She's twenty-six and adrenaline-pumped from a mission, taking the wrist bites off her arms and shedding the costume. She has a particular order to what she does. They all do this, she knows, they all have their little traditions.
Bruce sheds the Hulk physically, but he is also so in control as himself normally - he is careful in the words he uses and the foods he eats - that Bruce doesn't need to do anything. Steve hides behind his art and hopes no-one will notice. Clint tends to get louder, brasher, and more colorful. Tony, she'll admit, she knows the least. He takes off the armor, except he never really sheds it because he always has that reminder in his chest. Even then he seems to have so many different skins that she thinks one day he might well shed his real one and not notice. Thor doesn't need to shed anything because Thor is always Thor.
She dumps the remainder of the costume on her bedroom floor, breathes in, and let's it go.
She's twenty and her new SHIELD partner doesn't like her. All he does is quote Tin Man lines from the Wizard of Oz at her. She doesn't need to ask why because she knows what they all say about her.
She ignores him, and she breathes, and she let's it go.
She's twenty-five and shedding Natalie Rushman is as simple as wiping her make-up off in the mirror. The dark eye-liner that hides the laughter lines under her eyes and the foundation that hides the imperfections in her skin. The accent which is not the one she grew up with and the hair that is so much longer than hers.
It had always come as a surprise to her that other people can not shed their own identities so easily. She dumps the wig on the bedside table, breathes in, and lets it go.
She's twenty and out in the field, hunched over a copy of The Death of Ivan Ilyich while the mud and the rain soak the pages, and her, and everything. Clint is chattering away in her ear piece but she ignores him because there're too many languages going on and she needs to focus. The book is in Russian and she's not even sure what language she thinks in any more because she knows so many.
There's a scream, and then fire, and everything goes to hell. She dumps the book and runs, ignoring the heat and the smoke in her lungs, because Clint has gone quiet and she's got to find Clint.
She finds his bow because she steps on it, soaked in mud and blood, and she picks it out the dirt as best she can. She looks around and then there's a voice: "Looking for me?"
She hugs him and she dumps the bow on the ground out of reflex, breathes in, and lets it go.
She's twenty-one the first time she kills someone and it's the only thing she could have done. It was them or her cover, and her cover comes before everything. That's what SHIELD had taught her and that's what she believes. The cover comes before everything. What you think, and what you feel, don't matter.
She's covered in blood and they're watching her, waiting, testing. She smiles, because they expect her to smile, but it never reaches her eyes.
And she waits.
They smile back at her, and she breathes, and she let's it go.