Author's Note: For my Hotch/Prentiss shippers, I think this will be a three chapter arc. For those of you following my stories, from now until Christmas, my updates will be coming every other day. Sorry, my friends, blame my children and their countless Christmas activities. As usual, Tonnie and I have a ball bringing you these stories, so, please be patient with us. The holiday season is kicking our collective rumps. Thank you, everyone who is taking the time to both read & review. Please continue! It makes it worthwhile to do this, knowing that we've managed to capture your interest. As ever, we don't own Criminal Minds (though I wouldn't mind having Joe M. for in my stocking this year!).
Twas the Night Before Christmas
Prompt: Spin City – "Miracle Near 34th Street"
As Emily Prentiss perused the racks of ancient books gracing Collins Collectibles on a frigid Sunday afternoon, she frowned. This trip down to the intersection of 34th Street and Lynde Avenue on the outskirts of DC appeared to be a bust, much like all the preceding trips she'd made to every antique store over the past few weeks. Glancing around the small, cramped shop, she couldn't help but feel her stomach clench, her eyes not catching on anything. This was her last hope. This musty smelling store. In the past week she'd traveled through every antique store in a thirty mile radius on a mission to find that elusively special Secret Santa gift for the most difficult recipient. And with every excursion she'd struck out.
She knew what he wanted. And if he wanted it, then she needed it. Desperately.
Sure, it was going to cost a mite more than the twenty dollar spending limit that the team had agreed on, her desire for the perfect gift trumping all other arbitrary rules or regulations. Sure, she'd spent more on gas than the Secret Santa budget combined to fund her journeys for this particular gem. But that was all beside the point. Because she'd drawn his name from that ragged hat JJ had shoved in front of her nose a month ago, she intended on finding exactly the perfect gift. And thanks to a particularly useful inside source, this was one colleague that she'd had no doubt what he wanted.
As she turned from the stacks of books with their yellowed pages and bent corners, her eyes were drawn toward the plate glass window at the front of the store. The owners had done a truly lovely job with the display. Antique ornaments adorned a graceful tree lit in red and blue lights, the twinkles reflecting on the leaded pane. Presents wrapped below it in festive paper beckoned the eye, the delicate bows reminiscent of days gone by. And on an antique wooden table, set for four with beautiful porcelain settings, standing in the center, there it was.
The perfect gift. The Night Before Christmas, circa 1863, by Clement Clarke Moore.
If she hadn't been sure that jumping up and down in the small store crammed with priceless treasures would surely break something, she'd have been bouncing excitedly on her merry feet. However, Emily was nothing if not practical, quickly recognizing the folly of such action. So, she settled for a quick fist pump of victory and a large smile, and hurried toward the antiquated cash register at the front of the store, her footsteps loud against the creaking hardwood floor.
Smiling brightly at the elderly saleswoman behind the register, Emily happily pointed toward the window, her eyes fairly bouncing at the joy of finding the perfect item. "The book on the table, I'll take it."
"Honey," the old woman's voice, cracked with age, began to say, her head shaking sadly, "That's not…"
"I don't care how much it is," Emily interrupted, shaking her head as she pulled her wallet from her purse, a smile pasted firmly on her lips as she turned back to face the reluctant clerk, "Wrap it up."
"I'm sorry, dear. It's already on hold for someone else," the white haired woman said apologetically, pressing her veined hand against the aged oak display case that served as the register counter.
"Oh, no, no, no!" Emily moaned, eyeing the book with lascivious eyes, her fingers tightening almost convulsively around the wooden counter, "Whatever you're asking for it, I'll pay double," Emily offered as she turned back to the other woman. Seeing the doubtful look in the older lady's eyes, Emily quickly revised, gambling quickly on the fact that she might be the only paying customer this shop had all day, "Make it triple. It's really important, Ma'am."
"Well, I suppose," the elderly woman said, looking thoughtfully at the window as she pressed her hand to her cardigan-covered chest. She spoke again, almost as if she was thinking aloud, "The gentleman that asked us to hold it was supposed to have been here yesterday."
"Then, I say," Emily said, leaning forward to whisper conspiratorially, recognizing the efficacy of making a new friend at this moment, "If you snooze, you lose. Don't you? Especially when you have a customer standing right in front of you willing to pay triple your asking price. I'm betting that'll buy a whole lot of Christmas gifts, wouldn't it?"
"That it would, dear," the lady nodded, with a side glance at the various photos in plastic frames that lined the back of the counter, her six grandchildren's faces smiling back at her. With a wink, she inclined her head back to Emily, "It's a deal. I'll even throw in a wrap job. I tie a mean bow."
"That sounds like a deal, Emily grinned widely, handing over her Visa card, mentally congratulating herself on achieving the impossible. For a year that had been less than sterling, perhaps she could interject a small measure of happiness in the life of her recipient. Watching as the older woman meticulously removed the book from its resting place, Emily couldn't help but wonder about the family that had once used that very item, about the children that had enjoyed hearing the famous story every Christmas Eve. Her own childhood Christmas memories seemed muted, faded in the distance, so non-descript that they didn't even bear retaining in her mind.
Shaking herself out of the sudden reverie, she maintained a small flow of chatter with the obviously pleased sale clerk, watching with amazement as the older woman's frail hands contorted into miraculous positions as the perfect bow appeared on top of the perfectly wrapped gift. Taking this as a sign that she had definitely made the right choice, Emily smiled widely as she took possession of the gift, holding it tightly to her chest as she stepped out of the bygone shop and back onto the cold winter air.
And so, stepping into her car fifteen minutes later, Emily Prentiss was six hundred dollars poorer and one very magical Christmas present richer. But she'd gotten what she came for. Aaron Hotchner was going to have a very merry Christmas indeed!