Bucky is crouched on the floor in front of Bruce when he opens his eyes. He breathed out slowly—the last perfect breath of the meditation—and focused on Bucky’s face.
"What does it feel like?" Bucky asked, intense and blank at the same time.
Bruce shrugged. “It doesn’t,” he said truthfully.
He stretched his arms above his head, feeling the muscles bend. He waited.
Bucky kept watching Bruce for a long time. His gaze fixed most often on Bruce’s eyes, but they flickered quickly back and forth from there to the rest of him: the bended legs tucked under him, the loose limbs, the careful in-and-out of breath.
"Would I be able to—?" Bucky asked. The question ended in the absence of a verb, a word Bucky couldn’t put into shape yet.
Bruce knew something about the word he was looking for. It was a big word.
"I can show you," he offered.
Bucky sat and listened while Bruce explained about breath patterns, mantras, brain wave patterns, and conscious muscle control.
Bucky never meditates where Bruce can see him. Whether Bucky did or did not was not the point, though.
Clint landed in the hospital after a mission. Five hours of surgery, six of sleeping and Natasha sitting in silence next to the beep of his heart monitor.
She waited and Bucky had so few ties to anyone that he waited down the hall in the designated space for waiting, under the sign that redundantly told him he was waiting and it was a waiting room. She waited and Bucky waited (sometimes bringing her a coffee) and apparently it was for the moment when Clint groggily opened his swollen eyes and she got to say, “you’re an asshole” and then, “sixty four” just before she slammed the door behind her.
Bucky didn’t understand. He looked at Clint.
"Sixty-four people," said Clint. He waved his uninjured hand vaguely upwards. "Saved sixty-four." He paused to cough, wet and weak. "She counts how many I save when I can’t."
"Do you do the same for her?" asked Bucky.
"I always count," said Clint. "Gotta." He coughed again and Bucky—who felt a twinge of something he couldn’t quite fit into a conscious thought—fixed the pillows behind him, thinking about the cough.
"Fifty-two," continued Clint. Bucky frowned so Clint, already beginning to fall back asleep, clarified. "That’s your number," he said. "I always count."
He was asleep again. Bucky pulled up the thin blanket—again, a twinge of something, a thought about coughing and wanting thicker blankets—to keep him warm.
Outside, Natasha was waiting.
"He counts how many lives we save," she explained. "Each of us." She glared at Bucky, daring him to—to do something wrong, but what exactly he couldn’t say. "He doesn’t know about the bus and the subway, though. He was already down. Your number was seventy-three."
She walked away before he could draw the breath to respond.
Bucky silently opened Steve’s door and walked with perfect, absolute quiet over to the bed. The dream had so clearly left him with an image of blood and blonde hair and wide, trusting blue eyes. He had had to check to see even though he knew better than to trust his dreams.
Steve breathed in and out, quiet and healthy.
Something inside—the thing that didn’t speak in words inside him and had never needed memories or Bucky to be able to claim sovereignty over his own head—told him clearly that a quiet, healthy breath was all Bucky ever wanted. It told him to lie down content tonight because it would not be the night Steve died.
All he needed was for Steve to keep breathing, quiet and healthy.
That sounded like the mantra Bruce had talked about: maybe that could be Bucky’s.
Maybe it always had been.