A/N: So, here is the first segment of Report 1, Chapter 1. I decided to do a multi-segment "chapter" format to add a bit of room to maneuver and keep things flowing relatively smoothly.
Disclaimer: I, of course, do not claim ownership of Marvel's characters or organizations as they are depicted. That honor goes to Disney's Marvel Studios, the directors, and the MARVELous Stan Lee-the man who started it all. I write this story in honor of those who created the blockbuster franchise that is the MCU.
Allies of SHIELD: The SANCTIS Reports
Report 1-1: Homestead
July 27th, 2004
FWAP! With a loud, annoyed slap of a blindly aimed hand, the wonderful invention known as the Snooze Button silenced the shrill of Jess Leavenworth's alarm clock. It was 6:00 AM and the sun was only just edging over the horizon. "Ungghhhh…" Jess gave a sleepy groan and sat up in bed, stretching briefly before letting her arms fall limp. "Oogh…man, what a horrible night that was," she mumbled. "Goddamn, I hate that dream." Bad dreams, especially that one, made her grumpier than usual in the morning. And if there was ever one thing Jessica Leavenworth was NOT, it was a morning person.
Still half-asleep, Jess swung her legs over the side of the bed to the floor and sat up, letting her 5 feet 6 inch height stay seated there on the edge as she blinked the sleep from her dark eyes. She was clothed in her usual pajamas: a rumpled black tank top and light grey flannel bottoms. After sitting there for a brief moment trying to gather her sleepy thoughts, Jess let her mouth open wide in a yawn and rubbed her face, feeling bleary-eyed and, as usual, frizzy-haired, and when she looked over at the mirror over her dresser she saw her hair was in a wild, tangled mess. This brought a scowl to her face. Shit, her hair was all over the place again. The thought of how much brushing it was going to take to get all those damn snarls out didn't exactly help her already surly mood.
Now see, that—frizzy hair days—was the one thing Jess didn't like about her lush, burgundy-red strands. It didn't matter how she had her hair cut or styled, (except for a boy cut, since she hated that look even more,) but whenever she got up in the morning, her hair was always tangled up in a great big rat's nest. She often joked her morning hair would rival Albert Einstein's, if he'd ever stuck his finger in a light socket, that is. Okay, well, maybe not THAT frizzy. But Jess had a bad case of bed head on most mornings.
That, coupled with last night's nightmare? Well, Jess was not a happy camper in the slightest at the moment. She was tired, looked like a tramp and had just relived her parents' deaths in her dreams. "Glorious start to the day, isn't it?" Jess finally murmured darkly to nobody in particular as she rose and went to the closet to gather her clothes for work. "Oh, well…" She took a sniff at her tank top and winced. "Yecch." She stank. Well, she had gone riding yesterday, so the smelliness was kind of par for the course. Still, she mused, it won't do me any favors if I show up at work smelling like I brought the barn along with me. She grabbed a towel and headed to the bathroom for a shower, but as she did she spared a fond glance at the view outside her bedroom window.
Though she was of age by now, Jess still lived on her Uncle Larry's ranch for the time being, while she scouted out a potential house of her own elsewhere. Of course, one couldn't exactly call the Leavenworth property a ranch in the traditional sense of the word. Nestled on a bluff several miles outside of Great Falls, the Leavenworth ranch was a small affair Jess loved dearly. The main house, the barn, the machine shed, a wind-driven open well for the horses and the small carriage house she currently occupied were the only notable structures on the property.
After Jess had turned sixteen, Uncle Larry started letting her sleep in the old carriage house, which had been remodeled into a guest cabin before she was even born. As her uncle's reputation as a paramilitary contractor grew (along with his savings,) Jess helped him fix the ranch alongside her cousin Connor. And here she was today, living in the remodeled carriage house, a sort of guest cabin equipped with the basic necessities—a small, rustic-style bedroom of polished wood and pioneer furniture, a small living area and, of course, the dining room and kitchenette, (which Jess hardly used anyway.)
Once she'd finished her shower and the long process of grooming her rumpled bed-head (and self) into a much more presentable appearance, Jess dressed for the day, donning underwear, then her work uniform; a dark blue and black zippered athletic-weave shirt with long sleeves over a white athletic tank top, tight-fit tan cargo pants, and a sturdy pair of light-duty hiking shoes. After taming the last few strands of her hair, she fastened it back in a ponytail and tugged on an investigator's baseball cap that was colored the same gray and dark blue as her shirt. Stepping back, she felt a surge of pride at her appearance."Jess Leavenworth, you are one kick-ass young woman," she commented aloud, grinning. She paused on her way out the door just long enough to grab her sunglasses, work ID card and field gloves, and stuffed the latter two in her pockets; her sunglasses were hung from her shirt collar. Then she exited the cabin, heading up the gravel path to the main ranch house.
She couldn't help but admire the place as she approached. The main house was a thing of beauty. It had been built up from its origins as a tiny one-story shack with bad electricity and no plumbing—as evidenced by the photo album her uncle kept in his study upstairs—into a midsized, two-story rustic ranch house that sported all the comforts; hot water, electricity, and comfy, overstuffed leather armchairs in the living room. As she approached, she glimpsed her Aunt Winona in the kitchen window and waved, calling out, "Good morning, Auntie!"
Jess's Aunt Winona looked up and waved back, her chocolate eyes twinkling in her aging face. Long, graying dark hair was done up in a ponytail like her niece's. "I was starting to wonder when you'd get your lazy butt out of bed, Jessie!" she called out as Jess neared the door.
"Aww, you're too kind, Aunt Winnie," Jess giggled. "You know I'd just try and sleep the whole day through if I could. Ugh! Since when has Uncle Larry been such a slave driver?"
"Pfft, ever since you took up a job at that company! Dawn til' dusk, you know," Aunt Winnie chided as Jess opened the screen door to the kitchen. Aunt Winnie and Jess's older cousin Connor—back home for 2 months—were both working around the center island, preparing what looked to be a proper pancake breakfast.
"And then some," Jess harrumphed to herself, eyeing the sausages sizzling on the stove with an envious glint in her eye. Ooh, yum. "Where's Uncle?"
Connor looked up. He was a few inches taller than her and shared his parents' Caucasian/Native American ancestry with his dark hair, wide, sharp-boned face and slightly bronzed skin. He was a heartbreaker, but a modest one, and was Navy to boot. Jess rarely passed up a chance to tease her cousin about his many would-be girlfriends. "Morning, Jess. If you're lookin' for dad, he's upstairs in the study checking his email."
"Thanks, Conn." She gave her cousin a good morning peck on the cheek.
"Anytime," he replied as she made her way through the high-ceilinged living area and headed upstairs in search of her uncle. Now, the kitchen was on the opposite side of the living room from the high stone fireplace and TV. The living room itself was cavernous and shared the rustic look of the exterior; wood beams and dark wood and/or leather furniture accompanied several tribal artifacts and hunting trophies and other decorations, and a slightly worn-out bear fur rug lay in front of the hearth. Three bookcases stood against the wall on the left side of the room, but the main library was upstairs in Larry's study. However, the living room served as the family's central gathering place in the house, and was lit by skylights and the giant wagon-wheel chandelier that hung from the peak of the log-plank ceiling. A set of towering storm windows framed the towering stone fireplace and overlooked a wide vista of the plains and the city of Great Falls off in the distance. To the left and right lay the house's other rooms. Connor's room, the laundry room and the downstairs bathroom were down the hall to the left, along with the door out to the patio; the master bedroom and bathroom and Larry's study were upstairs to the right. The house was further characterized by its sturdy wraparound front porch; Jess and her uncle sometimes played checkers out there when they got the chance.
Of course, the Leavenworth ranch also had some decidedly non-standard features. The two gun safes here in the main house, Jess knew, were the size of walk-in closets, and held everything from snares to tomahawks to X-26 Tasers to semiautomatic handguns, and even a quartet of fully automatic M4-A1 carbines. Her own cabin even had a hidden gun safe where she kept her own little arsenal of weaponry, all of which she'd been trained to use by her uncle (and her CIA handlers two years ago; a story for another time). There was enough ammunition—both lethal and non-lethal—to supply a small army scattered around the house and its outbuildings, hidden in various hidey-holes and fingerprint-coded safes. In addition, Uncle Larry's upstairs study doubled as a Panic Room/Situation Room; he or one of the other members of the family could lock down the house and grounds from there and summon help from a few "family friends," shall we say. Lastly, every room in the house and its outbuildings had a fully-stocked medical kit. It was all part of Larry's precautions in case his enemies (or HYDRA, whoever they really were) ever came knocking.
And speaking of knocking, Jess did just that as she approached the door to her uncle's study. "Uncle Larry?" she called.
His voice answered immediately. "Yeah, come in." Jess eased the door open and stepped inside. The study was dimmer than the rest of the house, since there were no windows, and was lit by two floor lamps. Two of the walls were lined from floor to ceiling with bookshelves. Compared to the rest of the house, it was modestly decorated, with only a few embellishments present. On the far wall opposite the door hung a beautiful painting of gigantic Lake Mille Lacs, an enormous freshwater lake in central Minnesota. The lake had been a sacred place to Larry's paternal ancestors. Jess may have only been ¼ Native American, but the painting of the sun rising over the lake's shining waters never failed to take Jess's breath away. She'd always wanted to visit the place, but hadn't had the chance yet.
She shifted her gaze away from the painting slightly to her right. Her uncle was facing the door, seated in the swivel chair behind his enormous desk, reading an email on the desktop's central monitor. The desk itself was big for a reason, and it was still crowded; two additional monitors stood to either side of the center one. The left provided an abridged feed of worldwide news updates, and the right displayed information on the stocks and the active and pending contracts of the family business and its rivals. The wall next to the door was used as a projector screen, but the projector was turned off.
Although he was a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War first and foremost, Larry's physical appearance was still unmistakably Native American in origin fifteen years after he'd saved Jess from the tragic end that had befallen her parents. He was older now, of course, with more wrinkles and creases on his face than there'd been back in 1989. His broad-shouldered, still-athletic brawn and height of 6 feet made him seem like the human version of a grizzly bear to anyone smaller. He was relatively light-skinned due to his Caucasian mother and had some definite facial traits from her side of the family, but there was a natural bronze tint to his tanned, weathered face that wasn't caused by exposure to the sun. His face was wise, broad; strong-jawed with a slightly hooked nose and high, well-defined cheekbones. To add to the evidence of his ancestry, he'd allowed his hair to grow out after his military service ended, and it was currently long enough to be tied back in its customary braid at the nape of his neck, exposing his forehead. Like his wife's, Larry's hair was turning grey, but still retained liberal streaks of its original jet-black. Like always, he'd already gotten dressed for the day in his own work clothes.
As was the case with many of his small company's employees, Larry chose to wear well-pressed casual clothing on most days; his position as CEO allowed him that luxury, anyway. Today he'd chosen a brick red button-down shirt with a white T-shirt underneath, while a pair of well-kept jeans was coupled with weather-beaten cowboy boots to complete the supposedly unintentional "Western soap opera" look, though he was missing a ten-gallon hat. He still wore his old dog tags and kept them on a leather string around his neck alongside his tribal token. However, the Native American rancher's look wasn't quite…right, because Larry sported a thick black bulletproof tactical vest and some other necessary equipment over his red shirt and jeans, and the vest was already bristling with cases of ammunition. A wicked-looking Bowie knife was strapped into place on the left side of his chest, and in addition to the M1911 semiautomatic at his hip, he also sported a shoulder holster under his left arm for his monstrous Smith & Wesson Model 500, a behemoth .50 caliber hunting revolver with a 7.5" weighted barrel. It had once stopped an angry cougar dead in its tracks at sixty yards during a hunting trip in the Rockies. Despite his slightly intimidating appearance, Larry looked more like a family man at the moment, seated behind the computer, legs crossed, with a cup of steaming hot coffee sitting on the desk. A slightly battered pair of wire-frame reading glasses was perched on the bridge of his strong nose. The frames gleamed faintly in the light from the computer monitor as the aging man's narrow, dark brown eyes roved across the screen.
"G'morning, Uncle Larry," Jess piped up.
"Hey, good morning, píško," her uncle replied before returning his gaze to the monitor. His last word was the Sioux word for nighthawk, his nickname for her. "You sleep well?"
Jess sighed, working her way over behind the desk and leaning over his shoulder to scan the data feeds. "No. I, umm…I had a nightmare. The one about that night fifteen years ago."
Upon hearing this, Larry abruptly shut off the screen and swiveled around, his eyes turning sad immediately as he removed his glasses. "Oh, sweetheart, I'm sorry…" He rose and engulfed her in his bearlike embrace. "I know you miss them."
Jess sighed and clung to one arm with the other crossed over her chest in an insecure gesture when he let her go. "Don't be sorry. Besides, I hardly have that dream at all anymore." But she couldn't stop a few solitary tears from welling up in her eyes.
Larry heaved out a heavy breath as Jess hastily brushed her tears away. "Yeah…I know. But Jessie, you are my brother's daughter, and might as well be my own daughter. Every time I hear you cry or have that nightmare it tears me apart, because it reminds me of how cruel those bastards from HYDRA were to you. They deprived you of your mom and dad; your parents, the people who loved you more than life itself."
He chucked her under the chin so she'd look up at him, and Jess smiled at the quirky smile on his face. "But," he went on, "that's why you and I started this little company, right? To make sure that corporations and organizations that commit acts like that don't cause more heartbreak. And what's my motto?"
"We can't save everyone, but we should damn well try!" Jess quoted with a smile.
"That's the spirit!" Larry cheered, chuckling, and Jess hugged him. She loved his hugs. When they broke apart, Jess glanced at the displays. The global hotspot indicator showed the Middle East in particular shaded in a dark, violent variety of red and orange, exactly like the current situation in reality. "So…how are things looking for today?"
"Well, so far it looks like we're running on the quiet side today, despite…" Larry gestured at the screen, "…that. As for things over in Iraq and Afghanistan, well, it's bad, but they haven't called in any NGOs yet. There's plenty of bookwork on our plates, though." Jess hummed as her uncle went on. "Also, there's a new contract coming up soon. It'll need the whole company's involvement in order to be successful. Just be prepared today, all right?"
"Okay." Suddenly they both heard his stomach let out a low gurgle of complaint. Jess smirked. "Sounds like someone's hungry."
Her uncle chuckled and sniffed the air. "Yeah. Say, what's Winnie got cooking for breakfast? Smells delicious, whatever it is."
"It's a full pancake breakfast. Your favorite." Larry gave a hum of appreciation in reply as they headed downstairs, eager to get started. It may have been early in the morning, but neither one could ever resist the prospect of digging into a batch of Aunt Winona's pancakes.
After breakfast Jess and Larry both went to the first floor gun safe, making sure their equipment and case files were in order before they left. In addition to the usual firepower, the main gun safe downstairs held their day gear; notably their lightweight equipment harnesses, each outfitted with a box of basic first aid supplies (bandages, surgical tape, water and tourniquets,) a set of handcuffs, a penlight, and a collapsible stun rod. "Everything good?"
Jess placed her flashlight-equipped Bluetooth headset in her ear, slotted full clips into her S&W Model 1006 semiautomatics and nodded, holstering the two guns into place under her arms. "Yep." She usually took these guns to work, even on dull days like today. There was no telling when a contract might come through or something unexpected might pop up. She was, of course, licensed to carry just like her uncle. Everyone in the family was.
As she finished she paused to survey the small room, looking over her shoulder at her uncle's broad back. "Um…Does it ever get any easier, Uncle Larry? Doing what we do for a living?"
Her uncle stiffened a bit. For a long moment, he was silent, until finally he said, "No. It doesn't. Killing, hurting others...it scars the spirit, scars the soul. But someone has to do the job we do. Somebody has to expose and sometimes dispose of the evils in the world. Doesn't fully matter how, as long as the job is done and wrongs are made right. In the end, it's worth doing, even if we end up dying for it."
Jess felt comforted, to say the least. Her uncle usually knew the right thing to say.
The moment passed as Larry finished his preparations. "Well, guess we better get moving," he said, donning his Bluetooth. "We may be in charge of the company, but there's no need to set a bad example by being late, is there?"
Jess snickered. "You're obsessed about timeframes, you know, Uncle?"
"Part of the job, Jessie. Learn from it," he replied as they stepped out the front door.
The ranch's four-car garage and machine shed stood kitty-corner to the main house off its southeast corner. The two main garage doors led out onto a brick paved area in front, which connected to the roundabout blacktop section of the ranch's driveway near the house.
As she and her uncle stepped outside, Jess held up the garage door opener and pressed it once, then twice in succession. The door nearest the house began to rise, followed closely by the second, revealing the family cars. The vehicles, three in all, consisted of Winona's prized sedan, a 2001 Chevy Impala SS—(she worked with the PR department of their company part time, and didn't see the need to drive something flashy)—Jess's dark crimson 2000 SVT Mustang Cobra R, a car she loved to drive fast when she had the opportunity—and Larry's big blue workhorse, a 1996 Dodge RAM 2500 with an extended cab and an equipment box in the bed.
"So…which one are we taking today?" Jess asked her uncle as she surveyed the four vehicles with a grin. She tossed a disdainful look at the Impala. "You aren't catching me dead in the Impala."
"Your aunt would kill me anyway, Jessie," Larry reminded her.
"We could take my Mustang…" Jess suggested as she turned to look at him with her biggest "Bambi Eyes" look turned on full blast. He can't resist my Bambi eyes! "Pleeeaase?" She put a whimper in her voice for extra effect, almost pouting outright at her uncle.
Uncle Larry let out a sigh, but smiled nevertheless. Jess was right, her Bambi eyes were hard to resist. "All right, we'll take the Mustang."
YES! Jess pumped a fist and practically danced all the way over to her sleek red sports car. "WOO-HOO!"
Larry followed, laughing at her antics as she yanked open the driver's door with much gusto and hopped in. Jess sighed as she flopped back in the seat and inhaled through her nose, relishing the scent of the interior's leather bucket seats and its own unique scent that simply roared 'sports car,' just like its muffler did at full speed. "Ahh, I love you, dahling…" she cooed primly, rubbing the Mustang's steering wheel as she pulled out her keys and inserted them in the ignition. As her uncle approached the passenger door, she cranked the key.
The Mustang's supercharged V8 engine came to life with a predatory snarl. the car's halogen-blue headlamps glared bright like narrowed eyes before Jess dimmed them to the daytime running lights. She looked up, and just as her uncle was about to open the door, Jess grinned and pressed the accelerator briefly, The engine shot from its smooth purr into a loud, triumphant roar, and out of the corner of one eye she saw her uncle jump backwards and almost fall over himself. As she let off the gas Larry settled his bearlike frame into the passenger seat; she could only laugh her ass off at the reproachful scowl on his face.
"Seriously, Jessie? That's the fifth time you've pulled that one on me," he scolded her.
"Pfft…HA! Your face, Uncle! It's totally worth it, ha-ha!" Jess cackled, pounding the steering wheel in glee.
Her uncle raised a Spockian eyebrow. "Keep that up, kiddo and I'll rewire this thing's horn to play 'La Cucaracha'."
Jess's felt her eyes widen and she smothered her giggles under a stony, post-adolescent scowl. "You wouldn't dare," she admonished.
"I have three of those programming chips upstairs in my study, and I'm not telling you where they are," he retorted as they pulled out of the garage.
Jess snorted as she let the car accelerate down the driveway. "We'll just see about that, Uncle…" she muttered to herself, and she floored it. Ignoring her uncle's yelp as the car leapt forwards like its namesake, Jess let out a whoop of joy as the car hurtled out of the driveway and down the road into Great Falls with a roar, and they sped out of sight in a cloud of dust.
A/N: Until next time!