He doesn't dream of ice.
Or, no. That's not quite right. He should say, the ice is not his nightmare. Not the cold, not the drowning, not the fading of the light. He fears that. Oh, he does. But it's not his nightmare. It's not what he dreams of, when he wakes to silent tears and a trapped, reedy cry in his throat. It's never the ice, when he wakes to that.
And it's not the ice, when he walks out into the world. It's not the ice that threatens him, every moment of every day. It's not the ice that holds him on the brink of crumbling, invisibly, so that no-one can ever see. It's not the ice that stabs him, over and over, with a desperate spike of loss that threatens, so often and so randomly, to send him to his knees.
When he'd died, he'd been at war. He'd been a soldier. And there were some things you knew, when you were a soldier. That there were things worse than death. That there were things worse than ice.
The nightmare wasn't that you'd die. The nightmare was that you'd lose.
When they went to war, they'd told themselves things. Told each other things. Dreams. Photographs, kept in the chest pocket. Plans. When I get home. This is my girl. She'll be waiting, when I get home. This is the house we're going to buy, when I get home. This is my street, I'm going to move from there, when I get home. When, when, when. When I get home.
They'd been pipe dreams. They'd all known it. Somewhere in the backs of all their minds, they'd all known that maybe they were never coming home. Maybe they were never getting there. That was war. That's what it was. Sometimes you can't come home, because you're dead. That was the way it worked. That's how it was supposed to work.
But what if it didn't? What if it wasn't you that died? What if it was ... everything else?
Those had been the nightmares, for them. When they went out. Not 'what if we die', but 'what if we lose'? What if we fail, and everything that matters to us dies? What if we live and fight and die out here, and when we come home, there's nothing left? What if we leave, and when we come back, the ones we love have died, because we failed to protect them? What if they're gone? What if we can't come home, because home isn't there anymore?
It was the nightmare they all had. In that once upon a time, that he can't even be sure was real anymore. It was their nightmare. All of them.
And now it's his. Now it's always going to be his. Because it's not a dream anymore. It will never be a dream again. Now, it's real.
He had come home. And home was gone. It was gone. He'd gone to war. He'd been the soldier, and he'd gone to war, and he'd fallen. Fallen asleep. And when he woke ...
Peggy was dead. Bucky was dead. His friends were dead. His neighbours were dead. He'd come home, and his city had been obliterated. His street had been wiped out. His world, his home, was gone. He couldn't protect it. He couldn't stop it falling. Because his enemy wasn't the ice. It wasn't Hydra. It wasn't Schmidt. It wasn't the weapon.
It was time. Just ... time. It killed everything he loved. Time, not a bomb, had obliterated the city he knew. Time, not the war, had taken away everything, every last thing, that once upon a time meant 'home'.
He can't come home. Because home isn't there anymore. His world, his street, his home. It's gone. And it won't ever come back
When he dreams, it's not the ice. God, oh god, it's not the ice. He wishes it was. Ice can melt. Ice can be broken. The cold can be washed away. That's not his nightmare. That's not what he dreams of. He dreams in sepia. He dreams of a home he won't ever have again. And it kills him, every time.
He can't go home. Home isn't there anymore. Maybe they won. That's what they told him. Maybe they won the war.
But he lost. There's nothing left, there's nothing to hold onto. He'll fall forever, and he won't ever find home, the home he knew, ever again. It's gone, and this war of his won't ever end, because the things he was fighting for are gone. Because he can't, he can never, come home from war.
Home isn't there anymore. And he doesn't dream of ice. That, more than anything else ... is what this future means.
But ... even still. Even so. It might still ... be worth fighting for.