Kenneth Kitsom had always believed in everything his superiors told him. Aaron Cross had always wanted to believe in everything his superiors told him.
Kenneth Kitsom had always been passionately patriotic, though he didn't really understand what the word meant. Aaron Cross had figured out that “patriotism” meant different things depending on who was asking for it and who was praising it. Aaron Cross wanted to be the kind of patriotic that meant you would give up everything—your life and freedom and so much more—but he wasn't as sure about the kind of patriotic that slapped accepted morality in the face and stomped it in the dirt.
Kenneth Kitsom hadn't been very good with books or words, but he'd dedicated himself wholly to honing his body into what the Army needed of him. The Army had taken the broken shell of what was left of Kenneth Kitsom and reshaped it into Aaron Cross. His physicality was unquestioning, though he still found himself working that extra bit harder on his training because he might one day lose the mind that the Army had given him but he would never lose the body. Not completely.
Aaron Cross had taken to looking back on what he'd been as Kenneth Kitsom and knowing he could never have become what he was now without that man, comparatively weak as he was. What was left of Kenneth, the ghost of the man, sometimes looked at what Aaron Cross had become and what he did now and he'd been confused.
“We are the Sin Eaters,” Byer had said, back then. After.
Aaron didn't think he realised it, but Byer had been talking to what was left of Kenneth Kitsom, soldier from Reno. This is what you've become, Kenneth had said. This is what was needed, he'd asked. An explosion had gone off somewhere in their brain, bright as a nuclear device, but so subtle that Byer continued talking like nothing was wrong.
“We bury it down deep inside so the rest of our side can stay pure,” Byer had continued. Kenneth had understood what that meant. The explosion in their mind looked a lot like the IED that had injured him so badly, that had broken him to the point that only Outcome could fix him. Aaron saw the white hot flames engulf Kenneth, saw the smooth almost baby flesh first pitted as it had been when he'd spoken to Turso and then eaten away by flames until he looked a lot like the innocent people who had been taken in the blast he'd just set off in the backwoods of the Middle East.
Aaron Cross had lost not just any sense of moral superiority that day, but he'd also lost the sense that he was working with Kenneth's memory. He was on his own now and he felt that he had a duty to live up to the memory.
He took Byer's words to heart. He was a Sin Eater. There was no reason to deny it now. Kenneth's final moments were oddly freeing. While he hadn't been holding back before, he somehow managed to throw himself even further into the mission. He was the Sin Eater. He had blackened his soul and did the horrible things that needed to be done. He would be the absolute best at what he did so that there was no reason for anyone else to compromise themselves for these missions.
Oddly, it gave him a better sense of patriotism. His idea of patriotism was different than others, he knew, but it was what he needed. He didn't so much feel that breathtaking loyalty to the Stars and Stripes—and wouldn't that have just horrified Kenneth, who only wanted to serve his country—but he did feel a total devotion to the innocent. He served the good people of the world. He served the soldiers who had done their duty and just wanted to go home to live out a normal civilian life. He served the children of all nations, so that they might one day live without fear. He served the normal person, just trying to get by on whatever wages they were paid.
He walked in the shadows so the light might one day shine brighter and stamp out those shadows.
Unfortunately, the brighter a light became and the harder it shined down, the darker the shadows. He learned that lesson the hard way.
He'd been stockpiling his meds since the very beginning, fearing that he might one day run out of the pills and start to lose himself back to the darkness of Kenneth. Now that his mind was pulled out of ignorance, he was terrified of going back. He wouldn't lose the one thing that he'd worked so hard to get and the one thing he considered to be his compensation for walking so deep in the shadows. But the point was, he hadn't been stockpiling because he doubted the cause. Not really. Byer's explanation had made sense and he couldn't lose his trust in the system because if his superiors weren't working for the greater good, then there was nothing left for him.
The missile that had destroyed the cabin in Alaska had been such a surprise. When it first hit, his mind had told him that it had to be the enemy. Someone had found out about Project Outcome and one of their enemies was trying to wipe it all out. But the drone had told him all he needed to know. That was an American drone. He'd watched a drone just like that provide cover for his own ops.
He didn't have time to mourn the loss or think about what it meant for his own soul. None of that mattered, anyway. His mind went blank and he called on all of his training and all of his ingenuity to deal with the problem. He let them believe that they'd won, that he was dead. He did it because he needed time.
He helped Dr. Shearing first because he knew the woman was kind. She was involved with the project for the science and because she believed in making the world a better place. He didn't force her to help him as he'd been prepared to do because he realised she was what he'd been when there was still Aaron and Kenneth. She was stuck at that stage and there was no other person who she had been or might be to change that and he didn't want her to have to change it.
When he woke up after she had administered the final treatment, it was with a clear mind for the first time in a long time. He would help Dr. Shearing find a safe place because she was an innocent. She hadn't known exactly what she was getting into when she'd signed up to work on Project Outcome. He would secure her safety and then he would go in search of Jason Bourne. What little he'd been able to find suggested that the man knew more than he did. He wasn't ready to burn the whole thing down, but he thought Bourne might be able to give him a good reason to do so or at least a good reason to get to the bottom of it all.
His hands moved across the mirror almost of their own accord, but he knew what the message would be.
He wasn't ready to burn it all to the ground, but he wouldn't let them hunt him to the ends of the earth without some repercussions.