Title: Kitchen Confidences
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Summary: Who better for Eliot to talk to than a man who'd walked the same road before him? 2400 words.
Spoilers: The Rundown (2003); Leverage through all of Season 3
Notes: For FaithUnbreakable, who wanted Beck and Eliot to meet. And wow, they do have a lot in common. Decompression from Season 3; written before the start of Season 4. Kitchen details vagued up from reality TV.
Beck looked up from his meal preparations with a frown as Travis stuck his head into El Gato's kitchen. "Something up? You usually don't show up for the 'boring pre-cooking part'."
Travis shrugged. "That chef friend of yours from Boston is here. Says he's in town for a couple of days and wants to know if you need any backup tonight. How the hell did he know?"
"He's here?" Beck glanced involuntarily toward the swinging doors that led out into the dining area, and caught a glimpse of a familiar face through the little round windows. "Damn. I don't know whether to be grateful he showed up today, or kick his ass for whatever he did to make Ricardo call in sick."
Travis' eyebrows rose. "Seriously, you think...?"
"After the last time? A few of our employees' spending habits were suspiciously extravagant after he rotated his way through the kitchen filling in for the 'seasonal flu'." Beck snorted. "Still, it's not like anyone went home unhappy. Send him on in."
"You sure?" Travis asked, wrinkling his nose. "Seriously, no guy two thirds your size should walk around your restaurant like he owns the place. You want I should take him down a peg first? A little thunder, a little lightning?"
Travis picked up his feet one after the other and waved them in the air a little as he spoke the magic words, and Beck hurriedly stifled the urge to laugh with a cough. "Uh, no, that's all right. He's gotta know I know what he's up to, so if he's here, he's got good reason."
"If you say so." Travis shrugged, walking back out into the main area of the restaurant and waving his visitor in as he passed.
The man who walked in next was at least half a foot shorter than Beck, inches an onlooker might be forgiven for assuming he'd traded for hair length instead. He'd secured a thick fall of long, curly brown locks under a blue bandana that matched his eyes, and disguised a solidly muscled form with worn jeans and a loose-fitting red Henley. Travis knew what Beck had done for a living before taking up the restaurant business- he could hardly have avoided the knowledge, considering how they'd met- but he didn't know exactly how famous Beck had been in those circles while he'd been active, nor the name of the man who'd stepped into his spot as premiere retrieval specialist after his 'retirement'. And it was just as well he'd never had cause to learn. Eliot Spencer was a damn sight deadlier than he looked.
He was a pretty good cook, too. He'd already been through chef school by the time Beck had finally pried the funds for his own restaurant out of Billy Walker, but Beck liked to think he'd taught the man a thing or two during his visits. It wasn't like Eliot had the opportunity to cook for hundreds instead of a handful very often during his regular career, any more than Beck had back in his heyday.
"Man, you look like hell," he said, tipping his chin up to greet his guest.
Eliot snorted. "What, no happy to see you? No Eliot, how've you been?"
Beck rolled his eyes at him. "More than half a year this time, and you show up looking like you've been through the wringer? I can see how you've been. You want to talk about it?"
Eliot glanced around the area to make sure none of the other kitchen staff had shown up yet, then grimaced, glancing down at hands that had twitched into fists. "I don't know about want to."
"There's always Option B," Beck said lightly, turning back to his cutting board to give the man a little space. Not that he expected Eliot to take him up on it. They probably would have a sparring match at some point during his visit, but beating on Eliot Spencer for the purposes of trying to make him do anything was unlikely to result in much besides a trip to the hospital. He did need someone to talk to every so often about the rougher side of his job, though, and he knew it; and who better than a man who'd walked the same road before him?
Eliot sighed heavily. "I wouldn't go that far. But I don't know if- shit." He stood quietly a moment longer; then footsteps shuffled over toward the kitchen's main sink, followed by the sounds of a soap pump in use and running water. "You know about Damien Moreau."
"Shit," Beck echoed as his knife slipped a little. He'd barely missed nicking a finger; he never cut himself cooking, but- hell. Yeah, he knew about Damien Moreau. The international financier was a couple of steps up the food chain from the likes of Billy Walker, but they'd met once. And he'd heard the name from Eliot before.
The one and only time Beck had ever been grateful to Billy- well, one of two counting Travis, or three if Beck added giving him the opportunity to work off his debt in the first place, which he didn't because Billy hadn't really intended to let him go- had been when the man opted not to trade his services as part of whatever corrupt dealings had brought him to Moreau's attention. Eliot had been Moreau's answer to what he'd been denied in Beck: Rundown Artist 2.0. He'd had a reputation even before that, but he'd reached the heights of his legend- or, as he would put it, the depths- in Moreau's service. Fortunately, like Beck, Eliot had eventually left his patron. And in the process of reconstructing himself, he'd hunted up Beck to ask a few questions. The visits had sort of become a regular thing, since.
Eliot looked over at him, a quick flash of troubled blue eyes before he shut off the water and moved to a cutting board at the next preparation table. He'd tied on Jenna's floral-print apron rather than Ricardo's solid green one, but Beck wasn't about to twit him about it, not with that expression on his face.
"Exactly. Shit just... happened, and before I knew it my team had been chasing Moreau for six months."
Beck shook his head, already wary of where the story was going. He'd heard about the kinds of marks Nathan Ford and his team generally fleeced, and he approved; if someone had been running around doing that kind of thing back when he'd first got into trouble, he might have walked free a lot sooner. Then again, he'd never have met Travis if he hadn't been sent on 'one last job' to retrieve Billy's son, and the remote Brazilian town of El Dorado would still be under the boot heel of a tyrant, so he supposed it all worked out in the end. Moreau, though: the criminal mastermind was way out of Leverage Consulting's usual league.
"And of course you'd never mentioned you used to work for him?" he prompted.
Eliot finally chose a knife, after plucking half a set from the carving block one by one and sighting down their blades. "'Course not. I was trying to protect 'em. And no, it wasn't pretty when they found out. That's not the part that really bothers me, though. I mean- of course it does, I ripped Nate and Sophie a new one for keeping secrets from the team before, and Hardison nearly drowned, and one of 'em's going to repeat the question about just what I did for Moreau sooner or later. Hell if I know what's going to happen then. But I just-" He sighed, starting to chop his way evenly through the selection of fresh vegetables laid out next to the cutting board.
Beck frowned, remembering the way Eliot had clenched his hands when he'd walked into the kitchen. It was a sure sign the man had been forced to do something that was sticking with him; and Beck doubted it was just the reappearance of Moreau in his life. Which left- the subject that had come up most often in his grudgingly shared litany of regrets. One that starred frequently in Beck's own nightmares. Eliot said a lot of bullshit about 'limited range of efficacy', which that was true as far as it went, but he'd expanded beyond that when most hitters didn't for a lot more complicated reasons.
"You picked up a gun, didn't you?" he said, frowning at him.
Eliot looked up, throwing Beck a startled look. "You're scary sometimes, you know that?"
Beck raised an eyebrow. "Only sometimes?" he replied, adopting a lofty tone to lighten the mood a little. "It's a simple matter of observation; you should know that."
Eliot snorted, one corner of his mouth curving in a half-hearted smile. "I guess I know how Hardison feels when I go off about distinctive stances and shit," he said. Then he nodded. "Yeah, I did. Nate and a client and I were trapped in a warehouse with a bunch of Moreau's go-to boys. Near a dozen of 'em, armed, with crates for cover. But, well. They all knew who I was enough to make them hesitate. Even my replacement. So I told Nate to get her the hell out while I ran a distraction... and I picked up a damn gun."
Beck gave a low whistle. "Even for me, those would be long odds- at least without a herd of cattle."
Eliot's mouth twitched again. "How about several containers of aircraft grade lubricant?"
Beck cleared the cutting board of the beef he'd been preparing for the chef's special that night, returning the trimmed portions to the refrigerator for use later, while he thought that one over. Lubricant? Which came in overlarge containers... that might have been punctured during a firefight?
"You didn't. How the hell did you pull off a shoot-and-slide in the middle of a dozen armed men?" he asked, aghast. For all he looked worn, Eliot wasn't carrying himself as if he'd been shot. To take a dive across a floor in the middle of a gunfight against that many opponents... even on concrete slicked all to hell, it was an engraved invitation for the Grim Reaper.
"First off, there were a couple less of them by that point, and I'd picked up another gun." Eliot frowned, scraping the chopped vegetables off into separate bowls and starting on a flat of strawberries intended for the summer salads. "And second... hell, if they hadn't stood there like numbnuts while I set up my run, or if Chapman hadn't decided to jaw at me when he had me dead to rights afterwards..." He shrugged.
"Still. I didn't think that kind of gun-kata bullshit worked in real life," Beck replied, starting in on the chicken portions on a fresh cutting board. He'd been up against that many guns at once himself, but usually in areas with a lot more cover where he didn't have to worry about crossing more than a couple of guys' lines of sight at any given time. Maybe something in Eliot's covert military experience had given him an edge. All the same, it was damned impressive.
"Well, here I stand, living proof," Eliot said, lightly. "Though that's a pretty sci-fi reference for you; wouldn't have thought that was your kind of movie."
Beck rolled his eyes. "Travis. Wouldn't have thought it was yours, either."
Eliot snorted. "Hardison," he said. "Yours inflicted that bullet-bending nonsense on you, yet?"
Beck smirked. "I'm pretty sure that one was at least as much about Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy as wanting to know if any of their cee-gee wizardry was realistic."
Eliot grunted. Then he cleared his cutting board again and turned, something tense and thoughtful in the set of his jaw.
"So, Travis... he knows about you and guns?" he asked, and there it was- the kernel of what had been bugging him, Beck was pretty sure.
"Yeah," Beck said, honestly. "Last time I picked one up was when I met him. He'd been pestering me about 'em... I told him, bad things happen when I pick up guns, and I don't like that. But sometimes it's a matter of bad things happening, or worse things happening, and I wasn't going to let him get killed." Then he shrugged. "Besides. He knows I worked for his father; he has a pretty good idea what his father was into, and what that says about me."
Eliot sighed. "After all this... Nate knows. Between Moreau, and General Flores, and... yeah, Nate knows. But the others... I never wanted them to know what kind of man I used to be. They might be criminals, but they never actually hurt people. Not sure they'll understand. And I'm not sure I want 'em to. Things are finally just about back to normal."
Beck considered that. "Normal? You've had one foot out the door the whole time you've worked with these people," he said. "Sooner or later you'll have to either commit, or close it behind you. It'll hurt like a son of a bitch if they react badly, but at least you'll know before it comes out in the middle of a job and gets you all killed."
"Like it almost did this time."
"Consider it a wakeup call," Beck said solemnly. "If you did walk away... hell, you know I'd hire you as sous chef in a heartbeat. But I don't think that's what you really want."
Eliot nodded slowly. "You know, if you asked me three years ago if I'd ever want to belong with a crazy thief, a sugar-addicted hacker, a failed actress and the man who chased me across half of Europe..."
Beck smirked. "If you'd asked me a decade ago if I wanted to partner up with a hyperactive would-be Indiana Jones..."
Eliot saluted him off-handedly with the knife. "Funny how life works."
"So how long are you here for this time? And where the hell's Ricardo?" Beck raised an eyebrow at him. "Don't tell me he has the flu. Again."
Eliot just chuckled, turning back to his cutting board.
Beck shook his head and went back to his own prep with a smirk. Eliot was a smart guy; he'd figure things out. And his friends would come through for him.
One friend, at least, no matter what happened next.