Disclaimer – Gorillaz would not be nearly as hardcore if I owned it.
A grid of shadows stretched across his desk.
The light was warm and yellow with the oncoming afternoon, yet the man could find little solace in his surroundings. Not that he needed any, no…
He was simply tired. With age. With stress.
The old man leant forth upon the seemingly hundreds of papers, all splayed out upon the desk before him. Name change forms. Passports. Photos. Letters. Fingerprints. Code words. Coordinates.
Thankfully, the majority of which had already been modified for the sake of privacy.
For the sake of safety.
Though the workload was nearing its completion – after all these years of running, hiding, editing, stress and work – the old man found himself hesitant to complete all this paperwork. All of this had been the driving force behind his life – for over a decade, now.
He was old, yes. He would not have much time after all of this was completed. Yet that was the thing – there was still time, and he could not imagine doing anything else.
He had kept her safe, all these years. Thrown off the scent of the Japanese government each time rumours spread. Though he knew she could not be protected from every single foe, especially when hearing about the onslaught of struggles the girl – now a young woman – had faced in more recent years, he had to do his part. He had to do what he could to protect her.
She was all he had. Aside from his steamed fish shop, which he had grown rather fond of, Number 23 – or "Noodle," as everybody fondly knew her by – was all he had left…
So, the tired Japanese man simply sat there for a few moments more, trying to make the tedious paperwork last more than it should have. He could be done by midnight tonight. It was all so close. And then…
… then, Noodle would no longer need him to watch her back.
A loud cry of "Irasshaimase!" from the restaurant down below broke his thought process, and he found himself rising from the cluttered desk, almost too eagerly.
This could wait.
He had wandered down the rickety spiral staircase, which creaked as he descended, aiming for the kitchen when the new arrival caught his eye.
It was a foreigner. African American, dark-skinned. Though he appeared rather overweight, he mostly appeared large above all else. The stranger donned a pair of sunglasses and a posterboy hat – he seemed like the type to avoid attention.
Nonetheless, he had squeezed himself into the booth with some difficulty, and already grabbed a menu. One of the waitresses was already dealing with him.
The old man donned his chef's hat and headed towards the kitchen. Yet from the serving counter window, he watched the man constantly. He'd already ordered a drink, and was now scanning the menu with a rather… intense expression. It wasn't as if he looked hungry – (though the man assumed eating would be a favourite pastime of his) – nor was he adopting the foreigner's policy of scanning the menu of another country and wondering what would be edible…
… he genuinely appeared to be looking for something.
And judging by that sudden exhale, and small smile, it appeared he'd found it.
The chef turned back to his cooking – or what little cooking there was to perform. The shop was quiet, tonight – it was a working day, after all. He'd suddenly become very uncomfortable with the presence of the foreigner. He'd learned to be paranoid. Especially when he had spent most of his life with the government breathing down his neck.
A sharp 'ding' had sounded from the counter, and he glanced up to spot the waitress lifting her finger from the bell and placing down an order. She gave a smile and a quick bow, before walking off toward what few other guests there were.
The old man gave the order a glance.
He simply stared at the frail piece of paper, before a trembling, bloodless hand rose and gripped it between the thumb and forefinger, lifting it up to view more clearly, and hoping to high heavens he had misread.
He had not.
"1 x Ocean Bacon."
Nobody had ordered that. Since the day of its debut, it had been deemed too salty. At the very least, people would not order that single salty entrée by itself…
He wished it was coincidence. But that man, that dark foreigner, was staring directly at him. He seemed calm. Reserved.
But also knowledgeable.
Weakly, shakily, the chef stumbled out of the kitchen. Suddenly, he seemed to find his age catching up to him, faster than usual. He felt faint. Tired. But he continued walking, right up to the booth, where the dark stranger sat.
The voice that reached his ears was soft-spoken and friendly, in contrast to the man's hulking visage.
"Mistuh Kyuzo, I'm guessin'?"
The chef eyed the man's smiling features. Despite the lack of apparent hair, and hence greying strands, faint lines of age traced the foreigner's dark face.
"…Yes?" The man asked warily. Yet the tension within his frail body seemed to relax a great deal. He could read people very well, due to his less-than-ordinary life experience – and he was starting to realize that this man was not to be feared.
The man held out an enormous hand. "Russel Hobbs, sir."
With that handshake came a flurry of memories. Suddenly, five years had reversed, and he was sitting in the same booth, with an overwhelmed, tired, yet ecstatic young girl chattering away at him excitedly.
"And there is Murdoc… He is… unusual. And quite cruel, sometimes, but he looks out for me. I realize now he has quite a foul mouth as well, but no harm done. He is an amazing bassist – and if it weren't for him, Gorillaz would not exist! And there is 2D – he is a very close friend of mine! Not very bright, but… very caring. He and I play videogames together all the time! He always looks out for me, and treats me like family…"
"… and there is Russel-ue."
The suffix had slipped out of her mouth reflexively, and she seemed to hesitate. Yet Kyuzo had found himself smiling at the gesture.
"'Russel-ue is like a father to me.'" The chef found himself reciting, with a smile, and earning a slightly confused look from the drummer. "'Every time I am sad, or confused… he is always so patient with me. He protects me. I can always depend on him, and one day I hope to return the favour.'"
The drummer raised his head in comprehension, and gave a soft smile.
"What brings you here, Mister Hobbs?" Kyuzo had relaxed considerably now, but a faint air of tension floated above him. This wasn't exactly routine.
"Noods sent me over. She's kinda wrapped up in things that I'll explain a bit latuh, but she sends her love." Russel rubbed the back of his neck. "Plus, I uh… kinda wanted to meet you."
"What do you want from me?" The words slipped out, earning an odd look from the larger man. Yet he continued, still casual.
"I guess I'll just update you on how Noodle's doin'. Or, uh… do ya still call her Numbah 23?" His tone grew strained at this point, and Kyuzo understood his hesitation.
" 'Noodle' is a more fitting name, I feel." He smiled. "Carry on."
And so, a wave of information came flowing through the foster father's mouth, saying only what word-of mouth could express aside from the sensationalism, gossip and rumours that the Japanese media had provided the former military mentor. He told him everything he could.
Demon Days, perhaps one of Noodle's greatest achievements. The girl keeping her word of 'returning the favour' to Russel, by looking out for him when he was still severely mentally unhinged. The girl sneakily recording a music video without the band's knowledge, after they had supposedly 'misbehaved.' The 'El Mañana' incident, which started off the hellish nightmare Noodle would have to deal with the next four years. Her escape from Hell. Finding the now young-woman adrift on a lifeboat to Plastic Beach, their new headquarters. Besting the android Noodle. Steadily regaining her strength and mentality after the entire ordeal.
… and now, she was dealing with something almost incredibly ordinary, yet large all the same.
"…Engagement?" Kyuzo echoed, astounded.
"I didn't believe it, either." Russel had removed his sunglasses during the explanation, revealing the shocking, ghostly white of his eyes. "But… well, she missed him. And he missed her. And after bein' apart for so long, they clicked togethuh real nicely. Balanced each other out."
A sudden smile creased his features. "Ah gotta feelin' she'll be lookin' out for him more often than otherwise, though. When the poor guy proposed, he looked as if he was about to faint."
" 'Noodle Pot.' " The chef found himself chuckling at the absurdity of it all. At the fact that a dim-witted vocalist was the one that Noodle had found love with. At the 'married name.'
At the fact that this 10-year-old girl had now grown to 23 years old.
"Twenty-three." He breathed. "That number pops up a lot a great deal, does it not?"
The drummer observed him, silently. Intently.
"I know what you are thinking, Russel." Kyuzo said, his black spectacles gleaming. "And the answer is 'no' – I do not regard Noodle as an 'experiment.' I do not regard her as a weapon. Nor do I regard her as a number. She is more than that."
His gaze lowered.
"They all were."
There was a brief silence.
"I have spent most of my spare time erasing Noodle's connections to the Japanese military." The man began, slowly. "Since I sent her to your studio in Essex. Name changes, document modifications – I did not want her to be found. I did not want anything to happen to her."
Kyuzo gave a deep sigh. "Though it appears she'd encountered more of her own… lethal struggles." He closed his eyes. "I am simply glad she is safe, now. And happy."
His eyes reopened and rose to meet Russel's stare.
"I have done my part to erase Noodle from the database. This evening the last of the paperwork will be finished. And I shall no longer be needed."
"What'chu sayin'?" The drummer asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Noodle is happy. And soon, will be completely safe from being traced. But most important of all, she is happy."
Kyuzo managed a smile.
"Thanks to the Gorillaz, she has found happiness. And thanks to you. Her father."
A long silence engulfed the two. The restaurant was empty. The waitress had left for home, and the kitchen staff had locked up. The 'KYOGYO' sign was up on the door, leaving the two men alone.
"… You saved her life."
The drummer's voice broke the silence, and Kyuzo shook his head.
"… It was wrong to use children as militia. I realized that. And it took the deaths of several for that to finally sink in. I placed her in danger for the sake of gaining a war advantage… I have only atoned for what atrocities I was responsible for. I have not done much of benefit for Noodle."
He closed his eyes.
"It would be better if I remained out of her life from here on…"
"Do you know why I'm here, Mistuh Kyuzo?"
The old man glanced up at him. His spectacles reflected the rising moonlight. A white stare met another. Yet behind the blankness, there was a torrent of emotion.
"I didn't come to just update you on her life, y'know." Russel began. "She sent me here to ask you… to come on over to Essex. She wants to see you again. She wants you to be at her weddin'."
The drummer reached over, and placed a heavy hand upon the chef's frail, and now shaking shoulder.
"You ain't done with her. Ah know what happened back then, and she does, too. But she sees you as family, as much as th'rest of us. So what if you're almost done with paperwork or some shit? That's not all you can do for Noodle, you know?"
Kyuzo, for all his training in the Japanese military, all his pressure to restrain his emotions, and all his years of maintaining a strong, unchanging façade, steadily began to collapse. A hand fell over his eyes, his body steadily beginning to shake.
"You can actually be there for her, this time."
A young woman stood on the balcony of a city hotel, glancing over her shoulder at her soon-to-be husband, lying splayed out upon the couch, staring at the television screen. He glanced up at her with his black, yet certainly not soulless eyes, and he gave a smile. A genuine one. She returned the gesture and continued to stare out towards the cityscape, brushing back her raven-purple hair as she heard the man rise off of the couch and wander over to her.
A warm hug enveloped her from behind, and she leaned back into 2D. They both stared intently towards the horizon.
"You fink Russ found 'im alright?"
Noodle glanced at the vocalist, his chin resting upon her shoulder.
"I believe so…" She paused, swallowing slightly. "He is very old now, I realize."
"Wot? Russ or Kee-yoo-zoh-san?"
She elbowed him lightly it the stomach with a small smile. It faded again almost instantly.
"Perhaps I was too late."
They shared a silence. 2D's arms remained embracing her, and swayed her slightly, back and forth, back and forth…
"It'll be alright, li'le love."
He glanced over his shoulder, hearing the clicking of the door for their hotel room.
"You know dat, right?"
He turned the woman around to face the interior of their hotel room, and released her as a familiar old man slowly walked in.
Noodle didn't need any more encouragement.
She dashed into the man's frail frame, gently embracing her mentor, her father, her distant guardian… to whom she owed everything, the amazing life she lived…
Mr Kyuzo returned the gesture, both amazed and almost broken to see how grown up his little girl had become. Amazed at the brief appearance of bruises on her body, and yet the overwhelming happiness that glowed from her being.
He tightened his grasp on her…
… then briefly remembered that the paperwork that remained upon his desk was still unfinished, still required a few more modifications…
… He withdrew from his old charge, taking in her smile and slightly glassy eyes. He smiled back, closing his eyes and shaking his head.
That could wait.