During an important part of the story, our hero, or just the character in focus, kills someone or something. This death could be popping his murder cherry
, or it could just be one of the first kills he thinks is wrong
. Even if it was self-defense and completely justified, he still feels guilt-ridden. He looks down in a My God, What Have I Done?
moment, shocked at his hands because they just became accomplices in taking a life.
"These hands have killed! I've got blood on my hands, and I'll never be the same again..."
Could be followed by Out, Damned Spot!
, but it doesn't have to be. This has nothing to do with washing one's hands of blood, metaphorically or literally — only with acknowledging the shedding.
This is a Sub-Trope
to My God, What Have I Done?
— the character in question experiences that guilt while staring horrified at his hands. If this trope is in a character's backstory, it's Sympathetic Murder Backstory.
If a character is contemplating his or hands for an entirely different reason, usually drug-related, then see Contemplating Your Hands
As a Death Trope
, expect the possibility of unmarked spoilers.
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Anime and Manga
- Leetah in this scene◊ from ElfQuest. She's struck by the enormity of her hands, which have hitherto only brought healing, being able to kill, even in self-defense. Also, she does this so much that the warrior Elves she and the Wolfriders are bunking with tell her to stop admiring her hands and get to practical matters.
- Julia Ecklar turned this moment into a song entitled Healer's Hands. Mp3s of it can be found in various collections.
- Cassandra Cain (Batgirl) has had at least one flashback to doing this after ripping a man's throat out with her bare hands. It did not help that she was around eight at the time. What makes it worse is her super ability to read body language. Turns out the body language of a dying person is pretty unpleasant.
- Josh's reaction to killing a mugger in No Hero.
- The 1980's revamp of Superman made this one of its earliest key plot points in order to justify his Thou Shalt Not Kill policy rather than have one self-appointed right from the start (if you ignore the earliest point in his history where he was willing to go through with it). John Byrne's very last story in his run on the books had Superman forced to take lives of three rogue Kryptonians from another timeline who had slaughtered the entire population of their Earth, and subsequent writers right after such as Roger Stern and Jerry Ordway explored its aftermath and just how traumatizing the effects of performing such an act were for the Man of Steel.
- When Wilson Fisk first fell from power in Daredevil, he muses on his early days as a street thug when he would get blood on his hands. At the end of the story, he brutally kills a bunch of thugs who believe his glory days are over and once again gets blood on his hands. Noticing this, and remembering that his first rise to power involved a lot of days with bloody hands, he washes his hands in a gutter and wanders into the streets more determined than ever to be the Kingpin again.
- "This is the skin of a KILLER!" in the Twilight movie.
- In Equilibrium after John Preston stops taking his medicine he pulls this trope when he catches a dying resistance fighter in his arms that his partner shot, almost transfixed by the blood on his gloves and gun.
- Total Recall (1990) (1990). Quaid does this right after he slaughters the five agents trying to kill him on Earth, before he goes back to his "wife" Lori. He actually has their blood on his hands at the time.
- Inverted in The NeverEnding Story, where the Rock Biter is unable to keep his friends from being pulled away into the Nothing. He sits, staring down at his massive stone limbs, and says slowly, "They look like big, strong hands, don't they?"
- Subverted in John Woo's Broken Arrow. After Deakins crushes Mr. Pritchett's windpipe with a tire iron, he contemplates the fact that although as an Air Force pilot he's dropped bombs on people before, this is the first time he's killed someone up close. He then scoffs, "I don't see what the big deal is."
- Lenina Huxley in Demolition Man, though she deals with it okay after Spartan points out it was self-defense.
- In Return of the Jedi, Luke has an instant of this, though it's because he cut through Darth Vader's prosthetic arm in anger, has his own Artificial Arm, and grasps what he's doing.
- In The Dark Knight Rises, Detective John Blake tosses his Police issue sidearm aside in disgust after he realized he just killed two perps with it (albeit in self-defense).
- In Man of Steel, Superman lets out a frustrated yell after snapping Zod's neck.
- In The Bourne Ultimatum, after Bourne has killed the Black Briar assassin to protect himself and Nicky, he can be seen quietly staring at his hands. This assassin was far from the first person Bourne killed with his bare hands; but it's still him quietly lamenting just how many people he has killed.
- In Avatar, Jake Sully - a former Marine who might know first hand - tries to keep Smug Snake Selfridge from destroying a Hometree full of Na'vi children by telling him that he doesn't want that kind of blood on his hands. It doesn't work.
- Bruce Wayne uses this line (#1) in The Dark Knight after Joker kills several civilians because Batman didn't reveal his identity.
Renfield: I'm loyal to you, Master, I am your slave, I didn't betray you! Oh, no, don't! Don't kill me! Let me live, please! Punish me, torture me, but let me live! I can't die with all those lives on my conscience! All that blood on my hands!
J. Robert Oppenheimer: I feel we have blood on our hands.
- In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novel Deus Sanguinius, after Gallio, Vode, and all their men are murdered, Rafen thinks it's his fault for having sent the message; their blood was on his hands.
- The Bible. Pilate washes his hands to get the figurative blood of Jesus off of them. History lesson: it doesn't work.
- The blood of the thousands of other miscellaneous threats to Rome he crucified, of course, are presumed to have come off easily.
- Incidentally, Pilate's act was actually something of a Roman tradition, indicating that the official responsible for an act was not acting for himself, but rather in his official capacity. In other words, he wasn't trying to "wash his hands" of the Crucifixion, but rather saying (more or less): "I didn't do what just happened. That was the Roman State." Unfortunately for Pilate, very few non-Romans in that time and place understood the concept of separating the office from the person; it was quite the Roman concept, which didn't really translate for the mostly Jewish and Hellenistic Greek early Christians.
- In the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar, when Pilate washed his hands, the water he washed them in turned red.
- Also from the Bible: This was the very reason God instructed Solomon to build the Temple instead of his father, David.
- Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has Bernardo deLaPaz admit that when they, as the new Lunar government, publicly out those members of the revolution who were actually paid informants of the overthrown government, those they expose as traitors will be murdered by members of the public. "I will not duck the responsibility. Their blood will be on my hands."
- In the Discworld novel Wyrd Sisters, the Macbeth Expy Lord Felmet has blood-red hands from the night he murders King Verence until the night he dies. However, the fact that he uses progressively harsher methods to remove the blood (including sandpaper and a metal file) implies that maybe the reason it doesn't come off is because the blood is coming from an actual wound rather than karma.
- When Dorian in The Picture of Dorian Gray drives actress Sybil Vane to suicide, blood-stains appear on his portrait's hands.
- In Grey Lensman, hero Kimball Kinnison indulges in this when trying to make Clarissa MacDougal understand what marrying him could entail. She basically tells him to can the dramatics; she knows perfectly well what his job entails.
- In Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles, one villain objects to killing Freckles because he does not want this trope. They could have prevent him from seeing anything.
- In Poul Anderson's short story "No Truce With Kings", a new alien asks an old hand whether, when they see the future their Dirty Business is needed to bring about, the blood will wash off. The old hand says no.
- Averted in A Song of Ice and Fire. When Arya Stark commits her first cold-blooded killing (cutting the throat of a sentry), she sees the blood on her hands and casually notes that the rain will wash it off. Lord Tywin Lannister emphasises on several occasions that there's no blood on his hands from acts which are regarded as heinous even in the Crapsack World of Westeros (killing the royal children of the previous regime, and plotting a violation of Sacred Hospitality) but are Killing With A Borrowed Knife. King Stannis plays the trope straight however, when he dreams of his brother Renly's assassination by dark magic, carried out by a shadow assassin created from his Life Energy.
- Darren cries after killing his first vampaneze in The Saga Of Darrenshan.
- This is the immediate thought process of Jonah Wizard from The 39 Clues after he shoots a Vesper at point-blank range. He's especially traumatized because up until this point, barring the Clue hunt a few years earlier, he's lived the sheltered, luxurious life of a teenaged pop star and hasn't yet come to terms with all the violence that the conflict entails.
- The Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Death Star has one of the gunners manning the superlaser go through a full-on nervous breakdown after the destruction of Alderaan. He's the same guy who in the movie repeatedly says, "Stand by ... stand by" right before the Death Star goes up, because he couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger again.
Live Action TV
- Not quite the first time, but Faith has one of these when she kills for the first time (in self-defence) after deciding to attempt her Heel-Face Turn in the "Sanctuary" episode of Angel.
- And in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Enemies" after Faith stabs a demon to death in a frenzy she later shows Angel her bloody hands. Subverted when it's revealed she's trying to gain his sympathy so she can seduce Angel and turn him evil.
- Kamen Rider Ryuki's Ren agonizes over this after he kills Kamen Rider Odin in self-defense.
- In Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle has this reaction after she kills the priestess of a dark god while trying to save someone. It's made even worse by the fact that the man she saves is also a follower of the dark god, and that Gabrielle was being duped.
- In an episode of Doctors, BRIAN BLESSED played a character who exclaimed "I killed a man... with THESE!".
- Midway through the third season of Chuck, Chuck himself briefly has a moment like this after he shoots Shaw. Even though it's revealed in the finale Shaw survived, Chuck very briefly looks down almost in shock at the gun in his hands before he has to rush to prevent Shaw from killing Sarah with his dying breathes.
- On GraceLand Mike feels responsible for the death of a gang member. Mike is undercover trying to build a case against a major crime boss and has antagonized one of the man's lieutenants. The lieutenant threatens Mike and the FBI decides to neutralize the threat by making it look like the man betrayed his boss. The give the gang member fair warning but he is Too Dumb to Live and dies right in front of Mike. Everyone tells Mike that he was not responsible for what happened but Mike still feels really guilty. At the end of the episode, he is doing the dishes and when he looks down it seems that his hands are covered in blood but it is just tomato sauce.
- In Pretty Little Liars Emily fatally stabs Nate. Even though he has going to kill her, her girlfriend Paige, and did kill her previous girlfriend Maya she is deeply shaken by it and even needs a Cool Down Hug. Later in the season she admits to still being haunted by it, and everyone saying what she did was really brave is just making things worse.
Emily: Everyone wants to talk about how I'm some king of hero. Everyone tells me I... I killed someone. Someone had a life, someone was a living breathing person, and I...
Dr. Sullivan: You killed someone.
Emily: I know what he was planning to do, who he really was. In my head I know. But then I close my eyes, and I can see myself holding that knife. It was in my hand, and I can still feel what it felt like when it...
- In Smallville, Chloe has an unusual version as it is actually Davis/Doomsday that killed the person.
- Babylon 5:
- Battlestar Galactica: "Collaborators":
Tom Zarek: They have a jury, but they don't get lawyers. They don't get to showboat for weeks and months on end. They don't get to blame the system. And the don't get lasting fame as martyrs or innocent people just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They just disappear. Now. In the great twilight between the long night of the occupation and the dawn of a new era, you come into office clean, without their blood on your hands.
- Dick Turpin: "The Impostor"
Swiftnick: Happened? What happened to you? What happened to Dick Turpin? Shall I tell you? He's a memory! I believed in him. A lot of us did. Because he meant freedom and a chance to hit back at injustice, to struggle from the mire! But he's a memory. And you, you stand there in his place. With my uncle's blood on your hands!
- General Hospital:
Emily Quartermaine: And now the blood of those two innocent kids she killed is on your hands!
- Heroes: Chapter Sixteen "Unexpected"
S.R. Gustavson: You take on a partner. All you get is their blood on your hands.
- LOST: "One of Us"
Juliet Burke: I'm taking that medication back to Claire. And you're gonna let me. Because if she doesn't get it, she's gonna die. And the last thing that either of you need right now, is more blood on your hands.
- Monk: Mr. Monk Meets the Godfather, who was chopping up fish at the time.
Salvatore Lucarelli: [shrugs, chuckling] I have blood on my hands.
- Used in CSI: Miami: when Horatio has to clear his name he invokes this trope; the blood in question was the real killer's (he punched him in the face), which proves he was at the scene.
- Referenced/subverted in Bones: "The Hole in the Heart":
: I don't blame myself, Sweets, I blame the bastard who killed Vincent. Brennan
: You still have blood on your hands.
as everyone looks around awkwardly) Angela
: Booth, she means literally
- In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Things Past", Odo momentarily hallucinates his blood-drenched hands due to repressed memories of his greatest failure coming to the surface.
- In The Megas album Get Equipped, the song "Lamentations of a War Machine/End Song", taking place after Mega Man defeats Wily in his fortress, has these lyrics:
If I've a heart made of steel
Then does that mean I cannot feel?
Remorse for everything I've done
My hand's a smoking gun!
- Tosca: Cavaradossi and Tosca sing a whole duet about it.
- The rock opera penned by The Protomen, Act II, track 4, "The Hounds".
"There is a flame that I've been fanning/There is a fire waiting to catch
There is a hell that has been building/From the moment we first met
If there ever was a time/If there ever was a chance
To undo the things I've done/And wash the bloodstains from my hands
It has past and been forgotten/These are the paths that we must take
'Cause you and I, Tom, we are men/And we can bend and we can break"
- Melodic Death Metal band Arch Enemy's "Blood on Your Hands". The first track on the album, and considered to be the best.
"You were born your brother's keeper/Why can I see blood on your hands?"
"Blood is on your hands/The Wages of Sin"
- Iron Maiden's "Blood on the World's Hands".
- DragonForce's "Through the Fire and Flames":
Now here we stand with their blood on our hands
- The Used's "Blood on My Hands":
There's blood on my hands/Like the blood in you!
- Demons And Wizards, a collab of Blind Guardian's Hansi Kürsch and Iced Earth's Jon Schaffer, brought us "Blood On My Hands".
- The Smashing Pumpkins' "Wound":
Wound opens, reveal this broken man
And soon, there's notions of blood on his hands
- Iced Earth's "Blood On My Hands".
- The ending of "High Water Mark" (and of the entire Gettysburg trilogy).
- Shackleton's Blood On My Hands.
- The Mega Man-based rock opera by The Megas has an example in "Look What You've Done".
Dr. Wily: ''I see his hands/(Robots are stronger than man)
Covered in my children's blood/(I will not let victory... fall through my hands!)
And his eyes do not waver.
- During his psychotic heel run in the 90s, Bob Backlund would do this after procuring the dreaded Crossface Chickenwing on someone.
- Booker T also used to stare at his hand obsessively - but it was a subversion, as he did it for pretty much no reason.
- "These hands have killed men" is said twice in the Promethean's speech on the back cover of the Promethean: The Created core book. However, the speech is written such that it could be read in a resigned tone - she's long since inured herself to that fact.
- In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All, Maya Fey despairs over killing Dr. Turner Grey "with these two hands". She didn't actually kill Grey, but was a victim of a set-up orchestrated by Morgan Fey and Mimi Miney.
- Hal Jordan has this in the Justice League: The New Frontier movie, in his segment of the setup for the actual plot. He got through what seems to have been the Korean War doing the closest thing to a pacifist run a fighter pilot has ever pulled off, and then he goes down some ten minutes after the war is officially over and can't make the Korean he lands near understand that he doesn't want to fight now, it's over, they're not at war...so he winds up shooting him in the face at incredibly close range. Blood everywhere. Seriously screws him up.
- This is not a cartoon movie for kids, by the way. Wonder Woman also freed and armed a bunch of kidnapped comfort women and let them go wild on their rapists, and told Superman to go screw himself when he got shocked at the aftermath.
- Any athlete, medical practitioner, or *ahem* murderer will tell you that blood actually is a pain to get off your hands when it dries. It's very sticky and requires some scrubbing with good soap, and forget it if it gets on your clothes. There's a reason that detergents brag about being able to get blood stains out. What? Why is everyone looking at me like that? No, I'm definitely not a serial killer with tons of personal experience.