...Oh Gaia, here we go. I couldn't wait any longer, so here we are. This is obviously a weird form of AU (some things are the same, but the majority is AU.) Nibelheim Manor is an actual mansion here... the sort that some ridiculous billionare would own. The works, you know.
Ah! Today (July 25th, ignore what ffnet says... I posted on the 25th, lol) is my birthday. Reviews make great presents. ;) I'd like to thank CloudedMirror89 for all the help she's given me with this story (it wouldn't be more than an idea and a sentence if it wasn't for her). She's the most wonderful beta ever, for realz. ...And 'kay, here. Enjoy chapter one... phew. (And the ASGZC is a long time coming, just so everyone knows.)
Disclaimer: ~!i^Id*I=oV+nY~oS^tA*oT=wN+nA~fF^iL*nA=aN+lI~fF^aN*nW=tO+aT~sO^yN*vO=Di=I!~ (Hah.)
attention: page breaks in this story up to chapter 17 have been deleted by ffnet. They'll be back in soon, sorry for any confusion!
Cloud had always suspected that his apartment was too cluttered and small. He knew it was true for sure when there was a knock at the door, and he got up to answer it. He rose from his seat on the tiny couch and made his way towards the door, smacking his knee on an end table and stubbing his toe on a stack of books in the hallway, knocking them over.
Wincing and biting back a curse, Cloud opened the door and curiously peered at the man standing on the threshold.
He never really got visitors, much less important-looking ones in suits.
"…Can I help you?" Cloud asked nervously, resisting the urge to slam the door shut and hide. He had always been a solitary kind of person since his youth, not good with confrontation or entertaining. There was an aura of creepy seriousness surrounding the visitor.
He hadn't done anything illegal recently, had he? No… so the man couldn't have been there to arrest him; maybe he was a spy here to put him in the witness-protection program? He really had no idea why he, a nobody with few friends, would get a visit like this.
The man raised a thin eyebrow at the obvious mess behind the blond. He extended a hand, a short ponytail swaying with the movement.
"I'm Tseng," he introduced. Cloud shyly shook his hand, putting his weight on his throbbing toe inconspicuously. Tseng obviously saw it and continued. "I'm here on behalf of your late Great-Uncle Hojo. May I come in?"
Taken aback, Cloud's eyes widened. He had only met his great-uncle a few times, and none of those times had been very special. He hadn't known that the creep had died, though.
Tseng followed him into a cramped kitchen and sat down, placing a laptop on the table after moving a stack of papers to the side. Cloud sat opposite him, feeling embarrassed.
Tseng narrowed his eyes at him while the laptop booted up and clarified, "You are Cloud Strife, correct?"
"Yeah," Cloud answered, more interested in the back of the laptop. It seemed state of the art; he had never had enough money to own one himself.
Tseng clicked on something and spun the laptop around so he could see the screen. There was a long, detailed document up. Tseng stuck his head out from behind it and said briskly, "Hojo's will."
…Ah. The family freak-slash-outcast left him something, did he?
"As you probably know," Tseng began, "Your Great-Uncle lived in Nibelheim." (Cloud hadn't known that at all.) "He owned a mansion on the outskirts of the town."
Another click, and Cloud was looking at a blown-up picture of the mansion. It was gorgeous—or it had been, at one point. Some shingles on the roof were missing, and the window ledges could have used a new coat of paint, but it was still beautiful. It was big, too—about three stories, with regal-looking pillars out front and a huge-ass porch. It was the house of his wet dreams.
"…He's left it for you," Tseng said, smiling at the bewildered look on the blond's face. "Along with the grounds."
Cloud's head snapped up. He looked around at his shitty, cramped apartment. Imagine… a mansion.
Placing an official paper and a pen in front of him, Tseng said carefully, "Do you want it?"
Even though Cloud had the feeling Tseng wasn't telling him something important, Cloud was sold. He grinned broadly and picked up the pen.
In the unnatural stillness of Nibelheim mansion, two men silently stared out one of the upstairs windows. Zack frowned and rested his forehead against the glass, closing his eyes briefly.
"…So there's really another one coming?" The dark-haired man asked softly.
Sephiroth shifted beside him. He clenched his fists, trying to be discrete. He glanced to the side and said, just as quietly, "Yes."
"Don't look so upset!" a chipper voice said from behind them.
Zack and Sephiroth turned; Genesis sauntered up the nearest set of stairs' last few steps and bounced to a stop beside them. There was an almost evil glint in his eye when he said, "Let them come."
Angeal trailed up the stairs at a much slower pace, looking visibly upset. Zack winced and focused his gaze outside again.
Hojo was dead. It was a fact—he had seen the crazy bastard blow himself up by accident with his own eyes. Years and years of torture had come to an abrupt end.
Zack held his hands up to the light. He was used to it, but it was still a bit weird to see the light pass right through his body. He didn't even have a shadow anymore.
Hojo was dead, but now his nephew or some other twisted relative was coming. Would they be as bad as Hojo had been? Worse, if it was possible? Why did they have to come so quickly? They had barely any time to recover after the first madman!
Sephiroth was curiously watching the way the dust particles in the air tried to go past his hair like the light did. It made for a pretty visual, but Zack found himself going uncharacteristically sad. Angeal, always the calm one, lightly blew his held breath out, trying to keep his temper in check.
Would the 'new Hojo' take a special 'liking' to Sephiroth as Hojo had? Would they all be okay? (Zack didn't think that he could go through everything again.)
But the others must have sensed his unusually black emotions and turned on him.
"Stop it," Angeal ordered, putting an arm around the back of his neck and drawing him into his chest. Zack peered at the fabric of the man's clothing. It was just like them—solid but not really, there but not seen by anyone normal.
(They were lucky that they could see each other; it was the one secret that they had kept from Hojo, no matter how many 'tests' the madman had done.)
Zack brightened and threw both arms around Angeal, grinning. "We'll be fine," he crowed, suddenly excited. He and Genesis shared a plotting, mischievous look, and Sephiroth gave a positively evil smile.
They'd be more than fine. They'd run the new guy out of the mansion in a week, tops. They had to look out for each other, right?
He wouldn't know what hit him.
Cloud sped along one of the long mountain roads that led towards Nibelheim, willing Fenrir not to wobble too much. Although Fenrir was his baby, and although he kept her gleaming and in good condition, she liked to be… unpredictable sometimes. It usually wasn't a problem, but the roads up here were dangerous and different from the kind he was used to.
Tseng's efficiency was startling.
He was actually behind his movers—they had trucked all his stuff to Nibelheim a day earlier, much to his surprise. It seemed Tseng wanted him out of his apartment and into the mansion as quickly as possible, for whatever reason.
Nibelheim itself was a quaint little town (if not a bit backwoods), and Cloud rolled Fenrir to a stop outside what looked like a grocery store. He bought a soda and a candy bar and was back on in a few minutes, rolling his eyes at the townspeople in general. They had stared at him and his obvious 'Midgar-ness,' fascinated.
The mansion was just as pretty as it had been on Tseng's computer, if not more so because he was seeing it up close and in person. The grass was a freakishly green color that you just didn't see in Midgar, and he could see the metal fences of tennis courts off in the distance, as well as various fruit trees looking out-of-place in the Nibel woods like this. It was… amazing!
He parked Fenrir next to where there were tire tracks from the previous day's trucks and smoothly slid off it, stretching his sore muscles.
He opened his soda, swiped windswept spikes out of his eyes and shivered. It was colder than Midgar here. He pulled on a backpack he had kept in Fenrir's storage compartment and ambled up to the front door, fishing around in his pocket for the key Tseng had given him. He beamed—it was finally sinking in that the mansion was his. His!
He had just slid the key into the old-fashioned keyhole when he shivered again, but for a different reason.
…It felt like he was being watched.
Cloud glanced left and right a few times, frowning. The feeling didn't go away, but he eventually shrugged and turned the key anyway. It was probably nothing.
Cloud smiled, pushed the door open and walked inside.