Elle Woods walked into the Avengers tower like she owned the place, dressed head to toe in Chanel. Kitten heels - pink - clicked officiously as she trotted across the marble floor, headed for the elevator. A large handbag was nestled in the crook of her arm, also a vibrant pink. She waited, tapping her foot impatiently, for the doors to open.
Above her, leaning over the glass balcony and gazing down into the foyer, Bucky Barnes turned to Steve Rogers with a wild-eyed look on his face.
“Where the hell did you find that?”
“I didn’t, Pepper did.” Steve responded, tilting his head as he watched the girl enter the elevator. As she turned on one delicate heel, she flipped a mane of long blonde hair. Steve winced slightly but turned back to his friend with a positive look plastered on his face anyway. “She comes highly recommended.”
“By who? Tatler?” Bucky said, rolling his eyes.
“Pepper met her in the nail salon, I think.” Steve offered, as they turned and walked towards the open boardroom. The other Avengers, save Tony, were gathered around the large mahogany table. The man himself was at the drinks cabinet, pouring himself a large scotch.
Bucky turned to the redhead, who had quietly entered behind them, with an agonised look. “I know Stark hates me, but come on.”
“She attended my Alma Mater, and Harvard Law School, Bucky.” Pepper said gently, laying a hand on his arm. “She’s just come off the Brooke Wyndham case.”
Bucky looked blank.
“Brooke Wyndham?” Wilson whirled in his chair to face Pepper. Barnes reeled back slightly at the sudden interest. “Brooke Wyndham, as in the fitness guru?”
“She is magic personified.” Sam said definitively. “Nothing does the trick like her workouts. Believe me, when that girl says her regime will lose an inch off your waist, she means it. And then some.”
“I don’t want to lose an inch off my waist-”
“Shame.” Sam muttered under his breath. “‘Cause I’m just sayin’, boy got thick in the last two years.” Bucky shot him an aggrieved look before continuing.
“-I wanna not be behind bars for the rest of my life.”
“Bucky,” Pepper said patiently, taking a seat at the table and folding herself neatly into it, hands clasped together on the tabletop. “Elle just got Brooke off a murder rap. No one thought it was possible, she had no alibi that she’d admit to in court.”
“‘Course the difference here being that Wyndham didn’t actually kill the guy.” Tony said under his breath as he joined Pepper at the table, sliding into the seat next to her and managing to take a long drag of his drink at the same time.
“Not helping.” Pepper kicked him under the table.
“Hi.” The girl said brightly, thrusting out one perfectly manicured hand towards him, the other tucked close to her side, looped around a bright pink handbag. Bucky cautiously took the offered hand, and reeled back a step or two when a tiny dog popped its head from the bag and barked at him.
“Bruiser, say hi to Mr. Barnes,” The blonde said cheerily, looking down at the bag and letting go of his hand to pet the top of the dog’s head quickly. “Mr. Barnes, this is Bruiser Woods-” She indicated the dog. “-and I’m Elle Woods. We’re both very pleased to meet you.”
“You take your dog with you to legal cases?” He said faintly, meeting her bright blue eyes.
“Of course.” She said, with a shake of her blonde head, apparently seeing nothing odd about the question, nor its answer. “Bruiser’s my best friend. He goes everywhere with me.” With that, she set the bag on the boardroom table, and set about rummaging within it, finally extracting a heart-shaped notepad and a fluffy pink pen.
“I love that hair colour, by the way.” Elle said conspiratorially to Natasha, sat at the opposite side of the table, who flicked her eyes towards Bucky in confusion. He shrugged by way of return. Her eyes slid back to the petite blonde, who was still talking. “It’s so important to find a colour that really pops. It suits you. Brings out that green in your eyes.”
“And that slight hint of murder.” Stark muttered behind Natasha, and redhead grinned to herself.
“So.” Elle said cheerfully, flipping open her notebook and looking up at Bucky expectantly. “I understand that you are the defendant in this case?”
“Mr. Barnes? Shall we begin?”
Elle, having taken a few general notes the day before, had returned to the tower for - as she called it - a study-buddy session - the following day. Bucky met her awkwardly in the foyer, and they endured a silent elevator ride to the right floor, interrupted only by Bruiser trying desperately to get out of Elle’s handbag and to Bucky.
Steve was waiting for them outside the boardroom.
“Wait-” Elle put a hand out and barred Steve’s entry. He looked down at the tiny blonde, whose head did not quite reach to his shoulders, even in her pretty pink heels, and then back at Bucky. Elle also cast a glance at Bucky over her shoulder. “If he comes in, if any of them come in, you’re waiving the the attorney-client privilege. Are you okay to do that?”
“Steve’s my best friend.” Bucky said, simply, and Steve shot him a slow smile that held nearly a century’s worth of friendship in it. “I need him.”
“Do half of these even count?” Steve asked, looking up at Elle. He waved a hand over the spread papers. “I mean, it’s an American law case, right? Half of these were, uh-” He glanced over to the dark haired man at the other end of the table, and winced slightly. Bucky waved a hand at him, indicating for him to continue. “-committed-” He looked guilty. “-internationally.”
“US Federal law states that the murder of a US national abroad is still a crime against which he can be charged.” Elle answered, scribbling a note to herself in the margin of the file she was looking at. “Though that only came into force in 1986, so there’s a couple of decades which could be written off due to that loophole.”
“However.” Elle continued, and Steve’s shoulders slumped again. “It doesn’t really matter how many charges they can bring against Mr. Barnes. One, or a hundred and one-” She shrugged, finally looking up at him from the file. “-It’s still a case against him.”
“How’s Paralegal Barbie working out for you?” Stark asked when Bucky stepped into the elevator. There was a moment of silence, and then-
“She puts hearts instead of dots over her I’s.” Bucky said shortly. Tony stared at him.
“Oh, you’re screwed.”
“Surely the simplest way is to have him declared mentally ill?” Natasha offered, deliberately not looking at Bucky as she said it. His grip tightened on either arm of the chair he was slumped in, but he made no move to challenge her. Three weeks in, and they were still digging through file after file. “Once it’s established, legally, that he’s not in possession of his own mind, then anything he may or may not have done becomes moot.”
Elle, sat neatly at the boardroom table, her legs crossed carefully at the ankle and her usual fluffy pink pen in one hand, paused from what she’d been writing to look up at Natasha. She adjusted her glasses on her nose, glanced at Bucky, and then spoke.
“That may be the simplest way.” The blonde conceded, with a bob of her head towards Natasha that sent her ponytail swinging from side to side. “But that’s not the way I do things, Ms. Romanoff.”
Natasha, for her part, looked a little taken aback as Elle pushed herself out of her chair and walked around the table. She still had the fluffy pink pen in her hand, and she perched on the edge of the mahogany table with her head tilted to one side.
“As I understand it, the point of this case is to ensure Mr. Barnes’ freedom.” Elle continued, eyes glancing over where Bucky was sitting, a little straighter now in his seat as he listened to her. “Declaring him mentally incapable may dissolve the case against him, however it would do him no favours in the future. We’re here to make sure that he is free to live the life to which he’s entitled.”
“You seem tense.” Elle noted, tilting her head to one side as she looked at him critically. “Oh, do you wanna come to my yoga class? It’s amazing, I swear. The instructor is this ex-monk from Tibet, and he’s totally zen. You’ll love it.” Her head bobbed eagerly.
Bucky stared at her. “I… I think I’m good, actually.” He finally managed, and the little blonde shrugged, and dug into her voluminous handbag, slung over her arm as usual.
“Okay, well, if you ever change your mind, here’s the card.” She handed it over to Bucky with a bright smile on her face, and, for want of anything better to do with it, he took it dumbly. “He also does a class on Friday mornings where you can bring your dog.” Elle added, one hand on the door handle as she turned to leave.
“I don’t have a dog.” Bucky said, looking up from the card in his hand.
“Oh, I know, but you could always take Bruiser if you wanted. He loves spending time with you. And yoga. He’s super flexible, I wish I had his suppleness.”
Elle disappeared, leaving Bucky caught between staring at the card and the door through which she’d gone, wondering when the hell this had become his life.
“You sure it wouldn’t be better to go with…” He broke off and looked at his feet. “With what Natalia suggested?” Bucky didn’t quite know why he was picking the end of the session to bring it up again, just as Elle was shrugging on her coat and preparing to leave.
“I don’t take the easy route, Mr. Barnes.” Elle said, looking up at him. “It’s just not my style.” With that, she turned on her heel and walked away. Steve stepped up to Bucky’s side and they both watched her as she disappeared across the foyer and through the revolving doors.
“Well, she certainly has style.” He remarked.
“You’re just saying that because she forwarded you the pictures from the Captain America Independence Day party she hosted last year.” Bucky said sourly. She’d insisted that she’d do it again the next year. She’d insisted that they were all invited.
“Hey, she makes a good USO girl.” Steve shrugged in response.
“I can’t go on the stand.” Bucky said quietly.
“Why not?” Elle asked, looking up at him with wide eyes from the other side of the table. They were alone, the hour late - the others had drifted off one by one, claiming other important things to do. Darcy, Foster’s intern, had stayed the longest. Of all of them - save Steve - Bucky thought her excuse was probably the most genuine. Foster had been known to cause explosions if left unsupervised too long.
Bucky growled, low in his throat, and Bruiser’s ears pricked at the sound.
“You know I actually did all this stuff, right?” He said in frustration, knocking the pile of paperwork with his hand as he growled out the words, then pushing back his shaggy dark hair and letting out a heavy sigh. Elle unfolded from the chair she had been slumped in as paperwork came cascading toward her.
“This, here-” Bucky snatched up the closest file, opened it and began to read out loud. “1968, September. The murder of one Professor Zhang Chin. Method of execution-” He stumbled a little, clenching his jaw and swallowing hard before he forced the words out. “-Garrot.”
He tossed the file back onto the table and grabbed up another one. “1966. Peter and Mila Hitzig, suspected Soviet double agents, working in Washington. They’d outgrown their usefulness to HYDRA. They’d threatened to sell the secrets to the US Government, so they had to go. They had a daughter. She was… Four years old.”
Bucky paused again, a tidal wave of nausea creeping up his chest and the paperwork trembling in his hands, and Elle took a step toward him. “She woke to the sound of gunshots.” The muscle in his jaw twitched again, and his ran his tongue along the inside of his teeth before he spoke again. “She…Fell asleep... To the sound of a gunshot.”
“And this one.” He said, voice a little hysterical as he threw down the Hitzig file and snatched up another, flipping it open violently and scanning the pages.
Elle’s hand closed upon his own and he jerked back at the feel of it. The little blonde was patiently gazing up at him, her bouncy ponytail swinging from side to side as she looked up. “We know that you did these things.” Her other hand gently took the file from him and cast it back onto the table with the others. “But you need to accept that having to do them in the first place was your punishment. You don’t deserve another one.”
“We should do something about your hair before the trial.” Elle said critically, looking over at Bucky when they broke for lunch. His fork paused halfway to his mouth, and he stared at her for a moment before his tongue ran along his bottom lip and he put the fork back down with a sigh.
“And why’s that?” He asked.
“Because people totally judge books by their covers.” She said simply, picking at her salad. “I know the world wants people to believe otherwise, but I’m afraid it’s just not true. Besides, you’re a war hero. If the jury see you with the haircut they remember from their grade school history books, they’re gonna remember that guy.”
“I guess.” Bucky answered, staring at what was left on his plate. He wasn’t entirely sure that he wanted to look into his bathroom mirror and remember the man he could have been.
“Plus, it’ll make you feel better.” Elle said firmly, nodding her head enthusiastically. “A day at the salon always cheers me up when I’m feeling down.”
“Hi!” Elle exclaimed as she pushed open the glass door to the salon, Bucky reluctantly following behind. A tall blonde woman waved enthusiastically from the front desk, knocking over several bottles of nail polish and a framed photo of what appeared to be a UPS guy. Elle turned back to Bucky, beaming.
“This is Paulette.” She said brightly, indicating the other woman, who clambered out from behind the desk and appeared at Elle’s side, towering over the petite girl. “She’s going to cut your hair.”
“She is?” Bucky asked with some concern, finding himself having to crane his head to look up at Paulette. The woman nodded, and hauled him over to the sinks, one arm hooked firmly into his as she settled him into the chair and pushed his head back. Bucky gripped his thighs and remembered to breathe.
“You have amazing bone structure. Very classic. Very James Dean.” Elle said, settling into the chair next to him with a magazine, her blonde hair twisted into little bright blue rollers. “Did you ever consider modelling?”
“Between the Depression, the war and then brainwashing, no, it never came up.” Bucky answered, staring at himself in the mirror. His dark hair was plastered to his head, and behind him Paulette hove into view, brandishing a spray bottle of conditioner and a large pair of scissors.
“Oh wait, one sec-” Elle slipped off the chair and dived into her handbag, dislodging Bruiser in the process. She rummaged and then re-emerged triumphant, holding a monochrome photo aloft.
“This, Paulette.” She said, holding the photo out reverently. “This is how you need to style him.”
Bucky craned his neck and squirmed in his seat, shifting under the bright turquoise gown they’d thrown over him. His hands clasped together under the robe, fidgeting as Paulette made noises of excitement over his head. Finally, she leaned over him and tucked the photo between the mirror and the gilt edging.
He stared at it.
It was a photo of himself, before the war. He’d not seen it splashed over the Smithsonian exhibit, so he assumed that Steve had given it to Elle. The Bucky Barnes that had been, the young man who’d assumed his entire life was ahead of him and ripe for the taking, grinned back with a mouthful of bright white teeth and a tilt to his chin that Bucky knew he’d probably lost forever.
“Hold still-” Paulette descended upon him the scissors.
Bucky looked up as Darcy came to a shuddering halt in front of him. He rubbed the back of his neck nervously, feeling exposed without a curtain of dark hair to hide behind. Elle bobbed at his side, looking excitedly between him and the other girl, whose eyes were wide.
“So, what do you think?” Elle prompted, switching to Darcy’s side and nudging her in the ribs with an elbow. The brunette closed her mouth with a snap and nodded fervently.
“Looking-” She started, letting her eyes rove over him. “Looking good, Buck. Very Hollywood Golden Age.” Elle nodded approvingly along with Darcy’s words and threw Bucky a look that very clearly said I-told-you-so. Bucky shifted from one foot to the other, and didn’t know what to say.
“I’ll, um, I’ll catch you later.” Darcy said, and skirted around the pair, disappearing in the direction of the lab. Unable to stop himself, Bucky turned without thinking and watched until he couldn’t see her anymore.
Elle popped an eyebrow when he turned back to her, and opened her mouth.
“Don’t start.” Bucky said, pushing past her and into the boardroom. “Build me a defence case that’s not based on haircare, then you can worry about anything else.”
“Oh, that’s a promise.” Elle replied, winking at him as she pulled a new case file from the top of the pile and clicked the end of her pen.
“Oh here, hold Bruiser, will you?”
“Why? So that the jury thinks I’m nice to animals?” Bucky grumbled, as the petite blonde thrust the dog into his arms. The chihuahua yipped and licked Bucky’s chin before settling into the crook of his arm, clad in a little knit sweater.
“No, silly, he just gets nervous in front of large crowds.” Elle said over her shoulder as she pushed open the huge wooden doors to the courtroom. Bucky felt his mouth go dry as what felt like the entire world turned to stare at him. He trailed after Elle, his head tucked into his chest and Bruiser’s tail hitting his chest as it wagged heartily. Elle’s heels clicked in front of him, her hips bouncing and curls swinging as she trotted ahead.
“You sit here, okay?” Elle pushed him, Bruiser still clutched to his chest, into a wooden seat at the front of the room, and Bucky wished yet again that she’d let him keep his long hair. He tucked his head into his chest, not meeting any of the curious eyes that swung his way. He jerked up only when a solid hand clasped his shoulder and, turning, found Steve and Darcy sat directly behind him.
Darcy gave him a shy smile, and he inadvertently squeezed Bruiser a little too tight, earning himself a yelp and a dark look tossed his way from Elle, who was setting out her paperwork next to him.
“Miss Woods,” The General settled into his seat with an indulgent smile, the likes of which one might bestow upon a child. He clasped his hands together easily and let them drop in his lap as he continued to speak. “Sergeant James Barnes was considered killed in action in 1945-”
“He was classified by the US Government at the time as ‘missing in action’.” Elle corrected, speaking over the man. “There’s a difference.” She turned to the jury, letting her gaze sweep across the twelve assembled men and women before continuing. “It’s quite a big difference, actually.”
There were one or two titters from the jury and the assembled court at her words, which died out abruptly as the judge shot Elle a warning look from the bench. Her gavel hovered above the sound block and she raised an eyebrow. Elle tipped her head towards the other woman in deference and then turned back to the witness stand.
“General Ross. The US Army was, at the time of Sergeant Barnes’ fall, aware of his incarceration in the HYDRA base at Azzano in 1944?”
“Well, of course, I mean - every grade school kid knows that-”
“Can you confirm in the affirmative, General?” Elle interrupted. “We don’t need a commentary on state school history syllabus at this stage of the proceedings.”
“Yes.” The man snapped, his throat flushing a deep red as a vein popped in his forehead. He shifted in his seat, uncomfortable this time, shooting Bucky a dark look across the courtroom. “Yes, that was known.”
“Great.” Elle smiled brightly. “And it was also known that he’d been subject to experimentation during that period of time?”
“I, well-” The General stuttered, gaze slipping from Bucky to Steve, sat just behind his friend in the first row of chairs allowed for the spectators. Steve’s eyes were narrowed as he met the man’s eyeline, unflinching. Undaunted, Elle continued.
“And Captain Rogers had reported back to his superiors the circumstances in which he found Sergeant Barnes?” She pressed, taking a step toward the stand. Twelve pairs of eyes in the jury box slid from the small blonde to the man sat in front of them, who pulled at his collar with his index finger to loosen it a little.
“There might, I suppose, have been a file…” He mumbled, reluctant, into his chest.
“Yes, there was a file.” Elle confirmed, smiling at him before twisting on one heel back to the defendant’s table where Bucky was sat, staring up at her. She gave him a wink as she grabbed a file from the desk. “This file, in fact.”
The courtroom rumbled once more with whispers.
“You… You can’t have that.” Ross stuttered, leaning forward and pointing with a shaking finger towards the file that Elle now had open. “That’s classified information.”
“Actually, it’s not.” Elle responded with wrinkle of her nose. “Further to Executive Order 13526, issued by the President in December 2009, all executive agencies must declassify documents after 25 years, unless they happen to fall under one of the noted exemptions.” She waved the file. “This doesn’t. It also forms part of Captain Rogers’ military personnel record.”
“Now that is restricted, he’s in active service.” Ross objected, throwing his hands up.
“You’ll find that’s incorrect, on two counts.” Elle answered. She smiled prettily at him, turning back to the defendant’s bench and taking a sip of water, before resuming her speech. “Captain Rogers is currently in active duty but not - as I believe you’re fully aware - in the service of the US military, so it no longer applies to him. Additionally, all service personnel files become archival records after a period of 62 years.”
Ross’ jaw dropped open and he looked from the little blonde lawyer in front of him to the judge and back again. Elle flipped a page or two in the file, running her finger across the yellowing, dog-eared paper until she found the paragraph she needed.
“Captain Rogers stated-” She read aloud, voice high and clear. “-That Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, of the 107th Infantry Division, was found by himself strapped to a gurney in an operating room in the HYDRA base of Azzano.” Elle paused, and looked up from the file, tapping her index finger against it. “Wouldn’t you say, General, that sounds very much as though the US Army was well aware that Sergeant Barnes had been experimented on by HYDRA?”
“1944 was a long time ago, sweetheart,” The General growled, gripping the railing in front of him with both hands, so tightly that the skin stretched across his knuckles and turned white. “And I think we can all agree that it was somewhat of highly-pressured situation. Rogers could be forgiven for… Misremembering the situation. Barnes was, after all, his childhood friend. I’ve no doubt that would be a highly distressing circumstance.”
He nodded towards Steve with a slight smile curling around his lip, and Steve stared back at him blankly.
“A man might be forgiven for a lapse in memory, given the circumstances.” Elle agreed. “However, Captain Rogers is no ordinary man. The treatment afforded him under Project Rebirth resulted not only in a change to his physical stature, but also rendered him with an eidetic memory.”
“Is that in that file of yours?” Ross said, half under his breath, but a lifetime in the military had taught him to project his voice, whether he intended it or not.
“No.” Elle responded, flipping through the file again and deliberately not looking at him. “It’s on a wall in the Smithsonian.” There was a sharp intake of breath from the jury, and twelve heads whipped towards Ross who inclined his head and grit his teeth. Elle looked up once more, snapping the file shut and holding it to her chest with arms folded across it.
“So why is it, General, that the US Army never went looking for Sergeant Barnes? I think you’ll find that the Department of Defense has the moral obligation to protect its personnel.”
“He fell off a goddamned train, for Christ’s sakes-”
“He did.” Elle agreed. “And yet, he was never officially classified as deceased. Why do you suppose that is, General?”
“What exactly is your point, Miss Woods?” Ross snapped, leaning forward with both his hands on the railing around the witness stand.
“My point, General Ross, is that the US government knew full well what happened to Sergeant Barnes in Azzano, and the reason that he is still to this day classified as missing in action - despite as you rightly pointed out, falling off a train - is because the US army and the government knew exactly what happened to him, that he was likely to survive that fall because of it, and furthermore that they deliberately chose to let the Russians take him.”
A collective gasp rolled around the courtroom, beginning with the jury, making its way across the spectators benches and ending with the judge.
“You’ll have a hard time proving that, Miss Woods.” Ross ground out, releasing the railings with reluctance and forcing himself back into his chair. “That’s conjecture. You won’t find that in Steve Rogers’ military record.” He snorted.
“That’s very true.” Elle agreed, stepping back once more to the defendant’s table and exchanging the file in her hand for a different one. Ross’ face dropped slightly, and his shoulders set back against the hardwood chair. The blonde glanced at the file in her hand and then back up at the witness stand.
“This one, on the other hand, well.” She paused, and looked Ross right in the eye. “This one has all the dirty little secrets.”
“And just where did you find that, Miss Woods? The Bureau of Convenient Paperwork?” Ross scoffed, a trace of laughter on his voice as he looked to the jury members for a sympathetic glance. He received none.
“Oh no, General.” Elle shook her head. “I found it on the internet.”
“The internet.” Ross sneered. He looked up at the judge and gestured towards Elle. “Are you listening to this? I suppose it’s where she found her law degree, too.”
There was a loud scraping noise of wood against parquet as Bucky forced his chair back violently and half-stood up, fists clenched. Elle twisted on her heel to face him, shaking her head, and Steve leapt forward out of his own chair to push the dark-haired man back into his seat. Bucky went, reluctantly, and Ross smiled to have gotten a rise out of him.
“I am listening, General Ross.” The judge said sharply. “I am listening very carefully indeed. Go on, Miss Woods.”
“I’m sure I don’t need to remind anybody, least of all the Secretary of State-” Elle indicated towards Ross with one perfectly manicured hand. “-that two years ago a huge amount of intelligence and previously buried historical information was released to the public-”
“During the unlawful destruction of government property by persons in this very courtroom-” Ross interjected angrily, slapping a hand against the railing in front of him in frustration.
“-During which time the world learned of the corruption of a government agency entrusted with the protection of American citizens.” Elle continued smoothly, as though the man hadn’t spoken. There was some muttering around the courtroom. “This is a file released at that time.”
She opened the file and proffered it to him with a smile. Ross took it, hesitantly, then looked down at the paperwork inside it. He huffed out an exhale of surprise, and began to smile to himself. He looked back up at Elle, who gazed innocently back at him.
“This is in Russian.” He stated, tapping the file.
“Yes, it is.” Elle agreed, nodding. .
“So you speak Russian as well as practice law?” Ross laughed.
“Oh no, I don’t speak any other language.” Elle flipped her hair back over her shoulder and shook her head. “Unless you count Pig Latin. The girls at Delta Nu used that to pass on makeup tips. Very handy.”
Ross exchanged a look with the judge.
“So you can’t read this?” He said, rolling his eyes and picking up the file.
“No.” Elle answered. “But she can.” With that, she turned and pointed to Natasha, who stood up from the second row of spectator seating, having been obscured by Steve’s broad frame. “Your honour, I would like to call Natasha Romanoff to the stand.”
“So we’re taking the word of a woman who knowingly released secure files to the public? A woman who was previously in the employ of the KGB?” Ross protested, as he was helped down from the witness stand by a police officer. Natasha, clad in a close-fitting black suit, strode past him with a smile curling around her lips as she moved.
“General Ross.” Elle said loudly, with an injured tone, putting a hand on her chest as she spoke. The judge shot her a look, accompanied by a raised eyebrow, but said nothing. “Perjury is a felony under federal law.”
“Ms. Romanoff.” Elle addressed Natasha, who had finished swearing her oath with one hand on the Bible, and turned to the petite blonde with an attentive expression. “You are Russian by birth, is that correct?”
“It is.” Natasha answered smoothly.
“And you are fluent in the Russian language?” Elle continued.
“I certainly am, Miss Woods.”
“Could you please be so kind as to read from the file you’ll find in front of you?” Elle said, stepping forward and indicating the file that Ross had left in the witness box. Natasha nodded, smiling, and opened the file. Taking a breath, she began to read.
“In English, if you could, Ms. Romanoff.” Elle corrected, with a small smile of her own. “For the benefit of the jury.” She turned on her heel to face the rest of the court. “And General Ross, of course.” The man in question glowered from his seat, but could say nothing.
“There exists an understanding between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the United States of America.” Natasha began, voice sombre as she spoke. “That, should one of the-” Her green eyes widened and she looked up at Elle, who nodded minutely for her to continue. Natasha inhaled sharply and carried on. “That should one of the enhanced soldiers currently attached to the military unit operating in the European Theatre and known as the ‘Howling Commandos’ be…” She paused again, swallowing. “Be freed of active duty, it would be possible for the ownership of said enhanced soldier to be transferred.”
She finished, staring down at the paper in front of her before shutting the file and looking up, not at Elle but past her to where Bucky sat, Steve behind him. The courtroom remained quiet, stunned into silence.
“Ownership?” Steve choked out, half-standing.
“Captain Rogers, please.” The judge said sharply. “Sit down.”
“That proves nothing.” Ross said loudly, from the bench. “Absolutely nothing. In any case, why would the US government give up an enhanced soldier? An asset.” He raised his hands. “Can you answer that, Miss Woods?”
“Interesting turn of phrase, General.” Elle said as she turned back to Natasha, and gestured for her to open the file again. The redhead scanned the page in front of her, and then looked up quickly to the petite blonde. Elle nodded. Natasha began to read again.
“Should this plan of action come to fruition, the enhanced soldier - hereafter known as ‘the asset’-” Ross closed his eyes as every other pair in the room swung to look at him. “-Will be used in the event of such necessary covert operations as deemed fit.”
Elle turned to the jury, who wrenched their gaze from Ross, whose head had dropped to his hands. “Another interesting turn of phrase, I think, is the term ‘Winter Soldier’.” She said, pacing calmly from one end of the courtroom to the other as she spoke. “After all, in 1971 the US launched an investigation into war crimes committed during the Vietnam War by the US military. An investigation named ‘Winter Soldier’. How odd that the Russian should choose to name their-” She paused, and her eyes flickered to Ross before she continued. “-Their asset, the same thing.”
The court erupted as she finished speaking, and it took several rounds of the judge banging her gavel heartily against the sound block before any sense of order was restored.
“I’m adjourning this session for today.” The judge said, commanding silence from the court. “The jury will reconvene tomorrow, and provide their verdict.”
“Wait, you got him acquitted, and seventy years worth of back-pay?” Elle nodded as Wilson stared at her, his eyes flickering to Bucky as he spoke. The dark-haired man shrugged and raised his newly opened beer as a response.
Wilson took it and drained it, pausing only to tell Bucky that he could easily afford to buy another case of beers if he wanted to do so.
“Bucky, this is my boyfriend, Emmett.” Elle tugged at his elbow, and Bucky turned to face a friendly man, who extended a hand towards him. Bucky dutifully shook it as Elle disappeared to find another drink.
“She sure is something.” Bucky noted, glancing after her. “I’m not sure exactly what that something is, but she is definitely it.” The man at his side laughed.
“Elle’s gonna be President one day. Just you wait and see.”
“You know, I don’t doubt it.”
Elle’s voice cut through his thoughts, and he turned from the balcony to face her. He’d escaped out from the party, wanting to find some solace and collect his jumbled thoughts. Beer in hand, he nodded at her to join him.
The blonde smiled as she stepped out onto the terrace, joining him in hanging over the balcony and staring up at the stars scattered across the night sky above them. He could feel her practically vibrating next to him, and, shaking his head, put her out of her misery.
“What did you want, Elle?”
“I was just wondering when you were going to leave this party of one, and ask Darcy to dance.” Bucky had the feeling that, on anyone else, it would have been a question. From Elle, it was a statement, heading towards an order. He shook his head, laughing a little as he tipped his head back to finish the last of his beer, and caught sight of the girl in question.
Darcy was hovering just at the balcony door, looking equal parts beautiful and awkward. He got the distinct feeling that Elle had insisted she follow. The brunette gave him a self-conscious shrug, tipping her head toward the blonde.
“Miss Woods.” Bucky said, eyes sliding from the pretty brunette in the doorway to the beaming girl in front of him. “Are you trying to set me up?”
“Now why would I do that?” She asked, blue eyes wide but brimming with an excitement she was unable to keep hidden.
“You know, the last time a feisty blond said that to me, I fell off a train.”