What kind of man is Howard Stark? Brilliant. Young. Amazingly ambitious: he is born rich, becomes very rich by the time he is twenty-six and helps Erskine divert electricity from entire city blocks to power the creation of Captain America. He is multi-generation Rockefeller wealthy by the time the United States drops atomic bombs on Japan; in fact, Oppenheimer recruited him for Los Alamos, praising him in the press as one of the greatest engineering minds to ever be born into the human species, but Howard decides not to work with them.
Too much bureaucracy. Too much management. Too much oversight, too much sharing of credit and medals. He is young and amazingly ambitious: he goes with Phillips. Pretty, smart Agent Carter as the liaison doesn't hurt, either.
Twenty years later --
Twenty years later, Howard Stark is in a hotel bar in Geneva, smoking and having a drink. He is alone, arm leaned against the back of his chair and staring at the plasterwork at the top of the marble columns. A woman approaches him and asks, in English, with a pretty Swiss-French accent, whether he is Howard Stark. She saw him in the newspaper at the office, and he looks at her for a long, considering moment. She has brown hair, a face made up even prettier than her accent, clothes that sit nicely on her, but not too nicely. He taps his cigarette against the ashtray.
"You're all right," he says. "But I like the look of your friend up on the second floor, watching us from behind the palms even better."
Howard reaches into his pocket; the woman tenses, but relaxes, infinitesimally, when he pulls his wallet out of his back pocket and gets two notes for a hundred francs each. He puts one on the bar as a tip, and hands her the other one, smiling a little. She takes it, hesitating a little and stares down at it, then glances back up at Howard's face.
"Tell your friend to be in my room in half an hour. I'll be expecting him," he says.
What happens to Howard Stark in those twenty years? He becomes even more wealthy. He could buy men, towns, swathes of countryside in bulk. The R&D Division at Stark Industries overshadows Bell Labs, the Wilson Center, any government research division out in the open, and when he visits them, he still takes them all to school. Howard Stark is a household name, both for being on the front pages of sober business publications and on the society pages, and he has a secretary whose primary job is going through the worst of the gossip periodicals and clipping any particularly funny or outrageous stories about what he has done or who he has slept with.
What happens to Howard Stark in those twenty years? He gets bored. He finds that after flying planes to drop Captain America in a war zone, civilian life doesn't have enough excitement. Phillips dies in honorable old age and retirement. Peggy Carter retreats into the half-shadows of British intelligence service.
"Tell your friend to be in my room in half an hour. I'll be expecting him," he says and finishes his drink.
The woman watches him go, waits for him to walk all the way down the hall and disappear into the lobby before going up the stairs to the second floor.
When Howard walks into his room thirty minutes later, he finds a man crumpled on the floor. Blond hair, dyed. Decent suit. Five foot ten? Maybe eleven. Dark hair is showing at the roots of the dye job, and Howard looks at the body for a moment, touches the tip of his tongue to the top row of his teeth, then turns on his heel, closes the door behind him, locks it, and throws the deadbolt. He comes forward and rolls the man over, checks his pulse, checks the dilation of the eyes.
The man tries to lift his hand, but can't seem to muster the coordination to do so.
"Hello," Howard says.
The man makes a wheezing noise.
"Do you like the paralyzer? I wasn't sure it was going to work on one of -- you know, you guys, but I guess it does," Howard says, while running his hands down first the front, then the sides of the man, looking for weapons. He finds a pair of Makarovs, a length of garotte wire, two ampoules of what he assumes are sleeping gas, and a smaller gun tucked in the right shoe. Howard sets these aside on the bed, then bends back down to the floor.
The man makes a low noise, and Howard nods. "Wouldn't make sense. You wanted to get in close, didn't you? Send a message that if we can land a probe on the moon, you can kill one of our top scientists, anytime, anywhere, any method you want."
A moment passes by. It's mid-afternoon, and Howard Stark has the penthouse suite, so light pours in through the windows, and he sitting down on the floor in what he would call Indian-style. After a moment, Howard breathes out.
"Do you remember me, Bucky?"
Bucky makes a small noise of indeterminate meaning.
Twenty years is a long time.
Twenty years since 1943, and Anthony Edward Stark isn't born yet. He isn't even a gleam in Howard Stark's eye as he orders room service to deliver the champagne that he will use to propose to Maria Stark: after Tony Stark is born, Howard is undeniably terrible father to Tony. In every version of the story, he ignores Tony and talks to him primarily, almost solely, in the context of getting good publicity for the company. In some versions of the story, he beats Tony, sometimes very severely.
Howard Stark turns down Los Alamos not out of humanitarian concerns about using atomic energy on civilian populations, but because he doesn't want to share the credit with Oppenheimer and others. He wanted a project where he wouldn't be overshadowed.
He signs up with the SSR, in part, because they are willing to dangle Agent Carter in a red dress in front of him.
Twenty years is a long time to be bored.
"I'm guessing your handlers didn't know, either, about how many of my rifles you took into combat with you. As the Winter Soldier, the first news we had of you was, I think, back in '52, when you blew up the bus in Krakow outside the Dutch embassy, and the last time I heard, you were also responsible for that Paris job? An even better sniper than you used to be -- is the fall from the train why you don't remember me?"
Twenty years is a long time to be bored.
Twenty years is a long time to wait.
"I hear, from certain reports, that you've got a metal arm decades beyond anything we've got," Howard says, and he reaches into his pocket. This time, instead of his wallet and two hundred Swiss francs, he pulls out a small folding knife. An engineer's friend, and Howard unfolds it. With his other hand, he touches Bucky's right wrist, then his left. The pulse is only in the left, so he straddles Bucky's chest, turns Bucky's hand over, and brings the knife to the skin. He cuts upwards, not deeply, but smoothly.
The skin comes away in a long strip, showing metal underneath, and Howard is impressed both by the color of the skin, very lifelike, absorbing the warmth from the underlying arm and redistributing it to feel like normal, warm skin. It's thin. Flexible.
For the first time, Bucky seems distressed. Not precisely in pain, because there aren't any links or receptors between the false skin and the arm, but more -- afraid. The more skin Howard takes off, the more afraid Bucky seems to be, and Howard undoes the buttons at Bucky's wrist rolls the sleeves up. He brings the knife to the skin. There is no blood.
The sun barely moves across the floor of the hotel room.
Twenty years is a long time to be bored.
Twenty years is a long time to behave.
How sure are you that Howard Stark was a good man to begin with? He was a war hero, but what does that even mean, if those acts were done for ignoble reasons?
What signs do you have of his morals?
" -- kill you -- " the man gasps. The paralyzer is powerful, but has a limited duration, and he has enough control back to manage words and a grimace.
Howard pats him on the cheek. "No, you're not. After I met your friend down in the bar, I went to the lobby, where I had reception make the phone call that triggered the paralyzer by the phone over there -- I also left a message for a Miss Natasha. I don't think the woman I met in the bar was her, but she's another one of your top agents, isn't she? A few lines, innocuous, thanking her for her company, saying that I'm looking forward to seeing her again. Returning the earring that she dropped under the couch, which just happens to be engraved, on the back, with a few lines of code from our latest encryption engine."
He lets that sink in, and then says, just to clarify, just to make sure that Bucky knows, because sometimes the paralyzer muddles the mind.
"They'll know I was ready to play ball, and you killed me anyways."
Bucky sucks in enough breath to say a few more words, and it almost chokes him.
" -- 'm the Winter Soldier, who is Bu -- "
Howard stands. The voice now sounds like it's coming from very far away.
"I don't care who you think you are, but I'm going to go to the bathroom and take a shower. When I come out, I want to find you under the covers, with all of your clothes off. If you don't have the fine motor control yet, and you might not, here's the knife."
There is a moment of quiet and footsteps on thick carpet.
Then, after a minute or two, the shower starts; Howard is humming in the bathroom, a song from the War, and a few minutes after that, gasping with effort, Bucky manages to get to his knees, bow his head, and unbutton the rest of his shirt.
destronomics casually dropped the idea in chat one day, and then proceeded to suggest things that made me capslock. She also suggested a really, really smart edit to the section where, you know. Howard is kneeling by Bucky and frisking him that makes it much better. destronomics is the BEST.