A/N: This all started with a seemingly innocuous author's note I wrote for chapter 7 of Return of the Ninja Librarian. I was just being silly when I wrote, "Our story so far: Chuck Bartowski is a sea captain with seven children who burst into song at any time for no readily apparent reason. Sarah Walker, a novitiate preparing to become a nun, is brought in to be the governess for these seven children. Will she fall for the handsome sea captain even though…" I thought nothing of it. And then I received a fateful PM from AgentInWaiting who wrote, "Can you imagine her [Sarah's] version of 'My Favourite Things'?" Well, that just did it right there. I had the first verse written in five minutes. The rest of that song and many others tumbled out of my brain at a rather disturbing rate. I blame MAD Magazine.
A huge thank you to AgentInWaiting who beta'd this chapter for me. Such a huge help.
Just to be clear, I love The Sound of Music. It is one of my favorite movies. And yet it seems perfectly suited for a Chuck and Sarah AU story. Think of this as a mash-up of the two.
Disclaimer: I neither own Chuck nor the Sound of Music. And I love them both.
The nun ran as fast as she could, habit billowing behind, making her look like a black ghostly specter gliding in the darkness. Her feet pounded against the cobblestone courtyard as she sprinted after the woman she had been trying to find for three months now. She was used to running in five inch high heels, so the black, sensible shoes she currently wore were not the things that were slowing her down. It was the darned habit she was wearing. The long black skirt kept wrapping around her legs and had nearly sent her flying head first onto the ground more than once in the last few minutes. Looking on the bright side, it was easy to hide her gun and knives under all that material. She could really do without the wimple, though, which felt like it was choking her most of the time. And the black veil pulling at her head made it ache by the end of every day. At least they didn't make her cut her hair as long as she promised never to go out of her cell without her head coverings.
Sarah Walker pushed these thoughts from her mind and tried to focus on the task before her. The CIA had sent her undercover as a nun to Nonsuch Abbey in rural Northern California in order to track down a female Fulcrum agent who had gone into hiding there. It had taken Sarah three months to figure out which of the nuns was not really a nun…well besides her, anyway.
She found out who the Fulcrum agent was by sheer dumb luck since this woman was as careful about being exposed as she was. Not ten minutes earlier, Sarah had been coming back from evening prayers and on her way to her cell when she overheard a woman talking in a low voice. The fact that no one answered her during this conversation let Sarah know that the woman was speaking into a cell phone. Cell phones were definitely not part of a nun's kit. Rosary beads, yes. Cell phone, no. Sarah had slowed her steps, clasped her hands in front of as she clutched her prayer book and lowered her head. Surreptitiously, she had turned her head to the left and spotted the woman hiding behind one of the stone pillars which stood at regular intervals around the edge of the courtyard.
Her blood ran cold when she overheard the names Tommy Delgado and Bryce Larkin. Crap! Her superiors suspected her partner, Bryce, of being a double agent, and now what she had just heard confirmed their suspicions. This was going to splash back on her, she was sure. But first, she had to apprehend the Fulcrum agent.
She had dropped her prayer book onto the ground so that she could stoop down to pick it up while at the same time snaking her hand up under her habit to grab the Smith & Wesson from the holster strapped to her thigh. The incongruity of a nun carrying a concealed weapon was not lost on her as she reminded herself that she was still a CIA agent, not a nun.
As she stood up slowly she tried to hide the gun behind the prayer book so that the Fulcrum agent wouldn't see it. Unfortunately, the burnished stainless steel caught the light of the moon and was noticed by her quarry who then took off in a dead sprint toward the front gates of the abbey. Sarah chased after her and hoped desperately to simply catch her and not have to shoot her. It just seemed like bad form for discharge a firearm in a place of worship and sanctuary.
Sarah knew the Fulcrum agent would have to head down the main stairs to get to the front gates. She was thankful for the hours she had spent wandering around the abbey the last few months, exploring every corridor, nook and cranny in the place. Rather than follow the Fulcrum agent down the stairs, Sarah took a hard left into a corridor and then a quick right to a door which she quickly opened, stepped through and closed behind her. She whacked the light switch with her hand. Three dim, bare bulbs made weak circles of yellow light on the ground, just enough for her to see where she was going. Before her was a corridor that sloped down the hill toward the front gate, bypassing the stairs. She could run full speed and not have to slow down for steps. So that she could run even faster, she gathered the skirt of the habit up around her waist with the hand not carrying the gun, freeing her legs from the constricting fabric. That's better, she thought as she raced toward her destination.
She reached the end of the corridor and slid to a stop at the closed door before her. She took two big gulps of air to steady herself and then slowly opened the door just a crack. If her calculations were correct, this door opened up at the bottom of the stairs the Fulcrum agent would be descending. Peeking through the crack, she spied the woman in identical dress as herself, navigating the stone steps as quickly as she could.
She thought about stepping out from behind the door, pointing her gun at her quarry and commanding her to "freeze." However, with the momentum the woman had from coming down the steps and her being so close to her escape through the front gates, Sarah knew she would try to barrel through her. So, with the element of surprise on her side, she decided to barrel into the enemy agent instead.
Sarah waited, ready to pounce. Just as the target stepped off the last step, Sarah flung the door open and launched herself, flying directly at her, habit flowing behind, making her look a bit like a flying squirrel. She put her shoulder square into the woman's midsection and wrapped her arms around her prey, tackling her to the ground like Sarah was an NFL linebacker who had just sacked the opposing team's quarterback. Both women grunted as they hit the cobblestones just inside the front gate. Unfortunately, when they hit the ground, the gun was knocked from Sarah's grip and skittered out of reach.
The Fulcrum agent wiggled out of Sarah's grasp, crawled a few feet away and reached under her own habit. She grabbed a knife secreted on her person, turned and slashed it in Sarah's direction. Fortunately, Sarah was ready for it and grabbed the woman's wrist. With an angry twist, the enemy agent's arm was wrenched behind her, forcing her hand open. The knife dropped harmlessly to the cobblestone with a clatter. Sarah gave the wrist another good, hard twist, wrenching it so that the woman's hand was up between her shoulder blades. She cursed in pain when Sarah kicked the back of the woman's knees, forcing them to buckle. The Fulcrum agent's knees hit the stones with a sickening thud. From this kneeling position, Sarah pushed the woman in the back with the hand that gripped the wrist. The woman crashed face down, Sarah's knee in her back.
"Hey!" Sarah growled. "This is an abbey. No cursing." To put a fine point on her command, she hiked up on the woman's arm just a little more until she heard a loud pop. The woman screamed in pain, but this time dare not curse.
Sarah winced but said with no concern in her voice whatsoever, "Ooo. That's gotta hurt." Knowing that the woman was now thoroughly subdued she reached under her habit once more and grabbed as set of plastic wrist ties. She put the wrist tie in her mouth while she took hold of the woman's free arm by the wrist and twisted it behind her back. With her knee still in the woman's back, she held both wrists in one hand while she removed the wrist tie from her mouth and slipped them over the woman's hands and cinched them tight around her wrists. That set the woman off into another vulgarity laced tirade directed at Sarah, questioning her parentage and telling her to do things to herself that were anatomically impossible.
Sarah smacked the woman hard on the back of the head and growled, "What did I just say about swearing? Now knock it off." Taking a deep breath, she stood up, pulled off the black veil and wimple and shook out her hair. Released from its confinement, the cascade of long blonde tresses fell around her shoulders. Set off against the black of the habit, they fairly glowed in the moonlight.
She glanced to the ground and noticed her gun a couple of feet away lying on the cobblestone. She retrieved it, hoisted up her habit and holstered the weapon. When she turned around, she was met by six pairs of shocked and disbelieving eyes, all nearly hidden under their headwear. "Sister Sarah," one of the nuns asked in a hushed voice. "What are you doing? What is all this about?" Fear and concern were etched on each of their faces.
"Holy crap," she blurted out, and then clamped her hand over her mouth in embarrassment when she realized what she had just said. Somehow, the nuns' eyes grew even larger with disbelief.
Thankfully, the abbey's mother superior bustled up. She was a tiny woman but had a commanding presence and used an authoritative voice when she said, "Sisters, this is of no concern to you. I will explain all of this to you tomorrow. Now it is well past bedtime and each of you should be in your cells with lights out. I will take care of this." She glanced down at the prone and handcuffed nun on the ground, "And speak with Sister Sarah." She stared up at Sarah primly over her half glasses and then turned back toward the sisters still standing in a cluster wringing their hands or working their rosary beads. Clapping her hands again she warned, "Sisters, go." Although the mother superior had only been at the abbey for two short weeks, the sisters recognized the tone in her voice and scattered like chickens as they scurried off toward their cells.
The mother superior watched as the sisters fled and waited until the area was empty save for the Fulcrum agent, Sarah and herself. She turned to Sarah, pulled off her glasses and said quietly, "Well done, Agent Walker."
Sarah nodded and replied, "Thank you, General Beckman."
General Beckman sighed and then asked in a somewhat perturbed voice, "But why did you have to take off your veil? Now I'll have to explain your undercover presence here to the rest of the sisters."
Sarah grimaced at her mistake. "I'm sorry, General. I thought I was alone and honestly, I couldn't wear it any longer. It's very confining."
The general sighed and reluctantly agreed. "I know, Agent Walker. I've only had to wear it a couple of weeks and you've had to endure it for three months." Reaching into one of the folds in her habit, she pulled out an iPhone and tapped in a number.
"We need a security detail at the abbey ASAP. The Fulcrum agent has been apprehended and we need her immediate extraction." She paused as she listened to the reply. "Very good. We'll see you in thirty minutes."
Beckman ended the call and hid the phone back in the fold from where it came. She stood a little straighter, looked up at Sarah and said, "Agent Walker, you have performed in an exemplary manner during the whole of this mission. You were respectful, professional, patient and tenacious. You were able to capture the Fulcrum agent without injury or bloodshed. I will be sure to note these things in my final report to Director Graham."
"Thank you, General." Sarah hesitated and then added, "Also, I'd like to thank you and the NSA for loaning you out on this mission. You've been a great help to me these last couple of weeks."
The general smirked. "Well, I haven't been in the field for a while, but I guess I was the only woman with field experience that fit this particular…need," as she looked down at the habit she was wearing.
Sarah smiled slightly and immediately understood what the general meant. Sarah's friend Carina would not have made a very good "mother superior." In fact, odds were good that Carina would have been struck down by a bolt of lightning from heaven above the minute she set foot in an abbey.
General Beckman nodded officiously and said, "I'm going to request on your behalf that Director Graham give you at least a month off from any assignments. You deserve some time off after this long undercover mission and you will need to readjust to living outside these walls." She looked up at Sarah and said earnestly, "It could be a bit of a shock to the system."
Sarah fought to control the slight panic that was starting to rise. She wasn't really worried about adjusting to life outside the abbey as she had been able to secretly use her iPhone in her cell and got surprisingly decent coverage. Leaving the abbey didn't concern her as she knew exactly what was going on in the outside world. Going on vacation and not working was what concerned her. She wasn't very good at that. At all. She had no family and few friends. Her job was her life. When she wasn't working she became restless, bored, and frankly very unhappy. She had vacationed with Bryce once, but now with his vanishing act that wasn't going to happen again. Vacationing by herself meant she would have to endure the never ending pick up lines if she ever left her room.
This whole line of discussion had to be put a stop. "General, I appreciate the offer, but to be honest, this assignment has been like a holiday. It's been quiet and peaceful. Today was the most action I've had since I got here, except for when one of the cows went AWOL from the pasture and we found her…ah…in the…um…bull pen," she finished delicately. General Beckman eyed her with amusement and Sarah snickered when she thought of the scandal that had broken out amongst the sisters over the bovine's indiscretion.
"All right, Agent Walker. I'll take that under advisement. But I do want you to take at least a few days off."
A relieved smile spread across Sarah's face. "Yes, ma'am." She could do a few days since she would have a number of things to take care of back in DC once she returned there. Her apartment had been shut up these three months and her houseplants were probably dead. Her Porsche was stored in one of the agency's parking structures for safe keeping and needed to be retrieved. Hope it starts, she thought. The thought of leaving the keys with the valets still made her shudder as she didn't trust any of them to not take the Porsche out for a joy ride. She hadn't seen many movies in her life, but she had seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off on TV during one of her very few sick days. She saw what had happened to Cameron's dad's car when he left it at the parking structure in downtown Chicago and ever since then, she'd been squeamish about leaving her car with valets for any reason.
"Can you be ready to leave here when the team comes to pick up our prisoner?"
"Yes, ma'am. I just need to change out of this habit and get my things together."
"Do you have anyone you need to speak with before you go? Any of the sisters to whom you would like to say goodbye?"
"No, General. I assume you'll tell them who I was when you meet with them in the morning."
"Yes, I will do that. Very well, Agent Walker. I'll stay here with this traitor," she spat, glaring at the prone woman, "until the team arrives. Meet me back here as soon as you have all of your things together. Dismissed."
Sarah gave a slight bow and turned to hike up the stairs to the courtyard and her cell. She felt bad for not saying goodbye to the sisters who had been so kind to her, so accepting. But she knew that forming attachments during a mission was one of the worst things an agent could do. She might lose focus and someone could get killed. It was easier on her heart, too. Too many times she had been abandoned: by her mother, her father and now Bryce. Her sensible shoes clicked as she climbed the steps, one by one. No, if she didn't form attachments, then her heart couldn't break. A small laugh escaped her lips and she ran her hands through her hair as she tried to blink back the tears. I've got to get out of here, she thought as she reached the top of the stairs. This is a little too much contemplation for me.
They waited, sitting around the glass topped table in Director of Central Intelligence Langston Graham's office. Major John Casey, NSA, was in attendance as well as his boss, General Diane Beckman. There was a closed folder with the word "Top Secret" in large, bold red lettering across the front placed on the table before both of them. They had strict instructions not to open the files until the director was present and so both sat and silently stared at the folders before them. The only sound in the office was the tick of the clock which sat on the director's desk.
The office door opened and Director Graham entered. He moved to his chair at the table and sat down. Clearing his throat he began, "Thank you both for coming here today. Let's dispense with the pleasantries and get right to it, shall we?"
Affirming head nods came from the other two people at the table.
"As you know, one week ago one of my agents, Sarah Walker, apprehended an active Fulcrum agent who had been hiding as a nun in an abbey in Northern California. We turned over the agent to your Major Casey who happened to be on loan to us, training our people in interrogation practices. Thanks to the Major's…persuasive… techniques," at this he nodded to Casey who grunted quietly in acknowledgment, "the agent has been quite forthcoming. We have obtained valuable intel on Fulcrum and their immediate plans and have a number of leads to follow. One of those leads is why we are here today. Please open your folders."
They each flipped open the files before them. There were a good number of pages in the file and clipped to the top page was a photograph of a man in his early thirties with brown eyes and wavy brown hair.
"General Beckman, the man in the photo is Charles Bartowski and our country's best cryptographer. In fact, he may be the best cryptographer in the world and thankfully he works for us. He has written some of the most exciting and revolutionary cryptographic software in history. His current project involves working on some vital encryption software for the government that must be completed. This software could help us win the fight against global terrorism. Based on the intelligence Major Casey extracted from the Fulcrum agent, we have learned that he is being targeted by the leaders of Fulcrum." He looked over to Casey and said, "Major Casey, if you would continue."
"Yes, sir. Through my interrogation, we discovered that Fulcrum has already inserted a mole into Mr. Bartowski's sphere of influence, either someone he works with or someone in his personal life. We don't know."
"You weren't able to get the name of the mole from the Fulcrum operative in custody?" the general asked.
"No, ma'am and I'm convinced she doesn't know it. She would have told me if she knew."
The general noticed the flinty sound in his voice. Yes, she would have given him the name if she knew it. "Very good, Major. Carry on."
"Yes, ma'am," Casey replied. "The mole is working to try to turn him and join Fulcrum. Short of this, we believe the mole will try to steal the encryption software he's currently developing as soon as it's finished. We're concerned that if Fulcrum is not successful in either of these two pursuits, they will become more desperate. There is also the question of Mr. Bartowski's safety."
Beckman took her half glasses off and asked, "Why don't we simply take him into protective custody?"
Now it was the director's turn to speak, "We can't. When the agency arranged for Mr. Bartowski to work with us, we promised that he would always be able to work from his home in Colorado. He apparently has quite a spread up in the mountains. It's a non-negotiable clause in the contract he signed with us. The minute we take him into protective custody, he stops his work. There is another consideration as well. He has seven children. He won't disrupt their lives by making them go into protective custody."
"Although Bartowski is an excellent software developer, his work is very slow as he does it all on his own. He takes care of the kids during the day and writes code at night," Casey added. "There are concerns in the intelligence community that he may never finish the encryption software. Instead, he'll simply quit and live off the rather substantial residual annual income he receives from the commercial software programs he's developed and sold over the years."
"Well, then," the general asked, "how do you save an asset like Bartowski?"
(Sung to the tune of "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?")
He works so hard
He hardly sleeps
He rarely goes to bed.
He loves his kids
He'd die for them
At least that's what he said.
And when he drinks his coffee
His eyes are always red.
He's even started thinking of retiring.
We need his work
It's vital to
The world's security
He needs some help
As far as I can see
But is there someone out there
Whose help will surely be
Essential to the outcome to his project?
There's a comment I would like to make.
Bartowski needs a break.
How do you save an asset like Bartowski?
How can we keep him safe and keep our word?
How do you save an asset like Bartowski?
Computer genius, a really nice guy, a nerd?
Many a thing you know we need to tell him.
Many a thing he ought to understand.
But how can we sit and say,
"You might just get blown away."
How do we make it sure he keeps his hands?
Oh, how do you save an asset like Bartowski?
How do you keep the nerd safe in this land?
They all looked at each other, fully aware of the difficult situation they were in. They needed to protect this asset, this Charles Bartowski, but how?
General Beckman was the first to speak up. "If he won't come to us, then we will have to go to him. We need to insert an agent into his life to keep him safe." She looked at Casey and said, "Major, you would be an excellent bodyguard for Mr. Bartowski. Pack up your gear. You're leaving for Colorado in two hours."
Casey visibly paled and sat stunned for a moment. He recovered slightly and replied, "General, I'm not sure I'm the best candidate for the job. I don't think I can be around seven children all day. I believe my presence would cause more problems than would it fix."
Casey held his breath as the general considered this point and then nodded. Her arms resting on the table, she clasped her hands in front of her and said, "Yes, I see where you might be a little…intimidating…to small children."
The color returned to Casey's face and he started breathing again. His heart took another minute to stop the pounding in his chest and return to a normal rhythm.
Each was quite again, deep in thought when Director Graham's eyes suddenly lit up with inspiration. "I think I might have the perfect agent for this mission," he said as he picked up his phone. He dialed a number and waited for the person on the other end of the line to pick up. With no greeting he said simply, "I need you in my office in sixty minutes."
Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by quistie64, with apologies to Oscar Hammerstein II.
I know this story is a bit…unconventional. Please review and let me know what you think.