She is her. She is she.
History is repeating itself and Caitlin's first instinct is to panic – even after all of this time. The soft chatter from the television fills the space of the living room and distracts her from the strained silence that she wishes -- desperately -- that someone would address. The Petrov home has always made her feel a little tense, its opulent interior is kept impeccably clean and she carries an unease about sitting on the wrong sofa cushion or leaving too many fingerprints on the porcelain tea cup in her grasp.
Ronan’s hand is warm at the small of her back, grounding her. He does that now without having to ask, and it comforts her as the silence starts to choke and her mind frantically ponders over the appropriate thing to say. Would it be too formal to address his parents in Russian? They have always been hospitable, but they are far away tonight, and she can see the traces of fear in the creases of his mother’s forehead and the severity of his father’s gaze. The reason curls up in her belly too, churning it. Lily, their little girl, is missing. Again.
Caitlin wasn't there the first time, but Ronan is old enough to remember and this time, at least they know where Lily is. Off with him. The Professional. The family's most trusted guardian. They tell her that Hector is not the one to be worried about, but the news of his dead security guard makes this all too real and she is reminded of Paris and how close they came to danger. The bad men. Her friend didn't like to talk about Russia and Caitlin never pressed her about it, but she understood that was why Lily was never allowed out of her parents' sight. Why sleepovers were always hosted at the Petrova's house and why plain clothed security would follow them to and from school every day.
Alexandra, Ronan's mother, is doing everything that she can to keep busy; perhaps then her son and his guest won’t notice her trembling hands. She has known Caitlin since the girls were small and considers her as one of her own now. If circumstances were different, she might have focused her attention on Ronan's happiness. Knowing that her son is finally making a home here in Boston is cause for celebration, but it is too hard to pull her attention away from the gnawing worry in her gut. Still, Alexandra manages a weak smile when she catches her son's eyes, pouring more tea.
Caitlin stares at the manicured nails, at the wedding ring that this middle-aged woman has worn for all the years that she has known her. It is different from the heirloom ring that Piotr found and gave to Kitty months ago, causing friction between their hosts. This one is yellow gold, gaudy and the diamond blinds as it catches the light and clocks her in the eye. It is so big, it could be used as a weapon. Knowing Lily's mother, it probably has.
Ronan's father finishes his tea, excuses himself and retreats to the study. He does not close the door and there is talk in their mother tongue, something about demons from their past and she feels uneasy as she hears Alexandra's tea-cup rattle against her wedding band. Lily and demons. The irony isn't lost on Kitty who reaches out for Piotr's hand and squeezes it. After all, she is a Rasputin too.
"Do we even know that we can trust him?" Caitlin asks, when she is alone with him in his childhood bedroom. Lily and his parents put their trust in that man, but she doesn't like it. And there's something about Hector that doesn't sit well with Kitty either, though she can't place why just yet. Her eyes move to Ronan's face, searching for some sign that he shares in this thought, that she isn't the only suspicious one.
"Kitten. We do not have a choice," he answers and reaches out to touch her face. Even in this world, part of her hates it when he is right.
He is him. He is he.
Fighting their true natures is like choosing suicide on an instalment plan. Illyana has been the lynchpin for so long. Now Lily too. As surreal as it all still seems, this is their truth, repeated over and over, in their own world and in this one. The same circus unfolding, bringing them together and tearing them apart. A long, dangerous road to love. Here, maybe, with parents and a guardian, their snowflake can be safe. Here, maybe, they have a chance.
There is one rule that exists between them now. A simple rule that they have agreed to in order to navigate this world together. No more secrets. No more pretences now that there is no distinction between where one self begins and the other self ends. If they are going to do this, then boundaries must be broken and past transgressions must be forgiven. It could still be a psychotic break, even after all of this time, even after all the things that they have seen and experienced together, but neither one is sitting alone with it anymore and something good has to be made of that. Or else.
Both sides have ammunition. Memories are surrendered up between the two halves and bartered like tokens of goodwill. Traumatic reminders of childhood pay for recollections of the Danger Room, of Excalibur, Tokyo and of Breakworld. This trust brings them all that much closer. Kitty isn’t so catty. Caitlin is kinder. Ronan is patient. Piotr is assertive. The process has been slow and it has been painful but it is still progress. And in the meantime, memory is enough to hold onto when her feelings get too intense; when it all becomes too overwhelming and the only thing left to do is scream or melt.
She is melting into his arms. He pulls her to him and they merge, face to face and safe together. He loses himself and she does not think once of abandonment. They soar and return, holding to one another tightly and Caitlin smiles, her eyes full of longing when she asks him the question that she has always wanted to hear.
"Marry me, Ro."
I am her. She is me.
We are one.