The land of ice and fire.
The land of the brutal Vikings, glaciers, and volcanoes. The remote island in the Atlantic ocean is truly a wonder and the people on it are generations of survivors that have been able to survive the harsh environment for centuries. If you would have asked him about the stories of the land of ice and fire he would have without a doubt laughed. Laughed and assumed it was nothing more than a way for the Islanders to get the tourist to come to the island, to believe that while they are driving down the empty road among the volcanoes and glaciers that they might be in some sort of danger, the adrenaline rush, making the island seem more appealing.
That is until he's standing in the outskirt of the small fishing village by himself. The white snow tainted red and from the village, he can hear nothing but screaming and crying as the brutal fire swallows up everything in its way. The smoke is burning his lungs and tears are streaming down his tainted cheeks as he drops to the ground.
"What have I done"
"I know what you want me to say. You want me to tell you to do what feels right, to stay home if you don't feel like going with us. But you know me better than that. You're coming with us, the boys are worried sick about you... and so am I. You're coming with us and it's going to be just fine"
Natasha's voice was soft as a silk in his ear but all it made him want to do was scream and throw the damn phone across the room.
He knew all she was trying to do was to be helpful but no matter what she'd say, it wouldn't make any difference. He hadn't been able to properly leave his apartment since he had finally been able to leave the hospital nine months ago. Well except when he went to the VA office where he was supposed to meet one Sam Wilson, but he hadn't even been able to enter the building without having yet another panic attack, so how on earth is he supposed to be able to go to Iceland with the guys that most likely blamed him for the deaths of his men, their friends.
He can't do it, there's no way.
It's been ten months since the incident in Afghanistan, ten months since most of his men left Afghanistan in a box. Ten months since he was sent home with a purple heart and messed up head.
It felt like a lifetime ago since he was stuck, unable to aid his friends, only able to listen to their cries. He hadn't been able to even talk to the guys since it happened. Of course, all of them have tried their hardest to be in contact with him. Dum Dum has been calling him every Sunday since it happened. Morita texts him, inviting him to meet up for a drink whenever he's in town. Gabe has even tried knocking on his door couple of times before, meanwhile, Bucky stayed hidden with tears streaming freely down his cheeks, trying to ignore the constant knocking.
He can't let them see him like this, like a fucking mess.
But Natasha is different. He's known her his entire life, since he was nothing more than a kid from Brooklyn that could never stay out of trouble, and since she was just a girl that had recently moved from Russia, unable to say anything in English except for 'no' and 'puppy.'
Of course, he tried to hide how messed up he was from her. But in all the years of knowing her, he had never particularly been successful at hiding anything from her. He'd tried to hide it when he started dating his first boyfriend in high school and he tried to hide it from her when he enlisted in the army. His record of keeping things away from her was a day and a half so it wasn't really a surprise when she stayed with him while he was in the hospital and never really left.
"James, listen to me. You've been hiding in your apartment for way too long. Now pack your bags, and be ready in the morning, I'll be there at six to pick you up."
"Fuckin' hell, I'm not going Tasha, Natasha?" The beeping sound in his phone was deafening, telling him that she had already hung up on him, without even giving him the benefit of arguing with her. He could already see the satisfying smirk on her full lips and a teasing glint in her emerald green eyes. Not that he was surprised by her going behind his back and buying him the plane ticket without his knowledge, he was used to this.
He was used to it, but it didn't mean he was happy about it.
Cursing under his breath, he threw his old iPhone across his bedroom, knowing it would only bounce on his bed, and if it would accidentally fall on the floor and break he wouldn't beat himself up about it, it would perhaps give him an excuse to ignore Natasha, without her murdering him.
Glancing around his empty looking studio apartment, he fought with himself internally. What the hell should he do? Should he go with them or stay in this cold looking place and rot there until he dies? He had lived in this apartment for over a year now, yet it still looked as if he had just moved into it. Boxes were lying on the floor with most of his stuff still in it.
He had never truly had it in himself to open up the boxes. When he first moved into the apartment his mind was far away from the small apartment in Brooklyn, New York. Most of the time he was wherever the US army needed him, so he never had the time to unpack the boxes and make the apartment look lived in.
So here he is now, in the lonely looking apartment in Brooklyn, with boxes all over the the place, that he's unable to open knowing perfectly well that once he opens them he is closing the part of his life that belonged to the military, and quite frankly he isn't sure if he's ready to do that, yet. He's not ready to give up on his life.
But in a way, he had already given up on his life.
Sure he did what he needed to do. He ate (most of the time) He made sure he still looked as sharp as he did while he was in the army. His hair looked neat and he made sure he was always cleanly shaved. (again, most of the time) Not that it mattered since all he did was staying locked up in his apartment, like Rapunzel.
He hadn't even called his ma or Becca to tell them he's home. They still think their son and brother is away in the sandbox risking his life.
He's ashamed, no matter how many times Natasha tells him it's all in his head, that what he did was necessary and he's a hero.
But heroes don't lose their men like he did.
He dug out his old bag. He was going to do this. He was going to meet up with his old army buddies and travel to Iceland. A road trip of a lifetime Natasha had mentioned one day while back when she and the guys were preparing the trip.
'We'll be camping at the edge of a glacier and we'll be able to walk behind a waterfall can you believe it, James?' She'd exclaimed in hopes of making him equally excited about this. Maybe a year ago he would have been just as thrilled about this as she was, but now? Well, It's complicated.
Every year, he and couple of other guys from the army, and of course Natasha, travelled together. Last year they went to Germany where Dum Dum and Morita got so drunk the other guys had to carry them back to their hotel. It was absolutely amazing. Probably his best memories were made during those trips, but a lot has changed since then.
Picking up his old phone from the bed where he'd previously thrown it, he began composing a message to Monty. He should still be in England with his lovely girlfriend, Brianna. They hadn't spoken to each other since before the explosion. Bucky had been telling him a funny story from his childhood right before he entered the building.
His fingers that usually are as steady as a rock after years of sniper training, shook slightly as he hovered over the send button. Okay, you can do it, Barnes, Monty is like a brother to you, stop this none sense.
'What should I bring to Iceland? It's not going to be as cold as Greenland, is it?'
Eventually, he pressed send and threw his phone down in his bed, yet again and began picking up clean shirts from his closet and folding them neatly into the bag, in hopes of being able to ignore the tightening feeling in his chest as he waited for the reply.
Not five minutes later he heard a ping from his phone, notifying him that he'd received a message from Monty.
'Don't you worry about it Sarge, haven't you heard. Iceland is green and Greenland is iced.'
Sarge... He hadn't been called sarge in what seemed like forever.
It's been a long night of packing and unpacking and then packing again. One minute he decided that he was going with them and the next he was unpacking his bags, hiding under his covers, happy with staying behind while the rest of the group would go have fun.
In the end, he finished packing his bags and left them at the front door to make sure he wouldn't unpack them yet again, by then the sun was rising and only minutes later Natasha knocked on his front door with a bright smile and two cups of coffee in her hand.
"Good morning, sunshine" She handed it over to him and took a sip of her own coffee. "Disgustingly sweet, just like you want it." He hummed to himself as he took the first sip of his Salted Caramel Mocha, and it was just as disgustingly sweet as she'd told him it was. It was perfect and it eased the numbing fear that's been eating him up and keeping him awake the entire night.
"Are you ready? You haven't forgotten anything, right?" She questioned him, as she eyed his packed bag doubtfully. Yes, back in the day he was known for always forgetting something. Whether it was his pack of cigarettes, lighter or even a flashlight.
"I'm as ready as I'll ever be. Natasha, but I-I don't think I should do this. what if they don't want me there?" If looks could kill, he would have died more than once by the way Nat glared at him.
"Don't be stupid, James. Of course, they want you there. The trip wouldn't be the same without you."
He wanted so badly to believe her, so together they walked out of his apartment to the uber that patiently waited for them outside his building before they sat down beside each other. Neither of them spoke a word as the driver drove in silence towards the airport.
It took them seven hours to fly over to Iceland and go through customs. Once they were finally through with that, Bucky let himself be excited for once. Sure, the nerves were eating him up and all he really wanted to do was to run the other way, but still, they were his brothers. Together they've been through hell and back and maybe, just maybe they weren't blaming him for what happened. Maybe Tasha was right about this, of course she's right about this.
After having to wait for their bags for few minutes they noticed the bright red bag, Natasha always took with her on their trips and soon enough his own bag appeared as well. Now all they had to do was wait for the other guys, that should be landing at any moment.
Natasha and Bucky didn't really have to wait for too long before he could hear a booming laughter coming their way, a laughter that he would forever be able to recognise, it's Dum Dum.
Dum Dum was just like his brother. They've been through thick and thin together. Whenever they were going through hell Dum Dum would always be there to lighten them up, making sure they weren't taking each other too seriously. He'd missed him more than he believed possible, but he was way too embarrassed to admit it. He had left Dum Dum and the other guys in the dark after everything happened. He hadn't even called them to let them know whether he was alive or not.
The five loud guys all froze in their steps as if they'd seen a ghost when they noticed their old sergeant standing inside the airport with Natasha. Bucky could feel their eyes burn a hole through him, this would be a perfect time for the earth to swallow him up.
"Sarge?" The guys stood face to face for a second too long before they gathered around Bucky wrapping their arms around him to give him a bone breaking hug.
"I couldn't believe it when Monty said you texted him!" Gabe pretty much shouted in his ear once he let go of him pulling the seemingly heavy bag closer to his body as strangers passed them, not giving them a second glance like they didn't notice that their little group was finally complete again.
"Je pensais que le monde t'avait englouti" Dernier called out, which Gabe nodded in an agreement. "We all believed you ran off to the mountains or something. How have you been? "
Dum Dum was unnaturally quiet and Bucky couldn't help but glance at him in a confusion. Usually, he was the loud one. He normally would pick him up in a bear hug whenever he'd see him after a long leave. He would be telling jokes until tears would be falling down Bucky's cheek and he would have to beg him to give him a break.
But now, on the other hand, he was quiet as a stone, just as quiet as he'd been right after the explosion.
Bucky parted his lips in an attempt to apologize, but there weren't really any words for it, not that it mattered because right before he was able to mutter out a single word he was interrupted by a man bumping into him before heaving and throwing up right on the floor beside them.
"Shit man, are you okay?" The man didn't even acknowledge him or anyone else around him. He just kept on heaving and whimpering as if he's in pain. Natasha was the first one to react. She ran towards the next security guard to get him to help the stranger. But all Bucky could do was stare at the man. His skin was clammy and gray like ash and his eyes were bloodshot.
Before long the security guard approached them, clearly not thrilled at all that he was the one that would have to deal with the sick passenger. But without another word, the group left the stranger with the guard as he kept on puking and puking muttering out words in a foreign language.
"The poor guy" Morita uttered out, mostly to himself and the rest of the group hummed in an agreement.
"I really hope we're not all going to get sick with whatever the hell's going on with him," Gabe commented with a hint of a frown set on his lips, and Bucky couldn't agree more. This trip was going to be difficult enough without them puking their guts out the entire time.
"Well Dum Dum, you would know how that feels wouldn't you?" Bucky commented as the corners of his lips turned upwards. His heart was still in his stomach as he spoke to Dum Dum. He had no idea whether he was angry at him for what happened. But he decided against talking about it. Instead, he began retelling the story of when Dum Dum got a bad food poisoning while the two of them were on a secret mission together and half the night he was hiding behind a bush puking his guts out when he was supposed to be spotting for him.
The group couldn't contain the laughter that followed the story, the stranger long forgotten as they walked out of the airport into the warm summer air. It was, of course, nothing close to the Brooklyn summer heat he was used to, but the sun was shining and a cool breeze played with his hair as he followed his friends towards their rented car and together they headed out in a search of an adventure with nothing but the bags on their backs, snacks, and tents for them to sleep in.
Bucky quickly enough decided that this definitely wasn't that bad at all. Once they'd finally been able to drive out of the parking lot of the airport, with minor difficulties, they began their journey around Iceland. First stop, they were going to camp out in the Vatnajökul national park. Right under the biggest glacier in the whole country. The entire group was buzzing with excitement as they drove down the road towards their first destination.
Everyone in the minivan kept the conversation going and in the background, the music from the radio quieted down and instead, a man began speaking rapidly in a language Bucky guessed was Icelandic. He had always been good with languages. He was able to speak Russian, French and a bit of German but he had never even considered bothering with learning Icelandic. So without a second thought, he changed the radio station until he was able to find a station that played a happy tune.
The fresh air and the beauty really did something for him. Back in Brooklyn, every single thing knocked him off his feet. Hearing someone slam a door or a car honk made his heart beat faster in his chest. But this was peaceful and beautiful and he seemed to be able to be at peace for the first time in a long while.
"What the hell?"
Natasha perked up after they've been driving in a relative silence for the past hour. Bucky'd been half asleep, leaning up against the cold window and listening to the quiet conversation between Dum Dum and Monty about something that happened back in Afghanistan, their soothing voices had almost lulled him to sleep but the unusual alert in Natasha's voice caused him to force his eyes open to see what the hell was going on.
And then he saw it. It was an open field for livestock. They'd seen plenty on their way from the airport but as they came close to it they noticed dozens of horses lying all over the field. Their guts seemed to be cut open and their intestines scattered all over the place, painting the green crass dark red. It was beyond disturbing.
"What the hell happened to them?" Bucky was barely able to mutter out loud as they drove closer to the scene.
"Maybe this is some kind of ritual for them?" Dum Dum pointed out but the only answer he received was doubtful looks and raised eyebrows.
"The people here aren't in some kind of a cult that slaughter all of their horses and leave them to rot on their field. It doesn't make any sense" Morita cursed under his breath when they drove past yet another horse but this time it was missing its head.
"This must have been an animal attack, nothing else makes sense. Maybe it was a polar bear or something." The close knitted group bantered back and forwards as they drove further and further away from the scene. They couldn't allow this to ruin their trip even if it left an uneasy feeling in their stomach, but whatever happened to the poor animals wasn't really their problem. Whether they'd been slaughtered or if a bear attacked them, they shouldn't waste their time worrying about it.
Wait, did Iceland even have polar bears?
It was just before midnight when they arrived at the Vatnajökul campsite. It was beautiful and crowded, no surprise there. Campers were all either asleep or sitting together drinking beer and singing. The rest of the group was already out of the van, stretching and Dernier groaned loudly, cursing his old body. But Bucky took a moment to himself in the car. He needed a moment to breathe. The day had been long and during those few hours he'd been on the island, he'd seen some strange things, like the mutilated horses and the man who'd puked his guts out at the airport. Sure, it most definitely had a reasonable explanation, but it just didn't sit well with him.
"Bucky, you comin'?" Gabe called from outside the van, his voice shaking him out of his thoughts and he quickly exited the vehicle only to find the group talking to a man and a woman and by the looks of it, they seemed to be absolutely madly in love. They were holding hands, and the way they looked at each other made it obvious to anyone around them how much they cared for one another. The man though, he looked ill, he was pale and cold sweat seemed to break out on his forehead, which he quickly mopped away with the sleeve of his shirt as the woman spoke.
"This big lug had it all planned out. He wanted us to go to Hawaii. Hawaii for crying out loud!" Mila, the blonde haired woman let out a chuckle. Her voice was thick with German accent. "But we had been talking about going to Iceland for years. We always wanted to go here to see the northern lights. So when he told me about Hawaii I refused. I said we have to go see the northern lights"
Bucky couldn't help but smile as she retold their story. It was sweet to see how her eyes practically sparkled as she talked and to see how her fiance held onto her and the way he looked at her as if she was the one that hung the moon and the stars, it was beautiful and Bucky would be lying if he told anyone that he didn't feel a pang of jealousy as he watched them.
He'd never really been in a serious relationship before. Back before the army, he'd flirted with pretty much everyone. And back in Brooklyn, he'd been known as the ladies man. Then the army happened and he never thought it was practical to be in a long-term relationship when he would rarely be home. Sure, whenever he was on leave he would go out and find some poor guy or girl to spend the night with so he wouldn't have to sleep in an empty bed, but before the sun would rise he would always be gone.
But seeing them so happy and in love made him wish he would have given love a chance.
"So we came here to see the northern lights but guess what" The man, Albert said.
"There aren't any damn northern lights in Iceland in August!" The entire group erupts in laughter. But the laughter wasn't long lived when a loud cough rattled through the man.
"You okay there buddy?" He questioned him, taking a step away from the man. Sure, he could handle a cold but whatever seemed to be wrong with him looked pretty serious. Maybe it was just a bad case of the flu, but he had absolutely no particular interest in being sick as a dog during his vacation.
"Ja, Ja. I just managed to catch a cold. Can you believe it?" A soft smile appeared on Mila's full lips before pulling him with her towards their own tent. Calling out "Well it's been a pleasure. Now we're gonna leave you to it. Don't hesitate to come to us if you need anything. The workers that should be here are nowhere to be found so we've got to stick together"
"The poor guy" Gabe shook his head as he began working on the tent. "Poor guy? No way man did you see his wife? I think he's one lucky son of a bitch." Dum Dum let out one of his booming laughter.
It didn't take them long to get their tents ready after having to do it million and one times before back in the army and not before long the entire group sat together around a small bonfire. This was a good moment. Being surrounded by his friends telling hilarious and embarrassing stories while eating marshmallows with Icelandic beer in their hands. This was how it was supposed to be like but the fire...
He hated this. He was happy, he was having a good time laughing at a story Dum Dum was making about the one time Bucky found a dirty little puppy and hid him from their captain for over a week. He had, of course, heard the story millions of times before and every time he would either laugh or look bashfully away as the other guys would come up with more stories to embarrass their old sergeant. But this time it was different
The fire... The damn fire it was burning in his mind taking him to a place where he wished he would never go back to.
It took him to the moment that changed everything.
It happened in a house that was supposed to be completely safe. It was supposed to be safe so he and couple of other guys went in without a hesitation. They didn't get too far before they saw the man. A bomb vest was strapped to his body and the last thing he remembered before waking up was the wild look in his eyes. Like he was a wild animal just seconds before jumping on its prey.
Then everything went dark and the next thing he remembered was the fire, the smoke. At first, all he could hear was ringing but later that slowly turned into shouts and rapid gunfire.
Then what seemed like hours later of being stuck underneath the collapsed house someone came to their rescue, but for most of the men that had been stuck there with him, it was too late.
The fire... The sound of the fire made him want to scream out in agony. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't breathe. He needed to get the building off his chest so he could breathe. Bucky frantically clawed at his chest trying to get it off him. He needed to breathe!
"James! Stop!" It was Natasha's voice breaking through the haze.
"I can't breathe, I can't Nat, please Nat I can't breathe, don't let them die. Please don't let them die."
"Bucky, no one's going to die. You're safe" This was a different voice. Monty.
"Enculer-" Frenchie. This didn't make any sense. Monty and Frenchie were nowhere near him when the explosion happened.
This was all wrong.
"James come on count with me. 1 2 3 7 5 11. James come on the count with me. " and he did. He counted until he was no longer stuck in the sandbox. He counted until he finally was back to the present in front of the group that was now all looking at him with worried glints in their eyes.
"Fuck" He cursed quietly. "I'm sorry guys. I didn't mean to ruin-" He was abruptly cut off by Dum Dum. "You don't have anything to apologize for sarge."
the entire group nodded in an agreement but the embarrassment burned through him like the rapid fire that still haunted his mind.
"I think I'm going to call it a night. Please don't let me stop your fun." He put up his old cocky smile as if nothing had happened but his tremulous voice betrayed him.
Bucky had mastered plenty of things while in the army. Marksmanship, stealth, and hand to hand combat. But there's one thing that seemed to have helped him more than any other thing, especially after he left the army and that was acting. He seemed to always be able to put up a playful smile and act as if he hadn't just moments earlier felt like he was dying. So that's what he did. The corners of his lips turned upwards as he stood up and gave the rest of the group a lazy salute before heading towards his tent.
He knew there was no way in hell that he was going to fall asleep so instead he just lay there listening to everyone outside the tent talk to each other in a hushed voice. It was calming really, and to Bucky's surprise, eventually, he was able to fall into a restless sleep.
Someone's shouting. Shouting and crying for help. This is just like any other dream that's been haunting his mind for months now. It always starts the same with the fire. The relentless fire and then the piercing cry for help.
No, the dream is different. The crying and shouting it's not one of his men, it's a woman. Begging for help, screaming out in terror.
Bucky opens his eyes and the shouting continues.