• Published 20th Dec 2017
  • 5,145 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.

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The Avengers: Ch7

She’d been attacked. It had been a normal--

--fought back. It reeled. It hadn’t expected her to--

--pain. So much pain. Like she was being ripped in two. She was--

--Strange creatures. They held strange weapons. It felt like hundreds of bees were--

--rolling towards her with a massive--

--awoken in darkness, gasping only to choke on her own breath. A clear, viscous--

Applejack was trapped. Trapped in the metal tube. She had to get out. She had to get out!

-

--- --- ---

-

Natasha barely managed to duck away from Applejack’s wild, panicked swing. The hairs on her head rippled in the wake of the larger woman’s fist. AJ’s eyes were wide and panicked, her lungs gasping for breath as her eyes darted this way and that, confused and afraid, seeing but not comprehending. Sweat beaded on her forehead and her heart thrummed in her chest.

Ever unflappable, Natasha quickly sat back up again, putting a hand on the confused girl’s shoulder. “Easy,” she said in a calming voice, “it’s me.”

Applejack blinked, still breathing heavily, heart pounding as she slowly came back to reality. Her wide eyes started taking in the world around her in earnest as her brain caught up to her. She was flat on her back, staring up at the ceiling of the quinjet. The metal floor was cool against the back of her neck, and the hum from the plane’s engines rumbled in her ears. Slowly, the knowledge of where she was and how she got there started to coalesce into a clear picture again and her breathing began to relax. She looked up at Natasha, who’d been kneeling over her, trying to get her to wake up.

“What in tarnation hit me?” Applejack muttered, shifting up onto her elbows to try and sit up, only to wince as a bolt of pain shot through her forehead. Hissing, she grabbed at a spot above her eyebrow and felt it was wet. Pulling her hand away to look at it, she saw it came away red.

“He’s called Thor.” Natasha said, climbing off her and standing up. “Calls himself the god of thunder. SHIELD had a run in with him in New Mexico about a year back, but we thought we’d parted on mostly-friendly terms.”

AJ winced as she slowly stood up, her forehead aching and twinging the whole time. Steadying herself against the wall, she managed to climb to her feet. “Well I don’t know about y’all but where I come from, clobberin’ people with buckin’ hammers ain’t seen as bein’ particularly neighborly.” She shook her head, wincing as she felt a spike of pain run through her skull. “How long was I out?”

“About two minutes.” Natasha said. “Stark and Captain Rogers went to confront him after he clocked you.” she explained. “We’re closing in on their location now. ETA six minutes.”

Applejack tilted her neck, a satisfying crack coming from her joints as they popped. “Good. I’m ready for round two.”

“Don’t get careless.” Natasha said, loading her pistol. “We haven’t heard from Captain Rogers or Stark since they went on the offensive. Thor might be more powerful than intel has suggested and they may need help. Be ready for anything.”

The jet descended rapidly, the ground growing closer and closer beneath them. Mechanisms in the wings shifted and clicked into place, taking the plane out of a glide and into a hover over a clear patch of flat ground. Gently, the plane touched down onto the ground with a muffled ‘thud,’ the whirring hum of the engines soon the only noise the pair of them could hear.

Natasha and Applejack watched the back hatch warily, their muscles coiled and ready for action. Nat’s pistol was cocked and at the ready, her finger hovering dangerously close to the trigger. AJ’s muscles tensed and shifted beneath her skin as she prepared herself for what she might see outside the hatch.

Maybe Thor, Steve and that Stark fellow would still be fighting? She’d see them clashing on the horizon like a trio of vengeful titans. Then again, that Thor character managed to knock her out in a single blow, so he was certainly quite powerful. She hoped she wasn’t about to look out on her allies’ broken bodies as Thor charged towards her. Hell, what if Loki had broken free? What if he and Thor were working together?

AJ swallowed her fear as the hatch slowly whirred open, the metal path lowering to the ground outside…

...revealing Steve, Tony, and that Thor fellow waiting patiently for them, a still-chained Loki on his knees in front of them.

Applejack was taken aback for a moment at just how casually the three of them looked after the scuffle on the plane. She looked back and forth between Steve and Tony’s expressionless suit, begging for some kind of explanation, before locking eyes with Thor. She scowled, her fists clenching as she took an angry stomp forward, only for Steve to hold up an arm and block her way as she stepped out onto the grass.

“Easy, AJ.” Cap said calmingly. “He’s not here to fight.

Somewhere in the back of AJ’s mind a record scratched as her train of thought came to a screeching halt. She opened her mouth to say something. She failed. Her face contorted between expressions of bewilderment, confusion, betrayal, anger, and then right back to bewilderment again. After a few moments she managed to sputter out, “Not here to fight?!” She pointed an accusing finger at the armored Asgardian, who at least had the decency to look a little bit sheepish. “That lousy varmint broke into the plane and knocked me upside the dome with a blasted hammer!”

Steve continued to gaze at her with infuriating calmness. “He came to apprehend Loki and bring him back to Asgard.”

AJ’s gaze fell upon Thor again, giving him the best stink-eye she could muster. “Well that’s peachy ‘n all, but don’t we still need Loki to tell us where the Tessa-thingy is?” Applejack growled.

“We do.” Steve said, his voice still level. “Which is why he’s agreed to let us keep Loki locked up under guard until the Tesseract has been found. He’s even offered to help us look for it.”

Applejack looked back and forth between Steve and Tony. Tony had retracted his facemask at some point and now looked like he’d completely lost interest in the conversation. He was busying himself by distractedly poking at another one of his little floating illusions that he projected out of his armor, muttering something about “impromptu electrical charging.”

She turned and spared a glance at Natasha, who was busy ushering Loki back into the plane. The special agent spared her a glance and simply shrugged at her, while the rogue god gave her a smarmy, punchable smirk. She felt a shiver go down her spine. Something about him still gave her the heebie-jeebies, even if he was secure in SHIELD’s custody.

She turned back around and looked to Thor who awkwardly coughed into his fist before turning back to Steve.

“So what, then?” AJ said, scowling. “Big feller just barges into our business, knocks me out, and y’all just took that as cue to sit down and have a neighborly chat?”

“As if,” Tony said, chuckling as he sidled past AJ and back into the plane. “Don’t worry. The forest will grow back.”

Applejack watched Tony walk past, scowl deepening, before turning to Cap and Thor once more. “Is that just how it works ‘round these parts, then? Y’all get into a superpowered dust-up only to just laugh it off and become best pals?”

Finally, Thor spoke up, glancing awkwardly to the side. “‘Tis how it works ‘pon Asgard.”

She wanted to protest... Wanted to call all the humans on this Celestia-forsaken rock plum-crazy gits with less brains than a sack of dried beans. But as Steve walked past her with Thor in tow, patting her on the shoulder and giving her a winning, apologetic smile she felt she just didn’t have the energy to argue against this nonsensical world anymore. Taking a deep breath and letting it out through her nose, the fuming AJ finally threw up her hands, turned on a heel and stomped back into the plane after Cap and Thor.

“Fine. Just... fine. Let’s just get back to Fury. I feel a powerful headache comin’ on.”

Thor looked sheepish, fingering his hammer. “I fear that may be my doing.”

“Damn straight.”


FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2012 - 10:07 PM
SHIELD HELICARRIER MAIN BRIDGE - APPROX. 30,000 FEET OVER BROOKLYN, NYC


Applejack sat in an uncomfortable, black chair that was a few sizes too small for her tastes. Or perhaps she was just a few sizes too large in this form.

She sat at one end of a large, oblong, onyx table, which had been layered with a sheet of glass. On her left sat Steve, his helmet long since removed, looking pensive and worried as he gazed down at the table. On her right, Bruce Banner wasn’t sitting, but leaning over the back of his chair, his hand gently stroking his chin. Natasha sat across from her, arms tucked beneath her chest, and Thor stood off to the side, listening intently.

Of course, none of them were so much looking at the table itself as they were watching the events unfolding in little, moving pictures, projected onto the glass of the table. ‘Finally’ Applejack thought, ‘Something I actually recognize.’

Applejack wasn’t TOO familiar with scrying stones, but she’d heard Twilight talking about them before. Princess Celestia apparently owned some so that she could keep track of certain sensitive goings-on in the more dangerous and unstable outlying regions of Equestria, ready to move to intervene should it become necessary.

With the perspective of the past couple of days under her belt, Applejack couldn’t help but think it very ‘SHIELD’ of Celestia to have such a thing.

Of course, when AJ had mentioned the words “Scrying Stone” to Coulson, he’d given her an odd look and simply called it a ‘Live Feed.’

Humans were strange. The scrying stone was neither alive, nor was it feed for livestock.

...Okay, of course Applejack wasn’t THAT dense, but Coulson’s remarks did frustrate her. It implied that the Scrying Stone wasn’t actually a Scrying Stone, nor was it powered by magic. Somehow the humans had managed to create something exactly like a Scrying Stone… without actually making a Scrying Stone. And for some reason she couldn’t begin to fathom, they’d called it a ‘live feed.’

Applejack was getting fed up with this world.

Of course, now was hardly the time for AJ to ponder the enigmas of humanity and their unique turns of phrase. She and her teammates had an interrogation to witness.

Loki had been led into a massive glass capsule, with walls that must have been a good two or three inches thick, that had sealed shut behind him the moment he crossed the threshold. Fury stood at a control panel of some sort a few meters away, glaring at him with his singular eye. Despite his current incarceration, though, Loki looked completely at ease.

“In case it’s unclear…” Applejack heard Fury’s terse growl come through the Not-Scrying Stone as the director stared down the alien terrorist with nary a flinch. “You try to escape… You so much as scratch that glass…” Fury leaned over to the control panel he stood beside and pressed a sequence of buttons. Applejack jolted as a hatch in the floor beneath Loki’s glass cell suddenly opened up to reveal whipping open air, puffy clouds drifting under them, and, far far beneath that, the unforgiving rocks of the planet below.

“It’s thirty-thousand feet straight down in a steel trap!” Fury finished. “You get how that works?” Fury asked Loki, pressing another button sequence as the hatch closed beneath Loki’s cell. He gestured to Loki. “Ant…” he said, turning back to the control panel. “Boot.”

To her right, Applejack noticed Bruce sigh and gently massage his forehead before chuckling darkly. She idly wondered what was bothering him, aside from the situation in general, of course.

“It’s an impressive cage,” Loki said, that insufferable smirk never once leaving his face. “Not built, I think, for me.”

“Built for something a lot stronger than you.” Fury replied.

...Ah.

Loki grinned savagely. “Oh, I’ve heard,” he said, turning in place. Applejack felt another chill go up her spine as Loki turned to look straight at her… and all of her collected teammates. “A mindless beast,” he continued, “makes play he’s still a man.” Out of the corner of her eye, AJ saw Bruce’s mouth twist into a grim smirk.

Loki turned back to Fury. “How desperate are you, you’d call upon such lost creatures to defend you?”

Fury scowled, his fist clenching and unclenching before he responded. “How desperate am I?” he growled, never once losing his steely composure. “You threaten my world with war. You steal a force you can’t hope to control. You talk about peace and you kill ‘cause it’s fun.” He stepped right up to the glass and glared, long and hard, directly into Loki’s eyes. “You have made me very desperate. And you might not be glad that you did.”

“Ooohhhh...” Loki purred mockingly. “It burns you to have come so close. To have the Tesseract, to have power. Unlimited power. And for what?” He turned back towards Applejack and her teammates, a mocking, triumphant grin plastered across his face. “A warm light for all mankind to share?” He turned back towards Fury. “And then to be reminded what Real Power is.”

Fury had clearly had enough. With a jeering smirk, he turned away from the prisoner and strode away, disappearing from Applejack’s sight. “Well let me know if ‘Real Power’ wants a magazine or something.”

Loki smirked, turning back towards AJ and her team… and the image vanished.

Applejack leaned back in her chair, her hands shaking as a long, shuddering breath slowly escaped her lips. Gently, she wiped her forehead. Something about Loki was really beginning to put her off her lunch, and it was something more than just the fact he was a psychopathic, murderous, wannabe tyrant. Chrysalis hadn’t shaken her this much. What was it about Loki that raised her hackles right down to her very core?

Applejack heard the sound of metal creaking somewhere off to her left. She turned to see Thor, his muscles tense, as he leaned over the railing, looking out upon the bullpen of the bridge. Though she couldn’t see his face, she noticed that he was gripping the rail in his hands. His knuckles were white, and the metal was twisting and deforming between his fingers.

Something about Loki clearly bothered him as much as it bothered her.

Finally, Bruce broke the tension. “He really grows on you, doesn’t he?” He asked the rest of the team with a grim chuckle.

Ice broken, Steve sat up in his chair and spoke. “Loki’s gonna drag this out so…” he trailed off, looking up at Thor who was standing pensively, looking out over the bridge. “Thor, what’s his play?” he asked.

Thor stood still as stone as, not turning as he replied. “He has an army called the Chitauri. They’re not of Asgard or any world known.”

He turned around, gazing at the Captain, then looking over the rest of the team. “He means to lead them against your people. They will win him the earth. In return, I suspect, for the Tesseract.” He approached the table, while behind him, Maria Hill walked up the stairs and into the briefing area.

“An army from outer space?” Steve asked.

“How did y’all hear about this?” Applejack asked.

Thor spared her a glance. “A friend of mine, Heimdall… He bespied the army gathering. Spotted Loki among their ranks. He escaped here before we could intercept him”

“So he’s building another portal.” Banner spoke up, fidgeting with his glasses. “That’s what he needs Erik Selvig for.”

Thor frowned, his eyes narrowing. “Selvig?”

“He’s an astrophysicist.” Banner replied.

“He’s a friend.” Thor scowled

“Loki has him under some sort of spell,” Natasha spoke up, finally. “Along with one of ours.”

“I wanna know why Loki let us take him.” Steve said. “When Applewood and I fought him in Germany, he nearly got the drop on us at one point by using some kind of teleportation.”

Applejack nodded. “It’s true. Unless that spell can be blocked by a sheet a glass or a set of cuffs, the only reason Loki is here is because he wants to be. He shoulda’ teleported outta here ages ago.”

“Well that’s not the least bit alarming.” Natasha muttered sarcastically.

Thor rubbed his chin, pondering AJ’s words. “It’s true… I had failed to consider this. Loki’s magic is quite powerful, and cannot be blocked by such mundane things as found here on Midgard. There is no reason he should not have already escaped confinement.” He frowned, leaning over the table. “In fact, he had plenty of opportunity to run while we were fighting in the mountains, but he chose instead to sit and watch me fight with your Man of Iron. It is troubling.”

“So we’ve established he wants to be here on this ship.” Steve said with a pensive frown. “But why? He’s not going to lead an army from here.”

“Maybe we have something he needs?” suggested Natasha.

“What could we have that he wants?” Applejack asked.

“I don’t think we should be focusing on Loki,” said Bruce, “That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats. You could smell the crazy on him.”

Thor scowled, pointing an accusing finger at Bruce. “Have care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason but he is of Asgard.” He straightened up, looking Bruce dead in the eye. “And he is my brother.”

Oh.

Oh wow.

Applejack frowned, her eyes darting down to the empty table below as she considered that revelation. It certainly did a lot to put Thor’s actions in a different light. Before now she’d simply considered Thor to be a lumbering brute prone to leaping straight to violence without thinking. But if he was concerned about his brother… no matter how awful a person Loki might be…

...Applejack could understand that.

Natasha snapped AJ out of her musings. “He’s killed seventy-eight people in three days,” she said, deadpan.

That caused Thor to waver, eyes darting away. “...He is adopted.”

“I mean it, though.” Bruce said. “We’ve established he’s here because he wants to be, but Applewood’s right. What could he possibly want from us? He has the Tesseract. He has the iridium. What more could he need from us? There’s no logical reason for him to be here.”

Something about that sparked Applejack’s memories. There was no logical reason for Loki to want to be here, true. But AJ couldn’t help but cast her mind back to one of her previous battles.

“Maybe it ain’t a logical reason,” she said, as the rest of the team turned their eyes towards her. She took a deep breath and explained. “My friends and I once faced someone who thought he held all the cards… convinced he was too powerful to be touched,” she shook her head. “He took every opportunity to toy with us. To try and demoralize us and tear me and my friends apart. To make us doubt ourselves.”

“You think he’s just here to thumb his nose at us?” Steve asked, skepticism leaking into his voice. “His whole plan could be jeopardized by being here and he’d take the risk just to taunt us?”

Natasha hummed, slowly considering the mad god’s angle. “Or he could be laying a trap for us.” She pondered. “He recognized you in Stuttgart, Cap. Called you the ‘Man out of Time.’” Steve nodded as she continued. “Maybe he knows who we are and he knows we present a threat to his plan and he’s trying to kill us before we can track him down and stop him.”

“We frisked him quite thoroughly when we brought him on board.” Hill spoke up from her place in the corner of the room. “He has no other weapons on him. No tracking devices either.”

Steve shook his head. “Not to mention we didn’t have a lead on him in the first place until he exposed himself in public,” he protested. “He could have had Barton find a way to covertly steal the iridium while he remained hidden and we’d still be flying blind.”

Applejack massaged her forehead. “Maybe… maybe he didn’t know that we didn’t know where he was hiding?” she muttered, grumbling a little. “This whole ‘trying to get inside the enemy’s mind’ thing is giving me a headache.”

“I’m telling you guys; bag of cats.” Banner interjected. “It’s pointless to try and decipher what’s going on in that nutter’s brain so let’s work with what we have and try to figure out his plan going forward.” He started pacing around in a wide circle around the table. “Iridium,” he declared, “What does he need the iridium for?”

“It’s a stabilizing agent.” Came a familiar voice. Everyone in the room turned to see Tony Stark striding into the room with a confident swagger. No longer did he wear his red and gold suit of armor, but instead a black sports jacket with a dark blue shirt and a spotted tie. Walking alongside him was Phil Coulson, who looked decidedly uncomfortable as Tony muttered a few hushed words to him.

“Nice of you to finally join us,” Natasha raised an eyebrow pointedly.

“I had to look over a briefing packet that Fury so carelessly forgot to include when bringing me on board.” Tony said with a smug smirk, and a pointed look at Applejack. Natasha looked like she wanted to say something else but she was cut off as Tony continued speaking. “The iridium. Means the portal won’t collapse in on itself like it did at SHIELD.” He said, passing by Thor. He flashed the god of thunder a winning smile and clapped him on the shoulder. “No hard feelings, Point Break. You’ve got a mean swing.”

Tony approached the control panel at the head of the bridge. “Also it means that the portal can open as wide - and stay open as long - as Loki wants.” He looked out over the SHIELD bullpen, then back and forth between the control panels, before shouting out over everybody. “Uh, raise the mizzenmast! Jib the top sails!” Applejack heard the hustle and bustle of the bullpen die down a little bit as they all took in Tony’s antics. She saw him point to a corner of the room and call somebody out. “That man is playing Galaga! He thought we wouldn’t notice, but we did!”

Applejack could only boggle at the eccentric scientist’s flippancy in the face of such grave circumstances as he turned towards Agent Hill, one hand covering his eye. “How does Fury even see these?” he asked.

“He turns.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Sounds exhausting.” Applejack spied his thumb pressing something into the table below the control panel and frowned. It was pretty rude of him to stick his gum under other peoples’ tables, but any protest she had was cut off as he continued rambling. “The rest of the raw materials Agent Barton can get his hands on pretty easily. Only major component he still needs is a power source of high energy density. Something he can use to…” he slapped a fist into his palm, “...kick-start the cube.”

“When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?” Hill asked sardonically.

“Last night,” Tony shrugged. “The packet. Selvig’s notes. The extraction theory papers.” He looked between everyone seated at the table, watching their looks grow blank. “...Am I the only one who did the reading?”

“Yes.” Applejack scowled. “Yer alphabet is stupid.”

Tony blinked, raising an eyebrow. AJ was about to take the chance to call Tony out on his flippant, smug attitude when she felt Steve put a hand on her shoulder. She turned to see him shaking his head gently. She let out a frustrated sigh through her nose as Steve spoke next. “Does Loki need any particular kind of power source?”

From behind her, Banner spoke up, pacing back and forth in the back of the room. “He’s got to heat the cube to a hundred and twenty million Kelvin just to break through the Coulomb barrier.”

...what?

Tony smirked, pointing a finger at Banner and wagging it. “Unless, Selvig has figured out how to stabilize the quantum tunneling effect.”

...huh?

Banner nodded in understanding. “Well, if he could do that he could achieve heavy ion fusion at any reactor on the planet.”

AJ turned to look at Steve to see if he understood any of what was being said. She couldn’t help but admit, it was somewhat validating to see him staring off blankly into the distance with horror, confusion, and dread. She was relieved that she wasn’t the only one who had no clue what was going on.

Tony held an arm out towards his fellow doctor, a triumphant smile splitting his face. “Finally, somebody who speaks English!”

“Is that what just happened?” Cap muttered weakly.

Applejack chuckled, patting the soldier’s hand. “They’d get along well with Twilight. I swear that girl makes up big words just to sound smart too.”

Stark and Banner ignored them as they shook hands. “It’s good to meet you, Doctor Banner,” Stark said with a grin. “Your work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled... And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.”

Banner blinked, clearly unsure how to respond. “...thanks?”

“Doctor Banner is only here to track the cube.” Applejack felt herself jolt in alarm as a voice suddenly spoke from directly behind her. She whirled around in her chair to see who was speaking only to find Nick Fury standing there, arms folded behind his back. “I was hoping you might join him.”

‘Where the heck did he come from?’ AJ thought.

“Let's start with that stick of his.” Steve suggested. “It may be magical, but it works an awful lot like a HYDRA weapon.”

“It’s too bad Twilight isn’t here.” Applejack sighed, leaning back in her chair. “If it’s magical she’d have already taken it apart and written a forty page essay on how it all worked. ‘Fraid I can’t be of much help.”

“You’re doing fine,” Coulson assured her with a gentle smile.

“I don't know about HYDRA,” Fury said with a growl, “but it does seem to be powered by the cube. And I'd like to know how Loki used it to turn two of the sharpest men I know into his personal flying monkeys.”

Thor blinked, his brow furrowing. Applejack’s did much the same. “Monkeys?” Thor muttered. “I do not understa--”

“I do!” Cap grinned, holding up one finger as he looked around the table. Everybody else on the team was silent as Steve grinned, looking surprisingly proud of himself. “I understood that reference!”

Tony turned to Bruce. “Shall we play, Doctor?”

Banner smiled, holding out a hand towards his lab. “This way, sir.”

There was silence on the bridge for a moment before finally, Applejack frowned, turning to look at Steve. “Wait… y’all have flying monkeys here?”


SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 2012 - 4:13 AM
SHIELD HELICARRIER MAIN BRIDGE - APPROX. 30,000 FEET OVER STATEN ISLAND, NYC


Applejack glared down at her mug, gently swirling the coffee held within. She was, to put it in a word, exhausted. After the briefing, she’d tried to excuse herself to get some sleep, but had only managed to lie tossing and turning on her provided bed for a few hours, before finally giving up. The sheer enormity of the danger at hand simply weighed too heavily upon her mind for her to get any rest.

And so here she sat, reluctantly gulping down yet another cup of coffee. AJ couldn’t help but wonder how the humans could so readily chug the stuff. Then again, Rarity always started her morning with a fancy cup of Prench coffee, and Twilight practically lived on the stuff, so perhaps the humans weren’t entirely unique… Applejack still couldn’t see the appeal, though. Even when she loaded it so full of cream and sugar that it was less coffee than cream, it still tasted bitter and biting on her tongue. Oh how she desperately longed for a good cup of hot apple cider.

She had even asked, and one helpful agent provided her with a paper packet full of some sort of odd powder. When the powder dissolved in hot water, it created the foulest, most disgustingly artificial tasting apple cider the farmer had ever tasted. She barely managed to keep from spitting the foul concoction out in the poor agent’s face.

At least the coffee was actually real.

...Probably.

AJ sat on the bridge, gazing out through the Helicarrier’s massive bay window from her seat at the very edge of the SHIELD bullpen. The airship was hovering over the city now, and Applejack found herself fascinated by the twinkling lights and towering structures below. She was reminded of her short-lived fillyhood caper in Manehattan before she got her cutie mark… how the city lights and noise struck her dumb with awe the moment she got off the train. How the towering buildings gave her vertigo as she tried to crane her little neck up to get a glimpse of the very tops of the towers. How even she, a pony that never found herself attuned to the arts, had to admire the craftsmanship and history of the Statue of Harmony.

Somehow, the human city of Manhattan was even bigger and more staggering. Its skyscrapers put the ones back in her homeworld to shame, and their ‘Statue of Liberty’ stood a hundred and fifty feet taller than its counterpart.

Twilight would be going crazy over the similarities, she was sure. She’d probably be babbling about some kind of ‘inter-universal doppelganger’ theory or some other such nonsense. Applejack admitted that the similarities occasionally weighed on her, but she was willing to let it all slide as little more than a curious coincidence.

It was what the city held, though, that drew Applejack’s real attention. Millions of humans, she had been told, made the city their home. And none of them were aware of the danger they were in at this very moment. They slept tonight, not knowing that a madman plotted the demise of each and every one of them. Not knowing that she and her new team were all that stood between them and certain destruction.

Applejack had suggested to Agent Hill that they warn people; let everybody know what was happening so they could prepare themselves. Hill had explained that all that would do was cause a global panic. Since they didn’t know where Loki ultimately planned to make his first strike with his Chitauri army, there was no way to prepare or evacuate a single city and keep it otherwise quiet.

AJ found she couldn’t argue with the agent’s logic, though it still rankled her something fierce that there was nothing she could do but sit there.

And yet sit there she did, looking out over the people she’d made the choice to protect. A choice she’d made without knowing how to go about doing so.

It wasn’t like she hadn’t been in similar positions before, of course. She’d stepped up to the challenge when Nightmare Moon threatened Equestria, standing up for her friends and countrymen when most ran and hid under their beds. She liked to believe it was that choice to stand up in the face of danger that once made her worthy of wielding the Element of Honesty, and not that she was somehow fated for the position.

And of course, when you stand up in the face of danger once, it gets easier to do it the next time. When Discord, Chrysalis, and Sombra all tried to rise up and crush ponykind beneath their hooves, she was always there, ready to step up and do what needed to be done.

The difference this time, though, was that this time she was powerless to really do anything.

Loki had been captured, but his machinations were still clearly moving forward. Taking him off the board hadn’t ended the game. The Tesseract was still out there -- a ticking time bomb that threatened to drop an alien army (something she still hadn’t fully digested) onto an unsuspecting, innocent population. Somewhere out in the world, the wayward agent Barton was still carrying out his master’s plans.

It brought into perspective how simple her previous battles had been in comparison.

Find the Castle of the Two Sisters. Hit Nightmare Moon with the friendship laser. Go home.

Find the Elements of Harmony. Hit Discord with the friendship laser. Go home.

Find the Crystal Heart. Hit Sombra with a different kind of laser. Go home.

...Applejack dearly wished she could go home. Back home, the villains went down a lot easier.

Her train of thought brought her back to a troubling reality. How many other threats had attacked Equestria in her absence? How many world-destroying gods of chaos or parasitic shapeshifters or dark wizards might have sprung up while she was Trip-Van-Twinkling the years away in a tube of goo on another world?

Applejack needed to get back to Equestria. Somehow. Maybe when this was all done she could try and get Tony Stark to build some sort of portal or something? He reminded her of Twilight in a lot of ways and she always had a solution to anything.

...of course, he also reminded her of Rainbow Dash in a lot of the worst ways as well, so maybe it’d be best to limit her time around him. Dash was one of her best friends, sure, but that ego of hers made her want to buck her in the head just as often as not. For both their sakes, maybe it’d be better if AJ asked Banner instead.

All she knew was that she had to get back to Equestria as soon as possible. With a link missing in the Elements of Harmony, who knew what kind of evil could have befallen her homeworld?

She just hoped that there would be a world to go back to...

Applejack was ripped from her thoughts when she felt somebody tap her on the shoulder. She turned to see Jen, holding a tray of food, a nervous smile on her face. “Um…” she said, struggling to put her thoughts into words “I figured you might be hungry. Also you looked like you were tumbling down a rabbit hole and I didn’t think that’d be good for you, all things considered.”

Applejack nodded, smiling thankfully at her friend. “Thanks,” she said, taking the tray and patting the seat beside her. Jen sat down as AJ looked over the food she’d brought her. A sandwich filled with tomatoes, basil, and some kind of fresh cheese sat in the main tray, with a side of carrots and peas in one of the side cups. A small piece of grilled, seasoned corn on the cob offered a little starch for energy, and a pudding cup with a little plastic spoon completed the meal. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast.” Applejack said, digging into the vegetables.

“Almost nobody has eaten today,” Jen said, nodding. “Everybody’s too busy trying to find any sign of the Tesseract. Nobody’s sleeping either. At this rate we’re going to run out of coffee.”

Applejack hummed thoughtfully. “Probably ain’t wise,” she muttered. “They say an army fights on its stomach, after all.”

“Yeah, but nobody wants to be ‘the guy that was off at lunch stuffing their faces’ when the red alert sounds,” Jen said.

Applejack shrugged. She could understand that well enough. She already felt horrible for having missed sixty-seven years of Equestrian history, along with any and all magical attacks that might have entailed. She felt guilty about it even though she knew it was completely out of her control. She’d probably downright hate herself if she was the one ‘lying down on the job,’ taking a nice, leisurely lunch break when the horseapples finally hit the fan.

“I thought you’d be wanting to spend time with your cousin,” AJ said, changing the subject.

“I did, actually.” Jen replied, smiling. “We spoke for a while when you and the Captain were in Germany.”

“And?” AJ prompted, shoving a bite of sandwich into her mouth.

Jennifer nodded. “I think we’re going to be okay.”

Applejack swallowed, her gaze distant. “That’s good. Family should be there for each other,” she said trailing off.

Sensing that her friend was falling back down the rabbit hole, Jennifer put a gentle hand on AJ’s leg. “Hey,” she said, “Anything I can do to help...”

AJ shook her head and gave her a sad smile. “You already are. You and Steve and Coulson…” Jennifer returned her smile as Applejack continued. “But I ain’t just talkin’ about myself.”

Jen tilted her head. “No?”

“I believe she speaks of me,” a rumbling voice spoke from behind them.

The both of them turned to see Thor standing behind them. Applejack heard Jennifer’s breath hitch as the thunder god cleared his throat, lifting up a pot of coffee into view. “My apologies. I had hoped to offer you a cup of coffee, Miss Applewood, but it seems you already have one.”

Applejack arched an eyebrow but smiled faintly and raised her coffee mug. “Thanks anyway.”

“Do you mind if I sit with you?” He asked, gesturing at a bench just across the aisle from where AJ and Jennifer sat.

AJ opened her mouth to respond, only for Jen to beat her to the punch. “Not at all!” she said.

Applejack eyed her, noticing that her friend’s cheeks had turned a delightful shade of pink.

Thor nodded, sitting down on the opposite bench, his back to the massive window. “I owe you an apology, Lady Applewood. How is your head?”

Applejack reached up and touched her forehead, her fingers coming away clean. “Doin’ alright,” she said, simply. In fact, she was doing better than just alright. When she had last looked in the mirror after a trip to the restroom (and wasn’t THAT an adventure in her new, freakishly proportioned body?), her forehead had already healed completely. There wasn’t even a trace of a scar. Earth ponies were renowned for their ability to bounce back from injury, but back in Equestria she’d still have had to wear a bandage for a few days. Just another one of her ‘powers’ in this world, she supposed. “Y’all clobbered me pretty good back there, though.”

“As did you.” Thor said, lifting the steaming coffee pot up to his lips and taking a swig directly from it as though it were a tankard of mead. Wiping his mouth with his sleeve, he continued. “I did not expect to encounter someone of your strength here on Midgard. From what realm do you hail?”

Applejack winced. “That obvious I ain’t from ‘round here?”

Thor shook his head. “The mortals of this realm may not see it, but the power within you shines brightly to one from Asgard such as myself. Hail you from Alfheim?” He frowned, humming a little in thought. “Nay, you haven’t the ears for it.”

“I’m from a place called Equestria.” Applejack sadly explained, “Ain’t nobody ‘round here heard of it.” She paused, looking up at him hopefully. “Unless… y’all ain’t from these parts neither.” An ember of hope began to flicker within her chest. “Y’all wouldn’t happen to know where Equestria is, would you? ‘Fraid I’m a might bit lost. Didn’t end up here by choice y’see.”

The thunder god looked at her apologetically. “I’m afraid I’ve not heard of your land, Miss Applewood. I’m sorry.”

Applejack let out a long, sad breath. “Figures,” she said. And just as quickly as it came, the flicker of hope was--

“However…”

AJ perked up.

“I am hardly the wisest nor the most experienced of Asgard.” Thor said slowly. “Perhaps… my father might know of the land from which you hail.”

The spark of hope began to burn in her chest once more. “Do…” she swallowed, her lips suddenly dry, “Do you think I could speak to him? Yer pa?”

Thor frowned. “It is not customary for people outside of Asgard to enter its golden halls. Though my people may make a habit of tearing across other realms unfettered, few from other worlds are allowed the reverse. That said…” he paused to take another swig from the coffee pot. “...I should be able to get you an audience with my father. I believe he would be quite grateful if you were to help me to secure the Tesseract and bring my brother back to Asgard safely.”

Jennifer, who had been listening quietly, finally spoke. “AJ mentioned your family,” she said, “how does your brother factor into all of this?”

Applejack turned to her. “You haven’t figured it out?” Jen shook her head. “His brother is Loki.”

Jen’s eyes widened and her lips formed a perfect ‘o’ shape. She paused a moment before letting out a quiet “ohhhhh…” as the implications sunk in.

Thor nodded somberly. “I know not what has come over him. Loki has always envied my inevitable ascendancy to the throne of Asgard, but he has always been my brother.” He gazed into his pot of coffee. “So much of our lives we spent together. We played together. Fought together. This new side of him… it burns at me that he hid such malice for so long.”

“I can’t imagine…” Jen said, sympathetically. “It must be awful.”

“I don’t know how I’d handle it if my brother went nuts and tried to take over the world...” Applejack trailed off, trying to picture Big Mac cackling as he took over Canterlot with the power of a magical cube. The image was so absurd and hard to believe it almost made her laugh… until she remembered that once upon a time Thor had thought the same about his brother. And now that it had become a reality, it clearly wasn’t so funny anymore.

If Applejack ended up returning to an Equestria ruled over by ‘Dark Lord Macintosh’ he was going to get a serious talking to.

“When I last saw him two years ago, Loki attempted a coup that would make him ruler of Asgard.” Thor explained. “I had been banished here, to Midgard, and my father had fallen into a deep sleep that he should not have awakened from. Had my friends not done the unthinkable and committed high treason against Asgard by contacting me, he would have held his rule over Asgard and ensured the downfall of our greatest enemies when he tricked their king into a fatal trap. Even now, the Frost Giants are splintered and struggle to recover from Laufey’s demise.” Thor shook his head. “His plans were subtle. Calculated. He manipulated and plotted and betrayed. It is how he has always worked best. He only resorted to using overt means after his plans fell to shambles and he saw no other recourse to salvage his scheme.”

“So what are y’all getting at?” Applejack asked, curious.

“His assault on this realm… it is unlike him,” said Thor. “When Loki has a goal in mind he prefers not to command armies or make grandiose speeches. Grand overtures tend to suit his plans ill. More often he works in the shadows, whispering words in the right ears and slipping knives into the right backs.”

“I dunno…” Applejack hummed. “He seems to have a mighty huge ego on him. He looked like he was enjoying playing himself up.”

“He does think highly of himself. And he will gladly self-aggrandize when the mood suits him. But he has always been capable of putting that aside in pursuit of his greater goals in the past,” Thor explained. “Loki has always been at his most dangerous when he is quiet. This new Loki, who threatens the earth with armies… who brutalizes innocent men in plain view of entire concert halls… this is not the Loki I know.”

“No offense, but it sounds like he was never exactly a stand up fella,” Applejack muttered.

“He was cunning, but he was loyal.” Thor insisted. “For centuries every one of his plans was in service of Asgard and our family. To have him turn on us… there was no greater pain.”

Jen raised a finger. “If his goal was to become ruler of Asgard, though, why come here? Why attack earth? He doesn’t seem the type to settle for consolation prizes.”

“That is what I do not understand.” Thor rumbled, his grip whitening around the coffee pot’s handle. “It is reasonable, perhaps, that he merely wishes to hurt me. I rather grew attached to Midgard during my banishment here. But Loki has never expressed any desire to have anything to do with Midgard, let alone rule it... and there are far simpler ways he could earn my pain.” Thor shook his head and sighed dejectedly “Perhaps… Perhaps it is as Banner said. Perhaps my brother’s exile from Asgard has simply driven him rabid.”

Applejack took a moment to absorb Thor’s tale as silence reigned between the three of them. “I’m sorry,” was all she could bring herself to finally say.

“Nay, I am sorry, Ladies Applewood and Walters. I fear I have taken up too much of your time rambling ‘pon my brother and the love we used to share.” Thor sighed again. “Would that I had the wisdom I have now back during my ill-fated coronation. Perhaps I might have noticed the rift that was forming between us and been able to mend it before he took his plans so far.”

“You can’t blame yourself for his bad decisions.” Applejack said.

Thor swigged the last of his coffee, now cold. “But I can surely blame myself for my own selfishness and short-sightedness. I see now that my actions have consequences that reach well beyond the stars. Had I not attacked Jotunheim in a furious rage, I would not have been banished. Had I not been banished, my father would not have fallen into the Odinsleep, leaving Asgard in the hands of Loki. Had Loki not been put in a position where he might abuse his authority, he would not have been exiled. And had he not been exiled, he would not have found his way into the hands of whoever gave him that staff and set him upon Midgard.”

Applejack jolted. “Waitaminnit. Back up. Y’all mean to tell me that somebody else gave him that magic toothpick?”

Thor blinked, then nodded. “Aye. It is not of Asgardian make. I know not where he obtained it.”

Something in the back of Applejack’s mind began clicking into place. She turned to Jen, a fire in her eyes. “They said that Barton and Selvig only went and lost their marbles when Loki touched them with the staff, right?”

Jennifer blinked, startling at Applejack’s sudden intensity. “Y-yeah? I don’t see how--”

AJ whirled back around towards Thor. “And y’all said that staff weren’t his to begin with? You’re sure about that?”

Thor nodded. “Aye, but I am unclear where thou art going with this, Lady Applewood.”

Applejack grinned, standing up as the puzzle came together. She knew why Loki was acting so out of character. She knew why he had allowed himself to be captured, even when it made no sense. She knew what was wrong with him... and if she could just confirm her suspicions, she and the rest of the team might just be able to stem off the problem before the whole situation got any worse.

After all, she’d seen it before… in a certain powder blue unicorn who’d stumbled onto a powerful magical artifact of her own, only for her to lose all sense of rationality and self just as Loki had.

She knew what she had to do

“I think…” AJ said with a triumphant smirk “...I need to have a friendly chat with your brother.”
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Author's Note:

My god, people. You have NO idea how hard it was for me to get through this chapter. This one was a SLOG.

I can't imagine it reads much better either. As I said back in Chapter 6, the fight in the forest between Iron Man, Cap, and Thor is just such a tightly scripted scene that I could not for the life of me figure out how to organically insert Applejack into it. I considered both keeping to Stations of Canon, or even letting her go overboard and seeing what butterflies that might've caused, but even just getting her to the ground in the first place turned out to be tricky. I had variants where Thor chucked her out of the plane (decided that was too violent for Thor even if she turned out to be invulnerable), one where she parachuted down with Cap (which causes her to end up being irrelevant, since Cap only shows up at the end of the fight), and one where she jumps with Cap but her parachute fails (this one worked the best, but I couldn't get it to flow organically). Finally, after literally spending weeks trying to trial and error the fight into being I simply said "fuck it" and decided to leave her out of the fight altogether.

That's when I posted chapter 6.

Writing chapter seven somehow proved even more difficult. For one thing, much of the dialogue is canon conversation (I really do hope that it wasn't too much of a chore for y'all to read through the briefing scene), which is always a bit dry to write. Her conversation with Jen and Thor also proved difficult to organize into a cohesive whole. I'd first planned for her to talk to the both of them separately, but the interactions ended up proving stilted and forced.

I have something like three or four extra Google Docs of chapter 7 full of deleted scenes, alternate openers, alternate endings, aborted fight scenes, alternate dialogue trees, and more.

And in the end, I think the final product STILL isn't that great.

Oy.

There's good news, though. Chapter 8 is actually already completed and I hope to post it this weekend. My only fear for Chapter 8 is that it makes Applejack a bit too capable and sue-ish as she gives a verbal beatdown to somebody who frankly deserves it. My other issue is that I've been having a harder time getting my friend to proofread lately. I think he's pretty much completely over the pony scene and it's hard to get him interested in reading about it anymore.

Not that I blame him. The fandom seems to be winding down as the show comes closer and closer to a close. I'm sure I'll still be here, writing silly ponyfics, trapped in this neverending purgatory for as long as I have readers that are interested though.

Anyway, look forward to seeing chapter 8 posted sometime this weekend, or early next week at the latest. I swear I'm gonna try and be on time for this one.

ALSO! You may recall I posted a blog a while back that I've recently made a Spacebattles account! I go by the name "Captain_Skipjack" over there, which is the name I tend to use most everywhere else on the internet that isn't pony related. Please feel free to watch me over there if you've got a Spacebattles account! I'll be cross posting this story over there imminently (as in... literally later tonight), with other stories of mine likely to crop up there soon.

Thanks as always for reading!

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