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December 21st: Cookie Conundrum

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A vibrant Penelope Garcia, decked out seasonally in red and green (topped with lit antlers) hustled into the BAU conference room, as the Bureau’s premier profiling team gathered for the the morning briefing.

“Ok my wonderfully prefestive peeps, gather around!” she announced dramatically. “There's no case to present. It's now only three weeks until Christmas and it's well past time to sign up for our first annual Cookie Exchange,” she finished with a flourish as she put a signup sheet and Christmas themed marker on the table.

A round of groans and hints of dissent came from the surrounding team, accompanied by the distinctive thud of Derek Morgan's head hitting the table top, repeatedly.

“Baby girl, why do you do things like this to us? You know you just jinxed us for the entire time between now and Christmas. You know if we commit to something….anything….the unsubs go crazy. We're going to be working nonstop for the next month!” Derek whined loudly. “And you know how much most of us hate to bake…..why would you do this, Momma?”

Unit chief Aaron Hotchner also tried to defuse the situation, but wasn't allowed to get more than a word in before Garcia took over once more.

“Oh please, sir, let us do this one small thing for the holidays. And I know you adore my snickerdoodles….I promise to make them as my contribution,” Penelope began, and then followed with a jab at the team’s Achilles heel.

“You know, I understand that I don't get to travel with the team very much as I can usually do so much more for the cases by working on my babies in my lair. But it does feel like I miss some of the best parts of being on this team, like when you get to celebrate a success before you have to come home on the jet. This would mean so much to me Hotch, to have this celebration as a team these holidays.”

Knowing when to admit defeat, in the face of a relentless Garcia deploying puppy dog eyes, Hotch bit the bullet and, grabbing the signup sheet, volunteered a contribution of sugar cookies, thinking he could maybe beg Jessica and Jack to do the honours for him.

Happy to be getting her way, Garcia induced more groans when she announced “There are rules! You need to make three dozen so we can all take a selection home with us. You have to bake them yourself, from scratch, not a box mix, and no buying them and trying to pass them off as your own. And if you cheat, you have to reveal it at the exchange….and put in $100 into the FBI Children’s Christmas charity fund.”

“I knew this wasn't going to be as easy as it looked,” Aaron sighed, knowing he was now on the hook to do it himself, or be out a hundred bucks.

Within short order, the team each volunteered their choices, though Rossi may have muttered something that sounded like “Voluntold, more like it!” under his breath.

Of course, the Italian in Rossi had him claiming biscotti, while Spencer admitted he'd gotten hooked on shortbread on his recent trip to England to see Emily. JJ selected her Polish grandmother’s Kolaches, while Morgan was pretty sure he could pull off his Momma’s special chocolate rum balls (especially if she talked him through it, step by step). Alex Blake had a delicious molasses cookie recipe she'd learned when living in New England that she hadn't baked in ages, and she was beginning to get excited about breaking it out. Hotch had simply picked the first and hopefully easiest cookie he'd thought of.

Over the next two and a half weeks, Morgan’s dire prediction of a jinx seemed to bear out, as the team had back to back cases across the country. They finally returned to the BAU early Friday afternoon and found that, with the cookie exchange set for the following Monday, Christmas Eve, Penelope had managed to wangle a stand down for the team for the weekend, and a short day for them on the 24th.

“So my lovelies….time for you to all head out and grocery shop. You have 2 ½ days to bake. Put the time to good use!” Garcia crowed, while wowing them with the seriously most ugly Christmas sweater anyone on the team could imagine. The collected group tried a brief protest but were shut down by the tech analyst with a call to arms of “Now get baking!”

Rossi had only cheated a little, in that he'd used his housekeeper as a shortcut to avoid the grocery store element of the process. Cooking actually relaxed him and he enjoyed sharing his efforts with friends, so he cranked up Sinatra, poured a large glass of expensive Italian wine and went to town with his Nonna’s biscotti recipe. He was so relaxed he ended up with eight dozen cookies and vowed to drop the rest off to a local homeless shelter that supported many homeless veterans. Resolution made, he settled down for a relaxing weekend.

Spencer Reid was also determined to get this chore out of the way. He'd done extensive research to find an authentic recipe to replicate the rich butter shortbread he had fallen in love with while visiting Emily. Armed with a detailed shopping list, he braved the grocery store nearest his apartment and, by late evening, had perfected and turned out four dozen shortbread biscuits, figuring he would enjoy that extra dozen quite nicely over the course of the weekend.

Unfortunately, for the rest of the team, that's where the cookie exchange wheels started to fall off. They all followed Penelope’s directive and hit the grocery stores on the way home, planning on squeezing in the baking over the course of the weekend.

However some unforeseen situations arose, derailing their efforts. JJ arrived home to Will wearing a sheepish expression. “Surprise, cher! My brother’s family decided to make us an early stop on their Christmas tour. I know they were supposed be here Monday, but they decided on an early start.”

“Will!” JJ hissed, “We're not set up for them to be here yet. We can't just accommodate five extra people three days early. We have stuff to do….heck, I have cookies to bake too.”

Apologetically, Will responded “I know Jayje, and I'm sorry, but you know my crazy brother...he’s all about excitement and living large. They've got about every minute of the next three days planned out, hitting every DC holiday tourist trap, with us included. Bought the tickets and all.”

“What am I supposed to do about those three dozen cookies I just bought the fixings for?” asked JJ. “If I have to get Penelope to bake them for me, that $100 is coming out of your wallet, you know that, right?”

Eager to appease his wife, Will not only volunteered $200, but agreed to call and ask (beg) Garcia to be back up baker, and to drop off the ingredients, along with the recipe. Slightly appeased, JJ went to greet their over eager guests, contemplating that old saw “You can choose your friends, but not your relatives.”

In the meantime, Alex Blake had just walked in the door, grocery bags with baking ingredients in hand. Fumbling her keys and bags as her cell phone rang, she finally dumped everything in the floor, recognising her husband's ring tone. With delight, she answered, “James...I thought you were in Somalia still. I didn't think I'd get to talk to you until the New Year!”

Chuckling to hear his wife's excitement, he answered “I got suddenly recalled to Montreal for an urgent meeting for a new relief mission. I'm here until Sunday night, and there's a ticket waiting for you at the Air Canada desk at Ronald Reagan on the 9:16 flight this evening, if you can make it.”

“Oh of course, yes definitely….I will be on that flight for sure!” Alex babbled, “Oh my goodness, I'm supposed to make cookies...Garcia’s going to kill me. It's going to cost you $100 to fix this, James.”

Totally confused, James Blake just agreed to the stipulation, knowing Alex would fill in the details when they saw each other. Garcia, ever the sucker for supporting romance, agreed to making the cookies, after reminding Blake of the deal, and she smirked a little as Will and Alex met on the stoop to hand over their bags to the tech goddess.

After a busy Friday night baking up a storm, preparing her teammates’ recipes, Penelope Garcia decided to take a relaxing morning and indulged in a long, lazy bubble bath, accompanied by hot chocolate. She figured she could get her snickerdoodles baked later that day, leaving her to have a laid back Sunday watching Dr Who with her boyfriend Kevin.

That was until she received a nearly frantic call from her normally laced up boss. “Hotch, what's wrong?” she answered in response to his opening line of “Garcia, I so hate to do this but I desperately need your help.”

Her team lead went on “So much for Strauss letting us be on stand down. She's just called me into the office for an urgent end of year case review and I'm pretty sure it's going to take all day. And I have to spend tomorrow with Jack...it's the Christmas celebration with Haley’s family and I need to be there for Jack’s sake”.

“Let me guess, you need me to bake your cookies?” Hotch responded “Heck, I need you to find a recipe, shop for the ingredients AND bake them. I just picked the sugar cookies as something that would hopefully be easy...and maybe Jack would enjoy. That was the only thing I had planned for today. And now Jack's upset because we won't be baking...not to mention I am going to have to make him sit in the office with me all day, because Jessica is doing last minute Christmas shopping.”

Soft hearted Penelope jumped in, “Oh sir, that's so cruel...to both of you. I have a recipe and the items needed for sugar cookies and I bet Jack would love to help me bake and decorate...would you do me the honour of helping you out and let me take Jack for the day?” Grateful not to have to totally disappoint his son, Aaron made arrangements to drop Jack off in 45 minutes, thinking $100 was a small price to pay for the smile on his son’s face at the thought of still getting to make cookies.

Derek Morgan took a laid back approach to his cookie making, knowing his mother wouldn't be available to walk him through making chocolate rum balls until after lunch. He laid all the items out on counter top, getting ready to follow his Momma’s directions, before deciding it was great weather for a run. Checking on Clooney in the back yard, he took off to run his regular 5 mile route, having not checked the doggie door was locked.

Returning 40 minutes later, he was greeted by an odd smell and noise. Rushing into the kitchen, he found Clooney happily rooting around the floor in all the rum ball ingredients, including chocolate, cocoa and the contents of the rum bottle he’d somehow loosened the lid from. Freaking, he called the emergency vet line, knowing chocolate was very dangerous for dogs and was advised to bring Clooney in immediately.

Rushing to the vet, he made a urgent call to his baby girl, rapidly explaining the situation. Penelope immediately offered to help out and asked for his mother’s number so she could get the recipe.

“Never fear, my chocolate thunder...Sir Jack and I will save the day...and the chocolate rum balls!” Garcia proudly stated. Morgan didn't have enough time before arriving at the vet to even contemplate why Jack Hotchner would be helping his baby doll with the baking.

Fortunately, after a prolonged and quite expensive vet visit, Clooney returned home that evening suffering only from a hangover.

And so rolled Sunday, or Cookie Exchange Eve as Garcia dubbed it in her head. She hasn't quite managed her plan of getting her own baking done the day before, with all her teammates’ emergencies, but she figured she could make snickerdoodles almost in her sleep and it wouldn't break too much into her plans with Kevin. That is until Kevin arrived at 10am, feeling a little under the weather and proceeded to full blown stomach flu within 30 minutes.

Now it was Garcia's turn to be frantic as she contemplated caring for her very sick boyfriend and not wanting to risk spreading any bugs. Considering Reid and Rossi, the only two team members who had apparently baked for themselves, she wondered who would be the best one to entrust her snickerdoodle recipe to, and the remainder of the already completed baked goods. Knowing Rossi's love of cooking, she decided it was an easy choice and made the call.

“Rossi, it's Garcia. I've run into a bit of a problem with the cookie exchange and need your help.”

“What's going on kitten….and what happened to you have to bake it yourself?” Dave responded with a hint of snark.

Garcia's explanation that Kevin was ill and she was behind because she'd ended up baking for everyone but him and Reid had Dave smiling. It also had him considering how much teasing he could dish out to the rest of his team at the exchange the next day. That alone was worth the extra baking. 30 minutes later, Dave left Penelope’s apartment with boxes of baked goods and the ingredients for Garcia's offering, and plans for more baking with a Rat Pack soundtrack.

The next day found the BAU team collected in the conference room again, mounds of cookies arrayed before them. Dave had great delight wandering around the room with an envelope as most of his team had to fess up their reasons for not baking and how they'd all gone to Garcia. Dave happily collected $600 for charity (Will having ponied up the double donation as promised).

Garcia, having sampled Spencer’s very rich and delicious butter shortbread mused out loud “Why did I just assume only Rossi could have come to my rescue yesterday? These are really good!”

A rather insulted Dr Spencer Reid, accompanied by the muffled amusement of his team, retorted “I don't understand either. You could have called and asked you know. I do have a PhD in chemistry remember...and baking IS just edible chemistry!!!!”