Last year's Secret Santa gift exchange had been an abysmal failure for resident BAU genius, Dr Spencer Reid. So he’d taken matters into his own hands to try to make things more comfortable this year, especially after totally bombing with Rossi the year before, misjudging and badly guessing every gift.
Early in June, entering the tech wizard’s lair, he tentatively started “Hey Penelope….ummm...I know you are the one who sets up and runs the Secret Santa draw each year.”
“Of course, my gorgeous genius. Who else would be the leader and purveyor of all that is holiday greatness?” Garcia responded.
“Can I ask a favour?” Spencer requested.
“Since I lost Maeve, I've been trying harder to connect better with the team on a social level. Alex tells me it's a skill I really need to learn.”
“I won't disagree, Dr 187, and the effort has been noticed and appreciated,” Penelope responded.
“Here's the thing, I think I need to learn how to interact better, in big and little ways over a period of time. To learn to get to know and interact with someone, but with the pressure off. Maybe where I can sit back and observe how my actions work out?”
“Ahh, you want to make this a science experiment….I can see the appeal for you. The chance to engage but still maintain that “safe” distance,” Garcia responded.
“So what are you proposing we do, oh Lord of geekiness?”
“Umm….do you think we could start the Secret Santa thing as a Christmas in July and extend it through the holiday season?” Reid asked. “We could limit It to monthly gifts and it would certainly give me time to observe and learn in complex social situations.”
“I think that's a fabulous idea, Spencer! We all need to connect better in this team. What we see everyday….it can destroy the soul. A bit of fun and whimsy, and not limited by time? Sounds like the perfect antidote to all the horrendous things we see each day.” Garcia was now enthused by the whole idea.
“So can I ask one last favour?” Reid enquired tentatively. “Would it be too much to ask if you assign me Hotch? I don't care who gets me, but if I'm trying to learn better social interaction skills, I think he'd be most able to handle and forgive my inevitable faux pas.”
“Oh Spence, of course you can have Hotch. But please don't ever think there's any single person on this team who wouldn't have your back!”
“I know Garcia, and I thought about trying this with you or JJ but...it just didn't seem right. It didn't feel like I could even begin to pull off the element of being secret.” Reid answered.
“It's OK Spence, do what you need to do!”
And so it began, in small increments and barely daring choices. Reid’s first gift, knowing Aaron was in training mode, was a Camelbak water pack, designed for long distance hydration.
Aaron was appreciative of the selection and pretty vocal to the bullpen about how he'd never had one of these before, hoping his benefactor might be more revealing
No such luck. Three weeks later, Secret Santa struck again, but in the form of the book “Coaching kids soccer for dummies” (accompanied by a note printed in all capitals, to disguise identity, insisting Aaron was no dummy). While helpful with handling the juvenile team...and to put Dave in his place on occasions, it wasn't exactly giving clear signposts to who the gift giver was.
September rolled around and Hotch’s Secret Santa struck again, this time in the form of hard to obtain tickets to a Father-Son overnight Space Camp at the Air and Space Museum. Jack was over the moon (no pun intended) and they both thoroughly enjoyed the experience. When Aaron tried to investigate how the tickets were obtained, he was loftily informed they were invitation only and no further information could be found.
Spencer meanwhile was struggling a little with choosing the October gift. Three days later the team was in Charleston, South Carolina and Aaron extolled on the meal they were enjoying at the end of their case.
“You know, my parents were usually too uptight to allow good southern cooking growing up. But sometimes we'd go to my great uncle Ben’s, and you couldn't believe the fried chicken, the greens and all the sides that went with it. This is almost as good as I remember!”
Noting that rare opening up and trip down memory lane, Spencer made that month’s gift a catered fried chicken meal for Aaron, Jack and Jessica. Hotch lightened up enough to share some of the very few good memories he had of his youth with his son. But he was still no closer to figuring out his benefactor.
November found Spencer struggling again with a gift idea. He went to Garcia, asking for advice.
“I know this was supposed to be my learning experiment in trying to read people, but, if I assess this correctly, I think Hotch has become more closed off in this process and harder to read. Am I imagining it, Penelope?”
“Noooo……” she responded slowly, thinking furiously to connect all the dots. “If anything, I think you've succeeded too well. You've been right on the profile, so to speak...and you just know how much this team loves inter-team profiling? I think you've read Hotch better than you think!”
“So what do I do now? I never wanted to make Hotch uncomfortable. He's a good friend and mentor to me and so I just wanted to….to…” Spencer paused, not sure what he really wanted.
“You just wanted him to know you see and appreciate him too. I get it Reid, he means a lot to us all. And so often he gets all the crap from above and too little of the love from below!” Penelope answered.
“Well I'm not sure I would phrase it exactly that way….” Reid continued, with a little discomfort. “But yes, Hotch has done a lot for me and I want to show how much I care.”
“Ok, so now it's Operation Two More Awesome Secret Santa gifts for the Bossman,” Penelope declared. “Let's brainstorm some ideas!”
Several hours later, Spencer had some decisions to make on the suggestions he and Penelope had come up with. He'd decided November’s gift would be a series of hands on sessions with a coach renowned for taking on triathletes with promise. If nothing else, Hotch would learn some great training tips. Hotch opened the gift voucher in the BAU conference room and was very enthusiastic about the concept.
Spencer breathed a sigh of relief at the success of his penultimate gift. Now just to figure out the final Secret Santa choice. It took several weeks for him to have an inkling of the gift, particularly as he wanted to reveal his identity by giving that gift, rather than just signing his name.
Several days later, he found the perfect gift. He'd gotten to spend the odd day, here and there with Jack Hotchner, and knew that he was a Lord of the Rings fan. He also understood that Aaron had come to love the books, reading them to his young son over the last year or so. He was also pretty sure Hotch knew he, Spencer, was a fan also...and that would reveal his identity.
So Spencer purchased three tickets (gold level, full access for the entire four days) to the next Lord of the Rings convention, to be held in New York City the following Spring. Nervously, he slid into Hotch’s office late Christmas Eve to deposit the gift, before escaping to Penelope's lair and access to the security footage in the bullpen.
Penelope and Spencer avidly tracked the Unit Chief's path back to his office but had no footage of Aaron opening the gift. They waited with baited breath as Hotch returned to the railing above the bullpen, and chuckled as Hotch announced to all “Spencer Reid, get out here now!”
A nervous Dr Reid emerged and confronted a smirking Hotch. “So a little bird told me...after making me figure this all out by myself ….you were carrying out an experiment on your boss?”
“Umm...well...yessss….well It wasn't quite like that……” stuttered Spencer.
“Good job Spencer, your people reading skills are improving impressively. Jack and I are looking forward to joining you at the convention. And to the rest of you…...to coin a phrase…...Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!!!”