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Only Smoke and Ashes

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Colleen's fingers itched to brush the ash out of Misty's braids. She wanted to sit Misty on the floor in front of her and pick through, and clean and oil them bright. If only she were allowed that touch, maybe she would would feel as though some small part of this would be okay again.

Instead she stepped back as Misty jerked off the rebreather and shook her head like a dog. Her brains whipped back and forth, momentarily obscuring her face until she pushed them back. Her hand came away ashy.

"How is it out there?" Colleen asked redundantly.

"Same as always."

"Did you find anyone?"

Misty didn't answer.

"I'll make tea."

"It's a waste of fuel," Misty told her, not for the first time.

"No it's not."

Misty just shrugged and focused on peeling out of her protective gear, while Colleen knelt by the stove. They were not in immediate danger of running out of propane cylinders, nor of water, thanks to Mole Man's caches across the city. Tea was another matter.

Colleen let the water rise to first boil, the bubbles like tiny seeds at the bottom of the old copper pan, before carefully tipping it into the pot. Even after kneeling by the pot, old battered English china, the results were more like hot water with the memory of tea, coloured the palest green discernible by leaves used too many times. A little of the tea water for each NYU coffee mug.

Misty barely looked at her when she took her cup, but at least she didn't refuse it.

They shared the first few sips together, silent, then Colleen asked, "How much longer do you think the ash will fall?"

"How should I know?"

Colleen shrugged, a slight movement of one shoulder.

Potter clicked against cement as Misty set her cup down unfinished. "Why couldn't I have gotten trapped in a fall out shelter with someone useful, like Tony Stark or Reed Richards?"

It was hard to not let the words sting, but Colleen didn't let them so much as ripple across her face. "I'm useful."

"You make tea," Misty said, but already there was a note of regret in her voice.

"I can behead three men with a single sword stroke; impale a house fly with a shuriken thrown at five hundred metres, while repelling down a skyscraper, and I also solve crime." Besides, she added, wiping her cup clean and reaching across for Misty's. "I like tea, and so do you."

Misty said nothing, but nudged her cup close enough to reach. She sighed as she sank down against the wall, watching Colleen drank the dregs, and wiped it as well. It had cooled too quickly. Everything was so cold here.

"I don't like not knowing what's going on either," Colleen said. She'd put all the tea things away, what there was of the ritual boxed up.

"I know." I'm sorry, hung in the air, perpetually unsaid. "Stark would probably use those propane tanks to build a robot."

"That sounds like it would help."

"Right until it blew us all to kingdom come." The smallest hint of a smile tugged at the corner of Misty's lips, and No one but you, also went without saying.