In all actuality, Russel was not looking for a relationship. At all.
Losing Del was painful: the rapper had come to be not only the phantasmagoric shadow of his dead lover, but a part of his own soul as well, bound to him posthumously through the spooky sort of luck that always seemed to follow Russel from the time he was young. After the Grim Reaper took Del away for good, he knew he may never love again, and he accepted it. Del had been The One, and anyone else was sadly doomed to pale in comparison. In the time after the Gorillaz’s first hit album, he had to admit that things were rough. The loneliness was staggering, the grief left him numb to the world around him.
And then, suddenly, the Gorillaz reunited.
Then there was Noodle to take care of, and with her English suddenly fluent, her memory returned to her, and her musical genius in full bloom, Russel was finally able to devote himself to someone and something again. As it turned out, Noodle’s memories of her former life were shocking and wild, and he found himself once again connecting with the young teen as she instinctively latched onto him, desperate for a supportive and parental figure behind her choppy haircut and playful demeanor.2D had changed too: time at home had made him a bit cockier, more sure of himself around his friends, in public, and particularly around Murdoc. He was a little more present, certainly a little sharper. And Murdoc, after his stint in Tijuana, was wild, a little darker, yet sharper than ever with a new depth to his bass playing that was downright greasy at times.
The music revitalized Russel.
He reengaged in the haphazard family that was Gorillaz, keeping a watchful eye on Noodle, making sure Murdoc didn’t get into too much trouble (though in the long run, these efforts would be in vain), and trying to keep track of how many pills ‘D was popping (still a lot).
While he continued to grieve for Del and ached desperately for his ghostly inspiration and rapping prowess—a few songs Noodle had written for their second album she had intended for Del to rap in or give feedback on, a realization that stung like a wasp—Russ did the best he could, and that turned out to be pretty damn good.
Finally able to focus on something aside from his loneliness, he felt the fog of his depression lifting. Colors returned to the world, and so did noise. As ever, the sounds they made were tight.
While Noodle’s sudden fluent English and crazy stories took center stage (though Murdoc did fight valiantly over meals and recording sessions to make his own heinous stories stand up to hers), Russel was aware of another shift in the band that seemed to want to go unmentioned.
2D and Murdoc had become involved with one another.
Russel was hardly surprised. As far back as The Paula Days he could recall feeling an occasional charge that could only be described as sexual between the singer and bassist, but neither man had ever made any mention of it. Well aware of the complications of being into your bandmates, Russel had been respectful enough not to bring it up, and both musicians had brushed aside whatever spark was between them, opting instead to focus on producing songs and conquering the world with their presence.
Certainly during the recording of Gorillaz, something had happened. Russel just sensed it: the two had fucked. On more than one occasion, he caught 2D staring at Murdoc while he tuned his bass or adjusted the volume on some of their equipment; the singer’s eyes would linger over the shorter man a bit longer than necessary. Similarly, he had noticed Murdoc had begun to touch the singer more often, and not in a violent manner either. Brushing 2D’s hand when leaning in to bum a cigarette, leaning against him briefly when watching movies on the couch, touching the singer’s ankle with his Cuban-heeled boots during practice sessions to get his attention if he wanted to change how a tune sounded.
Maybe they didn’t realize that he noticed, but he noticed.
Nothing escaped Russel’s observation.
Which is why when they joined together once again, it was even more obvious than he had remembered. They became nearly inseparable. While Murdoc had spent most of his time out in the Winnebago during the recording of their first album, he was now more present with the band due to its loss, taking meals with them and even going so far as to take an occasional nap in the living room, guard down in a surprising show of trust to his fellow bandmates that almost, almost touched Russel. Furthermore, wherever 2D went, Murdoc was sure to follow. Russel noticed that he couldn’t get through watching a movie or TV with 2D without Murdoc swinging by the room at least once, as though to check on him. Sometimes he would drop next to the singer and watch as well, more often he would give some unlikely pretense for stopping by, then pop off. By the second time this happened, Russel knew he was just making sure he knew where the blue-haired man was.
Perhaps the most obvious giveaway that the two were together was their sudden synchronized sleep schedule.
Part of the reason that Murdoc had once spent so much time in his Winnebago was because he was practically nocturnal. Staying up until the early hours of the morning and sleeping until mid-to-late afternoon had been his norm, a bad habit that had escalated as the band’s fame exploded and Murdoc’s hedonism did the same. Russel knew this from the times he had tried to find Murdoc, only to find him out cold in the nasty sheets of his dirty mobile home, surrounded by empty bottles of booze, pills, lingerie, and the occasional stray tramp. Now, not only was he always nearby, but he stayed awake throughout the day and disappeared at night, always at the same time that 2D did. Neither man was an early riser, but they always seemed to rise at the same time suddenly. Russel was no idiot; he knew they were sharing 2D’s bedroom and 2D’s diurnal habits were wearing off on the bassist.
So to suddenly be reunited, only to see them together, was an interesting turn of events to say the least. Distantly, Russel processed that he was happy for them. On more than one occasion, he would walk into a room to find them necking, or simply overhear personal or explicit things being said as he approached them before they realized he was near and rapidly made to act as though nothing had been going on.
He had been polite at first. He’d clear his throat or stomp loudly to alert them to his presence, then act nonchalant as they broke apart and acted as though they had merely been talking or bickering, 2D often flushed with embarrassment and Murdoc scowling aggressively. There was no reason to object to their behavior, after all; whether or not they wanted to bring it up to him was their decision to make, not his. They were fighting less, and when they did fight, it was not vicious, just part of a habitual dance. They seemed to rely on one another heavily, and Russel didn’t dare question that. Who was he to challenge happiness?
Over time, he also realized that he was a bit jealous. Where was the justice that he should lose Del, his partner, his musical muse, while a dirty, boozy bastard like Murdoc should get to corrupt the sweet albeit dopey 2D and find a happy ending? It was this vague sense of resentment that led him to slip up one day. Noodle was off in her room, no doubt playing one of her handheld games or composing yet another number one hit, and the three boys were smoking and listening to some of their recording sessions, trying to figure out which tempo suited each song the best.
The singer and bassist were particularly touchy-feely that day, with 2D’s long, long legs stretched up and resting atop Murdoc’s bony knees. The bassist, far from complaining, continuously leaned forward, ostensibly to hear the music better, and more likely to rest his legs over the narrow shins on his lap.
Russel was feeling very much like a third wheel, and he felt his patience wearing thinner and thinner first as they shared a cigarette, then their hands brushed while reaching to adjust the treble on their speakers, and finally when they started in a round of completely unnecessary, feigned bickering.
“I just think that if we’re going for a groove, then we should slow it down, make it more like trip-hop. That’s what the song’s going for.”
“My bass is hyyypnotic already, dullard; the tempo’s fine for this bloody song.”
“I’m telling you Muds, it ain’t a groove right now. Don’ you think, Russ?”
“Oi, don’t bring the lard-ass into this conversation: he’s got nothing to say!”
Russel exhaled slowly to keep from swinging at the bassist. “Actually, Murdoc, I do have an opinion. I’m with ‘D on this one. I think the slower version sounds better.”
Murdoc, gearing up for a proper hissy fit now that he was outnumbered, threw his hands up, mismatched eyes flashing with indignation. Making to get up out of his chair, he shoved 2D’s legs off of his lap in a sudden flare of aggression.
“’Ey! Watch it, Muds!”
“Shut your face, Dents. If you two like this shite recording so much, I’ll leave you to it. You picky queers can have your bloody say on every damn song that makes it to the album. Me, I’ll just provide the rhythm then, so everyone’s happy!”
Russel was feeling exasperated, but 2D seemed sincerely remorseful, instantly feeding into Murdoc’s guilt trip.
“Wait, Muds, don’t go!” he begged, rising and making to follow after the enraged bassist. “We can work something out: your opinions matter! We won’t leave you out of the decision-making process, right Russ?”
“Of course not,” Russel answered coolly, though his fingers curled into fists at the slur. “Though I’d watch what you say, man. You really want to call me a ‘queer’ when you and ‘D are clearly the ones getting it on? Nobody likes a hypocrite.”
The reaction was instantaneous. 2D turned bright red, turning his black eyes to Murdoc, who completed the circle by looking at Russel, his face comically surprised, eyes wide and stance frozen. He held this position for a few loaded seconds, and Russel held his own, watching him thoughtfully, refusing to break his gaze.
“You…what did you just say about the kid and me?”
Realizing he had reached a point of no return, Russel crossed his arms over his chest and shrugged. “I’m just saying it’s obvious to me. Been obvious for quite a while now, if we’re being honest. I don’t mind, man. I’m not the type to judge. Just watch what you say, alright? Since you two give yourselves away all the damn time. I get sick of pretending. Can’t we just let things be out in the open?”
Murdoc remained immobile for another beat, then two, 2D watching the whole time, waiting to see how the bassist would react. Finally, Murdoc moved like lightening, launching himself at Russel. 2D was just as quick, and he stood between the two men, grabbing Murdoc’s shoulders and shushing him.
“It’s alright, Muds, don’t hurt him! Russ says it’s okay!”
“Step aside before I knock you aside, Dent Face,” he growled.
“Hey,” Russel snapped, rising and standing before both of them, hands up to convey that he wasn’t looking for a fight and also ready to rip 2D away lest Murdoc begin swinging at any moment. “I’m not throwing insults around. I mean it. I’ve known for a while, seriously. I wasn’t gonna say anything, I just slipped up. But really. Your business is your business. I won’t say anything, so don’t get all defensive. Chill, Muds.”
Murdoc slowed down and ceased to struggle against 2D, who continued to hold onto the smaller man’s shoulders nonetheless. “Yeah?” he finally asked, cocking his head to the side. “You knew? And you didn’t say anything.”
“Have you ever known me to be up in anyone’s business?”
“Nope!” 2D responded brightly, eager to shift the tone of the conversation, to convince the bassist that no harm was meant and no brawls would be necessary. “I believe Russel! Heh heh…it’s true, yeah. Muds an’ I are kinda like dating now I s’pose you could say.” The faint flush over his face darkened a bit, yet it was more with pleasure than embarrassment. It probably felt good, Russel figured, to finally be able to say it aloud to someone. Lucky him.
“We’re not dating, we’re fucking. A bit exclusively. That’s all,” Murdoc groaned, though he too was now sporting a faint blush and he seemed to run out of things to say much sooner than he normally did. There was no bite to his words, and it was pretty clear that his refute was a reflex rather than a sincere correction of 2D’s statement.
“Whatever,” Russel responded, anger evaporating into amusement. He breezed past both of them to the door. “Listen, your secret’s safe with me. Date, fuck, whatever. I’m done dealing with you two for now though: y’all get on my nerves. Go with the slower recording though, Murdoc trust me.” And then, because he couldn’t resist, he turned to look at them from the doorway, offering an uncharacteristically cheeky wink. “Sometimes it’s better when you slow it down. If you know what I mean.”
Their jaws dropped simultaneously as he headed out of the recording room in search for Noodle, very pleased with how he’d conducted himself.
Really though, he truly wasn’t looking for a relationship. Let 2D and Murdoc have some fun: he didn’t need any of it.
That being said, it blindsided him a few months later when the couple approached him one afternoon, only to propose that they wanted him to join them in bed for a three-way.
Russel could still remember the can of soda he had been drinking, the way it slipped from his large hand and bounced onto the floor, spilling a dark, fizzy stain in its wake as he blinked, shocked into silence.