besides,” she says. “The Grammys are for next year.”

And there's really no reason to argue with that.