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Imposter Syndrome

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Qingqiu is nervous.

It wouldn't have been obvious to anyone else, but Yue Qingyuan knows Shen Qingqiu better than he knows himself.  Even when his face is perfectly impassive, he always grows more confrontational, more likely to make eye contact, more likely to hide behind his fan.

Qingqiu is often nervous, when he is alone with Yue Qingyuan.  It makes Yue Qingyuan... frustrated.  Has he not shown his care for Qingqiu, as much as Qingqiu will allow?  Why should Qingqiu still hold him at a distance? 

Yue Qingyuan hopes that, eventually, Qingqiu will trust him again.  He made up with Liu-shidi, of all people. Why not Yue Qingyuan?

"There is something this one should tell Zhangmen-shixiong," Qingqiu says from behind the fan. 

Yue Qingyuan wonders, frequently, if Shen Qingqiu didn't know, or didn't care, about that particular piece of rudeness.  He is leaning towards the first for Qingqiu, as he privately thinks of Shen Qingqiu since the memory loss, and the second for Xiao Jiu, the Shen Qingqiu with all his proper memories intact.

"I am listening," he promises, once again lowering the formality of the conversation.  Qingqiu could use 'this one' all he liked, but he would not convince Yue Qingyuan to do the same.

Yue Qingyuan dearly hopes  that whatever Qingqiu has to say will constitute an excuse to kill the demon.  

"This one is not Shen Jiu."


Was that all?

"You have made it clear I am not to address you by that name anymore, yes," he says dryly.

Qingqiu's eyes narrow. His fan trembles slightly.

"This one's name is Shen Yuan."

Yue Qingyuan wonders how Shen Qingqiu had come upon that particular name. Had Xiao Jiu found some genealogical records, after everything? 

"Is that so?" he says gently. He makes sure to keep his body relaxed, to serenely sip his tea, to keep his hands still. To do nothing that might spook Qingqiu, who looks as if he is imparting some momentous secret of his guilt.  

Not giving Shen Qingqiu the response he was expecting proves as amusing as always. Or it would have been amusing, if Yue Qingyuan hadn't been realizing, rather belatedly, that Qingqiu's agitation is genuine fear, rather than the frustration of a manipulation going awry.

Does he think that Yue Qingyuan would hurt him?  For what?  For not being the person Yue Qingyuan wanted?

The person Yue Qingyuan wanted had died a long time ago, with Yue Qi in the wreckage of a failed promise.  

"Shen Jiu is dead.  He died from a fever, ten years ago. My name is Shen Yuan, and I have come to inhabit this body through no intention of my own."

Yue Qingyuan's chest ached.  He had suspected, but he had hoped...  Of course, given the chance, Xiao Jiu would choose to cut his final ties with Yue Qingyuan, destroy the past neither of them could ignore.  It made an awful kind of sense that Xiao Jiu would gladly construct an entirely different history for himself.  One without Yue Qi.

"Shen Qingqiu is always desperate to say he is not the one named Shen Jiu.  Shen Qingqiu would spit a thousand curses on the name of Shen Jiu." Yue Qingyuan intends to scold, but it comes out sad instead.

"I'm not Shen Jiu, because he's dead!  I took over his body! Like an evil spirit! Except I'm not an evil spirit, I didn't have a choice!"  

"If you are an evil ghost, then why didn't Hong Jing strike you down?"  

"I don't know either!"

Yue Qingyuan let the silence settle, gave Qingqiu a chance to regain his composure and himself a moment to marshal his thoughts.

"Do you know how instances of possession are most often recognized?" He asks, when Qingqiu seems like he is about to make his excuses and flee.

Qingqiu does not calm.  Qingqiu gives him a suspicious look.

"Unusual behavior," he snaps.

"A person prefers things they usually do not.  Food.  Sleeping habits.  What things in particular irritate them the most.  How they express that irritation.

After the fever, Qingqiu-shidi was different, yes.  He treasures his disciples he once despised.  He enjoys the company of Liu-shidi. He does not have any recollection of our past.

But, he likes the same food.  He keeps to the sleeping schedule Xiao Jiu prefers.  He uses his fans, exactly in the manner he always does."

Yue Qingyuan gives Qingqiu a short scolding look, allows a moment for Qingqiu to object.  Qingqiu stays silent, staring at Yue Qingyuan.

"The changes that Qingqiu-shidi has demonstrated... can they not be also demonstrated by a person, setting down a great burden of pain?"

The fan in Qingqiu's hand shakes, like Qingqiu cannot decide whether to hold it in a death grip, smack Yue Qingyuan with it, or drop it and flee.  If Qingqiu continues to apologize, Yue Qingyuan doesn't know what he will do.

Lock Qingqiu in his rooms and take a piece out of the demon, probably.

"Shen Qingqiu has changed before," he tries once more to explain.  "When we were young, Xiao Jiu was willing to help others, sometimes.  To make friends, if they showed him merit.  To forgive.  After I broke my promise, Xiao Jiu was... a person in agony, that could not bear either the slightest kindness or the slightest cruelty.  He was an utterly different person than before.  Just like you are an entirely different person."

"That's different," Qingqiu says.

"Is it really? He did not lose his memories, true.  He did not give himself an entirely different history.  He didrepudiate our past, reverse his outlook on life, and completely change his strategy for attaining his goals." 

"How do I prove it to you?  Clearly, nothing I say actually means anything to you." Qingqiu says.  Unexpected mercy always did make Shen Qingqiu grumpy.

"When we were disciples, I always acknowledged you.  I promised to do better than when we were children.  Why would I sever our bond now? You think that if you hurt me enough, I will release you from your bonds and oaths. You have tried this tactic before. It did not work then, either."

Qingqiu glares, but subsides.  Shen Qingqiu was so talented at evading hate, he often found himself confounded by forgiveness.  Unfortunately, the fever had not helped that particular shortsightedness, as evidenced by that fiasco with the plant body.  

"Qingqiu-shidi should rest here tonight," Yue Qingyuan says, capitalizing on his rare victory. 

Yue Qingyuan shepherds a recalcitrant Qingqiu to his bed, draws the curtains, and activates every ward he could on his way out, which, as sect leader, are a great many. Including some that would not permit Qingqiu to leave until Yue Qingyuan returned.  

Left to his own devices, Qingqiu would undoubtably convince himself that Yue Qingyuan actually meant the opposite of everything he had said tonight, and would flee to the demon's side.  If Qingqiu left voluntarily, Cang Qiong would refuse to go to war, which meant that Yue Qingyuan would have to wait until Qingqiu was out of demon territory to retrieve Qingqiu, which would take decades and still only occur when the demon could guard him, and would inevitably end in Yue Qingyuan killing Qingqiu's husband in front of him.  Better to pin Qingqiu down until he committed to a minimum amount of time at Qing Jing and Cang Qiong.  It would allow Qingqiu to maintain his relationships and communicate with his allies, when the demon inevitably fell to his avarice.

Hopefully, with this misunderstanding resolved, Qingqiu will be more willing to stay at Qing Ding.  His behavior made sense, in hindsight: had he actually been an evil spirit possessing Shen Qingqiu's body, than any minute he spent on Qiong Ding would contribute towards his discovery.  Unfortunately, it was clear that Qingqiu was unconvinced of his own innocence, despite Yue Qingyuan's reassurance, and thought that he had somehow stolen the identity of a man visible to the entirety of Cang Qiong.

Figuring out how to make Qingqiu trust him, for the first time in years, is a problem for tomorrow, Yue Qingyuan decides. Shen Qingqiu would never have taken responsibility for any betrayal--that it was imagined nonwithstanding--without a powerful motivator.  Probably blackmail was involved, somehow, and this was an attempt by a third party to sever ties between Yue Qingyuan and Shen Qingqiu.

Tonight was for finding the demon, and disciplining him for allowing Qingqiu to reach such a vulnerable state.  Verbally only, unfortunately.  Using Xuan Su without either proof or Qingqiu's word would create too many problems.  However, if Yue Qingyuan has any luck, he might find that the demon was trying to sabotage their relationship. Then, Qingqiu would have no need to leave Qing Jing.