Disclaimer – ½ Prince and all of the characters—aside from my OC's—belong to Yu Wo
Note – This is an alternate ending/version of Clockwork. Not only have several people told me they would have preferred a different pairing in the end, but I was also asked to write an a.e. (I was actually writing this beforehand, but I wouldn't have uploaded it. Good thing I was asked. Thank you, Tearless Wish. :P)
If you haven't already read the original, it doesn't really matter in regard to reading this story. I won't be leaving anything out that's needed to understand what's going on.
And just to make things fresh and interesting, I have also given this a new back-story alongside the new ending.
…I feel like I'm writing a fanfic of my fanfic. xP
"Zian, take the day off."
A day off from work. I could hardly believe those words had come from my father's mouth. I had a somewhat difficult time processing them, as though my father had spoken in a different language I'd never heard before. It wasn't even the weekend and I was allowed a day off. The fear that my employees would cause a disaster in my absence faded somewhat as I rolled those two words around in my mind, contemplating them thoroughly as if they were some sort of philosophical musing.
Once I thought about it, I realized I hadn't had a day off in a very long time. In fact, I'd never had one throughout the two years that I'd been a part of the work force. Perhaps my father was becoming more sentimental later in his life, he decided to allow me more time to myself rather than working me to the bone every single day.
As if. The thought of my father being sentimental made me want to laugh at its absurdity. Anyway, he wasn't particularly old at the somewhat seasoned age of forty-seven, so senility was also ruled out immediately.
He would never give me a holiday out of fatherly kindness. All his life, he'd ceaselessly worked himself as hard as he could, and thus he naturally expected those around him to do the same. I had gotten used to it over the years, I supposed. After my older brother left the house over a decade ago when he and I were still in our teens, all of my father's hopes of a son succeeding him were relocated to me. Having work as my entire life had become normal since then. I had nothing better to do, anyway.
But when faced with the opportunity to spend an entire day however I wanted, I didn't quite know what to do with myself. All of my friends were at work and there was nothing at home I would have deemed "entertaining"; I found television programs to be idiotic and I'd never wasted my time on them; I could have done my work at home through my computer, but it was my day off—not a day to do work; and I highly doubted the house staff would keep me company, not that I would have wanted them to in the first place. They always treated me as though my father, who upheld strict hierarchical rules, would dismember them if they so much as made eye contact with me, and I had long-since become disinterested with the prospect of their companionship.
Standing in the center of the perfectly polished floor, I slowly turned around and visually searched my tidy office for something to do. There were hundreds upon hundreds of books written of many topics and genres neatly stacked on shelves built into the glossy, paneled walls of the spacious room, but I had never been one for reading as a pass-time. The books were my brother's. Ones he'd left behind when he'd moved out. They were there simply because I didn't want to get rid of them, not because I was interested at all in reading what they contained. Perhaps they held a hope that he would come back someday, if only to reclaim his own property and leave again.
My eyes landed on my desk, then slid to the old external hard drive I'd placed next to my computer tower several days ago to remind myself to buy a new one. Smiling slightly in bemusement at my strange need for a justifiable reason to leave the house, I took a moment to write down my computer information on a small scrap of paper, grabbed a gray pea coat off the wall peg near the door and slipped into it, scooped up my car keys, then hurried downstairs.
The fact that the maids were bidding me farewell with clasped hands and respectfully inclined heads barely registered in my mind as I left. They treated themselves as tools and pieces of the house rather than human beings. I played along, as I always had. A part of me was thankful they left me alone. I'd had quite enough of people fussing over me during my childhood.
Twenty minutes later as I entered the overly air-conditioned electronics store, I felt somewhat breathless as I looked over the interior, blinking my eyes in the odd dimness after the bright summer sunshine I'd just been comfortably basking in outside. I walked quietly toward the computer section, stepping carefully to avoid attracting unwanted attention to myself.
My first day off was making me feel jumpy. I was filled with the slight tension of excitement one gets when they are somewhere they aren't supposed to be. A tiny part of my mind was half-expecting my father to leap out at me from between the rows of shelved electronics and demand I explain myself to him for not coming into work that morning. Not that he would ever do something so rambunctious. He had a respectable image to uphold as company president, after all.
The computer hard drives were disappointingly easy to find. I bent down, looked over the information on the paper I'd brought, slipped a drive that was compatible with my computer off the shelf, then straightened with a sigh. There must have been something else to do in the store other than pick up that box, buy it and leave. Even staring at the display of computer mice seemed more appealing than going home after such a short and uneventful outing.
I wandered down the aisle, looking here and there in slight boredom. My footsteps paused as I reached the end of the row. To my left was a neat line of laptops; something I didn't need to look at, since my own computer, and laptop as well, were both nearly brand new.
Instead, I turned to my right and walked toward a very eye-catching aisle. It wasn't difficult to guess what this section of the store was dedicated to, since no matter where I looked, hovering in the air were larger-than-life holograms of characters I'd never seen before from video games I'd only heard of in passing, if at all. I felt somewhat hesitant to continue as nearly everyone walking about in that area seemed to be in their teens. Not that I was much older at the blossoming age of twenty-four, but I still felt a bit out of place and disconnected from their youthful liveliness I'd long-since been forced to abandon.
Deciding I was over-thinking things, I ignored my discomfort and strode up to the flashiest display there was. It didn't take me long to move on after looking over the abnormally muscular man donning thick, spiky armor, holding an enormous blood-covered hammer in one hand and a battered shield in the other. If anything, that disgusting display made me want to buy whatever game it was even less than I did initially, which was not at all.
My fingers clasped the thin hard drive box a bit tighter and I determinedly forced my gaze to stay straight ahead when I hurried past a violently pink-colored section filled with giggling teenage girls. I wondered if their vision would be okay after looking at all of that for so long. Even simply seeing that horrid color out of the corner of my eyes for a only few seconds, everything seemed to have a slightly green tint afterward.
As my interest in the store was beginning to sink to a dangerously low level, I paused and looked back the way I'd come. I'd passed a very out-of-place, calm-looking set of shelves between the numerous ostentatious game exhibits.
Without turning my head too much, so I didn't have to see that blindingly pink place again, I stepped back and curiously ran my eyes over the large screen placed above the display. A lovely, sunny field with a few odd-looking people walking through the long grass faded out and was replaced with a dreary-looking cliff with several ugly monsters crawling about. That scene was soon exchanged for a brief glimpse of the inside of a lively, torch-lit tavern, filled with people drinking and eating at wooden tables.
I watched as the picture changed several more times, each showing a different place, then the screen faded to black. The name Second Life appeared a moment later in large, white letters, with a short description of the virtual reality game underneath.
While the slide show of in-game clips resumed, I glanced down with slight intrigue at the stacks of boxes, large ones labeled with Gaming Helmet + Second Life Game Cartridge on my left, much smaller ones labeled with only Second Life Game Cartridge on my right. I had almost no experience when it came to games of any sort. The one instance when I'd played a video game when I was younger was very abrupt and short-lived. In fact, I doubted the occasion could have even been labeled as a gaming experience. Only moments after I'd turned on the game, it had been immediately snatched away and disposed of by one of my guardians, because it was apparently taking time from "more important things." As such, I'd never gotten the opportunity to play another. But this game, Second Life, seemed quite a bit more inviting than the others on sale. Perhaps it could relieve my boredom.
I hesitantly reached out and pulled one of the larger boxes off its shelf, my heart pounding as I imagined what my father would say if he saw me picking it up. Feeling a bit rebellious, I quickly wrapped an arm around the bulky package and glanced cautiously around the aisle as if someone was going to take it away from me.
No one was paying me any attention, aside from the normal amount of brief looks, and I mentally slapped myself for being so ridiculously self-conscious. Where had my normally calm and bland demeanor gone? Never had something evoked such a bizarre mood in me, as though I was about to partake in some guilty pleasure I hadn't known I had a weakness toward.
Gripping both of the boxes tighter, I smiled faintly while I walked to the checkout, once again feeling as if I was doing something I shouldn't. As I put the boxes down on the counter beside the cash register, I tried to shake off my cautiousness. After all, it was my day off and I was allowed to do as I pleased. But I still knew my father would not be happy with me at all if he found out I'd spent my day playing games rather than doing something he would deem productive. I could clearly hear his quiet, monotonous voice in my head as if he was right there beside me telling me what a waste it was.
"What a waste."
I'd heard those words before on more than one occasion. They were usually spoken in hindsight over my brother's departure. As much as I loved my brother, sometimes I couldn't help but agree with my father's disappointed words. After all, my brother was a very talented person. One my father's company could have used and benefited from greatly. But they were stuck with the insignificant me instead. What a waste.
With a polite nod of thanks to the cashier, I left the store after paying and glanced down at the bags in my hands. My mood, which had been soured with my thoughts of the past, was lifted a bit as the Second Life box invitingly stared up at me.
Rummaging around in the pocket of my casual black slacks, I pulled out my car keys and sighed while I unlocked my car, watching the little distortions in the air from heat roiling off the black paint. Though I was anxious to return home and try the game, I was somewhat annoyed with myself for not having the foresight to wonder just how I was supposed to get back into my room without anyone noticing what I was carrying. I doubted any of the staff at home would inform my father I was playing games, if only to avoid getting themselves into trouble for bringing up such terrible news, but I doubted even more that he was going to allow a day to pass by without keeping tabs on my actions.
I was starting to wish I'd gone into work, even without being required to do so. Or read one of those books in my office, regardless of how I thought they were boring. What good was having a day off if I was continually second-guessing my behavior?
Shaking my head as I set my purchases on the passenger seat, I reluctantly started my car and turned on the radio to a nice classical station in an attempt to distract myself. I'd gotten far too serious about everything. My brother's somewhat thoughtless, impulsive behavior was starting to sound very nice in comparison to my sheltered, narrow world.
Quickly pushing those feelings out of my head, I pulled away from the electronics store and joined the sparse late morning traffic on the road. My father and my responsibilities were much more important to me than such frivolous things, and I wasn't particularly discontent with my life, anyway.
My father had been abandoned by one son. I wasn't about to become the second.
Still, it was very nerve-wracking as I finally made it home after driving around quite a bit in an attempt to calm myself down. I'd finally decided to simply walk in with my bags in hand. After all, they weren't see-through and it wouldn't be strange of me to have bought something from that store; I often upgraded my computer equipment.
I made sure the top of the bag was closed, then I stepped up to the enormous front door, through which an obscenely obese elephant could probably fit. After allowing myself only a moment to slip into my usual persona of the obedient, reserved young master of the household, I entered the house.
As always, the prim maids seemed to know exactly when I was about to come in. One of them shut the door behind me and I strode past their neat rows as they greeted me with the usual welcomes, sounding like robots programmed with one or two lines of speech. Then again, that also applied to me. I said, "Yes, father," so often, it had nearly become a reflex.
I reluctantly paused in my ascent of the steep staircase and slowly turned around at the quiet call from one of the younger butlers. His down-turned eyes made me want to slap him upside the head so he'd finally look at me. The whole house staff probably knew all of the rooms' floors' appearances better than they knew mine.
"What is it?" I asked, frowning at him for the interruption.
"Lunch shall be ready shortly," he informed, dipping his head even further.
I nodded vaguely at his words, not that he could see my response while he stared at his feet, and glanced up the stairs where my refuge awaited. "I am feeling rather tired. I will eat in my room."
"Yes, of course. I will have a tray brought to you, Zhu Ren."
He turned away as I resumed my climb and hurried to my room, not feeling tired at all. I'd used that excuse countless times in the past, usually to avoid having to eat alone in the huge dining hall. But no one ever questioned my hesitancy to dine in there. No one, aside from my father, ever questioned me on anything. The house staff was composed of mindless drones, wordlessly carrying out whatever order I gave. It was endlessly irritating. Efficient, yes. But irritating. Mostly because every time I looked at them, I was reminded of myself and how I unquestioningly did everything my father asked of me.
No free-will whatsoever.
But perhaps it was simply easier to live that way.
I sighed with relief as I shut my office door behind myself and slipped off my coat, neatly hanging it up on its carved wall peg. It seemed that I'd managed to smuggle my waste of time into the house without anyone knowing. Though it'd had an awkward start, I was very much enjoying my day off. I felt as though I'd gone back to my childhood years when my brother and I did all sorts of sneaky things together simply to see whether or not we would get caught. Though those days had come to an abrupt end when we did indeed get caught. Punishment had of course followed.
With the Second Life box hidden away in one of my desk drawers, I seated myself on my wheeled office chair and began transferring the files from my old hard drive to the new one. A very boring task. One I was very happy to interrupt as lunch was brought in to me shortly after I'd begun working.
I silently watched as the maid carefully set the tray of food down on the small table near the sunny window beside my desk, then proceeded to bow herself out of the room. "Do not call me for dinner," I ordered before she could leave. She nearly looked at me. Nearly. Her efforts made me inwardly roll my eyes.
"Yes, Zhu Ren."
I stood once she was gone and locked the door. Lunch forgotten, I retrieved the Second Life box and went into my bedroom. I sat myself on the soft cushions of my small sofa and carefully pulled the tape off the box. It made a very loud tearing noise and I froze, wondering if anyone else had heard it.
Several minutes passed and no one knocked on my office door, so I nervously went back to what I'd been doing. The top opened by itself once it wasn't held together any longer and I reached inside. My hand closed around a thin book and I pulled it out, briefly looking over the cover.
"User manual," I mumbled to myself and set it to one side. Putting my hand in the box again, I pulled out a small, cardboard package and a transparent plastic bag full of wires. I glanced into the box, then set it on the floor as I saw it was empty.
The second box opened to reveal a strange-looking contraption. A quick look through the manual told me that it was the game helmet. I critically ran my eyes over it. It didn't look very comfortable, especially since I was supposed to sleep in it. I would have to be very careful about the position I slept in so I didn't get impressions of the plastic all over my face.
After I skimmed the rest of the manual to get a basic grasp on how to work everything, I stood up, headset in hand. It was barely midday, but I was itching to try it out regardless of the time.
I allowed myself a few minutes to change into my pajamas and close my thick curtains to darken the room, then I settled down atop my bed. I held the headset in my hands for a moment and simply stared at it. I'd never thought about it before, but the idea of becoming someone else, in a game or not, was rather intriguing. But I was still struggling with how my father would react if he found out what I was doing. Regardless of my age, he was still very controlling and expected the very best from me. This would only be seen by him as an unwanted distraction.
Deciding I would only play the game every once and a while to keep it out of the way of my real responsibilities, I plugged the headset into a power outlet by my bed, inserted the game cartridge, then slipped the device over my head. With one more moment of hesitation, I laid down and closed my eyes.
"Zhu Ren" is the equivalent of "master." A thank you goes to wintercrystal for supplying the correct term. :)