When Hydra fell, the Winter Soldier was lost. Before this, for the past forgotten years, there was always a mission. Always a target. Either that or the cold, the dark, sleeping fitfully until another target was found. Never before had there been nothing.
And yet, now, there is nothing.
He leaves that man lying on the banks of the river. He is breathing once more, so he'll survive, but there is no possibility of waiting until he wakes up. He poses too many questions, causes too many fractures in the ice sealing the Winter Soldier's mind.
He walks away, without looking back, following the river bank to the underside of a bridge, where he can pause and decipher what to do next, from the instructions seared into his brain. Before, he would have been picked up from the agreed location, taken back down underground, and made to sleep once more. He would have gone quietly, even willingly.
That man changed everything though. He doesn't recognise him - can't recognise him. But something inside him says that he does, he does. The Winter Soldier has never sat by a fire, huddled for warmth with another, tasted the wood smoke on his tongue. He has never fought for someone else in a back street alley as they lay in the dirt, coat and trousers streaked with mud.
But with that man, he might have. Before.
The Winter Soldier. That is who he is. That is all he is. But that man called him Bucky.
Surely this is proof that once, a long time ago, he was something else.
Just a name. Two syllables. But proof. Unless the man was lying, trying to confuse or trick him, but he was sincere in his statements.
It occurs to the Winter Soldier - a bold, daring thought, that would never have been allowed before - that he must have come from somewhere. This thought causes a frisson, a blast of memory - bony knees and ink stained fingers, reading comics in the shade - and he reels, stunned by his own (are they his own?) recollections.
He fights back the potential onslaught of memories though, brought to fruition by a simple name, as now is not the time, nor the place. He has to find shelter and cover, before someone recognises him, so he carries onwards - a bridge will no longer be safe enough, not to provide the calm he requires now, so instead he heads underground, to the sewers, where he can rest, and fortify his mind.
He waits until night falls, until he can remain hidden above the underbelly of the city, then leaves, in search of further cover. He follows the usual rules, even though now there is no one to enforce them, no one to help follow them. He needs to hide, to become anonymous.
Instead, he finds a department store, and breaks in, using skills he has used a thousand times before, and finds a hooded jacket, sturdy jeans, a baseball cap. He changes there and then, tugging off his battle clothes, which cling to him like a second skin. He finds a pair of gloves as well, to ensure his silver arm is well hidden. The old layers he bundles up and takes with him, to throw away somewhere.
Dressed in clothes he has never worn before, he makes his way back out, silently and secretly as before, then disappears into the night.