Title: Inky Houdini

'Verse/Sequel to: Returning the Favor

Author: Kuria Dalmatia

Rating/Warnings: FRT/PG-13 angsty fluff (profanity, non-graphic references to animal cruelty)

Characters/Pairing: Hotch/Reid, Jack (established relationship)

Summary: On a case in Murphy, Kentucky, the BAU are forced to share their conference space with six puppies. Aaron knows the dangers of naming any of them: Give it a name and you might as well pack it in your go bag to take home. Plus, the last thing his family needs is a puppy; Jack still struggled with the responsibilities of a goldfish. God only knows what Jess would say.

Word Count: 4,500

ARCHIVING: my LJ and FFNet account... anyone else? Please ask first.

July 2011

COMMENTS: Thanks to LastCrazyHorn for taking a look and pushing me on the ending. Any mistakes left are mine, all mine!

Obligatory PSA: Spay or neuter your dogs and cats. Please. My sister lives on a rural farm, and she's had her fair share of abandoned puppies and kittens showing up on her property. I wish there were tougher laws about animal cruelty and dumping.

The town of Murphy, Kentucky doesn't exist (at least that's what the Internet says), but for this story, it's on the near the southeast end of Taylorsville Lake. As a tween, I spent many summers camping in Spencer County (back in the early '80s). When I started doing some research, I couldn't help but think, "Where were the spas when I was growing up?"

There's a reference to Little House on the Prairie's title sequence when Carrie falls down. You can see it here http : / / 1cBaZlZqEFQ at the 40 second mark.

Feedback always welcome.

DISCLAIMER: The Mark Gordon Company, ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television own Criminal Minds. Salut! I just took them out to play and I promise put them back when I'm done. I'm not making any profit just trying to get these images out of my head.

/***/

"Whoever said you can't buy happiness forgot little puppies." – Gene Hill

/***/

When the BAU entered the small conference room of the Murphy, Kentucky police station, the last thing they expected to be greeted with was yips and whines from the corner near the portable blackboard.

Chief Jed Larsen, who had called in the BAU when the third body showed up in Taylorsville Lake, gestured towards the corner and gave a shrug. "Puppies," he explained as if having them in the police department was something of a normal occurrence. "Abandoned in the lake the same time the second victim was found. Actually, it was them making a ruckus that drew the attention of the anglers."

"Abandoned in the lake?" Morgan asked, because he was certain he didn't hear that right. He walked over to the corner and found six pups trying their best to get out of the wooden pen lined with faded blankets.

"Plastic garbage bag," the chief answered sourly. "Happens more often than you think." He shook his head, clearly disgusted. "Folks 'round here know that they can drop them of at the station, no questions asked, but we still get ..." He waved toward the box. "We would keep them at home, sure, but all of us here in the office have dogs who don't take too kindly to pups. So, the best place for them is here."

"Chief," Hotch began, making sure he kept his tone neutral, "if we're using this room as our headquarters, we really can't have unauthorized persons coming in here."

Larsen looked over, eyes narrowing as his shoulders straightened. "Consider them witnesses."

For a long moment, it was a staring contest between the two chiefs. Hotch knew that having Larsen on their side would make things a hell of lot easier with the locals, especially since their preliminary profile indicated that the UnSub was likely from the area. There were some jurisdictional issues with the county sheriff as well as the press latching on to their first big crime story in years.

Those were the only reasons Hotch backed down by saying, "Just make sure one of us is here."

It wasn't because the pups were adorable.

It really wasn't.

/***/

" … they're still trying with the fingerprints," Garcia relayed via speakerphone later that afternoon, "but no luck so far. I'm sending you a list of missing persons from the surrounding counties, including Louisville and …" A high pitched yip came from the corner, which was immediately followed by a chorus of whines. "My dearest profilers, do my ears deceive me?"

"A box full of rescued puppies," Prentiss explained.

"And you didn't send me pictures?" Garcia demanded. "For shame!" One of the pups agreed with a howl.

Hotch pinched the bridge of his nose. "What parameters did you use to narrow the list?" he asked, because he knew if allowed the conversation to focus on the litter in the room, they'd never get back on track.

He already caught Morgan and Rossi cuddling two of the puppies and with a single look, the two men sheepishly put the dogs back into the pen. The Reid Effect was in full force because every time the younger agent got near the box, terrified yelps filled the room. Reid did his best to hide his disappointment over the puppies' reactions, and Hotch felt bad because he knew how much Reid liked dogs. Prentiss kept her distance as well; Hotch knew she was more a cat person than a dog lover. JJ wavered but ultimately opted to keep away since she had to give press conferences and didn't want any fur or stains on her clothing.

Thankfully, Garcia didn't press the issue. She continued, asking for additional details in hopes of narrowing down the list. But at the end of the call, she reminded them, "Pictures, my doves!"

/***/

"They are cute," Spencer said as he got up from the chair in Hotch's room. "Even if they are terrified of me."

The bed and breakfast they were staying at was cozily country but not kitschy. They had gone about their usual end-of-day routines, which included Spencer in Aaron's room for their nightly call to Jack. At least Aaron didn't have to worry about his lover telling their son about the puppies, but after they had hung up, the conversation went back to it.

It was better, he supposed, than talking about corpses and bloated tissue.

"They're not used to strangers." It was a lame excuse, because the pups immediately took to Morgan and Rossi.

Spencer let out a 'hmpf' but didn't press the issue.

"They're named after Pac-Man characters," Aaron commented as he hung up his suit jacket. He wondered if anyone else realized that Shadow, Speedy, Bashful, Pokey and Clyde weren't just arbitrary names that Officer Trigg came up with.

"They haven't named the sixth one," his lover stated. "Of Blinky, Pinky and Inky, Inky seems the most appropriate based on the dog's colorings."

Aaron chuckled as he shook his head; somehow, he knew that Spencer would know all the names of the Pac-Man ghosts. He thought about the last puppy, the runt of the litter who was all black fur except for caramel socks, a small patch of white on his chest, a little caramel coloring around his nose and the tip of his tail. The dog had lopsided ears and was the least coordinated of the bunch. Sure, it tugged at Aaron's heartstrings that the dog hadn't been christened yet and he wondered why it hadn't.

Still, he knew the danger of naming the dog. Give it a name and you might as well pack it in your go bag to take home.

Jack was still struggling with the responsibilities of a goldfish. The last thing the family needed was a puppy. God only knew what Jess would say.

Aaron was about to loosen his tie when Spencer walked up and began gently working at the knot. "I think Chief Larsen's plan is for each of us to take one back."

"They aren't old enough to fly."

Spencer bit back a smile before brushing his lips along his jaw. "And think of the messes on the carpet."

"That, too."

Because he wasn't going to take a puppy home.

He wasn't.

/***/

The call came in at five-thirty in the morning: another body had been discovered in the lake. Like the first and third, the fourth victim was pulled up from relatively shallow depths by an angler's line.

Prentiss and Morgan headed over to the crime scene while the rest of the team went to the police station. Reid immediately headed to the conference room to modify the geographic profile. JJ and Hotch conferred with Larsen about how the press should be handled, while Rossi spoke with the fisherman who pulled up the body.

Once they finished with the briefing, Hotch and JJ headed back to the conference room, fresh mugs of coffee in their hands. He carried the extra one for Reid, because he knew the younger agent had already powered through the first. They opened the door to the room and were immediately hit with the strong smell of cinnamon and … dog shit.

Hotch wrinkled his nose. He glanced about the room and noticed that the evidence board was covered with a plain white sheet.

"Buttermilk coffee cake on the table," Reid called over his shoulder and he made more notations on the whiteboard. "Mrs. Trigg brought it in when she fed and cleaned the puppies."

While he had heard about Reid's ability to ignore certain smells, Hotch had never seen it in action. He liked to think he had that ability as well, since he had changed quite a few diapers and cleaned up after Jack being sick, but there was nothing quite like the smell of …

"Puppy poo," JJ muttered and waved her hand in front of her nose.

Hotch couldn't because he was carrying two mugs.

Reid's eyes lit up and he quickly walked over and took the coffee that Hotch held out. They briefly discussed what they had instructed Larsen to do and the potential problems with the overeager press. Hotch could hear the puppies making noise from their pen but ignored them as best he could. Once he saw the new lines on Reid's map and the cryptic notes on the whiteboard, he walked swiftly towards the map and …

The high-pitched yip made him jump back and sent his coffee mug crashing to the floor. The "damn it!" was out of his mouth before he thought about where he was. The yelping didn't stop and Hotch looked down to see the unnamed pup holding its paw close to its chest.

Immediately, Hotch crouched down and scooped up the whimpering animal. "Hey, hey," he shushed because his Dad instincts kicked in full throttle. "Shhh. Let me see." He gently rubbed the injured paw, not quite sure what he was looking for but praying to God that he hadn't broken any bones. The dog immediately quieted down and stared at Hotch with large brown eyes. "That's a good boy."

"What happened?" Officer Trigg's distinct Kentucky drawl seemed to boom in the small room.

Hotch stood, cradling the pup against him. "Number Six escaped the pen. I stepped on him."

A woman pushed Trigg aside and marched up to him. "Number Six? Saints in heaven, that puppy is not a Cylon."

"Cylon?" Hotch repeated dumbly, because he knew he should know, but there were four dead bodies, precious few leads, and a box full of puppies in his war room. Oh. And it was six-thirty in the morning.

The woman shook her head and inspected the pup in his hands. "Number Six? And you folks say that we live in the boonies!"

"Hey, Hotch. What's the name of the tow truck in the Cars movies?" Reid asked suddenly.

Without really thinking, Hotch answered, "Mater."

God, he'd spent three weeks convincing Jack that talking like Larry the Cable Guy wasn't a good thing. He looked over at the younger agent, who had a smug smile on his face. The police officers behind him were nodding and, when Hotch glanced down at Mrs. Trigg, she was fighting back a grin.

Reid's stage whisper really wasn't a whisper at all. "His son is five."

"Good movie," Mrs. Trigg said. "But you can't call this puppy Number Six."

"Inky?" Hotch ventured, because he grew up around women like Mrs. Trigg and there was a certain way a gentleman behaved.

"Inky," Mrs. Trigg affirmed. "Now, you just be careful from now on, you hear?"

"Yes, ma'am."

/***/

When Morgan and Rossi returned from the crime scene, Hotch watched as they each plucked a puppy from the noisy litter, sat down, and gave their report, as if petting a six week old dog was something they did on every case. Halfway through, the two men put Pokey and Clyde back in the pen and brought out Bashful and Speedy. Then, JJ muttered, "Oh, for God's sake," and then Shadow was in her lap, chewing on the buttons of her blouse.

Hotch wondered how long it would take for someone to bring out Inky from the pen.

He mentally shook himself.

They needed to focus on the case.

They started to review what they had again, because until they got an official time of death from the coroner for their fourth victim, it was hard to tell if their UnSub was escalating or his old kills weren't weighted down enough to keep them at the bottom of the lake.

"Our UnSub knows the lake well," Rossi said. "Larsen says the locations are dead ends of old farm roads, the ones that the county didn't maintain."

"It's a man-made lake," Reid offered as he nodded towards the map. "I looked for correlations between where the bodies were found and potential historical significance and didn't find anything."

The frustration was clear in his team's faces. "We'll just have to canvass again," Aaron told them, knowing it wasn't the most welcome news, but something that needed to be done. They were missing something and they all knew it. He rolled his chair back …

The yipe was piercing.

The "damn it!" came out before Hotch could even think straight, wondering what in God's name made him blurt out the words he normally swallowed without a second thought. He immediately scooped up Inky, who was cowering by his chair.

"How the hell did you escape?" He glared at the pup, who just stared at him with a look that made Spencer's best pouty face look pathetic. Just like this morning, Inky whimpered until Hotch gently rubbed his paw. He admonished, "That's what happens when you're not where you're supposed to be."

As the words left his mouth, Hotch inwardly cringed. To their credit, none of the team laughed aloud but when he looked at them, they all were pressing their lips together in an obvious effort not to laugh.

"Performance evaluations are next week," Hotch reminded them crispy as the puppy squirmed out of his arms and on to the conference table. They watched in silence as Inky plodded his way over to …

Reid.

Instead of stopping at the edge, Inky kept going forward and then leaped towards Reid. The younger agent immediately caught the pup, staring at the animal in bewilderment. Inky, however, put both paws on Reid's chest and woofed.

It was like the pup knew that if he won Reid over, then he dramatically increased his chances of taking a flight back to D.C.

No one missed Reid's shy smile or the way he stroked Inky's fur.

And Aaron knew he was going to have a hell of a time leaving Inky behind.

Christ.

/***/

"His full name should be Inky Houdini," Spencer said softly as his lips brushed against Aaron's.

"I think Dave got him out of the box."

"Actually, when they put Pokey and Clyde back, Inky crawled on top of them to escape. He's very clever."

"Christ."

"He's bonded with you."

"Spence …"

"We can't call him Damn It, although that is an appropriate name. You know, I've never heard you curse like that in public before."

"Another reason why the dog should remain here."

"You have to admit, Inky Houdini is smart. He figured out that he had to be good with me in order to be with you."

"For God's sake, a dog cannot profile."

"God is dog spelled backwards," Spencer countered. "And it has to do with scent markers."

"I am not having this conversation."

"Will you kiss me then?"

"Absolutely."

/***/

When the fifth body surfaced (literally), the Murphy PD became decidedly less friendly. Hotch watched as his team worked tirelessly pursuing every lead, no matter how ludicrous or minute, that was offered. JJ kept the press in check the best she could, although the leaks from the department weren't making it easy. The only thing that kept the two groups civil was the litter of pups still in the conference room.

Hotch now made sure that he knew exactly where Inky "Damn It" Houdini was when he walked in. He watched as the pup clambered over his littermates in order to escape so he could waddle up to Hotch's chair. Hotch found himself holding the pup while on calls with Garcia and Strauss, because the last thing he wanted was to have either of them hear the high-pitch yelping of an injured dog. Inky refrained from chewing on his tie, instead settling down and snoozing quietly.

When Prentiss and Morgan entered the conference room, Hotch was sitting at the table and pouring through the victims' information (yet again), while Inky slept in his lap. As the two gave their update in rapid-fire succession, Hotch closed the file and went to stand up.

The pup began to tumble and let out a yowl in displeasure. Hotch caught Inky in time, but still …

God, he was so busted.

"He escapes," Hotch told them as he walked over to the pen and deposited the pup. The look that Inky gave him rivaled the big sad eyes of Puss in Boots from Shrek.

God, he was so screwed.

/***/ ***

Returning to the crime scenes at the approximated time of day when the body was disposed of was nothing new. It usually gave them a better sense of the atmosphere and challenges that the UnSub faced. It was most effective in well populated or heavily traveled areas. Would the UnSub have stood out? What kind of vehicle would have gone unnoticed? Was there the potential for any additional witnesses?

Out in the "boonies" (as Mrs. Trigg cheerfully called it), it just reinforced that their UnSub was very familiar with the area.

After all, Hotch had taken several wrong turns despite having a map, a GPS unit, and Reid in the SUV with him.

It was four in the morning.

It was dark.

There were several unmarked roads.

It was easy to get lost.

But sometimes, getting lost was the break they needed.

It was how they came across their UnSub in an aluminum flatboat, rowing out from truck's boat trailer which was submerged in water. The man had only gotten about ten feet from shore and, when he saw the two agents, he dumped a large plastic garbage bag into the water.

When Hotch ordered him to row back into shore, the man surprisingly complied. As soon as Hotch and Reid cleared the boat and cuffed their UnSub, Reid waded out into the water and retrieved the partially sunken trash bag.

"It's a body," Reid announced, and Hotch wondered if he was imagining the relief in Reid's voice.

The relief he felt was unmistakable.

/***/

Wrapping up the case didn't take much time, especially when their UnSub confessed to all six murders. As they predicted, the locals knew him and were shocked that such "an outstanding, God-fearing man of the community" could do such a thing.

When Hotch opened the door to the conference room as he spoke with Rossi, he immediately glanced down to make sure that he wouldn't step on Inky if the pup was waiting at the door for him. The disappointment that Inky wasn't waiting for him was surprising, but Hotch quickly cursed himself for being weak. The noise woke the pups up, and they began their usual racket. He couldn't help but look over to the pen.

Inky had seen him.

And just like Reid described the other day, Inky clambered over his littermates until he could put both paws over the edge of the pen. The pup hefted itself over and landed on the outside with a soft thud, but the pup didn't whimper at all. Instead, he stood up, gave a little shake, and bounded up to Hotch, tripping over his paws twice.

The pup stopped in front of Hotch and sat down, looking up expectantly. He let out a woof. Hotch just stared.

"In all the years I've owned dogs, I've never seen one so determined to be with someone," Dave said as he clapped Hotch on the shoulder.

"He's not old enough to fly."

"You're gonna need the names of my trainer and vet."

"Dave …"

"You named him, Aaron."

Hotch stared down at Inky, who had scooted forward to place his paws on Hotch's loafers. The pup let out another soft woof and then wagged his tail hard enough that his entire body wagged as well.

Hotch pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's too early to call Jess about this."

"Wheels up, when? Noon? Plenty of time."

"You're not helping."

Dave reached down and picked up Inky, who immediately began licking him. He then handed the pup over to Hotch. "I know a good dog when I see one."

Hotch reluctantly accepted the dog, surprised how quickly Inky settled down once he had him in his hands. "You're really not helping."

/***/

By eight in the morning, Inky Houdini tried to get inside of Aaron's briefcase twice, which was on the floor near the whiteboard. The conference room was disturbingly quiet and decidedly less smelly; he'd grown used to the puppy noises and the stink. He tried to put Inky back in the pen, but the pup would not stay put. Oddly, none of the other puppies seemed interested in escaping. Only Inky.

Hotch sighed.

Reid entered the conference room and immediately, Inky tumbled towards him. It was the first dog that was immune to the Reid Effect just like Jack was the first toddler who didn't scream in Reid's presence (Henry held the honors of being the first infant).

Hotch sighed again.

Reid scooped the puppy up and sat down in the chair next to Hotch. Inky pawed at Reid's tie and then began chewing on his sweater vest. "No," Reid corrected gently and bopped the puppy lightly on the snout.

And just like Jack did when he was admonished by one parent, Inky looked at Hotch and whimpered. Aaron couldn't even muster up a glare.

Damn.

"Jack can barely take care of his goldfish," Aaron began. "And asking Jessica to look after a puppy as well? I'm not starting her Saturday morning off like this."

Reid coughed a little before handing the puppy over to Aaron. "She's already cleaned out a space in the mudroom for his crate."

That earned a sharp glare. "Reid …"

"I sent her pictures two days ago," he continued. "Just in case. You know." It was then Reid delivered that earnest look of his. "Inky likes us both."

Still, "He's going to chew a case file."

"We never leave case files out."

"There will be dog shit everywhere."

"Just until he learns what 'potty outside' means. He's a very smart dog." Reid reached over and gently petted the pup's head. "She says their dad used to call their dog Damn It, too."

"You called her without discussing this with me first."

His lover hitched an eyebrow. "She called me six months ago and asked if we wanted a puppy. One of her coworkers had a litter of Shih Tzus for sale." He stroked Inky's fur. "I declined because Jack had just gotten his goldfish and I recalled that conversation you had with Morgan about purebreds."

Hotch frowned, trying to remember. "When did I have that conversation with Morgan?"

"Five years, six months and thirteen days ago." Reid smiled broadly. "The case in Gulfport. You said that if you were ever to get a dog, it would be from a shelter or rescue. You also said that you wanted a 'real dog,'" Reid did air quotes, "which I'm assuming meant to be something that couldn't be mistaken as a dust mop. Based on the size of his paws, Inky will definitely not be a dust mop."

"Spencer …"

"Aaron, why are you being so goddamn stubborn?"

Apparently, Inky wanted to know the answer as well, because the pup squirmed until he was sitting in Hotch's lap and had both front paws on Hotch's chest. For several moments, no one made a sound. Even the pups in the pen were quiet.

Then, Spencer asked, "Did you ever have a dog growing up?"

"Sean did," Aaron replied, tickling Inky's ears. The pup gnawed on his finger.

Sean had a lot of things that Aaron didn't have growing up.

Sean had the things Aaron wanted to have growing up, but wasn't allowed.

"There's no rule saying you can't have one now," Spencer said softly.

/***/

Aaron watched as Inky Houdini explored the backyard of the Hotchner-Reid home. The consensus on the jet was that Inky was going to be at least as big as Mudgie based on his paws and that there was some variety of retriever and German Shepherd in the mix.

Big dog.

Big piles of poo in the backyard.

Still …

"Daddy!" Jack yelled and hurtled towards him.

Aaron caught him with ease and closed his eyes when his son hugged him like only five year olds could. "Hey, buddy."

As if on cue, Inky Houdini came bounding forward, tripping twice and reminded Aaron, of all things, of the opening sequence of Little House on the Prairie when little Carrie fell down.

Jack's eyes grew wide as he stared at the dog. His mouth dropped open as his entire body went still.

"Is that a puppy?" his son asked, the disbelief in his voice so pure and innocent.

"His name is Inky Houdini," Aaron said quietly.

Spencer knelt down on Jack's other side. "Inky stowed away in your dad's briefcase because he knew he was supposed to be with us."

Jack blinked slowly as the puppy continued to make his way towards them. "His name is Inky?"

Aaron swallowed twice, because the emotions that were hitting him were overwhelming. All he could say was, "Yeah."

"Kneel down and hold your hand out flat, so he can sniff you," Spencer told Jack and demonstrated with his hand.

Immediately, Jack imitated Spencer's posture. His hand trembled with excitement.

Aaron held his breath as Inky tumbled right up to Jack.

"My name is Jack," their son said, all breathless and nervous. Inky sniffed and then licked the tips of Jack's fingers. Jack giggled. "This is Aunt Jessie," he pointed towards his aunt, who knelt down and held out her hand as well. "She makes really good cookies."

"Cookies are for little boys, not little dogs," she chided Jack. The pup nosed her fingers and then head-butted her palm. Jess scratched his ears. "Oh, Aaron, he's precious."

"Precocious is more like it," Aaron corrected although he couldn't hide his smile. He knew Jack was going to plead that Inky stay in his room (and probably in the bed) and that he'd have to go over the Puppy Rules daily with the entire family.

"He's ours?" Jack asked as Inky circled back and began licking the boy's hands again.

"He's ours," Aaron confirmed, knowing he was grinning like an idiot but, hey, it was okay.

/***/

There are specific moments in Aaron's life that he knows he'll treasure forever. Those are precious moments that he keeps close to his heart so that when the darkness threatens to overwhelm him, he remembers.

The expression on Jack's face when they introduced Inky Houdini is one of them.

That first photo of him, Spencer, Jack and Inky is another.

Inky's enthusiasm when Aaron walks in the front door, no matter if he'd only been gone five minutes or three weeks, also ranks up there.

Aaron's not used to unconditional love, but he decides he'll just have to get used to it.

After all, Charles Schultz once said, "Happiness is a warm puppy."

/Finis/