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The roads were icy, but nothing Howard Stark couldn’t handle. With one hand on the wheel and the other gripping tightly to his wife’s hand, he sped through the dense forest as fast as he was comfortable. Maria, her hair done up in loose chignon bun, squeezed tightly to her husband’s hand as he made it through another turn.

“Don’t you think you should slow down?” she asked, voice soft and non-demanding. She trusted her husband and the question was mere teasing more than concern.

“Science doesn’t slow down,” came the typical answer. “Come on, Maria, we finally did it. We replicated the serum!”

“So you’ve said.” Maria looked out her window with a smile. “No more super soldiers, I believe was the promise you made me.”

Howard lifted his wife’s hand, pressing a kiss to the back of it. “No more super soldiers, just leaps of advancement in our medical division.”

“No more weapons?”

“No more weapons,” Howard agreed. “At least, not after we get this up and running. Can’t put people out of a job while we wait.”

Maria turned to her husband, serious. “And Anthony?”

Howard grew quiet, letting himself think as he guided the car through a few more turns. “He already hates me, Maria. I don’t know how to change that.”

“Where is this iron Stark men are made out of?” She scoffed. “He’s your son , Howard, and he still loves you.”

Before Howard could answer, a tire blew out beneath him. He let go of Maria’s hand to grip tightly to the wheel, pressing gently on the brake to try and not crash. Another tire blew and he swore, losing control of the vehicle. He held a hand out to brace Maria, hoping to save her as the car rammed into a tree. The airbag hit his face; the headache that blossomed almost blinded him.

“Ma... Maria?”

His shaking hand was still on his wife’s rapidly rising and falling chest -- she was still alive. One tire going out and Howard could call that an accident, but two? No. He groaned at the sound of a motorcycle pulling up followed by the slow, steady crunch of boots in the snow. This wasn’t their savior, this was their death.

“Maria,” he tried again and their hand clasped together. “I’m... I’m sorry.”

The driver’s side door ripped open and Howard turned to look Death in the face. A black mask covered his assassin’s nose and mouth, but the blue eyes were clearly there. Howard sucked in a sharp breath at the absolute void of life in those eyes -- this was more than an assassin. This was a machine, sent to kill him.

He had only told Stane about the serum and there was nobody else who knew that Howard and Maria were not at home right now. In that moment, Howard didn’t care what happened to him or his wife; all he could think about was Tony. His son, who would be taken under Stane’s poisoned wing. Or would Stane simply kill him as well?

A whimper pulled from Howard’s throat as the assassin roughly dragged him from the car, but Howard barely noticed. He sent up a prayer instead, hoping that someone was listening at that moment. That someone would protect Tony, his innocent son. Maria screamed his name, but Howard ignored it. He let the assassin push him against the cold metal of the car and watched as an absolutely brilliant metal hand reached out to grip his hair roughly.

So this would be how he went. He could see the headlines now: Howard Stark kills himself and his wife in a drunken accident.

He hadn’t had a drop in three months, as promised.

The assassin pulled his head back and Howard closed his eyes, thinking only of his son and wife. Their smiles and carefree laughs as they would play in the freshly fallen snow at the manor. The way his son’s eyes would light up when he built something new. The way his wife would give him a coy look before leading him back to their bedroom. Howard let his mind replay the good times of his family as he waited for the blow.

It never came.

-----

There was a rumor about Soulmates. While most rumors proved to be false or inaccurate, nobody could quite seem to confirm or deny this particular one. Everybody had a Mate out there in the world, of course, and it was just a matter of finding them. There were no markings or pre-determined signs that would lead you to your person, but it was just a fact that they were out there and waiting.

Not every Soulmate lived in your immediate area, so most people found theirs while in college. As most people craved a good love story, colleges had a simple program where you would travel around a semester at a time anywhere in the world you wished to go. Most assumed you found your Mate this way because of fate, but whatever the reason, it worked for the majority of the population.

Others found their Soulmates on the playground as children, or even well into their adult years. A simple pull and a smile were all it took for someone to feel that special hook. Their minds then released a simple set of chemicals if both were compatible enough, and people were happy.

But the one thing people had a hard time confirming, the rumor that became a myth and a constant plot of romance movies, was what happened when someone was completely compatible. While rare, some did claim to be that highly compatible with their Mate. Those who were considered Perfect could never seem to harm anyone their Soulmate considered family, no matter how despicable their family was.

Even if they had yet to meet their Mate, the bond between them would never allow one to do harm to the other. They could feel their Soulmate through the familial bond. Even those who claimed to be Perfect refused to show this type of proof, claiming it to be something created by Hollywood.

Hydra never thought to combat against it.

-----

The paramedics hadn’t been able to get near the car until Howard managed to convince his would-be assassin that they needed to help them. So the man had let the team close, but he stood almost too close, eyes narrowed as he watched them carefully get Howard and Maria ready for transfer. Howard made an excuse for him and soon the ambulance was off, the assassin following behind on his motorcycle.

Once in the hospital and the doctors finished their checks, Howard motioned the shadow-like man closer to the bed. He stood stiffly but followed the request easily enough. While Marie slept quietly in the bed next to him, Howard sat up and eased himself to the edge of the bed.

“You were sent to kill us,” Howard accused. “I think I deserve to know who you are.”

The man stood silent for a long moment before he shook his head. “I am the Asset.”

“Who gave you that name?”

“Hydra.”

Howard arched an eyebrow. “Captain Rogers destroyed Hydra.”

“Not all.” The Asset sat in the uncomfortable hospital chair. “I am unable to complete my mission.”

“To kill me.” Howard looked back to his sleeping wife. “To kill us. Why?”

“Parameters unclear.”

Howard knew of the rumors, but he had never put much stock in them before. Still, he reached over for his wallet on a whim and opened it to take out the picture of Tony he carried with him. He held the image out to the Asset, watching him closely.

“Do you know him?”

Every part of the Asset tensed up, though he didn’t offer an answer. Confusion mixed with recognition was easily seen within the blue eyes and Howard let out a breath. He wasn’t sure if this was the right thing to do, but even he knew better than to keep Mates separated.

“His name is Tony,” Howard told him quietly. “But I won’t let you meet him unless I know your name. And that I know you deflected completely from Hydra.”

The Asset jerked his head up to stare at Howard before giving him a nod. Howard let him keep the picture, though it was more shocking to him who exactly was behind that mask. 

-----

It would be five more years before Howard let James (“Please, don’t call me Bucky”) Barnes meet his son. Five years where James told Howard everything he knew about Hydra. Five years until they had found and removed all of his trigger words. Five years where James did nothing but find himself again.

Five years in which Howard transitioned from weapons to medicinal advances, as promised. Half his board had been let go, Stane arrested, and business almost doubled. There was just one last thing to do.

Howard introduced them on Tony’s twenty-third birthday and he was proven correct in his assumptions. As soon as Bucky and Tony saw each other from across the room, it was as if nobody else existed in the world. They met in the middle of the room, both with ridiculous smiles on their faces, and hadn’t separated since.

From his chair, Howard reached his hand over and laced his fingers with Maria’s. “Everything is perfect,” he said, smiling at his son.

“Yes,” Maria agreed, “it is.”