I don't own any of the CM characters; can only wish that I did.
***Spoilers for 100, 101***
Hotch sooo needs to deal with his physical scars... and I admit, I'd love a mirror scene where we get to see them too. Morgan isn't the only good-looking guy on CM! ;) lol Thank you to those who kicked me up the butt for a new story, you were inspiration! I hope it was worth the wait.
The Shaving Lesson
Splashing cold water on his face, Aaron Hotchner took a deep breath and slowly raised his head, letting the drops run slowly off his chin like dew from a leaf. He recognized the flannel boxers and white t-shirt; the man reflected in the bathroom mirror was otherwise a stranger.
'You look terrible.' he reprimanded the figure.
It wasn't really a surprise. It had been ten months since he'd killed George Foyet with his bare hands but the emotional pain was still so raw that it seemed like only yesterday.
Hotch's physical wounds had healed. But the brown eyes once swollen and black from his final battle with Foyet were empty. Small bags had appeared in the wake of injury, an indication of many sleepless nights; long horrible nights spent alone in his room while Jack slept down the hall.
He still hadn't forgiven himself for Haley's death, for not getting to her in time. And although he had become adept at hiding his guilt during the daytime, it returned full force through his nightmares. In the worst of them, he relived her coffin being lowered into the dark, dank earth. Each time it dropped a little deeper, the sounds of those final gunshots would ring out and echo in Hotch's brain. He saw nothing but condemnation on the faces of the mourners; all directed towards him. They were right. It was his fault she wouldn't see her son grow up.
It never failed; Aaron awoke from these nightmares sweating, fighting back tears and full of despair. Thankfully his son seemed to sleep through his thrashing in bed, desperate to save the love of his life before it was too late. Ten months on and Jack remained blissfully unaware of his father's continued suffering.
On 'lesser' occasions, Haley was absent from the nightmare. Instead, Hotch was back on the floor of his old apartment. Foyet was bent over him with his knife and unending taunts. Even in dreamland Hotch could feel the cold steel of the blade piercing his flesh over and over and over again. It was in stark contrast to the warm blood running down his sides; his blood. He felt the immense pain... the fight for air and for consciousness. Worst of all, Hotch felt his complete helplessness at stopping the attack. Irrationally, he still blamed himself for that too.
'I should have fought harder... If I'd taken him down that night Haley would still be alive.'
Hotch rubbed the stubble on his face, disgusted at his appearance. Ever since Haley's death even the most automatic of tasks took great energy and motivation. Aaron forced himself to try to act 'normally' for Jack's sake although he wasn't entirely sure what 'normal' meant anymore. When he wasn't working at the BAU, he tried to put on a happy face for his son. He took him to the park, arranged play-dates, anything he thought Jack would find fun. Hotch wanted his little boy to have some happy memories of his childhood and not have it defined by the final, horrific act of a serial killer.
But it was difficult. Hotch didn't like pretending. He also didn't think he was that good at it; at least not where Jack was concerned. His offspring seemed to be in tune with his father's deepest emotions; he would appear out of nowhere and wrap himself around Aaron's leg just when Hotch felt at his worst. Hotch greatly appreciated the sentiment but he was angry with himself. He felt it should be he providing the strength; he felt he was failing Jack miserably.
'Ten months...' he thought, reaching for the can of shaving cream sitting on the countertop.
Ten months of regretting he hadn't been faster in getting to his family...
Ten months since he had buried his ex-wife, the mother of his only child...
Ten months of being a single father...
Ten months of burying feelings of guilt, anger and failure...
Ten months that managed to feel both like an instant in time and an eternity.
Staring at the stranger in the mirror, Hotch put down the can and subconsciously ran his hand across his t-shirt, fingering the raised skin of each of the nine scars that lay beneath. It was yet another thing he hadn't come to terms with and went out of his way to keep hidden, especially from Jack.
"Daddy whatcha doing?"
The small voice startled Hotch. He turned and tried to smile at his young son.
"I was about to shave buddy. Do you need something?"
Jack shook his head but remained in the doorway, watching intently as his father retrieved his razor from a cabinet and reached again for the can of shaving cream.
Seeing his boy's intense concentration reflected in the mirror, Hotch couldn't help but chuckle.
"Would you like to try? This is really something for grown men..."
Jack's shoulders slumped.
"...but I think you can handle it."
The youngster's entire face lit up. "Can I daddy?! I wanna be just like you!"
'No you don't Jack.'
"First you need to get your step so that you can see yourself in the mirror."
Jack scurried away to his bedroom and was back in an instant. "Now what daddy?" he asked scrambling onto his step and looking excitedly into the mirror.
Hotch had managed to find an extra razor with its blade cover still firmly in place. He presented it to his son, suddenly saddened. Haley would have loved this father-son moment...
'Another lost milestone... Jack, I hope you're like your mother, so much stronger than I am...'
"You ok daddy..?"
With a tremendous effort Hotch pulled himself together.
"I'm fine. I just don't want you to grow up too fast."
Jack seemed to sense the sadness in his father's voice. "I won't... promise."
Aaron smiled slightly and ruffled his son's hair. "Thank you. Okay, you ready for the fun part?"
Jack nodded enthusiastically.
"Now I'm going to squirt some shaving cream into your hands, so put them like this..." Hotch gently took hold of Jack's hands so they formed a cup.
His son giggled as the foam came shooting out of the can, making a 'swoooshing' noise.
"It looks like whipped cream!"
Aaron smiled indulgently. "Yes it does. But you don't want to get any of this in your mouth. It isn't food and it tastes terrible. So remember to keep your mouth closed, okay? Just do what daddy does..."
The two Hotchners spread shaving cream over their faces. Or at least that was the idea. Jack of course, wasn't used to looking in the mirror so was covered in the white foam almost instantly. He managed to get it in his hair, on his arms and all over his t-shirt. He giggled again when Hotch reached over and flicked a big piece of foam away from an ear.
"That tickles, daddy!"
Hotch grinned faintly. "You're doing really well Jack but maybe we should take your shirt off before you shave Captain America by mistake."
"But you don't take your shirt off."
The elder Hotchner sighed. 'True, but not for the reason you're thinking son...'
Aloud, he said, "No buddy, I don't. But I've had lots more practice and don't get cream anywhere but on my face..."
He had barely finished his sentence when Jack, a cheeky glint in his eye, wiped a small cream-covered hand on his father and started to giggle. Hotch was about to frown but stopped. The sound of his child's laughter was stirring something deep within him, something he'd forgotten he possessed. It began to pierce through the solid wall of grief, guilt and self-loathing that Hotch had erected and for the first time in many months, he felt the initial traces of humour.
Looking at the large smear of shaving cream now covering his shirt, Hotch raised an eyebrow at the youngster. He had just the smallest hint of a smile playing about his lips but it was enough for Jack to know he wasn't really in trouble. The five-year old laughed gleefully and repeated his action.
"Jack Hotch-ner..." Hotch said in a mock stern tone.
Jack smiled innocently up at his dad. Aaron shook his head and seemed about to resume his shaving when all of a sudden he used two fingers to scoop some of the foam from his face and wipe it on Jack's tummy. The youngster flew into a fit of giggles, made worse by Hotch then tickling his little boy.
"Stop it daddy!" Jack screeched, his eyes wide with joy, hands flailing and body wriggling in the firm but gentle grip of his father.
Finally, Hotch decided enough was enough. There was shaving cream everywhere. Jack lay curled on the floor with a big grin on his face. Realizing the tickling had finished he sat up and held out his arms. Aaron reached down and was about to pick up the boy when he noticed his son's expression change.
"What's wrong?" he asked in concern.
"Daddy, what happened to your arms?"
'Oh God, no. Not yet. He's already been through too much. Let him be innocent awhile longer...'
"I'm okay Jack." Hotch replied evasively.
But Jack shook his head, pointing at a long nasty-looking scar on the inside of Hotch's left forearm. "Is that why you were in hospital when mommy and me came that time?"
Aaron closed his eyes. He had promised himself that he would never lie to his son. He braced himself.
"Yes." The words were said in as regular a tone as the agent could muster. He didn't want to make a big deal of the event, hoping Jack would accept the answer and lose interest.
But Jack had inherited at least some of his father's intuition. He thought about the answer for a long moment then reached out and carefully touched the raised skin. It was all Hotch could do not to flinch. Touching any of his scars always brought back reminders of the humiliation he had felt at the hands of the Reaper.
"Does it hurt, Daddy?"
Hotch shook his head.
Jack thought some more.
"Did George do them?"
The question hung in the air. While he didn't want his son putting him on a pedestal he did want Jack to feel that daddy was capable of keeping him safe.
Hotch knelt down and looked directly into his son's troubled brown eyes, eyes that were so much like his.
"Yes buddy. George attacked me and I got these trying to protect myself... But I'm okay. The doctors made sure I'm completely fine. I don't want you to worry about these marks okay?"
Jack looked unconvinced but he mumbled "'kay." He wrapped his small arms tightly around his father's neck and buried his head against Hotch's chest. Aaron returned the hug with equal emotion.
They remained like that for several minutes, each taking strength and solace from the other.
"Okay, let's get you cleaned up." Hotch said at last, carrying his son from the bathroom and into his bedroom. "Arms up, please."
Jack obediently put his arms above his head and let his father remove the soiled shirt.
"Can you take it from here while I mop up all of our shaving cream?"
Aaron started to head back to the bathroom.
Hotch turned in the doorway. Jack was looking at his feet, his body language betraying his sudden sadness.
"Hey, what's wrong?"
The little boy shrugged.
Hotch came back into the room, set the dirty garment on the floor and bent down again in front of his son.
"You can tell daddy anything. I won't be mad, I promise." He said gently.
Jack hesitated and still refused to look up.
"Jack, you know how much I love you, right?"
"Is it about mommy?" Hotch fought to keep the catch out of his voice.
"Oh buddy, come here." Hotch opened his arms and enveloped the still half-clad youngster who was now crying quietly.
Acutely aware of how useless he felt in comforting his son, Aaron picked up the small form and moved to the bed. He lay down, arranging Jack on his chest and began to lovingly stroke the blond head. He thought he could hear his heart break when he felt a small hand grip his shirt tightly. Hotch realized the sight of his scars and mention of Foyet had reminded his son of Haley.
"I'm sorry buddy... I miss her too."
Jack gulped and gradually stopped crying. Still sniffling, he reached for the nearest of his father's arms. He pointed to its scar.
"Jack, I'm so sorry. I'll go and cover it up... I never meant to upset you."
But the little boy shook his head. "No daddy."
"But the marks make you sad... and me too."
Jack shook his head more forcefully. "No daddy! Mommy said that scars can be good."
Hotch frowned slightly, wondering where this was going. "She did?"
Jack nodded. "Uh huh. She said they tells a story. Like when I felded off my bike. Mommy said the scar tells me I trided my best. Then when I forgets, I look at my scar and remember I'm brave!"
Hotch smiled a little. It was just like Haley to turn a moment of tears into a positive for their child.
"... your scars are good daddy." Jack was still talking. "You trided hard and you gets the bad guy!"
'But not in time to save your mother...'
Aaron kissed his son's head. "Thank you. I'll try to remember that."
The two lay quietly for several minutes, Hotch continuing to stroke Jack's head and Jack fingering his father's forearm scar. Finally the younger Hotchner broke the silence.
"Daddy, you need to take your shirt off too, it gots cream on it. And then we'll look the same!"
Hotch sighed and tried for distraction. "Hmm, now I wonder who would have put cream all over my nice white t-shirt..?"
The youngster giggled but one hand was trying to pull up the t-shirt. Aaron gently but firmly took hold of the hand and with a single deft movement pulled his son into a hug.
But Jack shared Hotch's tenacity and wriggled out of the hug. Sitting up, he looked seriously at his father, his little brow creased.
"Did George hurt you more? You had lots of big band-aids in hospital..."
Aaron was suddenly reminded of something David Rossi had once said to him on the BAU jet when they were returning from a case in Pittsburgh. Hotch had been late to the investigation; he'd needed to take a personal day to try to explain the divorce from Haley to Jack. Rossi had wondered how it had gone and when the Unit Chief recounted his child's reaction, Dave had smiled and said simply: 'Smart kid...'
For once Hotch wished Jack wasn't so good at putting things together.
Hotch had tried to plan this talk. Ever since his release from hospital he had rehearsed what he would tell his son about his scars when the time was right. But he had expected the 'right' time to be years away... and Haley around to help soften the blow as only a mother can.
Now that plan lay in pieces. Apparently, the time had come. Aaron cursed the unfairness of it all. Not only was Jack still a child, but he had recently lost his mother to a violent death, a death brought about by the same person who had given his father so many scars. How could he possibly explain the blemishes of nine stab wounds to a five-year old without frightening him completely?
And yet he knew Jack would continue to ask questions; he was very much like his dad in his persistence. The issue wasn't going to go away. Hotch took a deep breath, racking his brains for an explanation that while true, protected his son.
He sat up and leaning against the headrest, pulled Jack onto his lap. The youngster looked at him expectantly, brown eyes never leaving Hotch's face.
"You're a really smart boy, Jack." Hotch began softly. "Yes, I have other marks from George. But just like I told you, the doctors fixed me. I'm completely fine."
Jack continued to frown and stare at his father. "But..."
Hotch tilted his head. "What's wrong buddy?"
The little boy looked grave.
"But daddy, if you're okay why don't you take your shirt off so we can be the same?"
'You'd make a great prosecutor.' thought Hotch. He looked down at his torso and then back at his son.
"Jack, sometimes when something bad happens to us, we can be fixed and all better on the outside but still sad on the inside. Do you understand?"
Hotch tried to smile reassuringly. "I'm okay on the outside. And I'm mostly fine on the inside. But... but when I see the marks they remind me that the bad guy got away from me that day. So I try not to look at them."
Jack moved so that his head lay against his father's chest. "They make you sad."
Aaron kissed the top of his child's head. "Yeah buddy, they make me sad. But they will fade, just like yours has and I'll be all better on the inside too."
"Can I see them daddy?"
"Jack, I know how brave you are. But the marks aren't very nice and I don't want to scare you. Even grown-ups like Uncle Dave don't like to see them."
There was silence as the boy digested this.
"But mommy said scars can be good..." Jack said at last. He sounded confused.
"And mommy was right." Hotch hastened to reassure his son. "Scars can be good. It's just that sometimes we don't feel that goodness very fast. But I'm going to try really hard to remember what you've taught me today, okay? I'm going to try to think of my scars as being a good reminder of trying my best."
"But I can help you daddy. And I want us to look the same when we shave..."
Hotch couldn't help but smile. Never had he been prouder of his young boy; he knew that Haley would have been proud too. Proud of their child's strength and genuine desire to make his dad feel better. And it got Aaron thinking. Maybe he was doing Jack an injustice in hiding who he was. After all, the blemishes were now a part of him. And it was about time he started to accept what had happened with Foyet all those months ago.
Deep down Hotch understood that there was nothing he could have done differently that would have changed the events that followed, save for taking Foyet's original offer. But agreeing to that deal would have gone against every principle he stood for. Up until now Hotch hadn't been ready to listen to that inner voice of reason.
Today, however, was different. Jack had forced the profiler to take serious measure of who he was and what he had become. Finally Hotch realized that Foyet was still torturing him from the grave. It was time to take back that control once and for all. He would probably always feel some guilt towards Haley's death but he wanted his son to grow up loving and respecting his father for who he really was, someone who stood by his convictions, not this shell of a man burying himself in the past while putting on a happy facade.
He decided to do a small test.
"Okay Jack, I'll let you help me."
Jack sat up quickly, the smile back on his face.
"Give me your hand buddy. Now I want you tell daddy if you want to stop, okay?"
Hotch felt his son's small hand slide into his own. Watching Jack's face carefully, he gradually raised his shirt so that only the three scars on the lower portion of his belly were visible. With Jack's hand still in his own he slowly traced over the marks trying not to physically recoil as he did so.
Jack's eyes widened slightly but the boy otherwise didn't flinch. Instead, he surprised Hotch by looking up at his father and smiling encouragingly.
Hotch took a deep breath and lifted the t-shirt a little more. Three more scars appeared. Jack pulled his hand out of his dad's and gently touched each in turn.
"Are you okay, daddy?"
The profiler could only nod. He was amazed at his son's resilience. He had certainly taken his mother's words to heart and it was apparent that he saw only his father's effort against the 'bad guy' in each jagged line. His young innocence prevented him from imagining the horrors that Hotch must have felt during Foyet's attack.
The t-shirt was inched up bit by bit until all nine blemishes showed; Hotch then slipped it off over his head. As he tossed the garment onto the floor next to Jack's, he felt slightly liberated. Foyet's continued hold over him was finally diminishing.
Jack grinned broadly.
"Are you okay buddy? Not scared or grossed out?"
The five-year old shook his head vigorously. "You trided your best. You catched the bad guy and you're the best daddy in the whole wide world!" He put his arms around his father's bare upper body as though to prove his point.
Hotch regarded his son tenderly and returned the embrace. "Thank you, Jack. I love you."
"'Welcome." replied the youngster as he jumped off the bed. "Can we go shave now? My face feels fuzzy."
Hotch laughed and followed his son back to the bathroom.
As a freshly 'shaven' Jack went to put on a clean t-shirt, Hotch considered his naked torso reflected in the mirror. He found his hand straying once again to the scars on his chest and stomach. Refusing to look away he lightly fingered the still-pink lines, feeling their bumpiness in contrast to his otherwise smooth skin. The surgeon had done a good job; they were getting visibly better. Hotch's jaw clenched with resolve as he traced each mark. Healing had also begun on the inside; no longer was there revulsion or humiliation. He replayed Jack's words.., Haley's words in his head. Even dead she had found a way to make him feel better.
Thinking of her sent a brief jolt of pain through him but Hotch was able to stifle it without breaking down. He was under no illusion that he'd moved past his grief or had accepted his physical reminders of Foyet. He still harboured feelings of sadness and anger. He still felt guilty. He remained slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of raising a child alone. But for the first time in ten months Hotch felt hope for the future and the return of some of his stronger, true self; the man who refused to compromise with serial killers, the man who fought to the death for his beliefs and for his family, and the man who wanted to set a good example to his son.
Later that evening Aaron lay in bed recalling Jack's first shaving session. Suddenly chilled dressed in only his flannel boxer shorts, Hotch rolled onto his side and pulled the covers up to his chin. He didn't know who had learned the bigger lesson that day, Jack or himself, but he was grateful at the outcome. It had given him the opportunity to take stock and realize he would emerge from this tragedy stronger than ever. He would have the final victory over Foyet. He would fulfil his promises to Haley. And he would be the father Jack needed. Feeling a renewed determination Hotch smiled slightly in the darkness,
'Funny what a razor and a can of shaving cream can do.'
"Scars remind us where we've been. They don't have to dictate where we're going."
David Rossi, 'The Slave of Duty'
A/N: I wanted to take something that could be seen as a mundane activity for an adult but a major milestone for a child and use it for some Hotch/Jack growth and healing. Hope it came through; please let me know and review! Thanks!