A/N: Hey look! It's Thursday and here's a story in the Sound of Music universe! I told you I hoped to come back to it someday. And I did.
"That's great, Quistie," you say. "But it's a Christmas story and it's, um, January." Yes, yes, I know. Let me explain. I wrote a little ficlet on Tumblr in response to a prompt I received about the Holiday Armadillo. You can read it over at my blog ChuckvsSOM dot blogspot dot com. Anyway, I received a request for more details about that particular Christmas from another reader. Due to many factors, I wasn't able to write anything before Christmas. Now that the holidays are over and things have settle down a bit, I've found some time and wrote this. I hope you enjoy it, even if it is about a month late.
Thank you to AgentInWaiting for his invaluable beta work on this. Um, Merry Hot and Spicy International Food Day, sir. (January 16th. What? It's a thing.)
I don't own Chuck, The Sound of Music or the Holiday Armadillo.
Chuck vs. the Sound of Music II: A Merry Little Christmas
Sarah Bartowski might have been retired from the field, but that didn't mean the spy skills she'd honed over her years at the CIA had simply disappeared. She was already awake and well aware of the dark form creeping across the floor toward her and Chuck's bed. Sarah didn't move, partly because she hoped the creeper would assume she was asleep and go back to her own bed, but mostly because she didn't want to move away from the human radiator that was her husband. First-hand knowledge told her that frigid sheets awaited her feet if she extracted them from where they were currently nestled between Chuck's size thirteens.
She realized her game of possum wasn't going to work when she felt the bed dip as the creeper climbed up and crawled across the mattress. A hand insistently tapped her on the arm and although the voice behind her was whispered, it brimmed with excitement. "Aunt Sarah. Aunt Sarah. Aunt Sarah."
"It's Christmas morning, Aunt Sarah," Megan said, stating the obvious. "It's finally here."
Sarah didn't have to open her eyes to know it was still dark outside. "What time is it?" she asked, her whispered voice low and gravelly from sleep.
"Five-thirty," the seven year-old answered.
Sarah held in a groan. It was Christmas morning, after all, and Megan had been looking forward to this moment for weeks. Even so, it was too early and cold to get up quite yet. She slid her feet from between Chuck's and rolled over, making sure to press her back against his warm side and return her feet to their previous toasty spot. "Sweetie, I know you're excited, but you know the rule."
Megan heaved a loud sigh and intoned, "We don't get up until the baby does."
A smile curled on Sarah's lips when she felt Chuck shake in silent laughter. "Tell you what," Sarah said, still keeping her voice low. "He usually wakes up around six anyway, so," she lifted the covers, "you stay here with us and the minute we hear him stir, we'll get up."
"Okay," Megan whisper shouted and clambered under the layers of bedding.
The next thirty minutes was the longest in all of history. Megan expelled loud and impatient sighs approximately every minute. Sarah was afraid the little girl's laser-like stare at the baby monitor sitting on the nightstand was going to melt its electronics and release the mysterious blue smoke. When a soft clunk and some rustling sounds came over the monitor a few minutes after six, Megan shot up. "He's awake!" She scrambled off the bed and bolted out of the room in a blur.
The sound of the door to the baby's room being opened was heard from the speaker followed by Megan's happy voice. "It's Christmas morning, Max. Do you know what that means? We get to open presents!"
Sarah rolled over and up on her elbow. Hovering over her husband, she said, "Merry Christmas, Chuck," and gave him a kiss.
He brushed at a strand of hair across her forehead with a finger. "Merry Christmas, Sarah."
After kissing him again, she slid out of bed, pulled on sweatpants and a sweatshirt and tugged on her Uggs. She walked the few steps down the hall to the former guest room, now nursery, next to her and Chuck's room, and flipped a switch, turning on the R2-D2 lamp on top of the dresser. It didn't surprise her in the least to find her son standing in his crib, his pudgy hands gripping the side, and grinning at his sister with a two-toothed smile. Despite Megan's best efforts to coach him over the last month, he hadn't learned how to escape his confines quite yet. As Max grew, Sarah knew she would have to keep a close eye on what Megan taught him about spycraft. Although their "spy" interactions were adorable, safety had to come first.
"Merry Christmas, little man," Sarah said. At the sound of her voice, Max looked up from Megan and when his eyes—exact replicas of his mother's—landed on her, he squealed and bounced up and down on chubby baby legs. Like every morning, his happy greeting absolutely melted her.
Sarah lifted her son from the crib, settled him on her hip and kissed his soft, gossamer blond hair. When she carried him to the changing table and laid him down, Megan automatically took her position next to him. It was her job to keep him distracted and from trying to flip over onto his stomach while Sarah changed his diaper. Once he was in a dry diaper and zipped back into his fleecy camouflage footie pajamas courtesy of his Uncle Casey, she set him on her hip again and the three went out the door and headed down the stairs.
They had only gone half way down the steps when Megan stopped in her tracks, jaw dropping in complete awe. The colored lights on the tree glowed, illuminating the otherwise dark room. On the floor around the tree was a mountain of presents that hadn't been there the day before. It was the biggest pile of presents Sarah had ever seen. As she and Chuck shopped for Max's first Christmas, they quickly learned that the younger the person, the bigger the gift boxes would be. The reverse was also true as evidenced by the small jewelry box Chuck had given Sarah when they were alone and in bed the night before. In it was a new, heart-shaped charm for her bracelet – a tiny map of the Czech Republic with the word "Prague" next to a star marking its location. "Since we didn't name him 'Prague' I thought this would be the next best thing," he'd said, wiggling his eyebrows.
In her arms, Max's eyes grew round and he was completely transfixed by the scene. "Lights," Sarah said, pointing at the tree. He turned his face toward hers and studied it with a furrowed brow that so resembled Chuck's when he was working away on his computer. When he turned and stared at the tree again, she could practically see the neurons firing in his brain as he worked it all out.
Now over her initial shock, Megan bounded the rest of the way down the stairs and made a beeline for the tree. She didn't touch any of the presents, but did drop to her hands and knees to read the tags. She glanced at one and said, "The Holiday Armadillo came! Martie and me got presents from the Holiday Armadillo!"
"That's great, Megan," Sarah said as she descended the stairs at a slower pace. "I'm happy for you girls."
"I wish Aunt Carina could have stayed longer."
"I know, sweetie, but she got called away." Her friend had been particularly cagey about where she was going when she abruptly left Beaver Creek a couple of days before. Sarah assumed it was a mission and when she reminded Carina that her security clearance was still in place—and higher than Carina's—the redhead avoided giving out details and had instead grumbled about Sarah still being Graham's golden girl.
Sarah left Megan to scrutinize the presents—the little girl hadn't even noticed the stockings had been stuffed yet—and walked into the kitchen. Chuck's face lit up when he saw them enter. "There he is!" Sarah had to hang on tight as Max bounced on her hip and swung his feet with excitement when he glimpsed his father. Max threw his arms out in front of him, leaned toward Chuck and babbled a noise that Sarah interpreted as "I want Daddy." In one swift motion, Chuck kissed Sarah's cheek, took the baby from her and bench pressed his son up over his head. In response, the baby cackled happily and kicked his feet. Swinging him back down, Chuck set Max's backside on his forearm and the little one gripped the sleeve of his sweatshirt with one hand and pointed at a sippy-cup on the counter with the other. "Somebody's hungry," he said. "I started the coffee and turned on the oven to preheat for the sticky buns."
"Thank you," Sarah answered after guzzling some water. She took Max back, kissed Chuck and murmured, "You're the best." Wandering back into the family room, she sunk down in the recliner rocking chair they bought before Max was born and nursed her son. While she did so, Chuck built a fire in the fireplace and Martie hurried down the stairs to join her sister on the floor and take out the goodies from their stockings. By six-thirty, she had finished feeding Max and sat him down on the floor with his sisters. The two girls supervised him as he pulled toys from the stocking Mrs. Smith had made for him. When he seemed to enjoy the act of removing the toys from the stocking more than the items themselves, it turned into a game as the girls loaded up the stocking so he could empty it again.
A little after seven, Lisa, Curtis and Bridget arrived in the family room and joined their siblings on the floor. While they went through their stockings, they kept Max from crawling across the floor and attacking the packages under the tree.
Stephen and Mary came up from the guest room in the basement soon thereafter. Stephen picked Max up first and greeted his grandson with a raspberry blown on his stomach, eliciting full-throated laughter from the nine month-old. It wasn't long after that Mary took possession of the boy and kept him with her for the next thirty minutes, including taking him upstairs to change his diaper once again.
It was the aroma of the freshly baked and cinnamon-laced sticky buns that got Lizzie and Fred out of bed. Lizzie—home for break having just completed her first semester at the University of Colorado in Boulder—came into the kitchen first and headed straight for Max, now in his high chair and gumming the Cheerios Sarah had scattered on the tray. He pinched one of the round pieces of cereal and held it up to her. Without hesitation, Lizzie bent forward and ate the proffered Cheerio from his slobber-covered fingers, much to his obvious delight.
Fred, as usual, was the last family member to arrive for breakfast. Still, it was much earlier than expected since he had stayed up late, skyping with Amy and her family during their Christmas morning. Sarah, leaning against the counter, grinned into her mug when Fred greeted his youngest brother with an affectionate "Hey, goober," sat down at the table and stuffed giant bites of sweet roll in his mouth. Max stared upwards in awe at Fred, now as tall as his uncle, as if he was in the presence of a rock star.
By the time everyone assembled in the living room to open presents after breakfast, the morning sky had lightened to reveal a steady snowfall. With the massive number of presents under the tree, Curtis, Bridget, Martie and Megan were enlisted to distribute them to each recipient. Max sat on Chuck's lap and was completely mesmerized by the activity. Once all the packages were delivered, Sarah noticed that Max hardly blinked as his head swiveled one way and then the other, watching the spectacle of his seven brothers and sisters dive in and rip them open. The room was filled with shouts of thanks and whoops of happiness with the reveal of each gift.
When the kids were done opening their presents, Max opened his with the assistance of Martie and Megan. From the very first package, the wrapping paper he tore away was immediately directed toward his mouth. With each new strip, Sarah said, "Mama will take that," and gently removed the paper from his fists.
After Max was done, it was the adults' turn. In addition to the Prague charm, Chuck gave Sarah a gold necklace, its pendant a sapphire with diamonds matching the earrings he had given her in Berlin. In addition to giving Chuck a son—an ongoing joke the two shared for each gift giving occasion since Max had been born—Sarah gave her husband a Han Solo action figure, autographed by the actor, to keep the Chewbacca that lived in his office company. She kept the Leia gold-bikini costume she'd bought herself hidden upstairs for a Christmas night surprise.
As soon as all presents had been opened, Chuck said to the kids, "I know you're all antsy to play with all your new stuff, but you know what comes next. The sooner we get this mess cleaned up, the sooner you can go play." That was all it took. Lisa and Fred ran out to the garage and returned with several large trash bags. As the seven worked, Chuck added, "And make sure you get all the little bits of paper off the floor. Your brother doesn't need that kind of fiber in his diet." With impressive speed, bags were filled and the floor was cleared of the detritus from the present unwrapping frenzy.
The room now picked up, the kids were released from duty and they scattered throughout the house. Fred, Lisa and Curtis went straight for the TV room to play one of their new video games, Lizzie got out her laptop to spend every dime of her iTunes gift card, and Bridget curled up on one end of the couch to dive into her new book. Stephen sat on the floor next to the tree with Martie and Megan and bravely worked to extract their new Barbies from the plastic packaging. "Next time, I'm going to bring a laser from work and use it to open these things," he muttered. Megan gasped and breathed, "Lasers are cool," while she looked up at her grandfather in awe.
Max had no interest in his new toys, as he was content to sit with his grandmother and watch everyone else. That suited Sarah since those new toys would be a welcome distraction for him when his siblings went back to school and stopped being around during the day to help keep him entertained.
A little later, when Max grew grumpy and a scowl formed on his face, Mary handed him off to Sarah and said with a knowing smile, "This is all you, Sarah."
Chuckling, Sarah nodded, took her son in her arms, sat down in the rocking chair and began to feed him. Looking into his relaxed and contented face, she knew he'd be asleep soon. She began to slowly rock the chair and when she looked up from his face, her gaze fell on the Christmas tree. One by one, she beheld each of the special family ornaments that adorned the evergreen: the "Our First Christmas" ones that held wedding pictures of her and Chuck, Devon and Ellie, Mary and Stephen and Woody and Honey and the "Baby's First Christmas" ornaments, each containing a baby picture of the kids. Finally, her gaze settled on the newest one. It was Max's, complete with squished and red-faced newborn baby picture. In that quiet moment, Sarah wondered how she got so lucky to have this life. Humming softly along with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" playing in the background, she gazed down into the peaceful face of her now sleeping son and realized why or how didn't matter. She would simply enjoy every day with her family. They were the best gift of all.