He doesn't know how long it's been. This world's sense of time seems to be a little distorted, at first time stretched and stretched and kept stretching until Shen Jiu could have sworn there were entire years slotted between each day, and part of it was probably his own discomfort, yes, but not everything. Now it's moving faster.
Since the day he broke the mirror, it's like each week skips one entire year. It's not really like he goes to sleep and wakes up in the future, he has some vague awareness of days and days and days passing by, but rather, like in a dream, it feels like a speeding blur with short spots of lucidity. He realizes time's passed, but can't really feel it until it's already behind him.
That's a relief, he doesn't want to stay too long in this world. If he were to go back to reality right this second it wouldn't be soon enough.
It could be worse, he supposes. He spends all his time in Qiu Haitang's room, insistent on not having to see these people's faces if it isn't needed, and other than leaving him food and speaking to him through the door they don't really try anything else to drag him out, even as the growth of this body and the change of seasons tell him the years have started to pass.
The only person he lets in is the younger version of himself. The other Shen Jiu will knock at his door now and then, sometimes with the pretext of wanting to play a game, as used to do, sometimes just to take a moment to rest in this safe space, with neither of them saying anything, just sitting close by.
He hasn't cried again, not in front of him, and the visits have turned more and more sporadic as time passes. He very consciously does not think about this other Shen Jiu more than strictly necessary.
Now that some time passed, things have calmed down and Shen Jiu is able to think more clearly, he's pretty sure by now this world is, at least partially, made out of memories, both his and Qiu Haitang's. It took him a while to remember, but this situation isn't completely unprecedented.
There was this one time, when he was around thirteen, that Qiu Haitang had a horrible tantrum, he doesn't know what caused it. She locked herself in her room, and her family had to leave her food just as they do now. He doesn't know if they also spoke to her through the door as they do here, but it wouldn't surprise him.
The whole affair lasted a great total of two and a half day, and Shen Jiu didn't remember it until now because that time has been fondly labeled in his memories as 'That one time Qiu Jianluo almost fucking kills him for real', leaving little space to care about how the lady of the house was doing.
It would make sense, if neither he nor Qiu Haitang know how her family would react to the current situation, for this world to drag from the most extreme case they know about.
Shen Jiu expected noticing this world isn't quite right would take away some of the uncomfortable feelings he found while in here, after all, realizations found via lies ouch to be lies too, right? But that doesn't happen. He still hates, he isn't merely angry, he hates. Because even if it isn't fully real, fake isn't the same as false, and it's still based on real things, isn't it?
A part of him already knew Qiu Jianluo could be kind, he didn't want to admit it, but he knew, he saw it, back then. When he would drop everything to play with his sister, when he would joke with his friends the few times they had visitors and he thought no one was watching, when he had to act as if he was nice to Shen Jiu because Qiu Haitang was watching. The asshole was capable of being good, there wasn't anything forcing him not to be. He just wanted to. Shen Jiu already knew, this experience just drilled it in.
Really, the only thing noticing the inconsistencies of this place has done is keeping him from burning the building again. He has no interest in killing a copy, no matter how well done, and he also has no interest in having Qiu Haitang kill her brother without him ever knowing why, if Qiu Jianluo's going to die, he has to know it comes from Shen Jiu's hand.
Because… the fire will still happen, won't it?
It has to. When thinking about this house, about everything that happened here, that's the linchpin. Everything that transpired after everything that came before, it culminates in that event, he can't imagine a world in which it doesn't happen, in which this situation leads to anything but the killing and the fire, so the dream shouldn't be able to show such a world either… Well, maybe Qiu Haitang can imagine it.
If the final date comes and goes, and this simulacrum goes on as if nothing happened, he supposes he'll have no choice but to tarnish this costume with the blood of her own family. But for now, he's willing to wait.
There's not a single indicator of when the fire is bound to happen, at least none he can catch from Qiu Haitang's room. No sound, no sighs, no special event to tell him it's the time, and yet, when the day comes, he knows. He knows for a long time before he even smells smoke. There's just something, some feeling in the air, that tells him it's coming.
He doesn't sleep the night before, and decided to forgo eating for the day. He spends the entire morning and afternoon curled next to the door, still like a statue while at the same time every nerve in his body begs him to move.
In the evening, just as he's getting anxious about whether or not it'll happen again, he hears quick steps rushing through the hallway, accompanied by hushed voices, quietly panicking.
He opens the door, and the servants moving from one place to another ignore him as he makes his way to the other side of the building, where Qiu Jianluo's study is.
The door is open, he enters and closes it behind him. It takes him a moment to find him, with how disorganized the room is, the broken furniture scattered through the floor, decoration pulled from the walls, but eventually he sees him, on a corner of the room, Qiu Jianluo's corpse lies.
Shen Jiu squats next to it. "You brought this upon yourself," he says. His eyes are closed, so Shen Jiu pokes at the eyelids until one of them is resting open again, "You know you brought this upon yourself, don't you? You have nothing to complain about, this is your own fault.
"You know, I used to tell myself it couldn't be helped, but it really could, couldn't it? You basically pointed a knife to your neck, was it worth it having something to kick?
"Why couldn't you have learned to punch walls or lock yourself inside your room to scream? I don't care how bad your temper was, there are people who break furniture when they get angry. Although I suppose it was cheaper to use me for that than breaking your own stuff… is it still cheaper now?
"I know I already apologized, but honestly I don't regret it one bit. I'm not sorry at all. What did you expect would happen?"
He sighs. Shen Jiu doesn't even know why he's doing this. What's the use of speaking to a corpse? A fake corpse at that.
Still. He brings his face closer to Qiu Jianluo's, and smiles.
"This little sister is very disappointed in her big brother, A-Luo. I hope your soul rots in hell."
He leaves the study, just in time for the first wisps of smoke to come from the hallway.
Shen Jiu thinks he knows where Qiu Haitang's father lies, and even contemplates visiting him too, but at the end decides against it.
It's not like he doesn't despise the man too, he knew what was happening, was perfectly ok with it. But, at least he never touched Shen Jiu, not because he ever thought of him as a person, just out of respect for others' property. Still, it means he doesn't feel much of a need to visit him.
It's about time he gets in position anyway, isn't it?
The main courtyard isn't far. He gets there, sits where he's supposed to, and waits for the building to burn.
The smoke keeps accumulating around him, and eventually, the fire starts to show, spreading through the walls to the ceiling, consuming the wooden columns, making this and that part of the structures fall on top of itself.
The servants run all around him, either carrying water buckets or stolen stuff, first in high quantities, but dwelling as the fire rides. By the time none of them are left running around the courtyard, the person he was waiting for appears.
He has to agree with Qiu Haitang on this, he really looks like a monster. A robe covered in bloody patches, his hair completely undone, eyes wide open bouncing inside his skull the only fraction of his face that hasn't been turned gray and black with ashes.
On his right hand, a sword with its' blade turned red.
"Ah, what is happening," he recites from memory, not really putting any effort into giving it the proper emotion, "A-Jiu, is that you, it can't be, it can't be, what is the meaning of this, what have you done,"
The figure turns towards him, and begins to approach. This is the point where he's supposed to lie down and pretend to sleep, but he doesn't feel like it.
He's always wondered: what would he have said, if Qiu Haitang hadn't passed out?
Shen Jiu comes to a stop, only a couple of steps apart from him, sword starting to shake with the force he's putting into holding it.
"Pathetic imitation," the other him mutters, "pathetic imitation, badly done, why is she still awake?"
Shen Jiu blinks, "...what are you—"
"Wrong. Wrong! This is all wrong. Why are you still awake?! Don't look at me like that!" the reflection yells, slashing the air around him with the sword, the hand that isn't holding it tugging from his own hair, "You are nothing more than a badly done illusion! What would you know?! Go away, go away! None of this is real!"
Ah… this is
The sword falls to the floor as the other person throws themselves at Shen Jiu. Both of them end on the floor, faces very close from each other, bloody hands gripping his shoulders, pinning Shen Jiu to the ground.
The can feel warm tears landing on his face.
"This isn't how it happened! You're wrong! My family— My family was good! Kind! Dad! A-Luo! I didn't do this, this isn't how it happened! I love them, I didn't do this! I would never do this! They would never do this! They love me! He betrayed us! None of this is true! This is all nothing but a stupid farce!"
Shen Jiu feels his stomach drop. Those words, those words that can only belong to someone—
Well, of course, if he's wearing this skin then isn't an obvious question to ask where was the other person? All this time, where was the other person?
He's been trying very hard not to think of this obvious question. He's been trying to ignore this obvious answer. Because…
Because if he's right
That's way too cruel.
"A-Tang? Is that you?"