Spencer would say it usually starts with a trigger, some traumatic event that ignites the inevitable fuse – a lost job, a failed marriage. And it's not any different in the office than in the field. Only this time, the triggers are budget planning and a trial date. It's not like the offices of the BAU are especially cheerful anyway, given the nature of their work; there aren't weekly potlucks or posters with grappling kittens reading, “Hang in there.” But this week is certainly one of the darkest Spencer can remember. A hushed tension hangs heavy in the air, and Hotch has been especially humorless and grim. The Unit Chief disappears into his office for hours at a time, only emerging long enough to bark orders at the wary occupants of the bullpen. So Spencer can hardly be blamed for trying to remedy the situation.

“What the hell is that?” Morgan asks, when Spencer pulls his new houseguest from the box on his desk and sets her on his shoulder.

“Is that an iguana?” Emily wants to know, stepping just close enough in her finely tailored suit to get a better look. Her brown eyes peer from beneath a straight fringe of bangs.

“It's actually crotaphytus collaris,” Spencer explains to his fellow agents. “More commonly known as the collared lizard. I'm keeping it while my friend Amy is on vacation.”

Morgan snorts. “You're keeping that thing for a girl?”

“She's twelve and lives two apartments over,” Spencer says, scratching the top of the lizard's head. “I help her with her science projects.”

“Aw, that's sweet,” Emily says, and Morgan rolls his eyes. “But why is it here?”

“Queenie is a she. And I've been working into incorporating her into one of my tricks,” Spencer informs them brightly, picking up the lizard from his shoulder and deftly pocketing it.

“I wouldn't let that thing in my pants,” Morgan advises.

“Yeah, how many times have we said that to you?” Emily quips tartly over her shoulder, earning a smirk from the tall, well-muscled agent.

“Hey, Prentiss, I was wondering if – what are we doing?” asks J.J., the team's Media Liaison, pausing midstride at the sight of her gathered teammates.

“Magic,” Emily replies enthusiastically. “Reid has a new trick.”

“Really?” J.J. tucks a stray wave of shoulder length blonde hair behind her ear and hurries to join them. “I want to see.”

“Well, ah, I haven't actually perfected it yet,” Spencer admits, “but if you want to see - ”

“Show us what you got, kid,” Morgan says, folding his arms and appearing amused by the women's excitement.

“Okay, turn around,” Spencer says, twirling his finger indicatively.

Morgan scoffs. “What? Is he kidding?”

“Just do it,” J.J. sings, well-versed in Spencer's idiosyncrasies when it comes to any of his magic tricks.

Spencer waits for the three of them to turn around, then quickly makes his preparations. “Okay, ladies and gentleman: observe the hat,” he proclaims, holding and turning it within his grasp so that it can be viewed inside and out. “Nothing in the hat, nothing up my sleeve. But,” he says, with a little magic…” He waves the hat with a dramatic flourish. “And presto!”

Spencer reaches into the hat, triumphantly pulling out Queenie in all her twelve-inch glory.

“Wow,” Emily says, as she and J.J. break into spontaneous applause.

Morgan chuckles. “Nice work, Bullwinkle.”

Spencer smiles, inordinately pleased. That is, until Hotch appears at the foot of the bullpen stairs, a frown on his face.

“Reid.” The lines between Hotch's eyes deepen. “Put that – whatever it is, away; I want to see you in my office. Now.”

“Uh, oh,” Emily says, wincing as she scurries back to her desk, and J.J. quickly disappears.

Morgan has to agree. “Looks like Daddy's mad,” he says, shooting Spencer a sympathetic look.

Spencer's brow furrows. This time, Morgan might be right. He quickly puts Queenie in the box and drops the top back on before hurrying upstairs.

*********************************************************

Aaron Hotchner knows the moment his office door opens that it's Reid, can feel the nervous energy his youngest team member is directing his way. Aaron looks up from his budget sheets.

“Reid.”

“Yes, sir.”

Aaron's dark brows draw together over his steady gaze. “We've talked about the magic.”

“Yes, sir,” Reid repeats, appearing slightly chagrined at the reminder.

“And the animals. You know what happened before.”

The kid holds a finger up. “Ah, that ant farm was found to be defective? And someone left the sugar out.” Then, “Did you know that foraging ants have been know to travel up to seven hundred feet from their nests, and - ”

“Reid,” Aaron says, not unkindly. He feels a headache coming on.

“Sorry, sir,” Reid says, once again contrite.

“I want the magic.”

Reid blinks. “What?”

Aaron briefly closes his eyes. Sometimes he can't believe the things he hears himself saying. “I know things have been stressful and that moments of levity are vital to productivity and morale, but we're preparing for a trial, and right now we can't afford any distractions. I want everything you have, right now.”

Reid's shoulders slump, but he reaches inside his argyle sweater vest, pulling out a pack of cards, a set of die, a funny-looking flower. One by one, they're set on Aaron's desk.

“Now,” Aaron begins, satisfied with the present course of events, “Since - ” Aaron pauses as Reid begins searching the pockets of his khakis. “Reid?”

“Just a minute,” Reid says, fishing out a pair of rings and a golden coin to add to the growing pile. The handkerchief comes next, in bright purple and orange. And keeps coming; first one foot, then another, and another... After the first eight feet with no end in sight, Aaron leans forward and glances over his desk at the fabric piling at Reid's feet. He sighs.

“Reid.”

“Sorry – it will just be another minute,” the kid assures him.

Aaron opens his desk drawer and reaches for the aspirin.

It's going to be a long day.

*************************************************************************************

When Spencer returns to his desk, he makes an unexpected discovery. “Uh, oh.”

“Uh, oh, what?” Emily asks absently, her eyes never lifting from her paperwork.

“Have you guys seen Queenie?” Spencer asks, lifting the box's dislodged lid and glancing inside the cardboard walls. Nothing.

Emily frowns and looks up. “No, why? Reid?” she asks again, when Spencer doesn't answer right away. He's too busy scanning the bullpen for a scaly, twelve-inch reptile.

“Are you saying that lizard is loose in here?” Morgan asks, as Emily surreptitiously draws her feet up from the floor.

“I'd describe it more as free-range,” Spencer says uneasily, leaning over to peer under his desk.

“Kid, if Hotch finds out that thing is loose, you'll be free-range.”

********************************************************************************

It's after lunch, and Emily's mostly forgotten about the lizard when Hotch stops by, a set of manila folders tucked neatly under his arm.

“Morgan, Prentiss.”

Emily stands up, expression attentive. Before the Unit Chief can speak, there's a flash of movement on the desk behind him, and Emily sees Queenie's leathery green feet scuttle around a rolodex. “Oh, my God!”

“What?” Hotch asks, the tiny horizontal lines between his eyes the only indication of surprise.

“It's – it's just so good to see you, sir,” Emily finishes awkwardly, feeling the blush rise from the collar of her silk shirt to the roots of her shiny black hair.

“Yes. Well, thank you,” Hotch replies, casting her an odd look. “These are the files from the upcoming Rogers trial. I need you to go over them, study every detail; we need to make sure your statements are airtight. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Morgan thankfully replies, so Emily won't have to. Morgan shakes his head as Hotch's well-shined shoes depart.

Emily glares over at Reid, who's presently on his knees rummaging through someone's recycling. “Reid…” she warns.

“I know, I know,” her teammate says with a wince. “I'm on it.”

****************************************************************************

Spencer spends the afternoon looking in all the obvious places, under the desks, in the plants, the trashcans. But after an hour and a half, all he's come up with are three stray buttons, a half-eaten doughnut, and some lint. The only logical course of action is to expand the predefined search area. Which is how he finds himself in Rossi's office, making a discreet check of the vicinity. At least Spencer thought it was discreet.

“Well, hello,” Rossi drawls, the unexpected announcement of his presence causing Spencer to attempt to look up. Instead, he only thumps the top of his head painfully against the bottom of Rossi's desk.

“Oh, uh; hi, Rossi,” Spencer says, grimacing at the ache in his skull as he crawls out from Rossi's chair space.

“Reid. What are you doing in my office?” the Senior Supervisory Agent asks, as if sincerely curious about the phenomenon.

Spencer forces himself to meet the man's eyes. “I was just – uh, looking for a fresh perspective,” he improvises.

Rossi's skeptical. “Under my desk?”

“Well, in the theory of cognition, perspective is defined as the choice of context or reference from which human beings measure, categorize, or codify experience?” Spencer explains. “By changing the context by which the mind perceives information, whether it be dimensional, spatial, or cognitive, new or unusual perspectives can provide optimal opportunities for forming coherent belief systems.”

Rossi's nodding. “That's fascinating. Get out.”

“Right.”

******************************************************************************

It's been said that things tend to look brighter in the morning. Besides being a rather inane observation, Spencer would contend that brighter does not necessarily indicate better. He slouches at his desk, head in hands, searching his eidetic memory for any information that might point him in a more productive direction.

“Have you found that lizard yet?” Morgan asks, setting his coffee down on his desk and nodding briefly to Emily, who's been reviewing files for the last half an hour.

“No,” Spencer says, glancing up at the older man with frustration. “I looked all night, but there's no sign of her anywhere.” He frowns, considering. “She'd be seeking warmth; collared lizards generally prefer a temperature of eighty degrees Fahrenheit. If I could just figure out where she slept...”

“Oh, I think I can solve that one,” Garcia says sourly, apparently disgruntled at being rousted from her Office of Omniscience. The Technical Analyst leans a curvy hip against Emily's desk. “I found poop by my hotplate.”

Emily makes a face. “Ew.”

“Of course!” Spencer exclaims, springing up from his desk. “I should have thought to check there.”

“My hotplate?” Garcia asks, but Spencer's already on the way to the break room. He quickly surveys the counter and appliances, triumphant when he sees the green tail waving behind the microwave.

“Yes!” Spencer breaks into a smile, about to retrieve his game when he hears footsteps behind him. He glances over his shoulder just as Hotch turns the corner into the break room, his official FBI mug held steady in his hand. Without thinking, Spencer steps in front of him.

“Wait!”

Hotch actually blinks, an occurrence rumored to happen but which Spencer has never personally witnessed. “Why?”

“It's - well, it's the coffee,” Spencer tells him, nodding seriously.

Hotch glances briefly at the contents of his cup, then back at Spencer. “What's wrong with it?” He frowns. “It just needs reheating.”

“While coffee can increase our alertness, it can also increase the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, cause headaches and nervousness, and reduce fine motor coordination,” Spencer recites, mentally calculating the odds of making a collared lizard disappear by sheer will alone. They aren't good.

“My motor coordination is fine,” Hotch says dryly.

“Well, ah, sure it is – today,” Spencer says. “But you work all the time and then all the – ah – the caffeine – it's possible that you could experience an elevation in blood pressure and - ”

“Reid. You drink coffee all day long,” the Unit Chief reminds him.

“But I'm not middle-aged. See, a man of your years - ”

Hotch's eyebrows jump toward his hairline. “A man of my years?”

“The risks of an adverse reaction to caffeine are even greater, and caffeine has been know to cause enlargement of the prostate - ”

“Reid!” Hotch interjects, and Spencer just manages not to slump with relief as he sees Queenie scurry across the floor behind Hotch and disappear in the direction of the bullpen.

“On the other hand, you're the boss, you undoubtedly know best, and I've got – well, lots of work to do,” Spencer rambles, edging his way around his stunned supervisor. “See you,” he adds quickly, and ducks from the room.

After all, he's several steps behind, and Queenie has four legs.

*******************************************************

It's around eleven when Emily finally looks up from her pile of autopsy and law enforcement reports, rubbing at her blurry eyes. When she opens them again, she actually has to squint.

A few feet away, Queenie dashes on hind legs across the narrow walkway between Hotch and Rossi's offices and the conference room, arms outstretched like a miniature Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Emily frowns. “Did you see that?” she asks Morgan.

The other agent stares after the darting animal, faintly disturbed. “Absolutely not.”

******************************************************************************

At some point in any investigation, reinforcements become a necessity. Even reluctant reinforcements. Spencer gives his team a debriefing beforehand, offering both a detailed description of the suspect and the discretion required for apprehension.

“This is not the best use of my supreme powers, sweet genius,” Garcia points out from behind sparkling orange glasses, as she tentatively picks up someone's trash and gives it a light shake.

“I know, Garcia,” Spencer says, peeking behind a file cabinet. “I appreciate you guys helping me.”

“You're detailing my car,” Emily warns, as she peers over a wall into someone's workspace. “Where's J.J., and how'd she get out of this?”

Morgan snorts, slowly securing the perimeter. “She's in there distracting Hotch.”

“Definitely the more dangerous assignment,” Emily mutters.

“I don't understand – where is this thing?” Garcia asks, straightening and cocking her platinum blonde head. “We've been all over this bullpen, and - ”

“Wait for it…” Morgan murmurs with hushed urgency, his entire body poised with feline intensity. “I think I've got her.” Spencer and the team track the man's gaze, finally arriving at where Queenie sits by a printer. She blinks languidly, lulled by the heat and hum of the equipment, and seems oblivious as Morgan creeps closer, one crouched step at a time. “Just don't make any sudden moves,” he advises his teammates.

An odd sense of foreboding comes over Spencer as Morgan leans over the desk, and he suddenly he realizes what's about to happen. “Morgan, whatever you do, don't grab her by the - ”

Morgan lunges, and there's a scuffle, an “Ah, hah!” and then Morgan stands back up with a heroic grin, a disembodied lizard tail flapping limply from his hand. “Got it!”

Garcia's shocked eyes widen on the amputated limb a split second before she screams, and Emily jumps back with a gasp. Morgan follows their horrified stares to his right hand.

“Augghhh!” he shouts, and flails, flinging the appendage like a hot potato.

The commotion is punctuated by the bursting open of the Unit Chief's office door, and an agitated Hotch appearing at the railing of the bullpen. “What the hell is going on out here?” he demands.

“The Redskins scored, sir,” Emily reports, immediately straightening to attention.

Hotch's brow furrows. “The Redskins aren't playing.”

Garcia frowns. “Well, someone should tell them.”

The Unit Chief stares at her, never quite sure whether these kinds of remarks are Garcia's trademark humor or certifiable insanity. “Let's just get back to work, shall we? I'm sure I don't need to remind any of you that there's a trial coming up? Let's put the bad guy away,” Hotch says grimly, before turning on his heel and heading back into his office. The door slams shut behind him.

The bullpen's silent in his wake.

“Did anyone see where she went?” Spencer finally asks weakly. “Either half?”

**********************************************************************************

“I'd like to thank you for your hard work and dedication on this case,” Aaron tells his team, making an informal stop by the bullpen before his agents head out. He realizes he's a bit of a drill sergeant at times, and a little appreciation goes a long way. “The prosecutive strategy is strong, the testimony sound, and if all goes as planned, I think we can safely say we'll be looking at a conviction.”

Prentiss and Morgan nod and exchange grins, pleased with the praise, and J.J. smiles above the folders she's cradling. Only Reid appears distracted and subdued, his fingers brushing at the tips of his too-long hair in a flustered gesture. Aaron makes a mental note to have a word with him.

“Oh, and by the way,” Aaron adds offhand, “we're in Building B tomorrow, location to be determined.”

Reid's head jerks up. “Building B?”

Emily frowns. “Why's that, sir?”

“They'll be fumigating these floors.”

“No!” Reid cries suddenly, with a note of rising panic. “They can't!”

“I assure you they can,” Aaron says, eyebrows raising the slightest bit. It's not like they're leaving to never return.

Reid fidgets, lips pursed in frustration. Or maybe the kid needs the lavatory. “No! I mean, they – they - ah, Hotch?” Reid ventures, appearing almost pained. “There's something I have to tell you.”

“Yes?”

“Do you remember when you ordered me into your office?”

Aaron folds his arms, torn between exasperation and amusement. “Reid, that happens every day; you're going to have to be more specific.”

“Right. Ah, when you wanted my magic?” Reid reminds him.

Morgan snickers, and Garcia thumps him. “I remember,” Aaron says, quelling them with a look.

“Well, when I came back out, Queenie had popped the lid off her box, and, ah…” Reid shrugs helplessly.

Exasperation, it is. Aaron's eyes narrow on his youngest. “Am I to understand there's been an iguana running free in these offices for almost two days now, and you didn't think to tell me?”

“Crotaphytus collaris isn't technically an iguana? It's actually - ”

“Reid, so help me - ”

Aaron's threat is cut short by the distant pounding of boots across tiled floors. The BAU stops, heads turning toward the doors as muffled shouting bounces from the corridor walls and slowly disperses. Aaron suddenly notices Anderson, who's just returning to his desk.

“Anderson. Do you know what's going on?”

The agent looks up, slightly breathless and flushed with excitement. “It's under control now, sir. Section Chief Strauss discovered some sort of giant lizard in her credenza, but they've ruled out any possibility of terrorism, or the animal being venomous. There was just some difficulty in identifying it without its tail.”

“Without its - thank you, Anderson,” Aaron says tersely, before turning back to his resident genius. “Reid, what happened to the lizard's tail?”

“It sort of got misplaced.”

Misplaced?

A shrill scream and the sharp crack of breaking ceramic echo from a nearby workspace, and Reid flinches.

“I think we may have found it.”

Aaron points an index finger upstairs. “My office. Now.”

******************************************************************************

Spencer perches on the edge of one of Hotch's desk chairs, watching apprehensively as the man continues to field the angry inquiries of the Director.

“I agree, ma'am, this should not have happened,” Hotch says, holding the phone slightly away from his ear to protect his eardrums. “Yes, Director, I'm aware that there are strict regulations regarding the presence of animals in the building... Of course I'm familiar with PETA; it's my understanding that – no, of course,” he concedes. “I'll see to it the animal is returned to the rightful owner; the tail, too…” Another pause, then, “Agent Reid is fully aware of my feelings on the matter. I assure you, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken,” Hotch reports, glancing up and pinning Spencer with a hard stare.

Spencer squirms in his seat as Hotch ends the call with a respectful, “Thank you, ma'am.” He has a feeling he knows exactly what the Unit Chief will consider appropriate disciplinary action for this kind of violation, and he wishes that just once Hotch wouldn't find him too valuable to suspend. The man's face is inscrutable as he stands and shrugs off his suit jacket, then hangs it on his coat rack. Next comes the closing of the blinds and the locked door; never a good sign.

“Reid,” Hotch says, finally taking a seat on the office's couch. “Over here, please.”

“But, Hotch, I can explain,” Spencer pleads, his stomach flipping ridiculously when the claim only earns him a stern look.

“Explain, then. Explain how after you were informed of the critical nature of this trial and its success, you somehow managed to turn this entire office upside down?”

Spencer bites his lip.

“Reid?”

“Ah, can I retract that statement?”

Hotch sighs. “Yes, you may. Now come over here.”

Spencer gets up and slinks his way to Hotch's left side – no need to make that mistake again – and allows the older man to tug him down over his lap. His face feels startlingly hot against the dark leather. It's not as though he actually meant for this to happen, after all; he was only trying to -

“Ow!” Spencer yelps, as the man's palm smacks against the seat of his Chinos. “Come on, Hotch, that hurts!”

“Just think of how the iguana feels,” Hotch replies unsympathetically, delivering another firm swat, and then another, causing Spencer to gasp and wriggle.

“I already – it's not an iguana,” Spencer insists, taking a kick at the couch.

“Really, Reid?” Hotch asks from above him. “Does now seem like the time to you?”

Spencer considers the mounting sting in his backside and frowns. “Sorry, sir.”

“This office has been nothing but complete mayhem for two days now,” Hotch scolds, smacking Spencer yet again. “ Section Chief Strauss will be taking a mental health day, Reid. This kind of behavior is – it's completely - ”

The office becomes curiously silent, devoid of lecture or the sound of Hotch's hand bouncing off Spencer's behind. Spencer waits for both to resume, but after half a minute or so, can't help but look over his shoulder.

His Unit Chief is holding a hand over his face, his shoulders shaking uncontrollably, and Spencer begins to stammer with alarm.

“Hotch?” he asks, pushing slightly up from the couch. “Hotch, I'm – I'm sorry. I didn't think – are you laughing?” he asks, eyes wide with disbelief.

Hotch collects himself, holds up his shielding hand. “My apologies, my reaction is completely inappropriate,” he warns Spencer. Just before erupting in genuine laughter.

*****************************************************************

“We have to do something,” J.J. says, watching as Hotch abruptly shuts the blinds, effectively severing the line of sight into his office. “We can't just leave Spence up there with him.”

“What can we do?” Emily asks, dismayed as J.J. at Reid's predicament.

“We do nothing,” Morgan says, and holds up his hands to ward off the glares from his female coworkers. “This is between Hotch and Reid, and the last thing the kid wants is you two riding in on white horses because you think he needs to be rescued.”

“How do you know what he wants?” J.J. asks. “Maybe Spence…” She trails off as the sound of laughter resonates from the Unit Chief's office.

Emily's eyes widen. “Do you hear that? Is that - ?”

Morgan stares up at Hotch's office with a worried frown. “Yeah. It's Hotch.” He shakes his head; he knew this moment would come sooner or later. “Reid's finally broken him.”

************************************************************************

“Um, can I get up?” Spencer asks uncertainly, not wanting to be presumptuous, but not exactly comfortable with his position over Hotch's knee, either. Fortunately, the man waves him up, still chuckling.

“God, I wish I could have seen her face,” Hotch says to himself, as Spencer pushes up and sits beside him.

“I guess it is pretty funny,” Spencer says, smiling slightly at his supervisor's amusement. The relaxed lines of the older man's face are well-worth the few smacks on the behind.

“Yes, well, we'll see if you still think it's funny after you've paid the price for this folly,” Hotch says wryly. “You'll be writing a handwritten letter of apology to the Director; I expect it signed and delivered by you personally.”

“Yes, sir,” Spencer agrees easily. That isn't so bad.

“And you're to locate a suitable caretaker to remove that – what is it again?” Hotch asks, brows drawing together.

“Crotaphytus collaris,” Spencer supplies.

“Yes, that - from Bureau premises and care for it properly until its owner returns.”

Spencer smiles at the Unit Chief's typical concern for the welfare of others – even if the others happen to be short and green. “Okay, Hotch.”

“And,” Hotch continues, “Upon reviewing your assessment of caffeine, I've decided a week without coffee might prove highly beneficial.”

“You're going off coffee?”

“No,” Hotch replies, a glimmer of humor still lighting his eyes, “you are.”

What? Oh. Oh, no. “No! Come on, Hotch,” Spencer pleads, as the Unit Chief chuckles again and rises from the couch. “You can't do this to me. I – ah, I'd rather take the – uh, you know,” Spencer splutters.

Hotch pauses in reaching for his jacket, raises an eyebrow. “The spanking?” he asks, as if he doesn't know just how much Spencer hates that word. Hotch snorts softly, slipping into his jacket like a second skin. “Believe me, Reid; if anything even remotely similar to this ever happens again, you will.”

Spencer's shoulder slump in defeat. First he lost his magic props, and then Queenie, and now he's lost his favorite beverage…

“Come on,” Hotch relents, tugging Spencer to his feet. “It could always be worse,” he offers, unlocking the office door.

Statistically, Spencer admits that's highly accurate.

Hotch glances over his shoulder and pauses, hand poised on the door handle. The beginnings of a smile already curve his mouth. “Were you really crawling around under Rossi's desk?”

Spencer responds with a sheepish grin. “Do you know there was an earring under there?”

“Really,” Hotch muses, opening the door. “Tell me more.”

Spencer pushes the bangs from his eyes and follows him out.

With a little luck, it might just be a good week after all.

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