Mamoru was standing in the rain. Like an idiot.
An idiot with no umbrella.
Well this is just great.
This was the last house.
If he didn't like the people in this one, then he was going to just rent one of the many stupidly expensive studio flats available.
He briefly wondered why he was bothering to search for a room in a house anyway, but a small, familiarly sweet voice popped into his head and gave him the answer: because you're tired of being alone. That voice was right, of course; she always was, even when she was just a manifestation of his own thoughts. A studio flat would be convenient but it would mean there would be no-one else around and that he would find himself, evening after evening, at the girls'. Mamoru didn't think he could handle that much oestrogen… not yet anyway. There was plenty of time to try later: after all, he had the rest of his unnaturally long life to get used to conversations about makeup and shoes.
He almost smirked, except it really wasn't that funny when he thought about it; the girls were great, but it was a scary thought for anyone: living hundreds of years with the same people. And to be honest, they were, well, girls, which meant most of the time they just didn't get him.
When did I become so needy? He stopped himself from going down that route, it was easily possible to spend hours psychoanalysing himself - it's what he used to do for fun when he'd first started out as Tuxedo Mask.
His mind forced itself back to the subject at hand, since standing in the rain, trying to gear up the courage to go knock on a stranger's door was not the best time to reminisce about how he'd once believed himself to be a nutcase when in actual fact he'd been king of the world in a previous life.
Shut up, Mamoru. Focus! He needed to knock.
But he still couldn't bring himself to move from the front lawn to the door. What is wrong with me? There was no nervous tingling in the back of his mind - something the girls had lovingly nicknamed their 'mooney-sense' (actually, Usagi had come up with that, she had thought it was cute) but there was definitely a feeling of anxiety running through him, and he couldn't figure out for the life of him why that was.
Maybe he was just nervous about the idea of living with other people again (the last time he'd been in such a situation he'd been in an orphanage). Or maybe, he allowed himself to think, you're afraid of not finding the right people to live with. Maybe you don't want to be alone again. He could just see Usagi saying those words to him.
Yes, he thought, you've made that point already, let's move on shall we?
He tried to force himself to move. He used his superior powers of reasoning (since that always worked and never led him to make stupid decisions, like dumping Usagi because he hadn't wanted to hurt her or his decision to leave Japan to study at Harvard, just to name a few examples): the facts were simple, he needed to be out of the halls of residence and therefore he needed to find another place to live.
He was perfectly willing to admit that his Fresher year had been brilliant and that he'd let loose like he'd never been able to before. He was a med student, and in the United Kingdom everyone knew that the medics worked the hardest, drank the most, and partied until the wee hours of dawn. Mamoru had become a shining example.
He had done things for the first time, totally ordinary things, like pulling pranks on others, studying for an exam only the night before, watching football in a crowded pub and staying awake for twenty four hours and not because he was trying to save humanity from complete annihilation. It had been an exciting year.
Usagi and the other girls had been back home finishing school. Since Galaxia, there hadn't been much action, only the odd straggling youma which the Senshi happened to hunt down on their weekly rounds of the city, so Mamoru hadn't felt a need to worry about them too much. If anything, it seemed to be the other way around - he wasn't one hundred per cent sure, but there were moments when he felt like he was being monitored: from time to time his comm device would elicit a soft beep for no reason, and sometimes he almost thought he could feel a flashing hint of Rei's presence in the back of his mind, and as for Usagi… well, despite numerous opportunities which had presented themselves, and even with his newfound sense of liberation, Mamoru had remained completely faithful to his soul mate. They Skyped and/or Facebooked and/or emailed and/or texted and/or MSNed and/or AIMed and/or What's Apped each other at least once every single day, and he'd always spent most of it telling her about his antics. Usagi hadn't minded in the least that he was going out and having fun, her main reason for such constant communication was just that she had wanted to check up on him, to make absolutely sure that he was still alive, and, given their history it was an understandable concern, really - he did, after all, have an uncommon and rather cumbersome susceptibility to brainwashing and death.
But even with all the new people he'd met – people he considered closer to social acquaintances rather than friends - when winter turned over into spring and it was suddenly the time of year to begin the hunt for the ever elusive perfect student house to reside in during the second year, Mamoru declined several offers to live with people.
There were a good few reasons for this, or at least at the time, he'd thought there were. The main one was saving money. His motivation for coming to England instead of the USA was that he'd discovered that his parents had had ties to it, but it would take some time before he found out if he was eligible for a British passport. Until then, he was stuck paying international fees. They weren't as bad as the States, but they were still a bitch (plus after his trip to Harvard had ended up in what could only be described as an epic fail, he wasn't too keen on trying again over there).
Another reason for staying in the halls of residence was that it was convenient: the bills were paid for in a lump sum, with food and utilities included, and there was even a cleaner who came and vacuumed his room once a fortnight. As for the social aspect, there was always someone around to hang out with, but conveniently, he was also afforded a certain amount of privacy, which allowed for emotional distance. In the UK, almost all students living in halls had their own rooms with a locked door - so far he hadn't needed to bring out the top hat and cape (well, he hadn't needed to for their intended purposes, but there were certain advantages to being the ex-king of the world when you were late for class) - but he still wasn't quite comfortable with the idea of living with people when he had such a big secret. In all honesty, he hadn't yet met anyone who he felt completely at ease with, that is, he liked many people, he just couldn't quite bring himself to trust them. He had always been a loner, the circumstances of his childhood and his somewhat serious nature had seen to that, but Usagi and her friends had brought with them some changes to his personality. He'd realised that he rather enjoyed being in a family. It had taken a while, but he was opening up to the girls - Rei appreciated the same kinds of things that he did, their tastes in art, music, literature and philosophy often overlapped, he'd even visited a few museums with her (without Usagi, who had both called them 'boring old foggies of the highest level of boring' when they had invited her along); Ami, who had only just started uni with the other girls, was now a fellow medic. Being a year ahead of her on the same course, he was finding quickly that he was taking on the role of mentor and he didn't mind it at all. Ami being Ami, her questions were never simple and trying to help her find the answers was an enjoyable challenge; his relationship with Minako was definitely an interesting one. They were what he considered an exclusive club for two, the 'I-love-Usagi-more-than-anything-and-she-has-to-be-protected-at-all-costs' club. Minako was the only reason he had felt secure enough to leave for the UK, and considering how she had handled the whole Ace fiasco while dealing with Rei and the death of her grandfather at the same time, his respect for her had risen sharply. He had heard the dramatic details second-hand from Usagi, since he'd been in the UK for his first year while it all had happened, but from what he had been told, Minako had transformed into an altogether more admirable and focused leader. He'd seen the evidence of it himself, when the girls had arrived. He felt he had an understanding with her. She also talked a lot less about shoes and pop bands, which he appreciated immenseley; but the relationship which had surprised him the most, was the one which had sprung up with Makoto. She was a very pleasant person to be around and he appreciated her earnestness in all things, even though she didn't always succeed. In that sense she reminded him of Usagi, heartfelt and open. She was easy to talk to, and there were things, he found, which she understood about him a little better than the others. Of course, there was always the Shitennou, loyal, brave, subservient. They worried about him, day and night, they knew all of his dark secrets and their translucent faces twisted with anguish any time he had a problem they could not easily solve. He felt selfish for thinking it, but there were times he wished they could give him more than what they did. They tried incredibly hard to be the friends that he needed. He sighed as he thought about it, and then futilely tried to wipe the rain out of his eyes. They had already sacrificed so much for him, he could never admit how inadequate he had begun to feel they were, that would have been too cruel to them. So he kept it quiet, and avoided them as much as possible. These were his family. And quite simply, he loved them. But they were girls and ghosts. He yearned for something a little more.
So he had used the UK as an opportunity, plunging himself deep into uni life, he'd become a 'yes man' in his first year and it had been fun. So much fun. Too much, actually. His grades, for the first time in his life, had dropped from 'stellar' to 'good/average'. That was a serious issue which had to be repaired.
The beginning of his second year had started out well enough, the girls had arrived and by some twist of fortune had landed one of the coveted five-person flats in the halls of residence which were reserved for international students or postgraduates only (these were highly sought after since they were newer, cleaner, quieter and each room was on-suite). Mamoru suspected Luna and Artemis may have fiddled the systems a little since the girls - with the exception of Rei and Usagi - were technically paying Home or European fee rates and therefore should not have been eligible (Mina still carried a British passport, Mako had gotten one too within the past year since her parents had English backgrounds and Ami had a German passport, courtesy of her father's heritage). In all honesty, Mamoru wasn't sure how Usagi was coping with the international fees and he briefly wondered if Luna had fixed that little problem too.
For the first two weeks work also seemed to have been going smoothly but pretty soon he had begun to notice that the things which he'd found so 'fun' the previous year were actually beginning to cause him huge issues.
One was the lack of sleep.
The second year of medicine had brought with it a much larger work-load, with longer hours and more visits to hospitals which were located further away. By the third week in, all he'd wanted to do was get a good night's kip; in desperation he'd taken to spending nights at Usagi's place, but when his new neighbour brought in his specialist DJ equipment and blasted it loud enough to shake Mamoru's walls, he had sensibly decided that it was time to move out. He had started looking for vacant rooms in houses the very next day.
And that was what had brought him there. In the rain. Without an umbrella.
The last two choices had been firm negatives, he could fully understand why people had moved out (the first house had smelt like someone had burnt an entire field of cannabis in the building, and the second, well, the residents were very nice, but it had been the hard-core satanic murals on the walls which had turned him off of renting a room there). He was now tired, he was soaked to the bone, he'd been looking for almost week and he was severely short-changed on sleep. If he didn't like this house, he decided, then his solution would be simple: studio flat. He'd be forking out more cash than he'd originally intended, but it would solve the problem.
His mind's reasoning was sound. This search for the perfect house, with people who were relatable, who would give him just the perfect amount of friendship and privacy, people he could trust, was silly, fanciful needy nonsense. Give up now, his thought to himself, go to an estate agent's and find a decent sized one-room place. It wasn't a hard task to accomplish, it really wasn't, but for some truly inexplicable reason his body refused to agree with his brain's lack of enthusiasm for the building in front of him. Why on earth can't I leave?
He couldn't move.
He simply stood there, staring at the rather large blue door of the five person house, with a spare double-bedroom, previously occupied by a guy who had dropped out to switch universities – or that's what the poster said anyway…
There was something odd going on. There was nothing out of the ordinary with the scene in front of him. It was a simple door, in a simple yard. It wasn't bad, it wasn't good. It just was. There was no reason for him not to move, nothing was stopping him, he just... couldn't. All he knew was that he was soaked to the point of saturation, and that part of him wanted to leave, while the rest of him needed to knock. That led him to a stalemate, unable to move forward or to go. His mooney sense was, unhelpfully, still giving him diddly squat.
His dilemma was solved when the door was opened for him and a man with blond hair and flip flops appeared. He bent down and picked up a small brown parcel by the stair, wiping away the water which hid the name. He stopped suddenly when he caught sight of the sopping dark form in front of him, "Uh..." He scrunched his light eyebrows slightly, a little confused. "Can I help you?" American.
Mamoru immediately flushed at having been caught standing in the middle of this man's front lawn like some kind of peeping tom who was really bad at his job. He cleared his throat and ran his hand through his sopping wet hair in a vain attempt to look presentable, "Um, yes. I'm-" he reached into his pocket and pulled out a floppy piece of paper, "Is this..." his midnight eyes desperately tried to decipher his own water soaked scrawl but he gave up after a few embarrassing seconds. "Do you have a spare room?" He tried to clarify his short statement: "I'm a little late." Well done, you idiot. You've made absolutely no sense at all.
The American looked down briefly at his watch and then back up at Mamoru, confusion brushing his features. For the briefest of moments, Mamoru felt the strangest feeling of déjà vu. "I called yesterday. I spoke to a Zach? I think," he paused unsure why he felt so shy around him. "D- do I have the right house?"
The blond's eyes scrutinised him for a second longer before he turned back into the house, yelling loud enough for Mamoru to jump out of his skin, "ZACH! YOU FRENCH FRUITCAKE! SOMEONE CALLED ABOUT THE ROOM AND YOU DIDN'T TELL ANYONE!" He looked back at the soaked man and smiled. "Come on in dude, sorry about that."
For a second Mamoru didn't move, still rooted and unsure (and more than a little unnerved by the outburst), until his eyes caught a silhouette of another man in the background. He looked tall, and possibly half naked. To Mamoru's slight concern over his own sexuality, the sight of the figure finally seemed to break the spell. He re-shouldered his rucksack and jogged into the house, smiling politely to the blond as he passed him.