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Unfeathering

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Hawkeye has made an art out of removing her clothes.

It requires rain to start. Hawkeye always carries an umbrella when the forecasts rise above forty percent, but the winds can be high in Central. Everyone comes into the offices soaked in event of inclemency. Fury stomps his boots on the stoop. Havoc sneezes. No one goes unstained by the storm when the rain goes sideways, defying natural laws through unnatural gusts.

The weather-thrum on the rooftops is a background symphony. It is the prelude, masterfully performed by cloud, brick and tile. Water seeps into the tiling of the bathrooms and the halls and makes wood swell, the air hang damp. Rainstorms are fierce in Central, a fact which has not gone unobserved in bitter spades by a certain Colonel.

Havoc is in the middle of shaking his head off like a dog, arms spread and shoulders hunched, when the door opens and everyone goes quiet.

Hawkeye's boots squeak wet against the floor.

Two steps in, and the woman is closing the room behind her. Stray drizzle has leapt into the strands of her hair. It decorates her face in humidity, rings her features in damp. She is not fully soaked through to the bone, but it's a near thing.

Hawkeye sets the useless umbrella to the side of the door, where it drips in silent apology.

The audience is hushed.

Brown eyes go half-closed as Hawkeye focuses on the ritual of undressing the outer layers of her uniform. Her wrists are bowed outwards. Knuckles stream together in the sleek lines of her tendons, fine-boned with the blue blush of her veins running close to the skin.

She follows the proscribed pattern of a temple dancer, and so begins at her neck.

Hawkeye's hands are suspended in the air on invisible strings when they lift. Conductor's pause. Inhale, exhale, lungs performing in lockstep to the synthesis of her body's muscles.

Fingers grasp the lapels of her military jacket first, sliding only the tips down along her collarbones, meeting like lovers at the junction of her throat. Knuckles interlace, knitting like feathers when a bird branch-lands to roost.

One button at a time, she moves. Traces the hard nubs of metal slotted through holes in a zig-zagging line down her chest, aiding the cunning illusion of a military uniform painted straight on a person with no care for the intricacies of gravity, or of sewing. The dogtags around her neck catch the light when she finishes undoing them all, and peels her jacket off.

Rather than pull one sleeve at a time, Hawkeye stretches her shoulders and shakes the top section of the coat away, back arched as if she were a statue of an ancient deity eternally poised in sabre-curve. The fabric of the coat whispers its farewell to her spine as it slides down, exposing her shirt by steady inches.

When she is finished, the jacket falling into an unstrung heap to her fingers where she catches it and deftly sets it aside on the coatrack, Liza removes the demiskirt of the jacket next.

Her arms are swan-turned, elegant. Hawkeye uses the first two fingers of each hand coupled with the thumb, so that the ring and littlest fingers remain arched and airy, free from actual work. Palms slip down her waist, one on either side as languorous as a bedtime affair in slow motion. They find the buckles that hitch her clothing on; in unison, Liza's knuckles unclick the straps concealed in the hollows of her hipbones, nestled there as smug as a knife or a gun.

They are warm from her proximity. They are heated by her skin.

The deconstruction of Hawkeye's uniform is the means of transmutation for a woman who cannot perform one. Her own form of alchemy remains potent. Flash of her nametag gone, her rank conjoined to her identity on the badge--all missing and leaving an individual simply named Liza if you meet her on the street.

A stranger with brown eyes. A woman with steady hands and calluses on her knuckles from her guns.

Base materials before the transmutation circle kicks in, and dresses her back in blue.

Before those assembled in the office, Hawkeye deconstructs herself. She creates a woman in white-shirt, navy pants rich against the gold of her drop-spattered hair. Water has dampened the line of her collar, but has been otherwise warded away by the fine protection of her military coat, which does its duty even as she follows her own daily.

Now it has been removed. The only rain-stains left remain on her legs, following the insides of her thighs down, running knee to shin. Darker patches of blue painted on by an indifferent god of ardor. That was the one place that her coat could not protect -- that and her face, her hair and her hands, which even now reach up to her scalp after running whisper-slight across her cheeks.

They slide deft as a musician on harp strings. The clip snaps free. Her hair tumbles down.

Liza stands before the office with the backdrop of the door. Her barrette, in one hand. The knuckles of the other still in her scalp, rolling the blonde strands across the back until she has finished spreading her hair out to dry.

When she finishes and looks up, the finale to the ballet of wing-finger motion, the officers realize they have all been staring and return to work.