Disclaimer: Eric isn't mine, nor is his wife, nor is 'the six year old'. They're borrowed from BVE without permission, but no harm, no foul, no money made.

This follows up Jingle All The Way. If you haven't read that you may well be a little lost.

Gracias to Cmar for the discussion that prompted this little effort. Gracias to Gamine for helping me fine tune this.


The Man In The Mirror

The man in the mirror stares back at me. Reminds me of what I've done. Every last, contemptible little detail.

I sometimes think that if my friends -- my family -- knew every last little thing I've done, they'd run from me, and that would be what I'd deserve. The things I've seen and turned away from. The things I've done without a thought.

The orders I've followed.

I've tried to be a good man. But in a world where nothing is black and white, where all you see around you are shades of grey, it's hard. Sometimes, it's more than hard.

I taught myself to take solace in the knowledge that some of what I was doing was good. Some kernel of what I was involved with would benefit someone. Taught myself to ignore the bad that accompanied the good.

And all that was undone by a six year old child.

She cut through ten years of hardass and bullshit.

She reminded me of the reason why I chose to take my anger and channel it like I did. Because, at the end of the day, when I was eighteen -- as angry as I was -- I wanted to make things better. I wanted to put myself in the way so that someone else wouldn't grow up like I did. So that there would be one less kid angry at the world.

And somewhere along the way, I lost myself to the anger.

And that six year old showed me just how far I'd fallen...and gave me a way to save myself.

Gave me a shot at redemption.

But when you've wallowed in the darkside, forever does it cloud your destiny.

It might be a line from a film, but it's true. It's like trying to quit breathing, not being that person any more. But for that six year old...not six any more...and her mom, I keep trying.

And then I fall back.

Not Soong and Chung-Hee -- I know for a fact that neither one would have had any hesitation in killing me, and I know that killing them does make this world a better place. What they were doing -- and were prepared to do -- was nothing short of evil.

But am I any better than that?

I killed Soong's bodyguards. They were just there to do their jobs. I didn't have to kill them -- particularly not once I'd disarmed them. I could have just put them under then tied them up. Let Peterson and his ilk deal with them. But I didn't. I killed them.

Two more on my account.

Even if I put them under before I did it, I still killed them in cold blood. The arms that hug the six year old wrapped around their necks, twisting until flesh and cartilage gave way. Where is the good in that?

There is none.

And yet...

The pragmatist in me says: There was no other choice. The two bodyguards would have killed me just as soon as Soong and Chung-Hee would have done. Or if not me, someone else.

And if that's true, then where does that leave me?

Three years ago, I wouldn't have cared.

Now it's the most important thing in the world.

Am I a good man.

Can I be a good man?

And as I look in the mirror, searching for something worthwhile in me, the six year old's mom appears in the mirror with me. She's standing behind me, smiling a little bit. So beautiful. So perfect. I wonder what she's doing with a guy like me.

She says, "Hon -- come to bed. It's late."

But I don't move. Can't move. The man in the mirror's jeering at me now. The imperfect one. The murderer. The man who shouldn't be in this place. Who doesn't deserve this life.

And she smiles at me. "Whatever you did, you did for the right reasons," she tells me, a hand coming down on my shoulder. Her touch is light. A counterpoint to my darkness.

"Did I?" I answer, still not turning to face her. I meet her gaze in the mirror instead. "Was it for the right reasons?"

She smiles. "Well, you're here, with me. Whatever you needed to do brought you here. I see no bad in that."

She knows.

She's looking at me like she can see through my barriers. Maybe she can.

Why is she still smiling?

"If you'd done anything differently," she says, "would the outcome have been what it was?"

"There'd be two more guys alive," I answer softly. The closest I've come to admitting to her that I'm a killer.

"But would they be?" she asks.

And she's looking at me now like she knows something about the situation that I've missed.

She comes closer. She doesn't wrap her arms around me, but I can feel her presence; feel the way she's standing close enough for me to just feel the firm swell of her belly. The child that she and I've created. If I live to be a hundred I'll never wrap my mind around that. How did a screwed up bastard like me get here?

"Hon," she says, "think about it this way. You know Peterson. You know what you went there to do. Do you honestly believe Peterson was going to take prisoners?"

And there is the thing I've not seen. The thing that maybe I didn't want to see because it gives me the justification. It gives me an 'out'. An excuse. And that feels weak. And maybe that's what really gets to me. That I did it before someone else could or would.

"Ease up on yourself," she continues. "You are a good man. Whatever happened, happened, and it doesn't change who you are."

The man in the mirror jeers again, but this time I don't see him. She's slipped between me and him, meeting my gaze instead of the shade of the man I used to be. I sigh and let go of the brooding thoughts. Maybe I'm not quite the white-hat that the six-year-old sees me as, but maybe I'm not the black-hat I used to be.

And maybe what I did was for the right reasons.

And maybe, someday, I'll really believe that.

But for now, her belief is enough.

Because if she believes, then maybe there's hope for me yet.