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“Are you sure about this guy, Noodle? I’ve never heard’a ‘im… sounds kin’a sketchy.”

“2-D, I am positive. He has got not only the Murdoc seal of approval, but the Noodle seal of approval as well!”
Noodle said as she whirled around, facing Stuart, now walking backwards down the hallway of the studio, a wide grin gracing her face, one that was meant to be reassuring… or at least to her it was. 2-D couldn’t help but just frown at her, narrowing his blackened orbs away from her.

“It’s nice that you f’hink he’s okay but like, most things that Mudz approves of ain’t really, wha’s the word for it?” He paused in his moment of thought as he scratched at the back of his head. “I can’t think of a better word right now but bad. Let’s jus’ go with bad. He usually has really, really bad ideals.”

This time it was Noodle’s turn to frown, rolling her eyes a little bit at 2-D’s completely irrational fears.

“Immoral, corrupt, depraved, indecent, nefarious - come on, this is not even my first language and I thought of more than one word to describe what you mean.”
She gives a small huff, a loose lock of bangs flying from her eyes.
“And I have already told you that he is an just ex-gangster who is willing to be Murdoc’s replacement until he gets out of jail. Not to mention, he is a lot less extreme than Murdoc so I think you will have an easier time getting along with him, anyway.”

The guitarist attempted to reassure once more, only receiving an exasperated sigh from him. She shook her head and whipped back around as they reached the door to the studio, opening it and letting herself inside.

Stuart was fully aware that Murdoc wouldn’t be getting out of prison any time soon, thank God. It saved him a lot of uncalled for beatings and improved his life for the time being (even though something in the back of his mind nagged at him, telling him that what the bassist was incarcerated for was a baseless accusation). While he didn’t miss him a whole lot, he didn’t feel right just replacing him for who knows how long. One would think that Murdoc would be infuriated by the mere thought… but no. From what Noodle said, Mudz recommended this guy specifically.

A real shocker, he had to admit. Murdoc had a lot of pride so now knowing he’d so easily step down was the very last thing he expected, right under an actual suicide pact to completely end the bands entire existence. No, he was absolutely not exaggerating right now, by the way. He would not in the slightest be surprised if Murdoc tried to get everyone to kill themselves just to avoid letting himself be even temporarily replaced.

2-D walked into the room after Noodle, eyes cast to the ground, almost afraid to look up at the stranger who’d been waiting for them there, just chatting with Russel from what he could hear when he walked in. He pulled his arms up above his head, resting them there while he pushed the door shut behind him with his foot.

“Hey, why the long face there?”
A cool, almost rough toned, American accented voice he absolutely did not recognize in the slightest hit his ears and then a hand with a skin color eerily similar to Murdoc’s was held out to him. His brow furrowed a little bit and he looked up at the owner of both traits. He blinked a couple of times before one of his eyes squinted to better examine the man’s features.

No wonder Mudz chose this dude… he looked damn near just like him. Probably wanted to confuse the fans.

“Not a shaker? Then maybe you’re the type of guy who greets with hugs, huh?”

That warning did not come soon enough as Stuart had actually no time to react before a pair of leather jacket clad arms snaked around his torso and pulled him into a hug. One that absolutely felt mocking to him.

“They are getting along already!”
Noodle cheered out, fists thrusting into the air in triumph while Russel just leaned back in his seat, letting a snide grin find its way across his face, knowing just how uncomfortable 2-D had to have been at that moment.

“You ain’t wrong, Ace. He does like his hugs.”
Russel chuckled out as Stuart huffed in the way a child would if they were getting teased by an older sibling and attempted to free himself.

“Good info to have.”
The man known as Ace let a cocky smirk find its way to his features and released 2-D from his hold.

“Can I stop being trea’ed like a child for five minutes?”
Stuart pouted, straightening out his clothes.
“I’m sorry for not shakin’ your hand already, that was rude of me. Jus’... got dis’racted is all.”

2-D held out his hand and Ace took it with a low chuckle escaping his throat.

“I get that a lot, don’t worry.”

Stuart opened his mouth to retaliate but closed it, again. He wasn’t entirely sure what this guys temperaments were and he didn’t want to end up stepping over any boundaries right now. He looked like Mudz but the real question was if he acted like him. They’d have to find out over time, he supposed. He pulled his hand away without another word to Ace. He didn’t seemed interested in speaking to him in the slightest- or, well… he did want to see if he could learn a little bit about the guy. But one definitely had to understand why he was so stand-offish right now, right?

“He got the music scores, right Noodle?”

“You don’t gotta talk like I’m not here. And yeah, I did.” Ace rejoined the group once more, giving a slightly smug OK gesture with his hand. “Pretty sure I’ve got ‘em down perfect.”

2-D wanted so badly to be smug right back at him, but again, fear was preventing him from doing… pretty much anything, really. Instead he just gave an awkward, toothless smile to him.

“Yeah? Well le’s do a quick rehearsal of uhh… le’s see… Sorcererz while we wait for the producers to get here.”
He stated while the others just silently agreed and headed into the booth where their instruments were located safe and sound. He picked Sorcererz in particular because it was one of the ones for this track he wanted to sound a very specific way as far as the vocals went. And he had to admit, he was still a bit unsure of how well it would go for himself.

Stuart headed into the booth behind the others and shut the door behind him while he shuffled through the music sheets. It must’ve been obvious he was nervous because it wasn’t long before their guest spoke up while strumming at his bass to make sure it were properly tuned.

“Hey, don’t be so tense, man. Just relax… the songs on this album of yours will go down in history. When’ve you all ever failed to please a crowd, anyway?”
Ace dipped his head down enough to reveal his eyes, a very clear glint of confidence flashing throughout them.
“I’m no perma’ replacement for Murdoc, but ya know… I still don’t wanna disappoint.”

2-D blinked a couple times as he stared over at Ace. That was some weird encouragement all of a sudden… he wasn’t quite used to that sort of treatment.

But honestly? That was the first thing said to him all day that actually helped him relax at least a little bit. A crooked smile found its way over his face as he stepped over to his Casio and microphone, silently thanking Ace for the reassuring words. He seemed to get the message as he turned his attention back down to his bass.

“Alrigh’ then… should have a good 20 minutes or so to warm up before the producers get here.”
Stu tapped a one of the buttons on his keyboard to set up the beat for everyone, tapping the side to signal the rest of the band in. First few seconds? He wasn’t mad at it. It was a little sloppy, but that’s to be expected for a warm up… but everything seemed to just fit together like a puzzle that had been missing pieces for far too long.

So maybe this wouldn’t be so horrible after all.

Chapter Text

The first week of recording The Now Now album went by extremely smoothly even with the variable of a completely new bassist. While Ace’s skills weren’t equal to Murdoc’s, he actually had no issues with it. In fact, he kind of liked it more. It fit so well with the style of the new album that even if they messed up he was incredibly happy to start all over again if only to be able to listen to it all melting together once more. 2-D was always happy to play music and sing for the band, but this was the first time in 2 decades he didn’t have to be afraid of messing up. For once, everything just felt calm, cool, and all around supportive.

This was how making music was meant to be made. There were still pressures to get the album 100% complete of course, but not the same as it usually was. They seemed to be making more progress since nobody was getting yelled at or bickering.

They were close to finishing the last half of the album, so for now they’d been given the liberty of a break to just chill out for a little bit and let their bodies relax so no strain came on them. If a certain someone were still here, he’d insist they push through the pain and just keep going, get it all done as fast as possible. How many times in one week was he going to thank God for that aforementioned someone not being here? If he weren’t careful, he was going to make it seem like he absolutely loathed him.

Well, he did a little bit, but that’s besides the point.

2-D shook his head out of his train of thought as he adjusted his headphones over his ears a little bit as he stepped outside into the bright L.A. sunlight just outside the back door of the studio. He shielded his eyes a little bit as he walked out onto the pavement, stopping once a familiar individual caught his attention from the corner of his eye. It was just Ace… but it was a little weird since he hadn’t even seen him come out this way. He was leaned against the wall behind him, taking a long drag from a freshly lit cigarette. He had noticed Stuart as soon as he’d opened the door, just hadn’t said anything yet.

Pulling the cancer stick from his lips and exhaling a long stream of smoke, he lifted his hand to give Stu a short wave, that smug grin the singer had become accustomed to over the week on his face.

“S’almost like you’re followin’ me, Stuart. If you wanted to hang out, you coulda just asked.”
Ace chuckled while gesturing for him to come over to him before pulling his carton of cigarettes out of his pocket. Well… 2-D had just been thinking about talking a walk and a smoke with some tunes in his ears, but this was fine too. With little hesitation behind his stride, he joined the ex-gangster, leaning up against the wall beside him and slid his Beats down around his neck.

“Wasn’t followin’ ya.”
Pitch black eyes rolled, though it was difficult for anybody looking to see it.
“Jus’ didn’ know you went out this way, ‘s’all.”

He mumbled out, trying not to sound like a pouty child to Ace while he watched him place the new cigarette in his mouth and proceed to light it with the already lit one he’d been puffing on before. This just made Stuart give out a small laugh, brow furrowing a little bit in confusion.

“If you needed a ligh’, I have one in me pocket.”

“Nah.” Ace started as he exhaled, handing him the now lit stick. “No point in wastin’ fuel when this is easier, right?”

He winked from behind his sunglasses as his fingers brushed over 2-D’s in the exchange. He swore he could feel his face heat up a little bit just from that… nah, it was probably just the heat. He wasn’t used to these types of temperatures. He didn’t say a word, just took a long inhale on the cigarette, letting the smoke coat his lungs generously before exhaling. While he himself was just staring up at the cloudless blue sky, he could still feel Ace’s eyes on him. Frowning a little bit, he finally turning his gaze to him.

“Wha’?”
2-D immediately questioned, feeling a little uncomfortable under his gaze at the moment. Was he meant to be talking or doing something? He was used to having eyes on him, sure, but being stared at like that by a singular person… it just felt weird.
“... Did I say somethin’ weird? Is there somethin’ on my face?”

Ace couldn’t help but bark out a laugh as Stuart immediately went to touch at his face and brush away any invisible dirt seemed to be hiding on it. Or, at least he thought to be on it. The bassist shook his head, giving a small amused sigh.

“Nothin’ like that. Just thinkin’ about interviews you and Murdoc’ve been in together and all that crap on how you met.” He fiddled with the cigarette in his long, boney fingers. “Tall and pretty, just like he said. An image. Too bad you had’da go through some tough shit in the process. Wouldn’t’ve minded seein’ your natural eyes.”

2-D squinted at him, clearly confused by his wording but shrugged it off and just placed his cigarette between his lips. It wasn’t worth getting heated over or really even thinking too much about.
“Can’t really help gettin’ hit direc’ly in the face by a car, y’know. Or plumme’ing through a windshield because the court was dumb enough to make me stay in his care while I was in a bloody coma,” he paused to take a drag, “but some days are better than others, some days I can’t even see but ya know, s’been improvin’ since Mudz went to jail. Can’t get hit in the head as much.”

“Oooh, so is that why on some album covers and videos your eyes are white?”

“Probably… then again, those days I’m usually in a better mood, too. You know like uhh… happier, more confident. Nice feelings.”
He spoke idly and tapped at his pocket with his phone a little bit, trying to remember what setting he put it on. Wait, no, that wasn’t important right now. Don’t get distracted in the middle of a conversation.
“I don’t remember a lot of my good days, unfortunately. Or at leas’ I don’t f’hink I do. Me memories really buggy anymore. S’probably not a good thing, but there’s no fixin’ it now.”

2-D gave a short laugh, trying to keep the conversation away from the deep end and proceeded to take another long drag from the cancer stick before dropping the butt onto the ground and snuffed it out with his heel. He exhaled once more, a thick cloud of toxic, nicotine laced smoke leaking past his lips to pollute the air around them. Anything to take the edge off, right?

“I’ma just… guess it’s been all the beatings, huh? Don’t worry, I know how ya feel. Or at least to an extent.”
Ace licked his lips, tapping the ashes off the end of his nearly depleted cigarette.
“Being a gangster in a small, goody-two-shoes town with little demons that probably could have murdered me if they really wanted to waaasn’t really my brightest idea when I was younger. But it was fun for a while.”

“How long ago was that, if you don’t mind me askin’?” Stu figured he’d carry the conversation for a little bit longer, watching Ace roll his head back a little bit in thought.

“Aaahh… I was 17 when I was still being really stupid sooo… exactly 20 years ago. I met Murdoc sometime around there… you guys played in the city I lived in at one point, too. Might’ve been busy bustin’ back outta jail, so I couldn’t come see the show. Sucks. Probably coulda met me waaay before all this.”
Ace paused, letting that smug grin return.
“Then again, I wasn’t as gorgeous back then as I am now.”

He chuckled, watching confusing break out over 2-D’s face once more, inhaling the last of what he could from his cigarette before flicking it off into a nearby pothole full of water in the parking lot.

“Don’t get so worked up. It’s just a joke. No need to worry your pretty little blue head.”
Ace stuffed a hand in his jacket pocket while the other reach out, the knuckle of his index finger bumping the singers chin up before letting his hand guide itself up to the blue locks atop Stuarts head, ruffling his already disheveled hair. 2-D stammered out in protest, reaching up to swat his hands away.

“I’m s’ill older than you! You don’t gotta go about trea’in me like a child, you know?”

“Ha. Could’ve fooled me. You don’t look a day over 20, especially for someone who probably smokes and drinks just as much as I do.”

Sharp-nailed fingers carefully pinched at Stuarts cheek, teasing him even further, only to receive more protests from him. Neither of them noticed the door opening or anyone step out into the parking lot until the back of 2-D’s shirt was snagged and he was roughly pulled back, earning a sharp ‘bleh!’ noise from him.

“Hey there, Russel my man.”

Ace greeted and just watched the larger man shove his hand into 2-D’s pocket, yanking out his phone. Russel just gave a nod to the bassist as he went through the device, frowning a little bit.

“Wassa’ matter, Russ? If you needed me, you coul’a jus’ called me ins’eada assaultin’ me….”

“If you’re gonna take your phone with you, turn on the damn sound. We called you to come back 8 times, D,” Russel shook his head and shoved the phone into Stuarts palm, “don’t make us waste time like that again, man.”

“Sorry, I meant to, but I go’ distrac’ed an’... why didn’ ya jus’ call Ace?”

“Ahem. Still here. I left my phone in the room and didn’t feel like goin’ back to get it. I’m sure they saw it there.”

“... Oh.”
Well now he felt even more dumb.
“Righ’. Sorry then.”

“Instead of apologizin’, just don’t do it, again. Hear me, D?”
Russel gave a tired sigh and started to head back in.
“By the way, once we’re done with the recordings for today, we’re gonna be figurin’ out ideas for the Humility video. Start brainstormin’.”

“Ah… crap, I hadn’t even star’ed f’hinkin’ abou’ that….”

Stuart visibly cringed, his mind already coming up with nothing but blanks. He wasn’t really the brains behind the videos… that was almost always Murdoc or Noodle. Why was it all being left up to him? It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see 2-D’s distress over something so simple as a music video idea. Ace hummed quietly and then approached him, hand plopping onto his shoulder as he leaned forward a little bit.

“Don’t worry, I’ll help you out. In fact… I’ve got just the guy I can make a call to.”

“What? Wait, wha’s the catch?”

“Nothin’ at all. No catch, no costs. All you gotta do is trust me. Walk with me, talk with me. I’ll let you in on the deets.”

Chapter Text

His mind had been buzzing ever since Ace gave him the details of his plan for the video. It really did give him all the inspiration he needed to start thinking of a game plan for it. When they dropped the plan on Noodle and Russel, they seemed so impressed with the idea, it actually made him feel so excited to shoot just from the looks on their faces. His mood was at an all time high for once. But it had only been half a week since they discussed their vision for Humility. It’s been the only thing in Stuart’s head ever since. His mind keeps racing with new ideas that can only improve it but still keep it simple.

The idea they had in for it all just felt so refreshing to him that he was too almost excited to sleep even though there was still a couple days before the shoot would commence. Regardless of his excitement that carried throughout the night, he woke up feeling all too rejuvinated. That was a rare occurrence for him. He realizes he’s been saying this so much lately (in fact, there’s too much he keeps repeating to himself over and over, again), but it feels so great to not have Murdoc around after being terrorized for so long!

The sound of his alarm clock going off fully roused him awake, making him sit up, tossing the duvet off the top of his body and stretching broadly. The sound that clicked from his back as he raised his arms high above his head was evidence enough to him of how relaxed he’d been throughout his rest. He reached out to shut off the alarm and pushed the rest of the blanket off of his body. They didn’t need to head into the studio that day, the producers only needing them to come in if called for minor fixes at this point. It was all up to them at this point to buff it out and help them make The Now Now perfect for their fans. But, Stu always made sure to get up early anyway to keep at least a relatively proper sleep schedule… okay that was a lie, but he did it when he felt like it and right now he felt like it.

Long legs swung over the edge of the bed, allowing his feet to pad against the cool, hardwood floor before he willed himself to stand up, stumbling a little bit in the process before he shuffled toward the bathroom, avoiding any trash or rubbish on the way, rubbing idly at the back of his neck. He licked his dry lips while he snatched the cup he kept his (very neglected) toothbrush in, dumping the hygiene device onto the counter as he filled the cup up with cool water to chug it down. As he set down the glass once more, he finally looked into the mirror and-

“Oh.”

That was the only thing he could get out as he gazed at his pure white eyeballs. So this was going to be a good day then? One could only hope. He leaned over the sink a little bit to get a closer look at his eyes to make sure he just weren’t going crazy, pulling down his bottom lashline to make sure he didn’t spot any notable damages.

Oh, he’d been waiting for way too long for one of these days. A wide smile found its way over his face, tongue poking out a little bit from the spot where his teeth were missing. He definitely needed to take advantage of this. Clear eyes, clear vision, a good day ahead of him guaranteed.

Who knows, maybe this would be one of those lasting th--

Twooooooooo-Deeeeee, are you awake yet?!

The loud banging at his door and high voice yelling for him caused him to jump, nearly knocking the glass off of the sink. He slapped his hand to his bare chest when he made absolutely sure nothing was going to fall off and gave a short sigh before wandering out of the bathroom to open the door just a crack to show Noodle he was, indeed, awake.

“Ooh good, you are awake!”

“Had you done tha’ while I was asleep I probably woul’ be dead on the floor right now, you know that, right?”
2-D frowned at her, keeping the door only open enough to allow communication between the two.
“I coul’a fallen outta bed, hit me head righ’ on the nightstand, bled to deaf right there on the hardwood then we’d neva get the deposit on this place back.”

Noodle was quiet for a minute or two before she just slowly lifted her arms in a lazy shrug. Yeah, he wasn’t going to get through to her on why she shouldn’t do that. He let out a long sigh and just leaned against the doorframe while they spoke.

“S’our day off, y’know. You don’ have ta be up yet. I figured you, Russ, and Ace would be dead asleep s’ill.”

“Well, we got permission to have a video chat with Murdoc last night after you went to sleep, since I am sure he wants updates on how the album is progressing and everything. And he will probably wanna know about who Ace managed to get for us to cameo in the Humility video,” she gave a happy smile, “I am still wondering how he managed to pull that off. I think he is going freak out, I can not wait to see his face! What do you think he will say? Maybe he will try to break out and-”

2-D was only half listening at this point. In fact, he stopped really paying attention as soon as Murdoc was mentioned. He wanted this to be a nice, fun day but he knew as soon as they spoke to Mudz his mood would absolutely be spoiled. But there was going to be absolutely no saying… well, no to Noodle now that she knew he was up. There was no faking a hangover or even illness either. She could see right through any of his lies.

He finally spoke up again, cutting her off mid sentence.

“Jus’ lemme take a shower and find some fresh clothes ‘nd I’ll be out in a few.”

Stuart grumbled, shutting his door and backing off from it, back into his bathroom to pull his briefs off and toss them into an overflowing hamper. Behind the door, Noodle was slightly confused by the singers sudden attitude shift, but she knew talking to Murdoc usually left him in a not so great place. If only she had thought of a ‘no criticisms’ rule while discussing the terms of being able to talk to the inmate in question.

Nevertheless, Noodle stepped back and away from the door, heading for the other rooms to wake her bandmates. Next up was Russel! He was always harder to get up than 2-D so she made him her halfway point right now, especially considering she was still trying to figure out Ace’s sleep patterns. They seemed so random to her. Some nights the guy wouldn’t sleep all night and still have energy to spare, others he’d sleep all through out the night but still not want to get up, sometimes he’d even just nod off in the car to the studio for really no apparent reason.

Noodle herself wouldn’t have gotten up unless she had something to do for the day and she only ever woke others up to do stuff with her if it were a day off and she had plans. That was part of how she ended up hanging out with Ace and that picture got snapped. Murdoc told her to go find him, so she did after being given an address to meet him at. Honestly? From the first greeting she knew he would be a perfect fit for what they needed. A guy who looks slimy and untrustworthy on the outside but has a super calm, chill, and - dare she say it - sweet interior fit the bands image all to well.

She decided from that day, even if he bass playing skills were subpar, she wanted his face to be on the album with them. Hell, she hadn’t even heard him play before yesterday and what a relief to know he wasn’t absolute garbage!

But that was beside the point right now. Right now, she needed to be putting all her energy and effort into waking these two up. With that thought in mind, she reached out and cracked the door to Russel’s room open, peeking inside, the only light just barely illuminating the room happening to be from a blinded window that hung over the drummers bed. She frowned a little bit as she noted he was still fast asleep.

Well, this was going to take forever.

2-D stepped out of the shower after about ten minutes despite wanting to stay in for the rest of the day just to avoid having to talk to a certain jailbird. But he knew nobody would let him do that. He could just envision Noodle kicking down his door and pulling his naked ass out of the shower and making him get dressed even though he was still sopping wet. He gave a shiver at the thought and grabbed a towel from the floor to start drying himself off, making a mental note that he was really going to need to clean sometime soon.

Ruffling the towel through his hair to get it as dry as possible, he tossed the now wet cloth back onto the floor and headed out of the bathroom to dress himself. He plucked out a simple pink t-shirt and skinny jeans to put on after he pulled on a pair of briefs before picking out an older pair of blue converses to put the ensemble completely together. He wasn’t sure what it was but lately he was really enjoying just pink and blue together more than he usually would… maybe when they were making the album art, he could convince everyone to use those colors.

Heading for the door, he pushed his fingers through his damp hair while opening it, letting his lay back on the top of his head in a messily slicked back fashion. He could hear Noodle struggling to get Russel up down the hallway, a small smile finding its way over his face in amusement. It was gonna take a while, even he knew that. The temptation of escaping the apartment while she was distracted flickered through his mind for a small moment, but nah… he didn’t need anyone upset with him right now. Not to mention, Noodle would absolutely just hunt him down, tie him up, and drag him back against his will and sit him right in front of the webcam still tied up.

Didn’t need that kind of embarrassment resting on his head.

Instead, 2-D made his way to the room Ace was staying in, knocking a couple of times on the door before just opening it and letting himself inside.

“Oy, Ace. Noodle wan’s us--”
He started as he was opening the door, only to bump into the man in question, causing him to stumble back in surprise with a high yelp tearing through his throat.
“Oh- shit, I’m sorry, I didn’ know you was already up, I-”

“Relaaax, Stuart. It’s no big deal.”
He spoke with his usually cool toned voice, eternally bloodshot eyes accompanying his crooked smile all too well.
“How could anyone sleep with Noodle yelling out the way she did when she woke you up? I wasn’t gonna be the next victim of her class-shattering wails.”

Ace chuckled out while 2-D just took a few steps back, awkwardly rubbing at his neck. The was a moment of silence while the ex-gangster made it all too clear he was examining the others face.

“Okay, I know I have no’fin’ on my face this time. Wha’ is it?”
Stuart spoke up almost too defensively - why was he even getting defensive - white eyes connecting with Ace’s. His smile just grew a little bit as he reached up to tap the back of his knuckle against 2-D’s forehead.

“Man, I have no idea what goes on through that head of yours that makes you so tense. I was just thinkin’ about how cute you look with your hair like that. It suits you. Y’almost look like a new man.”
He mused before pulling his sunglasses out of his pocket to put them on and slid past the singer.
“Goes pretty good with your eyes right now, too. Then again, you have always been a pretty one. I’m kinda curious to know what else you could pull off.”

This time, 2-D could not stop his face from heating up from the compliment. Serious, why did this guy have to be so nice to him in such a teasing way? It was so weird compared to how he’s usually treated. Just something so alien to him about the way Ace speaks to him. Shaking himself off, he turns to follow Ace into the kitchen where he watches him search the cupboards for food. He leaned against the doorframe, crossing his arms, listening to the sound of Noodle still trying to get Russel up.

Okay, so they had a lot more time than he anticipated.

In his moment of distraction, he almost didn’t notice the bright silver package being thrown toward him. He scrambled to catch it to avoid letting it crash onto the ground for fear of shattering something possibly important. Once he had it secure in his hands, his face scrunched up a little bit and he looked up at Ace who was busy pulling a bottle of Kahlua from the fridge. He noticed the confused look from the other and just chuckled.

“What’s wrong? Don’t like a little junkfood early in the morning?”
He said as he uncapped the bottle and hopped onto the counter as a seat. Ace proceeded to tear open the shiny silver Pop-tart wrapper with his teeth to pull out one of the brown sugar faux pastries.

“I usually jus’ eat toast, but tha’s jus’ me…”
2-D fiddled with the package for a moment.
“When didja even get these? We haven’ gone shoppin’ for a while. An’... why are you havin’ liquor wif’ it?”

“The boys from my old gang sent me a care-package last week, said they didn’t want fame to get to my head or forget the little things.”
Ace chuckled, taking a bit of the sickeningly sweet treat, giving a pleased hum before taking a swig of Kahlua.
“Come on, Stuart. This is probably one of my most healthy habits. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.”

With that said, Ace gestured for 2-D to join him on the counter by holding out the bottle to him, where he just sighed and joined him there, hoisting himself up onto the counter before he opened up the wrapper. He slid one of the scarily uniform bricks from the package and took a bite of it. While the taste wasn’t entirely repulsive it wasn’t exactly his favorite thing in the world. He took the bottle that was still being offered to him, drinking from it to erase some of the flavor that was still lingering on his tongue--

“Huh… tha’ actually ain’t too bad.”
Ace laughed at the comment, leaning back a little bit on the counter. 2-D took another bite of the Pop-tart with a slight grin on his face as he watched Ace’s amused smile.

“Told you. Bitter coffee and sweet sugary tastes almost always work together. I thought you trusted me, I’m hurt!”
He spoke out in an over dramatic tone, holding his chest with his free hand, trying to appear wounded. It was Stuarts turn to laugh now, bumping his elbow into the bassist’s arm.

“Come on now, neva’ said I didn’ trus’ you!”

“Ooh, it’s too late, Stu…! The damage is done, I-...,” a fake cough escapes Ace, “I don’t think I’m gonna make it. I see the light…! Uncle Todd, is that you? You owe me cash you rotting fuck!”

Stuart couldn’t stop laughing at this point, watching Ace’s ‘performance’ of sorts from start to finish with the biggest smile on his face. At the end of it, Ace just collapsed into Stuarts lap with a strangled wheeze of a noise, tongue lopping out of the side of his mouth. The harder Stu tried to play along, the more laughter came out, stopping him from saying anything. Oh God, why was this so funny to him?

And just his luck, this was right when Noodle and Russel decided to show up.

“So uh. Why is Ace dead? What did you do to him, 2-D?”
Noodle spoke up, causing him to give a small scream then quickly cover his mouth. Ace snorted quietly before he started to sit up, fixing his hair along the way.

“Just foolin’ around, don’t worry. Pop-tart?”
The bassist held out the ontouched pastry in the package to Noodle who eagerly took it and started nibbling on it with a small ‘thanks!’ from her as she left the kitchen.

Stu moved his hands away from his still smiling mouth, wiping away the tears that had started to form at the corners of his eyes during his laughing fit. He watched a yawning Russel walk further into the kitchen before stopping and taking a gander at 2-D’s appearance.

“What’s up with your hair, D?”

“No’fin’, Russ, jus’ hadn’t gotten a chance ta fix it is all.”
He replied, reaching up to touch at his messily slicked back blue locks. Before anything else could be said, Russel’s hand extended out to ruffle it up, putting it back to its natural chaotic state.

“Awww, and here I thought it looked pretty good.”
Ace gave a fake pout to the drummer, who could only give a small huff of a laugh.

“I think you might be biased there.”

The ex-gangster just shrugged now, going back to eating his breakfast while Russel went ahead and made himself something to eat as well. 2-D rocked back and forth on the counter a little bit, staring down at his half-eaten Pop-tart for a couple minutes before a thought arose in his head. He turned his attention up to Russ, chewing awkwardly on his bottom lip as he formed the sentence in his head.

“Hey Russ… how do you feel abou’ contac’in’ Mudz righ’ now?”
2-D paused for a moment, thinking about his wording carefully for once.
“I mean, we probably all know how I feel abou’ it. Jus’ wantin’ your opinion is all.”

Russel hummed out quietly, seeming to be in thought for a moment.
“I don’t really care one way or the other. So long as he don’t try to police what he don’t got a hand in creating right now, I think it’ll be fine. Why?”
Russel turned around to face them, leaning against the counter beside the stovetop where he was cooking, crunching on an already cooked piece of bacon.
“Ya nervous?”

“Well--”
He stopped, swallowing a little bit. He grabbed the Kahlua, taking a large swig of it before setting it back down between himself and Ace.
“Kinda sorta? I have a bad feelin’ tha’ when Mudz hears about the progress, he’s not gonna like it and make us star’ all over, again.”

“He can’t make us do anything right now, D. Don’t worry so much about that. He ain’t involved on The Now Now and that’s all there is to it. He don’t get no input. He tries, I’m cuttin’ off the chat.”

2-D visibly relaxed at that, he smile returning once more. Yeah. Murdoc wasn’t around for this album so he has no say in how they do it. They’ll tell him but if he throws a fit, that’s it, no more talking to him for a good while. That made him feel waaay better about having to take to the Satanist.

Okay. Okay, he could do this. For sure.

Chapter Text

For Satan’s sake, is this bloody thing even working? Hello? Hello?!
The camera and audio flickered in and out on the inmate, the microphone quality absolutely abysmal for the bandmates that had all gathered up just to speak to the imprisoned Murdoc Niccals.
Fuck’s sake I’m about to--!! Oh… oh there it goes, alrigh’ then. Nooo more fiddling with that piece of crap.

Finally the video seemed to stabilize for Murdoc and he was shown on the screen staring directly into the camera with his hands held up as though the webcam were threatening to jump at him and he were readying himself to catch it. He finally turned his attention to the screen where he got an eyeful of the bands confused faces gathered around the computer. He placed his hand on the table and started to stand up.

“Firs’ and foremos’, why the hell haven’t you all gotten me out of this Hell-hole yet?! You all know I was framed! I deserve justi--”
Murdoc flinched as an off-camera voice ordered him to sit back down or else he would have his time with them cut short. Grumbling obscenities to himself, he reluctantly sat back down. Ace gave a small cackle of sorts, leaning over 2-D’s shoulders from where he stood behind him, placing his hands on the table where the computer was located to better look at the screen.

“Y’know, ‘Doc, most people in prison start off with greetings and whatnot when they get visitation rights. Like a, ‘hey how are ya? How’s life been? Any news on your sentence at all? No? That sucks, well when you get out let’s all go do that thing you love, anyway bye-bye. Don’t drop the soap.’ All that fun shit.”
Ace grinned wickedly at the computer screen while Stuart attempted to push him back a little bit so that the weight of his entire torso wasn’t about to snap his neck. Murdoc’s mouth opened to speak, pointing a figure at the camera, ready to shout at him but looked to someone off camera, most likely the warden, and seemed to rethink the decision.

“Listen here, Ace. You may be my replacement but that don’t give you right to mouth off to me like that.”
Murdoc controlled his tone but it didn’t make his voice any less fear-inducing. Well, to Stuart it was still actually terrifying, but that was a personal thing. Ace just gave a low chuckle and pulled away to find something to sit on so he wouldn’t constantly be leaning over the singer.
“Anyway! Who needs greetings when we’ve more important stuff to talk about, eh? So about that album-”

“Hey, Murdoc, before we start talking about that let us just make it clear that if you start your usual shit and go all control-freak on us, we are dropping this ‘visit.’”
Noodle shoved her way more into the frame now, waving at the webcam. The con just snorted out a laugh, waving back to her while a sharp-toothed grin found its way over his green face.

“Fine, whatever. I agree to these weird terms of service you have, now. On to the juicy stuff. What’s this album called, again? The noonoo? Naynay? Wassit called, again?”
Murdoc looked down at the table as if trying to find some sort of notes he’d left there.

The Now Now.”
It was 2-D’s turn to speak up, immediately catching Murdoc’s attention. Though at the moment, Stu had turned his attention to Ace who came back carrying a bucket to sit on. He moved his hands in a gesture as if to ask him ‘but why?’ Ace shrugged and set the bucket upside down on the floor and seated himself. He could just barely see over the table like this, forcing a slight laugh from the singer.

“Oooh, there you are 2-D. I thought I saw that weirdly bright pink shirt in frame but I wasn’t sure. It’s almos’ like you’re trying to hide from me.”
Murdoc hummed, leaning a little bit closer to the screen while rubbing his chin.

“No, I’m really no’, Mudz!”
2-D’s attention quickly snapped back to the screen at the accusation. Well… he kind of was, but not deliberately. It wasn’t like he would be allowed to run, even if he had an opening. He leaned back in his chair a little bit, leaning a bit further into frame. He was in one of the corners, but not so much really. It wasn’t like he needed to be in the center of the camera. It was all of them talking to him, after all. Murdoc just gave a small ‘mhm…’ while nodding his head.

“So the albums title is The Now Now, huh? I’m not mad at it. It’s different after all. I can’t really judge until I hear any of the songs, anyway.”
Murdoc crossing his arms while leaning against the table in front of him.

“It’ll probably sound like shit if we showed you any of the songs here.”
Russel commented.

“It won’t sound like standard Gorillaz since I’m not there anyway. You all better hope the fans don’t think it’s crap! You’re gonna get hit hard since I’m not there.”

“Hey now, you’re the one who taught me what I know today so you’re basically saying you’re garbage and haven’t improved in a long-ass time.”
Ace chimed in once more, cocking his head off to the side slightly with a sly smile directed right to Murdoc.

“What did I say about mouthin’ off?!”
Murdoc snapped, banging his fists on the table, causing the camera’s feed to sputter, again. Ace was all too amused with the other bassists reactions and his low, but quiet, chuckling was all too evident of that. It forced a smile to crack over 2-D’s until now worried face. It wasn’t often that Murdoc got messed with like this. It was honestly hilarious. Murdoc gave an exasperated sigh, running his hands down his tired face.
“Listen, listen, just show me one of the tracks. I need to hear somethin’, it’s been drivin’ me absolutely crazy not knowing wha’s goin’ on. Not to mention I’m absolutely miffed that nobodies tried proving my innocence yet, but that’s a whole different story.”

“I mean, if you are sure, we can show you the song we are going to be filming a music video for here in a couple of days,” Noodle paused as she slid her phone out of her pocket and began looking for the track in her music, “with Jack Black.”

Murdoc had been in the process of leaning his chair back on its hind legs dangerously when he heard that news, the chair nearly falling back in his surprise but quickly catching himself before he cracked his skull on the concrete below.

“Jack freakin’ Black?! How in the bloody Hell did you pull that one off?”
He cried out as he braced himself on the table, staring bewildered at his band. Ace raised his hand with a smug grin.

“Ay. He owed me a favor so I finally cashed in. No details, though. I ain’t a kiss and tell kinda dude.”
Ace placed a finger over his lips, but was still grinning like mad.

“You kissed Jack Black?”

“It was a joke, Stu.”

“Oh. I knew tha’.”
He didn’t know that.

Noodle giggled quietly at the banter before giving a small ‘oh!’ as she found the song in question. She set the phone down before hitting play for the man on the monitor. Upon hearing the starting beat, Murdoc leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes listening to the music through the shoddy prison computer speakers.

Listening to the song as well, 2-D tapped his finger on the table to the beat while mouthing the words idly to himself. He seemed almost in a trance, listening back the track for the first time. He’d preformed it countless times, but this was his first time actually listening to the finished piece himself. Hearing it all together made him feel a sense of not only peace but accomplishment as well.

“It’s crap.”

Well there was peace for a little while.

“Okay, off the computer goes, see ya, Murdoc.”
Russel reached for the mouse to leave the video call.

“Wait, wait wait wait! I was joking, it sounds fine for a summer album! Christ, wipe that sour look off y’faces.”
Murdoc grumbled, rolling his mismatched eyes before leaning forward once more.
“The vocals are great, the music is light and catchy. Cuts off awfully soon, but tha’s what’s gonna keep people listenin’ to it anyway, so kudos. I’ve no complaints, not that I’m allowed to have any.”

“You ain’t allowed to have one because you’re not contributin’ to this album. Sure you’re not just upset that we can do this without ya? Your band gettin’ along just fine without you?”
Russel pulled away, crossing his arms over his chest while Murdoc just shot him a glare through the screen.

“Think what you like, just know I’m happy to see you all able to do… whatever this is without me babying you all. So maybe I’ll just have to go easier on you guys when I get back.”
He tapped his fingers against the table. While he spoke like none of what Russel said was getting to him, he made it incredibly obvious that he was getting agitated by the current conversation. 2-D had to wonder when the last time he had a smoke was, that could have been putting him on edge as well… but it was Mudz. He had the will so there was always a way to get what he wanted.
“2-D, you’re singing for the majority of this album this time, righ’?”

“Yes-”

“Good, so it’ll be fine. 2-D will be able to carry you all just fine since I won’t be there to! It’s a good thing people adore you.”
God, it just felt like Murdoc were saying ‘you’re lucky I hit you with my car and then let you fly out the windshield. You’re lucky I made you famous.’ It was putting Stuart in a sour mood. He sighed, rolling his white eyes and looking away from the screen and just nodded, assuming Murdoc saw it.
“Don’t screw up the video and it’ll all be perfect. Don’t disappoint me. The warden and I have a deal where if I stay ‘well-behaved’ until the videos release, they’ll let me watch it.”

Great. Now he knew that information.

Actually… that was perfect. The ideas that came into his head… this was going to be a lot more fun that he anticipated.

Half of their time was spent talking to Murdoc was about their video plans and where they’d be filming. Not all the details, considering they hadn’t worked out the kinks, but more than enough to give him some kind of visual of their plan. The rest was spent with the bassist trying to talk about how he was innocent and how he needed the bands help to have that proven or at least to be broken out by them… which ended up with Russel leaving halfway through and Ace falling asleep with his head in his arms on the table. It wasn’t entirely long before that was shut down though and he was told he needed to say his goodbyes then go back to his cell. He was reluctant at first, but did as he was told after some convincing from Noodle, flipping the band off with his goodbye in the process.

Noodle closed the video chat program and announced that she was going to go out for the day and peruse the town before leaving the apartment on her own accord. That left 2-D and Ace at the table alone now. Ace was still sound asleep, having completely missed out on the goodbyes shared between everyone and Murdoc. Stuart watched him for a few minutes with his chin in his palm, just examining his sleeping face, crooked sunglasses, and slightly disheveled hair. It was kind of relaxing. Something he could fall asleep to himself if he were still tired.

Finally, he lifted a hand to tap on Ace’s forehead a couple of times, making the ex-gangster stir away with a sputter, stammering out about where everyone went and what time it was.

“Hey… you fell asleep durin’ Mudz’s ‘help me break free’ tangent.”
2-D explained with a small laugh in his throat.

“Oh, did I? Damn, then I missed out on the farewells, huh? Too bad. I was gonna flip him off.”
Ace let out a groggy laugh while he sat up and stretched. Stuart’s smile only grew at that and he stood up, stretching a little bit himself.

“Jus’ a quick question,” he started as he straighted out his clothes, “you wanna come shoppin’ wif’ me? I wanted to see if I coul’ find some’fin’ fitting for the video.”
The other stared up at Stu for a couple minutes before a smile broke out over his face once more and he stood up, fixing his glasses then shoving his hands in his pockets.

“Sounds like a plan, Stu.”

Chapter Text

The Grove was one of the many places in L.A. Stuart had never gotten to visit before. Imagine the overwhelming feeling he felt when he first stepped inside and just hundreds maybe even thousands of shops and eateries lacing the walls around himself and Ace. Ace on the other hand didn’t really show any emotion either way… then again, he was the one to suggest this center in particular.

“Man, we stick out like sore thumbs, huh?”
Ace commented, looking around them, making a mental note that people were already recognizing 2-D. Then again, it was hard not to notice a tall, blue-haired guy running around in a bright pink t-shirt.

“Wha’s wrong, not used to gettin’ attention?”
Stuart looked at him with a mischievious grin before he started heading further in, trying his best to spot a clothing shop with Ace in tow.

“Ha. Not that, just don’t want you getting mauled by a rabid fan.”
He nudged 2-D’s arm.
“But don’t worry… I’ll keep this prince with a voice that could make animals flock to do his bidding safe and sound.”

2-D rolled his eyes at the comment, looking at each shop they passed before stopping at one in particular and split off from Ace without a word to look at the items in the display window. Skates, huh? Assuming the other would just follow him, he wandered into the door to look through the wares available. Ace went to speak up once more to ask exactly what Stuart was looking for when he noticed him gone and immediately tensed up.

He could have at least told him he was splitting off! This place wasn’t exactly easy to navigate, especially with how busy it was today. Ace pulled his shades away from his eyes, looking around to see if he could spot that wild, uncontrollable blue hair beyond the people passing by him. One would think it’d be easy considering he and himself were the only ones who looked the way they did but…

Damnit, if he lost 2-D like this, he’d actually be killed. Not just by Noodle and Russel, but Murdoc would go out of his way to break down the walls of his prison cell and stowaway on a damn plane to California just to slit his throat, he just knew it. Uuugh, he was going to be so screwed!

Wait...

There!

Like the beacon of a lighthouse, he spotted that bright blue hair and quickly made his way toward it, sliding past people as quickly as he could before bumping chest to chest with the singer who had just exited a shop and now had a bag in hand. Ace’s head tilted back, placing his sunglasses back over his eyes with a groan.

“Don’t do that, Stuart. Say somethin’ if you’re gonna head into a shop, okay?”
He spoke as though he’d been searching for hours when in reality it had been max 5 minutes. Ace didn’t raise his voice to Stuart, though. That wouldn’t help in the slightest and he knew it. Better to just remind him, he was pretty sure. Negativity never helped this guy, only hurt him… and nobody wanted him even more damaged.

“Sorry, I f’ought you was right behind me. My mistake. But look,” Stuart paused, opening the bag a little bit more to show Ace the skates he’d gotten, “I figured I coul’ use ‘em for the shoot.”

“Oooh… so you’re gonna skate around Venice Beach?”
Ace hummed, completely forgetting the fears of losing 2-D he had moments ago, as he looked in the bag at the red, green, and white skates. They had a very… retro feel to them.
“Not a bad idea. It’s a pretty optimal spot for it… we’re gonna need to find you some clothes that you won’t overheat in then.”

“Well it’s abou’ Summer anyway, righ’? Shouldn’t be too hard, Americans usually get ready for weather shifts early, yeah?”

“We’re in California so it’s always Summer. But you’re right, don’t worry.”

“This country's weird.”

Ace couldn’t help but let out a hearty laugh, pulling a smile out of Stuart as they started heading down the strip once more. This time, Stu made sure to tell Ace he it noticed any shops he wanted to go through to see if they had anything that peaked his interest. There, of course, were quite a few that 2-D wanted to go into, but it didn’t exactly bother Ace. It was kind of fun to watch him explore, look around, and see his eyes light up when he sees something that might work for his ensemble.

Some things he picked out were… questionable. Like a pair of bright pink acid wash jeans that he’d managed to find. Which inevitably brought up him mentioning that he might want to wear shorts if he were gonna be skating in hot weather. It appeared that Stu had never factored that in when he was looking for his outfit. That didn’t stop him from buying the jeans however. The guy was incredibly enamored by bright, eye-catching colors. Surprising, considering how he used to dress in the early days of the band.

But hey, at least he always had his own personal style, that was undeniable.

It wasn’t entirely long before they found something that would suit both the weather and the activity Stuart would be doing. The only issue was… it was also slightly questionable.

“Ace, do you f’ink these woul’ even fit me? They don’t even look like they’d fit a child, hones’ly.”
2-D held the impossibly short short-shorts up in front of his waist, looking down at himself. Ace just sat there, pretending like he was watching from behind his shades when in reality he had his eyes closed because… well, staring wouldn’t help him in the slightest. He knew those shorts would look ridiculous on him and even if he weren’t wearing them right now, he was positive he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from laughing just seeing him holding them.

“Y’know you could just go for normal basketball shorts if you’re worried, right?”

“But the green color of these perfec’ly match the skates!”
2-D said as he looked through the other sizes to make sure he could find just the right size for himself. It was going to be impossible to get the singer away from these anyway, considering they were bright green and just the right amount of flashy he was into.
“I’m jus’ worried about losin’ bloodflow to me legs.”

“Yeah, you kinda need those, don’cha? Again, basketball shorts would be fine but…”
Ace shook his head, finally standing up and walking over to the stack of shorts, helping him look through them. He squinted a little bit, taking the bottoms out of Stuarts hands and looking at the tag.
“Dude, you don’t want them fallin’ off either. You’re a small so you should be fine and dandy.”

He proceeded to trade the medium pair for a small, handing them to Stuart who had a concerned look on his face. Ace gave a small sigh, though the bemused smile on his lips never disappeared. He held his hand out, gesturing to the changing room.

“If you’re so worried, just go try ‘em on. If they don’t fit right, we’ll look for somethin’ else in the color you want.”

2-D smile at him before turning to the dressing room and heading inside, the sound of the lock clicking after he shut the door. Ace leaned up against the wall beside the dressing room, looking around at all the customers scavenging through the clothes the store had to offer. He knew there was no way he’d get those shorts away from Stu, not after the way he gasped when he first saw them.

He glanced at the door then back to the rest of the store. He shouldn’t take incredibly long, right? He spotted just the thing that would go with those shorts when they came in. With that thought in mind, he headed for the shirt isle, looking for the item in question.

Back in the dressing room, 2-D was pulling the shorts up over his waist, moving around a little bit once he had them on fully. They fit pretty nicely… and the material didn’t feel too bad either. Kind of on the stretchier side, honestly. He proceeded to examine himself in the mirror and Christ these made his legs look even longer. He had no idea that was possible! He patted at his bare thighs a little bit before turning his body awkwardly to properly examine himself.

A knock on the door made him jump and he quickly whipped around to face it.

“Ey Stu, see how this looks with ‘em, yeah?”

Ace’s voice sounded from behind the door and a shirt was hung over the top of the door. He reached up, grabbing the shirt and proceeded to take his current one off to try it on.

The ex-gangster moved to lean back up against the wall beside the door, pulling his phone out of his pocket to check it then scroll through social media. Noodle had sent him a text with an image of herself wearing a Hello Kinky tank top with the message saying, ’Found what I am wearing for the shoot!!!’ Ace grinned, tapping away on his phone to respond to her ’U and blue both, huh?’
He glanced over at the door for a moment, thinking about how long Stuart had been in there. He was starting to get worried actually. Did he trip and fall down and hurt himself or something? He definitely would have asked for help then, right? Maybe he passed out… oh God, that would be even worse. Ace pushed away from the wall as he pocketed his phone, knocking on the door with the backs of his knuckles.

“Hey Stu, you okay in there?”
The door unlocked and opened slightly, revealing the short-shorts clad 2-D, a sight that definitely took Ace by surprise. He thought he’d laugh when he saw him but… aw man, that’s just not fair! Anyone else would never be able to pull that off!

“I’m fine, wha’s wrong? Are we gettin’ kicked out?”
Stuart squinted a little bit at Ace, giving him a confused look. Ace gave a long uuuuhhh for a moment before covering his mouth and practically slapping himself back to reality. He forced his eyes up to Stu’s face, giving him a crooked smile.

“Nah, nah. You were just takin’ a long time so I got worried. But uhh, we should hurry out soon and grab somethin’ to eat, yeah? Don’t want it to get too late or anythin’.”

“Oh, you’re righ’! Gimme a minute and I’ll be ou’.”

With that said, the door shut once more and the sound of shuffling clothes could be heard from behind it. Ace gave a long sigh, looking up at the ceiling as he pressing his palm to his forehead. He was not expecting that in the slightest. But now he had to wonder… does 2-D shave or wax? Because those legs were smoother than a newborns ass.

His phone buzzed, pulling him out of his less than respectful thoughts. Ace took a few steps back to where he was previously seated before he helped Stu with his shorts dilemma while pulling out his phone. A new message from Noodle.

’What is he going to wear? You know he has got some pretty extravagant tastes.’

Ace thought for a moment before he replied.

’It’s better to see first hand, trust me.’

Chapter Text

It was finally the day! The day of the Humility shoot! Was he nervous? Sure, but the excitement that welled throughout his body definitely overshadowed it. He’d been way too excited to get a whole lot of sleep, but at this point his body was running on the aforementioned emotion. He’d even gotten up way earlier than he normally would for a shower, actually brushed his teeth for once, and got dressed in some baggier (an old as hell, stretched out Spiderman t-shirt, skinny jeans that ended up being too big on him but still fit well enough around the waist, and some old, worn out vans) clothes having made the decision that he’d change when they got to the beach. He’d be able to change in case everyone wanted to go out and eat afterwards, too.

2-D gathered everything he’d need for the shoot into a paper bag, snatched up his phone to shove into his pocket, and proceeded to slip out of the room. It didn’t sound like many of the others were up yet. He could hear Noodle’s shower going when he passed her door, Russel’s bed creaking as he shifted (he could only assume he was getting up), and… well, silence from behind Ace’s door.

He’d been acting a little off since the day they went shopping. Ace was more quiet around him lately and he’d been avoiding eye contact a lot. Stuart could only assume he’d done or said something that pissed him off. Pouting a little bit, he moved down the hall and to the front door of the apartment to set his bag down beside it then headed for the kitchen to start a couple slices of bread to cook in the toaster. His eyes then flicked up to the cabinet that held a very specific treat that he knew for sure Ace was a fan of. Without hesitation, he reached up and grabbed one of the pastries before turning on his heel to head to the fridge and pull out the bottle of Kahlua they’d shared, now half empty.

2-D tossed the bottle up in his palm a couple of times while he bumped the fridge door closed with his hip and headed for Ace’s room, standing there for a couple of minutes before tapping on the door with the lid of the liquor. He waited for about half a minute but there was no response. Was he okay in there? Sighing quietly, he proceeded to hold the Pop-tarts by the wrappers end in his mouth and opened the door with his now free hand.

“Aysh? You okay?”
He mumbled around the wrapper before letting it drop back into his hand. Stu didn’t spot him in the room immediately, he just took notice that the light from his bathroom was illuminating the darkness dimly from the lower crack. The faint sound of running water travelled to his ears soon after that. How didn’t he hear that before? It must’ve been the sink.

2-D wandered further in, not having seeing Ace’s room in it entirety yet despite it having been a couple weeks since he integrated into the house. He stopped when he noticed the ex-gangsters trademark shades sitting on a dresser next to his closet. Glancing around the room, he set the Kahlua and Pop-tarts down onto the mahogany top before carefully picking up the glasses and examining them in the darkness of the bedroom. He chanced a glance at the entrance and then the bathroom door before he unfolded the item in his hands and put them on over his still white eyes.

He took a couple steps over to the full-body mirror hanging on the closet door, peering at his reflection and giving a small smile, flicking the shades down to the tip of his nose while he examined them on himself. He had to admit, he didn’t look too bad. Now he knew why Ace wore them all the time. Well, he had a pretty good idea, but at least now he knew they were an amazing fashion accessory.

The water stopped abruptly, signaling that the bassist was finished with his time in the bathroom. Before 2-D had time to react, the bathroom door opened, causing the singer to yelp out - which, in hindsight, was even stupider considering it just alerted Ace of his presence. Bloodshot orbs connected with ones hidden behind sunglasses, a look that 2-D couldn’t accurately assess in the darkness of the room forming within the bassists eyes.

“Stu.”

“Uh-”

“You look good with those on.”

“Wh--?”

“But uhh, I’ma need those back. Sorry.”

Ace started toward 2-D with heavy footsteps, causing the singer to tense up. He wanted to scramble to take the shades off, he really did, but he found himself frozen at the moment. Why was Ace being so calm about this? He basically invaded his privacy, touching his possessions without permission, and was caught in the act! Was he going to hit him? He was going to get punched in the face, wasn’t he? That’s what Murdoc would do if this were him and not Ace. Was he finally going to reveal his true colors? Was the bassist actually hiding his true personality this entire time?!

Closer, closer. Oh God, he was getting closer, what was he supposed to do?! He couldn’t breathe, it felt like his heart was going to burst out of his chest it was beating so hard, he felt sick to his stomach, he didn’t want to know what kind of punishment Ace had in store for him. He wanted to believe Ace was better than Mudz, he wanted so badly to just know that he could replace the Satanist with this guy and not think twice about it because of their differing personalities! Someone who will treat him with genuine kindness over a guy who hits him over the head with a shoe because his stupid stair lift that he doesn’t need breaks!

His breath hitched when he saw a clawed hand reach toward his face and his eyes squeezed shut in an anticipation for what was about to happen to him. 2-D felt the sunglasses slowly slide off of his face and the sound of them being set back down on the dresser could be heard.

“What’s wrong, man? You act like you was gonna get yelled at... or worse.”
Ace watched 2-D start to visibly relax and he gave a small, breathy laugh, reaching out once more to ruffle his hair.
“I ain’t got no reason to hurt ya. I’d never even injure a hair on your pretty blue head.”

Oh. That’s right. Ace and Murdoc were two completely different people… they looked the same, shared some of the same mannerisms, but they were still separate men. His nerves died down quite a bit when he felt Ace’s hand ruffle through his hair, not at all complaining about the gentle touches he received. Stuarts hand moved up to his chest, gripping at his shirt, scrunching the beloved superheroes face on the front of it while he let out a long sigh.

“Sorry… I had some idea in me had tha’ you was angry at me for some’fin’.”
2-D breathed, finding some weight dropping off his shoulders due to this small confession.
“An’ I guess I figured when ya saw me touchin’ your stuff tha’ you’d go off.”

The bassist frowned a little bit at him, hiking the towel around his waist up a little bit so it wouldn’t fall to the floor.

“Didn’t think I gave off that kinda impression. Nah, I ain’t angry at you. Just uh… been thinking a lot about the shoot.”
Only Ace knew this was a little white lie.
“Guess I let it distract me, heh.”

Stuart seemed to fully relax now, a smile finding its way over his face. So he had been worried over nothing. Thank God. He let out a long breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding, head tilting back a little bit in the process before his eyes caught sight of the shiny Pop-tart wrapper on the dresser.

“Oh, I brough’ you some’fin’ ta eat! I wasn’t sure if you was up or not yet, so I f’ought givin’ ya a wake-up call would be best.”
He reached over, picking up the items and held them out to Ace with a wide, toothless smile on his face. Ace chuckled and went to grab the clothes he wanted to wear for the shoot before he grabbed his unconventional breakfast from the singer with a gratuitous look in his eyes.

“Thanks, honey.”
He said with a joking tone lacing his voice that only made Stuart’s smile widen.
“You wanna share a bite?”

“Oh… uh… I don’t f’ink eatin’ some’fin’ like that when I know I’m gonna be active is a very good idea. Don’ wanna hurl all over the sidewalk in the middle of the shoo’, yeah?”
2-D rubbed at the back of his head a little bit, feeling through his still damp locks before realizing something.
“Ah-- my toast!”

That was all Stuart yelled before he rushed out of Ace’s room and headed toward the kitchen. Ace was just stood there with an incredulous look on his face, staring at his door that was now gently swinging back and forth after 2-D had failed to properly close it on his way out. A smile cracked out over his face and he gave a short, breathy laugh before he shook his head and headed over to the door to close it.

Did Stu really thing he’d actually go out of his way to hurt him? No, he didn’t. It was just years of abuse he’s had to go through here, he was sure of it. It messed him up pretty badly and that wasn’t his fault in the slightest. He had no right to judge, especially considering he still had nightmares about getting pummeled by super powered 5 year olds. The only difference is, 2-D didn’t choose to deal with Murdoc’s shit. He was forced into it, forced to join what the inmate still considers his band, even though the likelihood of him getting out any time soon was extremely low.

And honestly? It boiled his blood to think about what ‘Doc put this guy through. He’d need to personally deck Murdoc in the face the first chance he gets for turning 2-D’s life into some strange form of Hell. Getting to know him over the past few weeks, Stuart Pot was the last person who deserved that kind of punishment.

Nevermind the not-so-personal grudge he had against the con at the moment, he needed to start getting dressed and eat what Stu had been so kind as to bring him. He rolled the bottle of coffee liquor over in his hand, a faint smile returning to his face.

This guy… seriously, he didn’t deserve the kind of generosity presented by him.

Chapter Text

Back in the kitchen, 2-D had managed to get his toast out of their faulty toaster before it got too badly burnt, managing to catch it right before it was starting to turn charcoal black. He leaned against the granite countertop, munching happily on the crispy bread as he noticed Noodle come out from the hallway from beyond the island separating the main room and the kitchen, immediately taking note of the Hello Kinky tank top she was wearing.

“Did you go f’rough my stuff, again?”
2-D swallowed, licking his lips and she looked at him curiously.

“Maybe. Why, am I not allowed to borrow clothes from you anymore?”
She grinned and stepped into the kitchen to steal the other piece of toast from the toaster, hopping up onto the counter beside 2-D as she ate.

“No, s’not that, I jus’ vaguely remember gettin’ that one from a fan… I didn’t even know I still had it. How far back in the closet was it?”

“Preeetty far. I did not want to wear anything in my closet since a lot of it is for colder climates, so I went through your stuff after I got back the other day. Did Ace not show you the picture I sent him?”
Noodles legs began swinging back and forth as he took a big bite of the food in her hands. Stuart just gave her a slightly confused look and shook his head.

“Not tha’ I rememba’. We finished shoppin’ and then grabbed an early dinner, talked about all sorts’a random shit.”

She grinned at him, nudging his upper arm with her elbow.

“Sound like you had a fun time regardless.”
2-D smiled back at her, shrugging a little bit as he finished off the rest of his toast.
“Speaking of shopping and clothes… is this really what you are wearing today? You know it is supposed to be very hot today, right?”

“For the shoot? No, wha’ I’m wearin’ is in that bag over there. F’ought I coul’ jus’ change at the beach so I wouldn’ get uncomfor’able during the drive there.”

“Aaahh. Smart.”
She leaned forward, spotting the bag beside the door. She wanted to take a sneak peek at what was inside, but from what Ace told her, it was better to experience first hand. She would take his word for it and keep her curiosity at bay.
“If it is something too weird, at the very least you can change out of it when we are done.”

“I don’t f’hink it’s all that weird, hones’ly.”

2-D shrugged and pushed away from the counter as Russel and Ace emerged from the hallway. Russ parted ways with Ace, heading into the kitchen while giving a long yawn. It seemed he didn’t get much sleep the night prior… or he was just still tired. Both were completely possible. He took a peek at his shirt, smiling a little bit a little bit at the big bold ‘NO MORE UNICORNS ANYMORE’ printed on the front. While he wasn’t entirely sure what it was meant to represent, he liked it nonetheless.

Russ announced he was going to make himself something to eat and then they could head out for the shoot, which he was totally fine with. It was still early and they needed there to be a good amount of sunlight out as well as people around. The vision they had was simple and organic; just filming daily activities of the local residence while featuring the band as a whole. Not to mention it gave everyone time to discuss what they planned to do. While 2-D idly mentioned he’d probably try skating around for a little bit, he didn’t really think about it being a focal point of the video.

Honestly? This entire video was just them trying to be as chilled out as possible and that’s what they all loved about it. Instead of trying so hard to appeal to everyone, they were just going to do their own things. They’d have camera crew members following them around, filming their activities, and then they’d put it all together later. The only strange variable about it all would be Jack Black just there with them.

This was going to be fun as Hell.

It wasn’t long before they left the apartment, getting into the car to head to Venice Beach where the rest of the crew was sure to be waiting for them. The car ride down itself was rather uneventful, just idle conversation between the band members and some crude jokes being cracked to help keep things light hearted. This was the type of thing they’d been missing for a long time, wasn’t it? And 2-D hadn’t even realized it until it was too late… that’s sad.

But once they reached their destination, Stu felt his excitement ready to burst from his body. After they found a place to park the car, they grabbed their things and headed out to meet up with the camera crew, some extras, and of course, Jack Black in person! Ace spoke to the legend as though he were just another friend and that was just… bewildering to everyone else, to say the least. Just seeing the man wearing a piece of merch they hadn’t released yet made 2-D feel like he was gonna pass out from excitement.

They relayed their plan with the crew at the star himself, letting them know how they wanted this all to play out before Stu announced he was going to go change into the outfit he’d picked out a couple days ago. He went off to find a bathroom to change in while everyone happily chatted amongst each other.

“I was wonderin’ why D was wearin’ that. He’d overheat in an instant if he even tried running around in jeans in this weather.”
Russel chuckled, crossing his arms.
“He gets cranky durin’ performances in hot weather, too.”

Noodle laughed along with him, knowing all too well how 2-D got with a little heat or humidity in the air. When they filmed Dirty Harry, he asked for water every chance he got. In the end, he gave up on trying to actually dance and just did… well, what he did in the video. Surprisingly, it worked out extremely well. They could only really blame Murdoc being an overbearing perfectionist for how long that shoot took, but it worked out in the end.

The more Noodle thought about it, the more she recalled from that shoot… like how Murdoc told 2-D to suck it up because they were all going to Hell anyway and that it was way hotter and way longer than the shoot.

She was sure he was joking of course, but still.

The sound of rollerblades against pavement coming toward them caught everyone’s attention, pulling them out of their conversation to look at the one causing the noise and-

“Oh. My. God.”
Noodle was the first to speak up, covering her gaping mouth. The rest were Russel and the crew were completely unsure of how to react. There stood before them was 2-D in retro roller skates, green booty shorts, a white t-shirt, and somehow he’d found socks to match the entire ensemble that went halfway up his calf. Draped around his neck were his red Beats headphones and an Apple watch on his wrist.

Who in the world could have ever expected such a look from someone like Stuart “2-D” Pot? Besides the one person who had already seen the entire outfit and was now having trouble looking the singer in the eye.

“Man, D, you look ridiculous.”
Russel was the one to finally break the silence, however, it only made everyone tense up at his displeased tone.
“I’d rather watch you get heatstroke over lettin’ you run around like that all day. Go change. God.”

“Tha’s a little extreme… it’s jus’ some’fin’ for skatin’ around. S’really not a big deal, Russ.”

“The title of the track is Humility. Somethin’ that you look like you have none of right now!”

“Maybe I jus’ wan’ed to try some’fin’ different. We don’t gotta look serious in every shoot, do we? Half our videos are ridiculous anyway, migh’ as well try ta make it fun for ourselves.”
2-D wanted to bring up the fact that they had a musician-comedian with them to begin with… but that might’ve been overstepping boundaries, especially since the man himself were standing right there.
“Ain’t that what this ones supposed’a be about anyway? Jus’ livin’ life and enjoying it?”

Noodle immediately took notice that Russel was about to snap at 2-D against and quickly stood between the two of them to try and prevent any kind of fight that could possibly break out.

“Okay, okay you two. 2-D looks ridiculous, yes, we get that. But it is fine, it is only for one video. Who knows, maybe it will be eye-catching… maybe our fans will even adore it? Let us just go with it and see where it takes us right now, okay?”
Noodle looked up at Russel with big puppy-dog eyes and he just huffed, his own eternally glowing orbs rolling in distaste.

“Fine. But don’t come near me with that get-up. Got it, D?”
Russel huffed and started on his way with a few of the camera crew tailing behind him.

“... Lou’ and clear, Russ…”
2-D mumbled, pouting idly to himself. Noodle relaxed, happy to see she prevented any kind of altercation between her two bandmates before she looked at 2-D, then over the Ace, who had a pained look on his face while staring over at Stuart.

“Hey! Cheer up you two! This happens sometimes, let us just make the best possible music video we can today, okay?”
Noodle offered them both a reassuring smile which they both eventually returned to her. 2-D rolled over to the girl and gave her a big hug as thanks for the reassurance.

“You’re righ’, Noodle. Le’s make this video grea’!”
Stuart spoke out with more confidence than he had done in a very long time, only making Noodles smile grow as she returned the hug.

“Ey, don’t I get a hug, too?”
Ace spoke up, causing 2-D and Noodle to look over at him, back to each other, then back to him, again. It seemed they had formed some unspoken plan as they both grinned devilishly at him and immediately moved over to him to both hug him tightly at the same time.
“Oof--! Okay, that’s a lotta love there…! Don’t crush my ribcage now!”

The bassist chuckled a little bit, looking down at Noodle, then turning his attention to 2-D. He could get used to this kind of affection from a particular blue-haired singer.

… Okay, mind out of the gutter, time to shoot a music video!

Chapter Text

They had all gone their separate ways for the day after Noodle convinced Stu to put on some SPF-500, each taking a few camera men and extras with them in order to get optimal footage for the days efforts. 2-D was encouraged to stay around Jack Black as they wanted the two of them to be the most reoccurring in the video itself, which he was totally fine with. He was used to being one of the most filmed as he was the lead singer for a good amount of the songs they created - though it probably did have something to do with being the face of the band.

It was never really something he cared to think about, in all honesty.

He shook his head out of his thoughts, pulling his Beats over his ears before he tapped away on the Apple watch on his wrist, scrolling through his music list before finding just what he was looking for. Humility. It was what he wanted to play over and over again until he got sick of it, today. He wanted to play it on repeat until just the mere mention of the song gave him memories of this day. It marked a day where the band could be creatively free without Murdoc’s influence. 2-D didn’t want to forget it. He was determined to prove a point to his abuser that he can live his life just fine without him.

Stuart hit play on the song, letting the beat play from his headphones and fill his ears with such a relaxing tune that brought a smile onto his face. He adjusted his headphones a little bit to make sure they wouldn’t fall off before he gestured to the camera crew with him and pushed off down the sidewalk, gliding effortlessly on his skates.

It wasn’t often he got to do this sort of thing. In fact, it wasn’t often he got to just get out and do stuff he enjoyed. Hell, one probably wouldn’t even think he were talented enough with his own motor skills to skate anymore. He was a little bit surprised himself, all things considering. But it gave him such a sensation of freedom to the point where he found himself doing things he’d normally be scared to do out of fear of hurting himself. Skating backwards? With his anxiety? Surprisingly he was confident enough to pull it off, even while he mouthed the words of the song in his ears, even to the point where he were bouncing his body to the beat.

This was… dangerously fun. The look on the crews face said it all as well, they were enjoying the show just as much as he was while performing it. All of this was just sending his confidence to an all time high! He felt like a brand new person! Why couldn’t every day be like this?

Why wasn’t it like this?

Noodle had opted to just challenge some of the beach patrons to a little bit of chess. She was basically an expert at the game and it was always hard to find time to play with anyone from the band. In fact, the only one she’d gotten through an entire game with was Russel. 2-D complained about feeling stupid while playing with her, Murdoc would get infuriated when he knew he was losing and cry for a reset, and… well, Ace, she’d never actually thought about asking him.

But here she was, challenging a complete stranger who she had no idea the skill level of to a game in the middle of a public area with people with cameras around them, just filming it all. Some of the crew seemed interested, others were just starting to outright fall asleep. The guy she was challenging didn’t at all appear uncomfortable with the cameras or lights, it actually felt like he just didn’t care outright. Which was perfect for Noodle because any other person would be trying to play it up for the cameras.

In her moment of thought about the current circumstances, she didn’t even realize she’d gotten cornered. She was just having fun right now. She smiled at him, laughing a little bit.

“Okay, big guy. Ya got me… best of 3?”
She suggested while holding up her fingers and he just smiled back.

“Why the Hell not? I ain’t got much else goin’ on today.”
The man with a voice eerily similar to how Russel’s sounded back in the good ol’ days spoke up and they began resetting the board for their next match.

This was going to be the best vacation she’s had in a looong time.

Russel… had lost all motivation he had for this entire thing. He snapped at 2-D for something so stupid as his clothes and… no, it wasn’t stupid. The guy was making a goddamn spectacle of himself when he should have been sticking to what the song is about! He understands that D wants to try something different but Jesus Christ, there’s a line, isn’t there?

Looking around at all the people walking up and down the sidewalk and boardwalk, he couldn’t help but feel like this was the main thing they should be filming. It was totally fine to make it fun and goofy in parts, but the entire video? 2-D’s creative direction was abysmal when it came to videos. His eyes caught sight of the blue haired Brit in question and he frowned a little bit, watching him skate around like nothing in the world could bother him. Something wasn’t right with him right now.

Don’t get him wrong. He was happy 2-D was happy. Russel was elated to see that Stuart was finally able to get himself back now that Murdoc was gone. But something wasn’t right here. He could feel it in his gut. He was too carefree right now. Normally before these shoots, especially with outdoors ones like this, he’d be hiding away, saying he’d burn to a crisp if he walked into this kind of heat. Yeah, sure, the lack of whining from him was refreshing, but how often does one usually just stop whining about that kind of shit? Especially considering just before Murdoc was imprisoned they were living in the UK still, which wasn’t all too long ago.

Maybe he was thinking too much into it, too. Who knows, maybe 2-D really is finding inner peace for once in these 20 goddamn years. But at the same time, Russel wanted nothing more than for the singer to wake the fuck up. He huffed, turning his attention away and looking at the camera crew in front of him.

“What? Expectin’ content? Good luck gettin’ it.”
Russ gave them a snide grin, some of the crew just looking at each other and shrugging, unsure of what to do.

“We’ve got all day, Mr. Hobbs. Might as well film something, right? Even if it’s just you standing there… I wouldn’t question it if I were watching the video for the first time.”

Russel opened his mouth to speak but thought about it for a moment before just closing it and shrugging.

“I got you… call me Russel, though.”

The crewmember in question smiled warmly at him before giving a thumbs up as confirmation.

Ace wasn’t entirely sure what to do with himself right now. He just knew that watching a particular blue-haired man skate around in short-shorts probably wouldn’t be a good idea overall for him, so he somehow ended up wandering over to a basketball court where two men in pink muscle tees with the word ‘vulgar’ written on the front were duking it on on the blacktop.

Honestly? It was pretty entertaining to watch the two of them, even better when they joked around with each other with crude humor. Kind of reminded him of his Townsville days, when he and his gang would watch people around the same age as himself around the time play ball on the local courts… and then they’d crash the party.

It was hilarious, seeing their reactions whenever they would get the ball stolen from them and then have to play against himself and the boys just to get it back. They went easier than they should have on them, not exactly wanting the little brats to show up to kick the snot out of them for using street rules on people their own age. Though he did give a few teenagers their fair share of bloody noses, cuts, and scrapes.

It was all good fun in the end and his boys seemed to love every second of it. It’d be something they’d talk about off and on just to reminisce about together, laugh about it… he kind of missed those days, hanging out with his gang. The beatings? Not so much. It would have been perfect if those little girls had never been created in all honesty. It’s not like himself and his boys were bad people, anyway… they just liked to cause a little mayhem every now and then.

That was all tipped over the edge when they were created.

Ugh, but if he thought too much about it, he was going to end up remembering way too much and having some sort of panic attack over it. Distractions, distractions, guys playing basketball right in front of him, right. That’s fun, that’s entertaining and distracting.

He leaned against the pole of the net, watching them play now, eyes following their every movements, one trying to stop the other from shooting the ball or even slapping it out of the others hands. Ace found himself smiling at the spectacle now, his previous anxieties now washing away from his body and mind.

It wasn’t long before one of the men managed to shoot the ball, getting it right in the basket and without hesitation Ace caught it before it could hit the ground. He looked at it, then back at the guys in front of him who were smiling kindly, probably getting ready to ask if he wanted to join him and…

Honestly, he wasn’t sure what overcame him. He pulled out his pocket knife, letting it flick open as he wiggled his eyebrows at the two strangers and plunged the blade into the thick rubber of the basketball, letting it fly dramatically from his hand. Ace watched it go on it’s unknown journey with an excited, toothy smile on his face before he turned his attention back to the two strangers and--

“What the Hell, man?!”

“Come on, that was totally uncool. Goddamnit, that was our only ball!”

“If you wanted us gone, there’s another court right over there, you could’ve said something!”

Ace’s smile immediately dropped and his hand that had been holding the ball slowly pushed the blade back into its handle.

“Fuck… that was dumb. I don't know why I… look, I’ll buy you another ball, there’s probably a shop around here somewhere, yeah?”
Pocketing his knife, he pressed a hand to his forehead. He wanted to smack himself and call himself stupid but that wouldn’t help. Maybe he was under the impression these guys would laugh about it with him? He had zero idea of what would give him that idea but… something sure as Hell did.

That’s what he gets for reminiscing, he supposed.

He motions for the two guys to follow him after promising up, down, left, and right that he wouldn’t stab them and that he just wanted to get them a new ball. They were reluctant at first (understandably), but eventually just decided to go with him… if only for the fact that Ace wouldn’t shut the Hell up about it.

One of the camera men following Ace had split off to follow the ball, thinking it could possibly make the cut for the video. Honestly, it was kind of impressing, how far the thing went… and then he noticed it heading for 2-D and Jack Black. Stuart didn’t seem to notice the ball as he carelessly skated around the rock legend and past the camera, nearly getting hit by the ball that Jack instinctively kicked out of the way as if on cue. The ball went flying past 2-D and the camera he’d been gliding past, creating an amazing shot that left the camera man on his ass, wide-eyed from nearly being hit by the basketball.

“Jeeesus Christ… that’s definitely going in, right?!”

“Oh, without a doubt if you framed it right.”

“We’ll review the video later, follow ‘em, guys! Do your jobs!”

The crew spat out a string of curses when they noticed 2-D and Jack getting too far away and scrambled to follow them, nearly dropping their equipment in the process.

All while this was happening, Noodle was on her tie-breaker round of chess with her own stranger. He was good. Really good. It was nice to have this kind of challenge once in a while, but she knew she had this in the bag. Even though he managed to nab one of her pieces, this was what she’d been waiting for all along; to get him feeling secure with all his moves even though he wasn’t actually thinking about it.

She picked up a piece, acting as though she were going to place it down in an incredibly amateur spot before her eyes flicked up to his face and a wide grin appear on hers. He focused down on her hand where she quickly moved the piece and placed it down, then rested her head in the palm of her have. He immediately ripped off his sunglasses in surprised before cracking up in amusement and then all-out laughing.

“Aw man… you really got me. Good game, girl. You’re welcome to come play me any day of the week!”
The man said, holding out his hand for her to shake which she gladly took.

“The same goes to you! That was a lot of fun-- oh, shit.”
Noodle mumbled out and pulled her phone from her pocket to check the time. It was this late in the afternoon already? They were going to need to meet up soon.
“Hey, give me your number and I will call you up for some rounds next time we are both free!”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

Skating around for this long, he didn’t even realize he was wasting the day away with just this. He still didn’t know what time it was and really, he didn’t want to check considering he just wanted this time to never end. He was skating back down the sidewalk where he noticed Russel in the distance, a couple members of his camera crew filming the area around him - the people, the shops, the grafitti - while Russ just stood there, looking… kind of angry.

But maybe that was just Russ’s face! Maybe he could skate over to him, pat him on the shoulder and apologize for how he acted earlier in the day. Seemed simple enough right? So that’s where he started heading. Of course, Russel couldn’t help but notice Stuart, him and his flashy blue hair and bright green short-shorts coming down the way.

His eye twitched a little bit and his camera crew seemed to take notice in his change in demeanor. One wanted to ask if he were okay but that felt like stepping over boundaries. 2-D came rolling in closer and closer at a speed that was just flat out dangerous to do on a crowded sidewalk. Russel gave a low growl, hating how he looked right now. Just that look on his face!

It was too unnatural for someone like him.

Ace had walked out of a nearby shop, a ball in hand as he spoke with the two men he had earlier wronged, tossing their new ball up and down before handing it to them. They laughed over something before parting ways and the ex-gangster turned his attention to the sidewalk where he saw Russ nearby and 2-D coming in hot. He went to raise his hand to wave, but noticed the drummer stick out his leg and--

“Oh shit!

Noodle looked up from her phone when she heard Ace’s voice and over to Russel and 2-D to witness the scene just in time. She gasped sharply, watching their singer’s foot suddenly catch on Russ’s leg, witnessing him go flying into the air.

2-D!

Chapter Text

What… what the Hell just happened? He was just going to skate by, give Russ a greeting, say his sorries and everything was going to be fine between them. Now he was plummeting face first for the ground? It seemed like the world froze around him in that instant, one you’d see in some weird comedy about some teenage misfit, waiting for a voiceover of ‘Now I’m guessing you’re wondering how I got here. Well, I’ll tell you…’

The only issue was… he wasn’t sure how he got here or why this happened. It just did. At first he wanted to try to convince himself that maybe there was a stray rock in his path and his skates caught on that but… there was no way. The ground was clear and he definitely felt his entire ankle catch on something. So… why did Russel trip him like this? He couldn’t figure it out.

Was he that upset with him? It was starting to feel that way.

Aw man, the ground was getting really close now. This was gonna hurt really badly wasn’t it? Was this some kind long overdue punishment that he didn’t know he needed? It was something in place of a specific someone, he was sure of it. It’s just how the universe worked for him anymore. Kind of sucks. Today was such a nice day, too… he was hoping to associate Humility with it but it looks like he’s going to be associating the song with having his face getting reconstructive surgery.

What sucked even worse was that there were people around, so many strangers there to witness his tumble, to laugh at him for falling in such a comical fashion. He hated that. He despised it when others laughed when he got hurt. Why did nobody ever take that sort of thing seriously? People always played it off like a big joke whenever Murdoc hit him or yelled at him. The weirder people were the ones who thought it cute and playful. People weren’t going to think twice about it now, either, even if it was Russ doing this to him this time. Why was he the one who needed to be the punching bag?

What did he do wrong?

What kind of world punishes someone who’s just trying to live their life?

Why does it feel like the entire world is against him?

Why…?

Why wasn’t he allowed to smile anymore?

What happened to him?

The pain of his face connecting with the hard concrete below him ripped him back to reality, the crunching sound his entire neck and skull made making him want to puke as he tumbled across the ground a good distance away from Russel. He ended up laying on his back and feebly pushing himself up to find a camera right in front of him, having filmed the fall in it’s entirety.

Great.

His eyes then flicked up to Russel, who was just stood there with a scowl on his face. Slowly, 2-D pushed himself back up onto his feet, stumbling a little bit in the process while his vision became blurry, eyes filling back up with blood as they usually would be. God, he could barely see now, but he still made an effort to glare at the other man. Not even caring to fix his headphones, he just turns around, stumble-skating away for a little bit before becoming extremely dizzy and collapsing back onto the ground.

“Russel, what the Hell was that about?!”
Noodle cried out, rushing forward to check on 2-D with Ace following close behind.
“Why did you trip him?! Oh God, he is out cold...!”

“D ain’t himself right now. I needed to wake him up… maybe that wasn’t the best option, but it worked for the time bein’... I think.”
Russel crossed his arms over his chest while Noodle cried out to the crew to call an ambulance as she rolled Stuart over onto his back. She tapped at his face a few times, begging him to wake back up. Ace stared down at the scene with a pained look in his eyes from behind his shades before turning his attention over to Russel.

“We all know that was uncalled for Hobbs! Y’didn’t have ta knock Stu out to prove some weird point! You sure you just ain’t mad at him for what happened earlier still?!”
Ace stomped up to Russel, gritting his teeth in an attempt to keep his rage to a minimum. Seeing that unfold right before his eyes… that was completely deliberate from Russel and he fucking knew it! Whether it was to ‘wake him up’ or not, it was completely not okay.

Ace glanced back at Stuart, who had a few scrapes and cuts on his body from the fall. One could even see bruises already beginning to form. If he clenched his teeth any harder, he swore they were going to crack or even chip. Seeing 2-D hurt like this over something that was so incredibly easy to avoid…

He was pissed.

“Listen, Hobbs.”
Ace started, boots clicking against the ground as he approached him even closer. He proceeded to snatch onto the front of the drummers shirt and flicked down his shades to show off his intensely heated glare as he towered over him with his height advantage. The grip he had on his shirt tightened, sharp nails threatening to puncture holes in the fabric.
“As soon as Stuart is coherent enough to register and understand what is being said to him, the first thing outta your mouth to him better be a goddamn apology. Got it?”

The sound of sirens sounded in the distance. Looks like the ambulance would be there soon, but that didn’t make Ace release his grip until he got confirmation from Russel that he’d agree to his terms.

“Fine. I’ll apologize to him.”
Russel huffed, pushing Ace off of him and brushing off his shirt. With how hard D hit his head, it was more than likely he wouldn’t remember any of this anyway. It needed to be done. Something was wrong with 2-D and if that helped for the time being, then so be it.

It wasn’t long before the ambulance pulled up and Stuart was put on a stretcher to be put in the back of the car. Noodle asked Ace to go with them in the ambulance while she volunteered to drive herself and Russel to the hospital. She figured that’d be better than leaving the two alone, considering the altercation they just had. She didn’t understand what was going on and she was beyond pissed… the only difference between herself and Ace was that she was willing to be the diplomatic one here right now. She told the camera crew to pack up and head back to the studio for the time being, that she’d call if anything came up and they could start reviewing the footage on their own.

Ace got into the back of the car with the unconscious 2-D, paramedics closing the double doors behind them. He reached out to hold the singers hand the best he could, gently stroking the backs of his knuckles with his thumb as his free hand pulled off his shades to reveal a pained look in his eyes. He found himself nervously chewing on his bottom lip until it started to become raw and irritated. But he didn’t care in the slightest. What if he was in a coma or worse? What if he was a goddamn vegetable now?!

While he knew 2-D had to go through that once before, it was to a much more extreme extent - as in getting hit by a crazy, fame-hungry Satanists car - but nevertheless, he was pretty damn positive that going through multiple head-related injuries like this throughout one’s life was not healthy in the slightest. Especially considering Stuart had aged… just like anyone would expect.

He may still look young, his skin hardly a wrinkle to be found… but the guy was still 40 fucking years old. One wouldn’t be able to tell by looking, he was completely honest about that, but even if your outer appearance didn’t show wear and tear, that didn’t reflect how the bodies aged beneath the surface in the slightest.

The bassist just… couldn’t get over this! This was a horrible, disgusting thing to do to someone you considered a friend, no matter what you may think is going on with them! He never once treated his own boys so poorly as to actually knock them right the fuck out! Who would?! Ugh… if he didn’t get control over his emotions soon… he was going to end up actually bawling right then and there. He took a deep breath and then exhaled.

He needed a smoke.

The tension in the air between Russel and Noodle in the car could be cut with a knife and used to feel a starving village for a week. She was clearly infuriated with the mans actions and he knew it all too well. The pure, unadulterated rage that radiated off of her practically shoved him against the car door and wouldn’t let him even so much as think let alone breathe, it was that strong.

“Why would you do that?”
Noodle finally broke the silence, though her question sounded more like a demand than anything, only thickening the air at this point. When Russel didn’t answer immediately, she slammed her hand against the steering wheel, causing the large man to jump in surprise.
“Answer me.”
Oh… this was dangerous.

“... D ain’t okay right now. Don’t ask me how I know, it’s just a feelin’ I’m gettin’.”
Russel spoke up a moment after, swallowing the lump that had started to form in his throat.
“I could be wrong… trust me, I’ve been wrong before, Noodle, we all know that. But something about 2-D lately… hasn’t been sitting right in my head. Somethin’ in me just told me to do something about that in that very moment so I--”

“Tripped him. You fucking tripped him and knocked him out.”
Noodle’s grip on the steering wheel tightened as she glared daggers into the road ahead of them.
“Maybe 2-D is just happier right now, because the man who has been putting him down for a good portion of his life is out of the picture for the time being. You did not get upset the last time he was in control… what is so different now?”

“Like I said, Noodle.”
Russel leaned up against the car door, holding onto the handle one would use to help themself in or out of the vehicle as he stared out the window.
“... It was just a feeling.”

Then silence, again.

A long… long silence.

“... I’m sorry.”

“Say that to him. Not me.”

Chapter Text

It was so quiet… where was he right now?

It was dark. His eyes were… closed, right?

He felt something on his finger, something plastic and smooth on his fingertip.

What was that?

A quiet breath escaped him as his brow furrowed a little bit. He wanted to open his eyes, he wanted to see where he was, what had happened, what was going on. Finally, he willed his eyelids to flutter apart, looking down in front of him.

A Casio?

He pressed down the key, the sound of the keyboard before him letting out a single tone and he smiled faintly. Stuart glanced down at himself, his body attiring a suit… a suit that he recognized. This was... Uncle Norm’s Organ Emporium.

Stu’s hand slipped away from the keyboard, palm pressing up against his chest while his other hand patted himself down. Was he dead? No, he was definitely alive right now. Then why was he here? Where was Gorillaz?

… Had he blacked out?

Were those 20 long years all in his head? Was it all just a figment of his imagination? He didn’t want to think about it anymore, the smile on his face was proof enough to him right now. It wasn’t real, none of it was real! He was still 19, he was still working in this dusty old shop with his favorite instruments, there was no Murdoc, no years of suffering, no kidnappings, no--

Gorillaz.

His smile suddenly dropped at the thought. Right. No Gorillaz meant no Noodle or Russel. No Gorillaz meant no family.

Well… that wasn’t entirely true. He had a family but it wasn’t the same kind of bond he had with Gorillaz. Were they even real? He had no idea right now… it all seemed so crazy now that he thought about it! A Japanese super soldier experiment guitarist who was sent to them in a Fed-Ex box at the age of 10, a hip-hop expert who can channel spirits (primarily the spirit of a deceased friend who has amazing rapping skills named Del), and a psychopathic fame hungry Satanist, Hell bent on being the number 1… everything.

The only thing he was sure of right now was that there was no “2-D.” He was just…

Stuart Pot.

It felt so good to be able to say that, again.

Stu reached back up to the Casio in front of him, placing his long digits on the keys, wanting nothing more than the play something on it, just play what he wanted to now… to remember what it was like to enjoy music. To be able to enjoy what he created and what he played forever.

Pressing down the key, expecting to hear the beautiful tones of the piano, his jaw dropped, eyes wide as he turned to the direction the noise came from. He just wanted to play something for himself. Instead, the only noise that hit his ear was the revving of a car and the sound of glass and brick breaking around him.

He shouldn’t have turned around.

Headlights.

That’s all he could remember before it all went dark, again.

Stuart didn’t want the darkness. He wanted to open his eyes and be awake, so why every time did he get that opportunity it was ripped away from him? He wanted to punch a wall to quell his frustration, to scream out into the dark void that was apparently his mind and he tried, but no noise would come from his parted lips. It was quiet here. Too quiet.

He hated it.

… He wanted to hear music, again.

Stuart found himself being ripped from the darkness once more, head impacting with a curb as the sound of glass shards tapped sharply against the ground around him. Oh… that wasn’t music. That just hurt.

He groaned, pushing himself up onto his feet, rubbing his head a little bit in the process. The world around him was so blurry… where was he? A carpark? He couldn’t remember a whole lot. How long was he out for? A few minutes? Maybe more… he really couldn’t put a finger on it. He found himself rubbing at his sore eyeballs while looking around in all directions before he noticed a car with a busted out windshield in the distance.

Was that where he was? From what he could tell… it was really dark inside the car. Pitch black… just like where he was before.

The drivers side door opened and out stepped an older, olive-skin toned man. Something in his head told him to run, get the Hell out of there but… his body wouldn’t respond right now. Stuart turned to fully face the man who had a wide, sharp-toothed grin on his face while he approached the blue-haired man. The signal to run away and get the Hell out of there blarred even louder in his head now… but still, nothing would respond.

“Woooow…,” the man stopped just a foot away from Stuart, grinning like an absolute madman, “hey kid… you know how to play anything?”

“... Like cricket or some’fin’ like that?”

“No, no no no! An instrument, do you know how to play a musical instrument?”
“Uh… yeah, I know a few… mostly f’hings with bloopy noises if that makes sense.”
Stuart slurred out, still a little bit dizzy from whatever happened to him. Why was he answering this questions, anyway? This guy was kind of pushy.

“Perfect! Looks like I just found myself a member for my new band,” he held out his hand for Stu to take, which he hesitantly did, politely shaking it, “the names Murdoc Niccals. And you are…?”

“Stuart Pot… or Stu-Pot for short.”

The man now known as Murdoc (God, the red lights were going off like crazy) frowned at him before reaching out to grab ahold of his head and pull him down a little closer, buggy, off-putting eyes examining deep black ones.

“How about I call you Two-Dents, instead? No, no!”
He stepped back, hands outstretched in front of himself as though he were unveiling something incredible.
2-D.”

A sharp pain in his head suddenly struck him, causing him to grab at his head with a sharp hiss. Right. That’s why he should have run. This was the day he became a member of Gorillaz and became just… 2-D instead of Stuart Pot. He had warning signals back then too… he just didn’t listen to them like an idiot. He just happily agreed to the name change and went along with Murdoc, no questions asked.

Images of them obtaining Kong Studio’s for the first time, Murdoc kidnapping Russel when he first met him, Murdoc sleeping with his then-girlfriend and lead guitarist of the band Paula, Noodle showing up on their doorstep for the first time, their first song, their first live show that ended in a riot, their first signing, their first music videos, the movie they tried to produce but eventually ended up with the bands temporary downfall due to Murdoc trying to kill him, their reunion for Demon Days, all the time they spent searching for Noodle, etc. flashed around him.

All of it, every single event that happened between himself and Gorillaz, making his head pound harder than it has in years. Every single injury, every single headache, everything that was ever done to him sending his mind into a complete and utter overwhelming frenzy, making it harder and harder for him to breathe until--

Stuart’s body shot up, a sharp gasp ripping through him as he banged his head against the x-ray machine that had currently been scanning his head. The nurse beside him gave a small yelp while 2-D’s hands shot up to his forehead, pressing against it, hoping that would help make the pain go away.
“Kkfffsh!! Ah… fuck me…!”
2-D cried out as he flopped back down onto the medical bed beneath him. He blinked a few times, letting his eyes adjust to the low-lighting of the room he was inside of before he slowly lifted his hand away from his head. There was some strange clip on his finger that was meant to take his pulse… was that the plastic he felt before? It had to have been… weird how it felt eerily similar to a Casio key.

“Um… S-Sir… are you alright? Had I known you were going to wake up, I would have moved the machine!”
The nurse scrambled to move the device that had been hanging over 2-D’s face while she rushed to the phone in the room to call the doctor and report that Stuart Pot had woken up. After a moment, she stepped back over to him.
“Could you sit up for me? We need to make sure your vision isn’t impaired or damaged… we were making sure your bone structure hadn’t sustained any injuries with your accident, so I’m still very sorry that you hit your head like that, I was finished, but it was still stupid of me not to move the machine… aaand now you’re bleeding. That’s fine, w-we hadn’t gotten around you patching you up yet, anyway.”

The nurse was clearly nervous, stumbling over her words, hands shaking as she helped 2-D sit up on the stretcher.

“S’not your faul’... don’t be sorry.”
Stuart slurred, rubbing his head a little bit. Ugh… his body felt like crap. The nurse flipped the lights on and proceeded to give Stu a quick vision test, saying that the doctor on duty would do a more thorough test once she got there.
“How long was I out for…?”

“Um… about four hours now. It’s a stupidly busy day and we hadn’t gotten the chance to really set you up until a little bit ago… the others were really mad about that.”
She stated as she put the flashlight that she’d been using to examine his blood-filled irises away and then took a couple steps back. She fidgeted for a moment, glancing at the door then back to 2-D.
“I love your music, by the way! I’m really excited for the next album! I can’t tell you enough about how much your music helped me through my stupid, angsty teen years! So, really… thank you so much!”

The nurse suddenly cried out with an embarrassed look on her face. 2-D stared at her for a minute or two before giving a small laugh and smiling warmly at her.

“I’m happy to hear tha’. It means a lot more than you f’hink right now so… thank you, too.”

Her face went beet red at that moment, hands tightly gripping at the hemming of her scrubs. She looked like she were about to blow up right then and there, but before she could the door opened and the doctor stepped inside, holding a clipboard in her hand and looking through his records attentively. The nurse gave a stiff wave to 2-D before she escaped the room, taking the mobile x-ray machine with her in the process.

“Stuart Pot… you’re nothing short of a medical phenomenon.”
The doctor spoke, setting her clipboard down and seating herself.
“We’ll call in your friends after a quick examination. Are you alright with that?”

“... Yes, ma’am. Don’t worry, I’m sure you alrea’y know how many time I’ve been in this situation.”

“Oh I do… I really, really do.”

Chapter Text

The sound of Noodle’s shoes pummeling the hard ground beneath her as she paced was all the other two heard for the past hour. She was already angry about what Russel did… now she was even more angry that they’d taken so long to get 2-D the medical attention he required! She wanted to burn the place to the ground, go out of her way to get her own medical license, and treat Stuart herself if they weren’t gonna do it in an optimal fashion! Hell, she’d even started yelling at the medical staff in Japanese she was so infuriated at one point. Ace had to try his best to talk her down… which helped to an extent, thank God. If Russel had tried, she probably would have just snapped at him for causing all of this.

If Murdoc were here… he would have smooth-talked them into just setting up a room for 2-D, no matter how busy. Any time Stuart went in for a hospital visit like this, that was what always happens. But not this time - they had to wait four fucking hours with a passed out Brit on a stretcher in goddamn booty shorts in the waiting room. What was worse is that she knew there were some fans around and she knew, oh she knew, that at least one of them probably snapped a picture of him in that state. She already called up the label to scour any social media platform they could to make sure nothing surfaced. So far, there hasn’t been anything back.

“Noodle,” Ace finally spoke up before pushing himself up onto his feet, grabbing the still heated guitarist by the shoulder to stop her, “listen, listen… I really don’t think pacin’ back and forth like this, running a trench through the waiting room is gonna make things go any faster. I’m sure they’re already patchin’ Stu up and have already sent someone to come and get us.”

Oooh, how she wanted to grab his hand and crush it in her palm until it was nothing but dust right now. She did not want to even be touched. But she controlled herself, taking a long, deep breath before exhaling slowly, repeating that action for a minute to help center her emotions and mind. Licking her lips, she turned to look at him with an incredibly forced smile on her face.

“Right. Right, sorry. I mean… 2-D is like an older brother to me so I am… just taking it a little harder than I should be, you know?”
Noodle turned her attention to Russel, slipping past Ace to crouch down in front of the seated drummer.
“Gorillaz is my family and I hate it when my family fights or gets hurt. It is all fine if it is clearly just teasing… but we should all know when it is going too far. Right, Russel?”

Russel looked down at her, his face softening a little bit before he leaned forward a little bit, elbows pressing into his thighs as support.

“Yeah… you’re right, Noodle. A family shouldn’t fight, especially when the worst one of us all is out of the picture right now.”
He smiled warmly to her which she returned with a big, toothy grin.

Ace just stood by, hands in his pockets as a faint smile graced his lips. Gorillaz was always more than a band, weren’t they? They were just like any other dysfunctional family, now that he thought about it. There was the added variable of having one Murdoc Niccals in the family but seeing as to how he was currently out of the picture… if this was the worst it got to when they were upset with one another…

He’d hate to see what it was like with ‘Doc around.

“Excuse me! Are you all Stuart Pot’s relatives?”
A nurse called out for them, catching their attention.
“The doctor is waiting outside of his room. She wants to talk with you all before letting you in to see Mr. Pot.”

“Is he okay?”
Noodle immediately hopped up to rush over to the nurse, a pleading look in her eyes.

“He’s awake, alert, and responsive, if that’s what you mean?”

“Good enough.”

Everyone gathered up to follow behind the nurse to 2-D’s room. The tension was coming back all too quickly. What did she want to tell them? Was 2-D’s brain damaged in a way that they couldn’t operate on and he would die within a week?! Oh, the mere thought made Noodle want to faint on the spot - this ignoring the sick feeling in her stomach that made her want to upchuck all over the hospital floors.

Just… relax, Noodle. Reeelax. Everything would be fine, she was sure of it.

Even though she was just telling herself that over and over again in a sad attempt at convincing herself more than anything. She still didn’t believe it in all honesty.

A woman out in front of one of the patients rooms was scribbling across a piece of paper on a clipboard, seeming to be jotting down notes about the individual she had just visited. She looked up, pulling her reading glasses away to let them hang around her neck on its shiny, golden chain.

“You’re… Stuart’s bandmates, correct? He--”

“Is D okay?”

“... He’s fine. He’s got some cuts and bruises here and there but those should heal up just fine. His ankle is fractured, but all he needs to do is keep weight off of it and avoid rolling skating for a while so it can properly heal. We’ve already wrapped the ankle and everything, he’ll just need to get it checked in two weeks.”
She explained and then turned her gaze back down to the clipboard, flipping through everything pinned to it.
“It’s amazing how he didn’t come out with something worse. The hyphema is something he’s had for nearly two decades, so I’m not entirely worried about that right now. He told me it’s something that clears up and comes back if he sustains a head or face related injury.”

She paused, tapping her pen against the wood of the clipboard, humming quietly to herself before finally turning her attention back to the three.

“It would be advised to avoid such injuries, however. I don’t know how his brain hasn’t just completely given up yet, but I can assure you it will eventually. I already know about his mental problems and past injuries, they’re all right here.”
The doctor gave a long sigh.
“He’s 40. Try giving him a break. You’re all free to leave with him under your care whenever, we already have what we need. When I say give him a break, I don’t mean cast aside and ignore him. Keep an eye on him, a very close eye. If anything happens, call me and I’ll get you all a room as soon as I can.”

With that said, she handed them a card with her number written on the back of it and then turned on her heel, heading down the hallway to her next patient of the evening. Noodle, stood there with a blank, wide-eyed stare, folded the card and proceeded to hand it to Ace who merely pocketed it, then reached up to fix his sunglasses.

“Don’t uh… don’t really expect doctors to ever really have that kind of powerful presence, huh?”
Ace joked, rubbing the back of his head nervously before he moved to open the door, seeing a tired looking, black-eyed 2-D huddled up on the medical bed with a blanket over him. The number of band-aids and bandages on the guy reminded Ace of the Bitez clip where Stuart was dressed as a mummy. The bassist hesitated for a moment before speaking up to grab his attention.
“Hey, Stu… how ya feelin’?”

“Uh… not grea’. Everyf’hin’ kinda hurts and s’little hard to see righ’ now.”
2-D looked up at him, jumping a little bit at the blurry green in the doorway. No, no no, relax. It’s not who he thinks it is. He knew very well it was Ace… right? He squinted, doing what he could to at least slightly clear his vision and… relief washed over him at that moment. Yeah, it was Ace. It was a little silly of him to believe otherwise, he heard the voice and it didn’t sound a thing like who he was thinking of and…

Okay, yeah, he was starting to feel stupid now.

Noodle looked up at Russel while Ace stepped inside of the small room before he nudged him in the side, gesturing for him to go forward when he gave her a confused look. Russel groaned quietly before he shuffled inside as well and headed over to the bedside. 2-D squinted up at him. It wasn’t like he didn’t know it was Russel, it was just a little irritating to not be able to see very well, even up this close.

“Listen, D… I’m… I’m sorry for trippin’ you like that. I’ll admit, I was still steamed from the spat we had this morning… and I’m sorry for that, too. I was lookin’ way too hard into it and I should’ve just let you have your fun. You uh… you forgive me?”

Noodle wanted to call out for Russel to give the exact reasoning, but she hadn’t gotten a chance to before 2-D opened his mouth.

“Yeah… don’t worry abou’ it. I forgive ya. I’m sorry for arguin’ the way I did anyway, it was kinda childish of me, y’know? To get so defensive over it the way I did. So, no hard feelings, yeah?”

“None whatsoever.”

The two reached out to each other, letting their fists collide gently, grinning all the while. Noodle just… just sighed and let her own smile take over. Okay, it wasn’t how she thought it’d go, but… at least they were at an understanding now. That was all she could ask for, really. Her family on good terms.

“Hey, we should get going before they charge us anymore for the room fee.”
She nodded toward the door.
“Can you walk 2-D?”

“Oh uhh… they gave me crutches ta use so… maybe? I migh’ need a little help.”
He gestured over to the unused, stainless steel crutches leaving against the end of the bed. Without missing a beat, Ace walking over to them, picking them up to take over to Stuart.

“You guys go pull the car around, I’ll help Stu out here, alright?”
Ace gave a thumbs up which was returned by Noodle before her and Russel left the room to do as they were requested. He took notice of the skates on the floor beside the bed and proceeded to hand the crutches to 2-D.
“You work on that, okay? I’ll get your skates.”

With that said, he knelt down to tie the laces of the two seperate skates together while Stuart shoved the thin blanket off of himself and started to try and balance himself on the crutches. He groaned quietly, body still just aching all over to the point where the smallest of movements were just not worth it in the slightest. Ace immediately looked to 2-D when he groaned, placing the skates on his shoulder so that they hung there securely by the laces.

“Everythin’ alright?”

“Jus’ hurts to move is all. Heh…”
He looked down at the floor, slightly embarrassed now. The ex-gangster frowned a little bit then shifting around to kneel down in front of the blue haired man.

“Hop on, tall, blue, and handsome.”
Ace looked back at him with a small smile that he wasn’t entire sure 2-D could see at the moment but hey, a smiles a smile, right? It’s the thought that counts. Though, Stuart seemed hesitant about taking Ace up on his gesture.

“I don’ wanna end up gettin’ you hurt too, Ace. Tha’d be no good, now wouldn’ it? Look, I’ll just try the crutches--”

“Ah! No ifs, ands, or buts unless it’s your butt letting itself be carried.”
He cut him off as soon as he could, clearly not budging until Stuart got onto his back. The singer just sighed, shaking his head before he moved, getting onto Ace’s back as instructed, wrapping his arms around his shoulders just for securities sake. Ace carefully held onto 2-D by his thighs after he looped the crutches around his wrist to carry them as well.

Without further ado, Ace stood up, holding Stuart up like he were simply a sheet of paper with no weight to him in the slightest (which was kind of true and he kind of guessed it as such. Have you seen how thin this man is? He’s all height, come on). He started walking no problem, the only issues being the rubber end of the crutches bouncing against the floor in an awkward way as he walked, but again, no big deal. 2-D sighed quietly, resting his chin on Ace’s shoulder during their relatively short journey to leave the hospital. It was weird... they’d spent all day at the beach but Ace still had such a heavy scent of cigarette smoke, coffee liquor, some kind of cologne, and whatever hair product he used to keep it slicked back the way it was.

It was kind of relaxing, to say the least.

Once outside, they found the car already parked out front, waiting for them. Ace helped 2-D into the backseat, resting the crutches and skates in the middle before he rounded to the other side to join him in the back. He gave him such a kind and warm smile… usually these visits ended up with little to no comforting afterwards at all. Murdoc would just tell them all not to coddle him, that the experience would make him stronger as a person.

‘Tough love’ is how he always liked to put it.

Now he knew what it felt like to have people actually care about his well-being and it was the best thing he could have asked for. It was like when his mum fretted over him and figured out a mixture of pills that would help him with his non-stop migraines when he was little. He hadn’t had them in quite a while since he hadn’t sustained any head-related injuries for a while.

He was going to need to find those pills, again.

Chapter Text

It had been three entire days since Stuart had left his room. Why? Because he had a nonstop blistering migraine ever since he got back from the hospital and he didn’t have the specific medication his mum had put him on when he was little. He was all out, which he didn’t realize until he actually needed them… then again, he wouldn’t be at all surprised if… you knew he was talking about by now, right? Murdoc. That asshole. The green man with the broken-in-5-places nose. His eternal tormentor even when he wasn’t fucking there.

He wouldn’t be surprised if that one had found the bottle by chance at one point and stole all the pills inside for whatever he wanted to do with them. So here he was, face buried in one pillow while the other was on top of his head, blocking out any light and sound that could even attempt to permeate the makeshift fortress for his head and his head alone. He’d gotten Noodle to send his mother an e-mail about needing more pills and she said she got a message back about them being sent… hopefully they’d get lucky and they wouldn’t be lost in the post. In his state, there was no flying back to the UK just for pills.

Maybe if he hadn’t been stupid and fallen out of that tree when he was little, he wouldn’t have to deal with this kind of pain any time he banged his head. His hair would be a normal freaking color, too. He already knew he wasn’t smart as a kid, but climbing a tree after being told not to and getting hurt after insisting he wouldn’t get hurt? He was really, really dumb. Not much smarter than he is today, anyway. Which, let’s all be real, wasn’t a whole lot.

How could he describe this pain for someone who has never experienced a migraine before? It’s a hot, throbbing, pulsating pain… like your brain is constantly pressing up against your skull, wanting nothing more than to burst out but it just can’t. The pressure just keeps growing and eventually it starts to feel like there’s not only pressure from the inside but the outside as well, like a vice getting tighter and tighter around your skull but your skull just won’t crack. You want it to. You want your skull to just get it over with and burst. But it won’t. It won’t, it just can’t because for some reason, just for this one moment, your skull is invincible to everything even though it feels like if something even slightly pointy or sharp brushed against it, it would be game over.

One would first think to alleviate the pain with average, over the counter painkillers. An amazing idea, right? Should fix things up in 30 minutes max! But then… those don’t work. In fact, they do nothing. So you take more and wait. Nothing happens. By now your head feels like it’s going to split in half, so you take double the dosage you did before. But guess what? Still nothing! You decide to just try to sleep it off and hope it doesn’t carry over to the next day. Sometimes they do, sometimes they last for an entire week and you can’t get any relief. You would be blessed if the pain went away after one day.

Now, think about this happening nearly every week of your life because you end up getting your head smacked, smashed, hit, slapped, whacked by some old, olive skinned asshole--!!

“Kssshh!!”
2-D hissed in pain. Thinking too much or getting frustrated did that, make the pain worse momentarily. The pain died down after a moment and his body relaxed into the mattress as a weary sigh parted his lips. It wasn’t always triggered by injuries, though. Sometimes they’d just show up and remind him that they existed… up until now, he always had the pills his mum gave him to treat them. Well, he’d have to wait a while until he got those. He fell pretty hard, so there was no telling how long this one would last, anyway.

He didn’t want to even mention the past ones.

The sound of his door creaking open made him groan, head throbbing sharply at the high-pitched noise. His grip on the pillow over top his head tightened, knuckles turning white as a sheet. It was almost as though he were holding on for dear life - honestly, he kind of was. Every little noise, spark of light, waft of warm air, it all made his head throb or make him feel incredibly ill. The footsteps that quietly tapped into the room? They weren’t as bad as that damn high-pitched creaking sound, but they still made his head radiate with pain. Of course, he couldn’t help but hope whoever had decided to visit him that afternoon didn’t trip over anything. He had set up his blackout curtains in order to limit as much light that came into his room as possible in anticipation for just this. It was basically pitch black in his room at this point.

The sound of something being set down on his dresser beside him signaled to him that they had made it over safe and sound. His bed sinking down slightly was… a little surprising, though. Stuart slowly pulled the pillow off of his head to look at his bed stand table. From what he could make out in the darkness, it was a bowl of… he was guessing soup and a glass of water.

“Hey… how ya feelin’, Stu…?”

Ah… it was Ace, talking in such a quiet, calm voice. So considerate of him, honestly. Slowly, 2-D rolled over onto his back, hugging the pillow up against his stomach with one arm while the other draped over his eyes.

“... Like shit…”
He mumbled out truthfully, trying not to be too loud as he spoke, knowing it would just be self-inflicted pain if he did.
“Any news on those meds yet…?”

“Your mom said she sent them express delivery… so they should be here by tomorrow or the day after. Said she sent ya at least a year supply worth so long as you take care of yourself.”
Ace responded quietly while he pushed his sunglasses up to the top of his head, staring down at Stuart’s barely visible form. He had the blanket halfway down his waist and his bedsheets were a complete mess. He frowned a little bit as he looked him up and down, then sighed. He looked like a pitiful mess and he wanted nothing more than to help him out. But really, there wasn’t exactly anything he could do for him right now besides check up on him and bring him food that he probably wouldn’t be able to eat all the way. Speaking of which…
“You should eat… it ain’t good to starve yourself or get dehydrated when your body’s already screamin’ at you.”

… He was right. He really should drink some water and at least try to eat some of the soup he brought for him. After all, Ace was kind enough to come check on him, it was the very least he could do to show his appreciation. Stuart allowed a sigh to pass his lips and he slowly sat up, blinking a couple of times to look around the dark room for a moment. Okay… no feeling like he was going to puke. That was a good sign. He reached out to take the bowl of warm but not hot soup, setting it down on the pillow in his lap and stirred it around a bit. Just some average rice soup with some vegetables and chunks of meat here and there. Pretty standard.

2-D hesitated for a moment, glancing up at Ace’s face in the darkness. He couldn’t tell he if were watching him or not honestly. Did it really matter, though? He was sure he was just sticking around to make sure he ate at least a little bit. He turned his attention back down to the bowl, before lifting the spoon to his mouth and slurping away at the broth a little bit, as if to test the waters. Ugh… it tasted so good. He prayed to whatever higher beings may or may not exist that he did not throw up after eating this!

“Tell me if it’s any good when you get the chance… it’s an old recipe my ma used ta make before she passed.”
Ace smiled at the singer through the darkness, hearing the spoon gently clink into the bowl, a slurp, then repeat. He seemed to like it.
“She left a bunch’a old recipes in this big, wooden box. When we was clearin’ out, my pops found it and wanted to throw it out but I took it and uh… hid it away so he couldn’t.”

“... So you made this yourself?”
Stuart set the spoon down in the bowl, flinching at the noise it made.

“Yeah… use’ta make it all the time for my boys back in Townsville. Most of ‘em didn’t have anyone cookin’ for them or anythin’... so I figured I’d give them a hot meal every now and then, y’know?”
Ace smiled a little bit before he shook himself out of it and turned his attention back to 2-D. He didn’t want to dive back too far into the past… we all know what happened last time and he was pretty sure those guys were still pissed at him.
“Anyway… you probably want me outta your hair, yeah? Just text me or somethin’ and I’ll come get the bowl ‘nd stuff.”

With that said, Ace stood stood up but before he started to walk out, he reached out to run the backs of his fingertips against 2-D’s forehead to make sure he weren’t feeling feverish or anything. He didn’t feel too warm… but he’d bring in some kind of cold pack later for his head. Stuart just kind of sat there, letting Ace brush his hand over his forehead. Honestly, it felt kind of nice… his fingers were nice and cool, helped distract him from the pain at least a little bit. He found himself leaning into the touch as well.

But that ended pretty quickly when Ace pulled his hand away. It seemed he didn’t notice 2-D’s reaction… that had to be a blessing in disguise, right? Regardless, the ex-gangster was leaving now, making sure to be extremely quietly as he exited the room. He gave a long sigh and just looked down at the half-empty bowl now.

“... I’ll have to ask for more later…”

Chapter Text

“So the music video for Humility is half way finished? That is great news! 2-D? He is still not feeling well… yeah, we are waiting for his medication to get here. We will come in once he is better, do not worry.”
Noodle hummed into the phone against her ear as she leaned against the windowsill of the apartment, tapping the ashes off of her cigarette to the streets below. She’d been on the phone with the team responsible for editing the music video; they were constantly checking up on them, asking if 2-D were okay. They told her the day after the accident, Jack Black had apologized profusely for how he reacted to Stuart’s tumble, having thought it was just a bit for the video. She wasn’t mad about it… anybody in on what they were doing would have been thinking the same. It wasn’t like they revealed a whole lot to him, as they wanted the video to be as organic as possible in the end result.
“Yes… Yes. I will let him know when he comes out. Thank you for your constant updates and for checking up on us. Bye-bye.”

She sighed quietly once she hung up and proceeded to take a long drag from her cigarette, staring out at the gradually dropping afternoon sun against the far off ocean background. Noodle had seen Stuart get in this sort of state time and time again. It usually happened after her not-so-great father figure Murdoc became aggressive with him. Sometimes, 2-D would be complaining about his head hurting for weeks at a time… the only difference between now and then is he’s not being forced to be active by the aforementioned man. Noodle… wasn’t sure how long it took Stu to recover if he were under the same kind of pressures… but she hoped it would be soon. The only other option was the pills that were still on their way.

The guitarist then turned her attention to the empty bowl beside her, smiling a little bit in thought. Ace was being such a sweet guy about it all, too. He went out of his way to go shopping and make soup from scratch, really good soup at that just so 2-D could have something to eat. Everything they’d brought him so far was either half-eaten (and then they heard it go down the toilet) or not even touched at all. Maybe this was just the thing he needed - light, healthy, a little bit of protein… yeah, he’d be able to keep it down, she was sure of it. If not, she’d need to bring him a bottle of gingerale later to calm his stomach. She wasn’t sure what it was about 2-D’s migraines that were so aggressive, but she most certainly wouldn’t wish that on her worst enemy.

Leaning over the windowsill, she proceeded to snuff her cigarette out on the side of the building before she proceeded to flick it off into the streets without much care, then grabbed her bowl before closing the window. She started to head for the kitchen, but stopped beside the couch, noticing Russel fast asleep with an empty bowl on the coffee table in front of him. She couldn’t help but laugh quietly to herself before she reached down and took the bowl. With that, she headed to the kitchen with no more distractions, setting the dirty dishes into the sink and running some water into them.

As Noodle cleaned the dishes, she hummed some random tune that had been stuck in her head for the past few days, tapping her foot a little bit to keep her beat. This happened pretty often for her, honestly… just having tunes in her head that would probably make nice songs. She’d eventually elaborate on them and make them more refined, but it was still nice to have something fresh stuck in your head instead of having something like… well, the last time she actually got sick of hearing something in her head was Dare and she desperately needed to get it out. But that was a very, very long time ago.

The sound of 2-D’s door creaking shut pulled her out of her thoughts and she looked through the archway to see Ace wandering back out with his hands in his pockets. She set the bowls and spoons in the overfilled drying rack before she grabbed a towel to wipe off her hands.

“How is he feeling?”

“Well… he said he’s feelin’ like shit, which is better than when he said he wanted to jump off the building and make his head crack like an egg on the sidewalk just to get rid of the pain.”
Ace gave a small chuckle, though it was obvious he was still worried for their singer. He’d been worried since they got back from the hospital, to the point where he wouldn’t even let 2-D walk on his own out of fear of seeing him fall over due to lack of balance. Honestly, it was kind of cute, watching him carry Stuart the way he did and neither of them seemed to mind all that much. Ace moved over to the pot, pulling up the lid to check it before he gave a small laugh.
“I’ma guess that Russ finished off the rest of the soup? At least it all got ate. I was worried I made too much, heh…”

“About that…,’ Noodle started, crossing her arms over her chest, “how come you did not tell us you could cook? We could have avoided a lot of fast food in the past month.”

Ace visibly tensed up under her accusatory gaze and flipped his sunglasses back over his eyes while he rubbed the back of his head.

“I uh… didn’t think it was important? I figured you guys was ones who didn’t care where the food came from, so long as it was edible, I guess.”

She opened her mouth to retaliate but drew a complete blank. She closed her mouth again and shrugged.

“You are not wrong.”
Noodle wagged her finger at him, smiling a little bit before letting out a small laugh.
“Hey, this will be a good opportunity to try eating not garbage for once anyway. Your weird thing of eating brown sugar Pop-tarts and Kahlua every morning is a little…”

Noodle gave him a look that said it all. Ace just chuckled quietly, leaning up against the island countertop behind him. He let out a short sigh, seeming to be in thought for a few minutes. He then clapped his hands and pointed at the girl across from him.

“Tell ya what. When Stu gets better, let’s take a visit to Townsville, huh? I got a recipe box there in my gangs old clubhouse full of shit we can make.”

“Hm… well, if he gets better soon enough, I do not see why not. We have time between now and when we need to travel back to the UK, after all.”
She tapped her chin, thinking about it all for a moment before she grinned widely at him and offered her hand out to Ace for him to shake. He took it without hesitation, giving a charismatic shake to her.
“Okay! It is a plan!”

“When Stu’s feelin’ better, we’ll run it by him first and see how he feels about it. If he’s not up to the journey, I can always go alone, no problem.”

“Oh, that is fine as well. We will want to make sure Russel is fine with the plan, too…”
Noodle paused, looking over the island to the couch where the drummer was still snoozing away.
“... Whenever he wakes up, that is.”

Chapter Text

The sound of something tapping against his dresser stirred 2-D out of his shallow sleep, causing him to gasp and then give a pained noise. He’d slept through the night for the first time in a few days… but his head still hurt like living Hell. He pressed his hand against his forehead, grimacing at how warm his own hands were at the moment. It made his stomach turn. Slowly but surely, he sat up, pressing the palms of his hands into his eyes with a long groan. Pain, pain, just go the fuck away already.

“Hey, good, you’re awake.”
Ace’s calm, cool toned voice broke the silence of the room, the sound of something rattling followed. The bassist had busied himself with opening the bottle of pills that had arrived just moments ago, pouring a couple out into the lid. He didn’t want the guy to take too many, after all. His mother had left a note in the care package with how many he should take, rather than letting him choose for himself. They were strong enough that he didn’t really need more than 2 for a week… especially with how they could negatively affect one when abused.

2-D looked up at him through the darkness, watching his silhouette pry open the bottle and get the dosage out. He knew what it was and the relief that washed over his entire body was enough to make him want to drop back down onto the bed and just sink into it, never to resurface. But if he did that, he wouldn’t be able to get rid of this stupid migraine that just wouldn’t budge no matter what he did. Ace held out the cap for Stuart to take, which he almost too eagerly did (but can one really blame him?) and knocked medicine back into his mouth.

“Whoa there, water before you choke yourself, Stu…”
He chuckled, picking up the glass of water on the nightstand, handing it to the singer who graciously took it, drinking a little more than half the glass in a way that made it seem like he hadn’t even seen water in months. Ace just stood by and watched him, capping the bottle all the while.
“I’ma hold onto these for ya… Noodle said you get a little carried away when takin’ ‘em, so if you need any, come ta me, okay?”

“I don’t get carried away… at leas’ I don’t f’hink I do.”
2-D went silent as he thought about it, holding the cup between his hands. Okay… okay, maybe he does get a little carried away when offered abusable substances but he didn’t need to be babied - no… no, actually he kind of did, now that he thought about it. He remembers at one point, he got bad enough to where he was hiding everything away from everyone, just so they wouldn’t find out. They knew. He knew they did. He just wanted to pretend like they had zero idea what he was doing.

He remembers them making an effort for a long time to stop him from going past any limits until he… well, just stopped letting them. Not the greatest idea on his part, he’ll admit. Honestly, the more he thought about it, it was kind of sweet that Ace was willing to be a caregiver of sorts for him. It felt… pretty nice. He checked up on him, brought him food he could keep down, asked him how he was feeling, gave him updates on the medicine, hell even brought him the medicine and made sure he took the recommended dose. Ace didn’t have to do any of that, but he happily did so without even missing a beat. It put a smile on his face even if he didn’t want to smile right now.
“I… I trus’ ya anyway. So… f’hanks for lookin’ out for me when ya don’ gotta.”

“Of course I gotta, Stu.”
Ace pocketed the pills and seated himself on the edge of the bed, a warm smile on his face even though nothing present in the dark room could even remotely see it. He licked his lips as he carefully chose his next words.
“Y’know I care about you a lot. It’d be hard not to now that I’ve learned what a kind, charismatic type’a dude you are. I mean, when I was younger, I figured all’a ya were Gods among men and I had some idea in my mind of ‘never meet your heroes, they’ll be horrible people.’ Even if you were stuck up and snobby ever, I’m pretty sure I’d still drop down on my hands and knees for all’a ya’s.”

Well, there was one of them who considered himself a true God among men, but let’s not talk about that disaster right now.

“Basically what I’m sayin’ is I’m happy to have gotten the opportunity to meet you and I honest to God genuinely find you, Noodle, and Russ to be good people.”
Ace spoke in a heartfelt, quiet tone, staring through the darkness to the blue-haired man before him. Chewing on the inside of his cheek he hesitated for a moment before he just went with whatever it was his body was telling him to do and reached out, backs of his fingers running over Stuart’s forehead as they did a day prior before gliding down to his cheek, feeling his smooth, warm skin beneath his hand.

He could feel 2-D relax under his gentle touch, even leaning into it, the sigh that parted the singers lips sending a chill rushing throughout his body. Ace bit down harder on the inside of his cheek, the taste of iron spilling over his taste buds.

He was in too deep.

Abort! Abort!

The ex-gangster moved to pull his hand away but his wrist was caught and his palm was slid up to 2-D’s forehead.

“Your hands are cold… feels nice.”
Stu mumbled out, closing his eyes as he leaned into the touch. He didn’t see Ace covering his face and leaning over his knees in absolute disbelief right now.

He got himself into some serious shit right now. He didn’t know what to do. He sure as Hell didn’t mind this but… oh man, this was entirely too dangerous and Ace knew it all too well. He swallowed nervously and fixed his sunglasses while he sat up.

“H… Hey, you know I can just get’cha a cold pack, right, Stu?”
Ace brought up, making Stuart hum and look up at him.

“Oh. Yeah, you’re righ’, tha’d be easier, wouldn’ it?”

With that said, Ace’s hand was released as he was allowed up, mentioning that he’d be back in a few minutes before he escaped the room. He quickly but quietly shut the door behind him and then pressed his forehead up against it. Christ, his face was still burning. It wasn’t even that intimate of an interaction, what the Hell was wrong with him?! He gave a long exasperated sigh, pushing his fingers through his hair while he stepped away from the door and turned around to-

“N-... Noodle, hey!”
Of course she’d be right there as soon as he turned around. At least he’d gotten himself to calm the fuck down before he did.

“... Are you okay? Did something happen?”
Noodle inquired, crossing her arms over her chest.
“You stood there for a good minute. I thought you might have been crying or something so I came over.”

“Nah, nah--! Just walking from total darkness into bright lights kinda hurts ya eyes, y’know? Stu’s got it darker than a damn bears cave in there, ha.”
He stammered out, shoving his hands into his pockets. Noodle just gave him a deadpan stare, knowing fully well that he was lying to her.

“You just tell me what is up when you are ready, okay? Besides that, did you get 2-D to take the pills?”

“Yeah. I’m grabbin’ a cold pack for his head now.”
Ace gave a thumbs up as he started down the hallway with Noodle following behind.

“Awesome. I got the other three bottles that came in the package hidden in a safe place, so just tell me if you run out. This will probably go on for a few weeks off and on, honestly. He’s gonna just take a bit to heal, you know?”

“No yeah, I understand completely.
He smiled warmly to her while they stepped into the kitchen. Noodle watched Ace open the freezer and pull out a cold pack which he then wrapped thinly with paper towels. Not so much that the cold couldn’t permeate, but enough so that it wouldn’t burn Stuart’s head.

“I am really grateful that you are being so kind to him. It is what he needs, after all.”
Noodle leaned up against the archway of the kitchen.
“I think… I think we all forget that he does still need that extra love and care. That he is not quite as durable as we want to believe. You could have come in being a total asshole, but… I am pleasantly surprised by you. I will be the first to admit, I was skeptical when Murdoc recommended you specifically and maybe I should not have brushed off 2-D’s fears the way I did since I did feel the same way he did before meeting you at the tracks. It is just… really nice to know you are nothing like him.”

Ace stared at her for a minute after her confession, holding the slowly melting cold pack in his hands. He couldn’t help but smile after a moment and then let a short laugh escape him.

“When I met ol’ ‘Doc, he was exactly the kinda person I didn’t wanna be when I grew up. My lifestyle ain’t too far off, but at the very least I ain’t as cruel as him or what I was when I was a dumb kid. I respected him when I was younger and I still do. I just don’t agree with him or his motives.”
Ace mused as he headed past Noodle, adjusting his sunglasses a little bit with his free hand.
“In the slightest.”

That was all he had to say before he exited the kitchen, leaving Noodle stood there with her mouth slightly agape. The difference between Ace and Murdoc was non-existent if you looked at them from the outside. They looked eerily similar to one another and they had a similar sense of fashion but their personalities? Practically night and day. She turned, placing a hand over her mouth as she watched Ace disappear into 2-D’s room once more from the kitchen doorway.

They were both intense, that was true. They were both smooth-talking, sly snakes, it was all too easy to see. They were both from the wrong side of the tracks and she was more than positive they both had very unhappy childhoods. The main way they differed was how they carried themselves, spoke to others, presented themselves, treated those around them.

It was just proof to her that Murdoc could act like a civilized human being if he just tried.

Chapter Text

It was about two hours before they heard anything else from 2-D. It seemed he’d gone back to sleep while he waited for the pills to kick in, which was completely fine by everyone else. So long as the pain went away, he could do whatever he wanted. Noodle had actually gotten around to getting her chess set and finally challenging Ace to a few rounds. He wasn’t well versed in the game, but he was happy to indulge her.

He did, of course, try to cheat any time she looked away but got caught immediately and apologized with a nervous chuckle. The grip on his wrist whenever he tried something shady during the game could crush bones. A little scary, considering she didn’t look that strong, but she was full of surprises. They all knew that.

But the sound of 2-D’s shower turning on caught all of their attention, all eyes on his bedroom door. He must’ve been feeling at least a little bit better now, considering he’d actually left his bed. He glanced down at the board between himself and Noodle before he grinned and reached over to flick her queen over onto its side. She jumped, eyes snapping to the board then up to Ace, half-heartedly glaring at him while a smile broke out over her face.

“Is that how it is going to be now?”
She reached across the board, taking away Ace’s queen piece that she was probably going to get in the next few moves anyway, sticking her tongue out at him.
“If you want an alliance between our kingdoms, our queens must marry!”

“Peace for marriage? Sure, why not?”
He moved to pluck his king off of the board before he noticed Noodle grab the two queen pieces, pushing them together while making kissing noises. She stopped when she noticed him staring.

“What? Did you think I meant for the kings to marry the queens? Get real! I said queens must marry.”
She let out a giggle.

“Well, I guess that just means the kings’ll have ta marry, huh?”
Ace grinned widely and grabbed Noodles king, mimicking what she did with the queen pieces, causing the guitarist to let out a sharp laugh.

“... I thought ya’ll were playin’ chess, not dolls.”
Russel, who had been snoozing away on the couch just moments ago, spoke up, catching their attention. Noodle just shrugged and tapped the two queen pieces together a few times.

“I mean if you wanna get real technical, chess is just dolls where you don’t get the imagine anything besides war tactics. Diplomatic dolls, if you will.”
Ace grinned slyly at him, toying with one of the king pieces in his fingers. Russel just stared at him before bringing a hand up to his face.

“You have no idea what you’re sayin’ right now, do you?”

“Not in the slightest.”

“At least you’re honest.”
Russel gave a long sigh and stood up, rubbing at the back of his neck. Sleeping on that couch was not a good idea. He couldn’t wait until they got back to London… the place they had setup there was way less cramped and the furniture was much higher quality - then again, it was all frivolous spending on Murdocs part, now that he thought about it.
“Sounds like D is up. What time is it, anyway?”

“About one in the afternoon. His pills got here early, so we gave him some about two hours ago.”
Noodle answered while she began cleaning up the chess board to put back in its respective box. It was just a cheap set and board, one that she’d bought just to keep for this apartment in particular. She went to grab the pieces on Ace’s side before she noticed the look on his face.
“What?”
“Is Stu allowed’a get in the shower with the wrap around his foot or nah? I can’t remember.”

Noodle stayed silent for a moment, thinking about it herself as she set down one of the pieces and slowly stood up.

“... I do not remember, either.”
She said with a nervous smile on her face as she began quickly shuffling toward 2-D’s bedroom door. Ace snorted a little bit, then stood up to follow her, watching her knock on Stu’s bedroom door a couple of times.
“2-D, you have not gotten in the shower yet, have you?”

The sound of the shower shutting off, then something hitting a wall and pushing things on the floor around echoed out from behind the door. It was silent for a moment after that before the door cracked open to reveal a 2-D with sopping wet hair.

“Uhhh… wha’ coun’s as in the shower?”
He slurred out, water dripping from his hair down to his face.
“Because I was jus’ washin’ me hair… it felt nas’y and greasy.”

2-D allowed the door to open a little bit more, revealing that he was leaning against one of the crutches to keep weight off of his injured ankle as well as bright blue pajama bottoms hanging loosely around his thin waist. Noodle placed her hand to her chest, letting out a relieved sigh.

“Oh, thank God, I was not looking forward to a another hospital trip to just get your foot rewrapped.”
She fanned away nonexistent sweat and proceeded to push the door open, causing 2-D to stumble back a little bit.
“Do not mind me, I just want to help you and make sure you do not fall over.”

Stu just looked at her with confused eyes then over to Ace with the same look, holding his hand up in a similar gesture. Ace just chuckled and shrugged at him.

“Noodle, you know I’m almos’ done, righ’? All I need’a do is dry -- oof!
A towel came flying at his head, nearly knocking him over but he braced himself on the crutch. Ace had scurried over just in case he did end up possibly falling, holding him by his bare shoulder to keep him steady.
“F’hanks…? Hey… Ace, is Noodle okay?”

“I think she’s just feeling a little… uhhh… stupid for reacting the way she did-”

Just then a shirt came flying in as well, hitting Ace right in his face. It would seem that Noodle heard him.

“Ssshhhh!! Do not tell him that.”
She swung her arm wildly at Ace who couldn’t exactly see it at the moment.

“Aww, Noodle. Was you worried abou’ me?”

“If you were not already hurt, I would crush you right now.”
Noodle huffed, an embarrassed smile on her burning face. She seemed to relax after a moment though before she moved over and hugged 2-D tight.
“I am glad you are feeling better, though.”

“Still a li’l sore, keep in mind… don’ squeeze too tigh’.”
2-D smiled warmly down at her, wrapping his free arm around her shoulders to return the embrace as best he could. As Ace pulls the shirt off of his face and fixes his shades, he smiles at the scene before him. Noodle hadn’t really been expressing her feelings on Stuarts current situation… it was obvious she’d been extremely worried for him this entire time now, though. She was making up for it, more for herself than anyone.

“I will be out in the living room. I was thinking if you were feeling better, we could watch one of your favorite horror movies tonight. Does that sound, okay?”
Noodle spoke as she released him and his face lit up at the idea. He just gave an excited nod and she gave a thumbs up before sliding past them and back out to the main room for the time being. Ace’s smile never disappeared, even as he wanted the guitarist escape to the living room. He turned his attention back to 2-D, who was attempting to dry his hair off with the towel on his head with his free hand. He chuckled, rolling his eyes at the scene. He tossed the shirt over his shoulders and slipped inside of the room to grab the towel from 2-D.

“Here, lemme help ya.”
Ace said as he motioned for Stuart to seat himself on the bed.

“Oh. You don’t hafta-”

“I know I don’t have to, but I wanna.”

He pulled off his shades to hang them from the collar of his shirt, showing off the kind look in his bloodshot eyes. Stu relaxed a little bit and just headed over to the bed, seating himself there and letting the crutch rest on the side. Ace wasted no time getting to work with drying off the deep azure locks, making sure not to apply too much pressure to the singers head out of fear of bringing back his migraine.

Once he finished with that, he pulled the towel off of his now slightly damp hair, snorting a little bit as he stared at the wild look it had going on at the moment. He headed Stu the shirt then mentioned he’d be back in a moment before he proceeded to search his the bathroom for a brush or a comb, returning moments later to a now fully clothed 2-D.

“Hey, y’know how one day ya had your hair all slicked back?”
Ace said as he approached him, brush in hand. He knelt down in front of him and started brushing Stuart’s hair back.

“Yeah, kinda. And then Russ messed it all up?”

“Yeah… I was thinkin’ about it…”
He grinned at him, the style he was putting 2-D’s hair in a quick fix-up considering his hair was still damp, that same slicked back look he had not entirely too long ago. He proceeded to set the brush down beside an empty glass on the bed side table.
“We still gotta do video visualizers and album art, right? Why don’cha try out the look? I think you look pretty nice with it.”

Stuart reached up to touch at his hair a little bit before giving a small laugh while he ran his fingers through it idly.

“Don’ ya f’hink people migh’ find it strange? I mean… people don’ really like change all tha’ much, do they?”

“If that’s a fear your havin’ then they’re gonna hate me.”

2-D was quiet for a moment, thinking about it. He wanted this album to represent change, right? That’s what he thought he wanted. He wanted Humility’s video to show Murdoc that they didn’t need him in the slightest… he wanted to be able to do things for himself, things that he thought would make the band more approachable without that toxic influence.

Should he really care if people hate it? Everybody’s a critic in their own mind, after all. There was going to be something people wanted to complain about no matter what they did. So long as they were having a good time, creating something they were proud of, that was all that should matter.

That’s what art is. Something one is proud of. Something you can’t be afraid to show the world.

“You know wha’? I will try it. It’ll be fun.”
He spoke with a confident, excited smile gracing his face. They had a while before they flew back to London for the album art, but he was already finding himself getting excited for it. “That’s the spirit, my man!”
Ace smiled excitedly back before he stood up with a hand in his pocket.
“You know, you’re adorable when you have some confidence behind ya. You should try it more often.”

“Ya f’hink…?”
Stuart gave a small laugh, rubbing the back of his neck as he felt his face start to heat up at the comment. He wouldn’t say he was adorable, but that was just him. He did like the feeling of confidence, though. It wasn’t something he got to have all too often.

“I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it. Come on, I’ll make ya somethin’ ta eat. You’re probably starved, yeah?”
Ace held out his arm for Stuart to take and help himself up, which the singer happily did, nodding eagerly to the question. Stu clung to the others arm with one of his own while he made extra sure he wouldn’t fall over with the crutch in his other hand. With that, they headed out of the room - for 2-D, the first time in 4 days. It felt so nice to be free of that cripple migraine.

The ex-gangster found himself glancing at the blue haired man clung to his arm. Forget being adorable while he was confident… this guy was downright precious 24/7 and he was getting back into dangerous territory.

… Fuck it. He thought 2-D was absolutely gorgeous and perfect in every way, he’ll admit it. But only to himself. Stu didn’t need to know.

He didn’t want to fuck up what they already had.

Chapter Text

The rest of that day went by relatively smoothly. 2-D was upbeat, carefree, and all around happy for the time being. He was, of course, a little wobbly on his feet, reminding those around him of a newborn baby deer trying to walk for the first time. Ace couldn’t help but wonder idly to himself what kind of negative effects the pills Mrs. Pot had sent to them could possibly have… perhaps since Stuart slept through the curing process, he just missed out on it. It was truly hard to tell, but whatever she had given him was really a miracle medication. It put a smile on Ace’s face to see him so active after what felt like an eternity.

“Dawn of the Dead or Zombie?”

“Oh, Dawn of the Dead, for sure.”

Ace had been smoking out of the apartments window when the small interaction caught his attention, He snuffed out the cancer before flicking it away into the streets and turned around to look at Noodle and 2-D, who’d been rifling through a massive pile of films throughout the ages. He already knew Stuart was a huge film buff, having read through his (as well as all the others) Rise of the Ogre interviews countless times. He was going to ask which version, but the big, bulky VHS tape that was held up told him more than he needed to know.

“Okay… where did we put the VHS player?”
Noodle lifted her hands away from the film pile, looking around themselves for a moment.
“I have not touched that thing in so long, I do not know if it even still works.”

“Eh, I’m sure it’s fiiine. Older tech has always been way more sturdy, right?”
Ace spoke up while he closed the window, moving over to the others to help them search the countless boxes for the device in question. Stuart, apparently, didn’t go anywhere without his entire collection of films and whatever can play said films. Hell, from how he talked, he wouldn’t be surprised if the guy owned a Laserdisc player.
“Hey, Stu, ya ever thought about just leavin’ this stuff at your main place of livin’? I mean, you can always just pirate these kinds of things online anymore.”

“Ain’t that illegal, though?”
Well… that certainly caught Ace off guard.

“You are the last person to talk about what is and is not illegal, 2-D.”
Noodle shook her head, placing bricks of VHS tapes back into their respective boxes while she searched for the player they needed.

“No, no. Tha’s Mudz.”

“... Point taken.”

The bassist just sat by, snickering to himself before giving out a short ‘oh!’ as he pulled out the large, clunky device they’d been searching for. He wanted to hold it up above his head, give a nice cheerful victory noise, but uh-

“Oof… geeee-zus, these things weigh a metric ton!”
Ace wheezed out before he set it down on the floor in front of him.

“You sure you just ain’t strong enough to carry a little tech box, Ace?”
Russel finally returned to the room, having just got off the phone with a local pizza delivery place. He set his phone down on the coffee table - which was mostly being occupied by films of varying genres - before he seated himself on the couch next to 2-D.

“Yeah, no. He is definitely not strong enough. Look at his little string bean arms!”
Noodle teased, sticking her tongue out at their bassist.
“... I’unno, he carried me. I f’hink it’s just a li’l heavy.”
2-D pitched in his thoughts on the current topic, smiling a little bit at Ace who just returned it warmly.

“D, you know you’re as light as a sheet of paper, right? A toddler could pick you up one handed without breaking a sweat.”
Russel and Noodle cracked up into laughter as soon as 2-D pouted at him for the comment. Stu crossed his arms all the while, looking way more like a pouty child than he usually would. Ace chuckled, rolling his eyes as he stood up with the VHS player in his hands, walking it over to the TV to set it up.

“Okay guys. Tease me all you want, but teasin’ Stu? Takin’ it a little bit far.”
He spoke as he set the player on a safe spot in front of the wall-mounted flat screen, squinting his eyes a little bit up at it. Okay… he might be able to get this to work.
“‘Sides, I think him bein’ as light as a feather adds to his pretty boy charm.”

Ace glanced back at them with his comment, a sly grin appearing on his face. 2-D just stared at him with his blackened eyes wide. Stuart’s hands gripped his crutch a little tighter at that moment, chin resting on it as he willed away the fluster that threatened to dust over his face. It was so strange to be defended like that in a little teasing fight… usually everyone would just keep going until tension started to form and everyone took it too far, but Ace just diffused it with a snap of his finger. It left such a weird feeling churning in his stomach.

2-D took in a deep breath and sighed, dispelling the feeling once and for all, then went back to helping Noodle put the various films back in the boxes. They’d made quite a mess, now that he thought about it. He would consider trimming his collection to only the films he enjoyed the most but… that just seemed unnecessary and he liked a good majority of the films he had. Not to mention it was hard enough finding intact VHS tapes anymore. Especially ones that didn’t have garbage recorded over them. He’s found his fair share of ones with very explicit material in the middle all because someone forgot they weren’t using a clean tape.

It wasn’t long before Ace managed to get the VHS player up and running properly. It was a miracle he managed to get it to work at all, honestly. He had zero idea what he was doing the entire time he was setting it up, but he got it to work in the end. Just in time as well, as a knock on the apartment door signaled that their delivery had arrived. Russel was the first to hop up, head to the door and greet the one bringing them their greasy feast for the night, handing them a wad of bills after making sure he had exact change and everything for them, as well as a nice tip just for the journey.

Noodle had busied herself with shoving the boxes back in their closet - after having grabbed a couple more films she knew 2-D liked - while Russel headed over to the coffee table with three pie boxes in hand. She took notice and announced she’d make some popcorn and grab a case of beers for the night before eagerly disappearing into the kitchen. It wasn’t often they just got to have nights like these. Had Stuart not gotten injured (not that she wanted him hurt) they wouldn’t all be getting together like this just for a nice night of horror flicks, pizza, popcorn, and booze. It felt so nice to be able to spend time with the people she considered her family like this. While she didn’t consider Ace that close yet… he was really starting to grow on her. So much so that she probably wouldn’t care if Murdoc were free or not. She knew for a fact that 2-D was more than happy with the change and Russel wasn’t at all bothered by it, so long as they were making good music that they were excited to present to the masses.

The microwave beeped sharply, pulling her from her thoughts and she grabbed a large bowl from one of the cabinets to pour the bag of hot, buttery goodness into. She picked up the bowl and the case of beers she’d snagged from the fridge and headed back out to the main room where she set the items on the table beside the pizzas before she found herself a spot between 2-D and Russel.

“Let the show commence!”
Noodle cheered out and the play button was hit on the remote, starting the film for their viewing pleasure.

This was the kind of night they needed, just a nice night together. Something to bond over, make stupid comments over, laugh at the cheesiness every now and then, stuff their faces until they were catatonic.

Just a night of fun.

Chapter Text

It was around 12 at night now and they were already halfway through another zombie flick that 2-D insisted on watching. Russel had announced he was heading to bed not too long ago, that he couldn’t stay up anymore (especially with a stomach full of popcorn, pizza, and beer), leaving Ace, 2-D, and Noodle.

Well… it was more like just Ace and 2-D, considering Noodle was curled up on the small section of couch she had, fast asleep. Stuart had his eyes glued to the television before them, the gorey, blood scenes putting him at a strange ease. Being creeped out and watching thriller scenes for some reason always made him the most relaxed, no matter what. Love scenes? Awkward. Fight scenes? Boring and way too scripted. Scenes where the protagonist is forced into a life or death situation and they’re trying to get away from some entity that wants nothing more than their blood spilled on the ground? Sign him the fuck up. He’d hardly noticed himself leaned up against Ace’s shoulder he was so engrossed in the film.

Ace on the other hand… had noticed all too well. Don’t get him wrong, it wasn’t at all unwelcome. In fact, he couldn’t get rid of the big, goofy grin on his face right now. Thank God the lights were out and the only way 2-D would see it is if he looked directly at him. But it was nice to know that Stuart was this comfortable around him now. He didn’t want to make any strange moves and end up freaking 2-D out… but he did chance letting his arm wrap around the singers shoulders. He didn’t seem to mind in the slightest, just leaning further into him. He was actually blessed this night, he swore up and down that some God was smiling down upon him right now and he was absolutely elated.

The film went on with the two of them just like that, watching together - practically snuggling, let’s be real. But then Ace took notice of the singers relaxed state and glanced down at him, immediately noticing that somewhere during that time they had just been watching, 2-D had fallen asleep, leaned up against him. Ace’s smile grew a little bit then, staring down at Stuarts peaceful face. He grabbed the remote to mute the film, then glanced down at Noodle for a moment.

Okay, a plan… he needed a plan.

He proceeded to carefully get up, leaning the sleeping Stuart against the back of the couch while he moved to effortlessly pick Noodle up and carry her to her room. Once in her room, he gently laid her down in the bed and threw her thick duvet over her body, watching her snuggle up into the covers with a happy smile on her face. Ace grinned a little bit before he escaped the room and headed back to the living room where he shut off the VHS player and TV then moved to pick up Stuart the same way he did with Noodle.

2-D hardly stirred, but did give a small hum and pressed his face into Ace’s chest. In his sleep, the medley of scents that were Ace’s own permeated his dreams, creating an all to vivid image in his head of being held close by the bassist in a warm, safe embrace. It was as though the man were some kind of knight to him, protecting his prince from any and all dangers that may come his way without even a second thought. It made a smile appear over his face as he was carried to his room. But the scent that put this sweet, fantasy into his head parted from him, the feeling of floating that his body had felt prior now gone and instead the softness of his matress enveloped his body.

He preferred one and it wasn’t the mattress.

Stuart mumbled out incoherently, turning slightly in his bed as his eyes cracked open, seeing a body starting to leave the room. He reached out, snagging onto whatever he could to stop the other man.

“Hey…”
Stuart called out quietly, sitting up a little bit, in the process, clearly only half away at the moment. He didn’t entirely know why he stopped him or what he wanted to say to him. It just felt like something he needed to do. His fingers that had snatched onto the end of Ace’s sleeve slowly glided down to his hand, fingers interlinking with his for a moment in a way that made the other’s heart skip a beat.
“... f’hanks… for bein’ so nice to me and… y’know, bein’ you.”

Ace was silent for a moment as a smile broke out over his face and he turned, shuffling a little closer to the bed letting his fingers interlock with Stuarts as he crouched down before him, his free arm resting on the edge of the bed. 2-D laid back down, staring at the man who had occupied himself by the bed.

“Y’know I have no reason to treat ya any differently, Stu… you don’t gotta keep thankin’ me for the littlest of things.”

Black irises glanced up and down Ace’s low-lit features for a few minutes before he smiled warmly back at him. This guy was way too good to him. He could have yelled at him, hit him, kicked him while he was down like everybody else but… he never did. Feeling confident and sure of what he was about to do, he slipped his hand away, scooting to the other side of the mattress in the process, tapping the bedspread a couple of times. Ace just gave confused look and 2-D laughed a little bit.

“You don’ mind, do ya? Been lonely for a few days now… I’d rather have someone wif’ me for the nigh’. No’fin’ weird, promise…”
2-D explained his thought process the best he could with his groggy mind at the moment. Ace seemed to hesitate at first - was he going to leave? He didn’t want to scare him away, he just thought it’d be a nice little thing to do for once. Stuart tensed up a little bit as he watched Ace rise, thinking he was going to leave the room and he squeezed his eyes shut.

Nice job, 2-D. Fucking moro--

He was pulled out of his thoughts when the bed quietly creaked and the mattress sunk. His eyelids fluttered open, seeing the other man laying right across from him with a faint grin gracing his lips. Stuart couldn’t help but give a big, toothless grin before he pulled the comforter up over the both of them.

Was this weird of them? They were two grown men sharing a bed like they were at a sleepover or something. But honestly? It was kind of fun, especially knowing someone you know you can trust is right there beside you.

This wasn’t weird at all. It was nice.

Chapter Text

A breath pulled through him as he stirred away, bloodshot eyes fluttering open and adjusting to the early morning light that flooded into the room. The first thing he saw? Messy, unruly blue hair. His brow furrowed a little bit and he quickly sat up, looking around for a moment. This was 2-D’s room. Wait--

They hadn’t… done anything, right?

Ace glanced down at himself and then pulled up the covers a little bit, making sure they were both fully clothed. He let out a relieved sigh, pushing his fingers through his slightly tangled hair. Oh… oh, that was right. He brought Stuart to his bedroom when he nodded off last night and then asked him to stay for the night. He didn't argue or say no last night because… well, he thought it’d be nice for both of them. Then again, he was a little buzzed last night after four beers. His judgement probably wasn’t the best to begin with.

At least he didn’t do anything that he could have regretted come the morning. He did have some variance of self-control, believe it or not. He didn’t need to prove a damn thing to anyway. Ace looked back down to Stuart, noting that he was still very fast asleep. He proceeded to pull the duvet up over his shoulders and slipped out of the bed as quietly as possible. He snatched his sunglasses up off the bedside table before he quickly shuffled out of the room.

He had some memories of the night prior, even if they weren’t the most vivid in the world. Noodle and 2-D had fallen asleep in the middle of Zombie, so he took Noodle to her room first then took Stu to his. The only difference was that the singer woke up and asked him to stay after thanking him for being… nice, he think it was? Literally just for being nice. Which was still a confusing concept to him. Yes, he understood treating people with basic human decency was standard (you wouldn’t be able to tell looking into his teen years) but he never really thought it was a thank-worthy thing. However, 2-D did it so often that it made it incredibly obvious that he was treated with so little not too long ago… maybe he could help him get used to it again while he was here.

Shaking himself out of his thoughts, he made a detour to the bathroom before he headed into the living room, desperately needing to take a leak. He ran his hands under the tap as to ‘wash’ them before he moved to the main room, stopping in his tracks when he noticed the various beer bottles littering the floors around the couch, an empty pizza box halfway flung across the room, popcorn scattered all over the couch -- just… a complete mess, honestly.

“Ah, damn…”
Ace sighed, tilting his head from side to side in order to crack his neck before he moved onto his fingers, cracking his knuckles in one swift movement. Okay. Let’s clean up this Godforsaken mess.

It was an hour before anyone else even stirred, Noodle being the first to wake up and shuffle out to the main room tiredly, grumbling to herself in Japanese some incoherent thing about needing to fight some giant demon that keeps haunting her dreams. Rubbing her eyes, she made a turn to head into the kitchen, but stopped first when she noticed a certain green-skinned man in the living room.

Wait… did he clean the entire living room?

“... This is cleaner than we we first rented the place.”
Noodle mumbled out with an incredulous look on her face and shuffled into the living room, looking around at the lack of clutter that she had become accustomed to.

“Oh, yeah. Good mornin’, Noodle. We left a bunch’a trash around last night, so I figured I’d tidy up a little. That fine?”

“No… no yeah, that is great! We’ve been needing to clean this part of the place up before we go back to London, I just didn’t think you would do it all yourself.”
They had a years worth of rent paid off for the place for whenever they needed to come stay in L.A., sure, but no matter how often she insisted they keep the place nice and clean, 2-D, Russel, and even Murdoc just shrugged her off, saying it’d be fine.
“I had zero idea you were part housewife.”

“Only for the right price.”
Ace gave a small chuckle at the comment, tossing a bottle he’d missed earlier into a nearby waste bin. He then grabbed one of the trashbags to set it beside the door so he could take it down later.
“Anyway, the beer and pizza we got left is in the fridge if you’re lookin’ for a greasy breakfast.”

“Killing demons all night long is fun, but one can only handle so many pizza nightmares, Ace.”
Noodle proceeded to cover her mouth with a small gagging noise escaping her.
“I do not even know how I got to my room, but I assume I slept walked.”

“Oh, I took you there.”

“... So I did not head to my room, looking like a complete maniac, hacking and slashing at the air?”

“Nope.”

“Damnit.”

Noodle snapped her fingers in the way a villain would if their plans weren’t going their way. Ace just allowed a short laugh to escape him, shaking his head a little bit at her and announced he was going to go take a shower before disappearing into his room. Once in his room, he started to undress before finding Stu’s pills in his pocket. Right, he was holding onto these. He opened one of his dresser drawers, putting the bottle inside for the time being. He didn’t want to keep it out in the open in case anyone got any ideas when they saw them.

2-D awoke to the sound of birds chirping and cawing outside his window and he immediately sat up, rubbing at one of his eyes. He groaned quietly, squinting at the sunlight that flooded into the room. He forgot he’d taken down the blackout curtains… actually, now that he thought about it, it was nice to have sunlight back in the room, again. He yawned, stretching his arms high above his head before turning his attention to the spot next to him on the bed.

… Waaait a minute… didn’t he invite Ace to stay in his room last night?

It took him a moment to remember what all went on last night, but he definitely did. He knows for damn sure they didn’t do anything racey, so there was no need to worry about that in the slightest. But he does recall it being… kind of nice to have a warm body beside his. It’d been such a long time since he had someone even sleeping beside him. It was definitely welcome to him. It put him at a sense of ease he forgot he could be at.

The passing thought of asking him again sometime did strike him but only for a moment. Right now, he just wanted to use the bathroom. He shifted around a little bit, reaching for the crutch at the end of his bed and used it to help himself up. He wasn’t entirely sure where the other one was, but he could live without it. He only actually needed one of them to keep himself balanced, after all.

After taking a piss and fixing his hair a little bit in the mirror, he headed out of his room, slowly and carefully moving down the hallway. He heard the sound of Ace’s shower going as he walked past his door - now he found himself wondering just how long ago he’d gotten up. He wanted to go in and give him a nice good morning, but that might be a little bit weird, huh? Instead he just moved into the main room where he found Noodle seated on the couch, feet up on the coffee table as she watched some strange American cartoon featuring an apple and an onion.

Cartoons were so weird nowadays…

“Good morning, 2-D. How are you feeling?”
Noodle nodded at him after swallowing a mouthful of cereal and milk.

“Great, besides a li’l body pain here and there.”
He gave her an honest and headed over to the couch, plopping down onto it beside her. Something seemed different about the room. He found himself looking around, having a hard time putting his finger on it. Stuart opened his mouth to ask Noodle but she cut him off before he could.

“Ace cleaned. It is nice, right?”
She gave him a smug grin and he knew full well why. The number of times she asked them to help her clean up… hoo boy. He quickly looked away, pretending like he didn’t notice the look she gave him.

“I’m guessin’ he did it this mornin, yeah?”

“Mhm. I came in just as surprised as you.”

Stuart turned his eyes down at the floor for a moment, hugging at his crutch a little bit. Huh… he didn’t really take Ace for that type of person to just clean up someone else’s mess when he felt like it. Might’ve just been a one time thing now that he thought more about it. If it were really bothering he that much later on, he’d just ask. 2-D leaned into the couch, staring at the obnoxiously colored cartoon on the screen in silence… and he was immediately bored.

“Hey, Noodle. How long do I needa keep weigh’ off me ankle?”

“A couple weeks. Why? Getting antsy already?”

Yes...”
2-D groaned out. They usually had something they were doing, whether it be recording a song, filming a video, doing album art, or just outright promoting their new stuff. It wasn’t usually just outright monotonous like this!

“Well, I wanted to bring this up when Ace were here, buuut…”
Noodle leaned forward, setting her bowl down on the table in front of her.
“... we were thinking about dropping a visit to Townsville. You know, Ace’s old home town. He had something he wanted to pick up there - a recipe box, I think. Russel said he was fine with it and we were waiting for your migraine to go away to ask you.”

She said, glancing behind 2-D, noticing Ace coming out from the hallway.

“Yes!”
He wasted no time responding, a smile finding it’s way over his face at the idea.
“I remember, he sai’ it was his mums. I was kinda… f’hinkin’ about askin’ him if he ever wanted to go and ge’ it. Or well… to the bes’ I could f’hink wi’f a migraine killin’ me.”

Stuart hadn’t noticed Ace standing there beside the couch yet. It was soooo tempting to let out a laugh, just watching 2-D explain his thought process with the man it was all for standing right behind him. Ace just leaned up against the couch with a grin on his face, waiting for the blue haired man to notice.

“An’ like, he talks abou’ his ol’ gang a lot, and it feels like it’d be fun to meet ‘em all, y’know? He mentioned ta me once tha’ he wanted to come see us perform when we went to his town bu’ he couldn’t and I kin’a wanna make it up to him? If tha’ make sense, yeah?”
2-D had the biggest smile on his face, talking about all the little things he thought about while he was incapacitated. It was becoming harder and harder for Noodle to hide her amusement. A hand reaching out, touching the man’s shoulder, making him jump just a little bit then turn to look at the person holding his shoulder, face dropping instantly.

“Awww, Stu… I’m touched. You think about me that much?”
Ace knelt down, giving him a faux touched smile, causing Noodle to lose it with laughter. It’d been so hard to hold in! 2-D had been talking about Ace with such burning passion with him right there. How classic. The singer, on the other hand, felt his face burn hotter than the surface of the sun itself. He genuinely didn’t think Ace would hear any of that… now he felt like he just spilled his entire heart to him. The bassist gave a small laugh and ruffled his hair a little bit.
“Don’t look so embarrassed, Stu… I’m flattered you put so much thought inta it… eeeeven if we were just gonna ask ya about it, too.”

Stuart calmed down a little bit at that, though his face still continued to stay heated despite his body relaxing.

“Well, if everyone is okay wi’f it, too… I’d uh… love ta visit Townsville, again. We have time, right? Before we have to go back to London, righ’?”

“Yeah, we should have enough time for a short detour.”
Noodle confirmed, giving some reassurance to 2-D. A smile grew over his face while he reached up to touch the hand that was still on his shoulder. This was exciting, really exciting. They didn’t really go to towns for just… visits. It was usually just for shows or business. This was just like a miniature vacation and he already felt himself welling with excitement.

The thing he was most eager about though… was being able to learn more about Ace.

Chapter Text

The city of Townsville!

… Was about thirty minutes out from the airport they’d landed in. The flight from California to the city wasn’t exactly long, in fact it was one of the shorter plane trips the band had been on. They could have easily driven but… eh, splurge a little, right? It was a smooth journey anyway and it had given them time to set up living arrangements for the time they’d be there. Of course, before they left they made sure to send off certain items to London before they left for Townsville.
But here they were, in a taxi, heading for the place Ace called home. 2-D found himself gripping at his crutch a little too tightly as he peeked over the seats in front of him in hopes of seeing anything down the highway. It was almost like he was treating this like they were going to an amusement park of sorts. He realized it wasn’t going to be like that, he was just more excited about the aspect of seeing the town their temporary bassist used to live in. He spoke about it every now and then, but it seemed like he was just a little reluctant to talk about his experiences.

He glanced over at the green skin toned man in question, who was just staring out the window with his elbow on the door and his chin in his palm. From what Stuart could tell, he didn’t seem to be feeling… anything about coming here. He was bad at reading people sometimes, sure, but maybe he was just trying to hide something from them? That couldn’t be, though. Ace was more than likely happy to be home, he was just avoiding playing it up was all. He spoke a little bit about the city on the plane, but not a whole lot.

Ace looked away from the window, noticing then that Stuart was staring at him. He cast him a gentle smile, noting how excited the blue haired man seemed. Don’t get him wrong… it wasn’t that he was unhappy to be coming back. He just knew a lot of memories were bound to resurface for him, good and bad. He tried calling up Snake to tell him he’d be in town, but all he got in the end was a disconnected phone message. It was a little bit unsettling… but may he had just changed phones and neglected to tell him. Most of his boys were kind of a mess when he wasn’t around, after all.

“Hey, looks like we are about here!”
Noodle, who was sat in the front passenger's seat, pointed out and grabbed everyone’s attention. Stu leaned a little bit forward, trying to get a good look at where they’d be staying for the next few days. His pitch black eyes widened as he witnessed the city skyline. He remembered this place now, the night they came to play at it too! From what he could remember, it was honestly a pretty okay show they played… albeit there were some strange occurrences. It had to be cut short if he recalled correctly due to some super-powered brawl going outside the hall they were performing he… even if a specific someone claimed it would just make things more exciting if they just played on.

Ace didn’t even move to lean in for a closer look; it was a cityscape he’d seen a million times throughout his teen years. It was the city he grew up with, it was hard to mistake it if he had to be honest. He also remembers the day he first met those three little girls who made his life a living Hell for the longest time, the ones he still has nightmares over. It started out with them just teasing them and looking to scare the piss out of them just for what they did to the city… and then he doesn’t remember what happened. He just know he and his boys got knocked out by someone and it wasn’t them, surprisingly. It didn’t help that while they were knocked out they were thrown into the local jail.

At least they didn’t have to deal with what went on outside… sounded like a shitshow of a time.

Then again, once they got out, they got the snot beat out of them all over again actually by the girls. Being stupid and young was all they had during those times… it was fun while it lasted, but he’ll never understand why they all let themselves keep getting pummeled like that. One would think they’d learn something after… I dunno, the third time? But nope. Ace shook himself out of his thoughts, licking his lips a little bit. He didn’t want to get too far into the past, the past was not a good place. It was best to avoid it until he came up.

It wasn’t long before they reached the hotel they’d be staying at. After paying their driver, they headed in to get their room keys. It was a small little play, nothing too fancy in the slightest but that’s what you get for last minute room reservations. Townsville didn’t really have many upscale places to begin with, they were pretty settled in their ways of appearing as a small town despite being a relatively huge city. It honestly didn’t look like the architecture had changed in well over fifty years for any building, anyway. It almost looked like something you’d see in a retro Hanna-Barbera style cartoon.

“Okay, two rooms. Who’s sharin’ with who?”
Russel returned to the other three, tossing the room keys up and down in his hand while waiting for a response. They looked at each other, seeming to debate with each other in silence between Noodle suddenly snagged Ace’s arm, throwing her hand up in the air.

“I will share with Ace! I wanted to take a little bit of time to practice some older tracks with him, anyway.”
She grinned from ear to ear and snagged one of the keys from Russel before she and Ace headed up the stairs. Ace just shrugged and followed, waving a little bit to the other two and disappeared up the staircase.

“Well, that was easy. Looks like it’s you and me, D.”
Russel flashed him a smile, letting the keyring slide down around his finger in order to twirl it around the digit. Stuart smiled back at him, nodding a little bit. He was more than happy to share a room with Russ, anyway - he wanted to repair their friendship more. They hadn’t gotten to talk a whole lot, considering he was basically dead for several days after the incident.

Rather than opting to take the stairs, they head for the - somewhat shady looking - elevator, knowing full well that Stuart wouldn’t be able to walk up three floors with his ankle in the state it was. Once inside, 2-D held the crutch up to his front, leaning against it just a little bit. It was silent, besides the sound of the elevator taking them up to their floor, before 2-D spoke up.

“Hey, Russ… jus’ wonderin’, are you s’ill mad at me?”

Russel appeared slightly taken aback by the inquiry before he just gave a short laugh at shook his head.

“Nah, D. That’s behind us.”
The drummer gently patted the slightly younger man’s shoulder in reassurance.
“If you’re still worried about that, ya really shouldn’t be. I ain’t mad at you in the slightest. I was just goin’ off some weird instinct that I wasn’t puttin’ into check. I know you’re gonna be changin’ and gettin’ your groove back now that Mudz is outta the picture. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and I’m happy to see ya gettin’ your confidence back. I’m more than excited to see you as the leader of this band since… well, you’re eager to take up that initiative. I’m sorry I didn’t see that before and I did somethin’ stupid to ya.”

A smile broke out over Stuarts face. It was… really nice to hear that, honestly. It made him feel a little bit better. For some reason, the entire thing had still been biting at him for the past week. He didn’t want Russ to hate him because… well, he was his best friend when Gorillaz first formed and he was the only one who’d actually stand up to Murdoc for him. He even broke damn Satanists nose because of what he did with Paula.

If that wasn’t true friendship, he didn’t know what was.

“Thanks, Russ. Really helps ta hear tha’.”
His smile widened a little bit. They didn’t get much more time to talk in the privacy of the elevator as the lift gave a sharp ding as it reached their floor. Making sure they had all their luggage with them, they made their way out of the elevator and down the hallway to their room.

Already inside of their own room, Noodle was already looking through the shallowly stocked mini fridge, filled with items you could get for much cheaper in a vending machine just a short walk down the hallway.

“Too bad we do not have a blacklight… we could check and see how often this place cleans the rooms.”
Noodle joked, pulling a laugh from Ace who’d been drinking from a bottled water he had already stolen from the fridge. He nearly spit the water out all over himself but managed to cover his mouth in time.

“I… I really don’t think I wanna know if people are usin’ the sheets and walls for invisible Jackson Pollock paintings.”
He chuckled out, wiping a small dribble of water off of his chin with the back of his hand. Ace capped the bottle and proceeded to flop down onto one of the beds, staring up at the ceiling for a moment. He should try calling Snake again, soon… maybe it was just some weird phone glitch he got. He just couldn’t get it out of his head for some reason - sure this kind of thing happened before, but he’d usually been informed eventually… sometimes too late, but nevertheless.

Ace stuffed his hand into his pocket while he laid there on the too-plush hotel mattress, pulling out his cell to dial up the man in question and waited.

”I'm sorry; the number you have dialed is not in service, or temporarily disconnec--”

He ended the call before the recording could finish, huffing quietly as he glared up at the ceiling from behind his shades. Noodle seemed to take notice in his shift in mood, pushing the fridge door shut and proceeded to stand up straight, staring down at him with concerned eyes.

“What is wrong? Did something happen?”
She asked and seated herself on the bed beside him, crossing her legs as she did so.

“... Nothin’ t’get antsy over. Just been tryin’ to call one’a my boys and his phone is disconnected. I’m sure they’ll be at that old shack we called a clubhouse in the early days and things’ll be fine.”
Ace explained while he proceeded to rub his hands over his face. Something in his gut isn't sitting well with it all. It’d only been a little over a two months since he headed out to L.A., met up with Noodle for the first time, and joined Gorillaz. Nothing serious could have happened, right? Definitely not. So why couldn’t he erase this bad feeling?

He really didn’t know… but he wanted to find out as soon as possible.

The sound of something tapping at the door caught their attention and effectively pulled Ace out of his train of thought. He sat up while Noodle hopped up to go answer their front door and--

“There is… no one there. Okay then, ghosts.”
Noodle gave a small laugh as she started to close the door when a voice - specifically 2-D’s voice - from what she could only assume was a closet make her jump a little bit.

Other door!”
Noodle nervously glanced over at Ace who just shrugged a little bit. She shuffled over to the door in question, opening it to come face to face with Russel and 2-D stood behind it.

“Look! The rooms are--”

“--connected. I can see that.”
Noodle grinned at the blue haired man stood in front of him, leaning against the wall that surrounded the door.
“Sooo why are we paying for two rooms if they are connected, again?”

“They were probably thinkin’ we wouldn’t notice.”
The bassist spoke up, heading over to the door as well now to, join the group. He pocketed his hands, his mind having been completely distracted from his previous worries. Honestly? He already knew this hotel had rooms like this. He just didn’t think they’d get that lucky.
“S’not that big of a deal, though, right? It’ll be easier to get to each other if anything happens.”

“Good point. Aaanyway, we should go out for food soon, right? The fridge has nothing but garbage in it.”

“Yeah… I got a couple places in mind.”

Chapter Text

Maybe going out into town for a bite to eat was a bad thing. Ace wasn’t entirely sure. He just knew he ended up hiding his face quite a bit, hoping the others wouldn’t notice. Why was he hiding his face? We all know why he was. He was one of the towns villains at one point, even if villain was a relatively harsh word for someone who just did petty crimes. In fact, he was pretty sure they hadn’t even been consider very much worth the time, just a nuisance. But still… the looks he got when people noticed the color of his skin told an entirely different story.

They looked at him as though he were on the same level as Him. Yeah - the big, scary looking devil guy who could warp time and space around him. Ace himself didn’t even have powers that he could use at his own accord. It was something he’d have to activate in an extremely tedious (and slightly painful) way. Honestly, who wants to go out of their way to ingest something freezing cold every time they need to use their powers? Such a nuisance, if you asked him. It was cool (no pun intended) when he was a teenager, but nowadays it just felt excessive.

But as nervous as he was being back in a town that hated him, here he was, stood there with the band that he was temporarily playing bass for in a greasy fast food place that was ‘famous’ for its burgers. At the very least, a lot of the attention was directed toward the other three rather than himself. Ace found himself counting his blessings all too much that they were so recognizable. It didn’t really stop him from hiding away his features whenever someone bounded over, expressing to the members how much they adored their music and asking for an autograph.

That is… until someone noticed him.

“Hey, that’s not Murdoc.”

Ace froze up, adjusting his sunglasses a little bit. The others immediately took note in his strange demeanor, 2-D most of all. He wasn’t used to the guy being so holed up like this… how didn’t he notice the discomfort sooner? He needed to think of something fast to get the pressure off the poor guy. Think, think… take some initiative, you’re the band leader now for crying out loud! Wait, he’s got it!

“Nah… Mudz is in prison righ’ now back in the UK,” Stuart started with a small smile on his face. “We needed’a get someone t’stand in for him un’il he gets out. We’re jus’ here to pick some’fin’ up for him and we’ll be gone in a couple days.”

Stuart made a point to avoid saying anything about Ace being a native of the city, looking over at him with a reassuring smile. Ace just found himself staring at the singer with a surprised look in his eyes from behind his sunglasses. That was… actually really straight forward and kind of Stu to do. The fan seemed quelled after that - even if they gave a small, disappointed ‘oh…’ - and just left them to order their food after that. The ex-gangster felt his body relax, seeing as to how they evaded something potentially dangerous right then.

… He really didn’t think 2-D would do that for him. That was going to be stuck in his mind for a good while.

Rather than sitting inside of the establishment and drawing more attention to themselves, they headed outside behind the building, finding a place to seat themselves before they dug into their food. It was silent for a good minute or two before one of them finally spoke up.

“So, Ace… why’re ya so tense? You act like someone or somethin’s gonna come out of nowhere and deck ya.”
Russel asked, picking up his cup and sipping from the straw.

“I have mentioned that I used to be kinda an asshole, right?”
Ace gave a nervous laugh, resting his elbows on his knees while he spoke. He licked his lips for a moment, trying to find the proper words to explain himself.
“I mean… a real asshole. Not the worst this city’s seen but pretty bad to the point where me and the boys had arrest warrants out for our heads. Theft, vandalism, harassment, disorderly conduct… all that shit that couldn’t get hard jail time, but enough to piss a lot of people off.”

“So…,” Noodle started, swallowing a mouthful of fries, “basically what you are saying is, you were not a complete badass but enough to give you thicker skin.”
“That’s one way to put it.”

Ace nearly dropped his burger right on the ground at the sound of a new voice not too far off. He looked around for a moment, trying to figure out where it was coming from.

“Up here.”
They all turned their attention up to the sky - the very first thing Ace noticed was an all too familiar shade of fiery red that was long hair draped over a girls back, a girl who could be no older than 19 or 20. Beside her a girl with bright yellow hair in high, full pigtails. He swallowed nervously, slowly pushing himself so he was stood up while they descended to the ground.
“You’ve only been gone for a few months. Did you forget we could fly already?”

“Whossa’?”
2-D whispered to Russel, who only shrugged back.

“We get that you’re old, but you’re definitely not senile yet, Ace!”
The blonde giggled in a high-pitched tone, covering her mouth with her hands. The band just stared, the majority of them with extremely confused looks on their faces.

“Ace, who are these bugged-eyed freaks?”
Stuart couldn’t hold his tongue any longer. They were really starting to freak them out… but it seems like they heard them as they turned their attention to him with an offended gasp. Ace, on the other hand, couldn’t help but slap a hand over his mouth in a feeble attempt to keep back a bark of a laugh.

“Uhhh, these are the uhm… pff… P-Powerpuff Girls.”
Ace looked back at the other three, patting his chest a couple of times as he calmed himself down. He had no idea how that got him so good, but he wasn’t mad about it in the slightest.
“Or two of ‘em at least.”

He’d have to remember to thank Stu later for what he said. It actually helped him find his grounding, again. His signature smug grin crept over his face as he pocketed his free hand, shifting his weight off to one side as he looked back over to the girls in front of him.

“Anyways… how can I help ya today, girls? And’uhhh, where’s the green one?”
Ace spoke with the sense of confidence he’d established to the band behind him when he first join, pointing at the empty spot where a certain black haired girl would be.
“She waitin’ to surprise attack or somethin’?”

“Buttercup is off doing her own thing right now, but that’s none of your business! Hm!”
The blonde stuck her tongue out at him. How mature.
“We were more wondering what you’re doing here. You’re not causing trouble, are you? Who are you with anyway-”
The redhead moved to look over his shoulder before stopping in her tracks, eyes widening a little bit.
“A-... Are you Gorillaz?!”

“Monkies?”

“No, Bubbles. Gorillaz. The band.”

“Oh. Oh!
The realization hit her like a truck and in the blink of an eye she was seated on the ground before the group.
“Oh my gosh! I want you all to know me and my sisters are big fans! Plastic Beach is one of my favoritest albums ever! I listen to Broken religiously even though I cry every time!”

“Bubbles, no touching!”
The redhead called out, noting that her sister was slowly reaching out to touch 2-D’s (who was clearly scooting closer and closer to Noodle and Russel) arm. Bubbles quickly retracted her hand, flinching a little bit before giving out an nervous giggle.

“Sorry, Blossom!”

The girl now known as Blossom to the rest of the band clearly wanted to come over and meet them as well, but she stood her ground before as, placing her hands on her hips as she looked him up and down. He had a clear height advantage on the girl, but he knew all too well the kind of beating she could dish out… that and he really didn’t want to fight anyone.

“So what exactly are you doing here with them? Is it mind control? Kidnapping? Hostage situation?!”

“Jesus Christ, you are quick to jump to extremes! No, I’m their temporary bassist while ‘Doc is in jail!”
Ace was quick to defend himself, wanting nothing more than to clear any and all suspicions that may be on him. Knowing his luck, someone had called the girls on him as soon as they saw him. Though, he quickly relaxed when a question entered his mind.
“... Have you seen Snake, Billy, Arturo, and Grubber? I haven’t been able to get ahold of them and-”

“You can stop talking now because I haven’t seen them in weeks. All I know is Buttercup came home one night, mentioning how your entire gang wasn’t going to be showing up much anymore. She wouldn’t say anything else.”
Blossom explained, now crossing her arms as she seemed to relax a little bit more now that she knew Ace wasn’t a threat. Though, she couldn't help but frown at the pained, fearful look that took over the gangsters face.
“... Look, I know none of you have done anything heinous in years. Old habits of seeing you all as bad guys die hard… I have a hard time forgiving you over how you manipulated Buttercup, too. But look, you seem worried about your friends so… if I see them, you’ll be the first to know.”

“That’s surprisingly kind of yo-”

“On one condition: me and Bubbles get to take a selfie with you all.”

“Wow.”
Ace’s face dropped at that. For some reason he wasn’t at all surprised by the trade the leader wanted. These girls were used to being praised and getting damn near everything they wanted, after all.
“Fine, sure, whatever-”

He turned around to look at the ground, seeing Bubbles and Noodle already knee deep in some conversation in Japanese. Ace’s jaw dropped and he looked to Russel and 2-D for answers. They were just as confused as himself, both shrugging at him. The ex-gangster gave a long sigh and seated himself back on the curb, going back to eating.

The two girls explained their status as superheroes to the others, how they were created to be the perfect little girls for their scientist father but something happened in the process that gave them superpowers upon creation. Questions were thrown back and forth between them all; who they fought, why they chose to protect a city that shunned them at first, how the hell ‘everything nice’ was made into a concentrated material specifically for chemistry, etc.. All things that Ace already knew about (besides the everything nice question, of course).

He was honestly just having a nice time watching them all learn something new about a city they’d only visited once. He was already fully aware that outside of the city, these girls weren’t exactly well known. In fact, superheroes weren’t really a thing outside of the city boundaries, surprisingly enough. There were extremely strange occurrences, sure, but heroes? That’s going a bit far out of reality.

Of course, Ace found his eyes drawn to the big, adorable grin on 2-D’s face. He spoke as though these girls were the strangest thing he’d seen in his life and it was obvious he was loving every second of it. Maybe it was just the fact that super powered girls were praising him when it should have been the other way around. Regardless… he was happy to see him happy. It sent a warmth through his heart, in all honesty.

Once the girls got their selfie with the band and a few signatures, they started their goodbyes before Bubbles stopped, looking at Ace with a big smile on her face.

“You’re so lucky to be apart of this. I look forward to hearing the next album, especially knowing now that someone I know is on it!”

“... Someone you beat the snot out of at one point.”

“Ace, I’m trying to be sentimental!”
Bubbles cried out, the smile now being traded in for a pout. He snorted, rolling his eyes before letting out a small huff. He reached out to pat her on the head before hesitating. No… no way he was touching any of them if he didn’t have to. He retracted his hand, stuffing it into his pocket.

“I appreciate the support, kid.”

“I’m not a kid anymore, but you’re welcome anyway!”
Bubbles giggled, joining her sister up in the sky while waving goodbye.

And just like that, they were gone. Ace found himself able to finally relax properly after an hour of wondering if those super-powered freaks were going to turn on him or not. All he could really think to himself right now was good riddance.

Chapter Text

He’d woken up early, much earlier than he needed to. One could assume it was excitement over the events they’d be going through that day and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong… but in all honesty, he couldn’t sleep entirely well throughout the night. Stuart felt off for some reason, like something bad was going to happen. So here he was, sat in the glow of the early morning sunlight, tapping away on the flexible piano he had managed to sneak into his bag with him. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was playing, he just knew it made him feel a sense of peace with each note played by his long fingers.

2-D glanced over at Russel every now and then, making sure he weren’t disturbing him too much as he slept. It didn’t seem like he was, as the drummer was still fast asleep. Of course, he wasn’t really bothered. Noodle and Ace probably weren’t awake yet either. It was only about 6AM after all. Something inside of him wanted to wake the man up, relay to him the worried feeling in his gut but he genuinely didn’t want to bother him if he didn’t have to. It was probably just a strange sensation he was still feeling over Ace’s odd demeanor the day prior.

He had never seen the man act so… off. It was almost like he was scared, especially when those two girls showed up. Stu recalled Ace mentioning how he was punished for the stupid stuff he did as a teenager, he never really went into depth on what happened or who did it. It kind of made him a little angry, knowing how deeply it still affects him to the point where even just being in the city gives a noticeable difference in how he carries himself. It made him angry because he could relate to the kind of emotions he was going through, but he had no way of helping.

It really wasn’t fair in the slightest. Stuart wanted to do something to help out, but he just… blabbered like an idiot yesterday. Sure, it made him laugh, but did that really help?

It didn’t feel the same as properly helping.

His fingers stopped on the keyboard as a long sigh parted his lip and he flopped back down onto the back, staring up at the ceiling with a discouraged look on his face. 2-D looked over at Russel again after a few minutes, biting down on his bottom lip as he pushed himself up and proceeded to reach across the gap of the beds to shake his shoulder.

“‘Ey… Russ? Can I ask ya some’fin’...?”
He called out after he heard Russel groan out. The other rolled over, rubbing at his face with one hand, groggily mumbling out a small ‘what’ in response. Laying on his stomach now, 2-D rested his chin on his arms as he took a moment to think over what exactly he wanted to ask.
“Do you… maybe f’hink we should ask Ace if he wants t’leave early…? He doesn’ seem super thrilled to be here. Some’fhin’ ain’t sittin’ right in my guts about all this either.”

“Mmh… what you mean ‘somethin’ ain’t sittin’ right in your guts,’ D…?”
Russel mumbled, pulling his arm up under his pillow to prop his head up slightly while his free hand rubbed at his eyes in an attempt to wake himself up a little bit more.

“Jus’... uh… jus’ got a bad feelin’. You know like… omnipotent.”

“... You mean ominous, right?”

“Yeah, yeah. Tha’ one.”
2-D confirmed while Russ just sighed quietly, eyes illuminating his face as he opened them in the lowly lit room.

“I ain’t gonna promise nothin’ bad’ll happen while we’re here, because karma will just shove that right back in our faces. But I will tell you this, D,” Russel paused and proceeded to sit up, taking that moment to stretch a little bit, “if somethin’ bad does happen, we all got each other’s backs. We’ll get through it together, easy.”

The singer was quiet after that, only watching Russel head to the bathroom and disappear inside for a while. Yeah… they had each other’s backs through thick and thin. He knew for sure Ace wouldn’t just drop it all and run for the hills, either. He trusted them as much as they trusted him. He found himself smiling faintly now, having been properly reassured by his as-of-right-now roommate.

God, he was happy to be able to room with Russel. He always knew just what to say or do to calm his nerves.

It wasn’t for another couple hours that Ace and Noodle would knock on the door and tell them they were getting ready for the day ahead of them. Stuart had spent most of that time just tapping away on his keyboard and humming to himself, small song ideas forming in his head as he did so. While he was sad to be pulled away from his keyboard, it was certainly overshadowed by the excitement he felt to see Ace’s old stomping grounds. He said it wasn’t too far off from the hotel and that his old gang would most definitely be there.

The thought of being able to meet the people he knew during his childhood and teenage years was even more thrilling to him. He wasn’t entirely sure if they’d get along, but the bassist spoke about them in such a kind and adoring way. Being able to hear stories about his past put a smile right on his face; it gave him an opportunity to learn things he didn’t normally have the courage or even thought process to ask about.

Before they left, he made sure to take some over the counter painkillers to keep his ankle from aching too much during the walk there and they were off. Ace insisted that if his injury started bothering him that he tell him and he would more than happily help him out with it… if he were being honest, the idea of Ace carrying him again did send his heart in a bit of a frenzy. He just ignored it, pushing it away as happiness that he bassist cared so much about him and his well being.

“You all have ya tetanus shots, right? Okay, cool. I still don’t recommend touchin’ anythin’, though. We’re here!”
Ace grinned at the other three as he wandered in past the gates.

“... The city dump? You hung out in the goddamn city dump when you were a kid?”
Russel spoke up, following him inside, grimacing a little bit at the scent that hit him. He covered his nose with his hand. It was a dump, of course it was going to smell horrible, but still. Who willingly hangs out in a place where garbage goes?!
“This is nasty.”

“Oh trust me, I know. But it was our home away from home and it just kinda stuck, y’know?”
He shrugged in response, walking backwards as he watched their reactions. Yeah… he already knew they’d be weirded out by it. Who wouldn’t be? It was disgusting here but for some reason it added to the charm. Or… well, not anymore. He never understood what they saw in this place other than it being somewhere they could just do whatever the Hell they wanted.

He needed to get to his boys, but that meant finding that shithole shack of a clubhouse. It was always harder to find when a lot of waste was shifted around. The place was an ever changing maze, basically. Ace turned back around to make sure he wouldn’t trip onto his ass for over anything, kicking a can across the yard into a pile of garbage in the process.

“Hey, who’sss over there?”

Oh. He recognized that lisp all too well.

“Snake, get’cha ass over here.”
Ace spoke up with a smirk in his tone. It really wasn’t long at all before the long-necked man stumbled out from behind one of the trash piles, that big grin on his face that Ace had come to recognize. The bassist wasted no time time heading up to the old companion, taking his hand into his own and pulling him into a short embrace.

“Ace, I had no ideas you was comin’ up!”
The man Ace called Snake (reasonably so with his lips, tendency to place S’s where they didn’t need to be, and long neck) spoke up more confidently now, an elated hum in his voice.

“Why haven’t ya been pickin’ up your phone? I tried callin’ ta tell ya but you never answered. Y’had me worried sick.”

“Oh, it kinda gots brokens in a… really weird accidents.”

“Accident? Is everyone else okay? Where’s Big Billy, Grubber, and Arturo?”
Ace’s smile dropped immediately, a cold feeling finding its way into his chest and churning his stomach.

“Don’ts worry, Ace. None of usss got hurt. Billy and Grubber are doing sssome contract works today for some extra cash and Arturo said he’d show up a little whiles later.”
Snake reassured before he glanced back behind Ace, immediately noticing the people stood behind him. His eyes widened a little bit and he bit down on his bottom lip in order to contain some of his excitement.
“Isss that…?”

“Oh, yeah. Guys, meet Snake.”
Ace stepped off to the side, allowing Noodle, Russel, and 2-D to come up and give some greetings.
“He’s my best friend and was my second in command when we were still doin’ the whole gang thing.”

“H-Hi…! Oh mans, I’m sssuch a huge fan of your musics - we all are! When Ace tolds usss he was gonna be ssstanding in for Murdoc, we coulds hardly believes it!”
Snake was clearly starstruck at this point, making Ace bark out a laugh. He patted the man on the shoulder a couple of times to try and help him snap out of it.

“They’re just normal people like you or me. Relaaax.”
He moved his hand away once more and started heading in the direction Snake came from.
“By the way, I’m not just here for a visit. There’s somethin’ I gotta grab from the clubhouse, then we can talk all ya--”

“Wait, Ace! I don’t thinks you wanna sssee the ssshack right now!”

“What? Why--”

Ace stopped dead in his tracks, staring at what was sat before him. The structure of that old, nasty shack they called a clubhouse, their second home if you will… completely charred from top to bottom, burned to the ground. Only the smallest pieces left standing as remnants of what used to be.

His heart practically stopped, stomach dropping at the sight. Ace liked to consider himself a sweet talker, a charismatic rogue who could talk his way out of or into anything. It was no secret that he just liked to talk in general if the situation allowed him to. He had absolutely no words here. He couldn’t even begin to think of what to say or how to feel. Ace just felt like he’d drop to his knees at any moment, possibly even scream or cry.

Who wouldn’t want to cry? This was the place he went to when he felt like he had nowhere else.

“I… I’m sssorry Ace, I ssshould have said sssomethin’ sooner.”

This was the place he went to when his mother died.

Sssomeone came and burned it downs one night while we weren’t here a few weeksss ago…”

The place he came to when his father started getting violent.

“It’sss how my phone got brokens, too… sssince I accidentally left it overnights.”

His safe haven, burned to ash and dust.

“Ace…”

A hand fell on his shoulder, causing him to tense up before he turned to see two black irises staring at him. It was only then did he feel the moisture on his face, 2-D having snapped him completely back to reality. He shook his head, pulling off his sunglasses and pressing his palm to his eyes.

“Jesus Christ… whoever the Hell did this is a real piece of shit…”
Ace managed to sputter out with a breathy laugh escaping him.
“... And here I thought we were bad when was kids…”

He hated shedding tears in front of other people. It was so embarrassing… why the Hell couldn’t he help himself right now? This was such a stupid thing to cry over. Stuart’s hand never left his shoulder though… it was actually nice to know he was trying to help right now. Even such a small gesture could do amazing things for him. He had to wonder if Stu knew just how much this meant to him.

“Now you know how it feels, asshole!”

Oh no… he knew that tomboyish voice all too well.

“Why you cryin’? It’s just a stupid wooden shack!”

The sound of footsteps landed in front of him and he took a deep breath, regaining some of his composure before he moved his hand away from his eyes.

“Hey, Buttercup… still uh… giving little to no shits, I see?”
Ace licked his lips, looking down at the sunglasses in his hands.
“I’m gonna take one Hell of a wild guess and say uh… you did this?”

“Wow, I guess goin’ off to L.A. made you smarter, huh? Yeah. I did it.”
She shot a sharp glare to Ace, stepping a little bit closer, causing Ace to only step back and took ahold of 2-D’s arm in case he bumped into him.
“I figured it’d get your nasty gang out of the city, but nope. I figured ‘hey, Ace is gone! That means they don’t have anyone leading them around anymore! Get rid of this shitty shack and Townsville will be rid of ‘em for good!’ But nope. They’re stubborn as Hell and they just started plans to rebuild a newer, probably crappier one.”

“Does the professor know you’re usin’ that kinda language?”
Ace idly joked, making Buttercup roll her eyes so hard he was afraid they’d pop out of her weirdly shaped skull.
“That can’t be your only reason… oh, I got it. You’re still ticked about the me trickin’ ya when I knew you had a crush on me thing, right?”

Buttercup opened her mouth to retort, maybe even say no, but she closed it again, crossing her arms tightly over her chest.

“Your silence says it all. Man, I thought you knew just as well as I did that was just dumb kid shit. What, did you actually believe I liked you back then?”
Ace shook his head a little bit, an incredulous look in his eyes. Her anger only grew, it was more than obvious by the way her body was trembling.
“You realize how nasty it would’a been if a 17 year old got with a freakin’ kindergartener, right?”

“Shut up! I get it, my crush on you was stupid! But I’m still pissed that you used that to try and hurt my sisters! You took advantage of me and broke my heart!”
Buttercup cried out, frustration and anger the only things lacing her voice.
“You should be wanting to rip my guts out right now! Why are you talking like I just knocked some goddamn books out of your hand?!”

“Probably because I’m not the same person anymore… old me woulda found a way to exact some kinda revenge on you but now I already know I’d be leavin’ Townsville with more than one broken bone.”

“Well how about I give you and Snake some broken bones right now? I’d be more than happy to show you on your way out of the city!”
Buttercup growled out, slamming her fist into the palm of her hand. Stuart immediately tensed up as he watched the girl start heading straight for the two ex-gangsters.

“Whoa, whoa! They ain’ even provokin’ you! Why the Hell are ya gonna try ‘nd hur’ them?!”
Stuart quickly moved out so he was in front of Ace, holding his crutch up defensively in hope that would stop the rampaging 20 year old. Noodle called out for 2-D, knowing how much danger he was getting himself in. Why did he have to be so stupid?!

“Get out of the way. I don’t wanna hit an international super star!”

“2-D, just go… I’ll be fine.”

“Hell no!”
Stuart snapped, glaring daggers at the girl ahead, hands gripping tighter at the metal of the crutch.
“If you think you’re gonna be hur’in’ any of my band members wif’out havin’ta go f’hrough me firs’, you’ve got another fuckin’ thing comin’!”

He was the leader of this band. That meant not only being a guide for them but protecting them as well, right? He didn’t want Ace hurt. Seeing him cry was already painful enough. He didn’t know how he could have possibly comforted him, his body just moved on it’s own. Stuart wanted nothing more than to give him a big hug, but he wasn’t sure if that were the first thing to do. A simple hand on the shoulder to show him he was there, just to show him he wasn’t alone in such an emotional moment… was that enough?

It didn’t feel like it. Which is why he wanted to go above and beyond, protect his bassist from this bug-eyed freak.

Get out of the way--!!”
Buttercup screamed out, throwing all her weight into a punch toward him. 2-D squeezed his eyes shut, hearing Noodle and Russ yell out for him to move. He felt a pair of leather jacket clad arms wrap around him into a tight embrace in that instant.

It felt a lot nicer than the first time… a lot less mocking.

“... Goddamnit… screw you, I can’t hurt someone who’s innocent. There, I said it!”
Buttercup huffed out, causing 2-D to crack open his eyes to see her fist inches away from his face. He swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat, hands that clutched his crutch tightly shaking profusely. She sighed, drawing her fist back and turning away from them.
“If you’re gonna protect him, there’s no point in even trying to lay a damn finger on him. I’m goin’ home. Seeing him cry is more than enough I guess.”

With that said she floated off before zooming away into the distance. Stuart let out a breath that he didn’t realize he’d been holding before he fell down onto his knees, taking Ace down to the ground with him. His entire body was trembling... no wait… that wasn’t his own. It was Ace’s. He could feel the mans face pressed against his back, short, quiet sobs escaping him.

“... If you didn’t move… I was gonna actually throw ya outta the way… don’t freakin’ do that, Stu… ever again.”

Stuart felt his heart skip a beat, one of his hands traveling up to touch the back of Ace’s.

“At leas’ you’re okay.”

Chapter Text

‘Sauté onions and garlic in hot oil in a 5-qt. Dutch oven pot over medium-high heat 3 to 5 minutes or until tender.’

The waterworks wouldn’t stop for some reason. He just clung to 2-D for dear life. The thought of him getting hurt by one of those bratty little girls twisted his stomach into painful knots. He knew for sure Stuart would never be able to take a punch from one of them… just one of them could throw a punch with the force of an assault rifle behind it. He hadn’t bawled like this in the longest time… not since he was little.

‘Stir together beef soup base and 2 cups water, and add to Dutch oven. Stir in chicken and next 9 ingredients.’

All he remembered from that day was his mother throwing her body over his… he woke up minutes later or maybe even hours, he had no idea, and she just… wouldn’t move. He knew what happened to her. He didn’t want to admit it at the time, but he knew she was dead, all because she tried to protect him. Stuart should have never dove in front of him the way he did… he didn’t deserve to be protected.

‘Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 hours.’

His grip on 2-D tightened a little bit more, the memories of that day flooding back, the sound of his father yelling and screaming, blaming him for it all, threatening to kick him out onto the streets. It wasn’t that he feared that happening all over again, more over the fear of losing someone he knows he cares about all over, again. Ace’s sobs didn’t cease, not until he felt Stuart turn around as best he could and run a hand through his hair.

‘Uncover and shred chicken into large pieces using 2 forks. Stir in brisket and lemon juice. Cover and cook 10 minutes. Serve with hot sauce, if desired.’

”Hey… s’alright, Ace. I don’ plan on goin’ nowhere.”
That calm, gentle tone relaxed his body all too well; it was almost as though Stu were singing to him, calming his nerves with his voice alone. Ace gave a shuddered sigh against his shirt, looking up at those stunning black eyes of his.
”No more tears, yeah?”

”... Yeah.”

Ace took in a sharp breath, shaking his head a little bit as he ripped himself out of his thoughts. He’d only been half-reading the recipe card in his hands. He set it down on the bed beside him, taking a long drag from his cigarette as his eyes scanned over the card beneath it. So many of these recipes were very time consuming, he’d forgotten all about so many of them. Though, if he recalled correctly, his mother was quite the Southern belle of a housewife - the type that would unironically say ’catching the vapors’ and own it.

If he kept thinking about it he was going to start up the waterworks again, he was sure of it. He slid to the next card, looking that one over next. They hadn’t been able to salvage many from the box as it had been badly burned in the incident. Only the cards in the center were spared, albeit some of them slightly singed on the edges. They were good recipes anyway and he was more than excited to make them for the group… or, as excited as he could be right now. He’d completely embarrassed himself in front of them all. Ace was going to have a hard time getting over that for a good while. Right now, they were out getting food to bring back to the room. He opted to stay back at the hotel… he wasn’t really in any emotional state to be going out in a town that hates him.

Ace placed his cigarette between his lips, keeping it there as he shuffled through the recipe cards, looking for at least one he knew he’d recognize until he stopped on one in particular. He stared at it for a few minutes, giving a small laugh, a puff of smoke escaping the corner of his lips. Oh yeah… he remembered this one. His mom apparently did, too, God rest her soul.

‘Brown sugar cinnamon rolls with homemade cream cheese icing.’ In the margins read, ‘Ace’s favorite! Always make on the mornings of his birthday as a surprise ♡!’

… She always did, too. He knew that was her special gift to him, one that was better than any material possession in the world. He set the rest of the cards down on the bed, staring longingly at this one and this one alone. Ace wanted to do this one sometime… maybe once they got to London he could, provided he could get all the ingredients for it.

The door to the room opened and Noodle came prancing into the room, trying her damndest to look as cheerful as possible to lighten the mood in the drab, dark hotel room. He took a long, final drag from his cigarette and let the smoke leak past his lips before he snuffed it out in the ashtray on the dresser. Ace then carefully placed the recipe card into his pocket. Before he could greet her, a bright red box was handed to him.

“... A happy meal?”

“To make you happy.”
Noodle grinned at him and he took the box, chuckling quietly.
“Plus, comfort food. I know today was rough.”

She set a drink carrier that held a cola, a mocha frappe, and two Mcflurries on the table that separated the two beds of the room. Ace just opened up the box in his lap, the smell of… well, possibly fake meat emanating from the box. Well, by FDA standards, it was edible. He wasted little time pulling out the contents of the box, stuffing some awful but addictive over salted french fries into his mouth as he laid down on the bed. Noodle only watched him, sipping on the frappe she’d stolen from the carrier moments ago.

Noodle… wasn’t entirely sure what to say right now. She didn’t want to bug him too much. Even then, if she wanted to bother him, she’d be at a loss for words. She only had the faintest idea of what he was going through at the moment… but she knew it was extremely hard on him. Noodle brought her legs up onto the bed as she continued to sip at her drink, just watching Ace drown himself in junk food - and then he stopped, seeming to be in thought. She cocked her head off to the side, eyes squinting a little bit as she searched for signs of movement.

“Noodle.”
He stated her name, suddenly sitting up and setting the happy meal box on the bed at his side.
“I think I’m ready to tell you that thing.”

“Oh? Thing?”
She blinked a couple of times before it hit her.
“You mean from the day you were leaning your head against 2-D’s door?”

“Yeah. That thing.”
Ace’s lips pursed to a fine line as he narrowed his eyes away from her, thinking his words over for a few minutes. Ah man… how was he meant to say this without coming off weird? Fuck it… fuck it, fuck it, fuck it!
“I think I have a thing for Stuart… no, actually I do. I have a thing for Stuart and that’s part of why I am still shaken.”

He spoke concisely and firmly, keeping his words clear for her, as though he were forcing them out of his body. He needed to say it, say it to someone he trusts fully with that information. Noodle was the one he knew the longest here, he knew he could trust her not to use this to her advantage. However, she was quiet for a few minutes, just staring at him while sipping her frappe. Ace gave her a confused look.

Why wasn’t she saying anything?

“Oh.”
She finally spoke up, seeming to realize she hadn’t been talking.
“Was I not supposed to know that already?”

“Ah- wh--... How did you--?”

“You act like you were hiding it. I mean, you were to an extent, but some people are easy to read.”
Noodle explained herself and set her frappe down on the table before standing up and moving over to the other bed. She pushed the happy meal box into the center of the bed after she snatched the toy out of it and seated herself beside Ace.
“So what is wrong? Do you not want to like him or something?”

“I… I dunno, I figured you’d slap me in the head, tell me I was crazy, that I’d never even have a chance with the guy and I’d be like ’okie dokie, time to get rid of these feelin’s!’
Ace watched her unwrap the shiny, colorful, plastic toy and turn it around in her hands. It was some gaudy, red baron Snoopy toy.

“I would not do that. If I disliked it or did not trust you, you would know by now, Ace.”
She smiled at him.
“I would have kicked your ass!”

He tensed up, clearly taken aback by the statement. Ace just snorted out a small laugh, shaking his head a little bit while Noodle offered the toy to him. He reached out and took it, fiddling with it in his long, boney fingers.

“I’m just… not sure how to handle this, y’know?”
Ace bit down on his bottom lip as he paused, having a hard time looking up at the woman he was confiding in.
“Should I tell him or just wait?”

“If you are unsure, then wait. It might be better, especially since you just went through some pretty hard stuff today. You do not want to act on impulse and end up hurting what you have with him already, right?”

“... Yeah.”
Ace clicked his tongue before giving a long, long sigh.
“I can’t fuckin’ believe I cried like that just because I was so scared for his safety today… he probably thinks I’m a huge loser now.”

“On the contrary, he was talking about only you while we were out. He was worried about you and how he wanted to be able to do more for you, he just wasn’t sure what to do.”
Noodle scoffed a little bit and reached out for her frappe to go back to sucking on the straw.
“Do not start treating this like some dumb high school stuff. It is not like that. You are both adults and you will come to an understanding when you are both in good places. Do not beat yourself up over it and do not wallow in self-pity over it. It is not like you.”

Ace gave an awkward shrug. She’s got a point. He was a grown ass man and he needed to give himself more credit than he was. This might be just a crush right now anyway… it might pass eventually anyway. For now, just wait. Things would go on as usual, time would still pass, the Earth would continue to rotate.

And most importantly… he’d be able to continue seeing Stuart every day. Scaring him off was the last thing he wanted.

“Thanks, Noodle. I appreciate the advice.”

“Of course! What are friends for?”
She proceeded to slap him roughly on the shoulder and stood up to move away from his bed. She knocked the wind out of him a little bit, but at least she didn’t break his shoulder…

God, how did she get that strong?

Chapter Text

It was already incredibly late at night. He already knew that, but his mind was so stirred up he couldn’t even think about sleeping. What had happened earlier that day… he could have died when he stood up to that monstrous girl. She was fully prepared to just plow through him with her fist alone, but she didn’t. She couldn’t, she held herself back. He had that kind of power over people, he’d forgotten that. Stuart had that kind of power over completely normal people - it was a shock to even him, he could hardly believe it. But the more he thought about it, the more the realized, people don’t want to hurt their idols nor do they want to see them get hurt.

It honestly sent his mind whirling, it made him feel absolutely unstoppable, powerful even! It had pent him up so much, he didn’t even feel tired. 2-D had headed down to the poolside with his melodica, another instrument he managed to sneak in with him, having seated himself on the cool concrete below. The pool itself was covered up and closed off until Summer, however leaving the gate itself unlocked told him that people were allowed to freely traverse the perimeter around the hotel in general. Which is exactly what he was doing now - sort of. He was more or less just playing a nice tune on his melodica, enjoying the satisfying sounds it gave as he played it.

Stuart came outside for the simple reason of wanting to be able to play as loudly as his instrument of choice would allow without disturbing his sleeping roommate. Russel had chastised him hard for putting himself in the path of danger the way he did earlier that day… but then just forgave him, telling him he was stupid for doing it but it was okay because he was alive. He already knew Noodle and Russel were worried about his well being, especially after the events that occurred at Venice Beach. 2-D didn’t quite understand why though. He’d been hit numerous times, sent to the hospital more than any average human being should, they never seemed to worry or fret too much over his condition. The usual amount seemed fine enough for them any other time.

They made it seem like he was going to die the next time he even got scratched. It kind of made him laugh a little bit. The only thing that mattered in that moment for him was protecting Ace, anyway. Even if it did kill him, so long as he stunned that girl long enough for some kind of retreat from his temporary bassist, that was what mattered to him at the time. Everything in his body at that moment was screaming at him to protect the man and he acted on the instinct. He didn’t really get a choice, his body just completely moved on it’s own and… honestly, he wasn’t mad about it. The only thing that hurt him at that moment…

The only thing… was listening to Ace cry and feeling him tremble and quake.

It resonated with him in a way that hurt his chest, made him want to cry for him, take away any and all fear or worry he had in his mind even just for that moment. Carry the weight of his emotions, just for a little bit, just so he wouldn’t shed anymore tears. He knew that kind of misery, Stuart knew all too well how what kind of torment it was to not only be afraid of being hurt, but possibly watch someone you care about get hurt from someone who made your life a living Hell for the longest time. He could relate to the pain he felt and it was the kind of pain he never even wished on his worst enemy.

Stuart blew harshly into the mouthpiece of the melodica, sending out a sharp, sour note that pulled him out of his thoughts. He looked around himself for a moment, remembering exactly where he was and let out a quiet sigh while his eyes traveled up to the deep, star-filled night sky. It was beautiful, to say the least. A sight he hadn’t seen in the longest time while they were stationed in L.A.. It was something he missed, just being able to sit back and try to count every single star up in that neverending and vast space of nothingness.

If there were people in the sky, would they be looking back down on them, he wondered… would they even care about those below them or would they be looking up, wishing only to soar higher? Would people in the sky even have problems if they could just fly away from them, the fear of those around them, the constant worry of the possibility of themself or those they love getting harmed?

Probably not.

He started to lay back, the melody of Fire Flies idly playing as his back slowly touched the concrete below him before he stopped, noticing a relatively familiar shade of green in the sky, basking in the moonlight that surrounded them. Stuart stopped playing his instrument, looking directly toward the color that touched at his vision and frowned.

“... Oy, you’re the bird who tried to punch Ace today.”

“Yeah, but you got in the damn way.”
The girl rolled her eyes. 2-D takes a minute to recall her name… Buttercup, right? Yeah, it was that. She floated down beside Stuart, giving a long, frustrated sigh as she touched down.
“Listen, I wanted to properly apologize and this was the only time I could actually get up the courage.”

Stu just stared at her for a moment before giving a small huff of a laugh. She was acting like saying sorry was the hardest thing in the world for her to do. Then again, would an apology really matter right now? The damage was done, anyway. He already knew he disliked her.

He gave a small mhm, going back to playing the song he had been on previously on his melodica. She frowned at him before seating herself on the ground beside him. She was in a tight ball of sorts; legs crossed, arms crossed, hunched over, a distinct scowl on her face. Why was she so angry? 2-D just played it off for the time being, continuing the tune, long fingers playing each key expertly from memory alone.

She was quiet, just listening to the music it seemed. He didn’t mind. She most likely didn’t know what he was playing or even realize it was for the new track to begin with. However, the tune did seem to make Buttercup relax quite a bit.

“You know… when me and my sisters were growing up, your band was one of the few we could all agree on.”
Buttercup paused, for a moment, looking over at Stuart who was now side-eying her.
“Like… music wise, I mean. Blossom liked music that made you think and had some kind of drive behind it, Bubbles was always into whatever was most popular at the time, mostly pop trash, and I’ve always been a bigger fan of hard rock and alternative rock. You guys just happened to be the very center of that… everything you guy make, we usually ended up enjoying together.”

Stuart just continued staring at her from the corner of his eyes to show he was listening. His fingers never stopped playing the notes for Fire Flies, seeing that it was getting her to open up at least slightly.

“That’s why I couldn’t hit you… I felt bad, you gave me and my sisters something special that we could all enjoy together… especially since we’re all so different from one another.”
Buttercup placed her forearms on her knees now, resting her head there.
“I know Ace has changed since then… but I still have a hard time forgiving him for nearly taking my sisters away from me. When they told me they met you guys with Ace, I knew where he was going to be and I knew I had to stand up to him. Something in me just screamed that he was dangerous still… and I don’t want him manipulating someone else after I’ve had that kind of heartbreak done by his hands.”

He stopped playing at that moment, causing her to snap her attention completely to him. It looked as though she were offended that he stopped playing. Stuart just hesitated for a moment before giving her a kind-hearted smile and reached out to pat her gently on the head.

“Buttercup. Tha’s your name, righ’? I really appreciate the though’... but I can guarantee you that Ace isn’t tha’ kin’a person anymore… he’s had a lot of time to f’hink about everythin’ he did when he was younger and he’s changed as a person.”
Stuart took a moment to retract his hand and place it back to his melodica now. He licked his lips, tapping at the keys a little bit without actually playing the instrument.
“Ah’dunno if tha’ makes sense or not, s’just how it seems, y’know?”

Buttercup just stared at him for a long time, an almost confused look in her eyes, as though she were having a hard time believing what he said. And honestly, she really was. She knew Ace from when she were just barely out of the mixing pot and she’d never seen him act nice or kind or even give up his malicious ways.

Or at least she didn’t think she did.

She had always been a punch first, ask questions later kind of hero. She rarely stood by when she saw the Gangreen Gang skulking around. But… maybe for the past few years, she’s been ruthlessly cruel? Oh… had she just be going at them this entire time with little to no reason? What she actually abusing her power as a superhero just because she had some personal grudge against Ace from something that happened when she was a stupid kid?!

… Oh no…

Buttercup suddenly sprung up, causing Stuart to jump in surprised. She flew up into the skin, hands digging into her short black hair as she gave a frustrated scream.

What the Hell is wrong with me?! Goddamnit! Goddamnit!!

Oops.

It looks like he broke her.

Chapter Text

Ace had been absorbed in plucking away at the strings on his bass for the majority of the night after he had a little jam session with Noodle. She insisted on it, that it would help him feel better. It did, absolutely, but now he was having a hard time putting the instrument down. It was soothing to just play for himself for a little bit. It helped him think, just the quiet around him and the low, soothing tones of his bass.

The fact that it didn’t bother Noodle in the slightest as she slept was a huge bonus, too.

But the sound of someone screaming out just outside the hotel window caused him to jump in surprise. Christ, what was going on out there? They were cursing at the sky like it had turned them into a monster or at the very least making them turn into a monster right this very moment.

Pushing himself out of the bed, he headed over to the window, carrying his bass with him by the neck and he pushed away the blinds to peak outside. There floated Buttercup, cursing and screaming to the high Heavens over something he couldn’t quite understand due to the glass muffling her words just slightly. Whatever it was, she was pissed off. He let his eyes travel down to the poolside where he saw 2-D sitting, clutching a melodica tightly as he stared up at Buttercup.

His mind suddenly went to the worst possible scenario in the blink of an eye and he didn’t even allow himself time to think before he was out the door of the room. Noodle sat up when she heard the door slam, mumbling out into the darkness to ask what was happening before she just flopped back down onto her mattress, back off to her dream. Ace was probably just running into the bathroom for something maybe.

Ace raced down the staircase of the hotel, completely ignoring the elevator at the time as he made it to the lobby soon enough. He made his way out the door and around to the back where the pool was located, pushing open the gate with his free hand, stopping in his tracks when he found Stuart and Buttercup sat on the ground facing each other. His brow furrowed a little bit and he opened his mouth to speak, only closing it again once he heard the girl sobbing. It was… extremely off putting to hear such a rough and tough girl cry the way she was. He never once even realized she was capable of such an emotion to begin with.

“I just… I don’t know… It’s just so weird! It’s like… it’s like me and my sisters aren’t even needed anymore and I keep trying to find reasons for us to stay in this town… all the villains got beat up enough to where they just gave up on their plans… the new mayor doesn’t even call us when there’s trouble.”

She sat there, spilling her heart out to Stu like it was nothing.

“I feel like I just… need to find reasons for us to hit people who used to be bad… I see Ace and his friends and my mind immediately goes to what they used to be even though I know it’s wrong…”

It was such a strange scene.

“Yeah, sure, I still hate him for what he did… but it’s not like I want to, it’s just this dumb thing in the back of my head that makes me. It tells me he hasn’t changed when he has and… I feel so stupid! I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”

And yet it made him feel… bad?

Ace hesitated for a moment before he let out a long sigh, heading over to the other two and seated himself beside them. Stuart was immediately surprised to see him there, looking around, confused as to where he came from while Buttercup just stared at him in complete and utter shock. He strummed on his bass a little bit, tuning it a little bit in the process and stayed quiet.

“... How much of that did you hear…?”
She mumbled out in a rough, tired tone, her tears seeming to have completely dried up at this point. It was obvious she still had more to shed though. Buttercup was playing tough now that he was here.

“Enough. You can keep goin’ if you want.”
Ace hummed as he played a few notes.
“I just thought you’d want more than one person around for uh… ya know, moral support.”

“I really rather you just flat out go to Hell.”
Buttercup spat, poison behind her words as she glared at him.

“Buttercup.”
Stuart spoke up, a stern tone in his voice that made her give a long, frustrated sigh.

“Don’t talk to me like that, you sound like my freakin’ dad. It’s not like I’m a kid anymore.”
She huffed, curling up into a tight ball once more. She looked around her for a moment before she stuffed her face into her arms. Ace glanced over to Stuart for a moment and began strumming away at his bass now knowing she wants going to go after anyone. It took 2-D a moment to figure out what he was playing - which was a little dumb. He’d sung Tomorrow Comes Today a million times in the past.

Then again… if he said he were used to Ace’s particular bass style, he’d be lying.

Nevertheless, he placed the mouthpiece of his instrument between his lips, placing the melody of the song almost effortlessly, making a smile break out over Ace’s face. It was by no means complete, but it sounded relatively okay with just the two of them, even with him opting to play his melodica in place of the vocals. However, it did make Buttercup finally look up at the two of them. She just gave a small laugh, shaking her head before she pressed her hand to her forehead.

“Man… you really have gotten soft, Ace.”
She smiled at him, wiping any possible remnants of tears away from her face. 2-D nearly spit out his mouthpiece laughing at the comment while Ace just shook his own head and sighed. Buttercup was quiet for a few minutes, tapping her foot in time with the beat before she looked over to Ace once more and seemed to hesitate in saying something.
“Can… uh… can I see your bass?”

“‘Course. As long as ya don’t break it.”
Ace shrugged and handed her the instrument, which she almost excitedly took in her arms.

“Uh… I don’t really know much, but I know the bassline to Feel Good Inc..”
Buttercup hesitated for a moment before she began strumming at the strings, seeming to be just a little nervous playing one of the most popular songs in the world in front of the guy who actually sung the song. It was sloppy - of course it was sloppy, she hadn’t touched a bass in years! Her and her sisters used to mess around with instruments but stopped around their late teen years, mostly because they’d… well, grown apart.

The fact that Blossom was in town at all was a miracle to say the least. She had gotten right in to the university of her dreams, full scholarship and all. Bubbles was usually busy with humanitarian work nowadays, but whenever Blossom was going to be around, she was always the first to know. Buttercup on the other hand… she wanted to be a hero still. She wanted to keep doing what she was good at and that was kicking bad guy ass! Unfortunately… she wasn’t really needed anymore. Neither were her sisters.

Her fingers slowly stopped playing and she looked up at Stuart who had a wide, toothless smile on his face.

“You know, you’re not bad at all, righ’? Your plays’yle is really actually unique… I f’ought you was gonna play like Mudz, but I’m pheasantly surprised.”

“Pleasantly.” Ace corrected.

“Yeah, that.”

Buttercup could only sit there speechless for a moment while the two in front of her discussed the fact that Stuart was saying a lot more things incorrectly but still saying it with the confidence of a man who knows what he’s talking about. She could hardly believe it. 2-D complimented her bass playing, even though it was amateur as all Hell! 2-D said her bass playing was unique, 2-D said she made him pleasantly surprised!

Stuart “2-D” Pot, the lead singer of her number one favorite band in the world, complimented her bass playing!

A smile broke out over Buttercups face and she gave a small, happy giggle, immediately catching the two band members attention. It wasn’t long before she was giddily giggling right in front of them, as though the best thing in the entire universe had just happened. To be frank, for her, it really was. Being praised and cheered for as a superhero? Psshhh! Being complimented by an international superstar? That was like a dream come true!

Calming herself for a moment, she set the bass down on the concrete before she turned her happy smile to the two of them. Was this what she was meant to do? Because a rockstar of some kind? It felt right, playing for someone she knew she could never surpass the fame of even in her wildest dreams and then being complimented for it. It made her heart absolutely soar higher than even the deepest reaches of space that she herself knew she could touch. Of course… if it weren’t for Ace, Gorillaz would have never come to this town and this would have never happened.

Her gaze snapped over to Ace who immediately tensed up under her sharp stare. He had to wonder if she were mad at him all of a sudden but the sudden tackle hug that sent him flying back definitely proved more than enough that she was not mad at him.

He was, however, about to piss his pajama bottoms.

Why you may ask?

Because she flew right up into the sky with him in her embrace.

Right above the swimming pool.

“Ace, I have no idea how I can thank you enough for bringing Gorillaz here! I think I finally know what to do with myself and I’m really sorry for how I’ve been treating you and-”

“You could thank me by-”

“-I honestly just wanted to believe you were bad still so I’d have a purpose and it was just so stupid of me because my sisters knew what they were doing with themselves, I just have no idea what I was going to do-”

“-putting me down on the ground-”

“-but now I know what I wanna do! I want to form a band, become as big as Gorillaz, be the lead bassist and one day be able to play with them!”

“-please put me down.”

Buttercup!
Two voices called out and streaks of color suddenly flashed over to the green clad girl.

“Buttercup, I thought we told you already, Ace isn’t bad anymore.”
Blossom started out, forcing a confused look onto Buttercups face.

“Yeah, there’s no reason to hurt him anymore! He doesn’t wanna hurt anybody!”
Bubbles cried out, her voice practically begging and crying for her sister to release the ex-gangster.

“But I was gonna--”

“Buttercup, put him down!”
The redheaded sister demanded firmly now, making the girl reel back in surprise slightly.

“Uh, girls--”

“Shut up, Ace!”
All three of the girls snapped at the man whose life was quite literally on the line right now. It wasn’t long before all three of the superpowered girls were arguing with each other; Buttercup trying to explain herself while Blossom and Bubbles were trying desperately to talk her down from nothing.

One little shove was all it took in the end, though.

All three of the girls now gasped, watching Ace plummet down to the pool cover, momentarily arguing amongst each other about who did it and who shouldn’t have done what before actually taking action in an attempt to save him. Had they not taken that extra second to debate amongst each other, they might have been able to grab his hand.

The pool cover caved in under the sudden weight, enveloping Ace’s body in the process. Stuart screamed out Ace’s name, dropping his melodica onto the ground before crawling over to the pools edge. The girls scrambled to retrieve him, clearly out of practice with their hero work. Bubbles managed to grab the pool tarp and yank it out of the pool, freeing Ace from possibly being tangled within it. His head suddenly popped out from beneath the water once the pool cover was gone, desperately gasping out for air as he quickly made his way over to the edge of the pool to where Stuart was, clinging to the side for dear life.

Buttercup and Blossom quickly made an effort to assist 2-D with helping Ace out of the freezing cold water, where he suddenly clung onto Stu. While the singer was slightly confused by the abrupt embrace, he didn't question it in the slightest. He merely wrapped his arms around Ace's drenched body, telling him quietly that it was all okay. He didn't mind. He was perfectly find comforting the man.

Ace was reacting perfectly naturally to nearly being drowned anyway.

“J-J-... J-Jesus fucking Christ, you all c-could’a fuckin’ killed me! W-What the Hell is wrong with you girls?!”
Ace panted out, pressing his face into 2-D’s chest. It was comforting that way, it was extremely comforting. He hated doing this twice in one goddamn day, but Jesus Christ, he felt like he could start sobbing right then and there.

Why were all of his worst fears coming to bite him in the ass today?!

Chapter Text

“Ace, we’re so sorry.”
The girls all spoke in unison, huddling around the two band members, all with worried looks on their faces.

“Uh… I’d s-s-say sorry for saying I don’t forgive you, b-but I don’t really feel bad about that!”
Ace snapped, making the girls immediately step back from the two. God, that was… the water rushing over his face… he couldn’t even move for a good minute. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, not wanting anymore bad memories to come flooding into his head, no more. Not tonight, he’s had his fair share of repressed memories coming back and tearing him a new one. He could barely even think right now; he was cold, scared shitless, pissed off, just over all in absolute shock that these girls couldn’t have a civilized conversation and they were twenty fucking years old.

He gave a shuddered breath, trying his damndest to clear his mind as his grip on Stuarts shirt became increasingly tighter. Ace felt ridiculous for crumbling so easily in front of the one person he didn’t want to. It was only making this all so much worse and he had zero idea how in the span of only 24 hours he was forced into such a distinct degree of humiliation by the Powerpuff Girls of all people! It was like being a teenager all over again, except this time he was constantly being tortured in front of the man he had feelings for! This was an absolute nightmare, it had to be, he was sure of it, he-

“Ace.”
2-D spoke up gently, ripping Ace from his train of very scrambled thought. He hesitated for a moment before looking up at him. Oh… he had such a kind and sweet smile on his face.
“We shoul’ really get you inside… s’cold out here and you’re wet. I’d rather you not be gettin’ ill, okay?”

Stuart brushed a wet lock of hair from his cheek, the bassist leaning into the soft touch. His hands were so warm… he had such a soothing touch. Everything about this blue haired black eyed God was just the most relaxing thing in the world. He loved it but he absolutely hated it at the same time… it just made him sink even deeper into the pit he’d gotten himself stuck in. There were only so many times he could say that, he knew that all too well. Ace was in way too deep and he wasn’t sure there was even a way out at this point.

The worst part was not knowing if the feeling was mutual.

“Um… i-if you don’t mind, since we caused this…”

“Please let us help to make it up to you!”

2-D looked up at the girls when they asked to help and then looked at Ace, giving him an expectant look. Ace was silent for a moment, before he just sighed and reluctantly nodded. He didn’t exactly want the girls near him but Stu was still injured and he by no means wanted to put anymore strain on him than he already has.

In no time the girls had swept them up and their instruments, speedily sending them up to the doors to their rooms. It was a little dizzying how quickly they went, 2-D found himself still trying to recover even after a couple minutes stood at the door. But, with a quick glance to each other, they both went into their respective rooms without another word to the girls who’d caused so much trouble.

As soon as he got into his room, Ace put his bass away then made a beeline for the bathroom in order to take a hot shower because, well, he didn’t want to get sick, just like Stuart said before. The only downside was, being in the shower left one to their own thoughts and only their thoughts - and these thoughts? Not enjoyable ones. They kept creeping into his head over and over again, his only salvation being to block it out by thinking about upcoming events, music, projects, shows, shoots, whatever he could. Just keep away the bad thoughts for God’s sake.

He pressed his forehead up against the wall of the shower, giving a shaken sigh as he allowed the hot water cascade over his body, warming his previously chilled skin. Ace genuinely didn’t like thinking about his fears, let alone talking about them. They all had to do with his offensively gritty past and he hated it to the very core; if talking about his fears meant going into his childhood, he wanted to avoid it at all costs. It was something that he didn’t entirely feel he had the right to talk about, especially when the world was far crueler to others than it was to himself.

It made him feel selfish and he was tired of being selfish, talking about the bad parts of his past.

Ace squeezed his eyes shut, memories threatening to come back to him and he shook his head. Nope. No more. He shut off the shower and stepped out of it after grabbing a towel. He stepped over his wet clothes, the garments reeking of pool chlorine, making him grimace. He snatched the pajamas off of the floor and tossed them into the hotel bathtub for the time being. Ace made quick work of drying himself off before he wrapped the towel around his waist and stepped back out of the bathroom. Noodle was still fast asleep, it seemed she didn’t even notice he was missing all this time.

That was probably for the best, now that he thought about it. He took a chance to glance at the digital clock on the table in the middle of the beds, the red, glowing numbers on the front reading 2:23AM. He had to wonder how long Stu had been out there before he noticed him at the poolside with Buttercup. Sighing quietly, he rummaged through his bag for a moment, grabbing out a pair of shorts to pull on for the time being and tossed the towel onto a chair in the room without much thought then proceeded to crawl into the warm covers of the hotel bed.

He pressed his face into the pillow, feeling exhaustion starting to overtake his body and mind. Ace didn’t really want to sleep, though… he knew all the stress building up was just asking for trouble. He knew if he fell asleep, he’d be greeted with nothing but nightmares. The ex-gangster hesitated for a moment before shifting around in the bed once more, reaching down to his pack to pull out his phone and a pair of earbuds. He scrolled through his music before finding The Now Now album.

Was this weird of him? To be listening to an album he knows he’s heavily contributed in? No, it really wasn’t in the slightest. It was only normal that if you could listen to or watch something you helped make with a smile on your face… then it must’ve been something good, something made with as much effort as you could offer. He licked his lips, hitting play on the first track before he closed his eyes, pressing his face back into the pillow as he allowed the music to fill his mind and senses. He felt his body relax with the melody that made his mind dance with color and visuals that he wouldn’t normally be able to find on his own, not with how troubled he was right now.

It was so relaxing, the music that 2-D had the opportunity to write for this album.

…..

……….

“Honey, wake up.”

Wake up? But he’d just gotten to sleep… that voice was really nice though. Such a friendly woman’s voice. He just turned in his bed, feeling the cloth of the covers shift around him. The light flooding in from the blinds hardly disturbed him though… but it was strange when the lighting suddenly went away and he felt his blanket suddenly snap away from him.

“Get up. We’re going out.”

That voice wasn’t nearly as friendly… the holder of it wasn’t even the same gender. Ace gasped, feeling his arm suddenly grabbed and his eyes shot open. The light was back, the sound of birds chirping around him, he’d been grabbed by someone. The street was right in front of him.

“Be careful… wait for the light to change, sweetheart.”

He looked up, barely recognizing the face, glancing over the woman’s features. She had such a sweet, gentle smile. His mother… he should have recognized that Southern drawl in her voice anywhere. She urged him to take her hand and he did, his own much smaller than hers at the time and she led him across the street. She talked about taking him down to the candy store, wanting to get him something for being so good at the doctors that day.

Right… they were trying to figure out why his skin was the way it was. She insisted on it, not wanting him to be picked on at school if there were something that could be done about it. As they passed an alleyway, someone yelled out from the cloaked darkness, making him stop and his hand slipped from hers. The world around him went back to an early morning darkness and he found himself walking outside of his old childhood home.

There was a man walking in front of him, unshaven, gruff, stoic… they were heading for his car.

“Get in.”

He demanded, finally looking down at him and his heart went frozen.

“Okay, dad…”

Ace stammered out meekly, getting into the passenger's seat of the old 1960’s Mustang the old man refused to part with. He flinched when the drivers side door slammed shut, making him close his eyes.

When they opened again, he was back in the alleyway, slowly stepping further and further in.

“Ace, honey! Where’d you go?”
The woman called out before she stopped at the end of the alleyway. She rushed down it, wrapping her arms around her son.
“Sweetheart, don’t do that to me… you can’t just wander off like that.”

“But someone’s down there… they sound hurt.”
He explained himself, looking up at her. She wasn’t looking back at him though, only staring down the narrow way with wide-eyes. She quickly stepped out in front of Ace, trying to push him back out of the way.
“Mom--?”

“Your mom isn’t here anymore, remember…? You killed her.”

The smell of cigarette smoke hit his senses and he looked around himself. Back in the car… they were going down a long strip of road dangerously fast. He swallowed nervously, looking at the floorboard then up at the man in the driver’s seat. The only light illuminating the tired, grizzled features was from the cigarette itself.

“But I didn’t--”

“You did.”
Ace couldn’t even get a word out without being snapped at. He just shut his mouth and squeezed his eyes shut as he engines roar only became increasingly louder as the speed of the vehicle doubled.

“Please, just leave me and my son be…”

She was so scared, it was strange to see her fear someone and not immediately snap back like she always did. He always knew her to be so confident. Ace chanced shuffling out from behind her, barely able to see their assailant from the dark cover of the alley. The only thing he could really see was the glint of the dull, scratched up metal of a pistol in his hand.

He opened his mouth to speak and the barrel of the gun was turned to him.

A shot.

His eyes squeezed shut.

Something breaking - a barrier?

Ace’s eyes shot open, the front of the car barreling off the side of a cliff toward a lake just off the mountain pass. He gasped sharply, hands slamming into the dashboard as he didn’t even have time to think before the sound of the car crashing into the water surrounded him. The car began to fill with lake water and he began frantically looking around, screaming at his father for answers.

He wasn’t even looking at him. He just took another long drag from the cancer stick as his body almost too quickly went under.

Darkness.

“Ace… please don’t blame yourself…”
That kind voice whimpered out, the arms wrapped around his body growing weaker and weaker every passing second. People were gathering, police sirens could be heard, civilians went after the stranger who did this.

He felt like he was drowning.

He couldn’t breathe anywhere.

Chapter Text

A sharp gasp ripped through his throat, hands gripping tightly at the bed sheets beneath him as his eyes shot open. His chest rose and fell quickly, his entire body in a cold sweat. Just a dream… no, not just a dream, a nightmare. One where he could feel everything that happened, right down to the acceleration of that fucking car. He stared up at the ceiling for a few minutes, regaining his composer and swallowed the lump that had welled in his throat. His hands pressed into his bloodshot eyes as he sat up, a long groan escaping him.

Ugh… he felt like trash... more so than usual.

“You’re awake. How are y’feelin’?”

Ace’s attention immediately snapped to the other bed to see 2-D sat there, having previously been tapping away at his phone. He had to wonder how long he’d been sitting there… and where the Hell was Noodle?

“Better now that I’m awake… where’s my favorite l’il assassin gone?”
Ace inquired, pushing his fingers through his hair. Ugh… he felt gross. It didn’t help he woke up practically drenched in sweat. Maybe that’s why it felt like he was being surrounded by water in his dream.

“Snake dropped by with some of your old friends. We tried wakin’ ya up, bu’ you didn’t seem t’wanna.”
Stuart explained, pausing for a moment to turn the screen off on his phone and got up, heading over to the other bed.
“So they all wen’ out for breakfas’... speakin’ of you not wakin’ up, you don’ look so good.”

2-D frowned at him as he pressed the back of his hand against Ace’s forehead to check his temperature, leaning over the edge of the bed in order to do so. It didn’t feel like he was running a fever, but his green skin was much paler than usual. Cold and clammy to the touch as well.

“You’re not gettin’ sick on me, are ya?”
Stuart pulled his hand away, crossing his arms as he stared down suspiciously at Ace who proceeded to quickly shake his head.

“Nah, nah. No way. It’s probably just ‘cuz I had a messed up dream.”
He shrugged it off and started to push the comforter off of his body to head to the bathroom.

“... Ace, you did fall inta freezin’ water las’ night. S’more than likely you’ll get sick. I’m not always stupi’, y’know?”

“Well then, if you’re that worried, we can ask Noodle and Russ to grab some cold meds while they’re out, right?”
Ace smiled a little bit, trying to help 2-D ward away his concern. It didn’t seem to help though as the singers pout was permanently on his face at this point. Even though he were basically getting scolded right now, the look on the man’s face was still adorable. It looked like an idea popped up in Stuarts head though and he gave a quick ‘hold on’ before he disappeared into the other room.

Ace shuffled over to the doorway that connected the two rooms, peeking inside, hearing the sound of bags shuffling and shifting before he suddenly reappeared, handing him a couple of pills. He hesitated for a moment before he took the pills, still staring at him with a confused look on his face.

“S’cold medicine, mate. Don’ look so scared, yeah?”
Stuart paused as he moved to snag a cup off of the top of the mini fridge. It was only then that Ace noticed he wasn’t using his crutch, rather the blue haired fool was limping around and balancing himself on one foot half the time.
“I usually keep some on me in case I feel some’fhin’ comin’ on, y’kno-”

“I think we got more important issues ta talk about, Stu.”
He proceeded to pop the pills into his mouth, dry swallowing them no problem before the other could even move away from the mini fridge. Ace pointed at 2-D’s ankle, circling it a little bit.
“Why uhh… why ain’tcha usin’ your crutch?”

2-D froze up a little bit, leaning against the mini fridge behind him, clearly trying to keep weight off of his ankle. He gave a slightly nervous laugh and rubbed at the back of his head.

“Well, I just… kinda f’hinkin’ that it wouldn’ be a big deal if I jus’ didn’t use it. S’not like the rooms are tha’ far apart-”
He immediately shut his trap as soon as he noticed the slightly angry look on Ace’s face. He didn’t even get a chance to continue explaining himself before Ace stepped over and suddenly swept him up and off his feet, an arm under his knees while the other supported his torso, heading back over to the other room. Honestly, if this didn’t prove he wasn’t ill, he didn’t know what would.
“Ace- Ace! I can walk jus’ fine!”

“Tell that to your limp, huh?”
He replied snidely and carefully placed Stuart on the bed he assumed was his, as it had the crutch in question propped up against it. Ace snatched up the crutch while he turned and seated himself on the bed, tossing it up a couple of times to get a grip on a lower part of it. Ace then pointed the handle of it to 2-D, smiling at him.
“You get up without usin’ this, again… well, I guess I’m just gonna have ta start carryin’ ya everywhere.”

“You can’t be serious.”
He frowned at him.

“Oh, I am completely serious. The doc said you need to keep weight off’a it to help it heal right.”
Ace patted him softly on the knee before he stood up and placed the crutch on the bed beside 2-D.
“Now I gotta head to the bathroom or else I’m gonna have more than just damp pajamas sittin’ in the tub. Get up without your crutch and face the consequences of bein’ carried like a princess until you’re healed.”

Stuart rolled his deep black eyes in response while Ace disappeared from the room. He sighed quietly and touched at the metal of the tool beside him. Honestly, it was absolutely wonderful that he cared, but he didn’t need to worry so much. It wasn’t like his ankle hurt that much anymore - well, that was a lie, it hurt a little bit… but how could the bassist possibly tell? Well, he could probably tell just by guessing aside from the fact that he was limping around the two rooms.

But it really did feel nice to be so deeply cared about… he already knew Ace was incredibly stressed and it was way too obvious to him that he was having a nightmare before he snapped awake. He knew the feeling all too well, just nightmares in general. He’s had quite a few himself ever since he joined Gorillaz, though that was more Murdoc’s influence than anything.

Shitty old goth…

He didn’t want to think about him, though. Push that particular green man out of his mind now. There was a much more important green man with them now.

… He really just called Ace important, huh? Well, he kind of was. Ace had helped through so much recently and even insisted on doing as much as possible for him. He was coming to be more and more comfortable with him as time went on and… honestly at this point, he’d much rather him be there over Murdoc ever coming back! This coming from 2-D, the one who had been worried about replacing their original bassist even for a short amount of them. Stuart shifted a little bit, smiling faintly to himself in his moment of thought.

The fact that he could genuinely see a future for Gorillaz with Ace as their bassist really did make him happy - a little upset, too, knowing he might have to leave eventually… but mostly happy! The Satanist in jail could stay there and rot for all he cared at this point. He prayed up and down that he never had the opportunity to be released; after all, he’d done so many more worse things than just smuggling anyway. Even if he had been framed, who cares? He deserved to be there. Murdoc deserved to be in jail until he died for everything he’s ever done to him and others.

He was an absolute menace to society.

“Hey, you’re lookin’ awfully happy. Havin’ nice thoughts?”
Ace returned, having put a shirt on so he wouldn’t be damn near naked while he hung out with Stuart. The blue haired male looked up at him, the smile only growing once he saw him.
“Aww… s’almost like you’re thinkin’ about me. Such a cute smile on an even cuter face.”

He reached out, pinching Stuarts cheek in a teasing fashion who just laughed, reeling away from the touch.

“Maybe I was. Too bad you ain’t findin’ ou’ anytime soon.”

It was Ace’s turn to reel back down, placing a hand to his chest as a faux pained expression befell his face.

“Stuart! I thought we could tell eachother everything… what happened to us?”
Ace feigned, his other hand placing itself dramatically to his forehead. 2-D couldn’t help but snort out, covering his big, goofy smile.

“No, Ace! Believe me, I woul’ do anyf’hin’ in the worl’ for ya!”
Stu risked playing along, reaching out and taking the bassists hand in his own.
“Some f’hings… I’m sorry, I jus’ can’t tell ya… maybe someday, but today is not that day.”

Oh.

Oh no, Stuart playing along just made this too much for him. He couldn’t help but cover his face, hiding away the look of pure glee that had overtaken his features, body shaking and trembling as he attempt to keep his laughter away.

Nope.

It was way too hard.

He burst out laughing, covering his face with the crook of his elbow.

“F-Fuck, why is that too rich?!”
Ace wheezed out, doing his damndest to calm himself down. He finally did after a moment, giving a big sigh right after. He looked over to 2-D who was snickering to himself and another short laugh escaped him as he shook his head.
“Keep being cute, see what happens.”

Stuart just scoffed at the idle threat, shaking his head a little bit.

“You wouldn’ hurt a hair on me head ‘nd you know it.”

“... You’re right, I wouldn’t even dream of it.”

Chapter Text

“Ace, would you mind grabbin’ me m’phone? I lef’ it on Noodle’s bed.”

“Sure, no problem, man.”
Ace hopped off of the side of the bed without missing a beat to head into the other room.

It had been quite a long time since Noodle and Russel had returned back to the hotel. It was starting to making Stu a little bit… worried, to say the least. Normally they would have been back within an hours time if it were just breakfast but now it had been well over three. Not that he was having a bad time just getting some one-on-one time with Ace - in fact, they’d managed to find an early 2000’s horror flick that he actually enjoyed to fill their time until Russ and Noodle returned.

Spending time with Ace and opening up to him more and more just overall felt extremely nice. Therapeutic, even. He didn’t go into any incredibly heavy, of course, he didn’t exactly want to overwhelm him after he’d been through so much as of late. Just talked a little bit about his childhood and his family. It felt much better than when he spoke to interviewers who just wanted a quick scoop and nothing more. Ace happily listened, even if it were things he already heard before in interviews or biographies.

“‘Ey, catch.”
Ace’s voice pulled him out of his thoughts and he quickly caught the phone that had come flying in. Oooh, that was close… that could have smacked him right in the face.
“The thing buzzed as soon as I picked it up, by the way.”
Stu wasted no time unlocking the device, checking his messages. It was from Noodle! Did that mean she was safe? God, he hoped so.

‘Hey! Meet us at the dump in about 30mins we have a surprise for you and Ace! :)’

He blinked at the phone a couple of times in confusion, squinting at the text a little bit as he read it over again a couple times to make sure he hadn’t processed it incorrectly. The dump? Why the dump? Other than the thought that they might want Ace to come hang out with his old gang, it didn’t really seem… logical to go there, since it seemed to hold a lot of old memories for him. Stu bit down on his bottom lip awkward - he knew if they didn’t go, Noodle and Russel would just drag them out of the room themselves.

2-D just responded with an ’OK and clicked the phones screen off, swinging his legs over the side of his bed. Ace gave a curious look to him, stepping over and picking up Stu’s crutch to hand it to him.

“What’s up?”
“Noodle texted me sayin’ we gotta mee’ everyone at the dump, she didn’ say any’fhin’ else, though.”
Stu smiled a little bit at him, taking the crutch, using it to help him ease himself down to his bags.

“... Wonder why. Figured they wouldn’ wanna head back there.”
The ex-gangster took a couple steps back, watching the other rummage through his bags to pull out clothes. It wasn’t that he was that nervous to go back there, not in the slightest.

That was a lie, he really was nervous to go back there and see the charred remains of the old shed he called home for so long. He wanted to knock all the bad memories that had resurfaced over the past 24 hours back out of his head.

“Dunno… maybe your frien’s insisted on seein’ ya. Remember? I said that they all showed up askin’ t’hang out.”

“Right… shit, you’re right! We’ve been in Townsville for two whole days and I’ve only seen Snake outta all of ‘em.”
He spoke with a confidence that showed his previous fears had been momentarily wiped from his head. There were never any bad vibes when he was with them. They distracted his mind in a way that made it hard to think about the past.
“Alright. I’ll go get changed. Don’t head out without me or I’ll chase ya down and sweep ya off your feet, again.”

Ace winked at 2-D, who only gave a small scoff as he tossed his clothing up onto the bed.

It wasn’t long before the two of them had gotten themselves ready to head out. Ace had opted to pull out an old favorite of his: his old blue and bright orange vest comboed with his white and purple long-sleeve shirt. He didn’t have the pants to pull the entire ensemble together, anymore. He had to opt for just a pair of black jeans and then boots. Putting on those old wrist sweatbands was a no-go as well. The wear and tear those went through but them out of commission for good.

Of course, while he thought it was a great look, Stuart couldn’t help but stop in his tracks and laugh as soon as he saw him. Ace could only reply with rolling his eyes and telling him to get into the elevator before they ended up showing up to the dump several hours late.

“I… I’m sorry, mate, jus’... that get-up… who told you tha’ was a good idea?”
2-D managed to stammer out from behind his hand while the doors to the elevator closed. He was clearly having one Hell of a time trying to control his laughter.

“Listen, I’ve had these for a long time. They never failed me, never will.”
Ace stuck his tongue out playfully at him.
“I could be wearin’ them high-waisted mom jeans you wore all throughout the Humanz album.”

“Oy, them trousers was great!”
Stu half-heartedly snapped at him, pouting a little bit.

“They were somethin’ alright.”
He laughed a little bit, patting the other on the shoulder as the door to the elevator opened once more to allow them to exit.

As stated previously, the distance between the hotel and the city dump wasn’t exactly far. The hotel was in a prime spot for walking between places of the city to begin with - there was enough around so that you really wouldn’t ever need to go in too deep and risk getting lost. It was part of why Ace picked that specific hotel for the group to station at. Well, that and it was one of the lesser sleazier ones that Townsville had to offer. They didn’t have to risk hearing gunshots in the middle of the night due to some shady transaction gone wrong or having their stuff stolen by hotel staff.

They reached the gate to the dump in little to no time and Ace seemed to hesitate for a moment, staring into the waste that lay before him just a few steps away. Stuart took notice of Ace’s hesitation and demeanor shift, as they had been just having idle conversation moments ago. He was still worried and scared of seeing that burnt down shack, he knew it all too well. Stu glanced down at the ground for a moment, then back up at Ace before he reached out, taking his hand in his own.

“Hey. It’ll be fine. Promise.”
2-D gave a reassuring, toothless smile up at him, one that seemed to relax Ace almost instantly and he gave a nod to him.

Without further ado, Stuart led Ace inside, not allowing him another moment of hesitation as they rounded past the trash piles and what not before spotting a hint of green-toned skin in the distance.

“Oh! They are here!”

The sound of Noodle’s voice within the group caught their attention and her hand waved them over just beyond the shoulder of one of the strangers. Stu looked over at Ace, nodding a little bit before he pulled him on over to the group.

“Holy shit…”
Ace stopped in his tracks, hand slipping out of 2-D’s at the sight before him. A shack- no way, more like an actual house built right there, right on top of the ashes of the old one. Somehow, Stuart didn’t seem to notice it at first, just found himself looking back at the bassist then finally turned to see what he’d been gazing at.

“We were wondering when you would get here!”
Noodle skipped over to the two, her hands covered with dirty gloves as well as a smear on her face. She took both of them, leading them over to the group where Ace was immediately snatched up by the largest of them all, hand slipping away from Noodle’s in the process.

“Ace! Billy miss Ace so much! Look! Powerpuff Girls and Gorillaz help! They help build new home for us!”
Ace gave a small wheeze at the strength of the arms that hugged him tightly before managing to bark out a laugh, patting Billy’s arm with a wide grin on his face.

“I missed ya too, Billy! So, wait, what about the Powerpuff Girls and the band helpin’ ya build this?”
He stumbled back a little bit as he was set down on the ground. He glanced passed Big Billy’s large frame to see the girls making some touch-ups on the framework.

“Yeah, Ace. They came up to us after we got breakfast and insisted on doing this before it got late. Pretty cool, huh, Boss?”
Arturo was the next to speak up and catch Ace’s attention where he knelt down enough to take the much shorter man’s hand in greeting.

“It’sss a pretty nice place, actually… much better than what we hads before, right?”
Snake smiled excitedly to him while grubber excitedly nodded and blew a raspberry to give his input on it all.

“Heh… nicely said, Grubber.”
Ace found himself smiling warmly as he stood up straight.

He could hardly believe this… just a couple days ago, he would have never anticipated this kind of generosity from the those three girls who made his teen years a living nightmare. Ace rubbed the back of his head, licking his lips a little bit in an attempt to hold back any possible tears of pure happiness and joy that threatened to spill. He’d cried enough for the week, he didn’t need to shed anymore tears.

It wasn’t long before the girls dashed over to them, stood in a row before them.

“We’re sorry for what we did to you in the past.”
They all spoke in unison, looking down, appearing completely ashamed.

“We knew you all were just being nuisances for the fun of it…”
Blossom started.

“... But that was never any reason to go so hard on you all.”
Bubbles spoke up now.

“And we realize you guys have changed a lot since 20 years ago. So we’re really sorry for any grief we’ve put you through as of recent…,” Buttercup paused, seeming to not want to say anymore before Blossom pushed her forward a little bit. She frowned, clearly reluctant. “... And I’m personally sorry for burning down your clubhouse… I know it meant a lot to you all and that was a really stupid, selfish, horrible thing of me to do.”

Ace was silent for a moment or two, hands stuffed awkwardly in his vest pockets. Though, there was a definite smile on his face. He appreciated the words of kindness far more than he appreciated the building of the new home itself. It made him realize that… well, maybe these girls were capable of growing the Hell up. Maybe when he came back after ‘Doc returned, he could maybe even find some kind of inner peace with the town over all. His grin grew a little bit and he pulled one of his hands out of his pocket to snap his fingers.

“Hey, Big Billy. Show the girls some love, yeah?”

“Dahaha haha! Okay!”
Without hesitation, Billy moved in, snatching the three girls up in his arms into a big bear hug, laughing immensely all throughout. The girls couldn’t help but laugh themselves from the interaction provided, even faking being distressed for the Hell of it.

Ace turned his attention over to Noodle and Russel, heading over to them while the girls and his boys talked about how they should decorate the new house.

“... I dunno how’da thank you guys enough.”

“Hey, it was the girls who asked us first.”
Noodle gave a shrug as she pulled off her dirty gloves.

“It was a little suspicious at first, but once they started swearin’ up and down and explainin’ themselves, we didn’t really get much of a choice. I have a feelin’ they wouldn’t’ve left us alone to begin with.”
Russel chuckled a little bit, glancing over Ace’s shoulder at the grouping.

“Still… you didn’t have to but ya did anyway. Especially after you say how Buttercup nearly flung Stu into orbit.”
Ace laughed a little bit, patting 2-D’s shoulder.

“I would’ve trus’ed her, too. Jus’ based off how she acted las’ nigh’... actually, maybe not. She did kin’a drop ya into the pool- nevermind.”

Russel and Noodle just stood there, staring at Stuart for the longest time with a perplexed look on each of their faces. She placed her hands over her hips, snapping her attention to Ace.

“What happened last night?”

“Ehhh… we’ll tell ya later.”

Chapter Text

The next couple days had been spent just hanging out with Ace’s old gang, the band, and the girls. They all swapped stories, found salvageable furniture in the dump to put into the brand new house built, getting Snake the new phone that he desperately needed - all that fun stuff! But now, it was the day to say goodbye to Townsville until they had the chance to eventually show up again, hopefully. The entire group was out to wish them safe travel and exchange goodbyes.

Well, all except for Buttercup, surprisingly.

“Where is she? I swear, she said she wanted to see you all off…”
Blossom huffed, crossing her arms. It wasn’t unlike Buttercup to completely ditch plans she had made, but saying her goodbyes was all she would talk about the night prior. It felt a little bit strange that she wasn’t there yet, in fact she had left before they did. She could only assume that her sister had arrived early, but she was nowhere in sight.

“Don’t worry, Blossom. I’m sure she’ll be here, soon!”
Bubbles reassured her and turned her attention back to Noodle and placed her hands together with a cheerful smile.
“安全な旅行を持ちなさい! 動物映像に関しては、私はあなたに私ができるとそれらを頻繁に送る!”

“私はそれらを見ることを楽しみにしている。 私を今失望させてはいけない!”
Noodle responded, sticking her tongue out a little bit, causing Bubbles to giggle gleefully. 2-D could only understand snippets of what they were saying to each other as he stood by, watching them, eyes squinted slightly. Something about… animal pictures, he thinks?
“Maybe I can take you to the Panasonic Jaguar track sometime, if you’re ever free.”

Bubbles gasped sharply, bouncing up and down a little bit.

“Would I be allowed?! That would be such an amazing experience, I’ve watched your ambassador video so many times! It looked like so much fun!”

“当然! You would be my guest, after all.”
Noodle grinned at the giddy girl, placing her hands on her hips as she watched her excited hop up and down around on the sidewalk. She didn’t think she’d make this girls day just by saying that, but it was nice to see, in all honesty.

Russel chuckled at the interactions between the two women before his attention was pulled to the concerned looking Blossom, stepping away from the gang that had been enamored in conversation and over to her.

“She’ll get here soon. Don’t worry. Our taxi won’t be here for another few minutes anyway, so we got enough time.”
Russel attempted to reassure her, patting her on the shoulder. She looked away from the sky and up at him, a smile forcing its way over her face. It would seem she still had her doubts.

“I just… it’s Buttercup. She adores you guys and she was super bummed when we weren’t able to see you the first time you came to Townsville because we were… you know, doing hero things.”

“Just have a little faith in her. I’m sure she’ll show up soon--”

HEEEEEEY!!

“--Speak of the devil.”

Blossom whipped around, seeing her sister coming in hot with something clutched in her arms. Her head cocked off to the side as she honed her vision in on her. Was that… a guitar case? In no time, Buttercup had touched down on the ground, sending a gust of wind flying past the group as she did so. All eyes were on her now, as she was stood there, knelt over slightly and panting.

“Uuugh, I haven’t flown… that fast in a… stupidly long time! From the pawn shop… to here… in five seconds flat!”
Buttercup wheezed, then finally stood up straight, wiping the sweat from her brow.
“I’m sorry I’m late, I just needed to get something! Uh… this, actually.”

She shifted the guitar case in her arms slightly. Buttercup wasted no time unzipping the bag to pull out the item inside.

“I had to convince the shop owner that I’d be able to pay him the rest in no time… even if he did insist on just letting me have it for half the price since I saved his shop from a nasty monster at one point.”
She smiled down at the instrument.

“Huh… a 1981 Gibson Victory. Not a bad choice, I gotta say.”
Ace stepped forward to him, kneeling down to take a better look at the instrument in her hands.
“It’s a pretty underrated model, not gonna lie. But a good decision, nonetheless. So I’m guessin’ you’re goin’ through with makin’ yourself a band, yeah?”

“Absolutely! L’il Arturo even said he’d wanted to join up with me.”
Buttercup spoke in an elated tone as Arturo smiled at her in confirmation, giving a ‘that’s right.’ Ace’s smile grew a little bit as he looked back at Arturo then back to Buttercup, standing back up straight.

“Well, if I can make you, I’m sure as Hell you can make it, too. Easily.”
He said as he stuffed his hands into his pockets.

“Oh, I know I’ll make it! And then one day, maybe we’ll have the chance to open for Gorillaz! Just… gotta make a full band first.”

“Hey, it took Mudz a few tries to get anyf’hin’ ta stick. We didn’t even really become Gorillaz until Noodle showed up, either.”
2-D explained, smiling warmly at Buttercup as he shuffled forward to take a peek at the bass.
“You’ll haf’ta play for me sometime, again, yeah?”

Buttercup tensed up, her face going completely red before she gave a quick nod in response. She bit down on her bottom lip, seeming to be trying to calm herself down before she just blurted out what she wanted to say;

“I know this is supposed to be us saying goodbye and whatever but uh… w-would you all please sign my bass? For good-luck purposes! You don’t have to if you don’t want to, though, I totally understand if there’s no time and-”

“Buttercup.”
Noodle interrupted, already uncapping a silver sharpie she had pocketed just in case of this very situation.
“We would be more than happy to.”

She nearly fainted right then and there knowing one of her all-time favorite bands was going to sign her dream base, the one she was bound and determined to become an international superstar just like them with. They all came up one by one, exchanging the marker between each other as they each signed the bass. The last to sign was Russel, clicking the cap back onto the marker. Buttercup looked down at the signatures before she frowned and snapped her attention up to Ace.

“... What?”

“You too.”

“Saywhanow?”
Ace’s head cocked off to the side, clearly confused.
“I’m just a temporary, you don’t want me signin’ it. When ya get big, just get ‘Doc to sign it. I’m sure he’s more inspirin’ to you than I am.”

“No way! Ace, if you hadn’t become the temporary bassist for Gorillaz I would have never made this decision! You are just as apart of them as Murdoc is!”
Buttercup argued, holding the instrument out to him while their taxi rolled up.
“Sign it before you go. Please.”

He gave a small laugh, shaking his head and giving a small ’jeez…’ in response. Ace took the marker that was handed to him, quickly signing Buttercups bass, adding a little ace card symbol with it before he capped the marker and tossed it to Noodle.

“I’ll be waitin’ for ya t’get big, Buttercup. Don’t disappoint me now, ya hear?”
Ace stated as he picked up his bags, giving his old gang a few farewells and hugs before he moved to put his luggage in the taxi and get inside of it himself.

“Ha. I’m gonna blow your fuckin’ mind, just you wait!”
Buttercup spoke with the confidence of someone who faced the apocalypse and lived to tell the tale, the fire in her eyes proof enough that she was ready to get exactly what she wanted regardless of what came at her. The bassist cast her a small smirk from the window, giving her a small wave.

“I’ll hold ya to your word, then.”

Chapter Text

After a long, long eight hour flight to London, the group was absolutely exhausted as they stumbled into the building they would be calling their place of residence for… well, until they needed to go somewhere else. They still needed to film one more music video, something they hadn’t entirely been thinking a whole lot about as of late. They all just knew they were asked back to London for some interviews and photoshoots that their producers insisted on. Which in reality wasn’t all too surprising; they hadn’t gotten album art out yet and they’ve only had a few pieces of promotional work out. It would be best to get that going before the video itself came out.

“Mmf… me head is killin’ me…”
2-D mumbled out, flopping face first onto the couch after he dropped his bags and crutch onto the floor. While it was nice to be back in London (especially after they managed to avoid having to stay at the spirit house), but God did those long flights do a number on his head. It didn’t help that there was a baby screaming for half the flight.

The sound of a bottle rattling hit his ears and he risked peaking out to see a cap of pills behind handed to him. He looked up at Ace, who was offering him the little pieces of salvation, and smiled warmly at him. Stuart slowly sat up, taking the pills and knocking them back, struggling for a moment to dry swallow them. The amount of pills he’s swallowed before, one would think he’d do better without water, but he always had some issues with the attempt.

“F’hanks…”
He hummed, watching Ace shove the pills into his pocket and then move to grab 2-D’s bags. Stuart’s smile dropped after a moment as he rubbed one of his eyes in an attempt to massage away some of the pain behind them.
“... Hey, where’s Ace suppos’a sleep?”

“Oh, shit. That’s a good question.”
Russel looked over at Stuart as he stopped in his tracks.

“I figured he would just sleep in Murdoc’s room.”
Noodle shrugged a little bit, setting her bags down beside the staircase now.

“I mean… seems like the mos’ straight forwar’ idea, but uhh…,” 2-D paused, looking at Ace, “... I don’t even know if his room is, ya know… suitable for livin’.”

“I don’t think it’ll be like his room in the place we were evicted from, D. Don’t worry. I doubt he had a whole lotta time to destroy it.”

“Or turn it into a Satanic cathedral of absolute darkness.”
Noodle added.

“That too. But if it does end up bein’ inhabitable, then I guess he’ll just haf’ta stay in your room, D.”
Russel gave a snide grin at the blue haired man, who seemed to tense up a little bit.

“I mean… it wouldn’ be all tha’ much of a big deal, but I think Ace would wan’ his privacy sometimes.”
Stuart fidgeted his fingers a little bit, thinking it over for a moment. He didn’t mind being around Ace, not in the slightest. But he knew it might be at least a little bit weird for them to just up and share a room for God knows how long. They shared a bed for one night, yeah, but even then he was already knocked out and probably not thinking very clearly at the time.

Granted, he did enjoy having a body beside him while he slept, it was extremely comforting to say the least.

“I don’t mind either way, honestly. But I will let you guys know if the place is FUBAR’d.”
Ace’s comment pulled him out of his thoughts and he watched him ask Noodle where the room was and she happily led him up the staircase without hesitation. Stuart licked his lips a little bit, leaning back into the couch as he pressed his palm into his forehead.

“You doin’ alright, D?”
Russel broke the short silence.

“Yeah… jus’ stupid head pain.”
He responded quietly, giving a small sigh.

It wasn’t one of his worst migraines, no. It was one he could handle, absolutely. He probably should have mentioned that before he took two of the pills offered to him, as this one would have easily been fixed right up with one alone. But ah well, he hadn’t been thinking all too much at the time. So long as he slept through the side-effects, everything should be fine.

“You should head on up to your room, man. Get some rest, okay?”
Russel headed over to the singer, holding his hand out to help him up. 2-D smiled a little bit and took his hand, letting him help him onto his feet after he picked up his crutch.

“Righ’... seeya in the mornin’, Russ.”
With that said, Stuart started to head up the stairs, leaning heavily on the rail provided while keeping himself balanced with his crutch. This place was going to be way harder to navigate, as it was much smaller and a little bit more cramped than the place they had in L.A.. The halls were slightly more narrow and the staircase wasn’t example disabled friendly. He recalled Murdoc trying convince them all to let him install another stairlift just for himself.

Thank God they made a point to not allow him such a frivolous item. He absolutely did not need another one.

It took him a while longer than he wanted it to to get up the stairs, but at the very least his migraine was starting to fade away at least slightly. That’s what he liked about these prescription pills, so incredibly fast acting, it was like magic. Then again, he was almost moving around quite a bit so they were probably getting broken down in his system faster. As he reached the top of the staircase, he noticed Ace just then slipping out of Murdoc’s room, seeming to be looking around for a moment before he spotted 2-D.

“Hey, I was just comin’ out to come help ya. You didn’t have much trouble gettin’ up the stairs, did’ja?”
Ace wasted no time heading over to Stuart with a smile on his face, one that warmed his chest in a way he didn’t often feel.

“Ah, nah. No, it jus’ took a li’l bit of time s’all.”
Stuart shook his head a little bit, leaning up against the wall a little bit to help keep weight off his ankle.
“S’the room okay? Not messed up, righ’?”

“Ehhh, it’s a little drab and dark but nothin’ I can’t handle. Don’t you worry your pretty little head, Stu.”
Ace mused, his smile growing a little bit.
“I’m sure you wanted more than anythin’ in the world for me ta room with you. Too bad that dream ain’t comin’ true.”

“I’m a li’l dissapointed tha’ we ain’t gettin’ another sleep over, I’ll admit it.”
He immediately responded, the lack of hesitation coming as a surprise to Ace who had expected some sort of adverse reaction from the other. This only made him smile a more, crossing his arms as he watched him closely as Stuart just offered him a snide grin.
“We coul’ve tried cuddlin’ this time. Now I’m kinda wishin’ Mudz’d destroyed the room. Dang.”

2-D snapped his fingers in a way a villain would if their plans had been foiled, earning a laugh from the bassist in front of him. Ace allowed a small sigh to pass his lips as he pushed his fingers through his hair before he stepped back away from the wall, gesturing for Stuart to head past him.

“You should go hit the hay, man. You look like you lost a fight… probably with that toddler who wouldn’t stop screamin’.”
It was Stuart’s turn to laugh now as he pushed away from the wall to start shuffling to his room.

“I mean, you wouldn’ be wrong, y’know?”
His smile grew a little bit as he moved to slip passed him. Ace bit down on his bottom lip as he watched him slowly hobble past, hands stuffed in his jean pockets, one of them toying with the pill bottle inside of it.
“It might’ve jus’ been the plane trip in general… Mudz hates flyin’, so this is the firs’ time in years we done it back t’back.”

“Well… if your head still hurtin’ ya by mornin’, don’t be afraid to ask for more, yeah? I’d rather ya not be in pain like… at all.”
Ace hesitated, licking his slightly tender lip now.
“Just sleep tight and uh… remember I care about ya.”

Oh fuck, why did he say that?

Stuart stopped walking and was turning to look back at him.

Oh fuck he fucked up, didn’t he?

“Don’ worry so much, I’ll be fine… or well, as fine as I can be, y’know?”
2-D gave a reassuring smile, one that made Ace relax immediately. Oh, shit, he was about to start sweating if Stuart had actually commented on what he said. It didn’t seem like he noticed it all too much though. Ugh, that was way too close.

“I’ll worry as much as I want, thank you very much.”
Ace stuck his tongue out at him, pulling a cheery laugh from him before he disappeared into one of the rooms that the ex-gangster could only assume belonged to him.

Why, oh why, did he risk outing his emotions like that? It’s like he wasn’t even thinking, he should have just wished him a goodnight and been done with it! Stupid, stupid… so stupid. At least he managed to play it off like it was no big deal. He gave a long, long, long sigh before he turned to start heading down the stairs to grab something where he ran right into Russel. He nearly yelped in surprise but managed to stop himself.

… Why was Russel giving him such a smug look?

“How are your feelin’s obvious to everyone but the one guy they’re directed toward? I wonder…”
Russel started, shaking his head a little bit.

“You and Noodle knew?!”
He felt like he was gonna faint right then and there - did he really make himself that obvious?

“It’s not like you hide it, Ace. You definitely act differently when he’s around, too.”
The drummer chuckled lowly, making Ace roll his eyes. He proceeded to slip passed him down the stairs, hoping that would slip him out of this conversation as well.
“If you like him, just tell him, man. D’s kinda dense, so he ain’t gonna catch on any time soon.”

“I caaan’t.”
Ace droned as he reached the end of the stairs with Russel in tow.
“He probably don’t even feel the same way in the slightest, and why would he? Look at me! He’s like an angel and I’m… I’m fuckin’ Shrek!

“Nah, nah. Mudz is Shrek, just look at his nasty broken nose. You’re more like uhhh…,” Russel paused, examining him for a moment, “a WoW orc and an elf made an okay lookin’ kid.”

“... You play World of Warcraft?”

“Why the Hell is that the first thing you concern yourself with?”
He huffed, shaking his head a little bit before he found his train of thought once more.
“Listen, what I’m sayin’ is, I don’t know how D would react, but I don’t really think he’d care about how you look, especially since you don’t look bad to begin with.”

“Then there’d definitely be some other reason, like for one, maybe he’s not inta dudes. I don’t ever recall him ever sayin’ if he was or not, he always talked about ladies in interviews.”
Ace gave an overdramatic shrug toward the other man before he made his way over to the boxes they’d sent over before they arrived, searching through them for a bag he’d put inside.
“Not ta mention, he’s waaay too good for a guy like me overall. He could get any chick or dude he wanted, so why God’s green Earth would he ever even consider returnin’ my feelings? I’m an ex-gangster with his head up his ass half the time who just happened to know ‘Doc well enough to be his replacement due to trust reasons.”

“You are jumpin’ way ahead of yourself man.”
Russel gave a long sigh, rubbing the back of his head.
“I remember the first day you showed up into the studio and you just talked about how you admired what we do and how our work influenced your life, how we’re somehow the type’a people you aspire to be. I’m thinkin’ you’re under the impression you’re still the person you used t’be.”

“Maybe I am, there’s a good freakin’ chance that I’ve only deluded myself into thinkin’ I’ve changed for the better.”
Ace said, looking up at Russel from his crouched position.
“Maybe those girls have some weird, messed up Spidey-sense where they can tell who is and ain’t an asshole. Maybe I’m just a tickin’ time-bomb waitin’ ta happen.”

“Pff,” he scoffed, shaking his head, “man, you’re not dangerous in the slightest. Especially around us. I’d actually break you in half if you tried messin’ anythin’ up here.”

“I realize.”

“Which is why I’m sayin’... confess to D eventually. Even if things go sour, he’ll still wanna be your friend.”
Russel stuffed his hands into his pockets.
“We know you’re a good dude, he knows you’re a good dude, somewhere deep inside you have to admit that you’re at least slightly a decent person. Trust me. It’ll work out if you don’t pussy out.”

Ace stared at the box, unmoving for a moment before he let out a long, exasperated sigh. Russel was right… he needed to say something to him eventually, otherwise he’d end up blowing a gasket just trying to hold back his emotions. He wasn’t sure when or how he would do it, but things would line up, right? He’d find the perfect opportunity to say what has been on his mind for weels now.

“... I guess so…”

Chapter Text

Stepping inside of the room and closing the door, Stuart gave a small, whimsied sigh as his back fell flush against the wall beside the door frame. His head throbbed, his body felt tired and worn out, but christ did that small interaction send his mind in a whirl. Why? He had no idea, just the way Ace spoke to him in that moment made his heart skip a beat and his chest light up with warms, his fingertips went numb and his mind drew a blank.

What he said back was so… lame! He kind of hated himself for not thinking of a better response at the time but he just said the very first thing that came to him. But why was he beating himself up so bad over something so simple as responding kind of stupidly to just being told he was cared about?

Okay… okay, sure he could only play stupid with himself for so long, he knew exactly why his body and mind reacted the way it did. He didn’t need it spelled out for him, absolutely not. He had a fucking crush on Ace and he’s known it for quite a while. He wasn’t entirely sure when it started though… maybe the night of the accident, when he carried him out of the hospital out of the kindness of his heart? Or possible even further back. It was hard to tell, he just knew it was so… stupid to deny his feelings.

However, at the same time, the feelings were probably not reciprocated in the slightest. It would be ridiculous to think so, after all Ace was clearly the type of guy who didn’t care that badly about romance. He recalled the story Buttercup told him, how he just used her crush on him to his own advantage. Stuart knew the whole story and while it did make him feel a little bit sick, Ace has changed and the guy wouldn’t do something like that to him.

If he knew his feelings.

If he ever found out.

If was the keyword here. There was a very slim chance he’d ever act on these feelings, especially since his main focus right now had to be the new album coming out. He needed to be the leader that Noodle and Russel knew he could be. He needed to start making these trickier decisions without his mind being clouded by...

Oh, he really didn’t want to call them weird emotions. Not in the slightest. Stuart knew that wouldn’t help him get rid of them either, if he had these emotions he’d might as well just admit them to himself and keep them for as long as they stayed. It was just a crush afterall! Crushes rarely lasted, especially after one sees the person they are enamored with in all the lights.

… But Ace just looked good in every light, right now. Which really, really put a damper on his plans. This was a dilemma that he didn’t know how to deal with. He wanted to confide in Noodle or Russel, but he felt like they’d just tell him to tell Ace how he felt and if he got rejected… well, he wasn’t entirely sure how his heart would take that kind of news. Most of his relationships never exactly ended well anyway and he didn’t want things to be awkward between himself and Ace, not at all! He just… realizes it might be a little be strange or off-putting for the both of them if he just randomly confessed but Ace didn’t feel the same.

Not to mention, did Ace even like men? He had no idea about his sexual preferences in the slightest to begin with. Don’t get him wrong, he’s not saying ‘but we’re both guys! How would that even work?’ or anything cliched like that, he knew how it worked, he was more or less just thinking about sexualities here. It was a tricky subject for anyone really, especially those who never really thought about what they liked or what they would be comfortable with.

It was… such a confusing situation. One that was only making his head hurt worse the more he thought about it. One that he absolutely needed to keep to himself until he sorted out the tangled mess that was this entire emotional dilemma inside of his head. On the off-chance that Ace did feel the same, well that would just be a miracle in of itself. But that didn’t mean anything would happen between them… they were both adults who needed to consider what they were doing with themselves completely before jumping into it like a couple of teenagers eager to try something dumb out.

He was really tired of those relationships.

2-D forced himself out of his train of thought, pushing away from the wall as he proceeded to pull his shirt up and over his head. He stripped down to his briefs, carelessly tossing his clothes onto the floor and shuffled over to his bed, flopping down onto the soft mattress after he dropped his crutch onto the floor beside it. He nuzzled his face into the pillow, giving a pleased hum before he pulled the duvet around his body snuggly.

It was nice to be home.

It wasn’t long before Stuart drifted off into a dreamless sleep. Despite his mind buzzing with his newfound self-confession, he found it rather easier to just allow his body the rest it desperately needed - especially after a flight he had gotten absolutely zero rest on. At least when he woke up, he’d be much more clear-minded and able to actually think about his feelings for Ace… at least a little bit.

Outside of 2-D’s door, Ace had come back up the stairs, looking far more exhausted than he had when they arrived at the household. Talking about his emotions and feelings with Russel just felt so off for some reason. He wasn’t denying them in the slightest, not at all, it was just the mere fact that he had to outright admit them not only to himself but to someone else who wouldn’t directly be involved if anything did happen. It was hard enough to tell Noodle, Russel just somehow knowing felt like a huge kick in the teeth right now.

He knew Russel didn’t have to comment on any of his relationship between Stuart and himself, he knew that all too well. But the fact that he did just showed he didn’t want anything bad to end up happening due to keeping feelings under wraps. Anyone with half a brain knew all too well that keeping something like that to oneself was more stress than it was worth. Ace gave a sigh, pushing his fingers through his hair as he stepped into the room he’d be calling his own for God knows how long.

It was cold, darker than he would usually be accustomed to nowadays, a messily stuffed dresser spilling over with Murdoc’s clothes, unlit candles stuck in the floor and surfaces by wax, some upside down crosses littered here and there, a tipped over lamp on the rather baren floor beside the bed, Gorillaz posters haphazardly decorating the walls, as well as splashes of color that seemed to be spray paint among the torn out chunks of wallpaper and weapons such as knives and hatchets sunk deep inside of the drywall. The room held the distinct scent of cigarette and joint smoke, as well as the heavy smell of spilled alcohol that had long ago soaked into the carpet, forever staying there. Other than a few pieces of trash lying around (bottles, crumpled rolling paper, food containers, etc.), the room was relatively livable.

Noodle had mentioned that most of the stuff Murdoc really cared about, such as rewards or stuff he didn’t want destroyed, was kept at the spirit house to begin with. He wasn’t entirely surprised this room in particular was… well, a bit of a dump, but not to the point where he was sickened by it. Keep in mind, he used to live in an actual dump, after all.

“Okay…,” Ace mumbled to himself as he slipped his phone out of his pocket to see a text from Snake, “... let’s set up.”

The bassist proceeded to make his way over to the overfilled dresser as he texted Snake back, his friend having asked if he had made it to London okay. The guy had practically been biting his nails off over the idea of him having to fly to a whole different country.

’Yeah made it A-OK man.’

He set the phone on top of the dresser before he began pulling out Murdoc’s clothing to replace the garments with his own before his phone buzzed incredibly soon after he sent out his text.

’oh good!!! I got scared when u didn’t text me back at first. I thought something mightve happened!!!!’

Ace couldn’t help but smile a little bit at the frantic response.

’Nope. Everything’s all good here, don’t worry. Other than a lengthy convo I had earlier, I’m settlin’ in nicely.’

’What about?’

He didn’t even get a chance to set his phone down before it buzzed again with that last message. Ace genuinely had no idea how this guy could respond so quickly… he was probably making up for when he didn’t answer his calls previously.

’Just some personal stuff.’

Ace set his phone down once more, scooping more of the garments from the dresser to toss off to the corner of the room and knelt down to his back to start placing his own inside. Then his phone buzzed, again.

Okay, this was getting just a little bit annoying.

’like what? You know you can talk to me about anything ace!!’

Ugh… did he really have the energy to go through this entire spiel all over again? He wasn’t entirely sure right now. Rubbing at his face a little bit in irritation, he reluctantly responded to him.

’Listen, I’ll tell you later. Right now’s not a great time, trying to set up, okay?’

He waited a moment. He knew Snake was going to respond like lightening. He might as well stare at his phone and wait, right?

Ace kind of wished he didn’t now, though.

’If its about 2-d, i already talked to russel and noodle about it.’

“Oh for fucks sake--!!”
Ace chucked his phone into the bed across the room, the sound of it plummeting into the comforter more than pleasing to his senses right now. He gave an agitated huff, running his hands down his face.

Did everyone know except for the one person who mattered?!

Chapter Text

It was early in the morning, the sound of birds chirping as they basked in the warm sunrise that blanketed over London just outside the window. The light that flooded into his room would have been almost comforting, had he not been in such deep thought ever since he awoke that morning. He took a long drag from his cigarette as he leaned over his knees, half of his body still covered up by the messily sprawled sheets, smoke spilling past his lips and being swept away to pollute the outside world from the crack of his window. Stuarts mind had been swimming with thoughts and emotions ever since the night prior. While he slept soundly through the night, as soon as he awoke that morning, his mind was pretty much right back to where it left off.

Unfortunately, however, it wasn’t just the items from last nights brackette. His stupid head had to add more on to it, such as what the Hell he was going to do when Murdoc came back. Were they just going to kick Ace out? Send him on his way with a pat on his ass? He genuinely didn’t have the heart to do that, especially now that he was finding him such a nice addition to the band he called a family as a whole. This was all going beyond his feelings toward Ace as a person. It was more standing on how he felt it could affect the future of the band itself. So far, Ace had been a wonderful replacement. In fact, it was one he could see them keeping indefinitely. The music was fantastic, the way he played was a fresh touch, they didn’t argue nearly as much, they were able to get things done faster and much more effectively; overall, it seemed like the path was clear in what they needed to decide.

Clear up to a point, that is. He knew Murdoc would never allow the band to go on without him. He wanted to believe through no matter what happened, Gorillaz was his own. He insisted that because he created the band, brought all of them together, made all the bigger decisions for their albums up to this point that the band was his and his alone. But Murdoc wasn’t here anymore. He wouldn’t be for possibly a very long time and honestly, 2-D could sleep peacefully at night knowing he was rotting in jail. This is the best he’s felt with Gorillaz in longer than he can even remember. He recalled enjoying it for a little while, but it didn’t last for very long. It all started going downhill after the incident with Murdoc and Paula. Sure, he was more than happy to have Noodle show up when she did, but it was hard to be happy knowing what kind of person Murdoc Niccals really was. He seemed like an okay bloke for a while… and then it just started getting really bad.

But he wasn’t here anymore. He didn’t know how many times he had to tell himself that. Murdoc wasn’t here. Murdoc wouldn’t be here for a long time. Murdoc was stuck in prison, rotting his disgusting green ass away for hopefully years to come. This wasn’t his band anymore, this was Stuarts! This was Stuart “2-D” Pot’s band now and nobody could tell him otherwise! He was leading them, he wrote all the songs for this album, a lot of the music video for Humility was inspired by thoughts he had, he allowed Ace to fully join the band overall-

That’s right.

He was the one to even let Ace stay in the first place. Stuart could have turned him away as soon as he saw him and they could have looked for someone else, even if it made Noodle and Russel upset, but he didn’t. He was the one to give Ace the chance to impress him and he did, so he let him stay! This wasn’t Murdoc’s band anymore, this was his own band! He was the one bringing in new members to replace the one who couldn’t keep himself out of trouble for more than a month, because he was a fucking idiot, a complete fool with no regard for those around him! He was in charge now, he was more than happy to take that place and help this band improve for the better.

Stuart was pulled out of his thoughts by the feeling of ashes falling onto his hand, making him look down and brush them off onto the blankets that surrounded him. He needed to figure out something to sort out all of his thoughts… getting into long tangents in his mind like this couldn’t possibly be good for him. Taking one more drag from the cigarette, he pulled it away from his lips to shove it into an overstuffed ashtray on the bedside table before he threw his blankets off of his body to get up and limp into the bathroom.

Well, not so much limp. He was just being wary of putting weight on his ankle. It didn’t hurt so much anymore, in fact last time he checked the swelling and bruising had completely gone down by now. He could stand on it, of course, but if he tried to walk on it normally without his crutch in front of everyone else, he knew for sure Ace would snatch him up and scold him for doing so.

It was tempting, considering how… kind of cute the look he got on his face was.

Okay, mind out of the gutter, just get into the shower, get clean, then rewrap your ankle, get dressed, and figure out what the fuck you plan to do with your day.

It was one of their days off (among the next three, as they wanted to allow their American replacement time to adjust) since they had just gotten back from California, so it was a little hard to tell if he wanted to do anything. He could just go out and have a nice day around town, or he could just go right back to bed as soon as he got out of the shower and sleep the day away until someone came to wake him up to eat. Both were incredibly viable options. Stuart already knew Russel would be dead to the world and Noodle stated she had things to do in the morning before she left. She said she’d be busy while they were there, probably going to the gym she frequented while they were in London for her Jiu-Jitsu training. After a month of only being able to go jogging and doing self-training, he wasn’t surprised she was eager to get back into her usual routine.

Then there was Ace… this was Ace’s first time in London. Stuart wasn’t entirely sure how the bassist would busy himself. Of course, he wasn’t opposed to showing him around, not in the slightest. It would probably help him better come to terms with his feelings and figure out if what he was feeling over all was genuine attraction or just infatuation. He could definitely give him something better than just the standard tourist line-up, too. Not to mention, being a celebrity, he could probably get him into more than just the usual places, as well. It was early enough and he was sure Ace wouldn’t say no to him. Oh, he could already imagine all the places he had the potential of showing to Ace. The usual places could be so boring, he deserved the real experience.

That and it gave him an excuse to drive around in his replica Evil Dead Oldsmobile that he splurged on a little while after Murdoc got locked up. It was the one car he always wanted but the green bastard would never let him have it. Always said it was stupid and tacky.

He was going to get one Hell of a head injury when the Satanist got out of prison, he just knew it.

Turning off the shower, he carefully stepped out after grabbing a towel from the rack, driving himself off rather thoroughly before heading over to the mirror, wiping away the steam from it. Usual black eyes he’d come accustomed to, normal 40 year old face, same blue hair. Nothing new, nothing out of the ordinary. What were mirrors for again besides making one feel awkward about staring at themself? He opened the medicine cabinet, pulling out some bandaged to wrap his ankle with and took a couple steps back from the mirror, seating himself on the toilet as he ruffled the towel through his hair to get it as dry as possible before he moved on to wrapping his not-so-painful-anymore injury.

With a short sigh, he stood and made his way out of the bathroom, going through his unemptied suitcases to grab his clothing for the day ahead of him. At this point, he was pretty bound and determined to get ace to go out with him for the day. Even if the guy didn’t want to, he knew it would be best to at least try and ask if he would. Otherwise Stuart would probably just go out on his own… or just come back to his room and sleep the day away. Either worked, it didn’t really matter to heavily to him.
Once fully dressed, shoes and all, he grabbed his crutch and headed out of his bedroom, quietly closing the door behind himself before looking up and down the hallway. Nobody seemed to be up, it was relatively quiet right now. But it was always hard to tell with this place. Sounds didn’t exactly travel well in this structure, which he had to guess was a good thing since a lot of them liked to practice at night if they could. Stuart shuffled to the door that would under normal circumstances be Murdoc’s and knocked on it a couple of times before he started to open the door without receiving an answer.

The first thing he heard was the faint sound of one of their own songs playing in the background… then the bassline being strummed expertly, never even missing a single note. He pushed the door open a little wider, being as quiet as possible as his eyes fell on Ace who was seated, slightly curled up on the bed, playing his plugged in bass with his phone glowing in front of him on the bed. He didn’t seem to notice 2-D at first, eyes closed and all.

He looked… quite serene and peaceful, just sitting there playing. It was kind of beautiful.

Stop. Stop, before you get yourself in too deep.

“... Empire Ants?
Stuart finally spoke up, catching Ace’s attention almost immediately. He seemed to tense up a little bit, fingers no longer plucking at the strings on his bass. He gave a small, slightly awkward smile to him.

“Uh… yeah, s’one of my favorites- or, well uh… I mean, I know Plastic Beach era wasn’t exactly a great time for you but--”

“S’fine.”
2-D said with a light chuckle in his voice.
“My experience sucked, bu’ I still like some of the songs on that album, too. Don’ worry.”

His words seemed to make the bassist relax a little bit, but he didn’t continue playing much to Stuarts disappointment. He always did enjoy his musical prowess, believe it or not. Stuart leaned against the doorframe, licking his lips a little bit as he adjusted his grip on his crutch.

“So I wanted t’ask… you wanna come hang out wi’f me today maybe?”
He started, thinking about his words carefully - why did it feel like he was asking him out on a date? It was just a fun friend thing, after all.
“I was f’hinkin’ I coul’ give ya a good London experience, if ya wanted to go like… sight seein’ or somef’hin’ like that.”

Ace stared at him for a moment, a curious look in his eyes before he gave a small smile to him.

“You know what? I ain’t got nothin’ better to do.”
His smile grew a little bit.
“Show me what this city’s made of, Stu.”

Chapter Text

Was this happening? It felt like it was happening. Why was he freaking out? It was just a normal day to hang out, nothing like a… a date or anything like that. He was fully aware of that, he would have stated if it were a date. It wasn’t like Stuart had feelings for him beyond friendship or anything. So why the Hell was his heart pounding harder than he’s ever felt before? Was it all a sign, a sign that he should actually confess today? No, no way. Absolutely not, that would be crazy. It was just a fun day out on the town, nothing romantic. Stop thinking its romantic.

But he desperately wanted it to be something romantic.

For fucks sake, he was in way too deep for his own good. Ace happily agreed to hang out with 2-D for the day, of course. How could he ever say no to him, especially when it came to just goofing around with him? It’s part of what he found adorable about the guy, laid back, a little fidgety sometimes, a little bite to him… ugh, he was perfect.

Stop.

Was this really how his mind was going to be all day? Fuck all day, this was how is mind was all night after he chucked his phone at the bed. Ace couldn’t stop thinking about what he could possibly say to Stuart when it came to how he felt about him… and honestly, he wasn’t sure he was ready to make any big moves, right now. He wasn’t even sure if his feelings were completely… well, pure to say the least. It might’ve just been some weird lust, he might’ve been thinking with his dick, he wasn’t entirely sure. Yeah, of course he loved spending time with Stu, but at the same time he did find the guy incredibly attractive. He has ever since he was a teenager.

Which, now that he thinks about it, makes sense. He was always described as the ’pretty boy face of the band singer’ in interviews. That description was incredibly accurate, without a doubt. The only issue was that description was incredibly accurate without a doubt, do you see his problem?

But by far the worst part was how he felt like a little kid being asked out for the very first time in his life and he hated it.

Ace sighed quietly as he fixed up his hair in the mirror for a moment, trying to look as nice as a 37 year old man with a green complexion and a receding hairline could. He did, of course, pick out one of his better outfits as well for the day ahead of them, as well as his trademark shades dawning him as though they were his eternal crown.

“Okay.”
He huffed at his reflection in the mirror.
“Don’t do anythin’ stupid, man. Don’t fuck this up.”

Ace pushed away from the sink below the mirror and headed out of the bathroom. Funnily enough, this was exactly the same routine he pulled the first day he was meant to go to the recording studio. Same pep talk, same over prep, same level of uncertainty. He could do this, though. Nothing was weird about any of this, they were just going to be hanging out. Stuart was his friend, even if he slipped up, nothing would change between them.

He snatched up his phone and a couple of other items before he exited the bedroom, tossing the device up and down in his palm after he pocketed everything else. Ace headed smoothly down the stairs where he found 2-D seated in the main room, texting away on his phone, possibly messing around on some social media app. He looked up at him and smiled before he stood up with his crutch, pocketing his phone.

“Ready t’go? I was f’hinkin’ we coul’ grab somef’hin’ ta eat while we’re out. Don’t have any Pop-tarts or Kahlua here.”
2-D gave a small laugh as he knelt over to grab his keys.

“Yeah, you got any places in mind or we just gonna roam around until we see somethin’ that looks good?”
Ace headed to the door, opening it and holding it for Stuart, letting him out first before he soon followed out behind him down the narrow stoop.

“There’s this place not to far from’ere that I really love gettin’ breakfasty foods from, mos’ly eggs. Since it ain’t quite noon, I figured we could head there.”
Stuart looked back at Ace with a warm smile as he headed over into a side alley where his Evil Dead replica 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale was stashed safely and untouched. He wished he could have brought the car with him to the States, not a lot of people in the U.K. appreciated the classic horror flick as much as he did. Ace stopped in his tracks, jaw dropping as soon as he saw the vehicle in question, pushing his sunglasses down a little bit. He tore his gaze away from the car to 2-D, who was unlocking the drivers side door and getting in.

“Holy shit.”
Ace whispered out to himself and quickly rushed over to the passengers side, getting in almost too eagerly.
“Oh my God, Stu, this is… wow. I-I mean, I knew you liked horror flicks, but to get the car from the Evil Dead? That’s fuckin’ sick.”

“You recognize it? I thought it’d be kinda niche and hard t’spot out, but…”
Stuart shrugged a little bit, adjusting his grip on the steering wheel as he pulled out and down the road.

“Pfff, maybe to people who ain’t payin’ attention.”
Ace waved it off, leaning back in the seat, looking around the interior of the vehicle.
“You’re actually my hero right now.”

This made 2-D laugh, covering his mouth with one hand while the other stayed safely on the wheel.

“Tha’s goin’ a bit far, don’ya f’hink?”

“Nah.”
The ex-gangster grinned at him, before he turned his attention out the window. Man, he couldn’t see it very well last night, but London was gorgeous.
“I’ve always admired you since I was a teen, y’know?”

Stuart found himself smiling to himself from what Ace said, biting his bottom lip a little bit from behind the hand that covered half his face. He already he was a long-time fan of Gorillaz… but it was really nice to know how much he admired him. He was pretty sure the guy admired the band as a whole, but hearing it personally made it feel all that much better.

“Keep sayin’ stuff like tha’ ‘nd my heads gonna swell.”
2-D joked with a bright, gap-toothed smile on his face as he took a moment to glance over at Ace, who happily returned it.

“I’ll try not ta make your head explode then.”

“Yeah, we’re already this far out, you’d never fin’ ya way back.”

Ace opened his mouth to retaliate, but no words came out, only a small, breathy laugh as he pressed his tongue into his cheek.

“You know what, you got me there.”
He said as he slumped down in the seat, turning his gaze down to his phone in his hands, smile never leaving his face.

It wasn’t long before they reached their destination and headed inside. It was a nice little place, kind of a mixture between a diner and a fancier restaurant. Ace wasn’t entirely sure how to describe it, honestly. He wanted to say it looked maybe like some chain you’d seen in the States, but with more effort put into it. The place wasn’t entirely crowded, either, more older individuals out for some mid morning brunch it looked like. Regardless of the atmosphere, Ace was more than happy to be there. It was a placed Stu liked, so he was excited to see what he found so alluring about it.

Once they got their table, they chatted about whatever topics came to mind. At one point, Stuart mentioned how he never got to come here incredibly often because Murdoc wasn’t a huge fan of the place. Basically, he didn’t like giving him his own funds to go out and do stuff for himself so it was incredibly difficult to actually explore and find new things. He also mentioned another restaurant he wanted to try with the whole band now that he had the opportunity. Said it was some kind of steakhouse that, again, Murdoc would never give him the funds to go to.

Any time he heard about the kind of grip ‘Doc had on Stuart and how much he prevented him from doing what he wanted… it kind of pissed him off more and more. What was Murdoc’s damage to begin with? Why was he so incessant on controlling this poor guys life? It was so strange… then again, he did recall Murdoc being that way when he was with the Gangreen Gang, too; over controlling, a perfectionist, abusive but not to the point he is with 2-D, had an incredibly high opinion of himself. All of it was standard for the bassist he was currently standing in for.

Kind of made him want to completely shove Murdoc out of the picture, just to give Stu the long break he very much deserved.

Ace willed the conversation to much lighter, happier topics. Things like where they should go, what Stu recommended for him to see, what they had planned for after their string of days off ended, films they should get together to watch, stuff to do around their current place of residence, etc.. Even some crude or dumb jokes thrown between them, as well as stupidly humorous topics that they’d somehow diverged onto.

Another thing he liked about Stuart… how much the guy could make him laugh. While it probably blinded him to any negative traits the guy might have, being able to laugh and joke around with him was absolutely worth it. They talked throughout their small meal, keeping spirits high as possible between the two of them. Honestly, it was really nice to just sit down with Stuart, every single time it was. It was something he just never became tired of. That could have been the ‘wow, I’m talking to one of my favorite artists in the world!’ still talking after well over a month but… he liked the feeling it gave him.

After they finished their meal, Stuart insisted on taking him sightseeing. He mentioned that the usual tours they took Americans on were boring and didn’t exactly feature the city as a whole, only the aspects that they wanted foreigners to see and hear. At least, that was his personal opinion. Which was understandable, America did the same thing so why wouldn’t other countries? If you were visiting a place like New York, they’d take you to the Statue of Liberty, Empire State building, Central Park, all those places that anyone native to the city would see on a daily basis and knew how boring it was. You see it once, you’ve seen it enough, basically.

So, they hopped back into the Oldsmobile, where Stuart drove them to a much easier location to park at where they could get back out and just explore the city as it was. Once they exited the car once more, Ace stuffed his phone back into his pocket and stepped off to the side walk, where he watched Stuart lock the vehicle.

“So what, you’re not gonna take me to like London Eye or anythin’ like that?”
He fake pouted to Stuart, who just gave him an amused by curious look.

“Do you want to go ta the London Eye?”
Stuart spoke out through a laugh and joined Ace where he began leading him down the sidewalk.
“Daikanransha in Tokyo is waaay better, a bit less terrifyin’ ta be on. But tha’s jus’ my opinion, don’ tell no one here that.”

“I ain’t ever been to Tokyo either, man.”

“Well lucky you. We’re goin’ on tour to Japan af’er Humility releases.”

“Are you gonna take me on a date to Daikanwhatever it is?”
Ace gave an over dramatic gasp.

“Oh, absolutely. Only the bes’ for you.”
Stuart continued the joke, laughing a little bit as he did so. Ace chuckled himself, bumping shoulders with the singer.

“But seriously, we should at the very least check out London Eye. Screw the palace and shit like that, I’d rather pretend like I’m at a carnival for all of five minutes.”
Ace pushed the idea a little bit, getting a small shrug out of Stuart who looked over and smiled at him.

“If ya really wanna, I guess sayin’ no wouldn’ be fair… we’re not too far off anyway, if you don’ mind the walk.”
He said with a grin on his face.
“It makes for some good sight seein’ anyway so you don’ gotta visit every place.”

“Hell yeah! Thanks, dad.”

“... Don’ tell me ya have a daddy kink.”

“Depends, who’s my daddy?”
“Pff… okay, this is gettin’ weird-”
Stuart sputtered out.

“What? You don’t wanna be my daddy? Aw, Stu…”
Ace pouted at him before letting a laugh pull through him, making the other man laugh out as well.

They continued on their journey, continuing to crack jokes between each other and just converse as all was normal. Stuart found himself enjoying Ace’s company more and more as time went on - that’s not to say he didn’t already have a nice time hanging out with the ex-gangster. In fact, he adored every second he got with him. He felt completely comfortable around him, like he could do or say anything and still be able to call Ace his friend and not end up getting yelled at, scolded, or hit. So far, that’s proven more than true.

It was just all around a nice experience, just being with Ace, talking to him, hanging out with him. He felt like even if there was silence between them while they were together, it would just feel absolutely natural. Stuart didn’t feel awkward around him and wasn’t even afraid of him in the slightest. He felt like Ace was someone he could trust the way he trusted Noodle and Russel, despite not knowing him nearly as long as he did his other bandmates. If it wouldn’t be strange of him, he’d probably be holding his hand right now as they walked down the street.

… Of course, that would reveal way too much. This was something he was doing partially to learn a lot more about Ace as a person. But oh man, everything he was learning he liked… it was great but it also sucked at the same time.

It didn’t take particularly long for them to reach the line of the London Eye. Surprisingly, as well, it was incredibly short. It was a nice day, one would assume families and whatnot would be out for the day. But it was really no trouble to them when it came right down to it. It was nicer, meant a faster line and a lot less people would notice 2-D and rush up to him for an autograph. Of course, one of the attraction workers did recognize him and practically screamed when they reached nearly the front of the queue. He immediately offered to allow him and Ace a cart on their own, insisting on it, actually.

Eventually he managed to convince the stranger that he didn’t deserve that kind of treatment as it would have been incredibly unfair to those who’d been waiting just as long as him. Begrudgingly, the worker just gave a small okay. Perhaps he was under the assumption that it would get him good favor with the band… it wouldn’t be very surprising to him. They’re almost always offered free or better things if they ever go out to places. Murdoc would usually take the opportunity straight away… 2-D, however, did have a little bit more modesty than that. If Murdoc had been around, God knows they’d be getting pushed into the capsule without hesitation by the Satanist.

Thank God he wasn’t. That would really put a damper on things.
They situated themselves by the window, 2-D leaning up against the railing of the cart with his hand taking a loose grip on it. Ace was already peering out the window, despite the wheel having only moved the slightest amount. They couldn’t exactly see much yet… now that he thought about it…

“How long does this thing go for, anyway?”
Ace whispered out to Stuart, trying not to disturb the other passengers.

“Usually thirty.”

“... Minutes?!”
He yelped out and quickly covered his mouth.
“... If I knew that then…”

“Consider it a punishment for the daddy thing.”
A sly grin crept across Stuarts face and Ace found himself staring wide-eyed from behind his sunglasses at him.

“Oh. So you’re evil now?”
He spoke in a matter-of-factly voice.

“You love me either way.”

“Don’t use my love for you against me like this.”
Especially when Stuart didn’t even know the half of it. The singer just shrugged and stuck his tongue out at him, leaning a little bit more into the railing as he peered out the window. Ace just rolled his eyes, though his smile never disappeared from his face.

Ace found himself staring out the window for a lot of the time they were in there, just gazing at the gorgeous architecture that was splayed all across the city. It was breathtaking, a much more interesting sight than anything he’d even witnessed in America. While, yes, it did look almost chaotic in nature, the building patterns looking incredibly random and almost too unplanned, he still found it to be an astounding sight. Hell, even the sight of Big Ben in the distance was something he’d never even dreamed of witnessing. His hand tapped his pocket for a moment and an idea came to mind. Ace turned his attention to Stuart to suggest something, but stopped himself immediately.

The singer was gazing out the window, black hues half-lidded, serene. The sunlight danced across in skin effortlessly, gliding across his pale face, making him almost seeming to glow not due to the light, but with it. The light bounced against his hair in such a way that made the azure color so vibrant and beautiful, shining locks appearing to be almost otherworldly compared to the world surrounding him. Everything about Stuart’s appearance at that moment was… absolutely breathtaking, celestial even. Ace could stare at him all day and never tire of such a gorgeous sight. His hand slid across the bar for a moment, fingertips absentmindedly touching Stuarts, catching his attention, making him look over at Ace with a curious look finding its way over his once tranquil features.

Ace cursed at himself inside of his head. He should have taken a picture when he had the chance.

“Somef’hin’ wrong?”

“Ah, no. No, not at all.”
He quickly shook his head. Ace scrambled to change the subject before Stuart inevitably started prodding for answers, pulling out his phone.
“We should take a picture! Send it to uhh Snake, sure he’d get a real kick outta it!”

Nice save.

“Hey, tha’d be fun. Show off to Noodle and Russ later, too!”

Fuck.

“Yeah, man.”
Ace felt stupid now. He should have just said what he’d been thinking. But now he was already opening up his camera app, shifting it to the front camera to take some pictures with 2-D.

Noodle and Russel were going to see these pictures no doubt and ask if anything happened… they were going to be disappointed in him when he tells them ‘nope! Just an ordinary day out on the town! Why was something supposed to?’

He wished he could make something happen, he really did… too bad he was absolute chicken shit when it came to his feelings.

At least he’d have something to remember the moment with… he was half tempted to turn one of the pictures into his lock screen. Would that be weird? That would be weird.

When they got off of the London Eye, the rest of the day was spent with Stuart showing him little bits of London that you wouldn’t normally see on a normal tour. Places that he personally liked, little shops, bakeries, eateries, graffiti art spots, you name if if Stuart liked it, he showed it to Ace. In all Honesty, he was a lot of fun to see a part of London that wasn’t exactly shown off quite as much. 2-D knew a lot about the city and Ace honestly could have never asked for a better person to show him around the place.

Around the end of the singers tour, then ended up getting ice cream and heading to a so-called ‘secret spot’ that 2-D always liked to visit. A small spot near the canal in Kings Cross. It was further away from the usual spots people would occupy themselves, void of a whole lot of activity. Just a spot where the two of them could be alone. They seated themselves on the ground beside the canal (Ace being extra sure to stay as far away from the water as possible) and ate their frozen treats. The sun was setting already, creating a beautiful orange glow across the sky, creating a beautiful glow around the city in its entirety. Basking in the setting sun, Stuart and Ace spoke casually, laughing every now and then.

“Ice powers? No way, you’re lyin’.”
Stuart laughed out.

“I’m serious, this totally happened once. I don’t know if I could ever actually do it, again but like…”
Ace shrugged a little bit as he pushed his shades up so they sat on the top of his head.
“It was some weird reaction my body had after I ate a bunch of frozen slushie stuff and then got zapped by the Powerpuff Girls.”

“Maybe tha’s why your hands are so nice and cold a lo’ of the time.”
He grinned at him.

“Ha! Maybe. Might jus’ gotta be one of them things I need ta activate. But do I reeeally wanna suffer through brain freeze right now, hmm…”
He hummed to himself, placing a hand to his chin in thought, pulling a laugh from Stuart. He couldn’t help but smile at him and tap his shoulder with the back of his hand.
“Maybe next time we do this, we can give it a whirl, huh? Reenact Frozen while we’re at it.”

2-D gasped out, a hand rising to his face.

“Can we build a snowman and name it Olaf?”

“Okay now, let it go.”

The two of them laughed out at their horribly lame jokes, one of them nearly dropping their frozen treat in the process which only ensued more laughter from the two of them. If they were people around them, they’d clearly be getting looks right now. Not good ones either. Stuart didn’t care though, he was having a wonderful time with Ace… as he usually did. Pulling himself from his laughter, 2-D gave a long, long sigh, leaning up against Ace’s shoulder in the process and stared up at the orange and pink sky above them.

“... Today was a lo’ of fun… grea’ firs’ day back in London.”
He mused, looking over at Ace now with a gentle smile.
“Y’know, I had been plannin’ on just sleepin’ all day… glad I didn’t.”

2-D stared at Ace, looking his face up and down for a moment as he bit down on his bottom lip. He looked really nice, he wasn’t going to lie. Ace was… already incredibly attractive to begin with, but something in his mind just made him want to actually do something really stupid right then and there… kiss him possibly? That would be way too forward… he had no idea how he would react, after all. The bassist smiled at him, taking in the man’s gorgeous features in the lowlit glow of the settling sun. God, it felt like his heart wanted to rip out of his chest, he wanted to say what was on his mind, he wanted to say anything, just get Stuart to know how he felt-

“Hey, Stu…”
He started, heart practically stopped now.

“Yeah?”

“Um…”
Ace stumbled over his words for a moment. Was now the right time? Was it the right setting, was this even a good idea? His heart had started up, again. It felt like it was going to actually explode. He swallowed the nervous lump in his throat and smiled warmly at 2-D.
“I-”

“Ducks!”

“What?”

Stuart suddenly pointed past Ace, making him look down the canal to see a flock of ducks slowly floating down it.

“Oh. Ducks.”

“Look, it’s Karl! Oh man, I f’hought that li’l guy died or somef’hin’!”
Without hesitation, 2-D suddenly hopped up from the ground, limping on over to the flock of ducks to crumble up his ice cream cone into the water for them, which they happily began pecking at. Ace just watched him, the beating of his heart dying down now all the while.

Oh man… he felt completely drained now.

It wasn’t long before Stuart headed back over to him, brushing his hands off all the while.

“Sorry, I interrupted ya… what was ya tryin’ t’say?”
Stu smiled kindly at him which Ace returned with a small laugh.

“Ah, I was just gonna thank you for showin’ me around today. I really appreciate it… I hope we can do it again sometime soon.”
Ace pushed himself up so he was standing and finished off the rest of his frozen treat, brushing off his own hands afterwards.
“But uhh… besides that, why did you start walkin’ around without your crutch? You know your punishment for that.”

“I-... wait! Ace, I’m sorry, it was jus’ a spur of the moment f’hing, I can walk jus’ fine on me own!”

“You know the rules, pretty boy.”
Without hesitation, Ace stepped forward and scooped Stuart up into his arms, pulling a yelp out of him.
“Ahhh, as light as a delicate feather.”

He hummed and went over to grab 2-D’s crutch leaned up against the wall. With that, he started heading for where they had parked the Oldsmobile.

“I will actually punch ya in the nose!”

“No you won’t. You love me too much.”

“... Shut up.”

Stuart was more than sure now… he liked Ace through and through. He knew Ace didn’t say what he wanted to say before he interrupted him, that much was obvious. But what he wanted to say was going to nag at him for a good while.

What was going to nag at him even worse… was trying to figure out a way to confess.

Chapter Text

Their day together had been absolutely wonderful, the images of everything they did still swirling in his head as he leaned against the wall beside his bed, the sound of bush crickets playing their eternal song just outside his window. 2-D hadn’t been able to wipe the smile off of his face even after he and Ace parted ways for the night. This was the first time in a very, very long time his heart felt this full of light and happiness. The first time in a long time that he’d been able to say he felt for someone in a romantic way. Could he have possibly been getting into something he wasn’t prepared for? It was more than likely. Most of his romantic relationships ended in complete and utter failure.

But now, he was more than happy to admit being with Ace felt entirely different. It gave him newfound confidence any time he spoke to him, he couldn’t resist smiling whenever they were together, Ace made him feel like a person rather than just someone untouchable. Stuart never did like being put on a pedestal, after all. He liked being admired, but being considered better than the entirety of humanity? No. That was Murdoc.

Oh, that name made his smile drop, easily. He huffed a little bit at his phone as he scrolled through the bands social media outlets. Among thinking about his newfound infatuation with Ace, he’d also been thinking about someone in particular he genuinely didn’t want to. Why, even when he was at his happiest, could he not get Murdoc out of his head? Why did every single thought lead back to him? It pissed him off beyond belief. At this point, he wanted nothing more than to confront the bastard and tell him to never come back, make him feel unwanted.

He blinked a couple of times at the device in his hands as a plan started to formulate in his head. But was it really a good idea? Well, there really was no better time to tell Murdoc exactly how he feels. It wasn’t like the older man could get to him or hurt him while he was incarcerated. He would absolutely need to keep it a secret from everyone else as well… Noodle would be leaving early for Jiu Jitsu class, Russel probably wouldn’t get up until mid-morning. That left Ace…

The one person he couldn’t exactly bring himself to lie to right now.

He would need to leave extremely early, right after Noodle did. If he didn’t make a whole lot of noise when leaving, Ace surely wouldn’t notice him gone for at least a couple of hours, right? They didn’t plan anything together, either… 2-D squinted a little bit at his phone as he shifted in his bed. His plan was formulating and while he wasn’t entirely sure it was the best course of action…

This was something he needed to do.

Stuart proceeded to place his phone on the nightstand after setting an alarm for early in the morning and plugged it in before he pulled the duvet on his bed up and over himself. There was no backing out of this. He was going to tell Murdoc his exact feelings tomorrow. Was it a good idea? Who the Hell knows. The important part was that it needed to be done if he wanted to just make any and all thoughts about him just dissipate.

How was it that the Satanist was able to make his life a continuous Hell without even lifting a finger?

It really did piss him off.

As the morning sun rose, Noodle was the first to wake up, stretching her body broadly with a short yawn pulling through her. Then her alarm went off. Looks like she beat it, again. She reached over, tapping the alarm on her phone off and jumped out of bed. It had been really great for her to be able to have a schedule like this, again. Get up in the morning, shower, brush her teeth, get a nice breakfast in, and then head to her fitness class. Easy plan.

Since they’d gotten back, she had been soon excited to go back to her old fitness studio. Back in America it was so hard to find a place that she liked going to, most fitness trainers in California they were personal trainers. She preferred not to go with that, considering she wouldn’t exactly be there all the time. It would be a waste of money to pay someone for a few months then bail. Not to mention, the way she liked to keep herself active was a bit much for most trainers. She’d end up pushing their limits rather than the other way around, that much was obvious to her.

Noodle set out the outfit she’d be going out in before she stripped down and headed into the bathroom in her room. Now that she thought about it, she never did ask what everyone else was going to be up to for their days off. She did see Ace and 2-D come back home relatively late, both with big goofy grins on their faces. She didn’t pry, but something definitely went on between the two of them. Maybe they went out on a date? How cute would that be? A date disguised as a tour around London, perhaps? She had to wonder who made the first move as well.

It was already obvious to her that the two of them had created their own special bond between each other. Now whether that bond would go any further was the interesting part to her. She knew 2-D wasn’t the type to catch on very quickly when someone had feelings for him, but Ace she didn’t know well enough to accurately predict what actions he’d take. The fact that he told her about his feelings at all was a genuine surprise to her. She had figured he would just pretend like nobody knew for as long as possible and then one day come crying into her arms about being afraid of being rejected.

Or something along those lines.

Nevertheless, seeing them being so friendly with each other put a smile on her face. It felt like just a couple days ago that Stuart was acting incredibly standoffish toward Ace. For the first few days, he seemed to avoid him like the plague while also having that look of curiosity in his eyes. She had to wonder what changed that day Russel called 2-D several times and then went to get him only to come back with them both in tow. What did they talk about? What did Ace say to him that immediately made their singer comfortable with him? It would be a mystery to her for as long as she didn’t ask.

Oh, but one day… she would absolutely ask. She needed all of the juicy details if she was going to attend their wedding.

Okay, she was getting ahead of herself, wasn’t she?

Once she got out of the shower, she dried herself off and blow dried her short hair, styling it just a little bit just to make sure she looked as nice as possible (even though it would fall flat as soon as she worked up a sweat) then stepped back out into the bedroom to dress herself. She checked her phone to make sure she had no messages or delays on her path to the fitness studio before she pulled on a jacket. She stuffed her phone in the pocket and grabbed her front door keys to stuff in the other then she was out the door with a bit of pep in her step.

Noodle started to head down the stairs before she heard the sound of a door opening behind her and she immediately stopped to see 2-D slipping out of his room. He seemed to freeze up as soon as he saw her and she just smiled at him.

“Good morning! I am surprised you are up this early.”
She greeted happily, leaning up against the wall as she waited for him to join her.
“Do not tell me you actually got up early enough to join me for once, 2-D?”

“Y’know Ace woul’ kill me if I tried doin’ anyf’hin’ fitnessy on my ankle.”
Stuart gave a small laugh, shuffling over to the staircase.
“I f’hought you’d left already.”

“Nope, just now am. Are you heading out for breakfast today or something? I know you wanted to go to one of your favorite places.”

“Oh, I wen’ there yesterday with Ace.”

“Oooh…”
She hummed with a smile on her face as she went down the staircase with the limping, crutch-bound singer behind her.
“I saw you two come home together. What did you guys do?”

“Jus’ went aroun’ London, showed him some’a the sights, went on the London Eye wi’f ‘im, got ice cream, hung out aroun’ the canal at Kings Cross.”
2-D shrugged a little bit as he reached the end of the staircase.

“Sounds like you two had a fun time.”
Noodle spoke with a teasing tone on her voice, the smile never leaving her face.
“Kind of like a date.”

Stuart immediately tensed up at that, a dusting of pink finding it’s way over his cheek as he stared at her wide-eyed. She tilted her head a little bit and her smile grew a little bit.

“Heeey, you’re hyphema has cleared up, again! That is good to see.”

The mention of his eyes immediately distracted 2-D from the date comment and he touched at his cheek before nodding a little bit.

“Yeah. I figured it would las’ longer since I fell flat on me face, but I’m happy t’see it cleared up,” he paused for a moment, “and happy to jus’ be able to see in general.”

Noodle let out a laugh as she pocketed one of her hands. Of course, she couldn’t help but notice something strange about him… some weird aura about him that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She wanted to say it was nervousness, but it really wasn’t. There was a confidence overshadowing it, like he was… eager to go and do something, escape from this conversation and go back to whatever he’d been doing before. What was he planning? She couldn’t seem to read him at all right now. It was something he was trying to keep from her, she was sure of that, but what would he have that needed to be a secret? It was going to drive her insane if she didn’t find out-

“Hey, Noodle.”

His voice ripped her out of her train of thought and she flashed him a small smile.

“What’s up?”

“I can tell ya stuff, righ’? Like, personal stuff.”
He started, immediately catching her curiosity by its tail.

“Of course. You are basically like my big brother, you can tell me anything, 2-D.”
She reassured, patting him on the shoulder with her free hand. She watched him hesitate with what he wanted to say before he just sighed and shook his head.

“I like Ace. Like… like-like.”

It was silent for a couple minutes as she just stared at him, the smile never leaving her face.

“And? What do you need help with?”

“Noodle…”

“What? Did you think I was going to be upset at you for liking our brand new bassist?”
She giggled a little bit and removed her hand from his shoulder to pocket it as well.
“Look, if you like him, I fully support you. You should tell him sometime soon. I feel like you will be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.”

“Huh? Wha’s tha’ mean?”
His head cocked off to the side, confusion filling his white hues.
“I mean… I’ll tell ‘im, of course I will. I feel like it’d be unfair if I jus’ kept that kin’a thing to m’self. It’d be a li’l creepy, righ’?”

“Nah. Loads of people keep their crushes to themselves. I just think it would help you out a lot if you just spoke your mind.”
Noodle hummed as she tilted her head off to the side slightly, letting her neck crack a little bit.
“I like you better when you are confident, anyway! It is a nice change from your usual self. Now I gotta go before I miss out on getting breakfast. Be safe if you go out, too. Okay?”

“Yeah… okay. F’hanks, Noodle!”

She gave a small ‘no problem’ before she headed out the front door, leaving 2-D there by himself. She was right, he had to admit. He needed to hone his confidence and use it to his advantage while he had it. Her words really did help him quite a bit. He knew for sure what his course of action over the next few days would be; he just hoped it didn’t negatively affect anyone directly involved.

Stuart gave a small huff and headed over to the door, grabbing his keys he’d left on on the hanger when he noticed a jacket there that happened to be one of Murdocs. He stared at it for a couple minutes before he snatched it off of the rack and pulled the leather accessory over his body, adjusting it a little bit. It fit like a glove for him. He always thought it looked rather big on the bassist. But hey… he probably wouldn’t see it for a long time.

Murdoc would survive for as long as the prison system would allow him. So long as he wasn’t free, what did it matter to him where anything he owned went? It wasn’t as though he respected his surroundings when he was still here, after all. Murdoc took loads of clothing items from him without permission. Stuart never minded so much when Noodle did it, he was more than happy to share with her because she didn’t outright destroy anything he owned and eventually gave it back. Murdoc on the other hand just kept it until it was in tatters.

With a sly grin on his face as a thought passed through his mind, he headed out the door and down to where he parked his dream vehicle. He got inside without missing a beat, setting his crutch in the passengers seat and started the car, listening to the purr of the engine. He couldn’t help himself from thinking this day would change how he lived his life, forever.

He usurped like a king, like a man who didn’t have to abide by the laws of the land.

But he wasn’t the king anymore.

2-D was.

Chapter Text

The drive to HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs wasn’t an entirely long one (he did stop and grab a bite to eat, not entirely being in all that much of a rush), the passage of time seemed nonexistent at this point. He hadn’t exactly been thinking much while he was on his short journey, just idly listening to the radio and burning his lungs on a cigarette. He could already see the structure of the prison in the distance. He wasn’t too far off now. But his nerves had genuinely never been calmer. These emotions he had, they’d been building up for such a long time that it was getting harder and harder to contain them as the days went by. His overwhelming frustration, grief, and anger squelched out any kind of nervousness or fear he could have now.

The memories that flickered before his eyes in these last moments truly fueled him at this point. He bit down on the filter of the stick between his lips, glaring sharply at the facility ahead of him before he slipped it from his mouth to flick it out the cracked window. Stuart pulled into the car park of the prison, parking his car and taking his sweet old time doing so. He gave a long sigh, the realization of what he was doing slowly creeping into his mind. He was about to go inside of a prison and confront the man who turned his life into an actual living Hell. The only moments of relief he had ever since meeting Murdoc were when he was asleep or just outright not around.

If he didn’t do this now, he would never do it. If he didn’t do it at all, he would never be rid of this raging storm that was his emotions and feelings for Murdoc as a person.

Stuart hummed quietly, pulling out his phone for a moment to check the time and see if there were any messages. Honestly, he was just stalling now… he knew it all too well himself. Biting down on his bottom lip, he shoved the device back into his pocket and got out of the car, straightening the jacket out on his body a little bit while he looked at his reflection in the doors window.

“Okay.” He whispered to his own image, “Mudz… I hope you’re ready for me.”

He glanced past the window, noticing he left his crutch inside of the car, squinting a little bit. If he showed up in there with that, Murdoc wouldn’t take him seriously in the slightest. He was fully aware of that. He could tough it out. It wasn’t like he’d be doing all that much walking to begin with. He was stalling again, why was he stalling? What happened to all the courage he had before? Stuart squeezed his eyes shut, pressing the palm of his hand against his forehead.

“Think abou’ everything he’s done, idiot… think abou’ the life he tore you away from…”
He whispered to himself, eyes cracking open for a moment.
“... Think abou’ how much you wan’ Ace t’stay…”

Oh, there was his fire. Ace was his reasoning for all of this, the spark in his life that ignited this flame inside of him. A faint smile found its way over his face as he thought about everything he’d experienced with the ex-gangster up until this point. The one person he could see being a permanent replacement for them, the one person to show them his talent without fear of being rejected, he played in a way that mixed with the songs he wrote himself that just fit like a puzzle piece that had been missing for so long. That confidence and charm that made his heart swell in such a precious way that he never wanted to let go of, that infectious smile, that unforgettable voice, the amazingly cool exterior mingling sweetly with his humorous side…

He was in deep and he was perfectly fine with it.

The last thing he wanted was for Murdoc to take it all away from him.

Stuart’s smile grew a little bit as he looked deeply into his reflection, his confidence and courage returning now as he pushed his fingers through his blue hair, styling it up a little bit before he backed away from the vehicle and headed toward the entrance of the prison with a cool, powerful stride. He ignored the pain in his ankle completely, as it didn’t bother him entirely all that much anymore. He was determined now, completely ready to face one of his biggest fears in the world.

“Visitor for Murdoc Niccals.”

He spoke to the man behind the barrier who handed him some papers to sign, which he did all too eagerly and handed them back to him. Without anymore wasted time, he was led back to the visitors area. It would seem he made it just as the the hour for visitation started. However, among the barrier-less room filled with blue and orange chairs there were only a couple people there. They seemed to be upset, like they didn’t want to be there. One even stormed out crying, leaving a convict sitting there with a confused look on his face. Stuart just stuffed his hands in his pockets as he walked past them, ignoring them for the time being and chose one of the spots furthest away from the entrance of the room.

This wasn’t the kind of scenery he expected in all honesty. He was thinking there’d be some kind of glass barrier and phones for the visitor and convict to speak through to each other to avoid any kind of altercation, like he’d seen in shows or movies. However the room he was in was completely open, three blue chairs across an orange chair with only a white table separating the two. It was a strange contrast compared to the starch white walls that surrounded him and the heavy metal door that was the entrance to the room about 4 meters away from him. If Murdoc came at him, he was really going to need to book it, huh?

There were the booths, of course. But the guard told him Murdoc wasn’t dangerous enough to require one. The booths were strictly for convicts prone to injuring their visitors, surprisingly. He could have mentioned Murdoc’s history of… well, trying to murder him, but if he recalled correctly, the bassist swore to be on good behavior until the Humility video released due to a deal he had with the warden. He had some confidence that Murdoc wouldn’t lay a single finger on him if he wanted to keep the aforementioned agreement. He crossed a leg over the other, placing his hands on his knees, finger idly tapping on his black jeans as he waited.

Waited…

… And waited…

… Was he even going to show up-?

The sight of a orange jumpsuit laying over green, rot-colored skin caught his eye and he felt a short gasp pull through him. White eyes fell on the man as he came shuffling out with a guard escorting him. He looked incredibly roughed up, a black eye, hair disheveled, face unshaven, a nervous twitch about him, hands and feet cuffed together creating the sound of rustling chains as he came into the room.

Why did him looking so distressed make 2-D feel so… happy?

He seemed surprised to see Stuart sitting there, cross legged, looking as calm as can be. Murdoc looked around for a moment, noting that none of the rest of the band was there before he slowly seated himself. The guard stood by the door, eyes boring holes into the back of the Satanists head. Murdoc gave an exasperated sigh before he turned to look at the guard.

“Listen, uh… I know you absolutely adore me and all, but you don’t have to keep bloody watchin’ me. We’re not even dating yet, you’re smothering me, you know that, right?”
Murdoc called out to him, causing the guard to tense up and glare at him. The guard then shook his head and left the room, grumbling to himself about Murdoc being a complete arse. With a forced smile on his face, he turned back around to 2-D and splayed his hands out.
“2-D, it’s a pleasant surprise to see you! Are you finally here ta bust me out? I’m sure you’ve missed me an awful lot… or did you just come to ask me to tie your shoes- waaait…”

He leaned forward a little bit, squinting at him. Before he could open his mouth to speak, Stuart let out a short scoff, shaking his head a little bit.

“More like I jus’ wanted to see an old man scared shitless.”
Stuart mused, looking at his nails for a moment.
“No, actually, I wan’ed t’come and tell ya that uhhh… we don’ need ya anymore.”

“... Excuse me?”
Murdoc gave him an incredulous look, reeling back a little bit, the tone of his voice very slurred like he’d just gotten slapped in the side of the face. He was definitely blindsided by the comment.
“It sounds a little like you’re tryin’ta kick me out of the band, but that can’t be possible, you wouldn’t survive a year wif’out me--”

“Actually, tha’s exactly what I’m sayin’.”
Murdoc sat there speechless at that moment, his confused look only becoming more intense at that moment.
“You seem confused. Did I stutter or somef’hin’? I can’t be that hard t’understand. Y’see, Mudz… you’re very easily replaceable. I think it woul’ be better for the bands grow’f ta keep Ace as our new bassist.”

That look on Murdoc’s face… that confused and bewildered look he had… it put a big smile right on Stuarts face. He couldn’t help himself, it was just something he’s never see on him before. It genuinely made him happy to see Murdoc in a state that he’s not accustomed to. He was always used to being on top and for him to abruptly be ripped from that spot without a second thought, it was probably pissing him off beyond belief! It was a dangerous situation for Stuart, sure, but it was so incredibly worth it.

The sound of clapping pulled him from his thoughts and his eyes widened a little bit as he watched Murdoc leaning back in his chair, slowly clapping to the best of his abilities with the cuffs around his wrists. His smile didn’t fade, however his head did fall off to the side slightly. It seemed it was 2-D’s turn to be confused.

“What a fantastic sense of humor you’ve developed since my incarceration, dear Stuart. You even come in here wearin’ my jacket! I can only assume it’s from Ace’s influence. He really does just love to guff about when he was lookin’ for a cheap laugh.”
Murdoc crossed his arms over his chest.
“He really always has been a better actor than a musician, in all honesty. Anyway-”

“It wasn’t a joke, Murdoc.”
Stuart said more firmly now, causing Murdoc to tense up. It wasn’t often he used Murdoc’s actual name rather than some sort of nickname. It probably caught the guy off-guard. He leaned forward now, uncrossing his legs as he rested his arms on his thighs.
“Gorillaz? S’not yours anymore. Plain and simple.”

“... Gorillaz would die without me.”
Murdoc spoke up now with a growl in his voice, leaning forward himself and resting his own arms on the table in front of him. It was clear enough to 2-D that Murdoc was becoming more and more frustrated by the second.
“Who the Hell do you think you are right now, 2-D?”

Stuart found himself chuckling quietly to himself, pulling another confused look out of the man across from him. He gave a small sigh, his almost devilish grin growing a little bit as one of his hands moved up to rub at the back of his neck.

“I’m jus’ doin’ what you would do if one’a us got locked up. Replacing you. Only difference is, we don’ want you back.”
2-D hummed, rocking back and forth a little bit.
“We foun’ someone better than you, Murdoc. We foun’ someone we can tolerate far better than we could ever deal wif’ you. I hones’ly can’t stand you, you know? You’re an absolutely disgustin’ excuse for an human bean-”

Being, you moron.”

“-Shut the fuck up. I’m talkin’.”
He spat, causing Murdoc to rear back.
“You’ve made my life a livin’ Hell for twenty whole years. You paraded yourself aroun’ like you were a God among men when in reality you’re less than even a man. You’re a worm, trying to pretend like your better than everyone else in the world when you couldn’ even get a band off the ground wif’out havin’ ta kidnap them. You have been the weak link in the band this entire time. Paula might not’ve been the greatest when we had her, but I can guarantee tha’d I’d even replace you with her. Luckily I don’t gotta… we have Ace now.

You’ve trea’ed me like nof’hin’ but garbage ever since you firs’ hit me with your damn car at that organ shop. You’ve used me, beat me, kidnapped me, starved me, tried to kill me all for wha’? Some weird control thing? Well guess what, Murdoc. You aren’t welcome back to Gorillaz even if ya get outta this shithole. You’re not a God, you’re not even a bloody king. Not anymore. Because I am. I’m the king now. Me. On the off-chance you were a God… I suppose that makes me on an even higher tier than you.”

Murdoc could only sit there, completely flabbergasted by 2-D’s speech of sorts. He stared at him with wide, confused eyes, mouth slightly agape as his mind raced for something to say or do. Was… was he about to lose his band all because Stuart Pot, the man so oblivious he doesn’t even realize he’s being slapped in the face, suddenly decided to grow a pair?! This was… this was absolutely unacceptable, he couldn’t understand any of what was going on. He was being banished from the band he made all because this half-wit musician said so! Who gave him the right to even come in here today and be so upfront about all of this? He’ll admit, he’s done some horrible things to Stuart but… no, it was all for the sake of Gorillaz.

Baring his crooked teeth, Murdoc suddenly slammed his hands down on the table in front of him with, rising from his seat in the process to where it knocked the heavy piece of furniture onto its back. He stared down at 2-D, who continued to stay seated and completely relaxed in his own chair, a cocky smile gracing his pretty-boy face.

“Who in Satan’s unholy name do you f’hink you fuckin’ are, Pot?!”
Murdoc cried out with a threatening growl lacing his voice. Stuart, however, continued to go unphased. He knew something had to be going off in that thick skull of his, why the Hell couldn’t he read him right now?! It was like he was a completely different person!
“Now you listen to me, Stuart. There is no way in Hell and all its glory that I’m not comin’ back to Gorillaz once I get outta this place! I have half a mind to beat that into your blue head until you understand that Gorillaz isn’t Gorillaz without me! I can guarantee that piece of crap album, the hey hey or whatever stupid name you all called it, is bound to fail without me playin’ bass! Ace is not a permanent replacement forme. I’m Murdoc Niccals, everyone praises me like a bloody God, rightfully so! When I fuckin’ told Noodle about Ace, I had zero intentions of him permanently replacin’ me! I’d rather burn every semblance of Gorillaz to the ground before I fuckin’ let that happen--!”

“Gorillaz will go on wif’ or wif’out you. Sorry, Mudz. We no longer require your ‘expertice.’”
Stuart flashed him a sickeningly sweet smile to Murdoc, one that made him go red in the face. He looked like he was about to leap over the table and strangle him right there when the sound of a buzzer going off caught his attention. One of the guards called out to the infuriated Murdoc, calling him to head back to his cell under his escort.
“Bye-bye, we’ll start clearin’ out the stuff in your room tonigh’. I think I’ll keep some of ya clothes… I rather like this jacket in particular.”

“You… little shit!!
Murdoc suddenly tried to jump over the table at Stuart, making him jump up and stumble back a little bit while the guards quickly detained him. The smile on 2-D’s face never disappeared. He just gave a small huff of a laugh and gave a curt wave while he watched the bassist be dragged away, literally kicking and screaming. He could hear him screaming all the way until the sound of a door slamming echoed through the facility.

A guard came and asked Stuart if he were okay and he reassured them that everything was fine before he was escorted out of the facility. Once outside, he nearly screamed. That was probably one of the most exhilarating things he’s ever done! He stood up to Murdoc without even thinking twice about it! His heart was racing all throughout the encounter, but he still kept his cool, he didn’t even panic! He certainly thought he’d get hurt or something, but not even that happened! He got what he needed to say off his chest finally, he could feel the weight melting off his shoulders so quickly.

He felt like a new man!

Stuart gave a satisfied hum and pulled his pack of cigarettes out of his pocket to light one, help calm himself down a little bit. It wasn’t like he didn’t enjoy the high. Oh no, he loved it. His entire body was trembling, he was so thrilled over what all he just did. The look on Murdocs face was just the icing on the moist, delicious cake. He just couldn’t wipe the smile off his face, all the feelings rushing through his body… man. It was out of this world. Once he had his cigarette lit, he happily strode over to his car, unlocking the door and slipping inside.

As he got into the driver’s seat, his phone went off in his pocket. He grabbed it, pulling it out to see a text coming in from Ace. He wasted no time opening the messenger, leaning up against the door a little bit as he read.

’Hey, didn’t know you were going out. Everything okay?’

Stuart smiled a little bit at Ace’s light concern.

’Everything is fantastic. Don’t worry. I’ll be back soon.’
He waited for a moment before he sent out a second text.
’Hey, do you mind if we clean up Murdocs room a little bit tonight? From what I saw, it was kind of gross looking still.’

’Sure, man. I’m making something tonight, too. Meal then cleaning?’

’Deal!’

Chapter Text

What in the world had gotten into that blue haired piece of--? Calm down Murdoc. Deep breaths. Didn’t want to have an altercation with the guards and risk getting punched in the face for acting out… again. But Satan, what in the blazing fires of Hell itself did 2-D think he was pulling? Kicking him out of the band he made, banishing from something that would be absolutely nothing without his influence?! 2-D wouldn’t even be singing for the bloody thing had it not been for him! He really needed to get that lanky asshole to thank him for hitting him with his car.

He absolutely needed to get out of this place, see what in the world was going on with his band. He didn’t trust 2-D to properly handle it on his own, not in the slightest. The man was a complete moron! Who knows what kinds of decisions he was making? He was going to drive Gorillaz into the ground! The last time he had creative control over an album, it was a disaster! The Fall was hardly even considered it’s own album, people ignored like it didn’t exist. He couldn’t let that happen, again. If every track was going to be like what he’d heard before… this album was going to be for an extremely niche crowd. Hardly anybody would touch the damn thing.

As soon as the door slammed behind him, he had ripped himself out of their grip.

“Listen, I’m completely fine with being carried just not manhandled! If you’re plannin’ on doin’ that, ask first, maybe take me to dinner and whatnot and I’ll f’hink about puttin’ out-”
Murdoc was suddenly slammed into the brick wall beside him, pulling a strangled wheeze out of him.
“-Ah! What did I just say?!”

“Keep up that smart mouth of yours and the warden ain’t gonna give ya no special privileges, Niccals.”
The guard proceeded to remove the cuffs around Murdoc’s wrists and ankles.
“He’s only treatin’ ya specially because of ya little star status.”

Murdoc just rolled his eyes so hard it hurt, stumbling back a little bit as the back of his jumpsuit were grabbed and he was pulled away from the wall. He was pushed forward, being escorted to his cell now, a scowl on his face as he glanced back at forth at all the disgusting, greasy convicts inside literal cages on either side of him. This place truly was a shithole. He didn’t deserve to be here, he was freaking framed! He would go to his grave swearing up and down he was framed. After all, why would he smuggle drugs on his own person when he could just use 2-D for that? Something wasn’t right here. Not in the slightest.

He was abruptly pushed into his cell and the door to it was slammed shut behind him. He turned around, leaning up against the bars to his guard with a smug grin on his face.

“So no date, is it?”

“I’ve a wife and kids.”

“Well, that’s not stopped many men before, now has it?”
The bars were suddenly slammed into by the man’s baton, making Murdoc stumble back into the small cell with a laugh ripping through him. His smile dissipated when the guard stormed off.
“That bloke is so serious all the time…”

He grumbled out, heading over to his bed and seating himself on it before he pulled a smart phone from his pocket, squinting a little bit at the lock screen image. Must’ve been the man’s aforementioned wife and kids taking a little family photo of sorts with a dog. He gave a disgusted noise, tongue lolling out a little bit as he swiped the screen.

Oh! No code!

Perfect.

Murdoc had already pickpocketed multiple cellular devices from the guards of the prison. Some had locks, others didn’t. The ones that had locks, he just allowed them to take back during a room search (and blamed his cellmate to keep the heat off of himself). He made sure to keep the ones that didn’t require any kind of access code securely hidden… he wasn’t going to say where, so don’t ask him. He leaned back on the bed, tapping away through the apps and whatnot after he’d turned the screens brightness down all the way, just to save on battery life.

He’d easily figured out the prisons wifi code. It didn’t help that they’d loudly mentioned it more than once, thinking that none of the inmates would catch on. They all weren’t exactly the smart type, or at least they didn’t seem like it. They most definitely weren’t anticipating being stolen from yours truly. In fact, they should feel honored for his hands to even have come near them when it came right down to it. His nail tapped against the screen as he looked through the app store for just what he wanted. The guard who had this phone never once touched any social media platforms besides freaking facebook. He couldn’t run on that shitshow alone, he needed as much as he could get if he were going to reach out to his adoring fans.

Going through the Gorillaz social media pages, there didn’t seem to be any information on 2-D’s stupid little album. It didn’t look like there was any mention of what the band was doing besides the usual shit, too. They had to be getting around to doing the album art if they were back in London, anyway. He wouldn’t be surprised if they were going to do that within the next couple of days if not today… though, he had to guess that 2-D wouldn’t show up on his own if he were planning on going to some kind of shoot right after. That being said…

“... Who the Hell let that bastard drive…?!”
Murdoc hissed out at the device in his hands, glaring sharply at it. What car was he driving? He’d better not have touched his, he swore to Satan if he did…

He didn’t let Stuart drive for multiple reasons, the main one being he didn’t like him feeling like he had some kind of position of power over him. Murdoc didn’t even want him thinking about trying to do some crazy stupid stuff… all throughout the development of Humanz he was drugged up out his mind. He couldn’t trust the blue arsehole to drive all throughout that year for that very reason. So why should he expect anything else if the guy was going to abuse his pills? That’s why he took them away and sold them, specifically to make sure he couldn’t abuse the damn things anymore.

Granted, that was extremely hypocritical of him, being a heavy drug-user himself.

Okay, fine, he’ll admit it. He didn’t care if 2-D were pill-popping so long as it didn’t negatively affect him and he did want some extra cash in his pocket. At least the idiot stopped eventually, his brain was already nonexistent as is, so ruining it even more wouldn’t help him in the slightest. He clicked his tongue, pulling himself out of his train of thought before he frustrated himself too much. Murdoc adjusted himself on the bed a little bit, swapping to the messenger of the phone in his hands. He’d always made a point to text Russel or Noodle whenever he got his hands on another phone.

They never responded, but he thought possibly giving it a shot would help him get out of this dump faster. If he bugged them enough, maybe they’d break into the prison just to make him shut up. That’d be hilarious to see… not so much when he was getting the crap beaten out of him, but what are you gonna do?

He proceeded to delete all other contacts inside of the device, putting in Noodle and Russels numbers in their stead. Murdoc could predict what was going to happen when he messaged them… but fuck it, right?

’Russ!’

’Russ, when are you all going to get me out of here?’

’I’m sick of this place already, someone’s got to get me out and I’ve been waiting for how ducking long? Answer me!’

’Fucking* bloody autocorrect.’

Murdoc waited for a couple minutes, eyes quickly glancing across the screen as he awaited some sort of response from the drummer. He frown, clicking his tongue once more when nothing came. He knew that was going to happen… why did he ever think he could rely on Russel? Noodle on the other hand, she adored him! He was like a daughter to her, she’d never let him rot in the place like this, he was sure of it!

Swapping over to Noodle’s number, he began quickly typing away on the screen, squinting a little bit every now and then.

’Noodle! Sweet, sweet Noodle! When are you gonna bust me out of here?’

’Certainly you believe that your favorite band member was most certainly framed, yes? Everything’s probably in shambles with me, it must be absolute torture for you!’

’Get me out and I’ll come fix every little thing, alright? I’m sure 2-D hasn’t done anything noteworthy.’

’Respond soon? Russel won’t talk to me, it’s making me feel so, so lonely.’

With that all sent, he waited, tapping away at the screen with his thumb. She would absolutely respond, right? She hadn’t before, but eventually she would need to, right? She absolutely adored him, he was sure of that! Noodle would never abandon him in his time of need - even though he abandoned her during Plastic Beach... not that he didn’t feel absolutely horrible while thinking he’d accidentally murdered her.

The device vibrated and he immediately perked up, eagerly checking to see the message and-

His face dropped, a slight grimace overtaking his features as he stared at the thumbs up emoji on the screen. His grip on the phone tightened slightly and he was half tempted to chuck it across the room. But he knew that would alert the guards to him. He just shut the phone off and shoved it under his pillow before flopping down onto the bed himself, arms crossing as he glared at the wall opposite of him.

2-D turned them all against him. That’s all he could think right now. The blue haired moron probably convinced them all that they didn’t need him back and that’s why he came here today to tell him such ridiculous news. That man was out of control! He needed to be dealt with as soon as possible. He wasn’t going to lose the band he worked so hard to make great, not now not even if he ever fucking died!

Gorillaz was his band. He wouldn’t have it torn away from him without a second glance back at him.

He didn’t deserve this kind of treatment.

He was fucking innocent.

Chapter Text

He couldn’t get rid of the blissful feeling rushing through his body all throughout the drive back to the house - even when he got back inside, he found himself bouncing a little bit with each step. Stuart felt as light as a feather, like nothing in the world could possibly bring him down! Not that he would actually let it, but you got the gist of it. Being able to say everything he’d wanted to say for so long without fear of being mauled was truly a one of a kind experience and whatever higher beings existed knew for damn sure this day would never be forgotten by neither himself or the man he had confronted only a little over an hour ago.

Stuart shuffled into the house, keeping himself properly balanced on his crutch as he moved further inside. The only backfire was walking without the tool when he made his way into the prison; his ankle ached now… he’d better keep that a secret from Ace, otherwise he’d end up in the man’s arms, again. His feet absolutely would not touch the ground until they got a professionals OK. Not that he minded being carried around by Ace, he rather enjoyed being close to him, after all. Saying that to himself sounded like he had some weird primary school crush on him. It might possibly been merely a crush, but he didn’t want to dumb his feelings down to just something that would pass in a month.

Or at least, he really hoped it didn’t. He only just recently realized them and managed to admit them to not only himself but Noodle as well. He felt as though if they just suddenly disappeared… well, that’d just be extremely upsetting to him. Stuart genuinely enjoyed the way Ace made him feel, the bassist was the only reason he got up the courage to do what he did today. Thinking about him, how he was there with them, how kind and sweet he was fueled his confidence in a way he never thought possible. He wanted to hold on to these emotions. It was good for him. Ace was good for him.

With a gentle sigh passing his upturned lips, he started heading upstairs, wanting nothing more than to change into something more comfortable, find a place for his newly obtained jacket, and relax for the day, maybe even hang out with the aforementioned musician if he were available. He kept his eyes downcast at the platforms of the stairs, not wanting to trip up and end up injuring himself more than he already once. He barely heard the other set of footsteps heading down it.

“Hey, D…”
Russel’s voice yawned out, catching 2-D’s attention. The drummer rubbed at the back of his head a little bit before giving the other a curious look.
“You’re lookin’ awfully happy. Somethin’ happen?”

“Ah, jus’ got back. Was out on some uh… business, I suppose it’d be.”
He hesitated as he spoke, not entirely sure if he should reveal to Russel what exactly he’d gone out and done that day. In all honesty, 2-D wasn’t even sure if Russel would approve of the actions he took.
“S’just a good day, real nice ou’. Jus’ f’hinkin’ abou’ that s’all.”

“D, it’s raining out.”
Russel frowned at him.

“Well now it is! It was nice earlier, trus’ me. Jus’ a li’l bit cloudy.”
Stuart explained, pouting a little bit. Russel just gave a small ’uh-huh’, looking the lanky man up and down with his eternally glowing eyes.

“So was this business somethin’ to do with the album? Anythin’ we’d need ta know, maybe?”
He crossed his arms, leaning against the railing of the staircase.
“Somethin’ you needed to wear Mudzs’ jacket for?”

Stuart tensed up just a little bit, however the smile never faded as he stared up at Russel from the lower tier step. He gave an awkward noise, eyes flicking away from him for a moment while his mind raced to find a proper answer. Why did he feel a little bit like he was being interrogated right now? There was no possible way Russel knew what he did today, so why did he feel like the man had some kind of hunch about it?

“Uhh… no. Nothin’ abou’ the album, jus’... met up wif’ some old mates.”
Stuart waved it off, trying to push away the odd feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Figured now tha’ we were back, it wouldn’ hurt to see ‘em, y’know? And about the jacket! I uh… accidentally lef’ mine in me room so I jus’ grabbed this one since it was near the door. Yeah.”

It took a couple grueling moments for the stern look on Russels face to disappear. But when it did, Stuart felt a wave of relief wash over his body. Did he believe his little white lie? He really, truly hoped so. As much as he hated lying to him, it was for the best right now. He didn’t want to cause any distress with in the band… not right now, not ever. He would take this to the grave if he really had to.

“You should’a told us where you were goin’, man… if somethin’ happened, how were we meant ta get to you?”
Russel spoke with a concerned tone in his voice, one that weighed heavily on 2-D.

“... Right, sorry, Russ.”

“Heh, don’t be lookin’ so upset. S’not like I’m scoldin’ ya, just tellin’ ya to be careful.”
He offered him a sympathetic smile before he started to head down the stairs past 2-D, patting him on the shoulder as he passed by. He stopped, however, and looked back up at him.
“By the way, has Ace said anythin’ to you at all today?”

“‘Sides tellin’ me he’s makin’ food tonight? Nof’hin’, why?”
Stuart’s head cocked off to the side slightly as he gave the other a curious look. Russel just gave a short hum and turned back to continue down the stairs with a wave of his hand.

“Nothin’. Just tell me if he ever says somethin’ in particular to you.”

Well… that was a little bit weird, to say the least. What would Ace have to say to him? He hadn’t the slightest idea… maybe just about wanting to do something for the album art? It was genuinely hard to tell, he had to admit. Nevertheless, he continued his journey up the stairs, making it to the top in no time and quickly disappeared into his room. He shucked off his jacket after leaning his crutch up against the wall beside the door, stepping over to the chair in front of his scarcely used computer, hanging his newly obtained accessory on the back of it. He began stripping down, heading over to his dresser to grab some more comfortable, lounge worthy clothes. He didn’t really own much as far as pajamas went - he didn’t like the layers on his body while he slept. So just an average, white tee-shirt and haphazardly patterned blue and pink sweatpants had to work for the time being.

Maybe once he scavenged through Murdoc’s closet, he’d be able to find more leisure-wear. That and get back a lot of the stuff stolen from him throughout the years. It would be nice to have some of his stuff back, after all. While he hadn’t noticed it until it was too late, the space in his dressers and closets grew bigger and bigger as time went on. He never really understood why until he found the green bastard with one of his jackets, parading himself around like he hadn’t stolen a damn thing. He knew Noodle took his clothes sometimes, of course. But as previously stated, it was completely different!

Calm down, 2-D.

You weren’t going to have to deal with him again for a long, long time.

He glanced down at the floor where he’d left his pants, seeing his phone lit up in the pocket. Stuart quickly reached down to snatch the device from the discarded garment, heading over to his bed wear he whirled around and flopped into the soft comforter overtop of it. He was getting a string of texts from an unknown number. The singer squinted a little bit at the screen, trying his damndest to figure out if he could recall the number from anyone he’s ever met but… honestly, he was drawing a blank.

Biting down on his bottom lip, he hesitated for a moment before opening the thread and immediately felt a pang of frustration rush through his body.

’2-D?’

’It’s Murdoc!’
’We need to talk about your bloody attitude!’

He clicked his tongue, glaring at the screen. Stuart immediately went through his settings, looking for a spot to block the number when another text came in.

’I have no idea what the hell has gotten into you…’

It was cut off… just ignore it.

’Don’t ignore me! You can’t just come into her…’

Where the fuck was this setting?!

’2-D, I need you all to get me out of here! How…’

"Ugh!"

He couldn’t find it!

Huffing, he quickly turned the device off and shoved it under his pillow in frustration. There was no way in Hell he was going to deal with that all night long. Not by a long shot. Sighing quietly, he splayed his arms out at his sides, staring up at the ceiling, suddenly feeling extremely tired. What happened to all the energy he had just a little while ago? Was he finally crashing down hard from his high? It was starting to feel that way. Knowing what he did still made him feel fantastic on the inside, but the entire interaction… was it just going to leave him worn out for the rest of the day?

Everything that involved Murdoc was so exhausting… was this going to be his life until the day he died? Even when he confronts the one person who simultaneously ruined his life and turned him into an international superstar, he still ends up feeling like he’s taken the hardest beating of all. He allowed his eyes to slip shut for a moment, letting his breathing find its rhythm once more. Just relax… it was what he needed right now. Just relaxation. Think about all the good that would come from this, think about how happy everyone will be in the future.

Yes.

He was so eager to see everyone so carefree, zero stress, bright happy smiles on all their faces. All because of what he did today. There was no necessity to be afraid anymore, no reason to feel frustration, no limits to how far they could go or what they could do; they were free to live their lives and create beautiful art without the so-called righteous fist of a self-proclaimed God slamming down on their work to destroy it and turn it into dust. They had a new goal now, a goal to show the world heartfelt music and show people that they were allowed to be themselves, regardless of outside forces.
The faint smile on his face faded as his eyes cracked open to see the dimly lit ceiling once more.

Why did he still feel bad, though?

Chapter Text

“Stu? Hey… Stu, time t’wake up.”

He groaned out quietly, rolling over onto his side a little bit, ignoring the quiet voice that called out to him. He mumbled out something about wanting five more minutes while he snuggled into his comforter. Stuart wasn’t entirely sure when or why he nodded off, but he definitely didn’t want to get back up. The feeling of his mattress sinking down a little bit caught his attention and another groan escaped him when he felt a hand on his shoulder. The light, smooth laughter that hit his ears sent a chill up his spine and his eyes slowly started to crack open.

“C’mon man… I just finished up makin’ dinner. Don’t want it to get cold now, do ya?”
He called out, his tone laced with a sweet sense of patience and caring as Stuart felt the others body lean a little bit further over his own. Stuart just gave another long groan, pulling a small sigh from Ace.

Stuart felt the blankets that had somehow cocooned around his body get tugged at before he was rolled out of them and onto the mattress onto his stomach. 2-D whined into the bedspread and reached out to snatch up one of the pillows to pull over his head in a feeble attempt to hide himself from the other. This made Ace bark out a laugh, which in turn made the singer smile a little bit despite it being hidden. Suddenly he felt arms snake around his waist and he was suddenly pulled up and into Ace’s lap, the pillow still being held against his head in a tight grip.

“Let’s go, Stu! Up and at ‘em!”
Ace called out, forcing a laugh from Stuart now as he took a moment to sluggishly struggle in the grip around his hips.
“If I gotta, I will tickle you.”

“Whoa whoa, okay! I yield! Please jus’ put me down!”

Stuart cried out and he was finally released from Ace’s hold, allowing him to plop back down onto the mattress. Despite the idle threat, 2-D found himself laughing quite a bit while he hugged his pillow tightly.

“Mornin’. Well, not really morning, more like around six at night, but you get the idea.”

“... Woops…”
Stuart yawned, tossing the pillow back to it’s designated spot and rubbed his hands over his tired eyes, pressing his palms into his forehead a little bit.
“Didn’t f’hink I’d fall asleep for this long…”

“I thought about wakin’ ya up when I got back from the store, but you looked sooo adorable.”
Ace teased, that usual smug grin lacing his lips, pulling a smile from 2-D who slowly moved to sit up and stretch.
“Ha! Nice bed-head.”

The ex-gangster reached out, ruffling Stuart’s hair, making him laugh a little bit and brush his hand away.

“Hey, my hair always looks this messy.”
He yawned out, rubbing his eyes a little bit more. Man, why was he so drowsy right now? He didn’t even recall falling asleep, this was all so surreal at the moment - was he even in the correct year? Well yeah, of course he was. But that feeling was always one that prodded at the back of ones head when they fell asleep and woke up at awkward times. In his moment of distraction, he felt the bed shift again and a couple footsteps padding through the room and he opened his eyes to look up at Ace in the lowlighting.

He’d gone over to the door where he’d left his crutch, picking it up to bring it back over to Stuart and hand it to him. Stuart looked at the crutch then back up at Ace before he took it with a pout on his face.

“What, no carryin’?”

“You want me to? Because I will. Don’t test me, Pot.”
Ace grinned slyly at him, shoving his hands into his jean pockets.

“You ain’t gonna be young forever, keep carryin’ me you’ll f’hrow out your back.”
Stuart returned the grin and Ace’s mouth dropped open, staring at 2-D with a baffled look.

“Hey. Hey. I’m only three years younger than you, so you’re an old man, too. And you’re as light as a fuckin’ feather.”
Ace huffed, crossing his arms, however his smile never disappeared.
“I’ll get one of them baby harnesses and shove ya in it if I gotta. But I don’t need one to lug your skinny ass around everywhere.”

2-D couldn’t help but be left snickering, making Ace shake his head and roll his eyes. He held out his hand to help him up onto his feet which he happily took, chewing on his bottom lip a little bit as their hands touched.

Right.

Feelings for Ace.

He had those, didn’t he?

He swallowed the small lump that’d formed in his throat and took a moment to think. How the Hell was he going to properly confess to this guy? Telling someone off was easy, but confessing something as deep as a romantic attraction? That’s kind of where you lost him. The last two people he dated, it really didn’t work out well for him in the end… probably because he dove in head first without really thinking about it too much. At the very least, this time he’d had at least a little bit of time to think about it… just not the actual telling him part. The thought still lingered in the back of his head as well: did Ace even feel the same way? Or was he just treating him nicely because that’s the kind of guy he was?

Stuart wished he still had the fire he had earlier that day… at least he might be less of an absolute coward about telling Ace how he felt.

“Stu, you feelin’ alright? You’re spacin’ out pretty hard.”

Ace’s concerned voice pulled him right out of his thoughts and he flashed him a smile, nodding a little bit.

“No yeah… perfectly fine.”
Stuart’s tone was laced with a hint of nervousness but Ace seemed to ignore it, just gesturing for him to follow him and he did.
“By the way, what’d you make?”

“One’a my ma’s favorites to make, mostly because it was easiest for her ta do before my dad got home from work, and then some others I always remembered being excited about.”
Ace started as he opened the door, the lights from the hallway flooding into the room making 2-D squint a little bit.
“Oven-baked barbecue chicken, baked five-cheese mac and cheese, fresh cooked veg, buttermilk biscuits-- uh… not your weird British kind of biscuits.”

“Wait, what do you mean weird?
He piped up with a laugh.

“Ain’t biscuits for you like… cookies or somethin’?”

“Well yeah, but they ain’t always the same f’hing. Wha’ are biscuits for Americans?”

“Oh boy…”
Ace gave a small chuckle as he flicked his shades back down over his eyes as they’d previously been resting on the top of his head.
“Are we gonna be havin’ discourse at the dinner table, Stu?”

“I won’t be dissing any courses, what do you mean?”
The ex-gangster suddenly let out a wheeze of a laugh, hand slapping over his face as he stopped halfway down the staircase.

“Oh m-my god… you are too adorable sometimes…! Oh, just don’t worry about it, man. We’ll yell about cultural differences later, jus’ not at the dinner table.”
He let out a sigh and looked up at 2-D, the smile on his face absolutely infectious to the blue haired man behind him. With that he turned back around and descended the staircase in a smooth, fluid motion with the other slowly making his way down, not quite as gracefully unfortunately. Stu caught up the Ace in no time, however, shuffling into the kitchen close behind him where Ace abruptly stopped and held his arms out.
“Aw, you started without us?”

“You were taking forever and it all looked so good. Sorry, Ace.”
Noodle spoke up with a small laugh trickling into her voice, shoving her fork into her mouth.

“Which it is all good, by the way. Haven’t had cookin’ like this in a looong time.”
Russel flashed him a grin and a thumbs up as he leaned back in his chair. Ace just allowed a half-hearted sigh to escape him and heading over to the table to seat himself.
“Hey, D. Let’s keep Ace, yeah? He plays real well, he cooks, he cleans, he smells better than Mudz… sounds like a done deal, right?”

“I don’t mind it!”
Stuart immediately answered as he seated himself at the table. He answered so fast… he hoped that didn’t look suspicious.
“I mean, who knows when Mudz is gonna be gettin’ ou’? Keepin’ Ace for a good while soun’s more than fine t’me.”

“Y’know, ‘Doc would kill me if I tried to permanently replace him.”

“But that is if gets out of prison. It is not looking so good for him right now. I would happily keep Ace. He has proven himself to be more than worthy now anyway.”
Noodle winked at him and he allowed a small laugh to part his lips.

“Too bad because you’re still technically temporary we won’t be able to let you participate in interviews and shit.”
Russel hummed.
“I’m sure the fans are gonna be all over you.”

“I’m more worried about Mudz’s fans… how are they gonna take this? They ain’t necessarily the most understandin’ people.”
Stuart pouted a little bit, glancing around the table.

“They will have to deal with it. Ace is here to stay until Murdoc stops being a jackass.”
Noodle reassured him.
“The album is great anyway! People will appreciate good music regardless of whether he is here or not.”

2-D just smiled a little bit, trying to take her words at face-value. He was happy she was trying to make him feel better about it, but he couldn’t help the nervousness and fear that settled at the pit of his stomach. They didn’t know what he did today… and he was going to make damn sure they wouldn’t find out for a good while. Not until they needed to at least. It didn’t really seem there was was a need to know, though. Everyone was happy to have Ace completely replace Murdoc. It was a nice thing to see, everyone finding some common ground. Things were always so rocky before, but now they just feel as smooth as can be. He could certainly become used to it as well.

Yeah.

He absolutely wasn’t going to let this kind of peace go without a fight.

Chapter Text

The rest of the meal had gone by incredibly smoothly. Ace was genuinely happy to see the rest of the band enjoying his cooking as much as he enjoyed making it. With how little income he made while he was in Townsville and the lack of proper appliances, it was hard to really cook anything when he was living there. When he joined Gorillaz, however, he was offered some funds for things he might need when moving in with them. He didn’t really feel the need to spend it on anything frivolous, he definitely when and got some new clothes he desperately needed, but a lot of it he managed to hold onto. That was the only reason he was able to get all the ingredients for what he wanted to make.

He had to wonder if this was how his own mother felt whenever she went to big events and brought her own little dish for everyone to take from. The woman was always so excited to show off her skills with an oven and to see that big smile on her face when she would show up to said events told him more than enough she was living how she wanted to… or at least, to her best abilities. But family stuff wasn’t really important right now, was it? If he really wanted to delve back into that shady territory, he’d just go and visit his childhood home.

For now, he was stood at the counters of the kitchen, wrapping up what little leftovers there were from the meal he’d cooked and cleaning the dishes they’d used that night. As expected from the meal, 2-D did end up getting extremely confused over the biscuits he’d made, insisting they were actually scones rather than biscuits. His world seemed to turn upside down when him and Russel had to tell him that scones were also different in America. The guy had been on tour through America before and Ace genuinely had to wonder how much cuisine he ever really took part in. At least the confused look on his face was absolutely adorable.

… He really, really needed to do something about these feelings, didn’t he?

It was on his mind so much that it was starting to get exhausting telling himself over and over again that he needed to confess. He’d come so close the day they went out together, why was he being such a massive chicken about it now? He could easily confess through text or ask Noodle to tell him for him but… what kind of lame-ass high school bullshit was that? If he wanted Stuart to take his feelings seriously, then he’d need to tell him, by himself, to his face.

And then try not to faint immediately afterwards.

Perhaps it was just difficult because these were feelings that he didn’t even realize he was capable of having before meeting the band. He’d never really been big on romance, love, or crushes. Yes, he’d manipulated some girls and guys who were clearly into his stupid badboy motif, but did he like them? No. Never! He thought they were fun to tug around and lead on but never let them get close. People into him he either didn’t care about in the slightest or considered them more like family when it came right down to it. The fact that 2-D was different… man, it was sending his entire world spiraling in a way that he wasn’t sure if he’d ever get control, again.

Maybe he could do it quick like a bandaid? That seemed like the most straightforward solution… but he didn’t want to just blurt it out and end up scaring the guy. He wanted to be at least slightly romantic about it so he knew his feelings were genuine. But where in the Hell was he ever going to find another romantic setting like the one they had at the canal that was very rudely interrupted by friggin’ ducks?! He lost his chance all because of a stupid duck named Karl!

Fuck you, Karl!

With a long sigh escaping him, he placed the last clean plate into the drying rack and moved to grab a rag to dry his hands. He knew fully well this was all on him at this point. Ace knew for damn sure that 2-D didn’t know about his feelings, that much was incredibly obvious. Why did this have to be so stressful? Maybe because if it didn’t go his way, his heart would actually be in pieces… he’d get over it eventually, sure. But God knows he’d cry and probably never be able to act the same way around 2-D ever, again.

He really cared for the guy… just thinking about the possibility of rejection made him want to tear up.

“Hey!”

Ace nearly jumped out of his skin at the voice that called out to him and he quickly whipped around, ready to pull out his pocket knife at a moments notice.

“Whoaaa, chill out, Acey.”
Noodle laughed out, leaning up against the wall with a liquor bottle in hand. She was definitely tipsy.
“I wanted to ask if you if you wanted to join me and Russ for a night of drinking. Tomorrow is our last day off until the albums release in June, wanna party and be hungover all day? 2-D said he had some things he wanted to do tonight, so I am a little bummed…”

“First off, did’ja really just call me ’Acey?’ Secondly, I can’t. The things Stu is doin’ is stuff with me.”
Ace relaxed a little bit as he tossed the rag he’d been using onto the counter, heading over to the doorway to the now pouting Noodle. However, she seemed to perk up a little bit, a smirk finding its way over her face.

“スキャンダラス! What are you two going to be doing? Hmmm?”
She leaned into his shoulder, clearly wanting to hear every little detail.

“It ain’t scandalous, he just said earlier he wanted to clean up ‘Doc’s room a little bit. Make it a little less… well, you know. Murdocy.”
She went right back to pouting and she pushed away from his shoulder with her arms crossed.

“Well that is no fun… make an effort to spice it up a little if you can, okay? Do not pussy out.”
Noodle reached up and booped him on the tip of his nose. With a small giggle she escaped the kitchen, heading back to the living room to rejoin Russel.

Ace chuckled quietly to himself, shaking his head a little bit and moved to head up the stairs. Noodle and Russel were really pushing for him to admit his feelings to 2-D… while he appreciated the encouragement, it did put a lot of pressure on him in a situation he wasn’t entirely sure how to go about. But he wasn’t going to deny them being cheerleaders of sorts for him. Who knows, maybe it would pay off in the end. Maybe it would actually make him jump over that edge where only darkness loomed, a pit where he couldn’t see the bottom but for all he knew something miraculous could be at the bottom.

Once at the top of the stairs, Ace headed down the hallway and to his designated room, opening the door to it to see Stuart already there seated on the floor beside the closet. He seemed to be sorting and moving stuff out of it. It would seem that the singer had lit all the scentless candles in the room in order to illuminate it, as the bedside table lamp was broke and the ceiling light needed a bulb replacement. 2-D looked up at him and smiled warmly to him, the candlelight glow surrounding him making such a look on his face far more endearing and beautiful than he’d thought he’d ever see.

It had to be illegal to be so beautiful.

“Hope ya don’ mind me startin’ wif’out ya. Haven’t really gotten too far, though.”
Stuart spoke up, setting something into the pile he’d started beside him.

“No yeah, it’s totally fine.”
Ace smiled back at him and moved over to the closet, looking inside of it. His nose wrinkled a little bit at all the trash inside of it as well as various boxes and clothing piled high inside of it.
“Man, ‘Doc really needs to start gettin’ his shit together.”

“In more than jus’ an organization type’a way.”
Stuart gave a small laugh.
“Prison’ll be good for him, I’m sure. Maybe he’ll have some sense knocked in’a him.”

“Wouldn’t that be nice.”
Ace seated himself beside 2-D, moving to help him with pulling stuff out of the closet.
“You know, you don’t gotta go through this stuff if you don’t wanna.”

“I’m the one who brough’ it up, though?”
He looked at Ace, a small, awkward smile on his face.
“‘Sides, I’ve already found a few f’hings tha’ the bastard stole from me. Half these clothes ain’t even his, y’know?”

“Ehhh, sounds about right. I remember him stealin’ a few of my blades when he was hangin’ around the gang.”
Ace said.
“You could always just steal his shit right back, ‘specially now that he can’t do nothin’ about it.”

The bassist flashed him a sly grin, making Stuart look at him curiously then down at the clothing in front of him. Well, he’d already taken one thing for himself; Murdoc’s leather jacket. So it wouldn’t really matter too much if he took more, right?

“... S’not like Mudz’ll have much use for any of it, huh? Don’ know how much of it’ll fit, though.”
Stuart bit down on his bottom lip, watching Ace lean a little bit into the closet, pulling out a turquoise and black striped shirt. He seemed to examine it for a moment, mumbling something about recognizing the garment.
“Oh. Mudz wore tha’ for the Saturnz Barz video. I’m surprised it’s still in one piece.”

“Oh yeaaah… blue really ain’t his color.”
Ace gave a small laugh, examining it a little bit more before holding it up to 2-D to examine it against his skin and hair color.
“It’d look great on you, though… try it sometime. You like wearin’ bright colors, yeah? I remember you were all over the flashy stuff when we went to The Grove.”

“Colors are jus’ nice, y’know? The worlds so full of ‘em that we take ‘em for granted… and then one day they’re jus’ gonna be gone. At leas’, I’m pretty sure we won’t always have ‘em ta look at.”
Stu gave a slightly embarrassed laugh, dipping his a head down a little bit as he hesitantly took the sweater, looking it over, glancing over the various holes and tears that riddled it.
“Y’know, I want The Now Now to make people see all sortsa colorful things, make ‘em f’hink and feel wif’out forcin’ ‘em to. I want our fans to feel it on their own for their album, ‘cuz I feel a little like we were tellin’ them how they were suppose’da feel with Humanz, Not that I didn’ like workin’ on Humanz s’just tha’ I felt a little los’ all f’hroughout it, for a lotta reasons… I’m gonna talk to the producers abou’ it and tell ‘em my vision. I’m hopin’ they understand wha’ I wanna go for wif’ the visualizers and art.”

The ex-gangster was quiet for a moment, eyes looking Stuart up and down for the gap of silence. He wasn’t entirely sure what to say. The amount of passion and careful planning 2-D was putting into this album was truly admirable. It was as though he were going completely out of his way to prove something to not only himself but the world around him. He knew how hard he worked on the songs for the album, but he was truly going above and beyond to create something he could be proud of for his fans, wasn’t he?

He allowed a soft smile to trail over his face, bumping Stuart’s shoulder with the back of his hand.

“I’m sure whateva’ you dish out, people’ll love it. Fans adore you anyway and they’ll adore The Now Now just as much.”
Ace mused.
“I know I love it.”

“Tha’s because you helped make it!”
2-D laughed out, hitting Ace’s shoulder with the sleeve of the sweater, pulling a chuckle out of him as well.

“Hey, I ain’t that shallow, Stu. I got more than just that reason for lovin’ it…”
Ace leaned back a little bit, placing his hands behind himself in order to keep himself comfortably upright.

“Oh yeah? Name one reason tha’ don’t involve ya bein’ on it!”
Stuart gave him a wide grin while he placed the sweater down in the pile of folded clothes.

“Well, for starters, I like the sounds-”

“That involves you bein’ in it.”

“Aw, come on.”

“Jus’ admit you can’t f’hink of anyf’hin’.”

Ace half-heartedly pouted at him as he watched him gather more clothing from the closet to place into the pile.

There was… one thing that he could say made the album amazing to him. That ‘thing’ was sitting right beside him, completely oblivious to how he felt about and how much he meant to him. Ace licked his lips, trying to find the right thing to say to Stuart. What could he say? How should he say this? Would Stuart even understand what he meant?

There was that darkness, again. He didn’t have anyone there to push him in… he could only jump himself.

“Well…”
Ace started, glancing away for a moment as he slid his sunglasses off of his head to set them down on the other side of him.
“I like you.”

Stuart paused in his movements, looking up at him curiously before giving a small scoff.

“I mean… I know tha’. You said before that you’re a fan of the band.”

“N-... No, Stu, I mean like-”

“Hey!”
Jesus Christ there goes that feeling of nearly jumping out of his own skin, again. The door suddenly slammed open and a very wobbly Noodle stood at the door, letting the hallway lights flood in.
“たわごと。Why is it soooo dark in here…?”

She slurred out, rubbing one of her eyes a little bit. She proceeded to hold up her phone, the light on it shining brightly to show off her messenger app.

“Jamie texted me and told me that we needed to come in tomorrow instead’a the day after… me ‘nd Russ are headin’ to bed… if you go out to the livin’ room, do not mind the empty bottles, okay? We may have torn through more than necessary… was not thinkin’ we’d have ta come in tomorrow.”
Noodle groaned out, pushing her hands through her hair.
“Don’ stay up too late you crazy kids… gotta be up bright and eaaaarly.”

With that said, she wandered away from the room, not really caring to close the door on her way out. The sound of her own door banging shut did echo through the hallway, however. Ace just stared out the door for a couple of minutes before letting out a long, long sigh.

Every single time… interrupted by something weird, mundane, or silly.

“Ah… I better head out over to my room then, huh? When we get back tomorrow, we can finish this up, yeah? Shouldn’ take too long.”
2-D grabbed his crutch, pulling himself up and onto his feet after grabbing an armful of the clothing he’d already managed to sort out.
“Sleep tigh’, okay? Your homework for tonigh’ is findin’ somef’hin’ ya like about the album that don’t involve you.”

Stuart winked and headed for the door, disappearing around the corner before Ace could even think about stopping him to continue what he had been previously saying.

“... Yeah.”
Ace mumbled out, watching him go with a bit of pain in his gaze.
“I’ll make sure I give ya somethin’ tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

He couldn’t sleep.

He was laying in his bed, completely comfortable, covered, warm…

… but he just couldn’t fall asleep.

He just laid there, staring blankly up at the ceiling, mind racing and trying to connect… well, everything.

Stuart wanted so badly to believe what Ace had said was something more. But he already knew that Ace had been a fan of the band for a very long time. He was definitely only saying what he had in order to make him feel more confident about the album. It was totally unnecessary, the only thing he were worried about with The Now Now was the fact that they didn’t have their usual bassist. He had no idea how people would react and that’s what scared him the most, especially considering how badly he wanted to make Ace a permanent addition.

But what if - now hear him out. What if Ace was trying to tell him something more?

It was totally ridiculous to assume, he knew that! But, Christ, did he want that to be the case. The mere thought made his heart feel as though it were going to burst out of his chest. In a good way, of course! He wanted the possibility to be reality… he wanted to be sure, completely entirely sure. He had no idea how he would find out, it had been wracking his brain for an entire hour now, not knowing how to approach this situation in a way that didn’t ruin their current relationship as it was.

2-D bit down on his bottom lip and exhaled quietly. The storm in his mind wouldn’t stop until he made it stop. He was fully aware of that. He needed to take some kind of action and soon. He didn’t want to miss out on something possibly wonderful between himself and Ace. This was more stressful than it needed to be. If he just told him, everything would be fine! Ace was a very laid back, kind, and caring sort of guy. There was absolutely no way he’s abandon him over romantic feelings.

… Right?

He rolled over a little bit, stuffing his face into the pillow and pulling his duvet over his head, groaning quietly. Stuart wished he had all the answers… he wished he could just see into the future and be able to make all the right decisions. The only way of knowing, unfortunately, was to just act.

That’s what he would do.

Just… act.

It wasn’t entirely long after that before 2-D nodded off, finally putting some peace to the storm raging through his mind. He knew what he needed to do and he was going to do it. He had no reason to back out or run away. If he could scrounge up the confidence and courage for much more severe things, then he could admit his feelings to the person it mattered to the most. He had a lot ahead of him, but he was going to do what he could to tredge through it, whether it ended poorly or not.

Please don’t end poorly.

Stuart only stirred again when he heard the sound of someone knocking on his door and a voice calling out from behind it telling him they needed to get ready. He hardly realized he’d managed to fall asleep despite having previously been so incredibly enamored over the topic that had been eating at him for longer than it really needed to. Slowly, he sat up, letting the early morning sun shining through his window beam into his tired eyes. He squinted a little bit, rubbing one of his eyes a little bit as a yawn pulled through his body. The second round of knocking at his door made him jump and quickly pull his covers off of his body.

“Yeah, I’m up... I’m up!”
He called out, feet padding against the hardwood floor as he wandered over to the door, cracking it open to see Russel stood behind it.

He… did not look happy to be awake.

“Good…,” he yawned, pressing a hand into his forehead. “We gotta be there early… don’t take too long, D. We’re takin’ your car, right?”

“Yeah… you alrigh’, Russ? You need some pain killers or anyf’hin’?”

“Nah… already took some. Remind me not to drink with Noodle, again… I always forget how into it she gets.”
He flashed him a tired smile before he backed off from the door and headed for the staircase.
“We’ll be waitin’ for ya downstairs. Sounded like Ace was already in the shower when I went to wake him up.”

Stuart watched him go with a small confirming noise escaping him. He took a moment to glance out in the hallway to where Ace’s door was as he rubbed at the back of his neck. He was going to do something crazy today after the shoot… something absolutely insane that would probably get him punched in the face.

Would it be worth it?

Absolutely, just to have some sort of answer.

He pulled himself away from the door after shutting it and disappeared into the bathroom all while patting himself in the face to try and better wake himself up. This day was absolutely going to be hectic, but there was nothing wrong with that. Stuart was ready to face it head on. It was now or never and he prefered it to be now.

Downstairs, Russel had sat himself on the couch with a pillow over his face in order to block out all of the lights. His hangover wasn’t entirely bad, but it was still enough to make him want to die with the aching in his head. He was absolutely regretting his decision to drink last night, but he felt like it’d be fine. Then again, he should have anticipated a surprise reschedule… it wouldn’t be the first time they were asked to come in when they were expecting another day off. At least they were getting the album art done faster… Humility and Lake Zurich wouldn’t drop for another month and a half and they’d only gotten some vague ideas of how they wanted everything to look.

Of course, the entire album aesthetic would be up to 2-D. He trusted him to know what he wanted, of course. It definitely wouldn’t look like other albums, that was for damn sure. Giving 2-D entire creative control was bound to give the fans something brand new, after all. He heard the sound of something being set down on the table in front of him and then the spot on the couch beside him sunk down abruptly. He pulled the pillow off of his head, looking over at Noodle who was tapping tiredly away on her phone.

“Eat something. It is not good to take painkillers on an empty stomach.”
Noodle flashed him a smile as she gestured to the breakfast she’d set down on the table in front of him. Russel returned the smile, shoving the pillow back into its spot before he willed himself to lean forward and grab the glass of water beside the plate as well as a piece of toast from the small platter.
“... You know, I think I interrupted something serious between Ace and 2-D last night.”

“Huh?”
He looked over at her with a curious look in his glowing hues.
“What, when you went ta tell ‘em we had to come in today?”

“Yeah, like, uhm…” Noodle paused, tapping her forehead a couple times in thought. “I think they were talking about that.”

“Y’think maybe they’re finally doin’ it?”
The drummer bit into the piece of toast.
“Or did D still look fuckin’ oblivious?”

“Mmm… I think Ace might have been getting ready to do it and thennn…”
Noodle gave an exaggerated shrug, looking at her phone as it buzzed in her palm, a slight smile finding its way over her face.
“I came in at a reeeaally bad time, at least from what I remember. He looked horrified.”

Russel couldn’t help but give a small snort, covering his mouth with the back of his hand. He allowed himself a short moment to compose himself again, letting out a short chuckle.

“I’m sure if he almost did it once, he can do it, again.”

“I just wish they would hurry up and do it already.”
The guitarist rolled her eyes with a long sigh.
“I am not looking forward to watching 2-D pine and whine over liking somebody because he won’t admit his feelings.”

“Yeah… if it don’t work out that’ll be even worse, though.”
Russel downed the rest of the water, leaning forward to set the glass down on the table.

“Oooh my God, do not even get me started! Remember how he acted after the Rachel thing?”

“If I’d caught Mudz in the act of his bullshit with her, I can guarantee you he would have gotten rid of all the mirrors in Kong Studios before the place got burned down.”
This pulled a laugh from noodle as she curled up a little bit in her spot on the couch. Russel smirked a little bit as he rubbed the back of his neck. Letting out a long yawn, he looked over at the staircase as he heard one of the bedroom doors open up and close, again.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine… this is definitely different than the other times.”

Ace came trodding down the stairs, fixing his shades over his face with one hand while the other was buried in his jacket pocket. He looked up to see the eyes of his bandmates on him and he looked around for a moment, clearly confused.

“... Somethin’ wrong?”
Ace stammered out after a moment, an awkward smile finding its way over his face.

“So what did you and 2-D do last night? Anything fun?”
Noodle said with a teasing tone in her voice, one that clearly made Ace tense up and his face heat up a little bit. He let out of string of awkward um’s and I’s as he seemed to be trying to find the right wording for what he wanted to say.

“Don’t look so guilty man.”

“I’m not. I’m just… uh… how do I put this crap?”
He turned his attention up to the ceiling with a long sigh parting his lips.
“I tried. I really did.”

“And then I interrupted.”
Noodle said bluntly.

“... Yeah.”
Ace looked back over to them with a nervous laugh.
“But uh… don’t entirely blame yourself. I got a feelin’ Stu wouldn’t’ve caught on real fast.”

“I am still sorry…”
Noodle pouted and suddenly stood up, stretching herself broadly before stuffing her phone into her pocket.
“Just keep trying. I am sure something will come of it.”

“What she said… don’t be lookin’ so pathetic about it.”
Russel grinned at the slightly offended look that overtook Ace’s face.

“Hey, I do not look pathetic.”

“You kind of do.”
Noodle chimed.

“... Okay, fine. I’m pathetic.”
Ace admitted, rolling his eyes from behind his sunglasses while a small smile made its way over his face. It wasn’t like he’d shrivel up and die from a little bit of teasing or anything like that.

“Aw… I wish I’d been recordin’ just now.”
Russel joked with a frown.
“That would’ve been my new ringtone.”

Ace shook his head with an incredulous look finding its way over his face now and he just sighed, not wanting to argue about it anymore. In all honesty, he was being pretty damn pathetic about it. He really should have just stopped 2-D last night and spilled everything to him. He felt kind of stupid, knowing he didn’t just say the one thing that’s been on his stupid mind for the past weeks now. The worst that could happen was being told no, after all.

It wasn’t long after Ace had come down that Stuart arrived as well. Ace was… to say the least, very hesitant on talking to Stuart. He didn’t want to say anything strange, but he still made idle conversation with him to the best of his abilities. However, it did seem that 2-D was just as tense at him for some strange reason he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Perhaps it was just the whole having to get up early when it was supposed to be a day off thing that was just putting those kinds of vibes out around them all.

Now that they were all there, they headed out to pile into the Oldsmobile, Russel offering to drive, 2-D in the front seat (primarily to keep his crutch out of the way), then Noodle and Ace in the backseat. The ride to the studio was much more quiet than they’d all usually allow if they were together. Normally there’d be some dumb banter, crude jokes being tossed around, plans about the album, where they’d be touring in the coming months… but nothing really was exchanged between all of them. Russel and Noodle, of course, were hung over while 2-D and Ace seemed to be lost completely in thought.

To Stuart, it felt a little… alien, to say the least. He didn’t want to be quiet, it’s just how things seemed to be turning out for the moment. He hoped there was no ill will between the band… he didn’t think anything bad had happened between last night and now. No, nothing happened. It was definitely just early in the morning. Things would improve as the day went on, he knew that was definitely the case.

Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he frowned at it a little bit, deleting the well over hundred messages that Murdoc had blown the device up with. It looked like he’d stopped for the time being, but he absolutely wasn’t going to be answering him if he tried this kind of crap, again. He didn’t deserve any kind of response. All 2-D wanted to do at this point as far as it went with Murdoc was forget about his entire existence. Granted, that was easier said than done, but he can still sure as Hell try.

That started with not thinking about him.

Don’t think about him.

Think about something nice.

Think about…

2-D’s eyes flicked up to the rearview mirror where he saw Ace yawning and stretching. He couldn’t help but faintly smile as he watched him. He couldn’t help but feel himself cheering up a little bit now as his previously troubled thoughts seemed to melt away.

That’s what he should think about.

Ace was going to be what he was thinking about.

And you know what? He felt infinitely better, to the point where he struck up a conversation with everyone in the vehicle, immediately elevating the mood exponentially.

Thank God.

Chapter Text

“Do we even know why Jamie needed us in a day early or…?”
2-D spoke as he slipped out of the car, pulling himself up onto his feet with his crutch and turned to look at the other three.

“Nope. He just texted me ‘nd Noodle last night sayin’ they wanted us in today.”
Russel said as he tossed 2-D the keys, laughing a little bit as he watched him struggle slightly to properly catch them.

“It is probably just one of those things were he was excited to start.”
Noodle chimed in.
“It would not be the first time.”

“So… this happens often or somethin’?”
Ace spoke up now, leaning against the roof of the car as he finished off the cigarette he’d been puffing on during the ride to the studio. He hadn’t participated in a photoshoot as of yet. It was kind of excited for him, to say the least.

“More often than it needs to.”
The drummer yawned out.
“Jamie gets a little too excited to show off his stylin’ and he ends up wantin’ to start shoots early. S’probably better that way, though. If we end up doin’ it late, he gets kinda pissy.”

“Partially because he likes to show ’teasers on his Instagram nowadays.”
Noodle hummed as she headed to the door.

“Sometimes it feels a little like he thinks he controls us, ya know?”
Russel followed her, making a point to beat her to the door to hold it open for everyone with a slightly snide grin on his face. Noodle rolled her eyes and just headed in.

Ace flicked his cigarette off into the parking lot, stuffing his hands in his pockets after and carefully escorted 2-D up onto the sidewalk. Was that strange of him? He hoped it wasn’t. In all honesty, he still felt tense from his almost confession the night prior. He had been so close to admitting his feelings to him… far closer than the afternoon by the canal. Ace wished he had gotten out what he wanted to say. It almost felt like he was going to explode just keeping it inside of himself - it almost felt like he were lying to Stuart, which was the last thing he ever wanted to do, especially with how tricky he knew it had to be to earn his trust thus far.

He could tell from the moment they met that Stuart was standoffish toward him. It was hard not to see it. There was a reason he tried his damndest not to come off as aggressive when they first met. The guy didn’t even want to look at him at first… he came on a little strong, sure. A complete stranger just hugging you wasn’t exactly the most proper way of greeting someone, but he wanted to break the ice in a casual way. Thinking back on it now, that could have ended extremely badly. He considered himself lucky to be as close as he was to Stu now. Very, very lucky. Afterall, the guy could have shunned him as soon as he opened the door.

Whatever god was smiling down upon him right now, he prayed it didn’t stop. He needed that kind of blessing for the rest of his life.

As they headed in, the first thing Ace noticed was how many people were walking around the main lobby and halls, props in hand, paper work, equipment, etc. in an almost chaotically determined fashion. The amount of staff rushing back and forth, heading to unknown parts of the building was… a little daunting, to say the least. At the very least, they all seemed to know what the Hell they were doing. The place was much larger than the one they’d recorded in during their time in California, that was for damn sure, too.

In his moment of distraction, he’d nearly been left behind by the group who were heading off to one of the various doorways without him. He quickly rushed over to join them, Noodle laughing a little bit at his frazzled state.

“Is it uh… always like this here?”
Ace piped up, rubbing at the back of his head.

“Pretty much, why?”
Noodle replied, head cocking off to the side slightly as they headed into an elevator, Noodle quickly pressing one of the buttons and sticking her tongue out at Russel, who huffed half-heartedly at her.
“It is an entire company, after all.”

“Y’act like you’ve never been in an office buildin’ before.”
Stuart smiled at him a little bit, nudging his arm with his own.

“... Er… well, I haven’t.”
He adjusted his shades nervously.
“I’ve never really had a job job before, heh…”

God, that was embarrassing to say.

Back in Townsville, he was rarely given the opportunity to partake in a proper, full-time job because no place would even dare him or any of his boys. All the jail time they had and their ghastly record of wrong-doings really effected that when it came right down to it. Not to mention, they happened to be one of the first ‘villains’ the Powerpuff Girls fought off.

Not like it helped, but…

“Well, now you’re with us. I get that it’s a little wild at first, but you’ll get used to it… with how things seem ta be turnin’ out, you’ll be with us for a while.”
Russel reassured him, making the ex-gangster visibly relax now.

“I’m sure you’ll ge’ a tour of the place sometime, too. Damon’ll probably insis’ on ya seein’ everyf’hin’ since-”

“-He likes to show off.”
Noodle interrupted.

“Jamie and Damon are pretty big show-offs, huh?”
Stuart gave a small laugh as he leaned his weight on his crutch a little bit more.

“Damon’s the dude who was with us in L.A., right?”
Ace leaned up against the wall of the elevator.

“Mhm. S’weird. A lo’ of people say my singin’ voice sounds a lo’ like his. I don’ really see it, hones’ly.”
2-D rocked back a forth a little bit on his crutch now in thought.

“You do sound a little similar, but not to the point people say.”
Noodle let out a small laugh.

“Righ’? People act like we’re the same person! Which is crazy bec- whoa!

Stuart’s crutch suddenly slipped from under him on the tile floor, causing him to stumble forward. He went to brace himself on the door but it was just his luck that they decided to slide open right then and there. Ace tensed up and quickly made the effort to hook his arm around the singers torso, stopping him from falling face first onto the floor outside of the elevator, the only thing crashing to the cane being the crutch they slid out from under him.

“Whoa there, Stu! Be a little more careful, man!”
Ace gave a relieved sigh, helping the other back upright, making extra-sure he wouldn’t suddenly flop over onto the ground.
“Don’t want ya bustin’ your face on the floor or anythin’.”

“Oooh… Jamie would thrown a fit if that happened. Do not scare us like that, 2-D.”
Noodle let out an exasperated sigh, pushing a hand through her hair. That was stressful… too stressful. At least Ace managed to catch him or they were going to be in a world of trouble.

“Sorry… I was f’hinkin’ the rubber would be able to hold me up.”
2-D spoke up, his face having clearly flushed after being caught. It was partially due to embarrassment, yes… but he’d be lying if he said it didn’t have to do with Ace coming to his rescue as well. The bassist just chuckled and handed him his crutch. That laugh… ugh, it made his heart pound. Why did such an act feel so chivalrous to him? Anyone would have done it for him… right?

Snap out of it, 2-D. You can be a hopeless romantic later.

“Don’t be sorry, just be more careful, yeah?”
Ace flashed him a kind smile as he exited the elevator with Russel and Noodle, Stuart slowly trailing behind, clearly being far more attentive with how he walked.

The band headed into one of the rooms off to the side and upon stepping inside, Ace absolutely felt far more overwhelmed than he had when they walked into the lobby. Lights, backdrops, equipment, green screens, hangers with a wide assortment of clothes, various types of chairs, instruments - he kind of felt like just taking a step into the room, he’d end up breaking something. It wasn’t that it was cramped, not in the slightest. He just really didn’t want to end up pissing someone off.

It wasn’t long before they were approached by a somewhat gruff looking older man, orange-tinted shades over his eyes, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and a cup of some unknown liquid held loosely in his hand. For some reason… Ace had been expecting something far more gaudy when Noodle said the guy was their stylist. He wasn’t entirely sure why, just something that found its way into his mind's eye when they spoke about him slightly more in depth while in the car.

The man went on to talk about what exactly he wanted to do for the day, explicitly saying he was unsure if they’d get all of it finished for that day several times before 2-D pulled him off to the side to discuss something with him. Ace just stood by, watching them with a curious look in his eyes from behind his shades. Stuart was making a lot of elaborate hand gestures as he spoke, looking rather proud of himself with every little thing he said. The bassist couldn’t help but find himself smiling slightly at what little of the scene he could properly see.

In his moment of distraction, he hadn’t noticed Noodle and Russel be pulled away by some of the staff. 2-D finished his conversation with Jamie and headed off with another one of the stylists and the man’s attention suddenly snapped to him. Ace tensed up a little bit and before he knew it, he was being dragged off to one of the stations by Mr. Hewlett himself.

Oh God, what was happening?

He figured they were just going to be wearing their usual clothes, but now he was told that they would be needing to do several changes that day. Jamie told him he wanted to get shots of everyone on their own and then a few more of Ace exclusively as teasers (wow, they weren’t lying) to put up online. He insisted it would get more interest focused on the album to slowly dispense out out for the project. Honestly, the guy wasn’t wrong. Ace recalled seeing little bits and pieces of art for Humanz and immediately being hooked on just that alone.

Wait, was this guy a stylist? Why was he acting like he was the head of marketing?

Ace didn’t necessarily get much time to think before he had a pile of clothes shoved into his arms, finding himself inspecting them for a moment before he was told to change while a privacy curtain was pulled over the curtain. His previous doubts about this guys abilities as a stylist seemed to completely dissipate as he looked through the clothes given to him; a bowler hat, a letterman jacket with a large ’A’ on the front, a button up with a repeating pattern of a pin-up model, pink jeans, and a black belt. It was just in his range of flashy… if he could ever actually afford this type of outfit on his own.

He emerged minutes after, fully decked out in the garbe previously given to him. However, Jamie snatched his trademark shades off of his face, making Ace jump a little bit in surprise. He opened his mouth to argue, only to be immediately shut up by the man with him saying the shades clashed too much with the look overall. He then took the hat off of the pouting Ace’s hat, taking out a couple of ace of spades cards, one with a distinct bullet hole in it to securely place in the band of the accessory, placing it securely back on the top of his head.

“... You got some obsession with aces or…?”

“Just wantin’ t’give people an idea of who you are. ‘Sides, it goes pretty well, I think.”

Ace found himself frowning a little bit at that smug look he offered him. Jeez, is that how other people felt when he acted that way? He was going to need to start limiting that.

“Jamie!”
Noodle suddenly came rushing in, practically tackling the stylist in front of him.
“I looove this outfit! Can we keep them?”

She eagerly shook his shoulder, the slightly oversized jacket on her body swaying back and forth with her. Jamie just gave a small laugh and nodded, saying he picked them specifically for the solo shots out for that very reason. Soon after, they were instructed to get ready for the shoot itself, saying they didn’t want to waste too much time as they didn’t want to be at the studio all the way into the night.

Before he was pulled away, he managed to take a glance at 2-D, who was decked out in some pretty average looking clothes and a guitar with various stickers on the front of it, as well as a large, scribbled ’IDAHO’ on it. He noticed his eyes on him, waving at him from across the room and Ace couldn’t help but smile a little bit.

Aw man… he really was some kind of heavenly being, wasn’t he?

The first couple of shoots went all according to schedule; a couple of solo shots then moved on to a some group shots of the entire band. Ace had to admit, he felt more confident about all of this than he thought he would. Not that he was camera shy in the slightest, it was just that this was an entirely new experience to him. He was so used to having mugshots taken, it was an entirely new - and very enjoyable - experience to just be apart of a proper photoshoot. It actually made him feel fully apart of the band now… like he was actually meant to be there.

“You know, I think I like these star shades on you more than your usual ones!”
Noodle commented on Ace’s current get-up with a laugh in her voice while she reached up to adjust them on his face. He placed the party blower that had been given to him in his mouth, blowing on it to boop her on the nose with it.
“Ah-! Hey, I am a woman of the law! You have to treat me with respect, Copular!

“Once a criminal, always a criminal, I suppose.”
Ace stuck his tongue out at her before he glanced over at 2-D, who was snickering at the entire scene.
“The king’ll gimme a free pass, I’m sure.”

“Huh-? Oh! Absolu’ely! Uhhh…,” 2-D tried to control his overly giddy laughter, “I hereby decree, uh… under my rule, Stuart ‘2-D’ Pot, tha’ Ace is exempt from bein’ f’hrown in jail. Anyone caugh’ breakin’ this rule will be executed!”

“Whoa there, can not argue with the king, I guess!”
Noodle laughed out, backing away from Ace.

Their small break was cut short by Jamie telling the band they needed to go change for the last shoot and they were all separated to go change into their final outfits for the day. The final outfit… wasn’t exactly something he’d find himself normally wearing with the faux fur lying the hood of the jacket, but he pulled on the ensemble nevertheless. They’d already been there for quite a few hours and he just wanted to finish up what they had left for the day. He wasn’t entirely sure what all else they’d have as far as art went, but he truly hoped it wasn’t anything else too strenuous.

He stepped back out, joining Noodle and Russel for some idle conversation. Ace found it a little bit strange when 2-D didn’t come out quite yet… was he having trouble putting his clothes on due to his ankle? It was a little concerning, to say the least. Surely he had someone helping him out? At least, he was pretty positive Stuart had some extra help. It’d be counter-productive to leave him on his own.

However, when he did step out, Noodle bumped him on the shoulder to direct his attention to him… well, to say the least, Ace’s jaw dropped. The first thing he noticed was the swept back hair, styled so perfectly that he had a hard time believe Stuart ‘2-D’ Pot was capable of looking such a way. He, himself, was so used to seeing him with that untameable, wild blue hair that seeing it wildly swept back, clearly properly and professionally styled, that it was like looking at an entirely new person.

Ace placed a hand over his mouth, willing his jaw to close as he glanced away, feeling his face heat up. It absolutely had to be ilegal for this man to be so attractive with no matter what he did with himself.

But if it were, he wouldn’t be allowed to witness it.

He was truly blessed this day, wasn’t he?

“How do I look?”
Stuart shuffled up to them, presenting himself, his excitement barely contained as he turned from side to side.

“Amazing-”
Ace quickly pressed his hand against his mouth, forcing himself to shut up. Stuart definitely heard him though, as his face seemed to heat up a little bit and he rubbed the back of his neck.

“I wan’ed t’try somef’hin’ differen’. I remembered Ace told me m’hair looked good like this.”
2-D confessed bashfully. Noodle and Russel turned their gazes to Ace, who quickly narrowed his eyes away from them.

“You look great, D. It’s good for ya to play with your style every now and then.”
Russel hummed, seeing one of the staff members rushing up from behind 2-D with a phone in hand. He nodded in her direction, making Stu turn around with a curious look on his face.

“I- I’m sorry, I know you’re about to shoot, but your phone just started going crazy and I thought it might be something important for you, Mr. 2-D!”

He took the device as it was offered to him, squinting at the screen before frowning a little bit.

“I’ll be righ’ back…”
2-D mumbled and stepped away from the group and out into the hallway where he could have some privacy.

He was getting sick and tired of Murdoc relentlessly trying to get his attention, especially right now. It looked like he’d completely given up on trying to text him now, having resorted to just spamming him with calls nonstop. Stuart could have sworn that he made his point yesterday morning. Had he not been aggressive enough about it? Certainly that wasn’t the case, seeing as to how hard Murdoc freaked out right at the end of it all.

He was going to end this, once and for all.

Stuart answered the device, slowly bringing it to his ear.

”Oi! Where the bloody Hell do you f’hink you get off ignorin’ me like this?!”
Murdoc hissed out in a hushed tone. He clearly wasn’t meant to have a phone with him right now.

“I’m sorry, I’m pretty sure I have that righ’ since I got rid of you.”
Stuart hissed right back, earning a frustrated noise from Murdoc on the other end.

The man went on to yell and curse at him as harshly as his current residence would allow him and 2-D felt himself finding it harder and harder to care as he went on. Honestly, all Murdoc wanted to do was scream at him, yell at him, insult him, all for not making an effort to break him out of jail. Why would he want him out when things were going so well for him, after all? The fans who wanted him free were crazy and anyone who thought he deserved to be free were even crazier. There was so much this man did to other people, so much harm he’d inflicted on those who didn’t deserve it… he was getting what he deserved!

He let him go on for a good few minutes with his tangent before he finally spoke up once more himself.

“Look, Murdoc, we’re busy righ’ now. I’m gonna figure ou’ how t’block numbers and I don’ wanna hear from you ever again, got it?”

”I swear to Satan, if you hang up on me right now, I will break out of this prison cell and turn your life into something far worse than Hell itself! Mark my words, Pot!”

Stuart sighed, rolling his eyes a little bit. Though, he jumped a little bit when he heard the door nearby open, snapping his attention over to it. He relaxed though, seeing it was just Ace. He couldn’t help but smile a little bit as he saw him.

“Hey, everythin’ okay, Stu?”
Ace spoke up, heading over to him after quietly closing the door. Stuart just nodded a little bit, watching the ex-gangster move over to stand in front of him. It was obvious that he noticed his moodshift… it was hard not to see it. After all, he was getting his eardrum blown out by an angry Satanist on his phone. Ace nodded to the phone, brow furrowing a little bit.
“Who is it?”

“Ah… no one importan’.”
Stuart mumbled out, slipping the device away from his ear. The sound of Murdoc yelling about what he’d said could be heard to him… hopefully Ace couldn’t hear it, though.

“Hey, um…”
Ace started, biting down on his bottom lip in a way that 2-D couldn’t help but find endearing.
“I know this ain’t the best time, but uh… I really need ta tell you somethin’...”

“Yeah?”
Stuart felt his heart jump in his chest as he watched Ace’s slightly nervous expression shift and change as he looked for what he wanted to say.

“I’ve been tryin’ to find a good way of sayin’ this… but uh… ya know, I kinda get interrupted every single time…,” Ace paused, coughing into his fist, “don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Karl is a great duck and I know Noodle just need to tell us important news.”

2-D laughed a little bit. He’d completely blocked out the sound of Murdoc screaming on the other line at this point, just glancing over Ace’s face as he tried to explain what he wanted to say. It was strange, how cute someone who used to be a gangster could be, even when they weren’t trying to be cute. Watching him just fumble and stumble over his words, trying to form a proper sentence…

Something in him just kind of pushed him, he didn’t entirely know what it was or why he felt the need to do it but he did. The hand that held his phone dropped down to his side while the other reached out, taking a fist-full of the front of Ace’s shirt, abruptly pulling him forward, causing him to stumble forward a little bit and his hands to brace himself against the wall behind Stuart.

Without warning, he pressed his lips against the other man’s into a soft, yet sweet kiss. Ace’s eyes widened a little bit in surprise, his breath hitching at the contact, hand balling a little bit where it laid flush against the wall. After a moment, he just relaxed, leaning needily into the liplock while his eyes slipped shut.

This was… way easier and nicer than what he was planning on doing.

”Oi! Oi! Face-ache, stop ignorin’ m-”

Stuart just dropped his phone onto the floor, not caring much about any damages that it could possibly sustain as he wrapped his arms around Ace’s neck, pulling himself a little bit closer, feeling one of the bassists arms snake around his waist.

They parted from the kiss, pulling inches away from one another, a short moment of silence drawing out as they just stared into each others eyes.

“I like you... that’s why I like this album.”
Ace managed to speak up now. Though his words were hushed, Stuart could feel so much emotion behind what he said.

“... I know.”
Stuart grinned cheekily at him.
“I like you, too.”