• Published 20th Dec 2017
  • 5,143 Views, 1,025 Comments

Applejack: Marvelous - Dusty the Royal Janitor



Applejack awakens to find herself in a new world, in a body not her own. Her Earth Pony magic is intensified to dangerous degrees, and she's surrounded by threats of a like she's never imagined. She'll have to fight to return home... if she even can.

  • ...
15
 1,025
 5,143

The Avengers: Ch4

THURSDAY, APRIL 12, 2012 - 6:56 PM
SHIELD HELICARRIER UPPER DECK. TEN MILES OFF THE NEW YORK COAST.


“Leonard!” a voice called from behind him.

Leonard Samson turned to see a familiar face approaching him, his usual genial smile beaming in the waning light. The doctor smiled and held out a hand to shake as Phil Coulson drew near.

“How are you, Phil?” Samson asked, shaking the senior agent’s hand.

“Oh you know,” said Coulson, breaking off the handshake, his smile never leaving. “Mad gods threaten our very existence and the world continues to fall apart around us. So just your average Thursday.”

Samson chuckled ruefully. “I think I preferred it when I lived in blissful ignorance of all of that.”

Phil shrugged. “Somebody has to know about it if there’s anything to be done about it.” He nodded towards one of the jets parked on the deck’s airfield. “Are you heading out then?”

He nodded. “Hoping your jets are fast enough to get me home by nightfall,” said Samson, “I have patients tomorrow.”

Coulson nodded. “I’m just about to head off myself. There’s a certain Tin Can I need to speak with,” he chuckled, though his face quickly fell. “Speaking of patients, though,” he began, “what did you think?”

Samson frowned. “She’s in no state to join this team your director is putting together, Phil.”

“I know that,” Phil said solemnly. “Frankly I don’t think anyone’s in the right ‘state’ to do what we’re asking. I’m asking you what you thought of her, though. She didn’t strike me as insane.”

“And I don’t have the confidence to say for certain,” Samson agreed. “I’m not going to say anything either way, Phil. The nature of what you deal with here at SHIELD makes it impossible to say for sure. And there’s far too much about her that doesn’t make any sense.”

“Is she a danger?” Coulson asked firmly.

Samson raised an eyebrow. “I’d say that any meta out there could be considered a ‘danger,’ Phil.”

“Is she at risk of snapping and harming my agents, Leonard?” Phil insisted. “Is she going to go on a rampage if she’s provoked? Or if somebody challenges her delusion?”

Samson shook his head and sighed. “No,” he finally answered. “If she’s delusional then she strikes me as one of the rare functional ones. Whatever she believes her past to be, she’s capable of comprehending her situation as it is now and compensating for it and adapting to it. With enough time to adapt, she could still be a functioning member of society, even if she never fully comes out of her delusional state. As long as she doesn’t go hollering out her fantasies to every Tom, Dick, and Larry on the street, she’ll get along fine.” He shrugged. “And that’s assuming, of course, that it is a fantasy.”

“So she’s not at risk of becoming violent then?” Coulson asked.

“She’s got as much risk of becoming violent as any other human being. Take that how you will,” Samson replied. “And don’t forget that she’s in a very fragile state emotionally, so that does put her at risk.”

“Honestly though,” Samson continued, pursing his lips in thought, “I don’t think you have to worry about her. You yourself said in your report that she showed concern when she was told she hurt somebody. And when I asked her to demonstrate her strength she seemed shocked, and even a little frightened of what she might be able to do. She doesn’t strike me as the violent type. Really, I’d say she even seems downright gentle at her core.” He shrugged. “All the more reason to keep her out of Fury’s plans, really.”

Coulson scratched his chin, sighing. “Given what we’re up against, we might not have a choice.”

“Phil,” Samson said, putting a hand on the agent’s shoulder, “Everybody’s saying that there’s some serious shit going down, but nobody’s willing to tell me what it is. I get that some things are classified but be straight with me…” he said, looking him directly in the eye. “How bad is it?”

Coulson frowned, hesitating for a bit before finally answering. “I’m afraid that’s classified, Len.” He finally answered.

Samson winced. “That bad?

Coulson only nodded.

The two were silent for a good, long moment. Finally, Samson nodded and released his friend’s shoulder. “Alright, Phil.” Samson finally said. “I hope you don’t have to bring her into this, but…”

“We’ll do what we have to.” Coulson finally said. “We’re the only ones who can.”

Samson sighed. “I suppose that’s the best I can get. Good luck, Phil.” He said, stepping away towards his escorts.

Coulson nodded right back. “Same to you, Leonard.”

Agent Coulson watched as Leonard Samson was escorted on board one of the SHIELD Quinjets. The ramp closed behind him as he marched inside and sat down. The small jet rolled onto the runway and, with a burst of noise, launched into the air and off into the distance. Phil frowned, considering everything he’d just heard.

“Sir!” an agent piped up behind him. “We’re ready with your escort to Stark Tower.”

Phil exhaled through his nose lightly before turning and putting on his trademark smile. “Alright. Let’s go talk to the Shellhead.”

It seemed nothing could ever just be easy.


THURSDAY, APRIL 12, 2012 - 7:08 PM
SHIELD HELICARRIER HOLDING CELLS. TEN MILES OFF THE NEW YORK COAST.


Applejack had moved to the bed in the wake of the coffee table’s untimely demise. She’d winced a little at the dirty, slimy mess that she’d left beneath the sheets after sleeping in it for who-knows-how-long after her romp through the desert, but after covering it back up with the still-clean comforter she was a little more comfortable sitting on it. The floor was still covered in bits of wood and splinters, and though none of them seemed to pierce or scratch her skin - something else Applejack noticed was strange and new about her new body, perhaps even another of these ‘powers’ the doctor had mentioned - they were still uncomfortable to walk upon in her bare feet. She sat on the edge of the bed, her legs crossed under her in a way she wouldn’t have been able to bend them in her old pony form.

Across the room from her, sitting at the table in the corner, was Agent Jennifer Walters, who’d been left with her when Agent Hill and Doctor Samson departed. The tiny agent awkwardly shuffled her feet, doing everything she could not to look at Applejack. The former pony couldn’t help but agree about the awkwardness of the whole situation. The two of them had basically just been told to ‘wait here,’ like a pair of foals while the parents took care of business somewhere. Applejack chewed on her lip, awkwardly looking around the room, while Walters suddenly took a newfound interest in her own shoes.

Someone coughed.

Finally, Walters dared to break the silence. “So… um…” she began shyly.

Applejack turned to look at her, inwardly thankful that the awkwardness had been cut through. “Yeah?”

The slip of a girl hesitated for a moment before stutteringly continuing. “W-what’s it like… being so strong?” she finally asked.

AJ blinked. She’d expected a question about her claims that she was really a pony, or at least something about Equestria and what it was like. Her own newfound strength was a topic that was still somewhat foreign, even to her.

“It’s… odd?” Applejack answered tentatively, shaking her head a little. “I ain’t sure I can really properly describe it. Back in Equestria I was always pretty strong, even for an earth pony, but if’n that table was anything to go by I’m a right ton stronger than I was before.” She stopped, looking down at her new hands, flexing them a little before continuing. “I guess… it’s a mite frightening, really. I ain’t sure if I’m gonna end up hurting somepony by accident. If I can knock over… what was it called, a truck? If I can knock over one’a those without even trying, I’m almost scared to try even touchin’ another pony… person…”

She looked back up towards Agent Walters to see her frowning, looking a little downcast. “I take it that wasn’t the answer y’all was lookin’ for, huh?” AJ asked.

The agent shook her head. “N-no, I just…” she stuttered for a minute before sighing. “...It’s stupid.”

Applejack might not have known how to handle her own feelings sometimes - certainly not the roiling pit of raw emotion she was feeling in the face of the crisis that had been thrust upon her just now - but she prided herself on being dependable and reliable as she could possibly be. And if there was one thing she knew how to do (besides how to farm apples) it was how to lend an ear to a pony - or person - in need. And there was definitely something eating at the Walters girl.

“It clearly ain’t.” Applejack said, scooting a little closer so that her legs hung off the edge of the bed. She leaned forward towards Walters. “Talk to me. What’s on yer mind?”

Agent Walters looked hesitant for a moment, looking at AJ with soulful, big brown eyes. For a second it looked like she would stay guarded, but she relented with a small sigh. “When I was a little girl… I was diagnosed with Leukemia.”

Applejack had no idea what that was, but the weight of the agent’s words, along with the clear word choice that was ‘diagnosed’ told her it was obviously some kind of terrible disease. “I’m sorry,” AJ offered.

“It made me so sick,” Walters continued, idly rubbing her arm with one hand, “And the chemotherapy… you know what that is?” AJ shook her head and she explained, “It’s a treatment for very specific kinds of diseases… but the treatment basically involves fighting the disease itself with powerful toxins. The only way to fight these diseases is basically by poisoning the patient.”

AJ grimaced. “That’s downright awful,” she said.

Walters nodded. “It’s the most effective treatment for Leukemia and other cancers, though. But I couldn’t keep anything I ate down. And I was so young… Even after the disease was gone I was so weak and sickly that I couldn’t leave the hospital for months. And when I did, I didn’t bounce back the way I was supposed to. I could barely walk, let alone go to school and play sports with the other kids.”

She continued, pulling her glasses off her face and rubbing at her eyes a little. “I had to be homeschooled. I had no friends and my father was a policeman so he wasn’t around all that often. I only had my mother for company… and my cousin, when he came over.”

“Your cousin?” AJ asked, feeling her eyes start to mist at the poor girl’s story.

Walters smiled a little at that. “Bruce,” she answered. “He came over a lot. He kept me company, even though he was a lot older than I was. Part of it was because his father… well… he was a very bad man and let’s just leave it at that,” she muttered, wincing. AJ decided not to probe further as she continued. “But he spent time with me even though I was just a kid. Played with me even though I can guarantee that having tea parties with stuffed animals wasn’t very interesting to him. He was like a big brother to me.”

Applejack wiped at an eye. “...I know how that is,” she said softly.

Walters sighed again. “...But then the Leukemia came back” she said with a grimace. “And after my bad experience with the chemotherapy the first time, they weren’t willing to try it again. Bruce, though… he saved my life. He offered to give me a bone marrow transplant and the treatment took. I’ve been cancer free ever since.”

“That’s good, though, right?” AJ asked.

“Of course!” the agent agreed. “But… the damage had already been done. I’d spent so much of my childhood being a weak, sickly mess… not being able to eat properly and not getting any sun or exercise and with my immune system so completely shot… that it completely stunted my growth. When puberty finally hit it…” she motioned to herself, “...well, it didn’t.

Applejack wasn’t sure she fully understood. There weren’t many accounts like Ms. Walters’ back in Equestria. But she’d gathered that Ms. Walters was smaller than was normal for humans, and compared to the agent that confronted her in the desert, as well as that Maria Hill agent, she seemed very thin.

“I was finally able to go to school with other children,” Walters explained, “but I got made fun of. A lot. All the other girls made fun of me for being short and flat, and none of the boys would even look at me.” She looked down at her feet, shuffling them a little. “And by that time, Bruce had gone off to university.”

“I’m so sorry,” Applejack said, tears forming in the corners of her eyes.

Walters sniffled a little, but quickly turned it into a chuckle and flashed AJ a rueful grin. “Well, it’s fine,” she said, placing her glasses back over her eyes. “I turned out alright in the end. I’m a little small and scrawny, but I managed to make valedictorian in high school, and I managed to get my law degree and join SHIELD, so I think I’m doing pretty well for myself, all things considered.”

She paused for a moment before continuing. “I guess… I’ve just always wanted to know what it’s like to be big and strong… like my cousin.”

“Is your cousin an athlete or something?” AJ asked.

At that, Walters actually let out a peal of laughter. The tiny woman practically doubled over, clutching her belly as she descended into a seemingly endless giggle fit. A straight minute went by as Applejack bemusedly watched the agent, previously so somber, now belting out belly laughs before finally settling back into a position where she could talk again. “Hahah! Hooo~ Brucey an athlete? Hah! No!” She giggled, wiping her eyes again. “No way. He’s a scientist.”

Applejack blinked. Scientists weren’t generally the type of people she pictured as being big and strong. Before she could speak up, though, Walters continued. “Besides, I don’t think he’s really in a position to... appreciate his strength.

The statement did nothing but confuse Applejack, but she merely raised an eyebrow in lieu of any verbal response.

Walters chuckled. “Sorry… I’m legitimately unsure exactly how much I can tell you about my cousin. Honestly, though? The mere fact that I’m here suggests you might actually be able to meet him sooner rather than later.”

Now Applejack was thoroughly confused. Why would Agent Walters being here mean that her cousin would be coming as well? It’s not like she was going to hold some kind of family reunion or anything, was it? Applejack quickly shook her head, deciding it wasn’t a line of questioning she should bother pursuing. She was trapped in some kind of spy headquarters and who knew how such people thought? Even if she could figure out their motives, Walters had already hinted that there was some classified information she’d already bandied about.

Instead, AJ simply smiled and replied. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Walters nodded before leaning back in her chair and sighing wistfully once again. “I guess… I just wanted to know what being big and strong was like from… somebody who could properly verbalize it.”

Once again, AJ let the odd part of her comment slip by and shrugged. “I’m sorry my answer weren’t what you were looking for.”

“I guess I was just hoping that someone with that kind of strength might be able to appreciate it for once,” the agent muttered softly before falling silent. The pair of them were quiet for a minute or two, neither really able to meet the others eyes, before Walters finally hummed lightly “I have an idea,” she said, pushing herself out of her chair.

Applejack blinked. “Eh?”

Agent walters strode across the room towards her, pulling off her glasses as she approached. She didn’t hesitate as she held them out towards her. “Take my glasses,” she said.

Applejack was taken aback. “But… don’t y’all need them to see?” she asked.

“Oh definitely,” the tiny agent answered with a nod. “But you aren’t going to break them.”

The certainty that the agent spoke with took Applejack by complete surprise. The massive pony-turned-woman fidgeted a little, feeling a bead of nervous sweat form upon her brow. “I-I-” she sputtered before finally formulating a sentence “Are you nuts?!” she said with a frown. “Didn’t y’all see what I did to the table?!” she said, motioning to the pile of scraps and splinters that had once been a coffee table.

Agent Walters nodded. “You’re strong, but I think you can control it.”

Applejack shook her head. “I can’t, though! Back in the truck--” she started to say before Walters cut her off.

“You were panicked and confused back in the truck, right?” Walters asked. “It makes sense that you’d lash out without any control.” Applejack didn’t reply, only looking down at her new hands thoughtfully. Walters took that as cue to continue. “But we have plenty of really strong humans here on Earth… not as strong as you, certainly, but we have our bodybuilders and our strongmen. I’ve watched YouTube videos of people deadlifting well over a thousand pounds and chaining themselves to fire trucks and dragging them for over a hundred feet!”

Applejack took pause at that. While it was true, pulling a heavy load was a very different action from pushing something over - something she knew from her years of manual labor - but if these trucks were anywhere near the size of the one she knocked over, then that was no casual feat.

Walters continued. “Our strongmen are perfectly capable of being gentle and careful when they need to. They can control their strength, and I think you can too!” she explained, holding her glasses out a little further. “Take them,” she said.

AJ blinked nervously. What she said made sense, really. Her brother was able to move buildings around when he was motivated enough, but he was always gentle as a kitten around her, Granny, Winona, and Applebloom. It was her strength, so she should be able to control it, right?

Still, she couldn’t help but be nervous. “What if I break them?” she asked.

Agent Walters shrugged. “Then I guess I’ll be bumping into walls until I can replace them,” she said glibly.

Something struck Applejack as off about that statement. Perhaps it was the sheer casualness with which she admitted that she wouldn’t be able to see. Or perhaps it was how okay she sounded with the prospect. Whatever it was, it took AJ a little off guard. Still, if she didn’t have a problem with it, then Applejack couldn’t rightly refuse.

And, to be fair, it was a problem that she desperately needed to address, now that she thought about it. She’d already hurt some people back when she knocked over the truck. AJ simply couldn’t abide it if she ended up accidentally hurting anyone else. But if she didn’t learn to control her strength, what would the alternative be? Locking herself away in a cabin in the woods? She’d already objected to the idea of being locked up in a mental institution when Coulson and Samson had spoken to her; why would isolating herself be any different?

AJ let out a shuddering, nervous sigh. “...Alright,” she said, finally.

Agent Walters gave her an encouraging nod and held out her glasses a little closer to her. Applejack gulped, reaching out with one hand towards the fragile spectacles. Gingerly, she grasped the frames of one of the lenses between her thumb and her forefinger, wincing as she took them and--

The glasses didn’t break.

AJ paused, blinking for a moment before breaking out in a grin. “Well whaddaya know? I did it!”

“That’s great!” Agent Walters said, clasping her hands together. “Now hold them tighter!”

Once more, Applejack felt blindsided.

“Come again?” she asked.

“You can’t just have two settings, Miss Applejack,” Walters explained. “You can’t just be ‘perfectly gentle’ or ‘the unstoppable juggernaut’ all the time. You need to be able to control how much strength you put into things!”

Again, she couldn’t fault her logic. Back on the farm, there was a certain level of strength she had to buck her apple trees with. Too soft and they wouldn’t give up their fruit. Too hard and she risked hurting the trees. Still…

“I dunno,” AJ said hesitantly.

“It’s easy,” Agent Walters said. “Just slowly hold them tighter and tighter until you don’t think you can hold them any tighter without them breaking. And don’t worry about me.”

Applejack huffed, looking back down at the glasses between her fingers. She fidgeted for a moment before strengthening her resolve and taking a deep breath.

She held the glasses a little tighter…

...and then a little tighter…

...and then tighter still…

Applejack marveled a little at how easy it was to control her newfound strength as she held the glasses even tighter between her fingers. It was true, she felt like there was no effort put into her squeeze, but as she always could at her normal level of strength, she could sense how much pressure she was putting on the spectacles and could get some degree of an idea of how fragile they were. After a good minute of squeezing the frame around the lens tighter and tighter, she smiled and finally eased off, looking up at Jen with a beaming smile. “I did it!” she cheered, holding the glasses back out to Walters.

“I knew you could!” Jen said, taking the glasses back and placing them back upon her face.

Then the lens popped out of the frame.

Walters blinked. Applejack gasped, immediately starting to fret. “Ah, shoot, Miss Walters, I’m powerful sorry! I knew I wouldn’t be able to--” she started to say before Agent Walters held out a finger to silence her. She bent over and picked up the lens off the floor, taking her glasses off in her other hand. Straightening back up, she held out the glasses and the popped lens out for AJ to see. The lens, despite being released from its frame, was still perfectly pristine.

“Not a scratch!” Jen said as she held up the lens. She looked down at the frames. The frame that AJ had been squeezing was a little warped and bent out of shape. “I mean, okay, maybe your control isn’t perfect but you still didn’t crack the lens, so you must have better control than you first thought, right, Miss Applejack?”

AJ wrung her hands a little. “I… I guess?” she muttered. “I still done wrecked your glasses though,” she said guiltily.

Agent Walters chuckled. “Don’t worry about that.” she said, reaching into the inner breast pocket of her suit and pulling out a small black case. “I have a spare.”

Applejack gaped. “Say what.” she stuttered as Walters opened the case, revealing a spare set of glasses and pulling them out, replacing them with the damaged glasses and slipping them back into her suit. As she placed the new glasses over her eyes AJ frowned, pointing an accusatory finger at the tiny agent. “Y’all done tricked me!”

Agent Walters giggled mischievously. “Welllllll... technically I said I'd be bumping into walls until I could replace them. I just didn't tell you I had a replacement on hand!" She winked at AJ. AJ scowled at her. Finally, Jen relented. "Okay, maybe I tricked you a little,” she admitted with a shrug, “But I figured that if you thought they were the only pair I had you’d be more invested in the exercise.”

AJ huffed.

“Oh don’t be like that, Miss Applejack,” Walters said “We found out that you can control your strength better than you expected, didn’t we?” Applejack crossed her arms, still frowning.

Walters frowned nervously. “H-hey… Alright, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you, Miss Applejack.”

AJ raised an eyebrow at her. “I’ll forgive y’all on one condition, Agent Walters.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

Applejack smiled. “Y’all need to stop calling me ‘Miz Applejack,’” she replied. “Just Applejack is fine. Or AJ. ‘Swhat my friends call me.”

Agent Walters beamed. “Your friends, huh?” she said, her grin threatening to split her face. “Alright, AJ, you have a deal-- but only if you stop calling me Agent Walters. You can call me Jennifer. Or Jen or Jenny if you prefer.”

AJ grinned, holding out a hand. “It’s a deal, Jenny.”

Jennifer reached out and grabbed hold of the massive woman’s hand, shaking it firmly. Her grip was iron-- but not painful.

That was when a knock came at the door.

The two women turned, releasing each other as the door to the room whooshed open revealing Agent Maria Hill carrying a manila folder. The stoic, unflappable agent raised an eyebrow as she cast her scrutinizing gaze over the two of them, lingering for a while over Jennifer. The moment quickly passed though as she turned her gaze back towards AJ.

“Miss Applejack,” the agent greeted.

Applejack’s brow creased for a moment before she managed to get herself back under control. She nodded in return. “Agent Hill.”

The senior agent strode properly and with practiced posture as she stepped further into the room. “I’m afraid I owe you an apology, Miss Applejack.”

AJ blinked. That hadn’t been what she’d expecting. Agent Hill had previously seemed so confrontational and suspicious of her. The sudden turnaround was, frankly, rather jarring.

“For what?” AJ ventured.

Hill straightened up, the picture of professionalism, though AJ swore she could detect a wince before it was quickly hidden beneath her unflappable surface. This was a woman, Applejack could tell, who abhorred admitting when she was wrong.

“Doctor Samson has brought to my attention,” Hill explained, “that I may have misjudged you earlier. I apologize. It has been an… unusually hectic day for us, but the fact remains that the suspicion I cast upon you was unwarranted.”

Applejack frowned. “Y’all still don’t believe I am what I say I am though, do ya?”

Hill was silent.

AJ let out a long, drawn out breath. “I… suppose I can’t blame y’all. If a pony wandered onto my farm claiming they were actually a magicless ape-alien from another dimension… well I guess I’d be mighty skeptical myself.”

Hill’s nose wrinkled. It looked like she was holding back a grimace. “To be fair, it was irrational of me to assume that you had anything to do with the attack earlier today. We’ve long since confirmed that you were, in fact, in that tube for the past sixty-seven years. There was no way you could be associated.”

Applejack paused, raising an eyebrow. “True enough, but that don’t really confirm my story ‘neither,” she said, trying to pry more out of the agent.

“No it doesn’t,” Hill admitted before holding out the manila folder towards AJ, “but this comes close.”

Applejack took the folder between her fingers, looking at it quizzically for a moment before flipping it open. Inside were four sheets of paper, looking something like identification or application sheets. In the top left corner of each page was a grainy, black-and-white photograph, each depicting a different woman. “What’s this?” AJ asked.

“When we realized where SHIELD’s predecessors found you, we recognized that there was only a small pool of women that could have possibly been in the area at that time,” Hill explained. “During the war against the Nazis, very few women took part in the battles compared to the number of men. In total, roughly 350,000 American women fought in the war, and of those women, only 16 were confirmed killed.”

Applejack’s mind boggled at the number Agent Hill had just casually thrown about. “Three Hundred Fifty THOUSAND?!” Applejack shouted. “That’s a ton of women gone to war, Agent! How many of your menfolk could have possibly fought in the war?!”

Agent Hill didn’t miss a beat. “Well over sixteen million.”

AJ’s mind came to a screeching halt. Sixteen million was approaching half the population of Equestria. The sheer concept of such a massive force threatened to break her brain as she tried to suss out what such an army would look like. Just how many of these humans were there?! And what kind of war could have ever warranted so many of them to fight?

Agent Hill continued unabated, as if she hadn’t just dropped such head-exploding knowledge on an alien who couldn’t begin to fathom military forces that large. “The important point is that, of the 350,000 women who fought in the war, only a couple hundred ever spent any time as prisoners of war, and nearly all of them are accounted for. The vast majority were rescued and, as stated, only sixteen were confirmed killed. Of all the women that went to war in that conflict, only four were declared as ‘missing in action.’”

Applejack broke out of her trance to leaf through the pages that Agent Hill had handed her. “And these are them?”

Hill nodded. “They are.”

Applejack leafed through the pages. One of the women had significantly darker skin than she did. Two of them had darker hair. The final woman did have blonde hair like AJ, but her features were still quite different.

Hill noticed AJ looking over the blonde woman’s page and spoke up. “Madeline Joyce,” She said. “At first we thought you might be her, but when we discovered that she was from Washington DC we realized it wasn’t likely. It was possible that, if you were caught by the Nazis and experimented on, your physical body might have been altered, explaining the different features...” Agent Hill explained, “...but it didn’t line up with the way you speak.”

“The way I speak?” Applejack queried.

“I’m sure you can’t know this,” Hill said, “but your accent is incredibly similar to somebody hailing from the American south.” She shook her head as she continued, “We can’t be sure why, but it was our best lead. And it didn’t pan out. Not only did Madeline Joyce not come from the South, but none of the other women did either. They hailed from Chicago, Boston, and Poughkeepsie. Even if the Nazis had radically altered their bodies, there would never be any reason for them to sound like they’d just rolled in off a Texas ranch.”

Applejack, of course, didn’t recognize any of the locations that Hill had just rattled off. She was able to intuit, though, that none of these places could be described as ‘the south,’ while this ‘Texas’ must. “So what does that mean for me?” she finally asked, “That mean I am what I say I am?”

“It means,” Hill began, “that there’s no conceivable reason for a woman who sounds like she’s from Dixie to have ever been inside an experimental Nazi capsule. Which means there’s no explanation for where you could have come from, no hint at your identity, and, currently, no better rationalization for your very existence than the explanation you provided for us.”

Despite herself, Applejack couldn’t help but grin a little. “So I am what I say I am, then.”

Agent Hill bit the inside of her cheek and huffed out her nose. “Unless further intel arises to the contrary… that is the assumption we are working under.”

Applejack flashed Jennifer a cheeky grin. “Y’all hear that, Jen? You’re friends with an alien!” Jen giggled.

With that in mind…” Hill stated firmly, with a quick, pointed glance at the smaller agent, “I believe Agent Walters had some paperwork prepared for the unlikely but potential eventuality that we could not properly identify you.” She arched an eyebrow. “If you would, Agent?”

Jennifer blinked dumbly for a split moment as she was put on the spot. She stuttered a little and quickly put herself into motion. “Y-yes, of course Agent Hill!” she said with a clumsy salute, rushing over to the briefcase she’d left on the table. Popping the case open, she pulled out a hefty stack of forms.

Applejack wrinkled her nose. “What in tarnation’s all that?”

Jen opened her mouth to explain but Agent Hill beat her to the punch. “I’m afraid, Miss Applejack, that you’re going to need proper identification.”

“Identification?” Applejack scowled. “What, y’all gonna slap a tracking collar on me or something?”

Jen scratched the back of her head. “Well… not quite that intrusive…”

Hill shook her head, elaborating. “In this country people can’t just wander around without any sort of identification. Generally, for people like yourself who weren’t born, there would be a process you’d have to go through where you’d apply for citizenship and eventually be awarded the paperwork you need to build a life in this country. Given your… unorthodox origins, though, SHIELD has opted to expedite the process and push you through faster. You’ll be given a Social Security number, a Passport, a voter ID card… we can even mock up a birth certificate and some job and credit history for you if you require it.”

“It’s legal when we do it,” Jen chuckled with a sly smile. Hill cast a glare at Jennifer, though, and she quickly shut up with a soft squeak.

Applejack frowned. “Now hang on a minute, why are we doing this? Y’all are just… granting me citizenship in your country? Just like that? I ain’t even seen your country ‘sides from the desert I ran about naked in!”

“Trust me, Miss Applejack” Agent Hill said firmly, “this is for everyone’s benefit. The United States of America needs to have paperwork filed on you for matters of national security. In the event that you might commit a crime or you need to be contacted, there needs to be information on you readily available.”

“I ain’t planning on committing any crimes,” Applejack growled.

“I don’t expect you are,” Hill replied. “Nevertheless, it’s what the US government requires, and I’m afraid that there is little other choice.”

“But why?” Applejack insisted. “Why are y’all being so pushy about this? What if I don’t want to be a citizen of a country I know nothing about?!”
Hill and Jen looked at each other silently for a moment. Jennifer winced, fidgeting with her pen awkwardly and Hill sighed before turning back to Applejack. “Miss Applejack,” she said slowly, “where do you intend to go?”

The shift in gears caused Applejack to pause. “What do you mean?”

“Exactly what I said, Miss Applejack,” Hill replied. “I’m sure you don’t need me to explain your own situation to you, but… assuming your story is factual, you are lost on an alien planet with no support network, no personal history, and no documentation.” Applejack’s ire swiftly drained away as Hill’s weighty words settled upon her soul, her earlier despair from her time in the shower quickly resurfacing.

Hill ran a hand through her hair and massaged her forehead for a moment. A sympathetic glimmer in her eyes had replaced her normally impassive air when she spoke next. “As Deputy Director of SHIELD… I recognize that our organization has done you a great wrong. Whatever the circumstances of your imprisonment by the Nazis, whatever the other artifacts we recovered did… it was a major failing on our part to leave you trapped in that capsule for nearly seventy years.” Hill spoke more hesitantly now, less of the practiced professionalism leaking into her voice. “And... I’m afraid, even now that you’ve finally been released, we’re incapable of returning you to where you came from.”

And there it was. The words Applejack knew had been coming, but had been dreading ever since the reality of her situation had come to light.

It was strange. Applejack felt like she should have broken down again. That she should have curled into a ball and silently wept. That she should have screamed at them to get out and leave her alone to mourn for her lost home… her lost friends and family…

But she didn’t. In a sick sort of way, it was almost a relief that she couldn’t go back. She wouldn’t have to go back and look out over the gravestone of her surely-expired Granny. She wouldn’t have to rip open old wounds that would have surely long healed in her friends and remaining family.

It did, however, bring Hill’s words into sharp relief. Where did she intend to go? If she couldn’t go back to Equestria, then what was she to do? She couldn’t spend the rest of her life weeping in the corner of this cell - even if that’s what she felt like doing right about now.

The pony-turned-human wilted, her shoulders sagging and her hair falling in front of her face. She let out a long breath, clenching and unclenching her fists as she stared at the floor. She took deep breaths, desperately trying to keep her composure as she spoke. “So… all this…?”

In a rare show of humanity, Hill stepped forward and placed a hand on Applejack’s shoulder. She winced, but didn’t resist as Hill continued to speak. “Agent Coulson said that SHIELD was going to do everything it could to make it up to you. This is something we can do,” she explained. ““This… Applejack… is an official apology from SHIELD. We plan to do whatever we can now to compensate you for our mistake, even though I know it can’t be… it can never be enough.”

Applejack was silent for a long moment before sighing and slumping forward. She slowly looked up at Hill. “So all this talk about making me a citizen of your country…?” she ventured.

“The first steps to helping you start a new life here.” Hill gestured to the table and the stacks upon stacks of papers that Jen had unloaded. “Fast tracking you to citizenship… helping you build an identity… frankly that’s the least we could do at this juncture.”

The room was silent as Applejack considered all the bombshells that had been dropped on her over the past day. Her thoughts quickly started blurring together as it all threatened to overwhelm her and send her back into a fit of tears. It was simply too much to process. Applejack was just on the verge of breaking down again when she felt a pair of arms wrap around her.

AJ jolted a little, looking up to see that Jen had stood up from behind the table and wrapped Applejack in a hug. As best she could, anyway. The diminutive woman seemed to be having trouble wrapping her arms around AJ’s amazonian stature. The hug did it’s job though, and AJ felt the stress slowly start melting away. Her breathing steadied and her thoughts slowly cleared. The silence stretched on and on, until, with one last sigh, Applejack finally spoke.

“Alright.”

Hill nodded, standing up straighter, her practiced professionalism working its way back in, though she didn’t seem quite as harsh as she had previously. “Very good, then,” she said, clearing her throat. Jen released Applejack from her hug and retreated back behind the table, continuing to organize the paperwork, but keeping a watchful eye on her new friend. “Now, I know you don’t know much about the United States, but I do feel like it would be the best fit for you. Technically we could place you in any country represented by the World Council that oversees SHIELD, but I’m not certain you’d fit well in the United Kingdom or Australia. Your accent would make you stand out pretty prominently and it might make it harder for you to integrate. And I somehow doubt you speak the languages of any of the other member nations.”

AJ gave a defeated shrug. “I guess it’s as good a place as any to start. Not like I know one from the other.” She looked up at Hill. “What’s this ‘United States’ like, though?”

Hill actually blinked. “That’s… a bit of a hefty question,” she said, taking a minute to try and formulate a response. “We’re a first world, democratic republic with the largest economy on the planet and over 300 million inhabitants. We’re a diverse nation with people coming from all sorts of different cultures and walks of life, but connected… ideally, anyway… by a devotion to the ideas of liberty, truth, and justice.”

Applejack arched an eyebrow. “Ideally?”

Hill shrugged. “It doesn’t always work out that way, but those are the standards that most of us would like to hold ourselves to. In a nation with over 300 million people though…”

AJ chuckled ruefully. “I guess it’d be pretty silly to expect every last one of them to be a good egg, wouldn’t it?”

Hill nodded. “The government tends to get things a little tied up in knots keeping such a massive nation running, too.”

The human-turned-pony scratched the back of her head. “I suppose it would…” she muttered, mulling over the exorbitant number of people living in the country. Had she not been struck numb by the recent conversation her head surely would have been spinning. Instead, all she could say was, “Three hundred million… wow.” Hill nodded once more in agreement. “Equestria’s only got about forty million ponies living in it… I can’t imagine how y’all handle it.”

“We… do our best,” Hill said, not really answering the question.

“I suppose it ain’t fair of me, asking y’all to sum up your country like that.” Applejack said, idly scratching her arm. “Wouldn’t be so easy for me to try and sum up Equestria like that.”

“I imagine.”

AJ let out a long, slow breath. “Alright… I guess we’re doing this then.”

Hill nodded, motioning for Jennifer to get started. “Very good,” she said, moving right behind Jen to oversee her work. She motioned for Applejack to join them at the table. AJ hefted herself off the bed and slowly, unsteadily made her way over to the mountain of paperwork. “Now the first order of business,” Hill said, her professionalism back in full, “Your new name.”

Applejack grimaced. “My name too?”

Hill nodded solemnly. “Applejack isn’t exactly a human name, I’m afraid. If you want to blend in and integrate it would be easier if you picked a new name.”

AJ massaged her forehead with her new fingers, rubbing at her eyes a little. She’d already lost so much and now they wanted her to take a new name too? It tasted foul in Applejack’s mouth. They were already proposing that she mock up a birth certificate and work history - that she lie to her new, fellow citizens about her origins - and now they wanted her to lie about her name too?

“It doesn’t have to be too radically different,” Hill said, sensing Applejack’s reluctance. “We have names that sound similar. Jacqueline, for example.”

“Not to mention all the variations that human names tend to have.” Jen piped up. “You’ve got ‘Jacqueline’ with a C-Q-U-E, or Jacelyn with a C-E-L,” she tried to explain.

Applejack couldn’t make heads or tails of what she was saying though. It sounded like Jen had simply said exactly the same name twice. Distantly she remembered Twilight going on about ‘homophones’ at some point in the past but she quickly shook it off. This whole ‘variations on names’ thing only served to confuse her already addled brain. She rubbed at her temples and shook her head. “That one. The second one I guess,” she said, hardly favoring either name and simply wishing to get the process over with.

“Jacelyn?” Jen asked, scribbling it down when Applejack nodded.

“And your surname could be something Apple related,” Hill continued. “Plenty of human surnames are merely compound words. Apple-something?”

“Applewood?” Jen suggested. Hill looked over at her as if to explain and Jen shrugged. “It just sounds nice to me?”

“Applewood is fine.” AJ said with a long, drawn out sigh.

Hill nodded towards Jennifer. “Jacelyn Applewood then,” she said with a final nod. Something seemed to occur to her then and she looked down at a watch on her wrist. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave you ladies here now, though. It’s still a very hectic day here and I’m needed elsewhere,” she said, looking back up at AJ. “Miss Applewood,” she said, holding out her hand. Applejack winced at the use of her new name, but reached out with her own hand and shook Hill’s anyway. “I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again very soon. In the meantime, Agent Walters will sort you out with all the necessary paperwork.” Hill broke the handshake and nodded a goodbye to Jennifer. “Agent Walters,” she said, passing by her and stepping towards the exit. The doors ‘whooshed’ open in front of her.

“And Applejack,” she said, one final time, turning back towards the room’s interior.

“Yeah?” AJ asked.

“For what little it’s worth… I really am sorry.” She said one final time. Applejack was silent but nodded in response. And with that, Agent Hill stepped out of the room, the doors ‘whooshing’ shut behind her.

There was silence in the small, white room once more. Applejack slumped against the wall, once more trying to take time to process everything that had just happened. Just as before, though, her thoughts quickly fell into an incoherent swirl and she threatened to break down once again, until Jennifer cleared her throat, snapping her out of her reverie.

“You okay?” Jen asked.

Applejack shook her head. “Not in the slightest.”

Jen chuckled darkly. “I suppose that was a stupid question,” she said, standing up from the table again and putting a hand on AJ’s arm. “I’m sorry.”

AJ shook her head. “Can y’all just promise me something?” she asked.

Jennifer cocked her head. “What’s that?”

Applejack paused, trying to collect her thoughts and words before continuing. “I… I want somebody to know the truth. My real name…” she said, looking into Jennifer’s big, brown eyes. “I know everybody ‘round here is probably gonna start calling me ‘Miss Applewood’ or something like that now but… it’d mean a lot to me if y’all would keep calling me AJ.”

“Of course,” Jen said, pulling Applejack into a hug. “Of course I can.”

Applejack wrapped her large arms around the tiny woman, careful to be gentle with her as she continued. “And don’t worry, Applejack,” said Jen, “I’ll help you however I can.”

AJ let out a lamentable laugh. “Y’all sure you won’t be too busy being a high-falutin spy-lawyer?”

“Hey, come on now,” Jen said, breaking the hug and patting her on the arm. “I wouldn’t just leave a friend hanging.”

Jen’s words resounded through Applejack’s core, sounding all too similar to a friend she’d just lost. Her heart skipped. Part of AJ wanted to scream and throw Jen away in that moment, not ready to replace what she’d lost. Another part of her needed to hold onto her all the tighter and never let go. Applejack did the best she could to keep it all bottled up inside her, only a single tear escaping from her as she nodded in response. “G-Good…” she stuttered, gulping a little “Good to hear…”

This time Jen seemed to miss Applejack’s inner turmoil as she shrugged with a small chuckle. “Besides, this is the biggest operation I’ve ever been in on, and I’m pretty sure it’s because my cousin is involved,” she said, bringing up that elusive cousin of hers once again. Applejack couldn’t help but wonder just what was so special about Bruce, but continued to shelve it for later. “Once this is all over I’m sure I’ll go back to just being a lowly third-level legal agent.”

Jennifer patted AJ’s arm once more. “We’ll get you through this, Applejack. Don’t you worry.”

Applejack gulped back her sorrow once more and nodded. “Thanks, Jen.”

“No problem,” Jen said with a wide smile, turning her head to look at the massive mountain of paperwork. “Now… I suppose we should get started…”


FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2012 - 1:12 AM
SHIELD HELICARRIER HOLDING CELLS. TEN MILES OFF THE NEW YORK COAST.


Filling out all the paperwork had taken Jennifer and Applejack three excruciating hours. Every last little sheet of paper seemed to be covered in some sort of legal jargon that Jen helpfully tried to explain, but AJ simply couldn’t get her head around. AJ had managed to gather that, as a citizen of the United States of America, she enjoyed the right to freedom of expression, due process, the right to vote, live, and work within the borders of the country, and receive federal assistance under certain circumstances. She’d have to pay taxes, but that was true of any nation. Even Equestria taxed their citizens.

One thing Applejack had been forced to quickly get used to was writing with her strange, new fingers. Apparently a lot of the forms that Jen had helped her fill out required a signature or for her to write her initials somewhere. Applejack had also been surprised to find that, while Equestria and this new world shared a spoken language (something that still didn’t make a whole lot of sense when she bothered to think about it), for some reason the two worlds didn’t share a written language or alphabet. There were some characters in the ‘Latin Alphabet’ that vaguely resembled some of the characters in the Equestrian alphabet, but the letters they corresponded to didn’t match up.

In the end, Jennifer couldn’t spend what little time they had together teaching AJ how to read. She instead helped Applejack learn how to write and sign her name for the time being, and AJ vowed to try and learn how to read this new language sometime in the future. Applejack managed to pick up the motion she needed to copy her new signature somewhat quicker than she’d expected, all things considered. She’d come to the conclusion that, strange and foreign as they were, fingers were incredibly useful.

Hundreds upon hundreds of papers and several hours later, they had finally managed to make their way through all of the required paperwork. The hour was pushing eleven and Jen was clearly getting tired if her yawning and fidgeting was any indication. The small girl finally excused herself and, with a final departing hug, had left AJ to get some sleep. Apparently something big was going to be going down the next day and she had to be rested for it. Applejack assumed, given all the hints that she’d dropped throughout the day, that it had something to do with Jen’s cousin coming to town.

AJ laid down on the rough fibers of her comforter. She refused to get back under the covers and back into the sticky, dirty, sandy mess she’d left between the sheets earlier, instead just opting to lie atop them. Alone with her thoughts, she felt like she might fall back into the well of despair that she’d felt earlier in the day but instead she simply found herself feeling numb. Numb and exhausted. At this point it was just too much to take it all in and she found her head aching when she tried to enact the effort of processing everything that had happened. So bone tired and emotionally drained she was, that it was little wonder that she quickly fell back, once again, into a fitful sleep.

It was only a couple hours later, though, that Applejack was awakened once more by the telltale ‘whoosh’ of the automatic doors. AJ came dazedly to wakefulness, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and blinking. She sat up. The lights had been dimmed at some point, but she could still see clear enough to make out the figure standing by the door. “Hello? Who’zat?” she called out.

“Miss Applewood,” came a low, rich, familiar voice. “Or I suppose you’d still prefer Applejack?”

AJ blinked, taking a second to place the voice before it came to her. “...Director Fury?” she asked.

The imposing, dark skinned man stepped closer into the dimmed light allowing Applejack a better look. She was surprised to see he looked… sad? The man’s features were always a little intimidating, what with the eyepatch and goatee, but there was something AJ couldn’t place about him that seemed regretful.

Looking down, AJ noticed a tray in his hands. She blinked a little when she realized that it was covered in various types of foods. It was only then that she realized the severe pit of emptiness in her stomach. She hadn’t eaten for a whole day, she realized. In fact, if she wanted to be completely accurate, she hadn’t actually eaten in sixty seven years! Her stomach, now aware of that fact, let out an angry growl.

The side of Director Fury’s mouth twitched up in a wry smirk at the noise. “Figured you might be hungry. I apologize. With everything that’s been happening mealtime seems to have slipped through the cracks today.”

Applejack straightened up to get a better look at just what was on the tray. It didn’t look anything too fancy. She spied what looked to be a small mound of mashed potatoes aside what might have been creamed spinach. There was a fruit cup filled with what looked to be grapes and various melon cuts. One little dish appeared to be filled with some kind of beans. The main course seemed to be a big plate of macaroni and cheese. AJ felt her mouth begin to water at the sight of it all.

Director Fury held it out to her, along with a plastic fork and spoon, allowing her to take it all in her hands. “Heard about where you came from. Figured if the gifted down in the holding cells used to be a pony she’d want something more vegetarian.”

AJ barely heard him, only nodding as she stuffed her mouth full of macaroni. She barely had the restraint to use the offered flatware, nearly shoving her face into the food directly as she would have when she was still a pony.

The Director was silent as he grabbed hold of one of the arm chairs surrounding the ex-coffee table, turning it towards the ravenous Applejack and sitting down in it. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees and folding his hands in front of him. He was silent for a few minutes as he allowed AJ to eat uninterrupted, the tray balanced precariously on the woman’s crossed thighs. When she neared the end of her meal, he took a deep breath and finally spoke.

“Miss Applejack… I’m afraid I have to ask a favor of you.”

Applejack paused, frowning as she chewed slowly on a mouthful of creamed spinach. Part of her wanted to yell at him; say SHIELD had taken enough from her already. But a part of her managed to cling to rationality long enough to remember that it wasn’t strictly SHIELD’s fault that she was in this new world, and they were already doing their best to apologize for letting her sit in the tube for so long.

She swallowed her bite, looking across the room at Fury quizzically. “What could y’all possibly want from me, Mister Fury?”

There was another beat of silence before Fury spoke again. “Doctor Samson… My agents, Hill and Coulson… they don’t think it right of me to ask this of you. Not after everything you’ve been through. But…” he trailed off.

Now Applejack’s curiosity was firing on all cylinders. Coulson, Hill, and the Doc didn’t want him to ask this favor? What could he possibly be asking her? AJ studied Fury’s face as she swallowed her last bite of fruit, looking into his one good eye. She swore, somewhere beneath his hardened exterior… somewhere in the depths of that one good eye, Fury seemed…

...worried?

“...Go on…” Applejack prompted.

Fury stood, walking over to the mirror that ran along the far wall. He stood silently for a moment, looking deeply into the mirror. He let a long breath out from his nose before continuing. “I’m sure you’ve noticed that there’s something big happening around here, Miss Applejack. Something that my agents might have mentioned in passing, but never really talked about in detail.”

AJ nodded. “Coulson said something about how y’all didn’t need ‘anymore fusses’ roundabout now, and Hill said something about it being ‘unusually hectic’ today.”

Fury turned back to look at her. “That doesn’t even begin to describe it,” he said darkly. He walked back over to the armchair, standing behind it and resting his hands upon the backrest. “I’m afraid, Miss Applejack, that not an hour before you were released from your capsule, our world was attacked by a hostile alien force. An extraterrestrial terrorist calling himself ‘Loki,’ attacked one of our bases, destroying it completely. But not before stealing an artifact of great power right out from under our noses.”

Applejack boggled. Whatever she’d been expecting him to say, it certainly wasn’t that. Though it definitely cast Hill’s initial suspicions about her in a different light.

Actually though, if Applejack were to be honest with herself, then if anything his statement was almost shockingly familiar. After the likes of Nightmare Moon, Discord, Queen Chrysalis, and Sombra, artifacts of great power and enemies wielding vast magical strength were starting to get a little passé.

“I’ll be honest, Miss Applejack,” Fury said slowly. “I’m not sure if my men can stop him. So I’ve been putting together a response team… one made up of exceptional individuals that can fight the battles that normal people simply can’t. People that are stronger, faster, smarter, or more skilled than anyone else out there…” he said, exhaling slowly as he circled back around the chair and sat back down. “...and I’m still not sure it’s going to be enough.”

Applejack frowned. Something deep inside her told her that Fury wasn’t telling the whole truth, but at the same time she couldn’t sense any outright lies either. Perhaps it was simply the fact that he was a spy. Lies were ingrained into his very soul. Nevertheless, at this moment he seemed at least mostly genuine so she let him continue.

“I’m not ashamed to admit,” he continued, “that I am desperate. My world is being threatened by a man wielding a force we are only beginning to comprehend, and he kills for sport. My superiors want me to arm my soldiers with experimental weapons that haven’t been fully tested… weapons that could fail to work at all or even backfire spectacularly. They simply aren't ready. I won't risk the lives of my men like that until I’ve exhausted every other option.”

“So…” Applejack said slowly, having long since figured out where Fury was going with this, “...y’all want me to risk my life for you instead.”

“You’re strong,” Fury said, “And you’re sturdy. You shrugged off a truck crash and several bullets to the head without even a bruise. More importantly, I believe you’re a woman of good, honest character. When Agent Coulson told you some of my agents had been hurt your first instinct was to ask if they were okay. You’re exactly the kind of person the Avengers need.”

Applejack was silent, considering Fury’s words. She was no stranger to fighting battles like the one he seemed to be describing. Her bouts with Nightmare Moon, Discord, and the Changelings all came to mind. She couldn’t help but frown, though, at the prospect of jumping right into another free-for-all. This wasn’t her world. She joined those fights to protect Equestria… to protect her family and friends. And why should she join Fury’s fight when Jen had just worked so hard to set her up with a brand new, quiet, private life?

Jen...

“I know that Agents Hill and Walters have already put a lot of effort into setting you up with a new life here,” Fury went on. “You are under no obligation to join. And nobody will think any less of you if you take your new life and run with it. As promised, SHIELD will provide you with work and credit history, and even a place to live to get you started if you need it,” he said, looking solemn as death as he leaned towards her, “But… desperate as I am… despite my agents’ objections… I feel a need, as Director of SHIELD, to ask you…”

“Jacelyn Applewood… Applejack…” Fury stood and stepped across the room towards the silent woman. He held out a hand to her.

“Will you join the Avengers?”

Time seemed to slow around Applejack. It was a request that Fury had no right to ask. After everything Applejack had been through… everything she’d lost… there was nothing that should have stopped her from screaming at him to get out of her cell. There was nothing that should have stopped her from taking her new paperwork, walking right out of the SHIELD base come the morning, and buying a patch of land to work and grow apples on somewhere. Nothing should even cause her to consider Fury’s request…

and yet

Applejack’s eyes turned to look down at her hips. There, beneath the exercise shorts she wore, where her cutie mark should be, was naught but a patch of bare skin.

Yes, Applejack should have been able to tell Fury right where he could stuff his Avengers. She should have been able to tell him to take a long walk off a short cliff. His little “favor,” by all rights, was asking her to sacrifice herself for the good of a world she had little to no investment in.

But… of all things… the words of Agent Hill echoed through her head.

Where do you intend to go?

Applejack considered her lost cutie mark. So many ponies assumed that her mark… her purpose... was farming apples. But it wasn’t. It went so much deeper than that. Her purpose wasn’t just to farm apples, it was to manage Sweet Apple Acres.

Sweet Apple Acres.

Home.

Sweet Apple Acres wasn’t just any old apple farm. Sweet Apple Acres was Sweet Apple Acres because of the ponies who lived there. The Apple Family. Big Mac. Applebloom. Granny Smith. Winona.

Sure, she could just take the paperwork that Jen had filled out for her, go out and buy a plot of land, and start farming apples. If she wanted, she could even name her new land ‘Sweet Apple Acres…’

...but it wouldn’t be Sweet Apple Acres. Sweet Apple Acres wasn’t a place. It was the ponies. Her ponies.

That was what made it home.

A home she’d lost.

Lost sixty-seven years in the past and in another world entirely! She was meant to manage it. To enrich and guide and protect it. Her land. Her family. Her home.

And now it was gone. And her purpose in life had gone with it.

Where did she intend to go?

Applejack nearly came apart again right there in front of Director Fury. She wanted to scream and wail and cry and sob. She wanted to lash out. She wanted to curl into a ball and wither away. She wanted to do anything but join Fury’s squad of freaks. But at the same time, she wanted to do anything but go out into this new, strange world so far from home.

What was she going to do?

She clutched her head as the roiling, turbulent thoughts started coming back. The weight of what had happened to her started settling back onto her shoulders, threatening to crush her into dust. She felt like she was going insane!

...Jen...

...The thought cut through the shrieking miasma of her thoughts like a shining blade. Jennifer Walters. Jenny. Jen.

She’d only known her for a day. Less than a day. But she’d reached out to her without hesitation. She’d shared her deepest seated pains with her. She’d helped her manage her own freakish strength. She’d laughed with her when she goofed and held her when she cried. She didn’t call her a freak or a liar over her unbelievable origins. She’d worked so hard in the short time they knew each other to help her build a new life. She did everything she could to make it all bearable for her.

Her kindness managed to cut through AJ’s torment and touch something deep inside her. Kindness she never had to show in the first place. She was her friend.

She may have been a new friend. But so too had Twilight been when they’d first gone off to thwart Nightmare Moon. Applejack could feel it deep inside of her… Jen was a friend worth having.

Her cutie mark. Her purpose

Enrich.

Guide.

Protect.

Jen had said it herself: She wouldn’t leave a friend hanging. And neither could Applejack.

Family? Maybe not. Maybe not yet.

But a friend?

Certainly.

It was something.

It was enough.

If Fury’s ‘Avengers’ were all that stood between this Loki and people like Jennifer…

Applejack looked up. Fury still stood there, arm outstretched. His good eye looked deep into hers. Coulson, Hill, and the Doc may not agree… They were concerned for her… Perhaps that meant they were friends too…

...but she had to do this.

For Jen.

For her friend.

She reached out and took Fury’s hand.

And with a deep breath, she gave him her answer.
_
_
_
_

Author's Note:

And that's when Dusty went off the deep end and crackshipped Applejack and She-Hulk. Hot, sweaty, muscley, amazonian lesbian sex ensued!

So who out there loves a little blunt-force-trauma level foreshadowing delivered with all the subtlety and grace of a brick? Dusty sure does! 8D

Lemme tell ya, the writing mojo was really flowing through me with this chapter. Over 10000 words in only a few days. I can't help but admit to feeling a little proud of myself. Somehow I doubt I'll be able to keep up QUITE such an extraordinary clip, though.

I just hope I don't slow back down to the crawl I was at over the last 8 months.

I hope people don't find all the character development (particularly Jen's) too ham-fisted and forced. Honestly, it just sorta happened. I expected to write a few lines about how Jen was a sickly child so now she's jealous of/admires/wishes desperately to have strength. The whole thing about leukemia, her relationship with her cousin, and everything else just sort of came.

Even the scene with her glasses was something that just kinda happened. I particularly hope people like (or at least don't mind) that one, though. It actually kind of connects to a scene I have in mind for the future.

...far in the future...

...like way far.

That should give you an idea of just how much my brain has been working overtime on this stupid story.

I also hope that the scene with Hill maybe makes people go a little bit easier on her. Hill may be a bitch but she's not a complete bitch.

Fury, on the other hand, might be a complete scumbag. There may be a reason that Applejack didn't get fed until that particular moment. Serve food to the starving captive that you want to join your super-squad at juuuust the moment when you drop on her that you want her to join your super squad? That's not manipulative at all.

I did love writing out AJ's thought process, though, when he made his offer. It ended up getting very train-of-thoughty towards the end, but I like how it turned out. Leading Applejack to confront the depths of her own despair before giving her a glimmer of hope to lead her back out was really rewarding to write.

Also, the bit about her not understanding the English written language is something I might edit out in the future. I personally really like the idea that Equestria has its own unique alphabet that doesn't resemble ours at all, and some episodes of the show have supported that concept with stuff like this:

It's really inconsistent though. You've also got episodes like "Swarm of the Century" where Princess Celestia's welcome banner is clearly written in English. Or "Read it and Weep" where the cover to Daring Do and the Quest for the Sapphire Stone is perfectly legible.
Screw it though. For now at least I feel like keeping that detail in.
All that said, it probably won't be super important to the future of the story, unless I decide to make a one shot side-story chapter somewhere in the future where AJ learns how to read.

Anyway, I hope people don't hate this chapter too much. It's too a long chapter for people to hate.

Next chapter (hopefully) soon!

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!