Over time, the Winter Soldier remembers bits and pieces of his past, and asks Tony to start calling him James. And when Tony smiles at him with gentleness and pride in his eyes, James feels his heart skip a beat.
But he remembers killing this beautiful, brilliant man's parents, so he never speaks the words out loud. He feels the guilt gnawing at him as the genius inventor builds him a new arm, a better arm, an arm that doesn't hurt as much as his previous one did. An arm that is disguised with synthetic skin that makes him feel well, not normal per say, but at least less abnormal when he looks at himself in the mirror.
He likes the house Tony lets him live in. It's beautiful and bright and the smell of the Pacific Ocean tickles his nose pleasantly. The windows are bulletproof but at the same time comprise entire walls and let in so much light, James thinks he'd forgotten what sunlight really feels like when he wakes up to it for the first time. He thinks the only thing more beautiful than the sunset is Tony, whose eyes shine radiantly like sea glass when the rays of the sun hit them.
There is a large portrait of a girl on the wall behind the grand piano and Tony obviously loves her with the way he touches her pretty face when he thinks no-one is paying attention.
She's painted to look like an angel and her wings are made of stars. She has dark chin-length hair, tanned skin and large, intelligent brown eyes, and Tony loves her, even though she is nowhere to be found. James wonders who she is, where she is, but he does not think he has the right to ask Tony those questions.
So James keeps his feelings for Tony locked away, buried deep in his heart, and says nothing. Tony has done enough, no, is doing enough for him. He hardly has the right to ask for more than he's willing to give freely.
Over the next year, Tony drags out everything that HYDRA stuffed into his head. He takes away the effects of the trigger words and gives him back his freedom and his will to live. His memories are slow to return, if they do at all, and the most he gets are flashes of gunfire and death and a boy with golden hair and blue eyes with a hint of green in them. He knows who the boy is, looks him up on the internet, but his memories don't fit together, don't work together like trying to shove jigsaw pieces that don't match into eachother.
Not until Tony sneaks him in to see Peggy Carter, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, but is still cognizant enough to recognise James Buchanan Barnes. She apologises for having failed him, as a friend and as a superior officer, and James holds her hand and weeps. She calls Tony ducky and other such affectionate nicknames, and asks him to look out for James.
When Tony says that he would have done so even if she hadn't asked, James feel his guilt closing up his throat and can't bring himself to thank Tony or even look him in the eye.
Tony gives him an identity, as James Inverno. He creates an entire life lived in the United States, giving James a passport, a social security number, a college degree in linguistics (the best choice with how many languages he knows), a driver's licence, a bank account, even a goddamn library card. Tony hires him as his personal assistant (Happy is, has been and always will be his long suffering but dearest bodyguard and Head of Security at Stark Industries and one of his oldest friends).
Tony puts James in Salvatore Ferragamo and Zegna, in suits that cling to the shape of his body and the arcs of his muscles. He doesn't recognize himself when he looks in the mirror. Throw in an expensive haircut and he looks - and how his head aches when he says it out loud - like a million bucks.
James starts going to galas and fundraisers and hospital visits with Tony, and he's introduced as my new PA, the one Pepper tried to hire was a mole from some shadowy government organisation and was sent to spy on me. Pretty redhead, obvious honeypot, calls herself Natalie Rushman, though I highly doubt that's her real name.
James speaks more languages than him, although with French, Italian, Japanese, Russian and several Middle Eastern languages under his belt, Tony is nothing to sneeze at. But he doesn't know Mandarin or German, which James does, fluently, along with many others. He becomes Tony's interpreter at business meetings when Pepper is busy, and together, they're a deadly combination.
SHIELD only bothers them once after James surfaces and they are taught to keep their distance when the Black Widow breaks into his Malibu mansion and attacks James and Tony has one of his armours launch her into the Pacific ocean.
What? She can swim just fine, and if she can't, she really shouldn't be a SHIELD agent. Or any agent, he tells an irate yet slightly amused Phil Coulson, who is sent to smooth things over.
James can tell that Tony likes Coulson, admires him, even, for his dedication and faith in his cause, but Iron Man point blank refuses to become an Avenger, stating that he doesn't intend for there to be a need for the world to be avenged.
Tony points Fury in the direction of John Garrett, Jasper Sitwell, Brock Rumlow and Grant Ward, in the direction of Senator Stern, who wanted to get his slimy hands all over Tony's precious armour, and tells him to mind his own fucking business.
Time passes, and James is in awe as Tony builds a tower in New York that will run on clean energy. They return to Malibu a month before Tony's thirty-second birthday and he prepares his armours and Jarvis uplink for transportation to his workshop in Stark Tower.
While the bots and JARVIS are loading the armours onto the jet, Tony sits at the piano in front of the portrait of the girl James has never asked him about, and looks at her longingly.
He plays a melody and sings along in Italian and James translates in his head:
"Oh Star, little star
The night is at hand:
The flame teeters,
The cow is at the stable.
The cow and her calf,
The sheep and her lamb,
The hen and her chicks,
The mother and her babies,
Each one has a mother
and they all sleep."
And he looks at James with summer-sky-blue eyes - with eyes that look like blue flames, and James wants to fall to his knees before him and worship every part of his body, lay kisses to his collarbones and throat and feel Tony's legs wrapped around his waist when he takes him to bed. It's a frightening thought, a kind of thought that has made him throw up before now because he remembers some of the things HYDRA did to him.
But when he thinks about being with Tony, it feels... Pure. It feels like what he imagines flying would feel like. But he doesn't want to sully this extraordinary man with the red in his ledger.
Instead, he asks Tony who the girl in the portrait is. The genius inventor smiles and says, I was wondering when you'd ask me about her, and then he tells James about his guardian angel from across the stars and time and space.
The daughter who isn't his and the sister she made herself to screw with Howard, and the star around his neck that he wears even though he'll never use it now that Howard is dead and gone and can no longer hurt him, can no longer bruise his limbs and break his bones. And then he thanks James for killing his father for him and wonders out loud how damned he is for thinking this way.
James goes still.
Tony takes one look at him, gets up from the piano and throws his arms around him before he can run for it. I know, he says, I've always known, and I don't blame you. I know it wasn't you, I know it was the Winter Soldier.
I am the Winter Soldier, James replies, and Tony says, Maybe, but you are also James, and brushes a lock of the supersoldier's hair out of his face. There is a moment between them, a moment that lasts for an eternity, they are drowning in eachother's eyes, and then JARVIS interrupts them to let Tony know that the Starkjet has been loaded and that they're ready to fly to Stark Tower.
Tony immediately lets him go and steps away, a light flush on his cheeks. He says that they need to get going if they want to get the Tower online on schedule. He looks at the portrait of Angelina Stark, kisses his fingers and then presses them to her cheek.
"I'll be back for you when I've defeated the Chitauri. I'll be back for you, and the bots," he promises.
They head down to the workshop one last time and Tony bids Butterfingers, DUM-E and U a fond farewell, petting them affectionately.
Ten minutes later they're on the Starkjet and flying to New York City.