New York is… very expensive.
Barnes raided enough Hydra strongholds and safehouses to build a solid backup fund before he ended up in Manhattan. But it takes only four months of living in a tiny bedroom in a - frankly kind of disgusting - shared apartment in the Lower East Side before his funds have dwindled alarmingly low.
He could move to the other boroughs to have more room with the rent he’s paying - he has six flatmates (and two angry pomeranians) in a three-bedroom apartment, crawling on top of each other and fighting about the bathroom shifts. Most of them are over-caffeinated white collar workers who hate Barnes’s upside down schedule, but at least he gets to live on his own in the cramped utility room. It doesn’t have any utilities, but it does have a tap, just enough floor space for a mattress and a locked chest to keep his shit in, and even a window big enough to fit through.
With his rent he could afford an actual bedroom if he crossed over to Queens. But the subway makes his skin crawl, and close by is a small 24-hour restaurant whose owner has a soft spot for vets and gives him a big discount on food. He can’t get that if he moves away.
Barnes does have a job: six nights a week he dutifully trots fifteen blocks north, slices kebab for seven hours to feed bar-hoppers and night-shifters, and trots twenty-five blocks back home to lose potential tails. He's paid under the table and barely makes 30 bucks per night even with his knife skills, and until now it’s been more about having something to do than making money.
He’s gonna need an actual source of income, though, if he plans to stay in the city.
“I’m a little tight on money,” he says one Wednesday afternoon in the restaurant, when Sergio asks if he wants dessert and he has to refuse.
“Aw, that’s tough, man,” Sergio says, picking up his empty plates. Barnes had tried to tip him the first time he came here, and Sergio had ran down the street to give it back. Barnes had figured that he probably should get some better clothes if even an underpaid millennial didn't want his tips. “Do you have, like, a skill you could monetize? You could make, like, a commission post on Tumblr.”
“A what?” Barnes asks, frowning.
“Commission post.” Sergio shrugs, popping his gum. “Like, sell your skills if you’re, like, super good at drawing. You could offer drawings for, like, a set price.”
Barnes can’t draw for shit, or-- sew, or do any other kind of craft that people would want to pay for, nor does he have anywhere to keep supplies in. He’s just about to tell Sergio that, when he thinks of something.
He closes his mouth. Well. There certainly wouldn't be a supplies problem.
He opens his mouth again. “Where do people put these?”
Sergio grins at him. “On Tumblr, it’s, like, a blogging thing, but there’s mostly just memes and awful teenagers. I can help you set up sometime if you have a laptop.”
Barnes does have a laptop, and a fairly good grasp of the new millennium. He’s been out of HYDRA’s hands for nearly seven months, and in addition to new technology he’s also acquired a nice, modern haircut, clothes that are comfortable and good-looking and blend well into the crowd, an electric razor, and twenty-seven new knives.
It’s nice to have things. It would be even nicer if he had the room to store more things, or the money to buy them.
I’m pretty low on funds and need to make ends meet this month, Barnes types slowly into a new post three days later. I’m taking commissions for hits in the New York City area.
Will Not Kill: Captain America or other Avengers.
Will partially refund payment if target turns out to be HYDRA.
Will not go to Jersey. No dismemberment or killing children.
Message for negotiations and payment details.
Under that he pastes his prices, carefully calculated.
Bodiy harm without murder $50-350 depending on severity
He checks the post carefully for any spelling mistakes, then tags it #commissions #commission post #commission info #commission and #will work for money, clicks ‘post’, and immediately has to go edit the misspelled bodily.
idk who this guy is but theyre clearly a meme lord lmao, says the first reblog of his commission post. It’s tagged #give him a standup show.
why is severe body harm more expensive than shooting?? The next reblogger asks.
Barnes rolls his eyes. Does this person know how much being hospitalized costs in the 21st century? Shooting is so much more merciful than putting a person through that kind of debt. Besides, bullets are cheap if you befriend the right people, and Barnes definitely has on one of his early romps to the outer boroughs.
There are no new messages, but his commission post has 189 notes, which he considers a good start. Sooner or later some bloodthirsty sonofabitch will appear, and if not…
Barnes isn’t above selling some ass if needs must. The guy he blew last week behind the kebab place surely seemed keen on trying to pay him.
It’s his free night of the week, so he schedules the post to be reblogged when it’s been up for 12 hours, just like Sergio instructed, tags it #timezone reblog, and goes back to bed.
His post goes viral overnight. When Barnes wakes up, his activity feed is blowing up, and his commission post has 9,000+ notes and a bunch of replies and reblog commentary. There are messages in his inbox, but most of them are congratulating him for a majestic shitpost, and the rest are either confused or asking him to kill John F. Kennedy.
Joke’s on them, Barnes already did that.
There are at least five increasingly patronizing messages from people who pretend to be concerned about his pricing. Barnes isn’t stupid, and he knows he could cash in several grand per hit if he went to his new buddies across the East River. But gang politics are fucking petty and tiresome; it’s easier to stay anonymous like this; and besides, he’s doing his community a solid here, helping those who can’t afford hiring a more expensive hitman.
There’s some commentary about his pricing logic on the post as well, and Barnes scrolls the comments, muttering to himself about ungrateful pricks who don’t recognize a cheap murder when it’s offered to them on a silver plate.
Listen, one snide reblogger (Martin, 17, Tennessee, ‘feminism is cancer’) has said, if I pay that much for murder, it damn better look like an accident. stupidly expensive for amateur work
Barnes has to breathe steadily through his nose for several minutes to tamp down the urge to throw a temper tantrum. His fingers are twitching on the laptop keyboard, and he tries to think about nice things.
Hot showers. Fuzzy socks. Hooking up with people who don’t want him to take his clothes off. Lattes in those funny seasonal cardboard mugs. Steve Rogers.
Steve Rogers might also be a bad thing, though, depending on the definition. Barnes does want to see him, someday, and hopes that Steve isn’t too hung up on Barnes trying to kill him.
On the other side of the wall one of the pomeranians starts barking, and Barnes reaches for his earphones, and puts Iron Maiden on.
Listen, pint-sized baby jackass, Barnes writes in reply once he’s calmed down, I once shot a president in broad daylight and successfully blamed someone else for it. I'm a professional. I can make an axe murder look like somebody tripped with a pair of scissors, but if you're gonna be human garbage, I'm gonna put up a group funding or what the fuck those indiejojo things are called, and I will commission myself and make your death look like you got fried by your toaster because you stuck your dick in it.
After a short consideration he adds, I know where you live.
After a beat he adds a winking kissy emoji.
Shockingly enough, two days later he opens Tumblr, and there’s a message that isn’t an interview request from Buzzfeed, or a troll.
Hey um I’m not sure if your commission post is a joke or not, but I’m genuinely looking for someone to kill my boss. You can google him, his name is Marcus Matthews. He’s gotten away with a lot, and I'm fucking eager to pay $80 for having him stabbed since I can’t do it myself. Lmk.
Barnes googles what “lmk” means. Turns out that it’s not Lord might know, like he assumed.
Also the Tumblr user’s boss turns out to be a real goddamn dick.
Barnes takes the commission. Stabbing is easy, he gets to use one of his nice new knives, and he earns almost three times as much as he makes in a night at the kebab place.
Big hand to commissions.
His post gains more and more popularity, and there are some actual hits dropping into his inbox. His life even gets a little hectic, with the kebab place, the commissions, and photoshopping fake surveillance feed images of himself in Namibian supermarkets, but Barnes loves it. If he’s doing something, it means that he doesn’t have to argue with his flatmates about the right to use the stove.
“How are your commissions doing?” Sergio asks when Barnes goes in after making some HYDRA goon's death look like his pet chinchilla bit him and caused him to bleed out. It’s been three weeks since Barnes put up the commission post, and the extra fuss has finally died. His post has nearly 200K notes. It’s still the only post in his blog.
“Good,” Barnes says truthfully. “I've made enough to pay my rent this month.”
And a little extra, even. He saved some, and bought himself fake Nike sneakers with the rest. They’re called Yikes, and the logo is upside down and has two little dots above it, so it looks like a sad face. Barnes loves them.
“That's awesome, man,” Sergio says happily. “You never said, but, like, what do you do?”
“Um,” Barnes says. “It's a secret.”
Sergio laughs. “Sure, Dr. Mysterious,” he jokes. “Are you, like, a hitman or something? A sex worker?”
“Haha,” Barnes says with a smile that's painfully fake. “Hahaha.”
Can you shoot the president?
How hard is it for people to read his terms and conditions? His post explicitly says New York City only; like hell he’s gonna take the trip down to D.C. and spend all his commission money on bus tickets. Besides, Obama is really cool.
No, Barnes replies, I crossed that from my bucket list in 1963.
Wtf, the guy sends back, and Barnes deletes the whole conversation.
Can you send me his ear when hes dead, asks another potential commissioner, and Barnes makes a face at the mere thought.
As per my terms, no dismemberment, he writes back. Find something else to wank off to, that’s nasty.
“Hey, Steve?” Clint’s voice asks, interrupting the silence in Steve’s living room.
Steve lifts a hand to signal him to wait, and very painstakingly places a pin on the giant world map poster on his wall, marking the latest potential Winter Soldier sighting. It’s really difficult to hit a small Norwegian village with the pin, when the whole country is the size of Nat’s pinky. Steve probably should’ve gotten a bigger map, but this one was the largest he could find on Amazon that didn’t still have the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia on it.
“Yeah?” Steve asks when the pin is in place, stepping back to look at the poster. There’s no logic or a pattern to the bright blue pins on it: the southernmost pins are in Zambia and Tasmania, the northernmost ones in Svalbard and Alaska.
Life would be so much easier if all Bucky sightings were from New York, Steve thinks, sighing. Zapping around the world after the clues is starting to weigh heavily on his environmental consciousness.
“Is there anybody we’d like to get beaten up?” Clint asks, and that gets Steve’s attention.
“What?” he asks, turning around.
Clint’s standing next to the couch, holding his phone in one hand and a fifty-dollar bill in the other. He looks sleepy, and his t-shirt is inside out. “There’s this dude,” Clint says, waving his phone. “He’s pretty tight on money and offers commissions online, and light bodily harm is just $50. I have the money and really want to support this guy.”
“What,” Steve says again.
Clint frowns thoughtfully. “He also offers murder commissions,” he says. “Do you think Nat knows him? Nat knows everybody, at least if they’re hitmen, so maybe I could just ask her to give him some money if you can’t think of anybody who needs a beating.”
“Slow down,” Steve says and points at the couch. “Sit the fuck down, you look like you’re gonna keel over. When did you sleep last?”
“As of fifteen minutes ago,” Clint says, but obediently sits down.
Steve slumps down on the couch too, and gestures at Clint’s phone. “Okay, start from the beginning.”
“There’s a dude who takes hit commissions in the city,” Clint says. “He says he’s struggling to make ends meet, and he doesn’t want to kill us so that’s cool.”
Steve blinks. “So you wanna pay this guy to beat someone up? He’s a hitman, why do you feel bad for him?”
Clint shrugs. “Living around here is super expensive.”
“Show me the post,” Steve says, and Clint hands his phone over.
I’m pretty low on funds and need to make ends meet this month, the post reads. I’m taking commissions for hits in the New York City area.
Will Not Kill: Captain America or other Avengers.
Will partially refund payment if target turns out to be HYDRA.
“Wait what,” Steve says. Why is he singled out? And what the fuck does HYDRA have to do with a random hitm--
He scrolls further.
Will not go to Jersey.
“Motherfucker,” Steve says.
Hey, says the message in Barnes’s inbox, can you rough up my friend a little? He stole my dog. I have only $50 so if you just, like, punch him and make some death threats? His name is Grant Stevenson, I’ll give you his address if you take the gig.
There’s a blurry pic of a blond guy with an unfortunate mustache attached. Barnes squints at the photo. Grant Stevenson looks weirdly familiar, but who knows what the fuck is going on in Barnes’s brain anyway. He could’ve hooked up with the guy when he escaped for a while back in 2009.
There’s practically nothing available online about Grant Stevenson, except a locked Facebook profile with a photo of the guy in sunglasses. The mustache is really unfortunate. Even Barnes wouldn’t let a man with facial hair that ugly stick his dick in him, and he’s fucking easy.
The guy kind of looks like he deserves to be punched, though. And stealing someone’s dog is just low.
Deal, Barnes writes back. What does the dog look like?
He gets back a photo of a shaggy golden retriever with only one eye, its tongue lolling out. Are you bringing him to me?
Hell no, Barnes sends. Get him back yourself, I just wanted to see a puppy.
Fair, his commissioner sends back. I can send you more pics if you want.
Barnes gets fifteen photos of the dog altogether. They’re all amazing.
The address is in Sunnyside, a third floor apartment above a grocery. It’s a cold evening, and Barnes is wearing three layers of clothing, because no matter how intimidating the bandana tied over his nose and mouth is, death threats aren’t very convincing coming from a guy in a puffer jacket.
Barnes has a baseball bat, a metal arm, and a two-hour window to do this gig before he needs to be at the kebab place for his shift. The apartment is dark and silent when he picks the lock and gets in. He’s been staking the place out from the building across the street for the past ninety minutes, and he really damn hopes that the commissioner wasn’t lying about his buddy’s schedule. Barnes can’t afford to get fired for being late to work.
There aren’t any extra security measures around the place: Barnes did a perimeter check before he got any closer to the building, sweeping for electronic surveillance and signs of HYDRA activity, and seeking out any technical or literal tripwires. Barnes isn’t dumb: there’s been a couple of commission messages that have clearly been traps, and some places have been bugged or there’s been a camera conveniently trained right at the place he’s supposed to do his job at.
Fucking amateurs, like he doesn’t know how to disable some surveillance equipment. He’s not the best just because of his good looks and bad bedside manners.
He maps the apartment without turning the light on: it’s small and badly decorated, but there clearly is somebody living in it, because there’s instant ramen in the cupboards, a used toothbrush in the bathroom, and a mussed up bed in the only bedroom, clothes strewn across the floor.
There are toast crumbs on the bed. Grant Stevenson is one nasty son of a bitch.
After sweeping the place for bugs and hidden cameras, Barnes settles in the corner next to the front door, his back against the wall, and rests the baseball bat against his boot. He’s positioned perfectly behind the opening door for intimidating the dog-stealing douchebag who thinks his apartment is empty.
Barnes kind of hopes Stevenson screams a little.
He doesn’t have to wait for long: there are steps in the stairwell barely half an hour later, then a jingle of keys and the lock clicking open. Barnes holds his breath out of habit.
The door opens carefully, and a tall, muscular guy comes in. He’s wearing sweatpants and a tracksuit jacket, a baseball cap backwards on his head, and Barnes sizes him up as Stevenson closes the door and ambles straight to the window to click a beaten-up floor lamp on. He peers out of the window, as if to check if he’s being followed, and tests the frame to find it still locked. Barnes wonders where the dog is. He would’ve liked to meet him.
Barnes is still fairly well hidden in the corner where the light doesn’t reach, and he’s just about to step out, when Stevenson turns, and Barnes sees his face.
Jesus Christ, the mustache. It’s fucking hideous, and very obviously fake now that Barnes sees it up close.
It’s also attached to Steve Rogers’s face.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Barnes says before he can stop himself, and Steve startles visibly at the sound, jumping a little.
Barnes is so fucking dumb. He obviously needs a good kick in the nuts because he let dog photos distract him from Grant fucking Stevenson, the worst fake name in the history of awful fake names.
Steve blinks, staring into Barnes’s corner, and Barnes takes a step forward into the light, glaring with all the irritation he can muster.
“Bucky?” Steve asks, eyes huge and a little shiny at the sight of him. Only Steve would get moony-eyed over a masked hitman with a baseball bat in his apartment. How is this guy still alive, for real?
Barnes stalks towards him, trying to look as menacing as he can, and Steve stands still as a stone, until Barnes reaches out a hand and rips the fake mustache off.
“Ow,” Steve says, wincing.
“Do you live here?” Barnes demands. “Because if it’s you who’s left the crumbs all over the place, I’m never speaking to you again, you pig.”
“Bucky,” Steve says. There’s a red patch below his nose where the fake mustache was. Barnes finds it oddly endearing.
“Do. You. Live. Here?” Barnes grits out, poking Steve in the chest. He feels humiliated, caught so easily in the trap Steve had laid out for him, and he’s seriously worried about being late to work and losing his job if Steve tries to take him in.
Still there’s something happy and wiggling inside his chest, delighted to be so close to Steve, and Barnes has jerked off to the memory of him enough to know what it means.
He’s fucking head over heels for this stupid beefcake, that’s what it is.
“No,” Steve says. “It’s Clint’s place. He’s the one who sent you the message. We didn’t think it would work.”
“Surprise,” Barnes bites out, squeezing the bat a little tighter in his metal hand.
He’s contemplating clipping Steve lovingly in the knees and making a break for it, but he just can’t bring himself to do it. It’s the stupidly earnest face, probably, or the heart eyes Steve’s making at Barnes’s denim jacket and hoodie, like they’re high fashion.
“You look great, Buck,” Steve says, a little dreamily. He’s got both hands raised up, and he gestures at Barnes’s bandana. “Can I?”
Barnes makes a face but lets Steve carefully grab the scarf and tug it down to hang around his neck. Barnes has nothing to lose anymore - except his job and maybe his freedom, ha ha - and he did want to see Steve again, so there he goes. Steve certainly doesn’t seem to mind that the last time they met, he ended up in the hospital.
“Hey sweetheart,” Steve breathes when Barnes’s angry face is revealed, and Barnes bares his teeth like a pissed-off squirrel. It just makes Steve grin, wide and delighted. “How are you doing?”
“Swimmingly,” Barnes says. “Your friend is nasty and I’m not paying him back, I need that fifty.”
“It’s fine, you can keep it,” Steve promises, covering Barnes’s hand with his own. Barnes hadn’t even realized that he’d grabbed a good handful of Steve’s jacket. “Are you okay? Do you remember me?”
“What does it look like, jackass,” Barnes says, and Steve puts his free hand on his waist, looking at Barnes like he hung the moon. “I remember enough to know that you’re about to say something sappy.”
“I missed you,” Steve says, as if on cue, and that happy and wiggly thing in Barnes’s chest goes into overdrive. Barnes is pretty sure his heart is gonna pull out a fucking vuvuzela any minute now.
“Yeah, yeah,” Barnes mutters, happy and embarrassed about it.
Steve grins even wider, like he knows exactly how he’s making Barnes feel, and his hand slides from Barnes’s waist to his lower back. “I see you’ve been busy.”
“Well, it’s either this or selling ass, which one would you prefer?” Barnes asks, and Steve winces a bit. His hand is big and warm over Barnes’s. “I have rent to pay.”
“Do you need money?” Steve asks immediately. “I have money, I can get you money.”
“We’ve established that you have money,” Barnes says drily. “What do you want in exchange?”
“Just to see you.” Steve pulls him a little closer. Barnes… definitely doesn’t hate it. “That’s all, baby, I promise.”
Barnes contemplates the offer. It’s certainly tempting: he’s tired of his clothes smelling like french fry oil every night, and having to fight over living space, and he fucking hates the snide little trolls in his Tumblr inbox.
“Can you get me an apartment without pomeranians?” Barnes asks, because he might be crazy, and this might be a bad idea, but he’s always been a pragmatist. “With a tub? And an actual bedroom?”
“Anything,” Steve promises eagerly.
“Perfect,” Barnes says. “Get me the place and you can fuck me there. I have six flatmates now, I can’t take you home.”
Steve splutters a laugh and yanks Barnes into a proper hug, squeezing him so hard that Barnes’s ribs creak.
“I love you, you stupid fuck,” Steve says, sounding a little choked up. He holds Barnes for a long time, and at some point Barnes drops the baseball bat and hugs him back with both arms.
It’s really, really nice.
“Do you have a car?” Barnes asks after a while, checking his watch for the time. He needs to get a move on.
“A motorbike,” Steve says. “I parked two blocks away just in case.”
“Great,” Barnes says, pulls out of the embrace, picks his bat up, and takes Steve’s hand to drag him out of the apartment. “Give me a ride to East Village, I gotta go slice kebab.”
“Of course, Buck,” Steve says, face soft and fond like they’re in fucking Titanic. “Wait, what?”
“I’m quitting,” Barnes tells the owner when he gets in for his shift. “I won’t be coming in after today.”
“You got a better job?” Big Kemal asks. He’s Big Kemal because he’s the boss. Little Kemal does the dishes three nights a week, and owns the most amazing leather jacket Barnes has ever seen.
“Sort of,” Barnes says and puts his apron on. “I got a big commission.”