neptune’s ocean (wash this blood)
Okay so, I ended up on the part of TikTok that has A Thing for Hotch’s hands, and I decided to make it angsty. And then it had a happy Mortch ending? I don’t know...
The title is a reference to Macbeth: “Will all great Neptune’s wash this blood from my hands? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.” It’ll make sense when you read.
This was cathartic to write, especially given the conversation I had today. I hope it is somewhat cathartic to read. You can heal. You can move on, you can be happy, and your biggest fears may never come true, no matter what your brain says. As usual, no proofreading, or dialogue.
Word Count: 2486
Trigger Warnings: child abuse, blood, vomit, guns, death, grief/mourning, intrusive thoughts, survivors guilt
read on ao3!
He can’t bring himself to look at his hands. They’d never been something he’d actually focused on. He’d never thought they were cute the way Jack’s were, or hated how slender his fingers were, so unlike the stereotypical hero. He didn’t pause his life to watch them carry out household tasks the way Haley always had.
Haley. Haley who is dead, and gone and cold, and whose blood coats his hands like a second skin. She loved his hands. She always told him how she loved everything about him, but his hands were her favourite thing. She loved how soft they were. How strong they were. Everything about them.
In their first apartment, with the random photos and multi-coloured walls and traces of themselves and love everywhere, she had confessed this love to him. He had laughed when she couldn’t explain what she loved, or why. Haley had thrown a pillow at him in retaliation. But when they ended up laying on the sofa, both claiming they would go and clear the kitchen in a moment, she had linked their hands over her chest and kissed his knuckles.
And confessed that part of the reason she loved them was that they were so much bigger than hers. When Aaron asked her why, Haley turned away and said it was embarrassing. He convinced her to tell him. How, he wasn’t sure. But she told him.
It was because they made her feel safe.
But as he sits in the living room that had once been full of love and life and joy and her, his hands being wiped of all of his sins as though they were as easy to bury as her body, he thought about how those same hands she loved had only hurt her.
He looks down, needing to see the traces of blood before they’re removed forever. As he does so, the limbs start to blur before his eyes. His eyes swim with tears and his throat starts to close. How many times before today has he washed them? Scrubbed at the pain until the skin turned red and raw?
How many times had he succeeded at rubbing it away? At hiding it, not just from everyone else, but from himself? And how many more times would he have to repeat the motion before his hands were clean? Would they ever be clean?
He wipes the tears from his eyes. He doesn’t deserve to cry. Not now. Not after everything he has ruined.
Moments flash through his mind all at once.
Aaron Hotchner is eight.
His father is drunk- but that’s not an excuse, not now and not ever, although he will only learn that at thirteen in a boarding school meant to destroy him- and he does not understand what is going on.
But his father has taken the belt from his trousers and brought it down on too small for his age hands until he sees blood. His hands tremble uncontrollably. Tears stream down his face, but there is no sympathy or kindness waiting for him. Not this time.
The next day, he can hardly hold his pen. Nobody seems to notice or care. So he grits his teeth and bears the pain. It is the first time he finds himself doing such a thing, but it will by no means be the last.
Aaron Hotchner is fourteen.
Someone insults his mother. And they aren’t wrong. He will realise this in a few years: that his mother was just another victim, but in that moment, he is just a teenager angry at the world for letting him live. But whilst he knows it to be true, Sean does not. Sean does not understand that their mother is not perfect, and is just as broken as his brother’s spirit.
Sean is scared. No, he’s terrified that their mother is going to be taken from them and that they’ll never see her again. Aaron feels guilty for wishing that would happen- that both their parents would be taken away, and they would be carried off by someone that can love them the way a parent is meant to be.
Sean is scared, and Aaron is meant to ensure that never happens. He punches the boy.
It hurts his hand more than it hurts the other boy’s face, but he still ends up being suspended. His father hurts his hands again. It’s in that moment that he finally makes a wish: that he would never be like his father, even if he was his mirror.
Aaron is seventeen.
Somehow, he finds himself at Haley’s home. Her parents are away for the weekend. His are still in that wretched house, playing roles in front of their guests and destroying the set behind closed doors.
His hands are covered in blood because his father hit too hard.
Jessica, who is back from college, and the reason their parents are not at home, answers the door. She starts to close it when she sees that it is him. But then she sees how scared he looks, and finally understands why Haley is so protective over this boy.
She lets him in, and does not let him apologise. She summons her sister. His girlfriend.
Haley hugs him. She has suspected this for a while now- everyone has- but she’s going to be different in the way that she is going to act. His fists remain clenched at his side as she makes this decision. Because this is a mistake. He cannot ruin her as well. He needs to walk away.
But Haley and Jessica don’t let him. Haley takes his hands and in the same way Derek will twenty years later, wipes the blood away without blinking or flinching. And then Jessica bandages them up, making sure to use antiseptic to prevent infection. It stings. He doesn’t react. It’s nothing compared to his father.
He tries to ask them how they know what to do, and they both shush him. When Jessica wipes her eyes, and Haley pats her back, he remembers the days they would spend at the church, and the women that would spend hours with them, only returning to their homes when the sun went down.
It is enough to make him vomit. They clean that up without judgment.
And then, and then-
Aaron is twenty-six.
He is graduating from law school, just like he is supposed to. His hand is shaken. He does not flinch away, even though he wants to. He doesn’t recoil because Haley and Jessica are sitting in the audience, the only people he even wanted to watch him walk across the stage.
Their cheers are the only thing he can hear.
When Haley hugs him, and Jessica tells him how proud she is, he knows it isn’t just because he made it.
Aaron is twenty-eight.
He is dancing with Haley at their wedding.
Her hands are so much smaller than his. So much gentler. So much softer. So much more human. And so beautifully void of scars. So perfect.
He makes one final vow that he will never say aloud. He will always keep her safe. No matter what happens.
Hotch is thirty-two.
He shoots someone dead for the first time. The medics come running in to check the injuries on the hostages. To confirm the time and cause of death.
He drops the gun. Dave’s words- don’t let them see you break- echo somewhere in his mind, but he cannot help the display of vulnerability. His knees buckle. He hits the ground with trembling hands. He pulled the trigger that released the bullet that ended someone’s life.
On the train journey home, he pretends to be fine. Jason and Dave pretend to not notice that he is silently falling apart.
The door to his home- the only one he has ever known- closes. As Haley holds him, he cries. And then he tries to push her away because is going to destroy her. It’s in his blood. His father destroyed him, and his father destroyed him, and it is a vicious cycle that he cannot break.
But Haley does not let go.
When the tears stop, she asks. He manages to force the truth out. Haley tells him everything is okay, and that he did the right thing, that he will move on from this. Aaron pretends to believe her, and pretends he doesn’t see her shift away from him ever so slightly.
Perhaps this is the moment their marriage starts to end.
Aaron is thirty-four.
A nurse is placing his son in his arms. Haley is watching them both with a smile. He mirrors that smile. so in awe at her for giving birth.
He’s in awe of his son as well. Jack- named for Jacqueline, the mother Hotch gained from and lost to the job- is tiny. Aaron cannot quite believe he is real. Jack Gideon Hotchner is so small, but so trusting that the arms holding him will keep him safe.
So just as quickly as the awe overwhelmed him, the fear sets in. What is he doing holding a baby so small and precious? He will ruin this child. He needs to let go.
He hands the baby to Haley, and runs to the bathroom. His meagre dinner- fear for Haley had stopped him from eating properly- makes a second appearance.
Haley knows what happened- she always does. She doesn’t force him to explain what went through his head, nor does she tease him about not being able to handle the sight of childbirth like the nurses do, so blissfully unaware of the monsters that haunt his nightmares.
Instead, Haley lays Jack down in the cot beside her bed. And then she takes Aaron’s hands, covering them with her own. She presses a soft kiss to his knuckle. Almost like she is silently promising him the same thing: that he will not hurt this child the way he was.
Suddenly, he is in the present.
Aaron is thirty-nine.
He is sitting in the living room of the home he had built with Haley. The home they were supposed to raise Jack in. Together. But now she is gone. She is gone and it is all his fault.
He let George Foyet escape. And then he took too long to work out his final plan. He took too long to get to the house. So now Haley is gone. Jack will grow up without a mother and a father that cannot trust himself to touch him without causing harm.
How can he?
He has killed a man. A person. A person who had surrendered, with nothing more than his bare hands. He killed the man that had murdered Haley, in order to save Jack, but what kind of person does that make him? How is he supposed to comfort his son by hugging him and holding him when the blood would never be washed from his hands?
How could it?
He is worse than his father.
Derek leaves him after he finishes with the bandages.
He returns a few seconds, minutes, hours- Hotch doesn’t know, time has become nothing to him- later. He returns to Hotch sobbing over all the things he has loved and lost since he was born.
Derek doesn't say a word. He doesn’t need to. He knows nothing he says will make the situation better. Instead, he takes Aaron’s hands and lets the man cry.
Healing- physical and emotional- takes time. Rationally, Aaron knows it will, but it’s still a difficult thing to accept. It takes longer than he wants it to.
It angers him- that it’s taking him so long to get back to normal and move on. The grief counsellor (the one Derek urged him to see, if not for his own sake, then for Jack’s) reminds him that it’s normal. If it were anyone else, Hotch would tell them to let themselves feel, and to give themself time to mourn.
But he is supposed to be the leader of the BAU. And although he can hardly look at Jack without tears forming, he is a father. He needs to be there for his son. So whilst everyone- colleagues, family, Jack’s counsellor, his own therapist- tells him he needs to take care of himself as well, he just can’t.
He can’t bring himself to eat. He can’t bring himself to let go of the guilt. He can’t bring himself to mourn. He can’t bring himself to accept that Haley is gone, nothing more than a casket, a headstone, photos and the memories and stories her loved ones cling to.
There is so much he cannot do. Too much that he feels.
Yet no matter what seems to happen, no matter how sad he feels, how angry he gets at the world, Derek seems to stick around. When Aaron is terrified of hurting someone he loves, Derek is there to remind him he won’t. When he is so tired he can’t even sleep, but Jack wakes from a nightmare, Derek stays awake and reads to him.
When he forgets to eat.
When counselling drains him of his energy.
When his hands shake too much to point the gun at the target during his re-certification training.
When he can’t even look at his hands because of all the harm they have caused.
Derek stays, even when Aaron cannot hug his son.
Aaron Hotchner is forty-three years old.
It has been three years since Haley’s death.
Two years ago, he let go of his guilt. One year and nine months ago, he let go of his fear of moving on, as he realised he could love someone and remember her all at once. Seven months ago, he built up the courage to tell Derek how he truly felt.
Derek had kissed him, soft and gentle and perfect. It had been exactly the same and completely different to the first kiss him and Haley had shared. Because it had been perfect, and it had been unexpected, but it had been less desperate and less messy.
Derek had kissed him, and Aaron had felt peace. He knows Haley is proud of him.
Derek is watching him. The man who had lost everything and then found a way to carry on. The man who put everyone above himself, but is learning to care for himself. The man who still wakes up screaming, but who has learnt to breathe without fear of timing running out.
The man he loves.
Jack is holding an ice-cream in one hand as he and Hotch walk side by side, down to where Morgan is waiting to surprise the boy- not so little anymore- with a trip to the bowling alley for his birthday.
Jack holds his hand out for his dad to take.
And what does Aaron do?
He takes Jack’s hand in his own, without a single ounce of hesitation.