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language of love

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It’s a beautiful morning. Eliot opens his personal food truck at nine o’clock sharp, propping the awning up and setting out the chalkboard sign with the day’s menu. He’s feeling good about it, having acquired some fantastic zucchini from James and Leon the day before. It smells ripe, ready to be used immediately, and Eliot’s hopeful that his customers will be interested in the two dishes he’s decided to use it for: one a stir-fry and the other a fajita plate. Although he’s not expecting to sell either of those until lunchtime.

 

That’s fine, of course. The first couple of hours are for the late breakfast crowd and the brunchers. Some of his favorites come by during this time, like Mr. Blanche from the library who really should look into retiring before his knees give out on him, or Maggie from the art museum who’s always happy to talk about whatever exhibits are coming through. Eliot’s not really much of one for libraries or museums, but Maggie and Blanche are both so passionate that Eliot can’t help the way he soaks in everything they have to say about their vocations.

 

He’s the same, in a way, and it’s nice to meet other people doing what they love.

 

The thump on the roof of his truck at around eleven-twenty-seven disturbs the rhythm he’s fallen into, warning him that the relatively normal day has gone completely off schedule.

 

Eliot braces himself as an upside-down blonde head peers over the awning. “Parker,” he growls up at the local menace. “Can’t you use the street like a normal person?”

 

“Normal’s boring,” the blonde retorts. “Alice is normal.” Her eyes narrow, like she’s thinking, but then she shakes it off. “I want my usual.”

 

“One special, coming up,” Eliot mutters, turning back towards the kitchen with an eyeroll. He’s never met Alice, whom he suspects is Parker’s sister given what she says about the other woman, and he’s not sure he wants to meet anyone Parker treats as a nemesis. Especially if he’s right about their relationship.

 

When he turns around to hand Parker’s order up to her, there’s cash on the counter, just like always. He’s stopped trying to watch for it because he never catches her placing it down, no matter how closely he looks. After handing the box up to Parker, he pulls the loose money over and starts breaking it down between how much she owed and how much is ‘extra’. He should probably call it tip money, but the amount varies dramatically. Mostly because Parker always hands over the same amount and the price of the day’s special changes depending on what he had to source for it.

 

It’s probably not the smartest business model, but Eliot believes in fairness when it comes to what something’s worth. That’s how he keeps his customers and it’s how he treats his employees, his fellow veterans. Even after everything, he still wants to make the world a little more balanced. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.

 

“Why are you still here?” he hisses up at the blonde menace still watching him from over his awning. She’s pulled back a little so all he can see are her large blue eyes and the upside-down ponytail, but he can tell that she’s squinting at him.

 

“Someone’s going to come by later,” she informs him, “and he’s going to be a little bit of an asshole, because he can’t help himself. But you have to treat him right, the way you treat me how I need to be. Okay?”

 

What the actual fuck. “Okay, Parker,” Eliot groans. There really isn’t any talking to her when she gets into one of these moods, so he’s just going to spare himself the headache. “Come back tomorrow, I’m going to have a dessert special,” he says before her head completely disappears from view.

 

A delighted squeal echoes back to him, followed shortly by the sound of footsteps and then silence.

 

Eliot manages a smile for the short line that gathered while he dealt with Parker, several of whom seem resigned but most of whom seem more than a little unnerved. “Who’s next?” Eliot asks, as cheerfully as he can with Parker’s cryptic words hanging over him like the sword of Damocles.

 

Eliot’s not proud of this, but he kind of sort of maybe forgets about Parker’s warning over the course of the next few hours.

 

It’s not his fault! He’s busy. His food trucks are popular, and there’s been a notable uptick ever since he permitted Breanna to do some sort of online social app thing. He doesn’t have to run it or anything, thankfully, but he can acknowledge that whatever she does with it helps with the foot traffic. Enough that he probably owes her several free meals. Or an actual payment. Whatever she says she wants the next time she swings by.

 

He thinks she’s about due, actually. He can find out where in the world she’s gone this time, besides off traveling for her older brother and helping him with his work.

 

Four hours after Parker’s been and gone and not quite two since the end of the lunch rush, Eliot’s wiping down the counter, enjoying a bit of a break, when he hears someone say, “You know, when I heard food truck, this is not what I was picturing.”

 

Eliot looks up, bracing himself, because the tone alone just grates on him in the worst way. His scowl freezes when he spots Breanna, arms crossed, head tilted away from the taller man standing at her side. “You can’t hold this idiot against me,” she informs Eliot when she spots him watching. “I just came here from the airport and he followed me –”

 

“Followed – I followed you? Girl, do you hear yourself? I drove you,” the man – Breanna’s brother, Eliot assumes – shoots back, “all the way to the food truck you won’t stop talking about, and I am confronted with this affront to all things food truck. Where is the grease and the scent and the heart attack on a plate?”

 

Eliot leans forward on the counter, arms folded, and smiles at the man, the smile he always used to save for the higher ups in the military who sent him out on the shit missions and the suicide runs. “Hey, man, you want all that? Go find a New York City food truck, because mine are actually healthy, tasty, and sustainable!”

 

It’s terrible customer service given that he’s yelling by the end of it, but he’s sure Breanna won’t care. And it’s not like there’s really anyone else lingering in the pre-dinner lull, so he doesn’t have to worry about scaring other people away.

 

“All right, all right,” Breanna’s brother says, holding up his hands. “I’m sorry I insulted your baby, a'ight?” He scans the menu, makes a bit of a show of it.

 

Breanna rolls her eyes again and steps closer to Eliot. “Ignore Alec. Please. Actually, you don’t even have to serve him. Seriously.”

 

Eliot shrugs. “If he orders something off the menu, I’ll make it.” He likes cooking – likes feeding people, being completely honest – too much to not. Even with the attitude. Hell, he’s served people who’ve said worse before. “What’ll you have? On the house,” he adds, “as thanks for the social media thing.”

 

“Sweet! And, hey – I’m glad it’s been working out for you,” she says with an easy grin. “One of the fajita special. Parker said it was fantastic.”

 

Eliot pauses. “You know Parker?”

 

Breanna gives him a weird look. “I thought you knew. I mean, I’m the one who first told her about your truck, back when I first met her and realized how weird she is about food. I figured your cooking might help, and it really has, at least when we’re all in town.”

 

“She never mentioned,” Eliot says. He carefully starts up the fajita, thinking back to when he first met Parker. She hadn’t said much, those first few times. Just stared at him and demanded ‘whatever he recommended’, although that had slowly morphed into her usual. He’s never asked how she heard about his truck, hasn’t pried much at all, truthfully. She’s a parkour enthusiast with poor social skills who likes his food. Honestly, that last part’s really the only important bit.

 

Alec snorts, but there’s an easy, open smile on his face. “She wouldn’t have,” he says, more to Breanna than to Eliot. “Babe probably just assumed everyone knew without her having to say.”

 

“Oh, yeah, that’s Parker,” Breanna agrees, even as Eliot’s brain skips a beat.

 

“You call her babe?” he asks as full of judgment as he can manage. Not because he’s against the word as a pet name but because it really doesn’t seem like it fits Parker.

 

Alec, however, just grins wider. It’s softer, turns him from a relatively attractive asshole into someone ridiculously handsome with the way it lights up his eyes. “Yeah,” he sighs, a little dopily.

 

“And she hasn’t even tased him for it,” Breanna informs Eliot cheerfully. Then, in a far more sarcastic tone, she adds, “If that’s not relationship goals, what is, am I right?”

 

“Hey now, I don’t make fun of your sappy texts,” Alec shoots back, “so you can keep your judgmental nose out of my business. And I’ll take the same thing as her,” he jabs his thumb at Breanna, “provided you’re willing to serve me after what I said earlier.”

 

“Two specials coming up,” Eliot confirms, turning back to the stovetop. Parker did warn me about someone coming, he recalls now. Alec isn’t who he’d expected, doesn’t match up at all with anyone he would have imagined her caring about, but that’s probably more of a failing of his imagination than anything else.

 

When he glances back at the two siblings, he spots Alec slipping what looks like a fifty into his tip jar, all while still arguing with Breanna about – something. It sounds like something went weird on their trip given the way they’re giving each other shit. He shakes his head slightly, turns back to the food prep.

 

He’s not sure if he wants to see more of Alec or never see him again, but it’s certainly interesting to think about the ties between some of his customers. Still not my business, he reminds himself. He’s here to serve food, not be the neighborhood gossip.

 

Eliot boxes up the two orders and turns back to hand them over. A glint of sunlight on metal where there shouldn’t be anything catches his attention. Gun, his training says, and he’s vaulting the counter before his brain can catch up with his instincts, landing between the two siblings and dragging them down as two gunshots ring out.

 

Breanna and Alec shriek in tandem as Eliot shoves them behind the dubious shelter of his truck. He peeks past the corner, immediately pulls back out of sight as another gunshot breaks the afternoon’s peace.

 

There are screams breaking out from other places nearby as the gunshots register. Eliot sure hopes one of those people is calling the police because the asshole shooting at his customers is clearly some sort of professional. The lack of wild shots, the distinctive shooters’ stance – Eliot glances at the pair of siblings, neither of whom seems appropriately freaked out for a civilian in their first fire fight.

 

In fact, Breanna has pulled out a tablet and is typing wildly on it with one hand while Alec has a phone open and is shouting at what sounds like Parker for backup.

 

Eliot shoves that aside for later. “Stay here, stay down,” he orders the pair. Without waiting to see if they listen, he goes the other way around the truck.

 

The thing is, Eliot hates guns these days. That doesn’t mean he’s forgotten how to handle them. Peering around, Eliot spots the gunman advancing on the food truck, slowly, gun leveled. Eliot flattens himself back against the metal siding, starts counting mentally. He knows how fast he is, knows how fast the other seemed to be moving. It’s better than he had during some of his black ops missions.

 

Eliot throws himself around the side of the truck, distantly pleased to see that he was right about the gunman making it to the front of the food truck. Without a word of warning, he comes up behind the other man at speed. One hand wraps around the gun handle – and both of the man’s hands where they hold it – while the other slams the gunman’s head against the side of the truck. When the asshole’s hands spasm around the gun, Eliot yanks it away from him, ejects the clip, and chucks the body of it away.

 

A knee to the assailant’s gut has him doubling over enough that Eliot can slam his head into the truck again before dropping him to the ground.

 

He steps back when the guy stays down, running fingers through the hair that’s fallen out of his ponytail to comb it back from his face.

 

“Holy shit,” Breanna says, eyes wide as she stares at him from the other side of the food truck.

 

Holy shit,” Alec echoes, eyes wide, a gratifying look of awe on his face.

 

“You’re hired,” Parker says from far too close given that Eliot hasn’t even realized she’s present.

 

He spins around, somehow not clocking her in the jaw, as she grins at him, looking pleased. “I don’t do bodyguard work,” anymore, he doesn’t add. Because he doesn’t like to think about that part of his life.

 

Alec chuckles. “Nah, man. We’re not looking for anything so pedestrian.” He turns to his sister. “Breanna? You know this guy the best.”

 

“Yeah, no, he’s cool,” Breanna says with a shrug. “Did some interesting shit in the military – classified black ops, maybe made some poor choices right after getting out, but he’s cleaned up his act, does good work.”

 

Eliot turns to stare at her. “How do you know all that about me?” he demands.

 

“Oh, that? Yeah, that’s my job,” Breanna says with a smirk. “My actual job, not the cute little social media things I do for fun and so I have something to talk to normal people about.”

 

“Eliot Spencer,” Parker intones, a devious smile curling her lips in counterpoint to the almost solemn note in her voice, “how do you feel about thievery?”