He takes his first step towards the frightening void of independence, his very first, when he needs to buy a bus ticket to North Dakota. He has too much to think about, between the man that he knows, and the information at the museum, and he has to hide. But there is no support team now, no one to transport him for his mission.
(He doesn't have a mission, he will never have a mission again, he will never let himself...)
People don't check the buses, not thoroughly. They're safe as he can manage, safer than the risk of suffering a blackout in a rented car, safer than clinging to a train in his compromised state, and infinitely safer than airport security. They aren't looking for him here.
He steps up to the counter after observing a dozen transactions to get the procedure right. He keeps his head down, mutters his destination, pays with cash he liberated from his handlers' stash.
Five minutes later, he looks down at the ticket, and strokes the edge of the stiff paper with his thumb. The unfamiliar normalcy of it is unexpectedly intense. He's going to go on a trip, a trip with a destination of his choosing.
Today, he's a traveler.
The three ladies ahead of him are old, slow, their purchases weighing them down as they chatter loudly amongst themselves. He clings to the small plastic bag containing a few necessities as he resists a habitual urge for maximum efficiency at the expense of everyone around him. (Push them aside, get into position, you need to complete your objective-.)
Objective. Yes, his objective to get dental hygiene supplies. Of course it's important to draw attention to himself to fulfill that objective.
The cool part of him full of procedures and rules and doctrine lapses into a sudden silence.
He darts around them and opens the door, holding it open so they can file out of the door... efficiently.
"What a nice young man, thank you," one says, her wrinkled face wreathed in smiles.
Today, he's a gentleman.
It's a rough place, but the only clinic he dares to go to. He's surrounded by people, all ill or injured, some that way by bad luck or poor choices, others by violence. Some here would happily contribute to the mayhem for a hint of advantage.
There was a time when he might have been tasked to kill those who gave them their orders. Now he was amongst them, a weakness and fever wracking his body. He doesn't get sick, not really, but the last of the implanted drugs his handlers used on him have worked themselves out of his blood.
He's far from the only one here going through withdrawal.
There's no memory here, with a waiting room full of irritated conversation, mumbling, moans, gossip, crying children, soft music from headphones, soft beeps from electronic games, no memory of being strapped to the chair or thrown in the cryo tube. It's too chaotic. It's too here and now.
He's not afraid.
When they call his name, "James?" he goes quietly to the back. (He thought he should try to get used to the name he’d seen in the museum, try it on for size. Just to see...) The nurse has seen his problem a dozen times this morning, and a thousand times this week. She rattles off her advice with bored professionalism, and he memorizes it instantly.
She's doing good here, he realizes. He wonders if some of those in the waiting room do.
Today, he's a patient.
The cold drives him into a shelter to avoid well-meaning police trying to evict him from doorways, and the probable tragic consequences of someone trying to move him when he doesn’t want to be moved. He ends up huddled with a dozen other men in a small room, all of them bundled to the nose to keep warm. It's part of the reason he picked such a far north part of the country, to have an excuse to keep covered. After decades in cryo, the cold no longer bothers him, but he can play this role if he must.
Despite having little, most who have to use the shelters guard their privacy fiercely. But in the twilight between sleep, some talk, spinning old tales, ranting about old grievances, sobbing over old pain.
Then they sleep, after, exhausted. They sleep.
Today, he's a listener.
Today, he's a human being.
The ones coming after his old target aren't human. They're products of alien machines and pure malevolence, dark and dangerous and determined to blot out the light the Avengers are striving to save.
The enemy is trying to kill Steve.
That was his mission.
There are times when the cold part of him and the human side can work together.
He attacks on their blind side, alien machinery and pure malevolence turned against the enemy because he remembers a purpose beyond the mission, and he'll take every cruel part of him and make himself a scythe of death to save the one man who looked at him and saw something else, something he's only just beginning to see.
The enemy goes down under his bullets and metal fist, and he's gone before the Avengers get a firm bead on him. One day, once he remembers more, he might come back.
Today, Bucky believes he can still be a hero.