How James Buchanan Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, ended up working the dish pit at Hardison's brew pub was something of a mystery. On a scale of surprising things, Eliot was more surprised by Barnes showing up one day looking like a kicked dog and asking for help than he was that time SHIELD turned out to be HYDRA (No, really, a shadowy organization beholden to very few authorities was secretly fascistic? Where the hell was the secret?) and slightly less surprised than when his old military buddy Rhodes had shown up flying around in one of Stark's fancy suits.
The point was, Barnes was a good man for washing dishes. It hadn't been hard to slot him into the kitchen; one of the kids on dish was ready for promotion to the line anyway. The Brewpub staff weren't inclined to ask questions about quiet people who showed up in worn out clothes needing jobs and maybe a cot in a back room.
If laying low and doing tedious work while he thought real hard about who he used to be, who he was now, and who he wanted to be was what Barnes needed, Leverage, International could give him that space.
Though it was hard as hell to keep Hardison from bothering the man about his arm. And also annoying to have to listen to Hardison make horny noises about the "murder strut," And Parker wasn't much better. But Eliot had to admit, Parker's habit of pestering people had helped him relax and trust that other people could be in his space without wanting to hurt him. So he didn't try too hard to keep Parker from showing up in the dish pit armed with her poky finger and a lot of personal questions.
Eliot tried to give Barnes his space. Hardison had danced around the question early in Barnes's stay. Wouldn't it be good for Barnes to have someone to talk to who could at least understand some of what he'd experienced? But Barnes no doubt knew everything there was to know about Eliot, and if he wanted to talk, he could make the first move. He didn't need Eliot pushing him.
But there was one thing that drove Eliot crazy. The damn meal replacement powder. Barnes was being paid overtime for his shifts on dishes - Eliot had ended up promoting both the former dish kids into the kitchen, because Barnes always wanted to work. He had a roof over his head in a storage room Eliot cleared out for him, and he was welcome to eat off the menu like the rest of he staff did, or use the kitchen when the brewpub was closed. And there was always family meal before dinner service.
But did Barnes eat with the rest of them? No. He didn't so much as microwave frozen dinners. Just bought these giant tubs of Soylent powder and mixed them straight up with water.
Imagine being surrounded by so much good food and eating grotesquely named nerd fuel instead.
One evening just after closing, Eliot called Barnes back into the kitchen.
"Hey, c'mere man, taste something for me?"
Eliot's sous chef was working on a new dish that he wanted to put on the menu soon.
Barnes walked into the kitchen, that posture that made him look small even though he was buff as hell.
'What is it?" he asked.
"Constanza's working on a cold chicken, leek and pancetta pie. Render the pancetta down, caramelize the leeks in it, brown the chicken, the whole thing's in a rough puff shell with a demi-glace gravy binding the filling. Here, have a bite? Still workin on the food costs, but the pancetta's worth it, I think."
He handed Barnes a plate with a slice of savory pie and a fork.
Barnes took a mouthful and chewed.
"It's good," he said.
"You know, you're welcome to eat with the rest of us before service, there's always plenty," Eliot said.
"Thanks," Barnes said, "but I don't need to. I get enough to eat."
"That ain't food," Eliot said, keeping an easy smile on his face, "that's fuel."
"Am I not working fast enough? I can do better," Barnes said softly. His long hair fell in front of his eyes, and his mouth was turned down anxiously.
Fuck, right. Barnes was still somewhere, lost and trying to find his way back, but basically institutionalized through and through. Still facing the immense idea that no one was telling him what to do next.
"Hey, no," Eliot said. He took the plate out of Barnes's hand and set it down on a counter.
"You're not in trouble. You can keep drinking those damn shakes the rest of your life if that's what you want. But food ain't just fuel, and you're not just somethin' that has to keep fueled up and do a job."
Barnes shrugged as if he had no response to that.
"Okay, let's start with something simple," Eliot said, tying on an apron, "Pancakes."