All disclaimers still apply. And yes, in the final scene, Piotr quotes Babylon 5 and Kitty quotes Dune.
Shadow and Steel
The Chicago Way
Don't Carry It All
"Here we come to a turning of the season,
Witness to the arc towards the sun,
The neighbors blessed burden, within reason
Becomes a burden borne of all in one,
But nobody, nobody knows.
Let the yoke fall from our shoulders,
Don't carry it all, don't carry it all.
We are all our hands in holders
Beneath this bold and brilliant sun
And this I swear to all."
"Don't Carry it All"
"We need a hook-and-ladder truck and some cherry-pickers at Navy Pier! NOW!" Wyzcenko barked into his cellular. Other officers hauled off the unconscious body of the Rhino, as still others started shooing off onlookers away from the Ferris wheel as it swayed slowly. Near the food court building, a first response team had set up makeshift tents and prepared gurneys and medical devices to tend to causalities once rescue operations could begin. Shadowcat and Colossus stared upward at the wheel as it listed toward them, its steel framework groaning in protest. An iron knot of dread fell sickeningly down Kitty's stomach.
After a moment's thought, Colossus turned to Wyzcenko. "If we can shore up that support pylon where Rhino threw me, would that stop the wheel from falling?"
"Maybe not stop it," Wyzcenko answered rapidly, "but it could buy us a few minutes for rescue vehicles to arrive!"
"That's all I need to know!" Without another word, Colossus and Shadowcat rushed toward the damaged pylon and examined it briefly.
The Navy Pier Ferris wheel is supported by eight separate support pylons, four on each side of the wheel, arranged in groups of two, meeting directly at the hub of the wheel, forming four inverted 'V' shapes. With his last blow, the Rhino had managed to propel Piotr's armored form with enough force to severely damage the outer southwest pylon, but by a stroke of good fortune his body had landed low on the pylon, near the ground. The damaged spot stopped roughly six feet off the ground, well within reach. Wasting no time, Colossus steadied himself under the damaged pylon, placed his steel shoulders under the metal support structure and began to lift, his hands grabbing firmly into the metal right above his head. The wheel's metal superstructure slowed its tilting, ultimately halting.
Kitty winced sympathetically as she regarded the twisting of Piotr's facial features as his muscles strained like bridge cables under the weight of the wheel. His position under the pylon somewhat reminded her of the statue of Atlas in front of New York's Rockefeller Center. "How long can you hold up the wheel, Piotr?"
"For as long—Ungh—as it needs to be held," Piotr grunted through clenched teeth, his voice halting but determined.
Kitty looked back toward the wheel. It was holding still for now, but for how long was anyone's guess. "Lemme see if I can shorten that time," Kitty replied. Before turning away, she mouthed the words, "I love you, Piotr." She turned toward the police officers, as Lockheed hovered overhead, following his human companion.
"Wyzcenko!" Shadowcat cried out as she approached the detective. "How long before the emergency vehicles arrive?"
"Traffic's being cleared around North Lake Shore Drive and East Grand Avenue," Wyzcenko answered. "But even with that, it'll take at least ten minutes for a hook-and-ladder. The Pier has some cherry-pickers available; they're pulling them out of storage to help shore up the wheel. But we need to start evacuating the passengers from the wheel as soon as possible."
"How many passengers are trapped there?"
"According to the wheel operators, twenty-nine passengers were on the wheel when Rhino started his rampage. But there's nothing we can do until the hook-and-ladder or the cherry-pickers arrive!"
Lockheed lit gently on Shadowcat's shoulder, harrumphing as he folded his wings. "He doesn't know you very well, does he, Kitty?"
Wyzcenko stared in wide-eyed shock at the bat-winged creature on Kitty's shoulder. "Your, uh, dragon?"
Wyzcenko nodded. "Just making an observation." Given that within the last thirty minutes he had seen a man of metal wrestle with a behemoth and a woman pass effortlessly through handcuffs, he figured this wouldn't be the time to start getting skeptical.
"I'm going to head up there," Kitty declared, "and start bringing down the passengers."
"Without a ladder?" Wyzcenko asked suddenly.
"No need," she answered. "My mutant power lets me walk on air, and I can bring two or three down with me each trip." She stared intently at the police detective, her wide eyes imploring him silently. "Trust me, Daniel," she assured her friend. "I can do this."
Daniel Wyzcenko nodded once. "Go, Kitty. Godspeed."
Kitty flashed a slight smile at the officer, before turning around and beginning her climb. As she began to elevate herself, she resembled from Wyzcenko's perspective a woman running up a long flight of stairs. "Dragon," she called out to Lockheed, "I need you to reconnoiter."
"What can I do, Kitty?" he asked dutifully.
"I'm going to start toward the top of the wheel," she announced. "I need you to fly around the wheel and see which gondola cars have passengers in them. Each time I head back up, I want you to hover around an occupied car, so I'll know who to rescue next."
"I'm on it," Lockheed nodded, flying ahead of his mistress. As he approached the top-most gondola car, he examined it briefly, before flying on to the next one, in a clockwise pattern. He stopped suddenly and hovered over the car, his wings flapping furiously. Kitty puffed a sigh of relief as she headed up to the gondola Lockheed was flying over. "The top car's empty," Lockheed announced tersely as Kitty approached him, "but there's a mother and two children in this one."
"Good job, Lock," Kitty replied. She examined the red boxlike gondola car briefly before entering. Phasing herself through the protective rails. "Hey guys," she announced. "Is everyone okay here? Any injuries or nasty scrapes?"
The mother looked to be in her mid-thirties, a somewhat heavyset but still attractive African-American woman. Her two children, around five and seven, huddled around their mother's legs, scared by their ordeal. The mother glared hard at Kitty's masked face and black leather top and pants. "How'd you get up here?" she demanded. "Who are you?"
"My name's Shadowcat," Kitty announced. "I'm here to rescue you."
"Are you a superhero?" the older child asked. "Cool!"
The mother placed her hand on the child's shoulder to quiet him. "How can you get us down from here? I don't see any ladders around."
Kitty smirked at the woman's observation. "Like the kid said, I'm a superhero. I'll get you down. What I need you to do is hold my hand," she offered her left hand to the mother and turned to the seven-year-old, "And you, what's your name?"
"Okay, Kevin, I want you to hold my other hand, and can you hold your little sister," she indicated the five-year-old, "with your other hand?" Kevin silently did as instructed, and the sister took her mother's free hand in hers, as the four people formed a ring. "Okay guys, this could get a little weird so you might want to close your eyes." The mother and Kevin opted to close their eyes, but the little girl shook her head, her eyes wide open. Kitty gave what she hoped would be a reassuring smile to the child. "Okay, we're going down now. No matter what happens, don't let go of each other's hands until I say so, okay?"
Concentrating, Kitty altered the molecular cohesion of herself and the three bodies in contact with her, so they slipped gently through the gondola floor, and descended at a moderate speed to the ground. She maintained her phasing power against the air around them to slow their descent, so from the perspective of the other three it felt like they were going down in an elevator car.
The younger daughter glanced around her, eyes wide with wonder as she looked at her feet. "Wow," she whispered. "We're floating!" As she said the words, Kevin dared to open his eyes and look around him.
"Something like that, kid," Kitty assured her. "Just hang on."
"My name's Sally," the girl announced happily. "What's your name?"
"Like I said, Shadowcat."
"She's not gonna tell you her real name, dummy," Kevin snapped at his sister. "It's a secret, like in 'The Incredibles'."
"Don't be calling your sister names, Kevin," the mother intoned, silencing Kevin.
Within a few seconds, Kitty brought the family safely to the ground beneath the wheel. "Okay guys, main floor, everybody off," she chimed as their feet lighted on the ground. Wyzcenko!" she called out, and the detective approached her. "Officer Wyzcenko will show you guys where to go from here."
"Thank you," the relieved mother nodded as she let go of Kitty's hand. Kevin and Sally also nodded their thanks to Shadowcat before Wyzcenko took them aside. As the police detective escorted the passengers to the makeshift first aid station, Kitty promptly rushed toward the wheel, ascending with each step as she sighted Lockheed darting back and forth over the next gondola car.
Colossus, for his part, remained stone-still as he supported the vast weight of the Ferris wheel with his steel frame. He could hear the metal struts of the pylon directly above him groan in protest, as weak spots in the metal began to crumple. Out of the corner of his eye he could see cherry-pickers and elevated platforms being deployed on either side of the wheel to provide support. He also saw Kitty elevating herself to the next gondola to rescue more passengers. She is counting on me, the thought ran through his mind like a mantra. I will not let her down. With renewed determination, he braced himself under the pylon, holding its weight on his shoulders.
As she alighted inside the carriage, she approached the two passengers; Caucasian, early-twenties by appearance, one male, the other female, presumably dating. "Hey guys, the name's Shadowcat, I'm here to rescue you," she announced. "Either of you two suffering from any broken bones or—"
"How the hell did you get up here?" the man, a lean, dark-haired figure blurted out.
"I phased," Kitty answered quickly. "It's a long complicated process, I'll explain it on the way down."
She reached for his arm but he swatted it aside. "Keep your hands off me, you stinkin' mutant!"
Kitty rolled her eyes, quietly drawing on meditational techniques Logan had taught her years ago to stifle the urge to throttle him. "Look, buddy," she announced, barely containing the edge in her voice, "right now my partner's down there holding up this wheel on his shoulders. He's pretty strong, but I don't know how long he can hold this wheel up. So the way I see it you can either stay here and die, or come with me and not die." After a brief pause, she added, "Y'know what, staying here and dying isn't even on the table; I'm not letting anyone die today, not even you!" She reached for his arm again.
"Back off, freak!" he snarled as he lurched away from her.
"I don't believe this!" his companion shouted in frustration. "God, Steve, if I knew you were such a jerk, I'd have never gone out with you! Right now I wouldn't care if she had three eyes and a horn growing out of her head, she's trying to save us!"
"Uh, thank you," Kitty muttered, "I think."
"Stay out of this, Josie!" Steve grunted back at her. "I ain't lettin' this mutant bitch touch me!"
"OH, SHUT UP!" Josie pulled her fist back and connected with Steve's jaw, sending him reeling. His head impacted with the railing and his body slumped back into the gondola seat with a graceless thud. Kitty rushed to his side and pressed her fingers against his neck for a second. "Pulse is still strong," she nodded. Turning to Josie, she added, "Y'know what? Thank you! It'll be easier to haul this punk down like this instead of having him thrashing about in panic."
"I just can't believe I fell for his line," Josie groused. "That's what I get for going out with a guy 'cause he looks like Edward Cullen!"
"Yeah, I'm more a 'Hunger Games' fan myself," Kitty quipped as she dragged Steve's arm over her shoulder. "At least Katniss can kick some butt, unlike Bella. Can you grab his other arm?"
"Here," Josie offered, lifting Steve's free arm over her shoulder. "So how do we get down?"
"Just hold on," Kitty announced, concentrating. Wordlessly, she phased herself and the two passengers through the gondola floor. Josie looked around in awe as she found herself hovering over the Navy Pier midway, through the wheel's superstructure. Steve, still unconscious, hung limply between them. Kitty smugly suspected that she was seeing the young man at his most appealing at this moment.
As the descent continued, the wheel lurched violently around them. Kitty's heart thudded in dread, fearing that the support struts had buckled or that Piotr's grip had given way. Glancing nervously around, she noticed a large cherry-picker to the left of the wheel, a large iron hoist hook snagged firmly around one of the wheel's struts. "ATTENTION, SHADOWCAT AND COLOSSUS!" An amplified voice boomed out from a megaphone below her. "THIS IS DETECTIVE WYZCENKO! CHERRY PICKERS HAVE BEEN DEPLOYED TO STABILIZE THE WHEEL, AND TWO HOOK-AND-LADDER TRUCKS ARE ON SITE TO HELP WITH EVACUATION! REPEAT, CHERRY PICKERS AND HOOK-AND-LADDER TRUCKS ARE ON SITE TO ASSIST, OVER!"
"Thank you, Daniel!" Kitty whispered to herself. "Okay, let's get you two down safely."
"Colossus," Josie muttered quietly. "Is he your partner? The one holding the wheel?"
"Yeah," Kitty nodded slightly. "You'll see him when we land. Y'cant miss him; seven foot five, solid steel, built like The Rock."
"Does he have a brother?" Josie grinned cat-like. Kitty chuckled slightly at her innuendo.
As they landed safely beside the wheel, Daniel and Piotr both rushed to meet them. "What happened to him?" Daniel asked, indicating the unconscious Steve.
"Uh," Kitty hesitated slightly, "he hit his head."
"I hit his head," Josie corrected her, a smug grin on her face. "He was panicking, I had to do something!"
"You okay, Big Guy?" Kitty turned her attention to Colossus, noticing he was no longer standing beneath the support structure.
"Once the cranes began to pull the wheel up," Piotr explained, lifting Steve in his arms, "I felt the weight lift off my shoulders. The cranes appear to be holding the wheel stable, so I offered to help the first-responders. I'd better take this one to the first aid tent."
"When he comes to," Josie barked toward Colossus, "tell him to lose my phone number!"
Kitty glanced at the young woman for a moment before announcing, "I like her! Okay, guys, you take them to first aid, I'll go help the hook-and-ladder teams!" Daniel and Piotr helped the latest rescuees to the first aid tent, while Kitty headed back toward the wheel.
Roughly half-an-hour later, the last passengers on the Ferris wheel were transported safely to the ground, either by ladder or by phasing. Kitty's last rescues, a middle-aged Hispanic couple, were being escorted to the first-aid tent as they stepped gently to the ground. Before leaving, the older woman embraced Kitty in gratitude. "Thank you, child," she declared in an awed gratitude. "You're an angel!"
"Not really," Kitty shook her head. "Just on the side of them. But you're definitely welcome." The older woman gave Kitty a teary-eyed smile before rejoining her husband at the first-aid tent. Kitty glanced back at Lockheed, who now lighted on her shoulder. "That's the last of them," the dragon announced in a trilling purr.
"Thank God," Kitty sighed with relief as she and Piotr approached Detective Wyzcenko. "Daniel," she called to the detective. "How are the passengers doing?"
"As well as can be expected," Wyzcenko answered. "The medics reported one concussion and three broken limbs. Bruises and scrapes for most everyone else, but nothing too serious." Pausing for a moment as he regarded the two mutants, he added, "If you two hadn't shown up, it would have been a great deal worse." Extending a hand, he concluded, "Thank you."
Kitty accepted the offered handshake, and then Piotr took his hand as well. "We're glad that we could help," Piotr declared.
"Yeah," Kitty added in agreement. "Just let me have my bike back and we'll call it square."
Wyzcenko gestured to a nearby sergeant. "You heard the lady, go get her bike!" The sergeant saluted and rushed off to locate Kitty's motorcycle.
A murmuring rumble could be heard from the onlookers behind the police barricades. A teen-aged girl in goth clothing began clapping her hands, then several people around her, then like a great wave spreading over the shoreline the onlookers applauded enthusiastically. Some people began chanting the names "Colossus! Shadowcat! Colossus! Shadowcat!" while others whistled and whooped and pumped their fists in the air, and still others held up cell-phone cameras to snap photos of the two heroes. Kitty could feel herself blushing, and noticed a bemused, slightly embarrassed expression on Piotr's steel face. Still the crowd continued their congratulatory cheering, as video cameras from the local news programs began hovering like hummingbirds around Kitty and Piotr, as well as the cheering throng surrounding them.
This footage would be the lead story on all the news broadcasts that evening and the main headline of every Chicago-area newspaper, as they heralded the arrival of Chicago's new heroes.
This was not how it was supposed to go down.
Tombstone snarled, baring his razor-honed teeth as he read the headline on the Chicago Sun-Times homepage: 'MUTANT HEROES END NAVY PIER HOSTAGE CRISIS'. The article went on to mention that Alexei "Rhino" Popov was now in a maximum security holding facility awaiting a bail hearing.
Stifling his rage and shutting off his computer screen, Tombstone leaned back in his office chair, steepling his fingers in front of his chin in thought. He knew that he could rely on Rhino's silence, and after a few days cooling his heels in jail, he would be more than happy to return to Tombstone's good graces.
After all, the crime boss mused darkly, he didn't fail me, not really. Sure, he lost his first round with Colossus and Shadowcat, but at least he brought them out into the open. Now I know who I'm dealing with. Know yourself and know your enemy, like Sun Tsu wrote.
He turned his thoughts away from these upstart heroes and concentrated on more important things. He had a business to run, an empire to establish. He would bide his time regarding this new threat, stay off their radar for the time being, determine if they were worth dealing with.
And if they ever do become a problem, he concluded as he picked up a black leather-bound address book, a shark's smile playing at his lips, I'll be the one carving their tombstone.
"—After defeating the Rhino, Colossus and Shadowcat assisted police and first responders with rescue operations. Thanks to their joint efforts, all the hostages were rescued from the Ferris wheel safely and without severe injuries. Navy Pier officials announced later today that repairs for the Chicago landmark are already underway and they expect the Ferris wheel to be fully operational within three months. In other news…"
Kitty and Piotr sat at the same table at the Flame Pit that they shared with Stan Polaski the previous night. The widescreen flat-panel television over the bar was tuned to evening news, recounting the events of their earlier encounter with Rhino. The campus hang-out was fairly busy that evening, and from the snatches of conversations that they heard from various tables, the main topic of conversation was the Colossus wrestling the Rhino while Shadowcat helped rescue passengers on the Ferris wheel.
"I think we're a hit," Kitty whispered casually to Piotr as she nursed her Italian soda. She glanced at the widescreen and noticed images of Colossus lifting the support pylon on his steel shoulders. Several of the bar patrons had begun cheering enthusiastically at the footage. "Just like the good ol' days, huh?"
Piotr chuckled as he shook his head. "I don't know," he admitted, sipping his iced tea. "I honestly cannot remember the last time that I was in a fight like that. There was no moral ambiguity, no hopeless battle against overwhelming odds, we were the 'good guys' as Logan would say, and Rhino was the bad guy." He took a sip from his coffee and added, a sly smirk playing at his lips, "And he made such a satisfying thud when he hit the ground."
Kitty began laughing as she remembered the sight of Rhino dropping like a sack of potatoes. "Yeah, that definitely had entertainment value."
"And you, Katya," Piotr's tone shifted slightly toward gentle concern. "Are you well?" Kitty turned her attention to her drink, prompting Piotr to add, "I only ask because of what you told me today about Kosovo…"
"It's okay, Big Guy," Kitty lifted her head and gave Piotr a reassuring smile. "I'm okay. I guess once I got my head into 'mission mode' and concentrated on helping you take down Rhino, I just forgot to be scared. And then when I started rescuing the others…" Taking Piotr's hand in hers, she added, "I thought about you, holding up the wheel, and it clicked into place. You weren't gonna give up, so I couldn't give up either."
"I knew you were counting on me," Piotr nodded soberly. "After I rid myself of the Gem of Cyttorak, I promised myself that if I had the opportunity, I would never let you down again."
Kitty felt her pulse elevating at his words, felt her cheeks flush with familiar and welcome warmth. "Yeah," she concurred. "We make a good team."
"We always have," Piotr answered, staring intently at her features. Blue eyes locked onto hazel for the briefest of moments before he turned his head away. "I am so sorry for everything, Katya"
"Don't go there, Peter," Kitty gently scolded him. She knew that doleful look that crossed his eyes, that sense of fatalism in his voice. Must be a Russian thing, she pondered briefly. "We've both made more than our share of mistakes. All couples do."
Piotr gave a sardonic grunt. "How can you be so forgiving, after all the pain I've put you through over the years. I allowed myself to be possessed by a demon..."
"Names Ogun and Lilith ring a bell?" Kitty challenged him. "Been there, done that."
Piotr looked back at her, smirking slightly. So she wants to play, huh? "I fell for an alien healer," he volleyed.
"I fell for a James Bond wannabe," she returned.
"I betrayed the X-Men and stood up to be counted with Magneto."
"And then I went and betrayed you back to get you to stay. Not either of our finest hours, Pete."
"I took the Legacy cure, knowing it would kill me."
"I phased a million tons of metal through the Earth, knowing it was a one-way trip." Raising her hand before Piotr could list another crime for which he had unfairly convicted himself, she added, "And after all of that, all the fights, all the grief and rage and loss and joy and tears and laughs and all that, we're getting something that very few people in this world get; a second chance."
She inhaled deeply, fixing her eyes to his again. "While we were on our way to the dorm this morning, before we heard about Navy Pier, I kept thinking of a line from one of my favorite classic science-fiction books, 'Dune'. Early in the book, Princess Iluran said, 'A beginning is a very delicate time.' We're getting this new beginning between us, and I forgot how delicate that is. When I was putting the moves on you this morning, I guess I was jumping the gun. I was acting like we were picking up where we left off, and that was my mistake. You were right, Piotr. As much as I love you, I don't want to mess this up. Whatever happens, we won't rush it. We'll just let it happen. Okay?"
Piotr regarded Kitty for a second, before flashing an approving smile. "Deal," he agreed, offering her his hand to shake.
Kitty smirked slightly as she glanced as his hand. Instead she placed her hands gently but firmly on either side of his head, pulled him toward her and kissed him soundly on the lips. The kiss was not urgent, or a heated prelude to passion, but neither was it chaste or merely a friendly exchange. Through her kiss, Kitty communicated to anyone who happened to look in their direction; This man is mine, I am his and you are our witnesses to this truth. After a few seconds, she withdrew her face slightly, but her forehead was still touching his. "I said 'slow'," Kitty whispered with a faint purr in her voice, "not 'dead stop'."
Piotr chuckled at Kitty's assertiveness. One of the first traits he noticed about her, and one of the first things that made him fall in love with this amazing woman in the first place. "I have no problem with that," he chuckled throatily. The two giggled like children at play, not caring who was watching their behavior.
A sudden chiming of a utensil against a glass from a nearby table attracted their attention. A party of six sat in rapt attention as one woman stood up. Kitty glanced at the table, and was surprised to recognize Josie, one of the people she helped rescue, the one dating the jerk. Josie's back was toward Kitty's table, so Kitty was fairly confident that she did not recognize her. "Listen up, people," Josie announced as she raised her beer pint-glass. "Before we start the next round, I just want to propose a quick toast to the people who saved my life today, and the lives of everyone on that wheel. To Chicago's new heroes, Shadowcat and Colossus!" The others at Josie's table touched glass to glass, echoing her toast.
Piotr and Kitty glanced back at each other briefly. Piotr shrugged his shoulders, held up his tea glass, and quietly echoed, "To Shadowcat and Colossus. And to beginnings."
"To beginnings," Kitty agreed as she touched her glass to his.
A/N: No, not the end. Not for these two. Just the beginning. I have plans for Chicago's new heroes. If I may be allowed to tease you a little for the next two stories in my "Shadow and Steel" arc:
Chiaroscuro; Chiaroscuro refers to the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a painting or woodcut. A balance or contrast between dark and light. Something Piotr Rasputin will have to deal with again in his own life. Meanwhile, Tombstone makes his move and hires a familiar enemy to play a sinister game with Colossus and Shadowcat.
Renewed Shall Be Blade That Was Broken; When the Lady Roma appears before Piotr and Kitty, warning of a demonic invasion, that can only mean one thing. Kurt, Rachel, Brian, Meggan, Pete W., we're getting the band back together! Plus how Kurt came back (this is the real Kurt, not that jerk from the AOA) and the final fate of Magik.
Can't say for certain when I'll get these done, as I also want to revisit my long-dormant Spider-Man story "One Last Chance", but I do have plans for our favorite star-crossed mutants.
And as always, feedback is a wonderful thing!