FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2012 - 10:23 AM
SHIELD HELICARRIER HOLDING CELLS - TEN MILES OFF THE NEW YORK COAST.
The next morning found Applejack still awake and laying on her back when the knock came at the door. She’d spent the whole night staring at the ceiling, with only her own thoughts to keep her company, and this time it seemed that sleep had not been forthcoming. It made sense, she supposed. She’d spent much of the previous day drifting in and out of consciousness. For that matter, she’d technically spent the last sixty-seven years asleep.
More likely, though, it was nervous energy spawned from the realization of exactly what it was she’d just signed up for.
Applejack sat up, turning to look at the door as it whooshed open. A woman she hadn’t yet met strode in confidently. Applejack was no expert in human beauty standards, but some new instinct of hers told her that she had the kind of face that men would die -or kill- for. Her green eyes were icy and intelligent, and her short, wavy hair was redder than the sunset over Canterlot. She wore a black leather jacket and a scarlet-red top that hugged every last curve of her body. Applejack immediately felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end as she looked at this woman. Her relaxed smile, her causal posture, the friendly nod she gave was all a lie.
This woman was dangerous.
With Fury it had been obvious. There was little hiding how intimidating the man was. With Hill and Coulson, their practiced professionalism and the way they carried themselves spoke to years of training and conditioning.
This woman moved as naturally and casually as any passerby on the street. And yet, somehow, Applejack could tell just by looking at her that she was the most deadly person she’d met so far in this new world.
Some of AJ’s alarm must have bled through into her expression because the woman stopped short, raising a concerned eyebrow. “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice like honey and silk, “I didn’t mean to startle you, Miss Applewood.”
Applejack paused, taking a deep breath and letting it out. Whatever this woman was, she didn’t seem to mean AJ any harm, at least at the moment. “S’alright,” AJ said, trying to be casual, despite how much the newcomer put her on edge. “I wasn’t expecting… well I was expecting Hill or Coulson.” she finally managed to say.
“Agent Hill is on the bridge, and Coulson will be returning shortly,” the redhead said, stepping closer and holding out a hand. “My name is Natasha Romanoff.”
Hesitantly, Applejack took her hand and gave it a firm shake, taking care to be sure that it wasn’t too firm. “Bridge?” Applejack asked. “Is this some kinda ship, Agent Romanoff?”
The side of Agent Romanoff’s mouth quirked up into a smirk. “Of a sort,” she said vaguely, before holding up a pair of shopping bags in her other hand. AJ hadn’t even noticed them, Nat had taken her so off guard. “And just Natasha will be fine. I’m here to drop off your new wardrobe before taking you up there.”
“New wardrobe?” Applejack frowned, puzzled. “What’s wrong with what I’m already wearing?”
Natasha’s smile remained friendly, betraying nothing as she replied. “Well, there’s nothing wrong with it per se, but most people wouldn’t wear those kinds of clothes outside the gym,” she said gesturing to her tank top and exercise shorts. “They’re workout clothes, not street clothes.”
AJ looked down at her clothes, her frown deepening. It was starting to seem like all humans were as particular about their wardrobes as Rarity. A set of clothes for working out, a set of clothes for just walking around the street… what was next? Did they have special clothes for every little aspect of life? What made these humans so body shy that they wouldn’t accept walking around naked?
Natasha continued, either oblivious to Applejack’s internal musings or simply ignoring them. “We finally managed to send somebody over to the women’s big-and-tall store to pick up some proper clothes for you,” she said, pulling out a few simple shirts of various colors and a couple pairs of heavy, blue denim pants from the first bag and laying them out on the bed next to AJ. Following that were several pairs of white athletic socks and a shoebox containing a sturdy looking pair of brown leather work boots.
Applejack felt herself settling down a little bit as she rifled through the shirts that Natasha had given her. None of them were particularly extravagant. In fact, she found herself pleased by just how utilitarian and simple they were. The boots especially seemed particularly practical. At least SHIELD didn’t expect her to prance around in a frilly dress.
“You’re in luck,” Natasha said with a smirk, switching to the second bag. “We even managed to score you an Ashley Crawford.”
AJ blinked, her brow furrowing. “A who now?”
“Ashley Crawford,” Natasha repeated. “She’s a famous fashion designer specializing in big and tall women.”
Applejack winced internally. This was the sort of thing she’d been afraid of; some frou-frouey dress or something like the kinds of things Rarity forced on her before the Grand Galloping Gala. Applejack girded herself, dreading just what kind of lacey, frilly, ruffled ballgown Natasha was going to pull from the bag…
...only to be pleasantly surprised when she instead removed a slick, orange leather jacket.
AJ looked over the jacket as Natasha handed it to her. It was sleek and stylish, yes, but there weren’t any of the extraneous, fancy-pants decorations that tended to riddle Equestrian ‘high fashion.’ There were no ruffles or frills, nothing lacy or glittery… in fact, if Applejack was being honest, it looked surprisingly practical on top of how stylish it was. The arms and shoulders were padded -something that might prove useful if she was going to be fighting like Fury suggested- and the leather would help deflect lighter blows and would keep the elements off of her. There were a couple of zippered pockets on the breasts where AJ might keep smaller mission-critical items and the front could be zipped up to better protect her from the cold and wet should it be necessary.
Applejack turned the jacket over in her hands a few times, taking in all the details. There were a couple of belt straps near the bottom that looked strictly decorative, but it wasn’t enough to put her off. In fact, though she was loathe to admit it, despite their apparent lack of function, they looked pretty good. They really helped tie the whole outfit together.
Applejack blinked at her own, foreign thought.
Huh… maybe there was something to fashion after all?
She looked back up at Natasha and gave her a nod. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” Natasha responded gesturing to the pile of clothes she’d laid out on the bed. “But you should probably get dressed. You’re due to meet the rest of your team soon.”
Applejack stood and began rifling through the clothes Natasha had provided. “This team… they’re the others Fury’s got to take on this Loki character?” she asked, selecting a pair of pants and beginning to change into them.
Natasha turned away, offering AJ privacy while she changed. “That’s right. You’re going to be working with some real legends.”
Applejack looked over the shirts, frowning a little at the selection. They were all simple, practical, short sleeved cotton shirts, but most of them had that strange, human version of written Equestrian that she couldn’t read on them. AJ wasn’t keen on wearing something written in a language she couldn’t understand. She’d hate to make a fool of herself if the words printed on them turned out to read something embarrassing. Thankfully, there was a comfortable green shirt at the bottom of the pile that only had a simple kite shield design with a couple of stripes through it. It was simple and unobtrusive enough that AJ found herself favoring it.
“Legends, eh?” Applejack chuckled as she slipped the green shirt over her head. “We talkin’ wizards and strongponies like Starswirl the Bearded or Rockhoof the Mighty?” she asked, pulling her hair out from the neck of her new shirt.
Natasha turned back around, still looking entirely unfazed, even by Applejack’s flippant reference to Equestrian mythology. “I can’t speak for wizards,” Nat said wryly, “but we’ve definitely got a strongman.”
Applejack pulled on the socks and boots Nat had provided, finding them a comfortable fit. She flexed her new toes in them, enjoying how they felt, rolling her ankles to test how they moved. Finally, she picked up the orange leather jacket, regarding it for a minute before pulling it on over her large arms. It fit perfectly, even despite how thick her new musculature was.
Natasha nodded approvingly. “You look good.”
AJ turned to regard herself in the mirror that ran along the wall. She looked an entirely different person from yesterday. Gone was the dirty, disheveled mess from yesterday. Now her long blonde hair was neat and washed and her skin was no longer covered in dirt and slime and filth, but instead by a simple-yet-stylish wardrobe given to her by her new benefactors. There was still a tiredness deep within her eyes, but they were no longer the bloodshot, dark ringed mess they were just the day before.
She did look good. She reckoned that to any other human, she would have looked positively normal…
...no matter what she might have felt like on the inside.
AJ took a deep breath, closing her eyes and cutting off that train of thought before she could spiral down another rabbit hole. “Thanks,” she finally replied, turning back to look at the redhead. “We should probably get moving. Don’t want to keep these ‘legends’ waiting.”
Natasha nodded. “If you’ll follow me then,” she said, gesturing for AJ to walk alongside her.
The door whooshed open in front of her. For the first time since waking up the previous day, Applejack found herself stepping outside the stark, white cell and into a new environment. The two of them emerged into a metallic gray corridor. Applejack looked around with a nervous sort of energy as she walked a step behind Natasha. AJ hadn’t realized just how cooped up she’d felt spending the whole previous day in that cell.
Applejack held out a hand to the wall to steady herself as she walked though she found that walking was coming a little more naturally to her now. She was adjusting to this new method of balance faster than she’d anticipated. As she followed Nat through the maze of twisting, gray corridors, she found herself needing to steady herself less and less.
AJ followed Nat through corridor after corridor, up a set of stairs and past dozens of lower level agents, all busy and bustling to whatever their next post was. AJ wondered how all these people could keep straight just where they were and where they were going. Every hallway looked the same to her - all of them the same gray, metallic cover with a matte shine. She noticed that there were a bunch of signs written in that same human language all over the walls, though, with arrows leading down certain hallways at different intersections. AJ presumed that these signs must’ve been how people got around, making a mental note that it would probably be a good idea to learn how to read the human language soon.
As they passed through the halls, Applejack could distinctly hear the whispers of passersby and other agents congregated around certain rooms or intersections. Straining her ears, she found that most of them were making references to her height, or the size of certain parts of her body. Many of the things she heard were complimentary, talking about how impressive her height or her muscles were. That said, she couldn’t help but frown at the sheer number of them making lewd comments about the size of her new teats. A lot of the male humans seemed particularly interested in them for reasons that made AJ feel sick to her stomach. She felt Nat pat her on the arm and turned to see her giving her a sympathetic smile. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to get used to that,” she said. “A lot of men can’t tell the difference between the thoughts that are alright to share and the thoughts they should keep to themselves.”
AJ grunted. “Looks like some things are the same no matter what world you’re on,” she muttered.
Nat seemed amused at that, chuckling a little as AJ went back to listening on the conversations of the people she passed. She noticed that, aside from comments about her size and physique, there were also a fair number of them using words like “meta” or “enhanced” or “gifted,” with tones and emphases that ranged from reverent to downright repulsed. She felt like she’d been punched in the gut, though, when she heard one agent disgustedly refer to her as a ‘freak.’
It seemed that Natasha had heard that particular comment as well, though, as she quickly rounded on the agent that spoke it. The agent in question swiftly froze under her icy glare, and even Applejack felt herself taking a step back as well, as the danger she’d sensed in the woman suddenly looked to come to her surface. The agent - a wiry looking man with rusty brown hair and a thin moustache - quickly babbled out a half-baked apology before hustling off down a corridor and out of sight.
Applejack watched the man leave before turning back to Nat. “Thanks,” she said weakly.
Natasha nodded. “Of course. We can’t have our agents taking that kind of attitude; not if we’re going to be working with metahumans in any meaningful way. I’ll be sure to report him to Hill later.”
AJ looked Nat up and down, her brow furrowing pensively. “Are y’all… one of these ‘meta’ folks then? What do they call them, enhanced?”
She chuckled. “Not hardly,” Natasha replied with an amused grin, though AJ noticed that, somewhere deep down, she actually seemed a little uncomfortable. Applejack was about to follow up on that when Nat nodded as they passed through another door. “We’re here.”
Applejack looked up and couldn’t help but gasp. She was in a massive room, packed to the brim with dozens upon dozens of workstations, each of them manned by a human in the standard, leather SHIELD uniform. People of all shapes and sizes talked over each other as they read things off of devices that AJ could neither identify nor comprehend. Glass screens beeped and chirped as they fed out readouts that she couldn’t make heads or tails of. At the back of the room sat a massive pedestal overlooking the bullpen of agents. There stood the ever stoic Nick Fury, his hands folded comfortably behind his back, his singular eye gazing calculatingly over his men. Maria Hill stood off to his side barking orders at the individual agents, telling them to adjust this or perform that. Behind them, a glass conference table sat beneath a massive emblem built into the wall, depicting what looked to be the stylized image of some sort of bird of prey - the SHIELD emblem, Applejack recognized.
The most interesting thing, though, was at the front of the room.
Applejack found herself drawn to the massive window at the front of the room, stepping across a catwalk towards the enormous panes of glass. They were, indeed, on a ship, as Natasha had said. The bridge they stood on was somewhere on the underside, she imagined, given the way that the ocean waves lapped and splashed against the bottom panes of glass. But the most striking thing was the city far in the distance.
It was huge. While it was true that from this far out the buildings looked smaller, she could tell that those buildings were absolutely massive. They must have been fifty, seventy, a hundred stories high! And there were so many of them! Even from this distance it put every city in Equestria to shame. Applejack remembered back in her fillyhood when she’d been stunned by the skyscrapers of downtown Manehattan - and the tallest of those had only been thirty stories high. These towers positively dwarfed the skyscrapers of her homeland, and dozens of them stretched out in every direction.
She wasn’t sure what to make of the numbers that Hill so casually threw out during their conversation before. With a city like this on the horizon though? Now she knew for a fact that she was telling the truth
Suddenly, Applejack heard somebody clear their throat behind her. AJ turned to see Agent Coulson had approached her at some point while she’d been gawking.
“You may want to hold onto something,” he said. “It’s going to get a little bumpy.”
“Bumpy?” AJ stuttered when suddenly the whole ship shook. There was a noise, like a deafening ‘KA-CHUNK’ as metal ground over metal and thudded into place. There was a sound like the whirring of a fan only scaled up to truly massive proportions as the whole structure began to shudder and vibrate. Applejack’s heart leapt into her throat as she nearly lost her balance, but a steadying hand from Coulson helped her to keep upright. AJ nodded her thanks and only just managed to grab a railing when she saw something that took her breath away.
The ship started to lift out of the ocean.
Water that had splashed and broken against the window’s surface now started to drip off into the sea below as AJ felt the ship rise into the air. She looked around fearfully only to see that none of the other agents looked bothered. She reasoned, then, that this was something that was supposed to happen and continued watching out the window. The ocean fell further and further away from them as they rose ever higher and higher in the air.
“It’s an airship…” Applejack muttered to herself as more and more of the city skyline appeared over the horizon, making ever clearer just how massive a metropolis it was. Applejack had never been aboard an airship before. In Equestria they’d been reserved only for the frightfully rich and the military. It filled her with something of a giddy anxiety as she realized just how small she felt up here, hundreds upon hundreds of feet in the air.
She felt Phil clap a hand on her shoulder, snapping her out of her wonderment. She turned to see the ever-amiable agent smiling at her. “I remember my first time on a Helicarrier,” he said, sounding nostalgic. “It’s pretty impressive.”
“Yeah…” AJ muttered dumbly.
Coulson nodded, continuing. “Director Fury may want to talk to you,” he said, nodding to where he was watching over his agents. “The rest of your team is going to be arriving soon.”
Applejack took a deep breath. “R-right,” she stammered, following him into the back of the room. Coulson broke off and AJ found herself wandering towards the back wall a few meters off from the glass conference table. She fidgeted awkwardly with her hands as she waited for somebody to address her, feeling distinctly out of place among the highly professional agents as they called out status reports and demanded adjustments to their flight path... or whatever it was they were doing.
Now that AJ was no longer taken by the view out the window, though, she cast her eyes over the SHIELD bullpen. She couldn’t help but frown as a good handful of the agents seemed to… light up in her vision.
It was the damndest thing. As she looked over the room, several of the agents seemed to be surrounded by some sort of a red, glowing haze. Instinctually, Applejack knew that there was something about these people that she didn’t like. These people… they were liars somehow. And not in the way that Natasha was. Natasha hid her dangerous nature behind a casual facade, sure, but these people… something about their nature was fundamentally false.
She couldn’t explain it. And it wasn’t helped by the fact that the next moment she blinked the red haze seemed to disappear. One second it was there and the next it wasn’t. Applejack shook her head and rubbed her temple as it began to ache dully.
It probably wasn’t worth worrying about, she considered. After all, she was standing in the nervous center of a spy organization. These people lied for a living. She figured it was only natural that some of them might… internalize that in some way?
...That made sense right?
Applejack shuddered. She began to worry about just what sort of people she’d signed up with. She felt for a moment like she’d fallen in with a bed of snakes.
Then again, she thought, this was the same organization that Jen was a part of. Jen hadn’t lit up her senses the way those strangers had. Nor, come to think of it, had Coulson, Hill, or even Fury.
AJ pursed her lips, trying to puzzle out what she’d just seen before shaking her head. It probably wasn’t worth worrying over. Maybe some of the more experienced, deep cover agents were just better at lying than others or something. Who knew how spies thought, after all? Surely Coulson, Hill, and Fury knew what they were doing. It wasn’t her place to tell them their business any more than it was theirs to tell her how to farm apples.
Applejack tore her eyes away from the bullpen and caught sight of one of the far doors. There entered Natasha once again, with two other humans at her back. One of them was a tall, well built man with short blond hair wearing a brown leather jacket and a plaid, button down shirt. He looked around in awe in a way that reminded Applejack of herself from just a moment ago. The other was a shorter, thinner man with dark hair that was just beginning to gray at the edges. He wore a dark sport jacket with a purple shirt and he looked like he’d rather be anywhere but here right now. Applejack felt herself relating to both of them
Over the din, Applejack heard Hill moving throughout the bridge, barking orders at her agents and calling out status readouts.
“All engines operating!” She called. “SHIELD Emergency Protocol 193.6 is in effect!” She turned to Fury, who had stationed himself between a pair of transparent control panels. “We’re at level sir.”
“Good,” Fury replied. “Let’s vanish.”
There was a hum, and AJ felt a tingle of static electricity in the air. She looked out the windshield and saw that there was now some sort of shimmer around it, like the glistening surface of a soap bubble, but other than that nothing felt different. Applejack puzzled over what Fury meant by ‘vanish’ but ultimately couldn’t be bothered to figure it out. There was already too much going on around her.
“Gentlemen,” Fury said, closer this time. Applejack turned to see the director approaching the table. The two men Natasha had brought back down here now stood behind it. AJ watched as the still-awed blond man absently handed Fury a small slip of green paper, prompting a smug smirk from the one-eyed director. Applejack raised an eyebrow, puzzling as to what was going on there, but she quickly dismissed it as more human weirdness.
The blond man walked off to explore the bullpen as Fury approached the shorter man. “Doctor, thank you for coming,” he said, holding out his hand to shake. The shorter man hesitated for a moment before taking it.
“Thanks for asking nicely.” He said, his voice sounding almost resigned, as if he expected something horrible to happen to him. “So, how long am I staying?”
“Once we get our hands on the tesseract you’re in the wind,” Fury replied, before turning his eye up upon Applejack. “For now, though, I’d like to introduce you to one of the people you’ll be working with.”
AJ took that as cue to approach. The smaller man turned around… and found himself looking up, his eyes widening a little in surprise. Applejack chuckled internally. She couldn’t help but admit that there was something a little fun about being so tall. She wondered if Princess Celestia ever felt the same way.
“Doctor Banner, this is Jacelyn Applewood.” Fury said, introducing the two of them. “She’s offered to help us in apprehending the hostile.” She held out her hand for the doctor to shake. “Miss Applewood, this is Doctor Bruce Banner. He’s the foremost expert on gamma radiation.”
The Doctor took her hand somewhat halfheartedly. “It’s nice to meet you,” he said.
AJ felt a bell ring in her head. “Waitaminnit. Bruce?” she asked, an eyebrow quirking.
Doctor Banner looked at her curiously. “Yes...?” he said haltingly.
Applejack broke out in a wide grin as it all clicked together. “Hey now, I’ve heard a lot about you!” she said enthusiastically, shaking his hand vigorously.
Doctor Banner’s nervousness seemed to fade away as he put up a guarded wall. He gave AJ a sort of glib, resigned smirk. “Really now,” he said dryly. “And… just what have you heard?” He asked as if expecting a very specific answer.
The doctors resignation seemed to pass over Applejack’s head though, as she continued to grin, clapping a hand on his shoulder familiarly. “Only what yer cousin has told me, I’m afraid.”
Whatever Doctor Banner had been expecting her to say, it definitely wasn’t that.
“My… Cousin?” he faltered.
Applejack flashed him a winning smile. “Jen told me all about how y’all were there for her when she was little,” she said, her hand settling on his shoulder. “She had nothing but good things to say about you. Y’all should be mighty proud of yourself, Bruce. You have a good heart.”
“Jen-” he stuttered, “Jenny is here?”
“ROBERT BRUCE BANNER!!!”
The shrill, piercing shriek resounded through the bridge, causing every agent aboard to stop and stare. Applejack whirled around to see Jen standing just inside the bridge’s door, with murder written upon her face. Her nostrils flared and her fists were clenched and shaking. Gone was the meek, timid agent who’d befriended AJ and helped her in so many ways the night before. In her place now stood a raging monster with the strength of a hundred men, ready to move mountains and part seas to unleash holy hell upon the target of her ire.
That target clearly being Bruce Banner.
The tiny, four-foot-ten woman stormed across the bridge towards her prey. Several agents looked like they were about to intercept her but Fury held up a hand, looking unflappable as ever. Applejack, however, couldn’t help but back away out of Jen’s warpath, instinctually intimidated by her show of rage even though she nearly had a good two feet and over 300 pounds on her.
“J-Jenny?” Bruce sputtered.
“Eight years, Bruce!” Jen shouted, finally crossing the room and shoving a finger in his stunned face. “You left me alone for eight goddamn years! No phone calls, no emails, not even a damn post card!!” She roared, looking up at the taller man with all the fire and fury of a million exploding suns. “And what the fuck did you do to your face?!”
There was a palpable sense of tension in the room as Bruce stammered out an answer. “I-I went in for plastic surgery to better stay undercover,” he finally managed to answer. “Ross’s men were hounding me at every turn. I had to find a better way to hide,” he continued to explain, his mouth running nervously as the tiny woman continued to stare him down, like a faucet that couldn’t be shut off. “They… they had to use local anesthesia to perform the procedure because putting me under caused me to--”
The entire bridge exploded into activity as Jen’s palm smacked across Bruce’s face. Agents started shouting and drawing their weapons, stark, raving terror dancing in every last one of their eyes as they demanded that Jen get on the ground or that Bruce stay exactly where he was. Applejack was completely thrown off by it all, moving to rush to Jen’s defense when suddenly Bruce threw his hands in the air and bellowed in a voice that seemed too loud for a normal human to create.
The activity came to an abrupt halt. The tension was still so thick you could drown in it as Agents stood watching him, their weapons still drawn. Bruce stood there a minute, his hands above his head and a serene look of calm on his face. His eyes were closed and he took a deep breath and let it out before opening them again.
“...I’m fine,” he repeated softly.
The agents all slowly, tentatively holstered their weapons and returned to what they were doing, though they all seemed to be watching Jen and Bruce out of the corner of their eyes.
Bruce took another deep breath and turned back to his cousin. “Jenny--” he tried to say before he suddenly found himself trapped in a tight embrace. Jen practically tackled him, throwing her arms around him and burying her head in his chest in a fit of sniffles and sobs.
“How d-dare you?” she sobbed, looking up at him. “How d-dare you leave me alone like that?” Her eyes were red and puffy behind her coke-bottle glasses, tears trailing down her cheeks as her lip quivered. “You went off and did that idiot’s experiment and…” she trailed off shuddering in his grip as he slowly returned her hug. “I-I had to watch the news just to figure out where you were. They s-said such terrible things about you. A-and sometimes there would be such a long time between stories t-that… I was sure you… sure you…” she broke down into a weeping fit as she buried her head in his chest once again.
Applejack watched the scene unfold silently as she felt someone sidle up behind her. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed the blond man from before watching the two of them carefully.
“You think they’re gonna be okay?” the man asked, watching them with a solemn gaze.
AJ watched as Bruce placed a hand on the back of Jen’s head, stroking her hair lightly as she wept into his chest. The outburst had been… startling, to say the least. And she couldn’t say she understood why everybody on deck had freaked out so hard. For now, though, it looked like everything was winding down. The two of them had settled into a gentle hug - two cousins reunited after so long apart.
“Yeah.” Applejack smiled distantly. “I think they’ll be just fine.”
The scene continued for a minute before Fury finally broke it, clearing his throat. “Agent Walters,” he said warningly. Jen broke out of her reverie, breaking off her hug with Bruce and stepping back a little, standing at attention.
“Y-yes sir?” she said, trying to compose herself.
Unflappable as ever, Fury raised an eyebrow at her. “While I’m glad to see the two of you back together again, for your own sake as well as your cousin’s,” he said, giving her a hard stare with his singular eye, “Don’t. Do that. Again.”
Jen flushed, nodding and meekly wringing her hands together. “Yes sir…” she muttered.
“Good,” he said, nodding towards the table with his one good eye. “Take a seat.”
She nodded, quickly shuffling over to the table and sitting down in one of the chairs, head bowed meekly.
Fury approached Bruce once again, who furrowed his eyebrows at him. “You brought my little cousin aboard,” he said levelly. Applejack felt herself instinctively shake a little as she detected a dangerous undertone to his words.
“She volunteered,” Fury explained, raising his hands placatingly. “She joined SHIELD a few years ago to keep better track of you.”
Bruce turned to look at Jen. The small woman simply nodded her head meekly. Bruce seemed to sag a little and sigh, looking even more resigned than he had before as he relented.
“Fine,” he said, turning to Fury and changing the subject. “Where are you with the Tesseract?”
At that moment, Agent Coulson piped up from the edge of the bullpen. “We're sweeping every wirelessly accessible camera on the planet,” he said, gesturing to one of the screens a nearby agent was watching. Some kind of footage was rapidly playing out over it before switching to another picture somewhere else. “Cell phones, laptops. If it's connected to a satellite, it's eyes and ears for us.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Applejack saw the blond man frown and cross his arms. She looked at him curiously for a moment, watching him scowl in Fury’s direction, before turning back to the conversation.
“That’s still not gonna find them in time,” Natasha said, having taken a spot hovering over another agent who was working furtively at a screen.
The air around Banner seemed to change, as the meek, nervous man who had been the source of so much hullabaloo seemed to settle into a familiar pattern. “You have to narrow your field,” he said, shrugging off his sport coat and folding it under one arm. “How many spectrometers do you have access to?” he asked.
“How many are there?” Fury responded blithely, crossing his arms and leaning against a railing.
“Call every lab you know and tell them to put the spectrometers on the roof and calibrate them for gamma rays,” Bruce said, nodding to the bullpen full of still-on-edge agents. Fury nodded as Bruce continued, his words becoming incomprehensible to Applejack as he started descending into what she could only describe as technobabble. “I'll rough out a tracking algorithm based on cluster recognition. At least we could rule out a few places.” He rolled up his sleeves, turning back to Fury. “Do you have somewhere for me to work?”
Fury turned and nodded out towards Natasha. “Agent Romanoff,” he said casually, “could you show Doctor Banner to his laboratory please?”
Natasha stood up from where she was watching the agent work, walking over towards Banner and gesturing for him to follow. “You’re gonna love it, Doc. We’ve got all the toys.”
“Um…” came a soft, hesitant voice from behind Applejack. She and the blond man turned to see Jennifer, wringing her hands nervously and looking meekly at her shoes. “Sorry about that. I… don’t know what came over me.”
Applejack smiled gently, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Y’all didn’t tell me he went and ran off for so long. I get how you’d’ve been angry at that.”
Jennifer smiled weakly, looking up into Applejack’s eyes. “He… he had a good reason,” she said hesitantly before shaking her head. “But that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt.”
Somewhere deep inside, Applejack felt an ache. “I understand.”
“Yeah…” Jen said, removing her glasses and wiping her eyes. “I guess you do.” she sniffed, replacing her glasses on her face. “Um… if you don’t mind, I’d like to be with my cousin for a bit. You’ll be okay out here, right?”
“Of course, sugarcube.” Applejack nodded. “Go be with your kin.”
“Thanks,” she said with a smile. “We’ll catch up later.” She turned to the blond man and gave him a polite nod. “Captain,” she said. The man nodded back and she departed, following after Natasha and Bruce.
Applejack leaned back a little, leaning against the wall and looking over her shoulder at the blond man beside her. She let out a long, low breath. “Welp,” she said idly. “That sure was something, weren’t it?”
“Mmm…” the man hummed distantly, looking out with a frown over the bullpen of agents.
AJ tilted her head. “Somethin’ eating you, sugarcube?”
The man was quiet for a moment before responding. “...I’m not a fan of how SHIELD can just poke into everybody’s private lives so casually,” he said finally, shaking his head. “I know what we’re up against, but it isn’t right, commandeering peoples’ belongings like that.”
Applejack frowned. She couldn’t say she understood what the man was talking about. Then again, she wasn’t sure what Coulson had meant by ‘cell phones’ and ‘laptops.’ Applejack knew what a phone was. They were big, boxy things mounted on the wall that allowed ponies to talk to other ponies miles away. Mayor Mare had one in city hall, and there was talk of the Cakes getting one for Sugarcube Corner so they could better order ingredients, or Twilight getting one so she could order books for the library. She didn’t know what Coulson meant by ‘sweeping the cameras’ though. There wasn’t a single broom or piece of photography equipment on the deck.
In the end, Applejack could only shrug. “I guess I can’t say I rightly know one way or another,” she finally said. That was a perfectly noncommittal answer, right?
The blond man merely hummed again before falling silent for a moment. There was a beat before he seemed to finally realize who he was talking to. He turned to look Applejack in the eye and gave her a friendly smile. “Sorry, I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced yet.” He held out a hand. “Steve Rogers.”
“Jacelyn Applewood”, she said, the name slipping from her lips easier than she felt like it should have. She took his hand and gave it a firm shake, an eyebrow raising at just how strong his grip was.
Steve seemed to notice something similar. “That’s quite a grip you have there, Miss Applewood.”
AJ nodded in kind, smiling. “Y’all ain’t so bad yourself,” she said, breaking off the handshake. “So what’s this about y’all being a Captain?” she asked, trying to make small talk.
Steve’s response was to raise an eyebrow curiously. “You don’t know?” he asked.
Applejack frowned, hoping she hadn’t just encountered a fellow with that classic Blueblood ‘don’t-you-know-who-I-am’ mentality to them. “Nnnnno?” she drawled out slowly. “Should I?”
Instead, though, Steve simply looked a little amused and befuddled. He smiled a little, chuckling under his breath. “No… I guess not. It’s just that you’re the first person who hasn’t recognized me since I woke up.” He shrugged a little. “It’s actually a bit refreshing.”
Applejack relaxed at his answer a touch. He wasn’t coming across like any of the snooty, holier-than-thou noble-types she’d met at the Gala or at Twilight’s birthday party. And he seemed genuine when he said that not being recognized actually felt refreshing.
Still, one thing stuck out to her.
“Woke up?” She asked.
“From the ice,” he said, turning to look her in the eye. “Fury really hasn’t briefed you about me? About Doctor Banner?”
Applejack scratched the back of her head awkwardly. “I’m… kinda a last minute addition to this thing?” she managed to offer.
Steve frowned, pressing his lips together. “Explains why you weren’t in the dossier he gave me either.” He shook his head. “Still, you never read anything in school? About the War? About Captain America?” he asked.
Applejack winced. She should have known that SHIELD’s little cover for her would fall apart faster than a house of cards under a stiff breeze. Not that any of the cloak and dagger identity games ever sat right with her in the first place. And so, she fell back on her first instinct: the truth.
“Gotta be honest with y’all, Captain Rogers,” she said plainly. “Before last night I ain’t never heard of ‘America’ to begin with.”
Whatever the Captain was expecting to hear, it wasn’t that. He looked at her, mind clearly boggling, before something seemed to click in his head.
“You’re not from around here.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement of fact.
Applejack shook her head and channeled her brother. “Nnnope.”
“Are you an Asgardian?” he asked. “Like the hostile? Like Loki?” he clarified.
There was another unfamiliar term thrown about so casually. Applejack huffed. “Even further than him, I reckon.” she answered noncommittally. “Can’t say I even know what an Asgardian is.”
Steve looked frustrated now. He ran a hand through his short-cropped hair, sighing as he shut his eyes. “Jiminy...” he muttered under his breath. “You mean to tell me Fury brought you on board without briefing you at all?”
AJ frowned. “Well… like I said, it was kinda last minute. He told me that this Loki fella had stolen some kinda powerful artifact, but I ain’t heard much else.”
The Captain scowled, glaring towards where Fury was manning the bridge, his gaze stopping just short of boring holes in the back of the director’s head.
“Hey now,” AJ said, trying to calm him down. “Don’t be too hard on him. Way I’ve heard it, SHIELD’s had a lot on their plate the last day or so.”
“No.” Steve shook his head, huffing. “He should know better than to sign somebody up for a mission like this without telling them anything.” He turned back to look at her. “I don’t care if you were signed on five minutes before I walked in the room - lack of intel gets soldiers killed. I’ve seen it.”
There was a weight to his words all of a sudden as she gazed into his deep, blue eyes. There was a sadness there; a deep, bottomless pit of it hidden behind this wall of frustration he was putting up.
Applejack was certain he didn’t speak idly when he said he’d seen it.
Steve stood up from the wall. “You feel like finding the break room? I can help brief you over some coffee or something.” He turned his eye over the SHIELD bullpen, his gaze lingering for a moment on Fury before he turned back to AJ. “I’m afraid if I stay here I’ll say something I might regret.”
Applejack nodded. “Sure, partner.” she said casting back one last look at the bullpen full of SHIELD agents, taking note again of the glowing red haze that surrounded some of them, not sure now what to think about Fury or her other hosts. “Lead the way.”
FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2012 - 12:17 PM
SHIELD HELICARRIER BREAK ROOM 3: BRIDGE LEVEL - APPROX. EIGHT MILES OFF THE NEW YORK COAST.
“He turns into a WHAT?!”
Steve grabbed a couple of napkins, wiping up some of the coffee that Applejack had just spewed across the table in shock. “When he gets angry, yes. I understand that’s why he’s been on the run for the last eight years.”
Applejack leaned back, staring at the ceiling as the previous scene played through her mind again. “Shoot… that explains why all them agents were spooked like that.”
The two of them had spent the last hour and some change sitting around a table in a break room they’d found near the bridge. Applejack wasn’t much of a coffee drinker back in Equestria, preferring hot, spiced apple cider as her warm drink of choice. It seemed the humans favored coffee over cider, tea, or cocoa though. She sipped at the bitter drink considering everything she’d just heard.
Steve had been spending their time together briefing her on everything he knew about the mission so far. He told her everything he knew about the hostile, Loki, and what little they knew about his abilities, what they theorized about him from an encounter with a previous member of his race the previous year, and about the peculiarities of the item he took, the tesseract.
To be honest, Steve actually didn’t seem to know much more than she did, but AJ required so much clarification and explanation that the briefing took longer than it otherwise might’ve. Steve had been a perfectly patient gentleman all throughout, though. Applejack decided that she liked him.
“And we’ve brought Banner on because he can track these gamma thingies the tesseract throws out better than everyone else then?” she asked, finally starting to get a handle on how all the pieces fit together. “Even though he turns into a… giant green rage monster?”
“He understands gamma radiation better than anybody else on earth.” Steve explained calmly. “The way I understand it, people have been hesitant to study it ever since his accident.”
Applejack frowned nervously. “But… if this tesseract is throwing the stuff around, how do we know we aren’t going to end up with a bunch more rage monsters running about?”
Steve stopped, considering that. “I don’t think it’s putting out enough for that to happen?” he said hesitantly before scowling. “Then again, part of the whole problem is that we don’t know much about what the tesseract can do in the first place.”
There was a pause as Applejack studied his face. “Somethin’ eating you, sugar?”
Steve took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It’s just that I’m watching history repeating itself,” he said, sounding resigned. “I had an encounter with the tesseract before once… when a madman got his hands on it.” He shook his head. “I nearly killed myself trying to destroy it. Now they pull me back years later and tell me they fished it out of the ocean only to lose it again.”
AJ watched the man as he suddenly looked very far away. His eyes were glassy and unfocused as he stared into his coffee cup. His fingers tensed around the ceramic mug, almost trembling as his face set into a stern frown.
Applejack recognized that look. She’d worn it herself more than once in the past couple of days. It was the look of somebody tumbling down a rabbit hole of their own making as they were overwhelmed by everything that had been taken from them… everything they’d lost.
“Hey,” Applejack said, reaching across the table and laying a hand on his. He tensed for a moment but the action seemed to snap him out of his reverie. “You gonna be okay?”
Steve nodded. He didn’t meet her eyes, but he seemed to be back in the present well enough. “Yeah,” he finally responded.
Applejack leaned back, taking another sip of her coffee. “Y’all didn’t tell me how you fit into Fury’s puzzle,” she said, trying to get him talking again. For a moment it seemed like it backfired, though, as he fell silent again, briefly adopting the faraway look again, before he finally answered her.
“I was a soldier,” he explained, “fighting in biggest war humanity ever knew. Against a foe called the Nazis.”
“Nazis?” Applejack’s breath hitched. She recognized that word. They were the people Coulson said had likely captured her. She didn’t know if they were the ones responsible for how she ended up here or not, but they were almost certainly the ones who had stuffed her in that tube for almost seventy years.
“You recognize them?” Steve asked. Applejack nodded, but didn’t say anything. She motioned for him to continue.
“I volunteered for an experimental program to enhance my body and skills.” Steve said, swirling the coffee in his mug. “It was crazy… it should have killed me. But I couldn’t stand by while the Nazis swept across the world, killing innocent people and trampling everything in their path. It was the only way for me to join the fight and do my part.”
“And it worked.” Applejack finished for him.
“Better than anybody could have imagined,” Steve said. “My strength, my speed, my healing… all of it was enhanced. They called me a super soldier. They called me ‘Captain America.’”
“I was sent on a number of covert missions to take down a branch of the Nazi regime called HYDRA. They were a special-ops-slash-science faction designed to develop new weapons of mass destruction from unorthodox sources. Super science, paranormal stuff…” he trailed off, his frown deepening. “It was fighting them that I first encountered the tesseract.”
“A monster called the Red Skull had managed to get ahold of it and was using it to develop weapons that the Allies couldn’t defend against.” He turned in his seat, looking out the door towards the bridge. “He was going to use it to destroy the entire east coast of the United States.”
“I stopped him,” he said quietly, his eyes far away again. “I crashed his plane into the ocean up near the arctic. I thought that was it for me.” He let out a long, sad sigh. “Then almost seventy years later they pulled me out of the ice and thawed me out. Somehow I survived… only to find out that it was happening all over again.”
Applejack was silent as the Captain told his story. She felt her eyes start to mist a little as his tale unfolded, only to gasp when he told her just how long he’d been under. “...Seventy years?” she asked.
“The world is so different now,” Steve continued. “I was trapped there in the ice and the world just kept on spinning. Technology, medicine, culture… I feel like a stranger in my own country sometimes.” He chuckled darkly. “I came home to a nation I didn’t recognize and knew nothing about. Some ‘Captain America’ I turned out to be.”
AJ reached across the table, keeping her composure as best she could and taking his hand in hers. “Hey now. Don’t talk like that. If it weren’t for what you did, their world wouldn’t have kept on spinning at all.”
Steve looked up, meeting her eyes, a sad smile on his face. “Some days it doesn’t feel like much consolation though,” he said. “Not when the world keeps having to deal with the same problems over and over again.” He shook his head. “And I don’t even have the backup to help me through it anymore. Everyone I knew is long gone. The Commandos, Bucky, Chester, Howard…” he trailed off, the next name coming out as nothing but a strained whisper. “...Peggy.”
“I know how you feel.” Applejack said, holding his hand tighter. Steve looked up at her, eyebrow raised but not arguing the statement. She shook her head, fighting back all but a single tear. “Believe me I know exactly how you feel.”
Applejack sat up straight, clearing her throat and wiping a sleeve across her eyes in a mostly successful attempt at regaining her composure. “Y’all said you were under for seventy years, right? But it was more like sixty-seven, weren’t it?”
Steve blinked. “Yeah,” he said finally. “How did you--?”
“That’s how long…” Applejack started, taking a deep breath. “That’s how long I was under too. Them same Nazis y’all were fighting… they managed to get their grubby mitts on me somehow. I dunno what they wanted out of me, but they shoved me into some kinda tube. SHIELD don’t know how long exactly I was in there, but they dug me outta one of their warehouses sixty-seven years ago.”
The Captain looked downright aghast. “Why didn’t they let you out?”
Applejack shrugged. “They said that a bunch of the things they dug outta the warehouse I was in did horrible things; that they killed the people tryin’ to investigate them.” She shook her head. “Eventually they stopped poking at the snakes to see if they’d bite them. I was just unlucky that they stopped poking before they got to me.”
“That’s no excuse--” Steve started to say but Applejack cut him off.
“It ain’t.” AJ agreed. “It really ain’t. But it’s like you said; the fellas who actually went and left me in the back of a warehouse to gather dust… they’re long gone. How can I blame people like Fury or Coulson when they ain’t the ones who actually went and put me there? When they didn’t even know I was there in the first place?”
Steve looked like he’d swallowed something sour for a moment before sighing and letting it go. “I suppose what’s done is done.”
Applejack nodded, trailing off. “Yeah…”
Silence stretched out for a long moment between the displaced pair. The two of them found themselves staring into their coffee cups, the bitter drinks having long since gone cold. The only sound was the clock on the wall, ticking the seconds away.
“You said you weren’t from around here,” Steve finally said. Applejack looked up but he didn’t. “But you said you weren’t from Asgard either.”
“Never heard of it before yesterday,” AJ confirmed.
“Your home,” Steve asked. “What was it like?”
Applejack’s breath hitched a little as she thought about the home she probably wouldn’t see again. She did her best to maintain a straight face when the Captain spoke again.
“It’s alright,” he said, “If you don’t want to--”
“No no…” she said, clearing her throat and rolling her neck. “It’s fine… It’s just that… I ain’t sure just how much I’m supposed to say. Jen and Agent Hill’ve gone through a lotta trouble to help me try and keep where I’m from hush-hush.”
“I see,” Steve said softly.
There was another pause. The silence threatened to take over between them again. Steve drank down the last of his coffee, setting the empty mug aside as he stared into the distance.
“...Equestria was beautiful.” Applejack finally said.
Steve turned back to her to see tears dripping down the sides of her face. They rolled down her freckled cheeks, down to her chin where they fell off, dripping into her chilled coffee mug.
“I worked on an apple farm called Sweet Apple Acres. Lived there my whole life with my Granny, brother, and sister. We lived in a town called Ponyville, not too far from the capital city of Canterlot, where Princess Celestia lived.”
“It weren’t always easy.” Applejack explained. “Equestria was usually a pretty friendly land to live in, but Ponyville was right on the edge of the settled zone, outside a haunted wood called the Everfree Forest. Sometimes a monster or two would come outta the forest and attack the town and we’d have to drive them back. That’s how Ma and Pa…” she trailed off, sniffling, wiping at her eyes and clearing her throat again, desperately trying to regain composure.
“I’m sorry.” Steve said.
Applejack shook her head. “It’s alright.” she said softly before continuing. “I managed to work through it; made a life for myself. Sweet Apple Acres sold the best apples and apple products in the whole county. I made a bunch of friends for myself… Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Spike…” she chuckled weakly. “Even managed to meet the Princesses themselves a couple of times.”
“It weren’t always a cakewalk,” she went on. “Equestria fell into a nasty habit of being attacked by evil chaos gods or shapeshifters every couple’a months. But me and my friends, we always managed to make it through.” She gestured around herself weakly, before continuing. “We didn’t have the kinds of weapons or crazy technology y’all have here on Earth but we got by. Twilight could work magic better than any other soul I knew, and Rainbow was the best flier anypony ever saw… even if she had a bit too much of an ego about it. And Pinkie Pie… I don’t know how it was she did what she did, but she always had a trick or two up her sleeve.”
She quieted down, staring into the distance. “It weren’t all fighting crazy folks though. Most of it was good times. Going to Twilight’s birthday party or watching the butterfly migration with Fluttershy or getting into bull-headed competitions with Rainbow…” She let out a long, shuddering breath, which slowly transformed into a dark, sad chuckle. “I feel like I took it all for granted now. I guess we don’t realize what we got until it ain’t there anymore, you know?”
Steve only nodded.
“My friends and family were always there for me when the horseapples hit the fan - whether it was a crazy magician trapping the town in a bubble or my sister and her zany friends causing a ruckus or just my own fool self working too hard.”
The silence stretched on. Steve didn’t dare break it. Eventually Applejack managed to choke more out.
“I miss them,” she said. “And it ain’t just time for me, it’s distance. I can’t say I know how I’d ever get back home in the first place. But even if I did, well… it’s like you said, Steve. Can’t say I know what sort of Equestria would be waiting for me on the other end.”
Applejack sniffed, wiping her eyes one last time before flashing a sad smile to Steve. She reached across the table and took his hand in hers, holding it tightly. “Sorry,” she finally said. “Didn’t mean to go on like that.”
“No, no. Don’t worry about it,” Steve assured her, returning the sad smile. “It sounds like we both had a lot to get off our chests.”
Applejack nodded silently before Steve continued. “I’m wondering though,” he said curiously.
Applejack sniffled again but managed to keep hold of herself. “Yeah?”
“Your name,” Steve said. “Jacelyn Applewood is a name SHIELD gave you, isn’t it. It doesn’t sound like a name from Equestria.”
Applejack flushed a little, drawing back and awkwardly scratching the back of her head. “I don’t think y’all were supposed to figure that out,” she muttered.
“What’s your name?” Steve asked. “Your real name.”
She paused one last time, debating whether or not to tell him. Wouldn’t it only keep tearing her wound open to hear people calling her Equestrian name? Maybe she should just move on and accept Jacelyn Applewood as her new name. Build a new life, like Hill had suggested. For all she knew it was a mistake to ask Jen to keep calling her by her real name.
Then again, as she looked across the table and into Steve’s eyes… she couldn’t help but feel otherwise. Steve may have been hurting, but he wasn’t running away from his past. He may have lost the world he knew, but he still kept it close to his heart, even as he tried to make a new life for himself in this new, insane world he’d found himself in.
“Applejack.” She finally said with a weak smile. “But my friends call me AJ.”
“It’s good to meet you, AJ.” Steve said, holding out his hand to her from across the table.
She took his hand in hers and gave it a gentle shake. “Likewise, Steve.” Despite herself, she found herself chuckling “Shoot, I bet ‘Applejack’ must sound like a right silly name to y’all, though.”
Steve leaned back with a wry grin. “You’d be surprised,” he said. “One of the men I fought alongside with went by the name ‘Dum Dum’ Dugan.”
Applejack barked out with a peal of laughter. “Y’all serious?!” she asked, mood successfully lifted at Steve’s admission. “Poor fella! How’d he land himself with a name like that?”
Steve smiled, leaning back in his chair. “Well you see,” he said, “we were fighting the Nazis on the streets of this small town in southern France and they had us backed into this little candy shop--”
Their conversation was abruptly interrupted, though, by a knock at the door. The two of them jolted, turning to see Phil Coulson standing in the doorway, looking at them curiously.
“I’m sorry,” Phil said, raising an eyebrow at the both of them. “I hope I’m not… interrupting anything?”
Applejack cleared her throat, straightening up in her seat and rolling her shoulders. “‘Course not,” she said as casually as she could. “What’s going on, Phil?”
Phil stepped into the room, looking between the two of them for a moment before speaking again. “I was just wondering if I could borrow Captain Rogers for a minute. If that’s alright?” he asked.
AJ turned to Steve who merely shrugged. She turned back to Phil and mirrored the gesture. “Fine by us, Sugarcube. I’ll catch up with y’all later.”
Phil grinned a little before stepping out of the room. Steve turned to Applejack and nodded. “AJ,” he said, departing. Applejack nodded back to him as he followed Phil away back onto the bridge.
Leaving Applejack all alone with her thoughts.
AJ quickly drained the last of her now-cold, somewhat-saltier-than-before coffee. Curiously, she found her thoughts weren’t spiralling into despair quite as readily as they were the night before. Something about her talk with Rogers must have soothed something deep down inside her. She still hurt, there was no question about that, but finding a kindred spirit in him had placed a sort of balm over the wound. There was somebody here who understood; who she could talk to openly and freely. It was a shame that he had to go through something so similar to what she did, of course, but at least neither of them had to deal with it alone.
Applejack watched the seconds tick by on the wall clock. While she was pleased that she was no longer breaking down the second she was left alone to ruminate, she suddenly found herself with a new problem. She was bored.
“Heck with this,” she muttered, placing her coffee mug in a nearby sink before strolling out of the break room. A couple of agents spared her a glance but said nothing to her as she wandered back through the hallways and back onto the bridge. She spied Coulson and Steve chatting on a nearby catwalk and moved towards them.
“...It took me a couple of years to collect them all,” she heard Phil say as she drew closer. “ Near mint. Slight foxing around the edges, but--” Applejack opened her mouth to say something when all of a sudden the three of them were interrupted by a shout from the other side of the room.
“We’ve got a hit!” Applejack turned. One of the hazy red agents was calling out to the rest of the bridge, other agents quickly congregating around him. Phil and Steve quickly broke off their conversation to investigate what he’d found, with Applejack following close behind. “Sixty-seven percent match,” The hazy agent continued. “Wait, cross-match! Seventy-nine percent!”
“Location?” Phil asked, suddenly all business again. Applejack looked over his shoulder at the screen the agent was reading off of, only to see a picture of a man she didn’t recognize. He had long, slicked-back black hair and blue eyes that seemed to glitter with malice. His face was long and slender, and he had an infuriatingly smug, punchable grin on his face that she recognized from somewhere. It took her only a moment to recognize where she’d seen an expression like that before: On Discord, the lord of Chaos himself.
‘Loki,’ Applejack thought, growling internally.
“Stuttgart, Germany,” the agent replied. “28, Konigstrasse. He's not exactly hiding.”
“Captain,” Fury said from behind the three of them. They turned to see him nod at Steve. “You’re up.”
Steve nodded, quickly marching off, led away by a pair of agents. Nick Fury then turned his attention onto Applejack.
“Miss Applewood,” he said, using her assumed name. “I’m afraid this is your last chance to back out.” He folded his arms behind his back, gazing at her with that one, piercing, calculating eye. “Will you be joining Captain Rogers?”
Applejack turned around, taking in the sneering, grinning face on the screen. She scowled. If this Loki character wasn’t left unchecked, nobody knew what kind of damage he could cause with the tesseract. She wasn’t about to let that happen. She’d faced down far worse back home and come out of it in one piece. This may not have been her world, but she’d already made two friends here, and she wasn’t about to let this snake anywhere near them.
She turned back around, looking Fury dead in the eye. “I reckon I will.”