Title: Only a Signal Shown

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: T/PG-13

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Summary: The government's very, very good at making better weapons and very, very bad at beating them back into plowshares afterward. 1000 words.

Spoilers: General Leverage spoilers; The Bourne Legacy (2012)

Notes: For hiddencait. The movie may have been all set up and no punchline, and the timelines may not quite match here, but this conversation had to happen, regardless. Title from Longfellow.

Eliot's passing through Manila, on his way back from personal business to meet up with the team again, when he catches sight of a face he last saw bloodied and all too still on a gurney in the sandbox. Private Kenny Kitsom, he matches face to name after a long, disbelieving look: he hadn't been the brightest bulb Eliot had ever met, but he'd had a hell of a lot of heart. It was partly because of what had happened to all too many kids like Kitsom that Eliot had chosen the route he had out of the military.

It only takes him that second to realize there's no way Kitsom had done the same; if his recruiter hadn't made up his aptitude numbers to get him in, it had been damn close. He wouldn't have been tapped for the kind of duties Eliot pulled; hadn't had the ability. Hadn't even been capable of it, really, and not for the same reasons someone like Parker would be a poor fit for the service. He is now, though; Eliot can see it in the way he moves, the way he scans the crowd for threats, the tension in him that speaks to a long, long mission that ain't quite over yet.

It's definitely Kitsom, too; he's pretty damn sure he's not mistaken about that. And that reminds him of several old, unpleasant rumors he'd been too numb to pay much attention to at the time: of kids with more dedication than sense and no particular support structure disappearing, more than statistics would predict. Some dead, some just MIA, not a one of them missed by any but their squad mates. God knows what the military's done to him, but given that the government's gotten very, very good at making better weapons and very, very bad at beating them back into plowshares afterward, Eliot has a fair idea of what he's dealing with.

He has three choices, now: sneak up on the kid and risk startling his sharpened reflexes, approach openly and risk spooking him, or let him go and get back to his own business. He can't forget him now that he's seen him, though, and he has a feeling the new Kitsom's at least as skilled as Eliot is, if he's been through the kind of thing Eliot thinks he has. So Eliot chooses the second option: his silhouette is a hell of a lot different now than it was when he still wore dogtags, and he knows how to move with a crowd without drawing attention.

The former private had seen him often enough to recognize his face at close range, though, long hair or not, and it's still a close thing when Eliot gets near enough for one of those casual glances around the crowd to pick him out. For a tense moment, he thinks Kitsom's going to bolt- but then the guy puts his back to a pillar, hands dangling loose at his sides, and turns to face him. He's tense enough to snap, with a slight glassiness to his memorable blue eyes and a faint sheen of sweat on his skin, but for whatever reason he chooses to stand his ground.

"Sarge," Kitsom greets him tersely, chin up in macho greeting. "Why am I not surprised?"

"I think you got the wrong impression here, man," Eliot says, lifting his empty hands, keeping them close instead of reaching out. So he is in trouble, then. He wonders if it has anything to do with that CIA mess in the news, and leaves a good arm length and a half between them. Not that they probably couldn't both cross that space in a blink if they took a mind to, but body language speaks damn loud to people in his profession. "You see any stripes on my shoulders? I got out a long time ago. Was passing through and saw you, so I thought I'd say hello."

Kitsom's jaw works; he'd always had an expressive face, and whoever the hell he is now hasn't quite learned how to wipe the slate clean, either. His smile lines are deeper than when Eliot saw him last- but it isn't a smile he's trying to hide now, it's a complex mishmash of bone-deep wariness, exhaustion, and the hollow absence of hope. Eliot feels a visceral snap of recognition at the look, and knows before Kitsom opens his mouth that he's going to blow him off.

"Sorry, this isn't a good time," he says, schooling his face into a half-apologetic expression, but the tension in him doesn't abate at all. Yeah; Eliot remembers the feeling. Whatever's going down, letting go of his paranoia ain't in the cards- it might be all that's keeping him alive.

"I can see that," Eliot nods, carefully. "Anything I could maybe help you with? One ghost to another?"

That gets an eyebrow from Kitsom and a further sharpening of his expression. "What's your angle?"

"No angle," Eliot shakes his head, then reaches very, very slowly for the left side front pocket of his jeans. "Just gonna get my card, all right?"

Kitsom takes the still fairly crisp Leverage Consulting card warily, cupping it in his palm in such a way that only the corners touch skin, and barely even those.

"Like I said, not in the game anymore," Eliot tells him as he reads it. "Believe it, or don't. But if you ever need anything. Call that number, man. I'll come. No questions."

"Why?" The corner of Kitsom's mouth quirks. "One ghost to another."

"Been there," he shrugs, returning the wry smile. "So you take care of yourself...?"

Kitsom studies him a moment longer, in evident bafflement, then slowly tucks the card away in a pocket of his own. "Aaron Cross," he says, extending a hand.

Eliot takes it, a brief, firm handclasp. "Eliot Spencer," he replies.

Then he turns, exposing his back to a bullet he's willing to take on faith ain't coming, and walks away.