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“Have you ever wanted to hate someone?”

Sam hadn’t heard Bucky approach, but he was growing used to that. Bucky never made a sound wherever he went, whether he was padding around the apartment in his socks or pounding down the pavement in his heavy boots.

“I can’t say I ever wanted to.” Sam finished slicing the carrots and put them in the pot. “That doesn’t stop it from happening.”

He rinsed his hands and dried them on a towel. Only then did he turn around and look at Bucky, who was lingering in the doorway. It was the only word Sam could think to describe it. Bucky never truly seemed comfortable anywhere, except maybe occasionally with Steve, and if Sam was honest with himself, that hurt like hell sometimes. But then he reminded himself that Bucky had chosen this - had chosen him.

“It’s not an either-or situation,” Bucky had told him once back in the early days, uncharacteristically irritated with Sam’s equally uncharacteristic insecurity. “I’m not with you because Steve doesn’t want to be with me and you’re the next choice. I’m with you because Iwant to be. I want this to work. I want to try, at least.”

And damn it, Bucky was trying. He was trying so goddamn hard. He had a ninety-year friendship with Steve. Of course that was going to feel more comfortable sometimes than - whatever the hell was going on between the two of them.

“Who do you hate?” Bucky asked. He had his arms folded across his chest and his shoulders were hunched, making him appear a hell of a lot smaller than he actually was. It was disconcerting.

“Man, I don’t know,” Sam said with a sigh. “The assholes who shot my partner down. People who hurt animals and children. My sister when she brings a fruitcake for Christmas dinner.”

Every single person who ever laid a hand on you and shaped you into the Winter Soldier.

Bucky frowned at him. “You don’t even know their names.”

“Of the people I hate? No, not all of them. Doesn’t make them any less real or evil.” Sam rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t hate my sister, though. That was a joke.”

“I know.”

“Okay.”

Awkward silences between them were becoming few and far between, but what followed was one of those.

“Why do you ask?” Sam ventured finally.

A crease appeared between Bucky’s brows as they drew together.

“I had a dream,” he admitted quietly.

“About what?” Or who, Sam added silently.

“Zemo,” Bucky said.

Sam’s gut clenched. He hadn’t heard that name in months, and it still inspired a visceral reaction in him.

“It’s okay not to hate someone, Bucky,” Sam said finally. He was grasping at straws. He had no idea where this conversation was going. Par for the course with Bucky, really.

“But what if I should?” Bucky asked.

“There’s no should or shouldn’t here. Zemo triggered your programming on purpose. How you feel about that is up to you,” Sam said. “It’s all valid, no matter what.”

Bucky looked away. “I don’t hate any of them.”

“The people who worked on the Winter Soldier project?”

Bucky nodded. Sam resisted telling him that it was all right, because he had enough hate for the both of them. That wouldn’t help.

“I was the one who carried out their orders,” Bucky said. “I murdered. They didn’t. And Zemo - he’d lost his entire family. I was a weapon he wanted to use for revenge. How could I fault him for that, when I might want the exact same thing if that ever happened to me?”

Sam didn’t know what to say to that. It was progress on some level, he thought absently, for Bucky to refer to himself as a weapon in the past tense. Not all that long ago, he would have said I am a weapon. The next step, Sam thought, was getting him to realize that he wasn’t a weapon at all. He was a victim.

Bucky drew a deep breath. Without looking at Sam, he said softly, “I’m scared, Sam.”

“What of?” Sam asked. There were so many answers to that question, he wanted to know which one he was dealing with tonight.

“We know my mind can’t be trusted.”

“You’ve made excellent progress since -”

Bucky shook his head, cutting him off. “That doesn’t mean shit, Sam, and you know it. We don’t know if I’ll ever be cured. There’s no way to tell. And now I know that it’s not only Winter Soldier project members who can trigger me. Anyone with the right codes can. It could happen again.”

Sam crossed the small kitchen to him. He gripped Bucky’s shoulders.

“We’re not gonna let that happen,” he said firmly. “You’re getting better. I know you are. And yeah, I know that it might not ever go away, and if that’s the case, we’ll deal with it. You know that if someone ever tries to bring the Winter Soldier out again, Steve’s gonna tear apart the city ‘til he tracks them down.”

Bucky snorted softly. “You too, right?”

“Me? No,” Sam said. “I’d tear apart the fucking world.”

Bucky kissed him. It wasn’t often that he initiated intimacy of any kind, so Sam was caught off-guard. He let out a muffled noise of surprise before sinking gratefully into the kiss. Crisis avoided, at least for tonight. Bucky wasn’t going to go into one of his moods, the ones where he wouldn’t speak to Sam for days and would sometimes disappear without telling any of them where he was going. Not that anything he did would ever drive Sam away. He loved Bucky as fiercely on the bad days as he did the good.

They broke apart abruptly when a hiss behind Sam signaled that the pot had boiled over.

“Shit,” he muttered, hurrying over to the stove to turn the flame down. The pot subsided, and he stirred its contents. “Well, dinner’s almost ready. You hungry?”

“Starved,” Bucky admitted.

Sam grinned to himself. It was good to see Bucky with an appetite. Another bit of progress he could add to his mental tally. “Good.”