Applejack: Marvelous

by Dusty the Royal Janitor

First published

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.

The last thing Applejack remembers, she was going out to tend to the south fields one day. She had just left the house and then... a blur. She found herself someplace else entirely. Loud, spattering noises surrounded her. Strange people were trying to hurt her. Her very body was twisted and wrong.

When she awakes from what should have been a nightmare, she discovers it was all too real. She's been trapped in another world, in a body that she can't even recognize, let alone control. To make matters worse, her natural Earth Pony magic is reacting to her new environment in strange and disquieting ways, intensifying to truly dangerous levels causing her to break nearly everything and everyone she touches.

Thankfully she's been offered help. A group of remarkable people is offering to take her in... assuming she can aid them in return. There's a man in a suit of armor. Another who carries a shield. One who carries a hammer. One a bow and arrow. One is a woman who lies just a little too much for Applejack's taste. And one of them is very, very angry.

Applejack will have to come to not only understand her new body and abilities, but also come to try and understand the meaning and value of honesty itself as she's put to the test in ways she's never anticipated. In this world of endless conflict and threats beyond any she could have ever imagined, does Applejack even stand a chance of finding her way back home?

Teen rating for mild blood, some death, and occasional mild nudity and lewd jokes.
Character and genre tags may be altered as necessary as the story progresses.

Prologue - Excerpts from the Diary of Dr. Josef Friedrich Reinstein

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Translated from German, the following documents are relevant excerpts from the journal of Doctor Josef Friedrich Reinstein, who was affiliated with HYDRA under the command of Johann Schmidt, a.k.a. Red Skull from the years 1939 until his capture in 1943. A fanatical follower of Schmidt and a firm believer in the ‘genetic perfection’ that the Nazis espoused despite himself suffering from dwarfism, he is known to be the only other scientist who has been able to come anywhere close to replicating the Super Soldier Serum used by Doctor Erskine in Project: Rebirth to create Captain America. He joined the SSR in the wake of Operation: Paperclip, and created numerous imperfect serums which remain in SHIELD’s possession to this day. (See documents 05-19-62-01: BANNER and 04-19-67-90: BLONSKY for further information)

These excerpts specifically follow Reinstein’s relationships within HYDRA’s organization, his efforts in perfecting the Super Soldier Serum, and his discovery and experimentation upon an enigmatic metahuman he believed to be an Asgardian (see file 17-04-11-01 PUENTE ANTIGUO INCIDENT for further information) whom he refers to as “Brynhildr.”

These documents were only uncovered and translated after being brought to SHIELD’s attention in the wake of “Brynhildr’s” freedom. They are to be kept as background information to be added to the files for subjects CAPTAIN AMERICA, HULK, ABOMINATION, and new subject, SHIELDMAIDEN

--- --- ---

November 2, 1939:

I met with Johann Schmidt today. He is just as charismatic and striking as everybody says! There is a commanding air about him that cannot be ignored. I was invited to dinner with him and several other officers of the Schutzstaffel. At first, I was taunted for my stature but Schmidt came to my defense, berating the officers for their treatment of me and bringing up my talents and accomplishments in genetics. I lament the fact that I do not fit into the genetic perfection that we strive for, but I must admit that I felt vindicated to have such a man as Schmidt stand up for me.

After dinner, Schmidt surprised me by bringing me aside into his office. He explained that he could have his pick of any geneticist that the Nazis had on hand, but he chose me for our aligning philosophies. He knows of my side research into ancient cultures and the occult. Though I still believe there is more to this world than meets the eye, I had shelved such studies to further my research into the genome in my attempts to help perfect the human gene. I never considered that such studies I pursued in my youth would lead to me landing such a position under such a renowned officer.

Tomorrow I begin my new job under Schmidt at Castle Kaufmann.


November 3, 1939:

It seems my excitement was not perfectly warranted. Though indeed I work under Johann Schmidt, I am assigned to be a mere assistant to another scientist: Doctor Abraham Erskine. The man is competent, though pitifully small minded. When one attempts to bring up affairs of the occult around him he merely scoffs. It’s clear, too, that he is too weak to make the necessary sacrifices for the cause. I expect I am to be his replacement. It does not seem he will last long.


November 10, 1939

I had the “pleasure” of meeting with Schmidt’s chief scientist today; a man by the name of Arnim Zola. I cannot say that I think much of him. While true, he shares the interest in the occult that Schmidt and I possess, he seems to think of it as a passing novelty more than a legitimate line of study. What’s more, his entire expertise revolves around robotics. Bah! The Nazis already have cars and tanks and u-boats! What need have we for tin soldiers? We should not dress our men up in glorified suits of armor like the barbarians of old. These are the ways of the past! Erskine and I… we are the future. We will make the need for armor obsolete. When we’re through, our soldiers will have no need for even the tanks and planes and submarines that we currently use. We will create a race of supermen that will crush the enemy with their bare hands!


November 21, 1939

Erskine, small minded and craven as he is, seems to have stumbled onto something. He revealed to me today research that he has apparently been working on for quite some time. He believes that with a particular formula of irradiated vitamins and synthetic proteins, one can create the super soldiers that herr Schmidt and I envision. The final component he needs to complete it, though, is a rare metal, nearly impossible to find on this planet.

HYDRA has just delivered a sample of this metal.

It is more than I could have imagined! I have been with HYDRA under Schmidt for less than a month and already I am achieving more than I ever did in that dingy little laboratory I had in Hamburg!

However, I have noticed Erskine acting quite shifty lately. I will keep an eye on him.


December 31, 1939

It is done!

Erskine and I have completed a prototype of our formula! He claims that it is not ready to be used. I suggested we test it on one of the POW’s. After all, if it kills them there is no great loss.

Schmidt, however, refused to test it on a POW. Should the serum work, it would not do to test it on an enemy soldier or a genetically inferior dog. He is right, of course. I need to be more thoughtful about such things if I am to impress him.


January 5, 1940

Treason! Treachery!

I knew that Erskine was a coward but I never suspected him for a traitor! The sniveling dog was in collusion with the British!

Around midnight last night, during the snowstorm, I journeyed to Erskine’s room to discuss some of my latest findings with him. When I opened his door, however, I found him talking to an intruder! A limey slag had managed to get into his room and was helping him shove much of our research into briefcases and bags! The bitch tried to attack me but I managed to stab her in the leg. Just as I was about to finish her off, though, ten British operatives jumped me and wrestled me to the ground, knocking me unconscious.

Schmidt was incensed. When he discovered the situation he grabbed the only remaining vial of serum in the lab and retreated to his quarters. I have not seen him since.

On the bright side, I guess I am his chief geneticist now.

(SHIELD Note: In the debriefing of Agent Peggy Carter after the successful extraction of Doctor Abraham Erskine, she did not mention being stabbed in the leg. She did, however, describe coming upon a craven midget of a Nazi who she knocked unconscious with a single kick to the head. Also of note is that Agent Carter wasn’t working with the British, but the American SSR, though she was known to clearly have a pronounced British accent. Finally, it is also worth mentioning that Erskine’s extraction was a solo stealth-op and Agent Carter was the only operative on site that night.)


January 6, 1940:

Herr Schmidt called me to his private chambers today. I did not know what to expect but what I found shocked me.

Schmidt… he used the serum on himself! It worked! The formula has made him inhumanly strong, durable, agile, and swift! My formula worked!

Unfortunately, it was not without some… unforseen side effects. His skin has turned bright red, like the devil himself. His hide is chapped and leathery. His nose and parts of his lips burned off his very face. He is no longer the picture of Aryan perfection he was. It is truly a tragedy.

And yet, he is not displeased. He says sees his ‘transformation’ as a sign of something greater. I am not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, given my own dwarven stature I am happy that I now have something further to relate to Herr Schmidt on… but on the other hand… his beautiful face…

As I predicted, Schmidt has made me his chief geneticist and chemist. There are several projects that he wants me to get to working on right away, though strangely he did not mention wishing for me to recreate my super soldier serum.

...I suppose it does not need to be said.

I will get to work on recreating it straight away! I will perfect it! Herr Schmidt’s test has been very enlightening and no more of our soldiers shall have to suffer his fate once I am through. I am positive that I can recreate my formula, despite Erskine’s treasonous theft of all our notes.

My work will lead us to glory!


March 14, 1940:

Herr Schmidt has relocated me to a weapons manufacturing facility in Austria; one of many bases he has gained control over since his transformation. While I am pleased to have a larger workplace, I am saddened that I am no longer working alongside Schmidt, whose newest main base of operations is in the Italian alps.

Schmidt believes that the Fuhrer has turned on him because he no longer fits the ‘Aryan ideal.’ He sees his new base as an exile rather than a promotion. I am certain he will cheer up with time. Still, he has been quite grumpy lately… more than usual...

Anyway! Since that day I have been… unsuccessful in recreating the serum. Part of this is because, with my new station as head geneticist, Schmidt has me working on multiple projects for him. Some of them are as simple as poring through books looking for hints of the occult. I find these jobs fascinating and rewarding. I feel like I am truly connecting to Schmidt when I do this, looking for such artifacts as the dread Darkhold or the crimson gem of Cyttorak or the legendary hammer of Thor, Mjolnir. I am sure I will one day please him with a brilliant find!

Other jobs he’s had me working on have been far less rewarding, though. One of my more recent assignments is to create a new medical treatment to save wounded soldiers. Bah! If a soldier falls in battle then they were inferior and not worth being saved! Still, if Schmidt demands it of me, I shall complete this job to the best of my abilities.

I will also continue working on the serum. Recalling all the details from memory has proven… more difficult than I expected. Damn that treasonous thief, Erskine!


May 3, 1940:

I have heard treasonous soldiers around the base referring to the honorable herr Schmidt as the “Red Skull.” How infuriating! To speak of such a man with such disrespect!

Of course, I reported them to Schmidt straightaway.

They made excellent test subjects. A shame the serum still does not work. I have never seen a human body liquefy quite so rapidly.

Must continue working.

August 30, 1940:

I have finally, finally, managed to complete the medical treatment that Schmidt assigned me so many months ago.

I call my new invention “Suspension Gel.”

Effectively, this gelatin places wounded soldiers into suspended animation by slowing blood flow down to a near crawl and causing neural responses to become undetectable. It is as if the soldier is frozen in time! While submerged in the gel, wounded soldiers can be operated upon more safely, without losing blood or tissue necrotizing. Antibiotics can be administered before bacteria has time to take hold and infect. It even removes the need for anesthetic, as the drastically slowed neural responses put the wounded into a deep sleep they cannot wake from until they are removed from the gel.

The one drawback, however, is that if the soldier is suspended in the gel for longer than an hour, they do not ever come out of “suspension.” They are effectively dead and of no further use to HYDRA or the Reich.

As formidable a success as the creation of this gel is, I must get back to working on the super soldier serum. I have spent too long away from it chasing other projects. I will do anything for Herr Schmidt, but I must admit, I am confused why he continues to saddle me with other projects when I am so close to recreating the serum.

I am sure he has his reasons.


September 5, 1940:

Arnim Zola dropped by the base today. He called me a superstitious idiot and an incompetent buffoon. And then he had the GALL to claim that the only reason the suspension gel finally worked was because he completed my research in Schmidt’s base in Italy!

And then made a crack about my height.

These lies… this insult… it brings me to madness! I would report his insubordination to Schmidt but for some reason he still thinks Zola is necessary. I cannot fathom why. Our vision is so much greater than his.

If anything, it has only strengthened my resolve to finish the super soldier serum. I will show Zola! I will show him who is the scientist supreme!

And then I will slide in the knife.


SHIELD Note: For the rest of 1940 through the middle of 1942, there is little of substance. Reinstein’s notes get more and more maddened and incoherent as he fails to uncover the secret of the super soldier serum. There are several references to searches for occult artifacts, all of which are dead ends, and several other experiments that never yield results. There are references to Schmidt growing displeased with Reinstein, who grows ever more sycophantic and intimidated and worshipful of him. There are also references to Arnim Zola and fantasized scenarios of what Reinstein intends to do to him, what he intends to do to his mother, and what he intends to do to his dog. His entries grow paranoid that Schmidt is planning to replace him entirely with Zola and his ‘tinker toys,’ and his efforts to find the secret of the serum grow ever more fervent with detailed descriptions of numerous test subjects and the, in this agent’s opinion, frankly horrifying effects that they have on the human body.
The next relevant entry does not occur until 1942, when Johan Schmidt and Arnim Zola gained possession of the Tesseract (a discovery that was notably NOT aided by Reinstein) and tested it in the HYDRA headquarters in the Italian Alps.


March 22, 1942:

I cannot believe this!

That snake!

The Incubus Zola has seduced Schmidt into letting him test his ultimate find!

The jewel of Odin’s Horde should have been mine to test! The honor should have been mine! I was the one who pored over hundreds of ancient tomes, helping Schmidt to find the occult artifacts he desired! ME! Zola dismissed them as mere curiosities! I was the one who believed in Schmidt’s vision! It was me all along!

It’s Zola! It must be Zola! He’s the reason that Schmidt is angry with me! He’s been feeding him lies! Turning him against me! He will rue the day he messed with Josef Reinstein!

When I get ahold of Zola, I will remove his limbs then cauterize the stumps with molten tar! I will slice out his eyes and his tongue and feed them to him! I will hack off his genitals with a rusty scalpel and feed them to the guard dogs! And only then will I use him as a test subject for my serum! One of the older ones I know to be faulty!

Then Schmidt will see! He will see that I have been his one true friend this whole time!


March 23, 1942:

A miracle happened today. I have been witness to a Goddess!

A report came in from the nearby village. A woman, naked as the day she was born, was rampaging through the town, destroying our blockades, our weapons, our trucks, and our supplies. She was described as beastly, animalistic, and without sense, as if she could not make sense of the world around her. She was said to be speaking English, but with a foreign, unplaceable accent so thick it was surely not of this world.

But the things this woman was said to do…

Bullets bounced off of her like they were merely corks from a child’s popgun! She was said to lift trucks above her head and tossing them like they were made of cloth and feather! They said she was unsteady on her feet, as if she was not used to having human form, but despite her unsteady, clumsy gait she ran faster than our motorcycles!

I had to see this woman… this goddess… for myself.

I jumped on the next troop transport leaving for the village. That is when I saw her… my Goddess…

She was fire. She was fury. She was iron and blood. She was strength and speed and beastly spirit. She was everything I’ve ever dreamed of. The perfect picture of Aryan beauty. Her hair was as golden as the throne of God himself. Her eyes were greener than the most vast of seas. Her skin was a flawless, creamy white with only the barest dusting of freckles upon her nose, cheeks, and bosoms, which massively heaved as she fought naked as Eve herself. She stood taller than any man on the field, with corded muscle and sinew that would require years of dedication for a mere mortal man. I watched her rip apart a Volkswagon with her bare hands. She tore through our forces like they were tissue paper. Wherever she trod, men fell like dominoes.

In the end, it took a shell from a tank to finally so much as knock her unconscious. Even then, there was not a speck of her own blood spilled. As quick as I could, I had her suspended in my suspension gel, where she has remained ever since. Surely a goddess like her will be able to take the rigors upon the body that the gel demands.

For that can only be what she is: a Goddess. Brought to my doorstep by fate.

I can only speculate that when Zola tested Odin’s Jewel, there were aftershocks in space itself. Like throwing a stone into a pond, his tests sent ripples through time and space, opening a portal. To where? I can only assume to Asgard itself. It was Odin’s Jewel, after all.

A Goddess… A Valkyrie… Fate has brought me a Valkyrie!

Oh the delicious irony. All this time Zola has spent trying to destroy me but by robbing me of my rightful place at herr Schmidt’s side, he has given me the means to undo him and reclaim my rightful place. And it will all be thanks to my Goddess… My Valkyrie…

...My Brynhildr.


March 24, 1942:

The needles break against her skin. I shall have to find other means of extracting her genetic material.


March 26, 1942:

Sometimes I spend hours just staring at her.

She is so beautiful as she sleeps…

Together, my dear… My Goddess… we will rid the world of its imperfections. Just you and I


March 30, 1942:

I have managed to extract her genes through her saliva. I will incorporate it into my latest batches of super soldier serum.


July 12, 1942:

Success! With the perfect genes of my Goddess, I have managed to create a serum that does not cause test subjects to liquefy! Or necrotize! Or spontaneously combust!

...I shall have to do something about those tumors though.


August 1, 1942:

I see her in my dreams. She speaks to me.

She holds me close to her bosom with her massive, muscled arms… so strong and yet so gentle. She looks deep into my eyes with her deep, endless, emerald irises. She whispers into my ear with those pillowy lips of hers. She speaks in her strange, otherworldly accent and tells me that she believes in me. She knows that I will perfect the formula. She knows I will perfect humanity.

She tells me she loves me.

I won’t let her down! I can’t let her down!


December 18, 1942:

Brynhildr was right! I did it! I have finally created a version of the serum that works!


The test subject did gain inhuman strength and speed and durability. It also sloughed off its skin as its muscles grew too big for its skin to keep up. The thing was hunched over, bleeding profusely and begging for death. We tried to shoot it in the head but the bullet bounced off.

So we burned it with our flamethrowers.

A step in the right direction, though!


January 30, 1943:

The latest batch of serum causes skeletal and muscular mutations, but not so much that the subject is in perpetual pain. Other mutations include sharpening of the teeth, claw growth on the hands and feet, and hair loss.

The big problem is the insanity.

Once injected, test subjects fly into a wild rage, destroying everything in their path. And though they are bulletproof, luckily, they are still not resistant to the flamethrowers.

We can do this Brynhildr. We’ll do it together!


March 12, 1943:

There is an energy about her.

I feel it when I’m near her. A tingling, like static electricity. Surely it must be magic.

I wish I could wake her up, but the men are acting out. They call me names. They compare me to Frankenstein from that British whore’s novel. Many of them run like mice when they see I’m about to conduct a new experiment. So what if a few test subjects have broken out and massacred a few dozen of them? That is no excuse for cowardice!

The only thing keeping them in line is the threat that I might unleash her upon them if they dare betray me. They remember the village. They remember how she tossed trucks about like toys.

And unfortunately, until my experiment is completed, I still have need of them.

I will wake her… I will wake her when the job is done. She will wake and be delighted to see the glorious gift I have ready for her.

And then we will slaughter them all.


May 29, 1943:

I have found another piece to the puzzle, Brynhildr!

Exposure of the serum to cryogenic conditions causes a delay in the mutations. Subjects go several days without experiencing mutations! For up to a week after injection, they show the benefits of the serum without the drawbacks!

...of course they still mutate eventually. Still, progress!


October 1, 1943:

I am nearing success! Since June, I have managed to reduce mutations by 95 percent!

There is still some mental disability. Test subjects begin to express megalomania, sociopathic tendencies, and are prone to violent outbursts, but it is not the beastly, monstrous, rage-fueled insanity of previous subjects. I have determined the current psychological effects to be within acceptable range.

There are still some physical mutations as well, most notably, the spinal column becomes slightly deformed. Still, this is acceptable. It will not be noticeable through clothing. Surely our soldiers will be wearing shirts.

The one major flaw is in the test subjects’ skin. The serum causes their skin to turn a dark brown.

Well, back to the drawing board.


October 15, 1943:

Now it’s turning orange.

This is getting silly.


October 25, 1943:

I am so close. I can feel it.

I had another dream last night. Herr Schmidt, Brynhildr, and I stood upon the balcony of a castle tower, looking down upon our land. Hundreds of thousands of men and women, each standing two meters tall and as musclebound as Adonis himself. We own all of Europe.

Schmidt congratulates me, before pinning a medal on my chest. His face is back to normal. I stand as tall as he does. Brynhildr takes me into her arms and kisses me deeply.

This reality is so close, I can almost taste it.


October 31, 1943:

We captured a new batch of prisoners today. That’s good. I was actually beginning to run low on test subjects.


November 5, 1943:

Schmidt is coming! He’s coming here! Tomorrow! I am so excited! Surely he will see the work I have done and he will finally dump that troll Zola and bring me back into the fold!

We’re going to make it, Brynhildr! This is our chance!


November 6, 1943:

...Zola is here too.


November 7, 1943:

I have an appointment with Schmidt tomorrow. When I told him about my work he was dismissive of me. I can only assume Zola has been hard at work turning him against me.

Zola practically confessed to it when I met him in the corridor. He says that Schmidt sees me as a mistake and a fool. He says that Schmidt is no longer interested in the serum and hasn’t been since his transformation. He says that I’m a waste of resources and that tomorrow Schmidt will surely fire me.

Ha! I see through his lies, Brynhildr. When Schmidt sees what I’ve created he will bring me back to his side and cast Zola out to the wolves!

Tomorrow, it ends.

I have ordered one final POW be brought to my laboratory tomorrow evening for demonstration... some American fool. I actually feel compelled to learn his name, as he will be the one I use to finally prove myself to Schmidt.

James Buchanan Barnes.

Thank you, James. You will be the final stepping stone to my rightful place in our thousand year reich, where I will reign alongside Schmidt and Brynhildr.


SHIELD Note: On November 8, 1943, Captain Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America raided the HYDRA weapons manufacturing facility in Kreischberg, Austria. Sergeant James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes was rescued, and though a puncture wound from a syringe was found, neither any enhanced abilities, nor ill effects were seen in the soldier at any time prior to his death in 1945.

Doctor Josef Friedrich Reinstein was spotted by American operatives wheeling a capsule marked “Brynhilde” into the back of a truck, while also carrying a briefcase full of his notes. When Doctor Reinstein attempted to get into the cab of the truck, however, one of the soldiers kicked him out and sent him tumbling, calling him a sick freak. Josef Reinstein and his research were taken into custody and he spent the next two years as a POW.

In 1945, after the death of Johann Schmidt and the perceived death of Captain America, Agent Peggy Carter of the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) and the remaining members of the paramilitary group known as the Howling Commandos raided a HYDRA storage facility run by Werner Reinhardt elsewhere in Austria. Multiple strange and unidentifiable artifacts were found and loaded into crates. One of them, marked SSR Item 0-8-5, was a capsule marked with the Hydra logo, the Nazi swastika, and a label painted down the side reading “Brynhildr.”

Also in 1945, after it was revealed that Doctor Reinstein had been working on the same serum that had given Captain Steve Rogers his abilities as Captain America, he was brought on board with the SSR during Operation: Paperclip. The following are the few journal entries we could find from that period.


December 1, 1945:

Oh, Brynhildr

The American dogs… they want me to recreate the serum. But I cannot. It is impossible without you.

I have all of my research. All of my notes. But I can’t. It’s impossible if you aren’t here beside me.

I sit here, the damn yankees controlling my every move. I am not allowed to leave. They drive me like a slave.

The worst part is, Arnim Zola is here too.

Perhaps I am in hell.


December 23, 1945:

With the notes I have on hand, I have managed to produce a greatly inferior serum with reduced effects akin to what I was creating back in October of 1943. I have managed to fix the skin coloration issues, finally, but without you to draw from, Brynhildr, they have lost nearly all of your godly durability and strength. And the spinal mutations and psychological effects still remain.

Oh sure, test subjects are faster and stronger and more durable and agile than the average human, but they no longer compare to your ferocity. The titanic power you showed on that day in the village, that primal, unearthly strength… it is gone.

The Americans are so small minded. They’re satisfied with the minimal strength I can grant them…

...except they object to the psychological effects. They want me to rid the serum of that now.

Fools. Narrow minded fools, all of them.

Damn Erskine for his pitiful “Captain America.” If I had been granted just one day longer, I would have shown him what a real super soldier could be.


SHIELD Note: Reinstein continued to work on the super soldier serum, attempting to eliminate the psychological effects of the formula through 1946 with little success. His entries become shorter and shorter, mostly consisting of badmouthing his American captors, Abraham Erskine, Arnim Zola, and Captain America. Occasionally he would mourn for Johann Schmidt or pine for Brynhildr. After a year, though, he begins to receive messages from an outside agent.


January 21, 1947:


Hope springs anew!

I have been contacted by an agent from the Soviet Union by the name of Yuri Topolov. He claims to be an agent of a Soviet research branch called Leviathan.

I have no love for the Soviets. They were as guilty of bringing down our glorious Reich as the Americans. However, as I was about to dismiss him he said something that made my heart leap into my throat.

They have Brynhildr.

A piece of her anyway. Apparently they managed to retrieve the frozen corpse of James Buchanan Barnes. The last test subject before that infernal Captain America stormed my laboratory.

She’s there.

In his blood.

They have offered to take me away from this place if I bring them a sample of the current serum and all of my research. I am to slip away and meet them at the docks at ten o’clock tomorrow night. They will take me to the Soviet Union, where I will be reunited with my beloved Brynhildr!

It will be difficult. I shall have to clone her from the DNA preserved in Barnes’ blood. Once I recreate her, though, with the research I currently have, I can finally create the perfect version of the serum! Truly the night is darkest before the dawn! After two long years of hopelessness, Brynhildr, finally, I am coming back to you!

--- --- ---

If this agent may add a personal note, Doctor Josef Friedrich Reinstein was an idiot. Of course the SSR was monitoring him every night as he wrote in his journal, and of course they were happy to meet him and his new friends from Leviathan the following night at the docks.

In the ensuing shootout, ten Leviathan agents, including Yuri Topolov, were killed and their boat was disabled. Three agents were taken into custody, though they later committed suicide via cyanide pills implanted in their jaws. Only one SSR agent was wounded and made a full recovery.

Doctor Reinstein’s briefcase, which contained all of his notes and research, was burned and unrecoverable after an oil barrel exploded and it caught aflame. Since then, nobody has been able to figure out the riddle of Doctor Erskine’s formula, or the twisted variation Doctor Reinstein created. Several samples of Reinstein’s formula remained in SHIELD’s possession for decades in cold storage. Due to the purported psychological effects of the compound, though, nobody was willing to use them until General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross unearthed them in 2002 for his experiments with Doctor Bruce Banner, and later in 2008 for use upon Captain Emil Blonsky.

As for Doctor Josef Friedrich Reinstein himself, neither his body, nor the serum sample he brought to the docks, were ever recovered. If he managed to escape then he has not been seen since. After 65 years since the incident and with the Doctor pushing 50 at the time he is presumed deceased.

Object 0-8-5 a.k.a. Brynhildr remained in cold storage in a SHIELD storage facility in the Mojave Desert for the next 67 years. This storage facility was eventually repurposed into the Joint Dark Energy Mission Facility after the recruitment of Doctor Erik Selvig following the Puente Antiguo Incident.

This concludes all confirmed background information on Object 0-8-5, a.k.a. Brynhildr, a.k.a. Shieldmaiden, a.k.a. Jacelyn Applewood.

- Agent Eric O’Grady, SHIELD Archivist, SN:IA-M122006, Clearance Level 3


The Avengers: Ch1

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THURSDAY, APRIL 12, 2012 - 1:51 AM

“All Agents, we have confirmation of an immediate evacuation order! Withdraw to minimum safe distance immediately! This is not a drill! Repeat: This is not a drill!”

Senior Agent Maria Hill called down from the catwalk as the building’s foundations trembled and shook. “Let’s move, people! Get those Phase 2 prototypes on the trucks and move out, stat!”

“Wong! MacLain! Hurry your asses up if you don’t want to be flattened!” Commander Bridge shouted, his face flushed and sweating as he waved to two younger agents, running toward his truck, carrying large, heavy metal briefcases in both hands. The evacuation order had come in over thirty minutes ago, but until the building started shaking none of the agents had suspected how dire the situation truly was. By the time Agent Hill showed up and ordered the remaining agents to salvage the results of the secretive ‘Phase 2’ project, a good seventy percent of the staff had already fled off site. The few agents still present now struggled to collect the precious research and load it onto the remaining trucks.

Engines roared and tires squealed as agents driving trucks loaded with the priceless cargo pulled out of the massive underground garage into the vast, empty expanse of the mojave desert above. Minutes felt like hours as normally stoic, trained agents teetered on the verge of panic, running about in a frenzy as the tremors intensified. As the building’s foundations shook even the unflappable Agent Hill’s knuckles whitened as she gripped the railing of the catwalk.

“I said move, agents!” Commander Bridge shouted as another truck whizzed past him, leaving just him and his team still to evacuate. Agent Wong frantically tossed another Phase 2 briefcase into the back of the hastily-repurposed personnel transport truck, nearly tripping over her own feet as the ground shook once more. “Easy, Wong!” Bridge chided her, “We have no idea what these things are! We don’t want to get those things outta the blast zone only to find you wrecked them!”

“Sorry, sir!” Wong gasped, running to collect more briefcases.

“And where the hell is Kirby?!” Bridge barked, watching as MacLain loaded another crate.

“Sir!” called Agent Kirby, finally appearing around a corner. The small, blonde woman huffed and puffed, rolling an absolutely massive crate towards the three of them on a rickety dolly. The thing was over a foot longer than she was tall, and twice as thick. “I found this crate in one of the rooms where they were keeping the Phase 2 stuff!”

“It’s Phase 2?” Agent MacLain asked in his thick Scottish Brogue, loading the last crate save for Kirby’s into the back of the truck.

Agent Kirby fought for breath as she answered. “No clue,” she huffed, “All it has is a number on it. No serial numbers or other labels or identifiers. But it was in the room with other Phase 2 research so-”

“Quit yakkin’ and load it then!” Bridge snapped. “We’ll sort it out when we get to the rendezvous!”

MacLain and Wong quickly rushed over to help Kirby, grabbing the crate and both sides and lifting it off of the dolly. Just as Wong lifted, though, it slipped out of her grasp and toppled onto the floor with a metallic clatter. MacLain grunted as he was forced to his knees.

“Careful, it’s heavy!” Agent Kirby shouted.

MacLain grunted through gritted teeth. “Thanks for the heads up,” he snarled.

“If you louts break that thing it’ll be on your heads!” Bridge scolded them. He was completely red in the face now, sweat literally dripping from his brow to be caught by his bushy gray moustache.

Agents Wong and Kirby quickly bent down and helped grab the end of the crate. “Jesus,” Wong grunted, her sweat-laden hair plastered against her face, “This thing must weigh nearly eight hundred pounds!

“Oh shit, it’s leaking!” Kirby cried pulling her hands away from it just as the three of them pushed it into the back of the truck. Her hands were covered in a viscous, clear gel and a clearly discernable crack was running along the corner of the crate.

“Does it have any labels?” MacLain asked frantically, “Radiation? Biohazard? Volatile?”

Kirby shook her head. “Just the number!” she shouted over the din as another tremor shook the building, causing a crack to suddenly form in the wall, running up the concrete and causing several chunks of mortar to fall to the asphalt below.

“We’ll deal with it at the rendezvous point, then!” Commander Bridge called out to them, pointing at MacLain and Wong, then hooking a thumb over his shoulder. “You two, get in the cab! Kirby, get in the back with the cargo! Try and keep it from shifting too much!”

“Yes sir!” The three of them all saluted and rushed to follow his orders. Quickly, Kirby found herself clamoring into the back of the truck as Commander Bridge revved the engine, the vehicle rumbling to life. With a squeal of angry rubber, the four of them heaved out of their space, missing something from Agent Hill as they sped out of the garage. They burst into the open, desert night as the tremors continued to grow ever more violent behind them.

“We’re out, sir!” Agent Wong panted, finally catching her breath as they passed the compound’s front gate. Gently she brushed a lock of black hair out of her eyes as she collected herself.

“I can see that, Agent, thank you” Bridge grumbled, his beady, gray eyes darting back and forth between the road in front of them and the side mirror. He watched as the SHIELD base shrank into the distance behind them for a moment before turning to Wong. “Get on the radio. See if you can figure out what in the hell just happened!”

Wong nodded, reaching to grab the radio when a thundering ‘KRA-KOOM’ resounded through the air. A shockwave rippled across the desert, kicking up dust and causing the truck to shudder as it passed over the four of them. In the mirror, Commander Bridge watched as the compound imploded, collapsing into itself. A small plume of fire and ash burst up from the epicenter of the disaster. Helicopters hovered into the air around the calamity, escaping the massive sinkhole that had just swallowed up one of the more prominent SHIELD bases in the Western United States.

“Mary, mother of God,” MacLain swore under his breath as he craned his head to look out of the window in the back seat. Kirby’s mouth hung open in shock as she looked on, having the best view of the catastrophe from the back of the truck.

“Get that radio up, Agent Wong,” Bridge snapped, “Find out what in God’s name just happened!”

Wong quickly sped through the radio channels, trying to pick up a signal. “This is SHIELD transport 616, evacuated from Dark Mojave base. Can anyone hear me?” she called into the receiver, twisting the dial and looking for a signal. “Hello? Can anyone hear me?”

The immediate danger passed, Agent MacLain settled back into his seat, running a hand through his bright red hair and wiping the sweat from his bushy beard. Shifting in his seat, he turned to pull back a panel affixed to the back wall. Peering back into the van of the vehicle, he spied Kirby through the stacks upon stacks of briefcases and crates. The short, pretty blonde was busy catching her breath as she sat on the troop transport’s bench. “You okay back there, Kirby?” he asked.

Kirby nodded. “I’ll be fine. Just a little shaken,” she said taking a deep breath. MacLain nodded in response, closing the panel back up.

Taking another deep breath to get her bearings, Kirby looked around the van. Despite the cargo being relatively unsecured, nothing was threatening to fall out the open back of the truck, though some of the items were rattling a little. Carefully she stood and moved towards the cab, hoping to better secure some of the loose crates and cases. As she turned her back to the massive crate that had stymied them back at the base, however...


Kirby paused, quickly turning to regard the heavy duty crate. A moment passed, with no noise other than the rumbling of the truck to break the air. She gently unclasped her sidearm, holding it at the ready as she looked it over with wary eyes, looking it over for any sign of further damage. A pool of the viscous slime that had gotten on her hands had started to form beneath it but other than the crack it had gotten back at the base, there was nothing else to be seen. It was still just a featureless, heavy duty crate with nothing else to identify it by other than the 0-8-5 printed on its side.

“...You can’t be anything too terrible, right? You’re just… large enough to be a nuclear warhead or bioweapon delivery system… shoved in the back of a top secret room in a SHIELD secret research facility,” She mumbled nervously to herself, chuckling. “Nothing to worry about, then.”

In the cab, Wong had finally managed to find the channel she needed. “Hello? This is SHIELD transport 616 evacuated from Dark Mojave, Agent Wong speaking. Can you hear me?”

The radio crackled to life as a male voice began to speak. “Copy that, 616 this is Truck 1610, Lieutenant Seagram speaking. What’s your sitrep?”

“We’re clear of the danger zone. Situation Normal, sir,” Wong replied, “Any idea what happened, sir?”

“Negative.” Seagram replied over the radio. “There’s rumors flying all over the comms but nobody seems to know exactly what happened. The leading theory is that one of the eggheads’ experiments got out of hand, but there’s also been reports of a Code 316.”

Wong blinked, pausing for a moment. “A 316? A compromised agent?”

“Nothing’s been a hundred percent confirmed yet, but the reports seem to corroborate it,” Seagram responded.

The junior agent fidgeted in her seat. Could one of the higher ups have turned traitor on them? Could the whole thing be an inside job? he thought that a single compromised agent could cause so much panic and destruction disturbed her. She shook her head, dispelling the thought. It had yet to be confirmed after all. She decided to change the subject. “Lieutenant, where is the rendezvous point at?” She asked into the radio.

“No rendezvous has been set yet,” came the reply.

“You’re shitting me,” Wong heard Bridge call out frustratedly from the driver’s seat. “What, do they just want us to keep driving until we run out of gas and then wait for rescue?”

Seagram obviously heard him through the radio because he quickly replied. “At this point? Pretty much, yeah,” he continued, explaining the situation. “The higher ups are all talking over each other trying to figure out what to do with us, and the Director’s gone dark for some reason. Hopefully they’ll sort their shit out sooner rather than later but until then, we keep trucking.”

“The Director’s gone dark?” Wong asked, fidgeting in her seat. “Was he on site? Do we know if he got--”


All at once, a piercing, feminine shriek cried out from the back of the truck followed by the cracks of two gunshots. A mere moment later, the agents felt something slam into the side of the vehicle and the truck lurched to the side. Bridge fought to regain control of the vehicle as it skidded across the dusty road. Metal crashed and clamored in the van of the truck as Kirby screamed and wailed. The other agents didn’t fare much better as they were thrown around by all the chaos. In the mirrors, Wong watched in a brief moment of stunned clarity as crates, cases, and metal shrapnel flew out of the back of the van, scattering and smashing against the road. MacLain braced himself in the back seat only to be thrown for a loop as the panel to the back of the van suddenly swung open and hit him in the face. The gun fired once more and a bullet hole suddenly appeared in the windshield, startling Bridge into abruptly twisting the steering wheel. The truck spun out and rolled over, tumbling dozens of meters off of the road. The occupants of the truck all held on for dear life as best they could, limbs flailing as their seatbelts pinned them to their seats and airbags suddenly exploded into their faces. The world spun and rolled around them as the truck smashed into the dusty, sandy soil of the desert. The vehicle skidded across the sand, digging a furrow into the ground before it finally came to a stop, resting upside down in a ditch off the side of the road.

A minute passed before Bridge’s senses returned to him as the crackling and shrieking of the radio brought him out of unconsciousness.

“-lease respond! Truck 616 do you read me?! What the hell happened?!”

Bridge shook himself off, quickly realizing he was upside down. To his right, Wong hung from her seat, her arms dangling towards the inverted ceiling thanks to gravity. A shallow cut ran along her forehead. It bled, but it didn’t look too bad. Twisting in his inverted seat, he turned to see MacLain had fallen out of his seat and was slumped on the ground, his arm bent at an unnatural angle. The commander patted himself down, making sure he was all in one piece. He seemed to get off easiest, getting away with a slight burn on his arm from where the airbag went off.

Finally gaining his bearings back, Bridge fidgeted with his seatbelt, wrestling with the strap before finally unsticking the buckle and falling bodily to the ground with a grunt. Straightening himself up, he grabbed hold of the radio and hit the switch. “Mayday! Mayday!” He called into the radio. “This is Commander Bridge, SHIELD Truck 616. We’ve been attacked by unknown hostiles! Agents Wong and MacLain are down! Status of Agent Kirby unknown!”

“Acknowledged, Commander. Do you have eyes on the hostiles?” Seagram’s voice replied

“Negative! Attempting to pull downed agents to a safe location!” Bridge shouted, crawling over to Wong and checking her for a pulse. Thankfully it was strong, and his prodding caused her to stir.

“Nnhh… Commander?” Agent Wong mumbled dizzily.

Bridge kicked the door open behind him and began clumsily crawling backwards out of the wreckage of the truck. “Wong, get yourself free and help me get MacLain! He’s got a broken arm at least.”

Wong snapped to attention, quickly freeing herself from her seatbelt and slumping to the ground. Kicking herself free of the truck, she quickly circled the wreck to help Bridge pull MacLain free. The second they grabbed hold of him, though, he suddenly shot up with a shout.

“Aaagh!!” MacLain cried, clutching his twisted arm.

“Hold still, dammit!” Bridge snapped, shining an emergency flashlight onto the wounded agent. The man’s bone was poking out of the skin of his arm, blood flowing freely, and he had another gash going down his side. Gently, with much pained grunting from MacLain, he managed to shimmy him out of the cab and prop him up gently against the truck’s inverted van. He pulled the radio back out and switched it back on. “Seagram, are you still there?”

“I’m here, Commander!” came the reply.

“Wong’s back up but MacLain is wounded!” Bridge shouted, pulling his shirt off and pressing it to the bleeding gash on MacLain’s side. He shined his light into MacLain’s eyes. The pupils were slow to respond. “He’s losing blood fast. I need an immediate medevac and reinforcements sent to our location! Still no sign of the hostiles!”

“Acknowledged. We’ve got three helis headed your way. Two minutes out.”

“Commander!” Wong, shouted from behind the truck. Bridge turned to see her waving him toward her. Sparing a quick glance at MacLain, he quickly got to his feet to join her.

“What is it, Wong?!” he snapped, darting to her side.

“Kirby’s gone, Commander! But that’s not all…” Wong said, shining her flashlight into the back of the truck.

The light revealed dozens of crates and cases scattered, broken, and smashed against the walls of the truck. Precious Phase 2 prototypes sparked and crackled, irreparably destroyed in the wreck. But Wong’s light pointed at something even more dire. The unmarked crate had been busted open, the metal bent as if something had burst out of it from the inside. Lying in the wreckage was some kind of burst and mangled capsule with a pool of the clear ooze from before slowly draining out of its remains. Shrapnel scattered all over the back of the truck, embedded into the walls and the other crates and cases. A pool of blood had formed on the ceiling- now the floor- of the truck. And most ominously of all, smashed into the unyielding, steel wall of the truck, was the imprint of a massive, human hand.

Bridges took the scene in, stepping forward and tracing the handprint with his finger, muttering under his breath.

“What the hell…”


--- --- ---


She’d awoken in darkness, abruptly rousing from unconsciousness, gasping only to choke on her own breath. A clear, viscous ooze spewed from her mouth as her lungs attempted to evacuate the offending liquid so she could breathe. Her lurching caused her to bang her head against the metal tube she’d been imprisoned within. Her lungs freed of the slick goo, she tried to take a breath again only to realize that there was no oxygen to be found. She panicked, breathlessly gasping for air that did not exist. Her confines were tight and constricting as she thrashed and twisted in place. Her muscles bulged, her elbows, fists, knees, and feet smashing against her cylindrical tomb. Her panicked strength was on her side, thankfully as she broke free from one prison only to find herself in another, like she was trapped within some twisted metal nesting doll. She heard a muffled voice squeal from outside her prison but she was still too panicked to make any sense of things. Her lungs burned for air, and with more room to move now, she threw her arms and legs in front of her in a desperate attempt to throw off the lid of the coffin that held her.

With a massive heave of strength, she succeeded. The lid of the box practically sailed away from her, spinning into the night as her lungs gasped and sucked at the life-giving air. Not an instant passed for her to get her bearings, however, when a feminine shriek rang out behind her. She whipped around to look for the source of the voice when there was a sudden “CRACK” and a sense-shattering force impacted right between her eyes. Her head snapped back on her neck as pain rang through her skull. It felt like she’d taken a buck from a supersonic Rainbow Dash directly to the forehead.

She shouted, clutching her forehead when the noise cracked out again and she felt another powerful impact against her shoulder, causing her to twist backwards. She rubbed the impact point, trying to massage the pain away and attempted to stand, only to stumble as the rumble of the moving truck threw her already unsteady limbs off balance. Spinning on one foot, she caught a glimpse of a terrified looking creature with hairless, piglike skin, a flat face, and a blonde mane of hair, a few shades lighter than her own. Before she could gain her bearings, though, she tripped over her ungainly limbs, her body shifting heavily to one side and sending her hurtling into the wall. She tried to throw an arm out to catch herself, but when the limb made contact with the wall of the moving carriage she felt it sink into the metal as she slammed into it bodily.

Her heart jumped in panic as the whole carriage lurched as the world around her exploded into noise. Metal crates and cases tumbled all around her as the wheels of the vehicle screeched and squealed in protest, kicking up dirt that choked the air through the open carriage back. She yelped, panicking as crates began to spill over her, smacking her in the face and nearly making her fall out the open back before they scattered into the road behind them. A case hit a panel in the wall, sending it flying open and revealing another part of the carriage, though she was hardly in a place to notice. The strange creature with the piglike skin screamed as it too was thrown about, the thing in its hand ringing off another deafening ‘CRACK!’

She screamed as the entire carriage went into a tumble, rolling over and spinning end over end. Dust kicked up into her eyes and debris pelted her from all sides as the world around her did its best imitation of a tumble dryer. Moments felt like hours as the sound of crunching, twisting metal pierced her ears and metal crates slammed repeatedly into her body.

And then she was airborne.

She was launched out of the back of the vehicle as it rolled into a final skid on its roof, digging a trench beneath it. She hung in the air as the world seemed to suddenly stop. Horizontal to the ground, she hovered in the air for that split moment of time. Though her panicked mind was awash with chaotic feelings of fear, pain, anger, shock, confusion, and dread, a single rational line of thought came to the forefront for that split instant as they all fought for dominance.

“The stars look different tonight…”

And then she slammed bodily into the ground, her mind reeling once more from everything that had just happened. She panted heavily, sweat running in rivulets down every inch of her body as she trembled in the dirt. Her body ached as, limbs shaking, she stumbled to all fours to try and flee the terrorizing scene.

Only to stumble as her limbs bent in all the wrong ways and she slammed back onto her face.

Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt as much as she thought it should, though the thought was hardly a comfort at the time. Briefly she thought her legs must have all been broken in the chaos only to realize that no, that couldn’t be. Her whole body ached with bruises, sure, but her limbs didn’t hurt enough for them to all be broken.
Rolling onto her back she twisted to try and get a good look at herself. Her heart skipped a beat as she brought her arms into view. Her mouth opened to scream, but her strained vocal cords could only manage a breathy yelp.

Her limbs didn’t end in the familiar orange hooves she’d known for her whole life. Instead they each ended in five, wiggly, blunted claws with little slivers of keratin at their ends. Dimly she recognized somewhere in her subconscious that her hooves had been replaced with the hands of a minotaur, though her thoughts were still too panicked and feral to latch onto that fact.

Her healthy orange coat had fallen out or been shaved away, replaced with peachy, pinkish, piglike skin, like on the strange creature she saw earlier in the carriage. Her arms bent in about the same directions that her forelimbs had, but the joints had all been moved around. They visibly bulged with corded muscle that would have been covered by her fur if she still had any.

Looking down her body, a pair of fleshy orbs came into view, and it took a shocked moment to notice the nipples they were capped with to realize that they were her teats; upsized and moved up to the front of her barrel rather than towards the back. Between the large, fleshy sacks she looked down further to see her undercarriage had been chiseled with muscles that were normally hidden by the little pot belly most ponies naturally formed. These muscles trailed down to a pair of wide hips that sprung out into a pair of thick, powerfully muscled legs. And those legs ended in soft, padded feet capped with five little toes, like some of the Great Ape Tribes of the Zebrican Jungles had. And her tail was just straight-up gone.

Her mind was still whirling in panicked confusion, fear, and now a little disgust at seeing her transformed body, though more thoughts were dimly coming to the forefront again. She began to remember a dream she’d had… or at least something she’d thought was a dream.

She’d been going out to check the south fields when a burst of light and magic surrounded her and she was dumped in a dreary, ruined village somewhere she didn’t recognize. Strange creatures in ugly clothes ran all about, shouting in some language she couldn’t place and pointing strange muskets at her. To make matters worse, her own body had been twisted into something of their likeness. When she started feeling the impacts of what felt like a thousand tiny minotaurs all punching her repeatedly she slipped into a feral panic. Her instincts from the days when ancient ponies ran in herds across the open fields of Neighropa being hunted by primitive dragons and foraging for grass kicked in and her fight-or-flight response took over. With nowhere to run, and with the impacts smacking painfully against her but not opening a single wound that bled, she opted to fight. Her gait was clumsy and her swings were wild, but it only seemed that she had to brush against the creatures to send them flying. She fought for what must have been hours, waves upon waves of them coming after her without any end or respite. She was panting, her throat parched and her limbs heavy, at the edge of collapsing, when a massive carriage mounted with what looked to be a stretched, dull-gray version of Pinkie Pie’s party cannon rolled over the hillside. It pointed its barrel at her and then…

...and then she woke up in the coffin.

Had she died? Did she just return from the dead somehow or was this Tartarus? Her breathing was quick and shallow, as she shook there, trembling naked in the dirt. Her thoughts were still awash with panic and confusion and pain as she rolled to her new knees, looking at the smoking wreck of the strange metal carriage that she’d awoken in. A part of her wanted to see if she could help, but more of her was still screaming in fear. The creature she’d seen in the carriage with her looked too much like the ones that had attacked her in her dream… which seemed more and more likely to have been real.

Panic still reigned in her mind as she unsteadily climbed to her feet, faintly remembering how she’d moved in that not-a-dream and remembering how Iron Will had moved around when he’d come to town. In her new body it felt more natural to stand like this anyway. She wavered, both from the dizziness and the newness of her body…

...and then letting her instincts take over, she ran.

Wind blasted against her face as she clumsily ran through the desert. Her blonde mane - which she had thankfully managed to keep - fluttered in the breeze as she darted across the sand, despite being caked with sweat and dirt. Her soft feet felt like they were on fire as they repeatedly slammed into the coarse soil, though she dared not stop. An odd buzz began to fill the air around her, though she dared not stop.

She hadn’t been running for too terribly long, though it had felt like hours, when she crested a small, sandy hill. She paused for a few minutes at the top to catch her breath, slumping over slightly and resting her new hands on her knees. She gulped, trying to catch her breath as she spent several minutes on the hill, hoping she was far enough away from the wreck. After a few minutes rest with nothing but the buzz in the air, she scanned the horizon.

Just at the edge of what she could see there were lights. Lights meant civilization. Ponies? More of the strange creatures? Who could tell? She doubted she was even in Equestria anymore. Still, she was exposed and alone in the desert and there was no way she could survive without help. As her senses slowly returned to her she resolved that she would have to take the risk.

She noticed the buzzing noise was growing louder, though, setting her nerves a-tingle and making her already rapid heart rate speed up even further. She looked over her shoulder to see several blindingly bright lights in the sky, shining down from strange, sleek, whirligig vehicles, not unlike the one Pinkie Pie hid in her basement, though significantly larger and faster. She gulped, not wanting to draw their attention when all of a sudden a voice shouted out at her from across the desert.


Applejack’s heart leapt into her throat and adrenaline rushed through her veins as she whipped around to see the creature from the carriage, nearly stumbling on her unsteady feet. The strange, feminine, blonde creature from before was pointing something at her, rapidly stepping closer. Its light blonde mane was matted with sweat and its chest was heaving heavily. A reddened bandage had been hastily and haphazardly applied to a gash that started on its forehead, slashing down the bridge of its nose and across its face. As the creature got closer she recognized the item in its hand as a pistol, though unlike any of the flintlock numbers she’d seen in Equestria.

Her panic was rising again. She was about to break out into a run when something caught her attention, puzzling her.

“Was that…?”

“Get down on your knees and put your hands where I can see them!” The creature shouted once more, her grip (judging by its voice it was definitely a ‘her’) on the pistol shaking.

“Equestrian!” she thought, gasping as the creature continued to approach. “This one speaks Equestrian!”

It was a risk, she knew, but it was the first sign that maybe, just maybe she could make some sense of this strange new world. She held her freaky new arms out and just above her head. “Equestrian?!” she called out. “Y’all speak Equestrian?!”

The creature stopped at the bottom of the ridge, looking up at her quizzically and never once aiming the pistol away from her. The strange whirligig machines were upon them now, bright spotlights shining down upon them. “I speak English,” the creature called back to her, twitching the pistol in her hands in a clear ‘get down here’ motion. “Come down to the bottom of the ridge! Slowly! No sudden movements!”

She paused for a moment. The creature was clearly armed, though now that things were coming back to her, she wasn’t certain that her pistol could even hurt her. That on its own was puzzle enough, but the thought was set aside as she quickly considered what to do. She could keep running, but this was the first creature she’d met in this strange world that she could even begin to understand. It was risky -- incredibly so -- and perhaps it was the exhaustion getting to her or the rush of relief at merely hearing a language she could understand, or maybe it was the fact that, somehow, the creature looked even more afraid of her than she was of it, if that was even possible… but she complied.

Slowly she stepped down the ridge, her bare feet irritated by the sandy soil as she cautiously approached the strange creature. The closer she got the more she realized how small the creature really was… Or perhaps she was big? Either way, she noticed the creature barely came up to her shoulder as she approached.

“That’s far enough!” the creature said as she came within a few arms lengths of her. She stopped, keeping her new arms above her head. “Identify yourself!”

She blinked. Her name. With all the panic, confusion, relief, and exhaustion running through her mind it actually took her a few moments to even remember her own name. It came to her, though, as her mind cleared further and further.

“...Applejack” she said, finally.

The creature scowled. “I asked for your name, not your favorite breakfast cereal!”

Applejack blinked. “That is my name,” she insisted, wincing as several of the whirligig machines landed around them, kicking up dust and making a lot of noise. She continued, raising her voice to compensate. “My name is Applejack. Are you with the guard here? Can you tell me where I am?”

“You don’t know?” the creature asked, raising an eyebrow. She looked suspicious for a moment before her eyes widened with realization. “Of course you don’t know you were trapped in a tube.”

“A tube?” Applejack asked, puzzled. She shook it off though and continued to press the creature. “Please, Ma’am, I don’t know where I am and-” she took a step closer only to stop as the creature clicked something on her pistol.

“Not another step.” She said. “I don’t know why you were in that tube. What are you--”

“Stand down, Agent!” A voice called from one of the landed machines. The two of them turned to see a tall, dark-skinned creature stepping out from the whirligig. He surveyed the both of them with a cool, unflappable confidence that, given the situation, seemed practically superhuman. His singular eye took everything in as he stepped down from the vehicle, his black longcoat billowing behind him. Several other creatures took up position behind him, their faces concealed by helmets and carrying strange muskets, but the one-eyed creature was unarmed. He approached Applejack, raising his own hands slightly. She gulped as he approached her.

“My name is Director Nick Fury of SHIELD.” He introduced himself coolly as he came within a few arms lengths of her. “Who are you?” he asked.

She paused for a moment as she took the man in. Somehow, this unarmed man with only one eye was more intimidating than any of the other creatures she’d met so far, including the ones who attacked her. And yet, she didn’t feel threatened by the man. She could see a fire in his eye, but it wasn’t directed at her… not yet at least.

“A-Applejack.” She finally answered with a slight stutter. The absurdity of the world around her had finally caused her to reach her breaking point as the mixture of panic, pain, fear, and relief over the last half hour or wore her down. Her arms fell in exhaustion and her voice wavered as she continued, “My n-name’s Applejack, sir.” She stifled a sniffle as a tear rolled down her cheek. “Is SHIELD the guard around here? Please, I don’t know where I am. Nothing makes sense and I just want to get home.”

Something softened in the strange creature for just a moment, though he never lost his composure. He lowered his arms as he spoke again, “Easy, ma’am. Try and stay calm. We’ll try and answer your questions as best you can if you can answer some of ours.” He looked around at the landscape. “Not here, though. We need to get back to base. Are you okay to ride with us?”

Applejack looked at the strange whirligig machines. She’d never trusted Pinkie’s absurd candy contraption and she was always wary about flying. Her burning need for answers, though, finally pressed her into nodding. “A-alright.”

Director Fury snapped his fingers at the Agents behind him. “Will somebody please get this young woman a blanket already?!” he ordered them before turning back to Applejack. For the smallest of instants, she swore she saw him smile, but with a blink he was back to his usual stoic facade. “We’ll get you sorted Applejack. Don’t worry.”

“Thank you…” She intoned weakly as one of the masked creatures approached her with a long, woolen gray blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders. “Oh, Celestia, thank you…” she said, stepping over to the Director’s side.

He nodded, briefly looking over her shoulder at the blonde creature, who’d been standing there dumbly since he’d arrived. “You coming, Agent?” he asked.

The agent blinked and snapped a hasty salute before scurrying towards them.

Applejack stepped up into the whirligig, the cold metal floor sending a shiver up her spine as her bare foot touched it. She was ushered into a seat across from the Director, wrapping the blanket around her naked skin. She settled into the seat, looking across at him. “Thank you,” she repeated, the sheer madness of the last half hour finally catching up to her in full. Darkness played at the edge of her vision as the overwhelmed girl leaned back into her seat. “Thank you,” she muttered one last time.

Finally, sleep took her.

The Avengers: Ch2

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THURSDAY, APRIL 12, 2012 - 7:34 AM

“What do you make of her, Coulson?”

The two agents stood in a dimly lit room, watching the sleeping woman through a one-way mirror. Her chest rose and fell as she breathed, her eyes twitching behind her eyelids. Agent Phil Coulson watched her with a neutral, if curious expression, considering what he knew of her.

She was a big one, that was for sure. She stood a mighty six-foot-six with thick, corded muscles running through her limbs and core. What was most astonishing about her, though, was her sheer weight. Even a large woman like her shouldn’t have weighed more than 250 pounds or so, even with all that muscle. When they weighed her, she surpassed 400 pounds easily. It took three agents minimum to handle her at any one time if there wasn’t a gurney involved, and somehow she’d slept through every minute of the transition.

She was definitely the strangest case he’d had to deal with over the last few years.

After a moment, Coulson answered. “Asgardian probably. Agent Kirby’s reports stated that she was able to flip a fully loaded personnel truck from the inside, and that bullets bounced off of her like they were popgun corks. Kirby also reported that she managed to consistently outpace her, and Kirby was the champion runner in her university cross-country track team three years strong, so that says something. Especially so since she described Applejack’s running as clumsy and even ‘toddler-like.’”

Agent Maria Hill grunted. “You can’t possibly believe that her name is Applejack, can you? She might as well be calling herself Count Chocula.”

Phil shrugged, not looking away from the giant woman behind the glass. “She’s clearly not exactly human, Agent Hill. I’m not privy to alien nomenclature. And unless you’re taking night classes I haven’t heard about, I doubt you are either,” he said with a mild smirk.

Hill frowned. “Whatever her name is, we need to get to the bottom of this, and quickly.”

“Does she strike you as something we need to ‘get to the bottom of?’” Phil asked. “Who’s to say she wasn’t being genuine when she said she was lost and wanted to get home?”

She turned away from the window, scowling at him “She attacked our agents and fled the scene, leading Agent Kirby on a chase for nearly half an hour!”

“...after freeing herself from a crate she’d apparently been suspended in for quite some time, given the age of its numbering system,” he finished for her. “Who could blame her for being panicked and confused? And when Director Fury handed her an olive branch, she cooperated and came with us quietly.”

Agent Hill huffed. “I don’t like it. Something’s up.”

“Maybe,” He admitted, “Or maybe Director Fury’s right and we’ve drawn a lucky hand for once.” He looked away from the window, finally turning to her and raising an eyebrow. “What makes you so certain she’s a hostile?” He asked.

“Maybe the fact she started busting up SHIELD personnel not even ten minutes after Loki destroyed the research facility? The timing doesn’t strike you as fishy at all?” Hill turned back to the window, watching the woman shift in her sleep.

Coulson turned back to the window, shrugging a shoulder. “A year ago I’d have agreed with you. Then I met somebody who I was convinced was a foreign enemy operative that turned out to be a guy trying to get back his favorite hammer.” He shook his head. “There are more strange and bizarre things on this earth than we could have ever dreamed of, Maria... And they’re starting to come out of the woodwork. I’m hesitant to assume anything anymore.”

“When did you become so trusting, Coulson?”

He smiled wryly. “It’s not trust. And it started somewhere around the time a billionaire playboy decided to risk his own pampered skin and save the world by flying around in a glorified garbage can.”

Hill was silent for a moment before letting out a long breath and shaking her head. “I hope you and the Director know what you’re doing, Phil.”

At that moment, the speakers in the room crackled to life. The woman in the window shifted in her bed, the blankets sliding across her as she stirred. She groaned, wincing as she slowly pulled herself out of the mire of sleep and into wakefulness.

Phil turned to walk to the door, nodding as he passed Agent Hill. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough.” he said.


--- --- ---


The first thing Applejack did upon waking up was immediately regret the decision.

Her head throbbed as awareness came to her. She felt slick and sticky from the dirt, sweat, and grime she’d accrued during her jaunt through the desert. The harsh light of the room seared her eyes as she blinked awake. She hissed, bringing an arm up and over her face to try and shield herself from the blinding light that seemed to seek out her face from every angle of the room. With a pained groan, she pushed through the ache in her back and shoulders, sitting up in the slightly-too-firm bed she’d been placed in, the blankets falling off of her and exposing her to the chilled, stale air.

The air was dry; so much so that it felt as if it sucked the moisture right out of her nose and throat. Breathing almost burned as she squinted around the room. Every single surface around her was a piercing, perfect white, reflecting the fluorescent glare. Her eyes welled up with pained tears as she blinked away the burning sensation, her eyes slowly adjusting to the brightness. She looked around, groggily attempting to get her bearings.

She was lying in a bed, just barely big enough to contain her, and covered by sheets that were warm, but a bit stiff and itchy, like they’d been washed with too much starch. She pushed the irritating cloth off her, only to shiver as the cool air chilled her, prickling against her furless skin. Rubbing her hands against her arms to warm them up, she continued to try and get a sense of her surroundings.

The floor was covered by a white carpet so clean it almost seemed to shine like tile. Looking to her right, she spotted a small table with a wooden chair next to it. Behind the table, she noticed a gleaming, silver door without any handles to speak of. Immediately that worried her. How would she open a door with no handles? She also noticed that one corner of the room was walled off, separated from her by another handleless door. Shelving the thought for the moment, she turned and looked down towards the foot of the bed. A white footlocker sat at its end and across the room from her, a couple of white armchairs sat around a low coffee table, with a mirror set into the wall behind her. She caught a look at herself in the mirror, giving her pause.

Slowly, she swung her legs over the side of the bed, shakily standing on two legs and carefully crossing the room, supporting herself with the chairs as she passed, until she stood not two feet away from the large mirror. The face that looked back was nothing short of alien. Her blonde mane was still matted with sweat and dirt, but that was relatively normal. The rest of her though had completely changed.

Her eyes were the same emerald green as always, but they were smaller than she remembered, taking up nowhere near the area on their face that they used to. Her muzzle had been replaced by a strange bump that looked sort of beak-like in shape, though when she poked it with one of her new fingers it bent and shifted. Not a beak then. Her face was much flatter than normal, her mouth no longer pushed out in a muzzle, but even with the rest of her face, save for a pair of full, pink lips. Her fur coat was gone, just as it was everywhere else on her body, replaced with pale, peachy pink skin. Her freckles still dusted her cheeks and not-muzzle, but they were darker on her pale skin rather than lighter like they used to be. Her ears, possibly the strangest looking things about her transformation, no longer poked through her mane, but rested flat on the sides of her head. There was no denying it; She’d become one of the strange creatures she’d met not a few hours ago.

Applejack was unsure what to think as she stared at the new girl in the mirror. In some strange, incalculable way, she could recognize the girl as herself. There was definitely an intangible sort of resemblance to her former pony self in her new face, though she would be hard pressed to quantify exactly what it was. The eyes were definitely the most strikingly similar thing about her new body, but it went deeper than that. Applejack wasn’t really sure she could verbalize it.

She reached out, touching the mirror with her new fingers, tracing them along the contours of her reflection. Curiosity, horror, and loss welled up inside her, but none of them could compare to the sheer level of confusion and shock that overshadowed all of them.

And the whole time, Maria watched from the other side of the mirror, studying her.

“It ain’t a dream.” Applejack muttered to herself. “I keep thinking I’m gonna wake up but it ain’t a dream, is it?”

Almost as if in response, a sudden beep came from the handleless door she’d noticed earlier. Applejack turned and a moment later the two silvery doors ‘swooshed’ open revealing another creature. Like the rest of the creatures she’d come in contact with so far, he stood shorter than her, his eyes not quite coming up to the base of her new chin. He had short brown hair, though it seemed to be receding a little, and friendly blue eyes. In his hands he carried a cup and a pitcher of ice water.

She noticed that this one wore a suit, with a fitted jacket, collar, and a tie. Something she didn’t recognize hung from his breast pocket. Maybe this one was a noble? A quick look over him and his demeanor made her doubt that. Applejack couldn’t put her newfound finger on it, but there was something approachable about this one. He smiled genuinely at her, his posture relaxed, though she couldn’t help but notice a wariness in his eyes. “Good,” he said as he saw her standing there. “I’m glad to see you awake. Some of us were getting worried after you managed to sleep through the whole trip over.”

Applejack paused, taking the newcomer in. She eyed him suspiciously, trying to figure out whether or not he was genuine. Her senses were all telling her he was, but her world had been turned upside down so many times in what, to her, seemed to be just the past day or so. She wasn’t sure if she could trust anything, even her own senses right now.

“Where am I?” she asked, cautiously.

“Safe,” the newcomer replied, stepping closer. “Water?” he offered her, pouring a glass of ice water from the pitcher he held. He offered it to her and it suddenly struck Applejack just how incredibly thirsty she was. After a long day of fighting strange creatures and running across deserts, her throat felt like it was about to shrivel up. Still not particularly coordinated with her new limbs, she reached out, taking it in both hands before slurping at it greedily.

“Seems like you needed that,” the man said, smirking. He motioned to the chairs. “Why don’t we sit down? I think we have a lot to discuss, Miss…?”

“Applejack,” she said, finishing off the glass, tentatively trusting herself to hold it in one hand. “My name’s Applejack.”

“Agent Phil Coulson. I’m with SHIELD,” he replied, placing the pitcher of water down on the low coffee table and sitting in one of the seats.

Still wary, Applejack hesitantly placed her empty glass on the table, sitting down into the chair opposite him. Phil leaned over, refilling her glass before leaning back in his seat and smiling at her.

“Y’all didn’t answer my question, really, Mr. Coal Sun,” She said, raising a suspicious eyebrow. “Where am I?”

“It’s pronounced ‘Coulson,’” he corrected her, never losing the genial attitude. “And I’d like to tell you; honestly I would. Unfortunately, until I know a little more about you that’s going to have to remain classified.”

“Classified?” Applejack frowned, looking him up and down. “What are you, some kind of super spy from a Con Mane story?”

Phil tilted his head at the reference, but didn’t comment on it. “Something like that,” he said instead. “At the moment, though, I’d like to hope that I’m on your side. You’ve caused a lot of fuss in the past few hours, Applejack, and unfortunately this is just about the worst time for us to have to deal with anymore fusses.”

AJ scowled. “Hate to be inconveniencing y’all, but I ain’t exactly having the best day either.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Coulson said, never once breaking eye contact. “Which is why I’m hoping we can make each others’ days a little better. We’re hoping to get a better sense of who you are, where you came from, and if we can be trusted to let you out.”

Applejack’s scowl became fiery. “Am I in prison?” She asked, straining herself to keep calm, though her fist was clearly clenching.

“Not yet. And hopefully we won’t have to put you there. But that all depends on how this talk goes,” he replied. “Some of the other Agents are suspicious of you. You damaged a lot of SHIELD property and even injured some of our personnel, before what some people interpret as ‘fleeing the scene.’ What’s more, your timing in doing so was… unfortunate.”

Applejack’s eyes widened as she took in Coulson’s words. “I hurt somepony?” she muttered, her eyes trailing down to her new hands for a moment before looking back up at Phil. “Are they gonna be alright?”

“They are.” It was barely perceptible, but Phil Coulson seemed to relax, just a little, in that moment. “They’ll all make full recoveries.”

AJ let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “At least there’s that, I guess,” she muttered.

“Director Fury sees something in you, and that’s why we’re here,” Phil continued. “We really don’t want to have to lock you up - personally I think you’re just another victim in all of this - but if it comes to it we might have to. I know you’re just as confused about all this as we are, though, so here’s what I propose: You ask a question, then I’ll ask a question. Then you, then me, and so on until we reach an understanding. We’ll see what happens from there.”

“Director Fury…” AJ mused. “He was the fella with the eyepatch?”

“The same.” Coulson nodded.

Applejack paused and very carefully considered Coulson’s offer. Honestly, it didn’t sound terrible, all circumstances considered. She needed answers and now she could ask him just as many questions as she asked her. These people seemed at least a somewhat decent sort. They’d given her a bed and water, after all, which was more than she could say for the strangely dressed funny-talking ones that attacked her with muskets and pistols right out. And if she really did accidentally hurt somepony she supposed they had a reason not to trust her.

Also, if she refused they’d probably just lock her up anyway.

Applejack wasn’t stupid, though. Far from it. Simple? Perhaps. Uneducated? Probably. Uncomplicated? Almost certainly. But she was never stupid. Spies weren’t exactly common in Equestria, but even just from the occasional light action novel she borrowed from Twilight she knew they weren’t exactly always trustworthy.

At the same time, she also was aware enough to realize what her story would look like from Coulson’s perspective. As she considered Phil’s proposal it came to her that, when she told her story, it would probably come across as absurd. Equestria was a land of strange magic and confusing oddities sometimes, sure, but if a pony suddenly showed up on her farm and claimed that they were actually a pig-skinned monkey alien and needed help, she’d be hard pressed to believe them.

...well maybe not her. She was always good at telling when ponies were lying - almost supernaturally so. But any normal pony who wasn’t attached to the mystical embodiment of honesty probably wouldn’t believe them.

What was more was at this point she was having trouble ruling out the “alien” part of that comparison. She might not have been the most educated pony but she got enough primary schooling to know that the globe had been circumnavigated, and as far as she knew there weren’t any species like Coulson’s… and now hers... on Equus. Even if there was, Applejack was a good listener, and while she didn’t always fully understand Twilight’s magical rambles, over the time AJ had known her she’d been able to puzzle together that transformations like the one she’d been through were difficult, usually unsustainable, and never happened for no good reason.

The answer, horrifying as it was, started to become clear. She wasn’t in Equestria anymore. She probably wasn’t even on Equus anymore.

“Miss Applejack?” Coulson asked, quirking a curious eyebrow.

Applejack snapped back to attention with a small gasp. She must’ve been silent for a few straight minutes while he waited. “Sorry,” she muttered, her emotions threatening to bubble over. She took a long, slow breath as she considered the situation she was in. In all honesty, she'd faced worse if she really thought about it. Discord was a reality warper. Queen Chrysalis nearly conquered her country, and in the process nearly killed many of the ponies closest to her. King Sombra was the physical embodiment of hatred and misery. Right now, she didn't seem at risk of being attacked by an ungodly powerful foe again, and in all likelihood her friends were still safe back home. Compared to those events, this... well it wasn't a cakewalk, but it was comparatively less dire. Probably.

With a great amount of physical effort, she stifled her bubbling panic and anguish, bottling them away to deal with later. She took another long, deep breath, looking him in the eye and answering, “It’s a good enough idea, Mr. Coulson, but I have to get a couple promises from you before I can agree.”

Coulson’s smile flattened ever so slightly. “What promises?”

Applejack leaned forward. “First, I don’t wanna hear no lies from you,” she said, firmly. “Y’all’re a spy. I get that. If y’all really, really can’t answer something, you can tell me it’s classified and…" she sighed, "I’ll try to understand. But I want you to be straight with me. No riddles, no half-truths, no clever dancing ‘round the questions, and no lying. I’m really good at telling when people are being dishonest with me, Mr. Coulson.”

Coulson nodded, taking all of her demands in stride, deciding them to be more than reasonable. “Fair enough.”

“And second…” Applejack trailed off, her eyes narrowing as she tried to put her thoughts into words. She leaned back and spoke with a sigh, “I’m getting the feeling that some of my answers are gonna sound like downright horseapples to you... So I want you to try and… I guess give me the benefit of the doubt.”

Coulson tilted his head, eyebrow raising again, though his smile seemed to return. “I was planning to do that anyway. I’ve seen enough lately that I’m a bit more flexible in what I’ll believe, Miss Applejack,” he said, leaning forward. “Plus, I’m not so bad at telling when somebody is lying myself.”

Applejack leaned forward, taking hold of the glass of water. “Alright then,” she said, taking a long sip of water before continuing. She looked him dead in the eye and asked, “What are we?”

Coulson blinked. His smile and posture didn’t change but he’d definitely blinked. “What do you mean, Miss Applejack?”

“Exactly what I asked,” she said. “What are we? What are y’all called?” she motioned up and down her body. “What are we called?”

Whatever Coulson had been expecting her to ask, it definitely wasn’t that. The sheer enormity of the question was a lot for him to take in, though he didn’t let it show. And the fact that she asked such a basic, fundamental question was incredibly telling about just how much of a fish out of water this young lady was.

“Humans,” Coulson answered. “Our species is called humans. Homo-Sapiens if you want to get technical about it.” He scratched at an ear. “I have to say, Miss Applejack, I didn’t quite expect that question,” He said, carefully. "In fact, it actually makes some of the questions I had prepared moot."

“I warned you,” she shrugged with something of an apologetic chuckle.

“I take it then that you’re saying you weren’t always human?” he asked. “You were something else?”

“That’s two questions, Mr. Coulson, but yeah.” Applejack nodded. “I ain’t a hyoo-man like y’all. I’m a pony.”

“A pony.” Coulson deadpanned.

“From Equestria,” she continued. “A country ruled by Princesses Celestia and Luna on the planet Equus. I don’t suppose ya’ll know maybe how to get back there?”

Coulson leaned back in his chair again, his eyes wandering for a split moment before locking with AJ’s again. “I… can’t say I do,” he trailed off. A moment later he chuckled lightly. “Well, that blows my ‘lost Asgardian’ theory out of the water.”

Applejack frowned curiously. She wanted to ask after that comment, but there were more important things to ask.

“Alright…” she muttered, frowning and looking down at her hands again, wringing them together. “Where am I?”

Coulson frowned. “I already told you-”

“Not what I mean,” she interrupted. “I mean… where are we? If y’all don’t know what Equus or Equestria is, then I’m clearly pretty far from home, Mr. Coulson. Where’d I get m’self stuck?”

“Ahh…” Coulson nodded. “You’re on Earth.”

Applejack frowned. “Earth?”

Coulson nodded. “Earth.”

Applejack stood up, glaring at him accusingly. “I thought we agreed on no half-truths or dancing around the question, Mr. Coulson. Of course I’m on earth. I’m pretty sure I can tell I’m standing on the ground.”

Coulson raised his hands placatingly. “No, no… Earth is the name of our planet.”

She blinked, the anger draining from her face. She paused a moment before speaking. “Y’all’re kidding me.”

“I agreed. No lies.” Coulson said simply.

“Y’all named your planet Earth?” she asked, snorting a little to muffle a befuddled chuckle. “Seriously? Earth. You’re telling me that all y’all basically went and named your planet ‘Dirt?’”

Coulson chuckled. “Well when you put it like that…”

Applejack snorted back another laugh. “I mean don’t get me wrong, I got a fine appreciation for earth; wouldn’t be much of an Earth pony if I didn’t. I don’t think I’d be crazy enough to name my whole planet after it if I had the choice, though.”

“Earth pony?” Phil asked, thinking back over what she said. “Are you saying you’re some kind of… dirt pony, then?”

Applejack suddenly scowled. “Hey, now. Let’s not go bringin’ slurs into this.”

Coulson raised his hands placatingly again. “Sorry, I didn’t know.”

She pursed her lips. “No, I guess y’all couldn’t’ve.” She cleared her throat. “Yeah, I’m an earth pony. There are bunches of kinds of ponies in Equestria, but the ones ya’ll see the most are Earth ponies, Pegasi, and Unicorns. Earth ponies have a magic connection to the earth… er… soil, I suppose. Pegasi can fly and can control the clouds and weather, and unicorns can do fancy magic tricks with them horns a’ theirs. There are more kinds of pony, too, but y’all don’t see ‘em as often.”

Coulson couldn’t help but fold his arms under his chin, fascinated. “Interesting. It sounds like Earth ponies get the short end of the stick though?”

AJ scoffed. “Yeah, that’s what all them high-faultin’ pegasi and unicorns think, but we’re pretty good where we are. We’re a lot stronger and can take a lot more punishment than either pegasi or unicorns can. Tend to live longer too. And we can also sorta…” she trailed off, looking for the right word, “...coax plants to grow faster or in certain ways. Helps a lot, being a farmer and all.”

“You’re a farmer then?” Coulson asked.

“Born and raised! Sweet Apple Acres grows the finest apple orchards y’all ever did see!” She nodded proudly, beaming for a moment before suddenly scowling again. “Hey wait a minute! This was supposed to be one-to-one questioning and y’all have asked three!

Coulson blinked, again, looking surprised, though this time a touch embarrassed as well. “Oh, yes. You’re right. Sorry about that, Miss Applejack. You can go ahead and ask three of me.”

She nodded. “Alright. And y’all can call me Applejack, Mr. Coulson. Callin’ me ‘Miss’ all the time makes me feel like some hoity-toity noble-type.”

Phil nodded. “Of course, as long as you call me ‘Phil.’”

She smiled faintly, though it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Alright, Phil,” she asked, “How’d I get here?”

“You mean you don’t know?” Coulson asked before shaking his head. “I have no idea how you got to this world, Applejack.”

“No,” AJ clarified. “I mean… how’d I get on that carriage? Y’all said I broke your property, right? The carriage was one of yours. How’d I even get there in the first place? The last thing I remember was a bunch of nasty folks in funny outfits and screamin’ words in a language that made no sense. They started firing pistols and muskets at me and somehow I got knocked out. Then I woke up in your carriage. How’d I get from there to here?”

“Ah.” Phil said, leaning back and taking a deep breath. “We did some digging and it seems that you were probably taken captive by a group of people called Nazis. Terrible, terrible, people, but they’re… mostly gone now. Somehow they managed to keep you alive in a special gel of some kind. After they were beaten, SHIELD came and confiscated a lot of the weapons they’d collected and stored them away.” Coulson looked at her with a sympathetic frown. “I’m afraid we owe you an apology, Applejack. When we confiscated their weapons we must have gotten ahold of the capsule you were being kept in. Assuming you were a weapon of some kind you were… stored away in a SHIELD facility.”

Applejack’s face fell further and further into shock as Phil explained before twisting into an offended scowl and even into anger. “Y’all mean to tell me that I was shoved in a box and y’all didn’t open the box to check?”

Phil sighed. “Assuming this works out, we’d like to try and make it up to you. All I can offer is SHIELD’s most sincere apologies.”

Applejack sputtered. “I… You…” She tried to form the words. She’d apparently been stuck in a box, asleep in a glorified basement? Nobody had even been bothered to check inside even once? “Why in the name of Celestia wouldn’t you check?!”

“It’s not a defense,” Coulson said, “but trying to investigate or understand some of the things we took from the Nazis… killed our agents. Sometimes painfully. Eventually we took the cautious route and decided to stop playing with fire.”

Applejack blinked. Trying to investigate the things they confiscated killed people? That was… a surprisingly better defense than Coulson claimed.

Didn’t make her happy about it though.

She was about to ask a final question when something struck her. Phil had said she’d been stored away in one of their facilities… but he’d neglected to mention something very important.

“ long?” Applejack asked, her eyes suddenly wide with worry and a nervous sweat beading on her brow.

“I’m sorry?” Phil replied.

“How long was I in ‘storage?’” Applejack asked, a tremble in her voice.

Phil broke eye contact. “I’m very sorry…” he began.

“How long, Phil?” AJ demanded, clenching her fists.

“...based on the number of your crate,” Phil said solemnly, “Sixty-seven years.”

The air rushed out of Applejack’s lungs. All the emotions she'd bottled up started to roil to the surface. The world seemed to shatter around her as the words sunk in. It was as if everything around her had gone still as they continued to echo in her head. Her hands trembled and her eyes widened. “...Sixty seven… years?!

He leaned forward, reaching across the table and putting a hand on her knee. “I’m sorry, Applejack. I’m very sorry.”

Applejack didn’t acknowledge him. Time had stopped around her as her mind echoed that dreadful number over and over again. “Granny…” she muttered. “Big Mac and Applebloom… the girls…”

Phil was silent for a few minutes before quietly standing up. “I suppose… we should end this here. I have a lot more I want to ask you, but you should probably take some time.”

Applejack nodded, completely silent. Her face never once losing its stunned expression.

“There’ll be some more people coming to talk to you later.” He said. “You should get some rest. There’s a shower in the bathroom if you want to take one,” he offered, motioning towards the walled off area she’d observed earlier, “and some clothes we scrounged up for you in the foot locker,” he said, pointing at the chest at the foot of the bed.

“Alright…” Applejack said, softly.

Phil turned to leave, casting one last look over his shoulder as the doors whooshed open. “I really am sorry, Applejack. Try and take it easy.”

She nodded silently once more as the door closed behind him, then lapsed into silence.


--- --- ---


“So she’s not hostile, just insane.”

Phil frowned, looking back through the mirror at Applejack. “You’re just an endless fountain of sensitivity, aren’t you, Hill?”

“I can sympathize with her situation, Coulson,” Hill explained. “Nobody should ever be stuck in her position. Waking up to find everyone she's ever known and loved is probably dead and gone? It’s terrible.” She shook her head. “Doesn’t make her any less insane.”

“I’m not sure.” Coulson said with a curious frown.

“Really, Phil?” Hill looked at him, exasperated. “I get that you’re more open to outlandish stories these days, but that takes the cake, the ice cream, and the whole goddamn party table!” She motioned towards the woman in the window. “I mean… Ponies?! Seriously Phil? Unicorns and Pegasi prancing around a country of horse people called Equestria?! And somehow, conveniently, she’s been randomly transported to a new world and transformed into a human?!”

“We already established that we probably weren’t working with a human here.” He explained, sighing. "I'm just upset she asked the question I'd been dreading so soon. There was so much more I wanted to ask her."

Ponies, Phil! You can’t seriously be taking her story at face value.” Hill protested.

“I’m not,” Coulson insisted. “I’m aware of just how farfetched the story is. It tops anything that’s happened over the past few years.” He scratched his chin. “Maybe even the one about the merman from Atlantis who helped out during the War in the Pacific.”

Hill fumed. “Phil, be serious.”

“I’m deadly serious,” Phil said sharply, turning to Hill. “I’m not just going to believe every story I hear, but I trust my instincts. And I trust Director Fury’s instincts. And he thinks there’s something special about her, and she doesn’t strike me as insane.”

“Sometimes the craziest people out there don’t strike us as insane, Phil,” She said softly.

“I know,” Phil nodded, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a notepad and pen, writing something down. “Which is why I’d like you to call Samson in again for a second opinion. I trust his judgment in this situation over mine.”

“Leonard Samson?” she asked as he tore the paper off the pad and handed it to her. She looked it over briefly.

“One of the best. SHIELD called him in for eval after we pulled Rogers out of the ice.” He paused. “Also, on the off chance it turns out she’s not delusional, we should probably get a member of SHIELD legal in here. Somebody who can set her up with a new identity and paperwork for as long as she’s stuck in this world.”

“Do you have somebody in mind?” Hill asked, looking up from the paper.

Phil nodded. “Walters.”

Hill blinked. “Really, Phil? She scored high on the exams but she’s barely out of the academy.”

“I have a feeling about her.” He said with that infuriating smirk of his.

She rolled her eyes. “Of course you do. Admit it, you're just bringing her on because of her family.”

Coulson chuckled. “You think she won't be useful in helping reign her 'family' in?”

She opened her mouth to protest but after thinking for a moment closed it. Finally she spoke. “Alright, I suppose that’s fair.”

“Good.” He said, turning past her towards the door. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to make a phone call.”

“To whom?” Hill asked, turning back to the window.

“Our friend in Russia,” he said, slipping out the door. It closed behind him with a whoosh.

Hill frowned as he left. She watched the woman through the window. Sometime during her conversation, she’d broken down. Her face was in her hands and her body was wracked with sobs as she curled up in the chair.

She sighed, turning away and leaving the room, switching the light off behind her.

The Avengers: Ch3

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Applejack wept for hours after Phil left. The roiling stew of emotions she felt in the pit of her stomach threatened to overtake her. Part of her was infuriated. She wanted to blame SHIELD for what had happened to her. She wanted to jump the next person that came in, break out of her cell and make all of them pay.

But she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Some part of her still clung desperately to reason and reminded her that it wasn’t all their fault. People died trying to investigate what they’d taken from the Nazis. She couldn’t demand people throw away their lives just to look into every crate and box they got. Especially not when they couldn’t have known she was trapped there in the first place.

It didn’t make her feel any better though.

With her anger in check, though, she could do nothing but wallow in misery. Almost seventy years had gone by in a literal blink. One minute she was back home, harvesting the south fields, and the next she was breaking out of a tube in a moving, self-driving carriage.

If she even managed to get back home, would anyone even remember her anymore? Would anyone even care? How many of them would even still be alive? Granny Smith would certainly have passed on by now. Winona too. Big Mac might still be around but he'd be downright ancient if he was. Applebloom would still be around if she hadn’t gotten herself killed on some crazy crusade at some point.

The girls would probably still be alive, but they’d all be almost halfway into their 90’s. And that was assuming Rainbow Dash didn’t kill herself with some crazy stunt and Pinkie Pie didn’t eat herself into a diabetic coma…

...And that was all assuming some horrible, ancient evil didn’t come back and wipe everybody out. That had been happening far too often in recent years to completely count out.

If she could even get back at all, would she even have anything to go back to?

She supposed the Princesses would remember her. They’d still be there, standing as the eternal pillars of Equestria. Sun and Moon, forever watching over their little ponies. But she never managed to get ‘close’ to either of them the way Twilight got close to Princess Celestia. If nothing else, though, perhaps they might be able to commiserate with her newfound situation.

Of course, this was all assuming she could even get back at all.

She was on an alien world, among creatures who’d never even heard of Equestria, or even Equus. They had no idea how she managed to get here, and presumably had no idea how to get her back. Admittedly, she hadn’t seen much of the world or its inhabitants at this point, but she did notice that she’d not yet seen anyone on this planet use magic. Maybe humans were like Minotaurs or Diamond Dogs and couldn’t actually use magic. That in and of itself was a frightening and mystifying thought.

She slumped out of her chair and fell to the ground not minutes after Coulson left. There she lay for hours, weeping until she had nothing more left to shed and fell into a fitful sleep. Her dreams were troubled and disturbed as she banged on a glass window in her new, twisted form. Through the window she could see them all; Granny, Applebloom, Big Mac, Winona, and all of her friends. None of them were smiling. All of them looked like they were in mourning. But somehow Applejack knew that none of them could remember why they were mourning. She tried to scream through the window at them but none of them heard her. And then, one by one, they started to disappear. Granny was first. Then Winona. Then Rainbow. Then Pinkie. Big Mac. Twilight. Fluttershy. Rarity. Finally, nobody was left but little Applebloom, and it wasn’t long before she vanished too.

THURSDAY, APRIL 12, 2012 - 5:41 PM

A few hours passed and she woke with a start. She breathed heavily as she lay naked on the ground, the carpet scratching at her and irritating her naked skin. As her breathing slowed, she slowly looked around the room, her joints and back aching as she sat up off the ground.

“Still not a dream…” she thought to herself miserably.

Sitting with her back against the coffee table, she moaned. Her head throbbed and ached from all the sobbing she’d done, and though her heartbreak hadn’t let up in the least, she couldn’t bring herself to cry anymore. She sat there, her strange knees pressed to her strange new chest for what was probably a good hour, staring into nothing.

Finally she sighed. She was going to go crazy if she continued to sit around and wallow. She had to do something. Phil had said something about a shower in the bathroom. She looked toward the walled off area of the room and decided there was nothing to be gained by continuing to just sit there. She clumsily got to her new feet and stumbled into the bathroom.

She fiddled with the knobs of the shower for a few minutes, trying to figure out how it worked. Nothing about the fixture seemed familiar. It seemed it was a universal constant that strange showers would always be stupidly difficult to figure out. Eventually she managed to get the water to a temperature and pressure that was reasonably comfortable and leaned back against the wall of the shower, slipping down the wet surface to sit on the shower floor as the water beat over her face. She sighed, deeply breathing in the moist, steamy air.

What should have been a relaxing experience, though, ended up being a more uncomfortable one. The shower really only served to remind her that on top of everything else her body had been twisted into a strange, alien, shape as she fiddled with small bottles of body wash, shampoo, and conditioner that were set around the base of the shower. After some trial and error with her new fingers, she managed to figure out how to get them to relinquish their contents and lather herself up, forcing her to come to terms with her new anatomy as she meticulously cleaned off all the sweat, grime, dirt, and leftover tube-goo that clung to her body. If she hadn’t been so busy focusing on everything she’d lost and her new, apelike shape she might have been slightly embarrassed that she’d spent the whole conversation with Phil filthy and stinking like a pig.

She sat in the shower for far longer than was strictly necessary, letting the water beat over her as the soaps and shampoos scrubbed off the grime and cleaned out her pores. Her mind began to wander to how she could have possibly gotten here. Her first and most panicked thought was that Discord must have somehow gotten free again.

Princess Celestia had assured them that Discord was trapped for good, and as long as the six of them bore the elements of harmony, the only way he’d be able to get out is if they let him out. Applejack was inclined to trust the princess, but then again, Discord was the master of throwing expectations in ponies’ faces. She couldn’t rule out entirely the idea that he’d managed to break free again.

The last time he’d gotten out he’d turned her and her friends into their polar opposites in the hopes that they wouldn’t be able to use the elements of harmony against him. Could he have gotten out again and realized that it would have been much simpler to remove a single link from the six friends to render the elements useless? That by sending her away to some strange, alien world there was no way the elements of harmony could stop him?

It sounded reasonable, but that in itself was rather the flaw with the idea. It was a little too reasonable. Discord didn’t strike her as the kind of person who could enact some sort of terrible plan and not have everybody involved aware that he was the one pulling the strings. If he were involved, surely he would have poofed in front of her and thrown a pie in her face before teleporting her away to parts unknown. He wouldn’t be able to live with it if everybody didn’t know exactly who’d beaten them.

She huffed. There was something about the idea that Discord was behind it that didn’t sit right with her. Instead, she cast her mind towards the other foes she and the girls had faced that might have wanted her out of the picture. Queen Chrysalis was a conniving schemer who had access to great power, but her power during the wedding had only been so vast because she’d been feeding off the princess of love and her fiance for who-knew-how-long before that showdown with Celestia. It seemed possible that she might be able to get some kind of spell or artifact or something that could send Applejack hurtling into a strange new world, but there were still hiccups in the theory. ‘Why me?’ was the big one that came to mind. True Chrysalis wasn’t exactly a fan of any of the six of them, but her main feud was with Twilight, not her.

There was Sombra, though last she understood he’d been blown to pieces by the power of the Crystal Heart, so he didn’t seem particularly likely. And Luna had been cured of the Nightmare so there wasn’t much chance it was Nightmare Moon behind it.

She shook her head, water dripping from her hair. None of the theories really fit. It didn’t seem like one of her old foes could be behind this. True, she couldn’t really rule anything out, but there was no way to come to any solid conclusion when there wasn’t any evidence to support any of the theories. Other ideas started coming to her mind instead. Maybe Twilight had been experimenting with magic and a spell had gone wrong? But Twilight wasn’t anywhere near her at the moment she vanished. Unless she’d taken to practicing dangerous magic on the Acres without her permission, but Twilight didn’t seem the type.

Applejack rubbed her forehead in frustration. None of the ideas she came up with made any sense. For all she knew a hole could have just randomly opened up in front of her and sucked her in. As far as she knew portals didn’t just rip open in space willy-nilly but it made as much sense as anything else.

And then a thought struck her.

Does it even matter?

She paused as the line of reasoning ran through her mind. Even if she could figure out who or what had been behind her sudden teleportation, there was little she could do about it. Perhaps these SHIELD fellows had some sort of magic or gadget to help her get back home, or knew somebody who could help, but in the end it didn’t really matter how she’d gotten here, did it? Not now that 67 years had passed at least. If it was one of her old foes then surely it was far too late to help. And if it was some foolish experiment of Twilight’s then she supposed the simple fact that she wasn’t back home aged into her golden years, sitting on the porch of Sweet Apple Acres in a rocking chair with a cup of hot cider in her hooves and a dozen grandfoals surrounding her was proof enough that she couldn’t undo what she’d done.

As it was, though, was there even a point to going back?

Sixty-seven years had passed. Even if she found a way back what would she be going back to? Old friends and family who had probably long since moved on if they even remembered her at all. Even if some chaos creature or tyrant overlord hadn’t conquered the world in her absence, the absolute best she could hope for was a few short years with friends who might not even remember her, or who had moved on only for her to come back and rip the wounds in their poor, old hearts back open?

Maybe she wasn’t meant to go back.

AJ had never been one for philosophizing or navel-gazing over the nature of life and the universe. Some ponies would argue that the mere existence of cutie marks meant that there was some ultimate destiny that ponies were bound for and that they should aspire towards. Others would argue that cutie marks were less important than pony culture insisted they were and merely existed as a sort of tangible proof of a pony’s inherent talent, more like a resumé rather than any sort of ‘roadmap to destiny.’ These ponies would argue that they still had the free will to nurture and follow their talent or not.

The topic had come up at various picnics and parties over the years she spent with her friends, but she’d never really been able to commit to one side or the other. She believed in free will well enough; if a pony wanted to take her life in a different direction than their cutie mark suggested there was no reason such a thing couldn’t or even shouldn’t happen, she figured. But at the same time, there had to be something more to cutie marks and life and the universe than just ‘what a pony is good at.’ Perhaps not destiny, but something close to it? When she looked at the trio of apples on her flanks, she always felt a calling: A meaning in life that she could always look at and be reminded of her place in the world. And she could take comfort in it.

Somberly, she looked down at her new, human hips. There was no cutie mark there anymore. The three apples that had adorned her flanks since she was but a little filly had vanished with her transformation. Humans, it seemed, did not get cutie marks. Or perhaps hers had simply vanished.

Maybe she’d lost any meaning she had in Equestria. Maybe she just wasn’t meant to go back.

Applejack sighed deeply once more. The shower hadn’t cleared her head in the way she’d hoped it would. If anything, she was feeling more lost than ever; adrift in a new world with no purpose or direction. She’d been forced back to square one, with less than she’d ever had in life. No family or friends to rely on in hard times, no cutie mark to even lay out the barest inkling of a path for her to follow. She had truly nothing. And she couldn’t even muster up the strength to cry about it anymore.

At least she’d managed to get clean.

She shut off the water and emerged from the shower, the chill air freezing her to the core and causing goosebumps to form on her bare skin. She began patting herself dry with a towel she’d spied hanging on the wall. Her movements were still clumsy and she kept dropping the towel as she tried to rub it over her. The massive teats on her chest didn’t help with her coordination either. And for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out how to dry her long, blonde hair at all. Eventually she managed to dry most of her body off, and resolved to just let her hair air dry over time.

Just as she exited the bathroom, though, she nearly stumbled directly into a young woman.

“Eep!” the woman yelped, jumping back and nearly tripping over her own feet. Applejack herself was startled enough that she nearly fell backwards into the bathroom, but she managed to grab the wall just in time.

The young woman shook briefly, looking up at Applejack fearfully, wringing her hands along the handle of a briefcase. Her posture was slumped and meek, like she wanted to curl in on herself. Short, black hair framed her face, along with a thick pair of glasses, which magnified her eyes so they looked huge upon her face. She was a tiny, scrawny thing, standing less than five feet tall at a measly 4’10", and without a shred of bulk or curves on her. Indeed, compared to Applejack, she barely came up past the underside of her teats.

“I-I-I I’m sorry…” the young woman stuttered, shaking like a leaf. Applejack couldn’t help but feel bad for the poor girl. She reminded her of Fluttershy on her absolute worst days. “T-they sent me in first in c-case you were st-still…” she trailed off, looking up and down Applejack’s bare body.

“Still what?” Applejack asked. If nothing else the poor girl served as a decent distraction from what AJ was going through.

“U-um…” the woman blushed hotly, looking furtively between Applejack and the foot locker at the end of her bed. “Y-you should really put some clothes on.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow. “Why? I’m not going out to some fancy shindig, am I?”

“W-what?” the woman sputtered.

Applejack shrugged, continuing. “I mean, it’s a mite nippy in here but I can take it just fine.”

The woman wrung her hands on the briefcase some more. At this rate she’d wear out the leather in just a few days. “I-I… uh…” She stammered. “Y-yeah… I heard that you’re um… not exactly…” she averted her eyes, curling in on herself further like she was trying to make herself too small to notice. “...not exactly… human.”

Applejack paused, her eyes looking at the floor. “Oh.”

The young woman started sputtering. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I just… Humans… we traditionally wear clothes… um… all the time.”

AJ frowned, briefly breaking out of her depressive episode as she became suddenly annoyed with the humans around her. “All the time? Is everybody here a hoity-toity nobility-type?” She looked the woman over and began to get that sense. She was wearing a long sleeved tailored suit, not unlike Coulson had been, with a white collared shirt and black tie. Unlike Coulson, though, she wore a thin, pencil skirt instead of trousers. Her legs were mostly bare, but her feet were covered by a pair of low heels, which pointed towards each other on account of her pigeon-footed stance.

The young woman blinked, taken aback by the comment. “I, uh… no?” she fidgeted, tapping her forefingers together. “It’s just that… uh… humans don’t have fur. I heard you used to have fur? ...humans don’t have that.”

“I noticed,” Applejack muttered glumly.

“So, um…” she continued, “...when people don’t wear any clothes their… um… parts can be seen just uh…” she winced, “hanging out there. And that makes most people get… erm… excited?”

“Excited?” Applejack asked quizzically.

“Uhh…” the blush was threatening to overtake the poor girl’s face. “It makes people think you want to have…” she trailed off, looking between Applejack’s thighs before turning away.

Applejack puzzled over what she was on about before it suddenly hit her over the head like a collapsing barn. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open into a wide ‘o’ shape. “Wait, y’all don’t mean-”

“Mm-hmm…” She replied, averting her eyes.

Applejack looked mortified for a moment as she considered how she’d just spent an entire conversation practically propositioning herself to Agent Coulson. She forcibly shoved that train of thought from her head, hurling it off a cliff and into a gorge where it would land in a huge, metal chest which she then proceeded to lock with a padlock and throw away the key. She coughed into her fist. “I s’pose I should put some clothes on then…”

“That would be best, yes.” The young lady mumbled.

AJ trod over to the foot locker and bent down, fiddling with the hatch. The whole time, the young woman looked away, still blushing madly. Eventually she managed to get the thing open and pulled out a set of large clothes.

“I uh… I heard that they didn’t have many clothes in your size on board so some of the larger… men… donated you their gym clothes. They should be clean,” she mumbled. “I don’t think they had any shoes your size though… or bras...”

From inside the foot locker Applejack retrieved a sleeveless orange shirt and a pair of bulky black shorts made of some kind of smooth feeling fabric. There was also a pair of white underwear, though the sight of them made her blush. Ponies didn’t usually wear underwear except in ‘adult’ scenarios.

She held up the underwear to the woman. “Y’all uh…” she started to stutter herself. “Y’all humans wear this sort of thing all the time?”

“Um… yeah?” She said, kicking a foot meekly in embarrassment. “Women usually wear a different kind of underwear but again… we didn’t have any in your size.”

Applejack gulped. She could tell the girl wasn’t lying; just thoroughly, thoroughly embarrassed. “Alright…” AJ said uncertainly, slipping the white briefs over her legs, followed by the black shorts. Thankfully, though her body shape was certainly different, these simple clothes seemed to work in much the same way as similar clothes from Equestria. The underwear was new for her though.

After securing her new shorts, she slipped herself into the orange tank top. As she pulled it on, she failed to notice the words “GET SWOLE” printed upon them in large, white, blocky letters. Even if she had, she wouldn't have had any idea what a ‘swole’ was or why somebody wanted to get one.

Finally, in the bottom of the foot locker, she found a pair of stretchy, white athletic socks. Socks were another thing normally reserved for ‘adult’ moments in Equestria... but ‘when in Roam,’ she supposed. She quickly pulled them onto her hands.

The woman blinked. “”

AJ blinked right back. “What?”

For the first time, the woman had an expression other than fearful shock, deep anxiety, or blushing embarrassment. She smirked lightly before breaking into a giggle.

AJ frowned. “What?!” she repeated.

The woman continued to snicker. “Socks… don’t go there.”

“‘Course they do,” AJ said, raising an eyebrow. “Socks go on the forelegs.”

The woman chuckled still, though a little tinge of embarrassment came back to his face. “I mean… okay, but humans don’t have forelegs. They have arms and hands,” she said, holding up one hand and wiggling the fingers. She leaned over and patted her knees. “These are the legs we put socks on.”

“Y’all put socks on your hind legs?” Applejack boggled, shaking her head rapidly. “I may be a country bumpkin, and I certainly ain’t some sort of fashionista, but even I know that would look ridiculous.”

The young woman shrugged, her look of embarrassment returned. “I mean… they’re the only ‘legs’ we have…” she said, scratching the back of her head. “I guess you don’t have to wear them if you don’t want to. Those ones aren’t strictly needed like the others... And from what I’ve heard about you, you probably won’t hurt yourself if you step on a nail or something.”

Applejack’s brow creased curiously at the statement but she ignored it, instead opting to remove the socks entirely and throw them back in the footlocker, shutting it. At that moment, the door opened and two more figures entered. The first was another woman, standing just under the height of Coulson from before, wearing a skintight dark-blue jumpsuit like the one in the desert had been wearing, with black accents and accessories. Including, Applejack noticed warily, a pistol holstered at her hip. Her short, dark brown hair was pulled into a low bun, and she had a severe, no-nonsense look on her face.

Behind her entered a man with a chiseled face and short, brown hair. He stood about Coulson’s height, but he dressed nothing like him. He wore a red plaid shirt and brown slacks and shoes. His face might have been described as handsome by other humans, but Applejack was not experienced enough with the human form to know. His face was stern and professional, but not unfriendly, and unlike the woman with the bun, who looked entirely disapproving of Applejack’s presence, the man looked upon her more with curiosity than anything else. He entered the room with confidence, taking in the scene.

“Miss Applejack,” the severe looking woman with the bun began. “My name is Agent Maria Hill, Senior Operative Officer and Deputy Director of SHIELD.” She nodded towards the smaller woman. “I see you’ve already met Agent Jennifer Walters.”

The small woman shuffled back a pace before doing a sort of half-nod to Applejack. She nodded in return.

“She’ll be our legal consultant for the following procedures,” Hill explained. She turned, motioning to the man behind her. “And this is Doctor Leonard Samson. He’s a psychiatrist and therapist.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Doctor Samson said, stepping forward and holding out a hand. Applejack frowned, recognizing the gesture. She reached out and halfheartedly grasped the doctor’s hand and gave it a shake. She swore she hadn’t given her grip the usual strength she normally put into her hoofshakes, but she noticed the doctor still winced in surprise and even perhaps a little bit of pain. She gave the Doctor as pleasant a smile as she could, though her heart wasn’t into it.

“It’s… good to meet you too, Doc,” she muttered, spiritlessly. “I think I have an idea why you’re here though.”

The doctor nodded, pulling his hand away, flexing his fingers and regaining his composure. “Yes, I imagine you do,” he said without judgment.

Applejack let out a weary sigh, trudging over to the chairs and slumping into one. “I asked Agent Coulson to give me the benefit of the doubt,” she complained, though her heart didn’t seem able to really argue her case.

“From what I understand,” Doctor Samson explained, taking a seat across from her as Agent Walters took a seat in the chair at the table, while Agent Hill leaned against the wall behind Applejack, “Agent Coulson is ready to give it to you, but not everybody at SHIELD is as open minded.” He cast a split-second glance at Hill behind her.

She scowled, her patience quickly waning. “Alright, well what do I gotta say to convince you I ain’t crazy? Y’all want me to talk about my foalhood? Look at spots of ink? Go on about my feelings?”

Samson raised an eyebrow. “Do you want to talk about any of those things?” he said mildly.

Applejack gripped the arm of her chair, her knuckles whitening as the wood beneath groaned and crackled. The anger and pain began bubbling up to the surface again as she grit her teeth and spoke. “How do y’all think I feel, doc? I’m trapped in some plum crazy ape world with people who ain’t willing to trust me after having spent the last seventy years trapped in a damn crate! I ain’t got no way home and even if I did I probably wouldn’t have nothing to go back to!” she shouted. With a loud ‘SNAP’ the arm of the chair came off in her hand, crushed into debris. Behind her, Applejack heard the click-clacking noise of Agent Hill’s pistol cocking. Across the room Agent Walters flinched, shrinking into her corner. Doctor Samson, however, remained calm, not even blinking at AJ’s outburst.

The room stood still for a moment that stretched into eternity. Applejack breathed heavily as Hill aimed down her sights directly at her head. A small part of AJ’s mind clung desperately to rationality, though, forcing her to take a long, slow breath and release the debris of the chair she’d crushed in her fingers. “Sorry,” she finally muttered. Behind her, Hill slowly lowered her weapon.

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Samson said gently. “Frankly, anyone in your position has every right to be distraught. You’re actually handling it really well, all things considered.”

Applejack grunted, prompting Samson to continue. “You’re actually not the first person SHIELD has called me for on matters like this. I was called in just recently for another case like yours.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Y’all get alien ponies dropping in a lot?” she asked, sarcasm leaking into her voice.

Samson chuckled genially. “Well, not ‘ponies’ so much,” he said, taking AJ aback a little at the implications. “That’s what I’d like to ask you about, if you don’t mind.”

“‘Bout me being a pony?” She asked, her eyes narrowing again.

“That and the rest of what you talked to Agent Coulson about. You mentioned a country called Equestria?”

Applejack nodded. “That’s right.”

Doctor Samson leaned back, pulling out a notepad and a pen. “Would you mind telling me about it?”

Applejack blinked at the genuine interest Samson seemed to show. "About Equestria? Uhh…” She trailed off, not sure where to begin. There was so much to say. How does one begin to discuss such a broad and varied topic as a whole nation, let alone one like Equestria?

Eventually, she figured to just start with the most basic facts and see where that took her. “Um…” she began, “It’s the largest country on our planet, Equus. It stretches from the Crystal Empire in the Frozen North all the way down to the Southern Badlands, taking up most of the northwestern continent. Most of the folk living there are ponies, though we got a few other species like Griffins, Minotaurs, and so on. It’s ruled by Princesses Celestia and Luna, who live in the capital city of Canterlot and control the sun and moon…” She trailed off as she heard Hill grumble something behind her. She turned to see Hill scowling. AJ scowled right back. “Y’all wanna say something?” she challenged.

Hill opened her mouth to respond with something biting but Doctor Samson cut her off. “Ignore her,” he said, casting a pointed glance at Hill. “I’d like to hear more about your Princesses, Celestia and Luna you said?”

AJ turned back to him, curious. “What do you want to know?”

His face remained perfectly unreadable as he continued. “You said they could control the sun and moon?” he asked. “How do they do that?”

Applejack blinked looking confused for a moment at the question before, shrugging slightly. “Magic,” she said simply. “I don’t really know how it works. My friend Twilight’d be able to explain it better than me. She knows magic better’n I do.” She tilted her head. “Why don’t y’all just ask whoever raises your sun? Can’t be much different.”

Samson deflected the question with a curious hum as he scratched something down on his notepad. “But you know for certain that they do raise the sun and moon?”

“Shoot, I’ve seen ‘em do it.” She answered. “I’ve met the Princess dozens of times now. Twilight was her student after all. Still is, really, even though she’s moved to Ponyville.”

He continued writing things down in his notepad. “And this Twilight,” he asked, “She sounds like she’s a very important person.”

“You bet your horseshoes,” Applejack replied with a small smile. “She’s been the Princess’ student almost her whole life and there ain’t nopony better at studying and casting magic than her. I’m thinking the Princess is grooming her to be the next court wizard or something.”

“And how did you meet her?” he asked. “Surely if you’ve met with the princess so often and are friends with her student you must be a very important person yourself.”

Applejack chuckled, blushing a little. “Shucks, naw,” she said. “I’m just a regular old apple farmer from Ponyville. It was only ‘cause the Princess decided to hold the Summer Sun Celebration in our town one year that I ended up meeting them.”

He nodded. “You’ve mentioned Ponyville a few times now,” he said. “Is that where you live?”

“Well… lived,” Applejack mumbled, the small amount of cheer that had been building up in her swiftly draining away as she looked to the floor. “If it’s really been almost seventy years since I got stuck in that crate then I can’t even say for sure if Twi or any of my other friends are still alive.”

Doctor Samson reached over to her and put a gentle hand on her leg. “I understand this is incredibly painful for you, Applejack. I really do.”

“How could you?” She muttered, turning away. “T’ain’t happened to you.”

“Maybe not but I’ve met people it has happened to,” he insisted. “And I’ve met many, many people who’ve lost everything they’ve known and loved, if not in the same way. I recognize this kind of pain, Applejack.” Gently, he leaned further and turned her face to look at him. “I know that right now it feels like nothing will ever be right again. You feel like there’s no chance you’ll ever move past this and you’ll feel this terrible forever. But you can rebuild yourself and your life. You can find new things to find meaning in.”

Applejack shoved his hand away, snarling. “Y’all telling me to just replace them?!” she barked.

“Of course not.” Samson insisted, pulling away slightly. “You won’t be able to replace them. I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you, Applejack. It will hurt like hell moving on. And it’s not going to be easy. And there are always going to be scars but, in time, the wounds will heal and you’ll find new things to find meaning in.” He raised his arms, motioning around himself. “You have a group right now willing to help you start rebuilding.”

“SHIELD?” Applejack scoffed, turning in her chair to look at Hill, whose expression was unreadable. “I’m pretty sure y’all wanna throw me in a padded cell.”

“That all depends on what you tell me now,” Samson insisted. “As well as whether or not you can promise to use your powers responsibly.”

Applejack was struck out of her depressive reverie at that. “Powers? What in Celestia’s name are y’all on about?”

“You mean you don’t know?” Samson asked raising a surprised eyebrow himself. Applejack shook her head and Samson hummed curiously before turning in his chair to look at Agent Walters, who’d been rivetedly watching the whole conversation. “Agent Walters?” he asked

The small agent jumped a little in her seat at being addressed. “Y-yes?”

“Could you come over here, please?” he requested, motioning her over with a small wave. Hesitantly, the smaller woman got out of her seat and carefully tread over to his side. He motioned to the coffee table between them. “Would you mind crushing that?”

The absurdity of the request hung in the air. Walters blinked dumbly for a moment, looking between him, Applejack, and the table. "...what?" she finally managed.

“Doctor…” Hill warned, seeing where this was going. Applejack simply boggled, looking between everybody, unsure what they were all going on about.

“What’s more dangerous, Agent Hill?” Samson asked. “A metahuman with powers who knows she needs to use them responsibly, or one who doesn’t even know she has them accidentally causing chaos wherever she goes?”

Agent Hill fumed, her nostrils flaring. “Fine,” she ultimately grumbled. “You’re paying for the coffee table.”

Doctor Samson rolled his eyes. “Oh dear, I suppose I’ll just have to tighten my belt then,” he said, sarcasm oozing from his voice. He turned back to Agent Walters and nodded. “Miss Walters?”

Still blinking and unable to help but feel incredibly silly, Agent Walters leaned over and straddled the coffee table, gripping one hand on each side of it. The group watched as her shoulders strained and her back tightened through her suit as her face reddened up. Applejack watched as the tiny woman's teeth clenched and her nose and brow wrinkled, struggling in vain to crush the coffee table between her dainty hands. Walters began to grunt with effort as her hair started to fall into her face. After a few moments, Samson waved her off.

“I think that’s enough, Miss Walters.” he said, noting Applejack’s curious expression as she stepped away. The small woman cleared her throat, taking a deep breath and brushing an errant hair out of her eyes as she stepped away. Samson nodded to Applejack. “Now you try.” he said simply.

Applejack pursed her lips, looking curiously at the coffee table. She stood up from the chair and in a single, long step standing easily over the short table. She reached down and easily grabbed the sides of the table in her hands. She squeezed it ever so slightly and-


Applejack started, stumbling backwards as the table buckled and splintered beneath her, cracking down the middle before practically shattering like glass. Wood chips and splinters exploded across the room, prompting the other occupants to raise hands over their eyes. Splinters littered the floor as Applejack looked down at her new hands.

Lowering his arm, the doctor cleared his throat. “I believe that settles that,” he said, turning to point at the armrest of the chair she’d been sitting in. “A human in peak physical condition might have been able to break the table, Applejack, but no normal human would be able to completely crush and shatter it the way you just did. And certainly no human would be able to flip over a truck from the inside the way you did when you first woke up.”

“Sun and stars…” Applejack muttered under her breath.

“Although,” Doctor Samson said, scratching his chin, “Knowing now that you didn’t even realize you had these powers rather paints that encounter in a somewhat different light, don’t you think, Agent Hill?”

Agent Hill said nothing, only grunting noncommittally.

“I barely touched that table,” Applejack insisted, stunned. She raised her hands placatingly as she sat back down. “Earth Ponies are known for being strong sorts, but that ain’t normal, Doc.”

“You don’t regularly go around breaking furniture then?” he asked wryly.

She shook her head. “Earth Ponies are naturally stronger and hardier than Pegasi and Unicorns,” Applejack explained, “But we ain’t so strong that we just break everything we touch!”

“Curious,” Samson said with a nod. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to get used to it quickly, though.”

Applejack flexed her new fingers in front of her face, watching them intently. “No kidding.” She muttered. “I don’t like this. There must be some kind of freaky magic going on around here making me stronger than I normally am or something.”

“I can’t speak to that,” Doctor Samson said, pocketing his notepad. “However, I think I’ve heard enough to reach a somewhat reasonable conclusion about all this.” He smiled gently at Applejack. “It’s been very fascinating talking to you, he said, pulling a card out his pocket and handing it to her. “If you ever need to talk again, about anything, you can call me. Anytime. I’ll make time for you.”

Applejack, still stunned from the new discovery of her own brutal strength, gently took the card in her hands. When the doctor reached over to shake her hand, she took it, but pointedly made sure to grasp it as gently as possible. “Er… thanks, doc.”

Doctor Samson stepped towards the door. “Agent Hill, if you’d come with me?”

Hill nodded, casting a dangerous glance to Applejack as she passed, following the doctor. Agent Walters moved to follow but she pointed to the chair she’d been sitting in. “Wait here, Agent.” she said as she exited the room behind him. Agent Walters furtively looked at Applejack, but complied.


--- --- ---


Agent Hill and Doctor Samson moved a few dozen meters away from the room before they spoke. It hardly mattered since the room was soundproofed but the woman had already displayed super strength and invulnerability to small arms, so they weren’t about to take chances. Finally, Agent Hill spoke up. “So?”

Doctor Samson took a long deep breath. “That's a new one on me.”

Agent Hill scowled. “She’s a 6’6” amazon with super strength, abs you could grind meat on, and tits almost as big as my head who thinks she’s a pony, Doctor. I’m sure this is very exciting for you professionally, but I’d like to know if she’s fit for what Fury has planned for her.

Samson frowned. “In that case, hell no. Whether she’s actually delusional or not, she’s far too emotionally unstable from everything she’s lost.”

Hill opened her mouth to retort only to clap it shut as she realized what he said. After a moment she spoke again. “I’m sorry, whether she’s delusional or not?

“Agent Hill,” Samson deadpanned, “You’ve brought me a woman with a story so crazy that nobody in their right mind should ever believe it, but you brought it to me after pulling Captian Goddamn America out of the ice and shoving him in my face. Not four months before that, you ended meeting the literal god of thunder. And only three years before that, I personally witnessed a friend of mine turn into the Jolly Green fucking Giant.”

Hill groaned, dragging her palm across her face. “We should just bite the bullet and bring you on board SHIELD already. You clearly know too much.”

“If you'd asked me four years ago,” Samson said, continuing, “I’d be absolutely certain she was a loon. But at this point I’m hesitant to say she’s delusional and actually be a hundred percent certain of my diagnosis.”

Hill frowned. “How certain can you be, Doctor?”

Samson took a deep breath. “I’m about sixty percent certain”

“That she’s a lunatic?” Hill asked dryly.

"That she's a woman in extreme pain." Samson huffed. “I don't know what crisis you're dealing with this week, Agent Hill, but if you'd pull your head out of your ass for just a split second you might be more sympathetic. Consider what this woman has gone through!”

“I know she’s been stuck in stasis for seventy years, Doctor, but that clearly didn’t push her over the edge or anything.” Hill retorted. “She was making these claims to Agent Coulson well before she found out how long she’d been under.”

“And did you ever stop to consider,” Samson asked, “The conditions that put her under?”

Hill opened her mouth again but quickly shut it again, realization dawning in her eyes. “The archivists are still looking for any relevant documents around object 0-8-5 but…” she trailed off

“This is a woman,” Samson began, “who from what little I’ve read in the file I was given, was found already stashed away in a Nazi encampment back in 1945. Do you understand where she probably came from, then? This woman was likely experimented on by the Nazis, subjected to who-knows-what kind of tortures for who-knows-how long. That’s probably where she got her strength from, and it’s almost certainly where she developed an intricate story of a fantasy land where everything is peaceful and run by magic in an attempt to hide away from the reality of what she’d been through.”

Hill frowned, suddenly silent. She’d been so focused on the absolute insanity of the woman’s story as well as desperately trying to manage Fury’s current plans to bring Stark and the others together that she hadn’t considered the conditions the woman must have gone through before she was put on ice. The accent was still puzzling but it wasn’t out of the question that a woman from the southern US could have been captured by the Nazis. There weren’t many women fighting on the front lines in the second world war, but they did exist.

“Jesus…” she muttered under her breath as she saw Applejack's case in a new light.

“Assuming this hypothesis is true, she’s completely separated herself from reality,” Samson said. “She presents severe dissociative identity disorder and major-depressive symptoms along with a delusional world construct. Combine what she must have been through during the war with the fact that she’s just found out that she’s been in stasis for nearly seventy years and you have a woman who’s at the end of the very last fiber of her rope. I could probably make a career out of her, if it weren’t for the hiccups.”

Hill frowned. “Hiccups?”

“The whole reason I said I was only sixty percent sure.” Samson said. “There’s too much about her that doesn’t add up into any reasonable diagnosis.”

“Like what, doctor?” Hill challenged.

Samson pulled out the file from his bag. “The report you gave me suggested she spent a long time looking at her own face in the mirror, as though she didn’t recognize it. This is actually very odd.”

“What’s so odd about it?” Hill asked.

“Well, normally patients with severe Dissociative Identity Disorder don’t react to their own faces. There are plenty of cases of patients with D.I.D. who thought they were something entirely different from who they really were... but when shown their own faces, they didn’t react as if they saw anything other than what they assumed they were. I myself once dealt with a 46 year old woman who was convinced she was a 7 year old girl. When she was shown her face in the mirror, she insisted that a 7 year old was looking back at her.” Samson explained.

Hill pursed her lips doubtingly. “Surely that can’t be true.”

“The mind will go to extreme lengths to protect itself, Agent Hill. It will even convince itself that it isn’t seeing what is clearly right in front of its face. If Applejack in there truly feels more safe as a magical pony, then her mind should be working overtime to convince her that there was a pony in the mirror. It wouldn’t pile more stress upon itself by showing her what she clearly doesn’t believe she is.” He pulled out his notepad. “And on that note, there’s the inconsistencies of her delusion.”

“Wouldn’t inconsistencies in the delusion suggest that it’s less likely to be true?” Hill asked, trying not to show that she was having trouble keeping up.

“Exactly the opposite.” Samson said, scowling at her. “And frankly it’s a little frightening that the Deputy Director of SHIELD doesn’t know this,” he commented dryly. “If a mind is creating delusions to protect itself then it tries to fill in as many details as possible to make it seem all the more real and tangible to the person experiencing the delusion,” he explained. “And when presented with contradictory information, the mind works overtime trying to rationalize it in as believable and coherent a way as possible. It’s the same way with people who are lying. They go into great detail to try and make their story seem more believable.” He motioned to the door of Applejack’s cell. “Instead, when I asked her how her supposed princesses raised the sun and moon, she admitted that she didn’t know how their magic worked. When I asked if she was a member of high society she admitted she wasn’t, which seems to contradict her supposed high-level contacts. And what’s more, instead of putting herself in the seemingly safe, powerful, and secure role of ‘magic student to a powerful princess who controls the sun,’ like a powerless and frightened person might, she put herself in the role of a lowly apple farmer.” He switched hands back to the file. “And all of this is made even more confusing by her lack of balance and coordination.”

“She’s a little unsteady after being under for so long. So what?” Hill asked.

“You did an MRI on her while she was asleep correct?” he said, pulling out a particular page. “A CAT scan? An X-Ray?”

Hill nodded. “She came back in perfect physical health.”

“Exactly,” he said, handing her the medical report. “She has no brain damage to speak of or anything to suggest that she should have lost her basic motor functions.” Samson explained. “Basic movement like walking or moving your fingers is automatic. It isn’t affected by psychological issues unless there’s severe brain damage involved, and yet she’s still moving around like a toddler. If she were merely delusional, she should be walking perfectly fine. If she were, say, a quadruped like a pony suddenly forced into a bipedal stance however…”

Hill frowned, handing him back the paper. “Alright, fine. I get what you’re saying.”

“Under any ordinary circumstance, I’d say she belongs in the Ravencroft Institute.” Samson said. “But there’s just too much that doesn’t add up about her and my gut tells me something is wrong here. My advice…” Samson trailed off, looking back at the door. “My advice is to use SHIELD’s resources to look up the records of every woman you can find who served in the military in World War 2. Nurses, pilots, drivers, soldiers, all of them. Figure out which ones you can’t account for and see if any of them come close to matching her description and if any of them were from the southern United States. And if you don’t find anyone…” he trailed off.

Hill sighed, gently rubbing her forehead and looking at the door to the cell herself. “If we don’t find anyone the world might just be more insane than any of us realized... And I might just have to admit to Coulson that he was right.”

“And in the meantime, I highly suggest you keep Director Fury from putting her on his little super hero squad,” he insisted. “Even if it turns out she really is a magical pony from another world and she isn’t delusional, that still means she’s dealing with the loss of everybody she’s ever known and loved on top of being hurtled across the damn universe.”

Hill frowned. “I don’t control what Director Fury does.”

“You have his ear, though.” Samson said, putting the file away. “And I meant what I said to her, too. She needs therapy, Agent Hill. She needs kindness and stability. She doesn’t need to be thrown into a group full of metas and sent after terrorists.”

“Thank you, doctor.” Agent Hill said with a final sigh. “I’ll take everything you’ve said under advisement.”

Samson frowned at the platitude but put up no further argument. “Will that be all then?”

“Yes, I believe so. Thank you for your time, Doctor.” Agent Hill replied, flagging down a passing agent. “Take Doctor Samson here to the deck and have somebody escort him back to the mainland.”

“Yes Ma’am!” The agent said, motioning for the doctor to come with him. “Follow me, please, sir.”

As Samson followed the agent out of the hallway he turned back to Hill. “I mean it, Agent Hill. The absolute worst thing you can do for Applejack right now is to stick her in the Avengers.”

And with that final statement made, he disappeared around the corner.

Agent Hill slumped against the wall, letting out a long, slow breath. The magnitude of what she had in that cell was beginning to dawn on her. The idea that she was a soldier who’d gotten shafted in the war like the Captain had still seemed like the most logical conclusion to come to but it was getting harder and harder to just assume that to be the case anymore. The Doctor’s diagnosis seemed sound at first, but she couldn’t deny all the hiccups that he picked up on. At the very least she had a severely traumatized World War 2 veteran on her hands, but now it was looking like there was every chance she had something much, much more.

Either way, Samson was right. This woman wasn’t fit to serve on Fury’s team. But she had no power over that decision.

One way or another, Fury would have his Avengers.

The Avengers: Ch4

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THURSDAY, APRIL 12, 2012 - 6:56 PM

“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

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.


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

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…


“...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?


“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.


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!


...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




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?


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.

The Avengers: Ch5

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FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2012 - 10:23 AM

The next morning found Applejack still awake and laying on her back when the knock came at the door. She’d spent the whole night staring at the ceiling, with only her own thoughts to keep her company, and this time it seemed that sleep had not been forthcoming. It made sense, she supposed. She’d spent much of the previous day drifting in and out of consciousness. For that matter, she’d technically spent the last sixty-seven years asleep.

More likely, though, it was nervous energy spawned from the realization of exactly what it was she’d just signed up for.

Applejack sat up, turning to look at the door as it whooshed open. A woman she hadn’t yet met strode in confidently. Applejack was no expert in human beauty standards, but some new instinct of hers told her that she had the kind of face that men would die -or kill- for. Her green eyes were icy and intelligent, and her short, wavy hair was redder than the sunset over Canterlot. She wore a black leather jacket and a scarlet-red top that hugged every last curve of her body. Applejack immediately felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end as she looked at this woman. Her relaxed smile, her causal posture, the friendly nod she gave was all a lie.

This woman was dangerous.

With Fury it had been obvious. There was little hiding how intimidating the man was. With Hill and Coulson, their practiced professionalism and the way they carried themselves spoke to years of training and conditioning.

This woman moved as naturally and casually as any passerby on the street. And yet, somehow, Applejack could tell just by looking at her that she was the most deadly person she’d met so far in this new world.

Some of AJ’s alarm must have bled through into her expression because the woman stopped short, raising a concerned eyebrow. “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice like honey and silk, “I didn’t mean to startle you, Miss Applewood.”

Applejack paused, taking a deep breath and letting it out. Whatever this woman was, she didn’t seem to mean AJ any harm, at least at the moment. “S’alright,” AJ said, trying to be casual, despite how much the newcomer put her on edge. “I wasn’t expecting… well I was expecting Hill or Coulson.” she finally managed to say.

“Agent Hill is on the bridge, and Coulson will be returning shortly,” the redhead said, stepping closer and holding out a hand. “My name is Natasha Romanoff.”

Hesitantly, Applejack took her hand and gave it a firm shake, taking care to be sure that it wasn’t too firm. “Bridge?” Applejack asked. “Is this some kinda ship, Agent Romanoff?”

The side of Agent Romanoff’s mouth quirked up into a smirk. “Of a sort,” she said vaguely, before holding up a pair of shopping bags in her other hand. AJ hadn’t even noticed them, Nat had taken her so off guard. “And just Natasha will be fine. I’m here to drop off your new wardrobe before taking you up there.”

“New wardrobe?” Applejack frowned, puzzled. “What’s wrong with what I’m already wearing?”

Natasha’s smile remained friendly, betraying nothing as she replied. “Well, there’s nothing wrong with it per se, but most people wouldn’t wear those kinds of clothes outside the gym,” she said gesturing to her tank top and exercise shorts. “They’re workout clothes, not street clothes.”

AJ looked down at her clothes, her frown deepening. It was starting to seem like all humans were as particular about their wardrobes as Rarity. A set of clothes for working out, a set of clothes for just walking around the street… what was next? Did they have special clothes for every little aspect of life? What made these humans so body shy that they wouldn’t accept walking around naked?

Natasha continued, either oblivious to Applejack’s internal musings or simply ignoring them. “We finally managed to send somebody over to the women’s big-and-tall store to pick up some proper clothes for you,” she said, pulling out a few simple shirts of various colors and a couple pairs of heavy, blue denim pants from the first bag and laying them out on the bed next to AJ. Following that were several pairs of white athletic socks and a shoebox containing a sturdy looking pair of brown leather work boots.

Applejack felt herself settling down a little bit as she rifled through the shirts that Natasha had given her. None of them were particularly extravagant. In fact, she found herself pleased by just how utilitarian and simple they were. The boots especially seemed particularly practical. At least SHIELD didn’t expect her to prance around in a frilly dress.

“You’re in luck,” Natasha said with a smirk, switching to the second bag. “We even managed to score you an Ashley Crawford.”

AJ blinked, her brow furrowing. “A who now?”

“Ashley Crawford,” Natasha repeated. “She’s a famous fashion designer specializing in big and tall women.”

Applejack winced internally. This was the sort of thing she’d been afraid of; some frou-frouey dress or something like the kinds of things Rarity forced on her before the Grand Galloping Gala. Applejack girded herself, dreading just what kind of lacey, frilly, ruffled ballgown Natasha was going to pull from the bag…

...only to be pleasantly surprised when she instead removed a slick, orange leather jacket.

AJ looked over the jacket as Natasha handed it to her. It was sleek and stylish, yes, but there weren’t any of the extraneous, fancy-pants decorations that tended to riddle Equestrian ‘high fashion.’ There were no ruffles or frills, nothing lacy or glittery… in fact, if Applejack was being honest, it looked surprisingly practical on top of how stylish it was. The arms and shoulders were padded -something that might prove useful if she was going to be fighting like Fury suggested- and the leather would help deflect lighter blows and would keep the elements off of her. There were a couple of zippered pockets on the breasts where AJ might keep smaller mission-critical items and the front could be zipped up to better protect her from the cold and wet should it be necessary.

Applejack turned the jacket over in her hands a few times, taking in all the details. There were a couple of belt straps near the bottom that looked strictly decorative, but it wasn’t enough to put her off. In fact, though she was loathe to admit it, despite their apparent lack of function, they looked pretty good. They really helped tie the whole outfit together.

Applejack blinked at her own, foreign thought.

Huh… maybe there was something to fashion after all?

She looked back up at Natasha and gave her a nod. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” Natasha responded gesturing to the pile of clothes she’d laid out on the bed. “But you should probably get dressed. You’re due to meet the rest of your team soon.”

Applejack stood and began rifling through the clothes Natasha had provided. “This team… they’re the others Fury’s got to take on this Loki character?” she asked, selecting a pair of pants and beginning to change into them.

Natasha turned away, offering AJ privacy while she changed. “That’s right. You’re going to be working with some real legends.”

Applejack looked over the shirts, frowning a little at the selection. They were all simple, practical, short sleeved cotton shirts, but most of them had that strange, human version of written Equestrian that she couldn’t read on them. AJ wasn’t keen on wearing something written in a language she couldn’t understand. She’d hate to make a fool of herself if the words printed on them turned out to read something embarrassing. Thankfully, there was a comfortable green shirt at the bottom of the pile that only had a simple kite shield design with a couple of stripes through it. It was simple and unobtrusive enough that AJ found herself favoring it.

“Legends, eh?” Applejack chuckled as she slipped the green shirt over her head. “We talkin’ wizards and strongponies like Starswirl the Bearded or Rockhoof the Mighty?” she asked, pulling her hair out from the neck of her new shirt.

Natasha turned back around, still looking entirely unfazed, even by Applejack’s flippant reference to Equestrian mythology. “I can’t speak for wizards,” Nat said wryly, “but we’ve definitely got a strongman.”

Applejack pulled on the socks and boots Nat had provided, finding them a comfortable fit. She flexed her new toes in them, enjoying how they felt, rolling her ankles to test how they moved. Finally, she picked up the orange leather jacket, regarding it for a minute before pulling it on over her large arms. It fit perfectly, even despite how thick her new musculature was.

Natasha nodded approvingly. “You look good.”

AJ turned to regard herself in the mirror that ran along the wall. She looked an entirely different person from yesterday. Gone was the dirty, disheveled mess from yesterday. Now her long blonde hair was neat and washed and her skin was no longer covered in dirt and slime and filth, but instead by a simple-yet-stylish wardrobe given to her by her new benefactors. There was still a tiredness deep within her eyes, but they were no longer the bloodshot, dark ringed mess they were just the day before.

She did look good. She reckoned that to any other human, she would have looked positively normal… matter what she might have felt like on the inside.

AJ took a deep breath, closing her eyes and cutting off that train of thought before she could spiral down another rabbit hole. “Thanks,” she finally replied, turning back to look at the redhead. “We should probably get moving. Don’t want to keep these ‘legends’ waiting.”

Natasha nodded. “If you’ll follow me then,” she said, gesturing for AJ to walk alongside her.

The door whooshed open in front of her. For the first time since waking up the previous day, Applejack found herself stepping outside the stark, white cell and into a new environment. The two of them emerged into a metallic gray corridor. Applejack looked around with a nervous sort of energy as she walked a step behind Natasha. AJ hadn’t realized just how cooped up she’d felt spending the whole previous day in that cell.

Applejack held out a hand to the wall to steady herself as she walked though she found that walking was coming a little more naturally to her now. She was adjusting to this new method of balance faster than she’d anticipated. As she followed Nat through the maze of twisting, gray corridors, she found herself needing to steady herself less and less.

AJ followed Nat through corridor after corridor, up a set of stairs and past dozens of lower level agents, all busy and bustling to whatever their next post was. AJ wondered how all these people could keep straight just where they were and where they were going. Every hallway looked the same to her - all of them the same gray, metallic cover with a matte shine. She noticed that there were a bunch of signs written in that same human language all over the walls, though, with arrows leading down certain hallways at different intersections. AJ presumed that these signs must’ve been how people got around, making a mental note that it would probably be a good idea to learn how to read the human language soon.

As they passed through the halls, Applejack could distinctly hear the whispers of passersby and other agents congregated around certain rooms or intersections. Straining her ears, she found that most of them were making references to her height, or the size of certain parts of her body. Many of the things she heard were complimentary, talking about how impressive her height or her muscles were. That said, she couldn’t help but frown at the sheer number of them making lewd comments about the size of her new teats. A lot of the male humans seemed particularly interested in them for reasons that made AJ feel sick to her stomach. She felt Nat pat her on the arm and turned to see her giving her a sympathetic smile. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to get used to that,” she said. “A lot of men can’t tell the difference between the thoughts that are alright to share and the thoughts they should keep to themselves.”

AJ grunted. “Looks like some things are the same no matter what world you’re on,” she muttered.

Nat seemed amused at that, chuckling a little as AJ went back to listening on the conversations of the people she passed. She noticed that, aside from comments about her size and physique, there were also a fair number of them using words like “meta” or “enhanced” or “gifted,” with tones and emphases that ranged from reverent to downright repulsed. She felt like she’d been punched in the gut, though, when she heard one agent disgustedly refer to her as a ‘freak.’

It seemed that Natasha had heard that particular comment as well, though, as she quickly rounded on the agent that spoke it. The agent in question swiftly froze under her icy glare, and even Applejack felt herself taking a step back as well, as the danger she’d sensed in the woman suddenly looked to come to her surface. The agent - a wiry looking man with rusty brown hair and a thin moustache - quickly babbled out a half-baked apology before hustling off down a corridor and out of sight.

Applejack watched the man leave before turning back to Nat. “Thanks,” she said weakly.

Natasha nodded. “Of course. We can’t have our agents taking that kind of attitude; not if we’re going to be working with metahumans in any meaningful way. I’ll be sure to report him to Hill later.”

AJ looked Nat up and down, her brow furrowing pensively. “Are y’all… one of these ‘meta’ folks then? What do they call them, enhanced?”

She chuckled. “Not hardly,” Natasha replied with an amused grin, though AJ noticed that, somewhere deep down, she actually seemed a little uncomfortable. Applejack was about to follow up on that when Nat nodded as they passed through another door. “We’re here.”

Applejack looked up and couldn’t help but gasp. She was in a massive room, packed to the brim with dozens upon dozens of workstations, each of them manned by a human in the standard, leather SHIELD uniform. People of all shapes and sizes talked over each other as they read things off of devices that AJ could neither identify nor comprehend. Glass screens beeped and chirped as they fed out readouts that she couldn’t make heads or tails of. At the back of the room sat a massive pedestal overlooking the bullpen of agents. There stood the ever stoic Nick Fury, his hands folded comfortably behind his back, his singular eye gazing calculatingly over his men. Maria Hill stood off to his side barking orders at the individual agents, telling them to adjust this or perform that. Behind them, a glass conference table sat beneath a massive emblem built into the wall, depicting what looked to be the stylized image of some sort of bird of prey - the SHIELD emblem, Applejack recognized.

The most interesting thing, though, was at the front of the room.

Applejack found herself drawn to the massive window at the front of the room, stepping across a catwalk towards the enormous panes of glass. They were, indeed, on a ship, as Natasha had said. The bridge they stood on was somewhere on the underside, she imagined, given the way that the ocean waves lapped and splashed against the bottom panes of glass. But the most striking thing was the city far in the distance.

It was huge. While it was true that from this far out the buildings looked smaller, she could tell that those buildings were absolutely massive. They must have been fifty, seventy, a hundred stories high! And there were so many of them! Even from this distance it put every city in Equestria to shame. Applejack remembered back in her fillyhood when she’d been stunned by the skyscrapers of downtown Manehattan - and the tallest of those had only been thirty stories high. These towers positively dwarfed the skyscrapers of her homeland, and dozens of them stretched out in every direction.

She wasn’t sure what to make of the numbers that Hill so casually threw out during their conversation before. With a city like this on the horizon though? Now she knew for a fact that she was telling the truth

Suddenly, Applejack heard somebody clear their throat behind her. AJ turned to see Agent Coulson had approached her at some point while she’d been gawking.

“You may want to hold onto something,” he said. “It’s going to get a little bumpy.”

“Bumpy?” AJ stuttered when suddenly the whole ship shook. There was a noise, like a deafening ‘KA-CHUNK’ as metal ground over metal and thudded into place. There was a sound like the whirring of a fan only scaled up to truly massive proportions as the whole structure began to shudder and vibrate. Applejack’s heart leapt into her throat as she nearly lost her balance, but a steadying hand from Coulson helped her to keep upright. AJ nodded her thanks and only just managed to grab a railing when she saw something that took her breath away.

The ship started to lift out of the ocean.

Water that had splashed and broken against the window’s surface now started to drip off into the sea below as AJ felt the ship rise into the air. She looked around fearfully only to see that none of the other agents looked bothered. She reasoned, then, that this was something that was supposed to happen and continued watching out the window. The ocean fell further and further away from them as they rose ever higher and higher in the air.

“It’s an airship…” Applejack muttered to herself as more and more of the city skyline appeared over the horizon, making ever clearer just how massive a metropolis it was. Applejack had never been aboard an airship before. In Equestria they’d been reserved only for the frightfully rich and the military. It filled her with something of a giddy anxiety as she realized just how small she felt up here, hundreds upon hundreds of feet in the air.

She felt Phil clap a hand on her shoulder, snapping her out of her wonderment. She turned to see the ever-amiable agent smiling at her. “I remember my first time on a Helicarrier,” he said, sounding nostalgic. “It’s pretty impressive.”

“Yeah…” AJ muttered dumbly.

Coulson nodded, continuing. “Director Fury may want to talk to you,” he said, nodding to where he was watching over his agents. “The rest of your team is going to be arriving soon.”

Applejack took a deep breath. “R-right,” she stammered, following him into the back of the room. Coulson broke off and AJ found herself wandering towards the back wall a few meters off from the glass conference table. She fidgeted awkwardly with her hands as she waited for somebody to address her, feeling distinctly out of place among the highly professional agents as they called out status reports and demanded adjustments to their flight path... or whatever it was they were doing.

Now that AJ was no longer taken by the view out the window, though, she cast her eyes over the SHIELD bullpen. She couldn’t help but frown as a good handful of the agents seemed to… light up in her vision.

It was the damndest thing. As she looked over the room, several of the agents seemed to be surrounded by some sort of a red, glowing haze. Instinctually, Applejack knew that there was something about these people that she didn’t like. These people… they were liars somehow. And not in the way that Natasha was. Natasha hid her dangerous nature behind a casual facade, sure, but these people… something about their nature was fundamentally false.

She couldn’t explain it. And it wasn’t helped by the fact that the next moment she blinked the red haze seemed to disappear. One second it was there and the next it wasn’t. Applejack shook her head and rubbed her temple as it began to ache dully.

It probably wasn’t worth worrying about, she considered. After all, she was standing in the nervous center of a spy organization. These people lied for a living. She figured it was only natural that some of them might… internalize that in some way?

...That made sense right?

Applejack shuddered. She began to worry about just what sort of people she’d signed up with. She felt for a moment like she’d fallen in with a bed of snakes.

Then again, she thought, this was the same organization that Jen was a part of. Jen hadn’t lit up her senses the way those strangers had. Nor, come to think of it, had Coulson, Hill, or even Fury.

AJ pursed her lips, trying to puzzle out what she’d just seen before shaking her head. It probably wasn’t worth worrying over. Maybe some of the more experienced, deep cover agents were just better at lying than others or something. Who knew how spies thought, after all? Surely Coulson, Hill, and Fury knew what they were doing. It wasn’t her place to tell them their business any more than it was theirs to tell her how to farm apples.

Applejack tore her eyes away from the bullpen and caught sight of one of the far doors. There entered Natasha once again, with two other humans at her back. One of them was a tall, well built man with short blond hair wearing a brown leather jacket and a plaid, button down shirt. He looked around in awe in a way that reminded Applejack of herself from just a moment ago. The other was a shorter, thinner man with dark hair that was just beginning to gray at the edges. He wore a dark sport jacket with a purple shirt and he looked like he’d rather be anywhere but here right now. Applejack felt herself relating to both of them

Over the din, Applejack heard Hill moving throughout the bridge, barking orders at her agents and calling out status readouts.

“All engines operating!” She called. “SHIELD Emergency Protocol 193.6 is in effect!” She turned to Fury, who had stationed himself between a pair of transparent control panels. “We’re at level sir.”

“Good,” Fury replied. “Let’s vanish.”

There was a hum, and AJ felt a tingle of static electricity in the air. She looked out the windshield and saw that there was now some sort of shimmer around it, like the glistening surface of a soap bubble, but other than that nothing felt different. Applejack puzzled over what Fury meant by ‘vanish’ but ultimately couldn’t be bothered to figure it out. There was already too much going on around her.

“Gentlemen,” Fury said, closer this time. Applejack turned to see the director approaching the table. The two men Natasha had brought back down here now stood behind it. AJ watched as the still-awed blond man absently handed Fury a small slip of green paper, prompting a smug smirk from the one-eyed director. Applejack raised an eyebrow, puzzling as to what was going on there, but she quickly dismissed it as more human weirdness.

The blond man walked off to explore the bullpen as Fury approached the shorter man. “Doctor, thank you for coming,” he said, holding out his hand to shake. The shorter man hesitated for a moment before taking it.

“Thanks for asking nicely.” He said, his voice sounding almost resigned, as if he expected something horrible to happen to him. “So, how long am I staying?”

“Once we get our hands on the tesseract you’re in the wind,” Fury replied, before turning his eye up upon Applejack. “For now, though, I’d like to introduce you to one of the people you’ll be working with.”

AJ took that as cue to approach. The smaller man turned around… and found himself looking up, his eyes widening a little in surprise. Applejack chuckled internally. She couldn’t help but admit that there was something a little fun about being so tall. She wondered if Princess Celestia ever felt the same way.

“Doctor Banner, this is Jacelyn Applewood.” Fury said, introducing the two of them. “She’s offered to help us in apprehending the hostile.” She held out her hand for the doctor to shake. “Miss Applewood, this is Doctor Bruce Banner. He’s the foremost expert on gamma radiation.”

The Doctor took her hand somewhat halfheartedly. “It’s nice to meet you,” he said.

AJ felt a bell ring in her head. “Waitaminnit. Bruce?” she asked, an eyebrow quirking.

Doctor Banner looked at her curiously. “Yes...?” he said haltingly.

Applejack broke out in a wide grin as it all clicked together. “Hey now, I’ve heard a lot about you!” she said enthusiastically, shaking his hand vigorously.

Doctor Banner’s nervousness seemed to fade away as he put up a guarded wall. He gave AJ a sort of glib, resigned smirk. “Really now,” he said dryly. “And… just what have you heard?” He asked as if expecting a very specific answer.

The doctors resignation seemed to pass over Applejack’s head though, as she continued to grin, clapping a hand on his shoulder familiarly. “Only what yer cousin has told me, I’m afraid.”

Whatever Doctor Banner had been expecting her to say, it definitely wasn’t that.

“My… Cousin?” he faltered.

Applejack flashed him a winning smile. “Jen told me all about how y’all were there for her when she was little,” she said, her hand settling on his shoulder. “She had nothing but good things to say about you. Y’all should be mighty proud of yourself, Bruce. You have a good heart.”

“Jen-” he stuttered, “Jenny is here?”


The shrill, piercing shriek resounded through the bridge, causing every agent aboard to stop and stare. Applejack whirled around to see Jen standing just inside the bridge’s door, with murder written upon her face. Her nostrils flared and her fists were clenched and shaking. Gone was the meek, timid agent who’d befriended AJ and helped her in so many ways the night before. In her place now stood a raging monster with the strength of a hundred men, ready to move mountains and part seas to unleash holy hell upon the target of her ire.

That target clearly being Bruce Banner.

The tiny, four-foot-ten woman stormed across the bridge towards her prey. Several agents looked like they were about to intercept her but Fury held up a hand, looking unflappable as ever. Applejack, however, couldn’t help but back away out of Jen’s warpath, instinctually intimidated by her show of rage even though she nearly had a good two feet and over 300 pounds on her.

“J-Jenny?” Bruce sputtered.

“Eight years, Bruce!” Jen shouted, finally crossing the room and shoving a finger in his stunned face. “You left me alone for eight goddamn years! No phone calls, no emails, not even a damn post card!!” She roared, looking up at the taller man with all the fire and fury of a million exploding suns. “And what the fuck did you do to your face?!”

There was a palpable sense of tension in the room as Bruce stammered out an answer. “I-I went in for plastic surgery to better stay undercover,” he finally managed to answer. “Ross’s men were hounding me at every turn. I had to find a better way to hide,” he continued to explain, his mouth running nervously as the tiny woman continued to stare him down, like a faucet that couldn’t be shut off. “They… they had to use local anesthesia to perform the procedure because putting me under caused me to--”


The entire bridge exploded into activity as Jen’s palm smacked across Bruce’s face. Agents started shouting and drawing their weapons, stark, raving terror dancing in every last one of their eyes as they demanded that Jen get on the ground or that Bruce stay exactly where he was. Applejack was completely thrown off by it all, moving to rush to Jen’s defense when suddenly Bruce threw his hands in the air and bellowed in a voice that seemed too loud for a normal human to create.


The activity came to an abrupt halt. The tension was still so thick you could drown in it as Agents stood watching him, their weapons still drawn. Bruce stood there a minute, his hands above his head and a serene look of calm on his face. His eyes were closed and he took a deep breath and let it out before opening them again.

“...I’m fine,” he repeated softly.

The agents all slowly, tentatively holstered their weapons and returned to what they were doing, though they all seemed to be watching Jen and Bruce out of the corner of their eyes.

Bruce took another deep breath and turned back to his cousin. “Jenny--” he tried to say before he suddenly found himself trapped in a tight embrace. Jen practically tackled him, throwing her arms around him and burying her head in his chest in a fit of sniffles and sobs.

“How d-dare you?” she sobbed, looking up at him. “How d-dare you leave me alone like that?” Her eyes were red and puffy behind her coke-bottle glasses, tears trailing down her cheeks as her lip quivered. “You went off and did that idiot’s experiment and…” she trailed off shuddering in his grip as he slowly returned her hug. “I-I had to watch the news just to figure out where you were. They s-said such terrible things about you. A-and sometimes there would be such a long time between stories t-that… I was sure you… sure you…” she broke down into a weeping fit as she buried her head in his chest once again.

Applejack watched the scene unfold silently as she felt someone sidle up behind her. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed the blond man from before watching the two of them carefully.

“You think they’re gonna be okay?” the man asked, watching them with a solemn gaze.

AJ watched as Bruce placed a hand on the back of Jen’s head, stroking her hair lightly as she wept into his chest. The outburst had been… startling, to say the least. And she couldn’t say she understood why everybody on deck had freaked out so hard. For now, though, it looked like everything was winding down. The two of them had settled into a gentle hug - two cousins reunited after so long apart.

“Yeah.” Applejack smiled distantly. “I think they’ll be just fine.”

The scene continued for a minute before Fury finally broke it, clearing his throat. “Agent Walters,” he said warningly. Jen broke out of her reverie, breaking off her hug with Bruce and stepping back a little, standing at attention.

“Y-yes sir?” she said, trying to compose herself.

Unflappable as ever, Fury raised an eyebrow at her. “While I’m glad to see the two of you back together again, for your own sake as well as your cousin’s,” he said, giving her a hard stare with his singular eye, “Don’t. Do that. Again.”

Jen flushed, nodding and meekly wringing her hands together. “Yes sir…” she muttered.

“Good,” he said, nodding towards the table with his one good eye. “Take a seat.”

She nodded, quickly shuffling over to the table and sitting down in one of the chairs, head bowed meekly.

Fury approached Bruce once again, who furrowed his eyebrows at him. “You brought my little cousin aboard,” he said levelly. Applejack felt herself instinctively shake a little as she detected a dangerous undertone to his words.

“She volunteered,” Fury explained, raising his hands placatingly. “She joined SHIELD a few years ago to keep better track of you.”

Bruce turned to look at Jen. The small woman simply nodded her head meekly. Bruce seemed to sag a little and sigh, looking even more resigned than he had before as he relented.

“Fine,” he said, turning to Fury and changing the subject. “Where are you with the Tesseract?”

At that moment, Agent Coulson piped up from the edge of the bullpen. “We're sweeping every wirelessly accessible camera on the planet,” he said, gesturing to one of the screens a nearby agent was watching. Some kind of footage was rapidly playing out over it before switching to another picture somewhere else. “Cell phones, laptops. If it's connected to a satellite, it's eyes and ears for us.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Applejack saw the blond man frown and cross his arms. She looked at him curiously for a moment, watching him scowl in Fury’s direction, before turning back to the conversation.

“That’s still not gonna find them in time,” Natasha said, having taken a spot hovering over another agent who was working furtively at a screen.

The air around Banner seemed to change, as the meek, nervous man who had been the source of so much hullabaloo seemed to settle into a familiar pattern. “You have to narrow your field,” he said, shrugging off his sport coat and folding it under one arm. “How many spectrometers do you have access to?” he asked.

“How many are there?” Fury responded blithely, crossing his arms and leaning against a railing.

“Call every lab you know and tell them to put the spectrometers on the roof and calibrate them for gamma rays,” Bruce said, nodding to the bullpen full of still-on-edge agents. Fury nodded as Bruce continued, his words becoming incomprehensible to Applejack as he started descending into what she could only describe as technobabble. “I'll rough out a tracking algorithm based on cluster recognition. At least we could rule out a few places.” He rolled up his sleeves, turning back to Fury. “Do you have somewhere for me to work?”

Fury turned and nodded out towards Natasha. “Agent Romanoff,” he said casually, “could you show Doctor Banner to his laboratory please?”

Natasha stood up from where she was watching the agent work, walking over towards Banner and gesturing for him to follow. “You’re gonna love it, Doc. We’ve got all the toys.”

“Um…” came a soft, hesitant voice from behind Applejack. She and the blond man turned to see Jennifer, wringing her hands nervously and looking meekly at her shoes. “Sorry about that. I… don’t know what came over me.”

Applejack smiled gently, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Y’all didn’t tell me he went and ran off for so long. I get how you’d’ve been angry at that.”

Jennifer smiled weakly, looking up into Applejack’s eyes. “He… he had a good reason,” she said hesitantly before shaking her head. “But that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt.”

Somewhere deep inside, Applejack felt an ache. “I understand.”

“Yeah…” Jen said, removing her glasses and wiping her eyes. “I guess you do.” she sniffed, replacing her glasses on her face. “Um… if you don’t mind, I’d like to be with my cousin for a bit. You’ll be okay out here, right?”

“Of course, sugarcube.” Applejack nodded. “Go be with your kin.”

“Thanks,” she said with a smile. “We’ll catch up later.” She turned to the blond man and gave him a polite nod. “Captain,” she said. The man nodded back and she departed, following after Natasha and Bruce.

Applejack leaned back a little, leaning against the wall and looking over her shoulder at the blond man beside her. She let out a long, low breath. “Welp,” she said idly. “That sure was something, weren’t it?”

“Mmm…” the man hummed distantly, looking out with a frown over the bullpen of agents.

AJ tilted her head. “Somethin’ eating you, sugarcube?”

The man was quiet for a moment before responding. “...I’m not a fan of how SHIELD can just poke into everybody’s private lives so casually,” he said finally, shaking his head. “I know what we’re up against, but it isn’t right, commandeering peoples’ belongings like that.”

Applejack frowned. She couldn’t say she understood what the man was talking about. Then again, she wasn’t sure what Coulson had meant by ‘cell phones’ and ‘laptops.’ Applejack knew what a phone was. They were big, boxy things mounted on the wall that allowed ponies to talk to other ponies miles away. Mayor Mare had one in city hall, and there was talk of the Cakes getting one for Sugarcube Corner so they could better order ingredients, or Twilight getting one so she could order books for the library. She didn’t know what Coulson meant by ‘sweeping the cameras’ though. There wasn’t a single broom or piece of photography equipment on the deck.

In the end, Applejack could only shrug. “I guess I can’t say I rightly know one way or another,” she finally said. That was a perfectly noncommittal answer, right?

The blond man merely hummed again before falling silent for a moment. There was a beat before he seemed to finally realize who he was talking to. He turned to look Applejack in the eye and gave her a friendly smile. “Sorry, I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced yet.” He held out a hand. “Steve Rogers.”

“Jacelyn Applewood”, she said, the name slipping from her lips easier than she felt like it should have. She took his hand and gave it a firm shake, an eyebrow raising at just how strong his grip was.

Steve seemed to notice something similar. “That’s quite a grip you have there, Miss Applewood.”

AJ nodded in kind, smiling. “Y’all ain’t so bad yourself,” she said, breaking off the handshake. “So what’s this about y’all being a Captain?” she asked, trying to make small talk.

Steve’s response was to raise an eyebrow curiously. “You don’t know?” he asked.

Applejack frowned, hoping she hadn’t just encountered a fellow with that classic Blueblood ‘don’t-you-know-who-I-am’ mentality to them. “Nnnnno?” she drawled out slowly. “Should I?”

Instead, though, Steve simply looked a little amused and befuddled. He smiled a little, chuckling under his breath. “No… I guess not. It’s just that you’re the first person who hasn’t recognized me since I woke up.” He shrugged a little. “It’s actually a bit refreshing.”

Applejack relaxed at his answer a touch. He wasn’t coming across like any of the snooty, holier-than-thou noble-types she’d met at the Gala or at Twilight’s birthday party. And he seemed genuine when he said that not being recognized actually felt refreshing.

Still, one thing stuck out to her.

“Woke up?” She asked.

“From the ice,” he said, turning to look her in the eye. “Fury really hasn’t briefed you about me? About Doctor Banner?”

Applejack scratched the back of her head awkwardly. “I’m… kinda a last minute addition to this thing?” she managed to offer.

Steve frowned, pressing his lips together. “Explains why you weren’t in the dossier he gave me either.” He shook his head. “Still, you never read anything in school? About the War? About Captain America?” he asked.

Applejack winced. She should have known that SHIELD’s little cover for her would fall apart faster than a house of cards under a stiff breeze. Not that any of the cloak and dagger identity games ever sat right with her in the first place. And so, she fell back on her first instinct: the truth.

“Gotta be honest with y’all, Captain Rogers,” she said plainly. “Before last night I ain’t never heard of ‘America’ to begin with.”

Whatever the Captain was expecting to hear, it wasn’t that. He looked at her, mind clearly boggling, before something seemed to click in his head.

“You’re not from around here.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement of fact.

Applejack shook her head and channeled her brother. “Nnnope.”

“Are you an Asgardian?” he asked. “Like the hostile? Like Loki?” he clarified.

There was another unfamiliar term thrown about so casually. Applejack huffed. “Even further than him, I reckon.” she answered noncommittally. “Can’t say I even know what an Asgardian is.”

Steve looked frustrated now. He ran a hand through his short-cropped hair, sighing as he shut his eyes. “Jiminy...” he muttered under his breath. “You mean to tell me Fury brought you on board without briefing you at all?”

AJ frowned. “Well… like I said, it was kinda last minute. He told me that this Loki fella had stolen some kinda powerful artifact, but I ain’t heard much else.”

The Captain scowled, glaring towards where Fury was manning the bridge, his gaze stopping just short of boring holes in the back of the director’s head.

“Hey now,” AJ said, trying to calm him down. “Don’t be too hard on him. Way I’ve heard it, SHIELD’s had a lot on their plate the last day or so.”

“No.” Steve shook his head, huffing. “He should know better than to sign somebody up for a mission like this without telling them anything.” He turned back to look at her. “I don’t care if you were signed on five minutes before I walked in the room - lack of intel gets soldiers killed. I’ve seen it.”

There was a weight to his words all of a sudden as she gazed into his deep, blue eyes. There was a sadness there; a deep, bottomless pit of it hidden behind this wall of frustration he was putting up.

Applejack was certain he didn’t speak idly when he said he’d seen it.

Steve stood up from the wall. “You feel like finding the break room? I can help brief you over some coffee or something.” He turned his eye over the SHIELD bullpen, his gaze lingering for a moment on Fury before he turned back to AJ. “I’m afraid if I stay here I’ll say something I might regret.”

Applejack nodded. “Sure, partner.” she said casting back one last look at the bullpen full of SHIELD agents, taking note again of the glowing red haze that surrounded some of them, not sure now what to think about Fury or her other hosts. “Lead the way.”

FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2012 - 12:17 PM

“He turns into a WHAT?!”

Steve grabbed a couple of napkins, wiping up some of the coffee that Applejack had just spewed across the table in shock. “When he gets angry, yes. I understand that’s why he’s been on the run for the last eight years.”

Applejack leaned back, staring at the ceiling as the previous scene played through her mind again. “Shoot… that explains why all them agents were spooked like that.”

The two of them had spent the last hour and some change sitting around a table in a break room they’d found near the bridge. Applejack wasn’t much of a coffee drinker back in Equestria, preferring hot, spiced apple cider as her warm drink of choice. It seemed the humans favored coffee over cider, tea, or cocoa though. She sipped at the bitter drink considering everything she’d just heard.

Steve had been spending their time together briefing her on everything he knew about the mission so far. He told her everything he knew about the hostile, Loki, and what little they knew about his abilities, what they theorized about him from an encounter with a previous member of his race the previous year, and about the peculiarities of the item he took, the tesseract.

To be honest, Steve actually didn’t seem to know much more than she did, but AJ required so much clarification and explanation that the briefing took longer than it otherwise might’ve. Steve had been a perfectly patient gentleman all throughout, though. Applejack decided that she liked him.

“And we’ve brought Banner on because he can track these gamma thingies the tesseract throws out better than everyone else then?” she asked, finally starting to get a handle on how all the pieces fit together. “Even though he turns into a… giant green rage monster?”

“He understands gamma radiation better than anybody else on earth.” Steve explained calmly. “The way I understand it, people have been hesitant to study it ever since his accident.”

Applejack frowned nervously. “But… if this tesseract is throwing the stuff around, how do we know we aren’t going to end up with a bunch more rage monsters running about?”

Steve stopped, considering that. “I don’t think it’s putting out enough for that to happen?” he said hesitantly before scowling. “Then again, part of the whole problem is that we don’t know much about what the tesseract can do in the first place.”

There was a pause as Applejack studied his face. “Somethin’ eating you, sugar?”

Steve took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It’s just that I’m watching history repeating itself,” he said, sounding resigned. “I had an encounter with the tesseract before once… when a madman got his hands on it.” He shook his head. “I nearly killed myself trying to destroy it. Now they pull me back years later and tell me they fished it out of the ocean only to lose it again.”

AJ watched the man as he suddenly looked very far away. His eyes were glassy and unfocused as he stared into his coffee cup. His fingers tensed around the ceramic mug, almost trembling as his face set into a stern frown.

Applejack recognized that look. She’d worn it herself more than once in the past couple of days. It was the look of somebody tumbling down a rabbit hole of their own making as they were overwhelmed by everything that had been taken from them… everything they’d lost.

“Hey,” Applejack said, reaching across the table and laying a hand on his. He tensed for a moment but the action seemed to snap him out of his reverie. “You gonna be okay?”

Steve nodded. He didn’t meet her eyes, but he seemed to be back in the present well enough. “Yeah,” he finally responded.

Applejack leaned back, taking another sip of her coffee. “Y’all didn’t tell me how you fit into Fury’s puzzle,” she said, trying to get him talking again. For a moment it seemed like it backfired, though, as he fell silent again, briefly adopting the faraway look again, before he finally answered her.

“I was a soldier,” he explained, “fighting in biggest war humanity ever knew. Against a foe called the Nazis.”

“Nazis?” Applejack’s breath hitched. She recognized that word. They were the people Coulson said had likely captured her. She didn’t know if they were the ones responsible for how she ended up here or not, but they were almost certainly the ones who had stuffed her in that tube for almost seventy years.

“You recognize them?” Steve asked. Applejack nodded, but didn’t say anything. She motioned for him to continue.

“I volunteered for an experimental program to enhance my body and skills.” Steve said, swirling the coffee in his mug. “It was crazy… it should have killed me. But I couldn’t stand by while the Nazis swept across the world, killing innocent people and trampling everything in their path. It was the only way for me to join the fight and do my part.”

“And it worked.” Applejack finished for him.

“Better than anybody could have imagined,” Steve said. “My strength, my speed, my healing… all of it was enhanced. They called me a super soldier. They called me ‘Captain America.’”

“I was sent on a number of covert missions to take down a branch of the Nazi regime called HYDRA. They were a special-ops-slash-science faction designed to develop new weapons of mass destruction from unorthodox sources. Super science, paranormal stuff…” he trailed off, his frown deepening. “It was fighting them that I first encountered the tesseract.”

“A monster called the Red Skull had managed to get ahold of it and was using it to develop weapons that the Allies couldn’t defend against.” He turned in his seat, looking out the door towards the bridge. “He was going to use it to destroy the entire east coast of the United States.”

“I stopped him,” he said quietly, his eyes far away again. “I crashed his plane into the ocean up near the arctic. I thought that was it for me.” He let out a long, sad sigh. “Then almost seventy years later they pulled me out of the ice and thawed me out. Somehow I survived… only to find out that it was happening all over again.”

Applejack was silent as the Captain told his story. She felt her eyes start to mist a little as his tale unfolded, only to gasp when he told her just how long he’d been under. “...Seventy years?” she asked.

“The world is so different now,” Steve continued. “I was trapped there in the ice and the world just kept on spinning. Technology, medicine, culture… I feel like a stranger in my own country sometimes.” He chuckled darkly. “I came home to a nation I didn’t recognize and knew nothing about. Some ‘Captain America’ I turned out to be.”

AJ reached across the table, keeping her composure as best she could and taking his hand in hers. “Hey now. Don’t talk like that. If it weren’t for what you did, their world wouldn’t have kept on spinning at all.”

Steve looked up, meeting her eyes, a sad smile on his face. “Some days it doesn’t feel like much consolation though,” he said. “Not when the world keeps having to deal with the same problems over and over again.” He shook his head. “And I don’t even have the backup to help me through it anymore. Everyone I knew is long gone. The Commandos, Bucky, Chester, Howard…” he trailed off, the next name coming out as nothing but a strained whisper. “...Peggy.”

“I know how you feel.” Applejack said, holding his hand tighter. Steve looked up at her, eyebrow raised but not arguing the statement. She shook her head, fighting back all but a single tear. “Believe me I know exactly how you feel.”

Applejack sat up straight, clearing her throat and wiping a sleeve across her eyes in a mostly successful attempt at regaining her composure. “Y’all said you were under for seventy years, right? But it was more like sixty-seven, weren’t it?”

Steve blinked. “Yeah,” he said finally. “How did you--?”

“That’s how long…” Applejack started, taking a deep breath. “That’s how long I was under too. Them same Nazis y’all were fighting… they managed to get their grubby mitts on me somehow. I dunno what they wanted out of me, but they shoved me into some kinda tube. SHIELD don’t know how long exactly I was in there, but they dug me outta one of their warehouses sixty-seven years ago.”

The Captain looked downright aghast. “Why didn’t they let you out?”

Applejack shrugged. “They said that a bunch of the things they dug outta the warehouse I was in did horrible things; that they killed the people tryin’ to investigate them.” She shook her head. “Eventually they stopped poking at the snakes to see if they’d bite them. I was just unlucky that they stopped poking before they got to me.”

“That’s no excuse--” Steve started to say but Applejack cut him off.

“It ain’t.” AJ agreed. “It really ain’t. But it’s like you said; the fellas who actually went and left me in the back of a warehouse to gather dust… they’re long gone. How can I blame people like Fury or Coulson when they ain’t the ones who actually went and put me there? When they didn’t even know I was there in the first place?”

Steve looked like he’d swallowed something sour for a moment before sighing and letting it go. “I suppose what’s done is done.”
Applejack nodded, trailing off. “Yeah…”

Silence stretched out for a long moment between the displaced pair. The two of them found themselves staring into their coffee cups, the bitter drinks having long since gone cold. The only sound was the clock on the wall, ticking the seconds away.

“You said you weren’t from around here,” Steve finally said. Applejack looked up but he didn’t. “But you said you weren’t from Asgard either.”

“Never heard of it before yesterday,” AJ confirmed.

“Your home,” Steve asked. “What was it like?”

Applejack’s breath hitched a little as she thought about the home she probably wouldn’t see again. She did her best to maintain a straight face when the Captain spoke again.

“It’s alright,” he said, “If you don’t want to--”

“No no…” she said, clearing her throat and rolling her neck. “It’s fine… It’s just that… I ain’t sure just how much I’m supposed to say. Jen and Agent Hill’ve gone through a lotta trouble to help me try and keep where I’m from hush-hush.”

“I see,” Steve said softly.

There was another pause. The silence threatened to take over between them again. Steve drank down the last of his coffee, setting the empty mug aside as he stared into the distance.

“...Equestria was beautiful.” Applejack finally said.

Steve turned back to her to see tears dripping down the sides of her face. They rolled down her freckled cheeks, down to her chin where they fell off, dripping into her chilled coffee mug.

“I worked on an apple farm called Sweet Apple Acres. Lived there my whole life with my Granny, brother, and sister. We lived in a town called Ponyville, not too far from the capital city of Canterlot, where Princess Celestia lived.”

“It weren’t always easy.” Applejack explained. “Equestria was usually a pretty friendly land to live in, but Ponyville was right on the edge of the settled zone, outside a haunted wood called the Everfree Forest. Sometimes a monster or two would come outta the forest and attack the town and we’d have to drive them back. That’s how Ma and Pa…” she trailed off, sniffling, wiping at her eyes and clearing her throat again, desperately trying to regain composure.

“I’m sorry.” Steve said.

Applejack shook her head. “It’s alright.” she said softly before continuing. “I managed to work through it; made a life for myself. Sweet Apple Acres sold the best apples and apple products in the whole county. I made a bunch of friends for myself… Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Spike…” she chuckled weakly. “Even managed to meet the Princesses themselves a couple of times.”

“It weren’t always a cakewalk,” she went on. “Equestria fell into a nasty habit of being attacked by evil chaos gods or shapeshifters every couple’a months. But me and my friends, we always managed to make it through.” She gestured around herself weakly, before continuing. “We didn’t have the kinds of weapons or crazy technology y’all have here on Earth but we got by. Twilight could work magic better than any other soul I knew, and Rainbow was the best flier anypony ever saw… even if she had a bit too much of an ego about it. And Pinkie Pie… I don’t know how it was she did what she did, but she always had a trick or two up her sleeve.”

She quieted down, staring into the distance. “It weren’t all fighting crazy folks though. Most of it was good times. Going to Twilight’s birthday party or watching the butterfly migration with Fluttershy or getting into bull-headed competitions with Rainbow…” She let out a long, shuddering breath, which slowly transformed into a dark, sad chuckle. “I feel like I took it all for granted now. I guess we don’t realize what we got until it ain’t there anymore, you know?”

Steve only nodded.

“My friends and family were always there for me when the horseapples hit the fan - whether it was a crazy magician trapping the town in a bubble or my sister and her zany friends causing a ruckus or just my own fool self working too hard.”

The silence stretched on. Steve didn’t dare break it. Eventually Applejack managed to choke more out.

“I miss them,” she said. “And it ain’t just time for me, it’s distance. I can’t say I know how I’d ever get back home in the first place. But even if I did, well… it’s like you said, Steve. Can’t say I know what sort of Equestria would be waiting for me on the other end.”

Applejack sniffed, wiping her eyes one last time before flashing a sad smile to Steve. She reached across the table and took his hand in hers, holding it tightly. “Sorry,” she finally said. “Didn’t mean to go on like that.”

“No, no. Don’t worry about it,” Steve assured her, returning the sad smile. “It sounds like we both had a lot to get off our chests.”

Applejack nodded silently before Steve continued. “I’m wondering though,” he said curiously.

Applejack sniffled again but managed to keep hold of herself. “Yeah?”

“Your name,” Steve said. “Jacelyn Applewood is a name SHIELD gave you, isn’t it. It doesn’t sound like a name from Equestria.”

Applejack flushed a little, drawing back and awkwardly scratching the back of her head. “I don’t think y’all were supposed to figure that out,” she muttered.

“What’s your name?” Steve asked. “Your real name.”

She paused one last time, debating whether or not to tell him. Wouldn’t it only keep tearing her wound open to hear people calling her Equestrian name? Maybe she should just move on and accept Jacelyn Applewood as her new name. Build a new life, like Hill had suggested. For all she knew it was a mistake to ask Jen to keep calling her by her real name.

Then again, as she looked across the table and into Steve’s eyes… she couldn’t help but feel otherwise. Steve may have been hurting, but he wasn’t running away from his past. He may have lost the world he knew, but he still kept it close to his heart, even as he tried to make a new life for himself in this new, insane world he’d found himself in.

“Applejack.” She finally said with a weak smile. “But my friends call me AJ.”

“It’s good to meet you, AJ.” Steve said, holding out his hand to her from across the table.

She took his hand in hers and gave it a gentle shake. “Likewise, Steve.” Despite herself, she found herself chuckling “Shoot, I bet ‘Applejack’ must sound like a right silly name to y’all, though.”

Steve leaned back with a wry grin. “You’d be surprised,” he said. “One of the men I fought alongside with went by the name ‘Dum Dum’ Dugan.”

Applejack barked out with a peal of laughter. “Y’all serious?!” she asked, mood successfully lifted at Steve’s admission. “Poor fella! How’d he land himself with a name like that?”

Steve smiled, leaning back in his chair. “Well you see,” he said, “we were fighting the Nazis on the streets of this small town in southern France and they had us backed into this little candy shop--”

Their conversation was abruptly interrupted, though, by a knock at the door. The two of them jolted, turning to see Phil Coulson standing in the doorway, looking at them curiously.

“I’m sorry,” Phil said, raising an eyebrow at the both of them. “I hope I’m not… interrupting anything?”

Applejack cleared her throat, straightening up in her seat and rolling her shoulders. “‘Course not,” she said as casually as she could. “What’s going on, Phil?”

Phil stepped into the room, looking between the two of them for a moment before speaking again. “I was just wondering if I could borrow Captain Rogers for a minute. If that’s alright?” he asked.

AJ turned to Steve who merely shrugged. She turned back to Phil and mirrored the gesture. “Fine by us, Sugarcube. I’ll catch up with y’all later.”

Phil grinned a little before stepping out of the room. Steve turned to Applejack and nodded. “AJ,” he said, departing. Applejack nodded back to him as he followed Phil away back onto the bridge.

Leaving Applejack all alone with her thoughts.

AJ quickly drained the last of her now-cold, somewhat-saltier-than-before coffee. Curiously, she found her thoughts weren’t spiralling into despair quite as readily as they were the night before. Something about her talk with Rogers must have soothed something deep down inside her. She still hurt, there was no question about that, but finding a kindred spirit in him had placed a sort of balm over the wound. There was somebody here who understood; who she could talk to openly and freely. It was a shame that he had to go through something so similar to what she did, of course, but at least neither of them had to deal with it alone.

Applejack watched the seconds tick by on the wall clock. While she was pleased that she was no longer breaking down the second she was left alone to ruminate, she suddenly found herself with a new problem. She was bored.

“Heck with this,” she muttered, placing her coffee mug in a nearby sink before strolling out of the break room. A couple of agents spared her a glance but said nothing to her as she wandered back through the hallways and back onto the bridge. She spied Coulson and Steve chatting on a nearby catwalk and moved towards them.

“...It took me a couple of years to collect them all,” she heard Phil say as she drew closer. “ Near mint. Slight foxing around the edges, but--” Applejack opened her mouth to say something when all of a sudden the three of them were interrupted by a shout from the other side of the room.

“We’ve got a hit!” Applejack turned. One of the hazy red agents was calling out to the rest of the bridge, other agents quickly congregating around him. Phil and Steve quickly broke off their conversation to investigate what he’d found, with Applejack following close behind. “Sixty-seven percent match,” The hazy agent continued. “Wait, cross-match! Seventy-nine percent!”

“Location?” Phil asked, suddenly all business again. Applejack looked over his shoulder at the screen the agent was reading off of, only to see a picture of a man she didn’t recognize. He had long, slicked-back black hair and blue eyes that seemed to glitter with malice. His face was long and slender, and he had an infuriatingly smug, punchable grin on his face that she recognized from somewhere. It took her only a moment to recognize where she’d seen an expression like that before: On Discord, the lord of Chaos himself.

‘Loki,’ Applejack thought, growling internally.

“Stuttgart, Germany,” the agent replied. “28, Konigstrasse. He's not exactly hiding.”

“Captain,” Fury said from behind the three of them. They turned to see him nod at Steve. “You’re up.”

Steve nodded, quickly marching off, led away by a pair of agents. Nick Fury then turned his attention onto Applejack.

“Miss Applewood,” he said, using her assumed name. “I’m afraid this is your last chance to back out.” He folded his arms behind his back, gazing at her with that one, piercing, calculating eye. “Will you be joining Captain Rogers?”

Applejack turned around, taking in the sneering, grinning face on the screen. She scowled. If this Loki character wasn’t left unchecked, nobody knew what kind of damage he could cause with the tesseract. She wasn’t about to let that happen. She’d faced down far worse back home and come out of it in one piece. This may not have been her world, but she’d already made two friends here, and she wasn’t about to let this snake anywhere near them.

She turned back around, looking Fury dead in the eye. “I reckon I will.”

The Avengers: Ch6

View Online

“It speaks to your character.” Phil said.

Applejack found herself in an elevator with the agent as they ascended towards the upper deck of the ship. She turned, an eyebrow raised as Phil smiled his ever-genial trademark smile, though he looked straight ahead at the elevator doors. “Beg pardon?” she asked.

“I know this can’t possibly be easy for you,” he continued, eyes still front. “But even after Hill, Samson, and I recommended that you sit this mission out, you accepted it anyway.” He turned to look Applejack in the eye. “Maybe it wasn’t a strictly wise move, but I think it says a lot about who you are. You’re willing to put yourself in the line of fire... put your life on the line for people you barely know, even when you’re already hurting.” He reached out, placing a gentle hand on her arm. “The Earth could use more people like you.”

The corner of AJ’s mouth turned up a little. “Well, I hope I can live up to that lofty picture y’all have of me, Phil.”

FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2012 - 12:17 PM

The two of them stepped out into the open air and Applejack immediately felt a horrible, biting chill as the wind tore past her. Her long, blonde hair whipped and flapped all over the place, getting in her eyes and face as the gusts blew by. Phil yelled something at her but she could barely hear it over the din. He made a motion as if to follow him, though, so Applejack did her best to keep pace, despite the frosty wind freezing her to the bone.

Phil quickly brought her over to a large, strange looking vehicle that Applejack didn’t recognize. It was big and black, with a huge pair of metal wings that didn’t look like they were made to flap like a bird. A smaller pair of secondary wings emerged from the back, capped with little fins and prominently showing off a huge pair of... what might have been turbines? Applejack hadn’t kept up particularly well with modern machinery back in Equestria. A ramp extended from the back, leading up to a roomy interior.

All in all, it reminded her nothing of the truck she’d woken up in the day previous.

Applejack followed Phil up the ramp and into the roomy interior. The deafening noise of the wind died down as soon as she stepped inside and she quickly brushed her hair out of her eyes, spotting Steve and Nat conversing in the corner.

Steve was…

“What are y’all wearing?” she blurted out before she could stop herself.

Steve and Natasha looked up at her. It was bright blue, with vertical red and white stripes streaking through its midsection. Big, bulky red gloves covered his hands and he wore similar boots upon his feet. The outfit had a cowl of some kind, with a big white letter ‘A’ emblazoned on the front (Applejack had managed to learn that letter, along with B and C, before she and Jen realized they didn’t have the time to teach her how to read before signing all her citizenship paperwork). On the sides of the cowl were painted a pair of little, white, feathered wings, and a big, white star sat in the middle of his chest. Slung on his back was a red, white, and blue circular shield with another star in the center.

Steve looked up at her with a savvy sort of smile. “My uniform,” he said simply, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Applejack was about to argue. Soldiers in Equestria wore armor into battle, and they carried more than just shields. Surely humans would want to do something similar, she reasoned.

Then she saw the curious little knowing smirk Steve was giving her from behind his mask and she sighed. It must be a human thing.

Natasha approached her then, handing her a small device. It was a little circular bud, with a strange, curved cord looping off the back of it. Applejack took it in her hands and turned it over, getting a better look at it.

“It’s an earpiece,” Natasha explained, lifting her own hair back a little and revealing that she had one in her ear. “It allows us to keep in contact with each other in the field.”

“Like a telephone?” Applejack asked, cocking her head.

Coulson nodded. “Something like that, but you don’t have to dial the person you want to talk to every time you want to use it. And more than one person can be on the line at a time.”

AJ nodded, feeling like she understood as best she was going to - which was hardly at all, honestly. “It’s so small though?”

“We’ve learned how to make pretty much everything smaller and more convenient to carry over time,” he said as Applejack looped the earpiece over her ear, settling the bud inside. “One of these days you’re going to have to help us get a handle on just where Equestria is technologically.”

Applejack shrugged. “When this is all over, I’ll tell you whatever you want to hear, Phil.”

He grinned. “I look forward to it.” He turned to Steve and gave him a friendly nod. “Captain Rogers,” he said. Steve gave him a small salute as he departed. As he stepped back out onto the flight deck, the ramp slowly started to rise, the wind outside getting quieter and quieter, until the back of the vehicle had sealed up, shutting the three of them inside.

“Miss Applewood,” Natasha said, getting AJ’s attention. “You’re going to want to strap in. It’s going to get a little bumpy.” She gestured to a row of seats lining the wall, each of them with little straps and buckles allowing one to strap themselves in.

Applejack nodded, sitting in the seat across from Steve and figuring out the buckle. Meanwhile, Natasha disappeared into the front of the vehicle, out of Applejack’s line of sight. AJ fidgeted nervously for a minute, when suddenly the room lit up with bright, red lights and the vehicle around her started giving off a low, droning hum. AJ jumped a little in her seat, grabbing onto the seat cushions next to her as she suddenly felt her stomach drop as the vehicle began hovering into the air.

“First time in a plane?” Steve asked from across the room.

“What’s a plaaaAAAAAAAA--”


--- --- ---


Applejack decided she did not like planes.

At some point, Applejack’s internal organs managed to catch up with the rest of her and her teeth stopped chattering. She managed to let go of the armrest of her seat, having left clear indents where her fingers had gripped the metal with all her strength.

Once the initial shock wore off, though, Applejack managed to mostly settle in properly. The ride was actually surprisingly smooth, all things considered, even if their unthinkable speed caused butterflies to dance in her guts. Looking up from where she’d been shaking and sweating, she noticed Captain Rogers sitting calmly as ever, his arms crossed across his chest. Looking closer, she managed to spy that his eyes were closed behind his mask! Applejack couldn’t begin to fathom how anybody could manage to sleep while hurtling through the air at speeds that would make Rainbow Dash blush.

Eventually, though, Applejack managed to feel steady enough to unbuckle her straps and stand up, moving to a window to try and get a better look at the world she’d been dropped into. She stood, holding onto a railing that ran along the ceiling, and stepped forward so she could see into the cockpit.

Miles upon miles of lush, green fields stretched out in every direction, practically glowing in the waning light of day. Copses of trees dotted the meadows here and there, sometimes expanding into patches of wood and forest here and there. Snow-capped mountains dominated the horizon, their icy peaks gleaming in the sunset. The clear, darkening sky up above was dotted with starlight, just as the towns and villages below gleamed as people continued to bustle about their businesses, even under the encroaching blanket of night.

If Applejack didn’t know any better, she’d say it wasn’t so different from Equestria.

“Almost looks like the world isn’t under threat from an alien terrorist, doesn’t it?” Natasha cut in, wryly. AJ chuckled darkly. The dry humor was just what she needed to keep herself from falling down another spiral.

“How long until we get there?” Applejack asked.

“We’re about three minutes out.” Natasha said, punching in a few buttons on the console. “We should probably wake Sleeping Beauty back there and get ready to disembark”

“I’m already up,” Captain Rogers said, startling AJ a little as he sidled up behind her. “What’s the word on the hostile?”

“He hasn’t made any openly aggressive moves since we tagged him over four hours ago,” Nat explained. “We’ve been keeping an eye on him, but SHIELD has advised all local law enforcement to stay back unless he starts endangering civilians. He’s just been loitering there. Sometimes reading a newspaper. Sometimes window shopping...”

“He’s baiting us.” Steve said with a scowl. “Daring us to come and get him. He’s either more of a fool than we thought or he’s got something up his sleeve.”

“Isn’t this fella supposed to be the ‘god of mischief and trickery?’” Applejack asked, brow furrowing. “He sounds like the sort of snake who’d try and pull something funny on us.”

Steve shook his head. “I don’t like it,” he said, crossing his arms. “We should hang back; see if we can spot a trap or some kind of army or--”

“Wait…” Natasha said as a chirp came from a panel on the console. She quickly scanned the intel as it came in from the SHIELD HQ. “Loki was just spotted entering the Stuttgart Conservatory of Music and Performing Arts. We’ve lost eyes on him.”

“Drat,” Steve cursed under his breath. “He’s making his move.”

“We have to go in,” Natasha said as the jet decreased its altitude over the city. “I can hover us over a complex a block over. You can move in from there.”

“Right.” Steve said, clapping a hand on Applejack’s shoulder. “Ready to move out?”

Applejack steeled herself, clenching her fists and taking a deep breath. She nodded. “As I’ll ever be.”

FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2012 - 10:22 PM

Applejack hit the rooftop clumsily, falling to one knee as her feet nearly gave out from beneath her. She felt the roofing crack beneath her weight, but thankfully everything held as she managed to regain her balance. Behind her, she heard Captain Rogers perform a graceful roll, quickly getting back to his feet as the Quinjet circled away from them, moving to a new position where it might better help intercept Loki.

“Are you gonna be okay?” Cap asked, frowning.

“I’m fine,” Applejack assured him, steadying herself. “Just not quite used to moving around here yet.”

Steve’s brows knit behind his mask. “If that’s the case maybe you better let me take the lead. You’re strong, but if you don’t have all your coordination you’ll just be putting yourself in danger.”

“I can take care of myself!” Applejack snapped, brushing away dust and crumbled pavement from her knees.

“I know you can,” Steve said, unslinging his shield from his back. “But we don’t know what kinds of tricks Loki has up his sleeve. You should--”

That was when the screaming started.

It was faint at first, coming from down the street. Their budding argument forgotten, Steve and Applejack rushed over to the edge of the roof, looking down the street towards the conservatory entrance. Dozens, if not hundreds of people were screaming in terror, fleeing the building as fast as they possibly could. Upper class ladies tripped in their high heels and tottering old men struggled with their canes and walkers as the crowd stampeded into the street, emptying into a park square. A siren started wailing in the distance when a man wearing green robes and golden armor with a horned helmet emerged from the building.


A police car rounded the corner, only for the mad god to fire a bolt of blue energy at it. The car flipped in midair, skidding on its front bumper as smoke poured out of its engine, sailing past Loki as he sauntered towards the mass of humanity struggling to flee the scene.

“We need to move!” Steve shouted as he leapt over the side of the building, grabbing onto a sturdy gutter pipe and sliding down the side of the building. Applejack didn’t hesitate either, opting instead to simply leap of the side of the building. Somewhere deep down, she knew she’d be fine.

Applejack impacted the concrete below with a mighty ‘thud,’ the pavement cracking and shattering beneath her. Behind her, Steve’s feet met the ground and he instantly took off at a run towards the distant crowd. Applejack stumbled, but managed to keep relatively close pace behind him as they darted through the streets. Steve dodged and leapt like a dancer over parked cars and around passersby, slaloming between parking meters and streetlamps. Applejack, clumsy as she was in this new body, opted instead to shout “Gang ‘way!” and “Coming through!” at any pedestrians that looked like they might get in her way.

Cap pointed at the smoking police car, now crashed into the side of a tree. “Help the officers!” he shouted, “Keep any other civilians from coming near! I’ll handle Loki!”

A small part of AJ wanted to argue, to say that she could take Loki herself, but it was quickly drowned out as she saw one of the officers dragging himself from the wreck. His leg was bent at an unnatural angle and he was pulling himself along the pavement with his hands.

So instead, Applejack nodded. “Got it!” she shouted.

Cap broke off from her, charging toward the park square, disappearing into a maze of hedges, fountains, and statues, leaving Applejack to charge towards the downed officers. A crowd of civilians had started to gather around the wrecked vehicle as Applejack drew near, all of them holding out strange devices with glass surfaces. “Outta my way! Lemme through!” she shouted, slowing her pace a little as she drew closer. Several people in the crowd turned as she spoke, their eyes widening as they watched a six-foot-six amazon barreling towards them. They backed off a little in shock, clearing the way for AJ to get through.

The downed officer jolted as Applejack skidded to a halt. He looked like he was about to panic for a second when AJ put a hand to his shoulder, helping the man onto his back. “Easy partner. We’ll get you out of here,” she said, trying to keep the man calm.

The officer blinked. “Sprechen Sie Deutsche?” he managed to utter, his voice dry and choking.

Something within Applejack briefly stirred. She recognized that language from somewhere, and she wasn’t sure she liked where. She quickly shook it off though. That was almost seventy years ago, in a war none of these people were a part of. They were innocent. Civilians.

“‘Fraid I can’t understand you, fella.” Applejack said, trying to be as calming as possible to the injured man. “Don’t worry though, we’ll get you out of here.” She turned to the crowd, still pointing their weird devices at her. “Anybody here talk normal?!”

One man, a thin, middle aged, balding fellow raised his hand. “Fräulein,” he said, “I speaking some English.”

Applejack nodded, pointing at the man. “Call this fella a doctor!” she said, gesturing to the officer. “Tell them to meet y’all a few blocks that way away from the ruckus!” she turned, pointing down a side street.

The man nodded, pulling out a device of his own and tapping at it. Applejack turned to a pair of startled looking students next. “Help me get him up. Don’t let him put too much pressure on that leg.”

The middle aged man translated for the two students, who nodded, reaching down to grab the officer’s shoulders.

“Mir wird es gut gehen!” The officer suddenly shouted, pointing to the smoking police car. “Bitte, hilf Ernst”

Applejack turned, peering into the police car’s windows. Another man hung from the inverted seat, tangled in his safety straps. He didn’t stir, blood leaking from a gash in his forehead. Applejack nodded to the officer. “I’ll get your friend, y’all just get to safety.”

The students, middle aged man, and officer all nodded. The two scholars helped the policeman up, holding him between them and helping him hobble away as fast as they could. Applejack turned to the rest of the crowd. “That goes for all y’all too!” she shouted. “GIT!”

That seemed to stir them. Most of the rest of the crowd took off running away from the park square as fast as they could, though there were still one of two stragglers pointing their weird bricks at her. Applejack snorted, not bothering with their foolishness as she turned to the car, wincing as she noticed flames were starting to lick from the hood. Quick as she could move, she approached the door, grabbing hold of the handle and pulling with all her might.

The car door ripped straight off in her hands.

That seemed to stir the bleeding officer from his daze. He turned, looking wide eyed in fright at applejack and let out a shout of alarm.

“Easy now!” Applejack shouted, raising her hands to try and get him to calm down. “I’m here to help!”

The man blinked, looking frightened and dizzy. “Amerikanisch?” He asked, his words slurring. “Speak English?”

“That’s right.” Applejack said, having long since figured out that ‘English’ was human for ‘Equestrian.’ She pointed to his safety straps. “Let’s get you outta those.”

The inverted man blinked, as if the statement took a moment to reach his brain, before fiddling with his buckle. It wouldn’t budge. The metal was twisted and bent. “Stuck,” he simply said.

Applejack frowned. “The hard way then.” she muttered. She reached up, grabbing hold of the sides of the seat the officer was trapped in, while simultaneously stepping down with one boot on the car’s roof. She dug her fingers into the leather of the seat, her fingers ripping holes in the fabric. And with a mighty heave...


Applejack stumbled backwards as the whole car seat came free from the car, the officer still strapped in, inverted in AJ’s hands.

Applejack quickly righted the dumbfounded officer, flipping him -and the seat- rightside up. There were gasps of alarm from both the policeman and the remaining stragglers behind her as she set the seat down on the ground, reaching over and crushing the seat buckle in her hands. The straps tore, then went loose, falling to the ground on either side of the bamboozled officer.

“Can you stand?” Applejack asked, reaching out a hand to help the man up.

The officer hesitated for a moment before taking her hand and standing on unsteady feet. “D-Danke…” he muttered, swaying from side to side.

Applejack set a steadying hand on his shoulder, turning and pointing down the street with her other hand. “Your friend is getting a doctor down that’a’way,” she said, turning back to him and nodding at the gash in her head. “Y’all should get away from here. Get that looked at.”

The officer was about to nod his thanks once again when a bellowing roar came from over the park square wall.


AJ whirled around at the horrible shout, before turning back to the officer and remaining stragglers. “Go!” she shouted. “I need to help my friend!”

As the officer and the remaining crowd members finally ran off, sufficiently frightened this time by the horrible bellowing terrorist, AJ darted in the opposite direction toward the park square. She skidded, nearly stumbling around a fountain, turning a corner just in time to see Loki fire a bolt of blue magic into the crowd. Applejack nearly gasped in horror when Steve suddenly leapt in from a nearby vantage point, blocking the shot and deflecting it back into Loki’s chest.

“You know, the last time I was in Germany...” he said, standing up straight and proud, holding his Shield before him stalwartly, “...and saw a man standing above everybody else,” he scowled at the downed Loki, “...we ended up disagreeing.”

Loki pulled himself to his hands and knees, gazing up at the Captain with a manic expression, somewhere between a psychotic grin and a snarl of frustration. “The soldier…” he sneered, propping himself up on his knees and climbing to his feet with a dark laugh. “The man out of time.”

The Captain smirked. “I’m not the one who’s out of time.”

There was a massive ‘WHOOSH’ as Natasha’s jet sailed overhead, Applejack instinctively ducking for an instant as it circled around before slowing to a halt, hovering over the street behind the square. There was a metallic ‘ka-CHUNK’ as a massive cannon emerged from its underside, aiming directly at their villainous target. There was a hiss of static as Natasha’s voice suddenly resounded through the square.

“Loki, drop the weapon and stand down!”

The madman didn’t miss a beat however. Before Natasha had even finished speaking, he’d raised his scepter once again and fired off a blast of blue magic at the jet. Nat swerved left, the magic bolt whizzing off harmlessly into the sky, but the shot was fired. Like greased lightning, Steve whipped his arm around, hurling his shield like a discus. It spun through the air, impacting Loki in the chest, forcing him back a step. The impact only managed to make him flinch, though, but it was enough of a window for the Captain to leap into the fray.

The crowd whirled into a panic, running every which way. People tripped and stumbled over each other as they stampeded, threatening to trample each other or get caught in Loki’s line of fire. Applejack quickly jumped out from behind the fountain and stuck two fingers in her mouth, blowing hard. The whistle resounded through the square, even over the noise of Cap and Loki’s battle, causing all heads but theirs to turn in her direction. She pointed towards a wide exit to the square, making a big “come here” gesture with her other arm.

“This way!” she shouted. “No dallyin’!”

It was enough direction for the crowd to follow. The mass of humanity cleared out of the square in moments, with significantly less chaos this time as Applejack kept an eye on Cap and Loki’s fight. Steve blocked two of Loki’s blows, but left himself open to a third from the butt of his spear. The weapon hit him in the gut, winding him and forcing him backwards several paces.

There was a lull as Steve caught his breath, but it only lasted a split second before he pulled his shield off his back and hurled it at Loki’s face. Loki was ready this time though, and he swiped it away with his spear, sending it clattering to the ground. Applejack growled, taking that moment to leap into action now that the crowd had cleared out, dashing across the square after the hefty metal disc.

Cap threw a jab at Loki’s face, but the asgardian deftly dodged it, using the motion to swing his spear in a wide arc. Cap ducked under the swing and dodged as Loki used his momentum to bring the spear up, then send it crashing down again in a hefty hammerblow that shattered the brickwork pavement beneath.

Applejack managed to grab the Captain’s shield off the ground just as she heard Steve grunt. She whirled around to see him sailing across the square before impacting in the pavement, skidding to a halt at the base of a concrete planter. AJ was already in motion as Loki advanced on Cap, putting his spear to his head.

“Kneel” Loki snarled through gritted teeth.

Hey, Pinhead!

Loki whirled around in alarm, only for Applejack to bring Cap’s shield down on the bridge of his nose. Loki tumbled backwards, banging the back of his head against the planter with a startled cry.

“Get’cher highfalutin toothpick away from my friend, y’overgrown billy goat!” she snarled

Loki growled, propping himself up on his elbows and wiping at his nose. His hand came away with a smear of blood as he glared daggers into Applejack’s eyes. “...You’re new.

The Captain stood, stepping up next to Applejack as the two of them bore down on Loki. “Stay down.” he said.

Loki’s eyes darted to him for only a split moment before they turned back towards Applejack. The corner of his mouth curled up in a smirk.

...And then suddenly he turned red.

Applejack couldn’t really explain it in words. In that split instant, Loki suddenly turned a hazy sort of red, his body going translucent and see-through. And yet, he was still there, plain as day. He was there but he wasn’t? ...No... Somehow, instinctively, she knew that the Loki in front of her was a lie.

“Get down!” She heard Steve shout. Instinctively, she ducked and dodged to her right. She managed to dodge out of the way just in time to see Loki’s golden spear whizz past her face. If she hadn’t moved, that spear would have been lodged right between her shoulder blades. She looked up to see the properly-colored Loki standing over her, a scowl on his face as he glared directly at her.

Trying to regain the upper hand, Cap swung out at the villain with his fists but it was too late. Nimbly, Loki leapt backwards and the fight was on once more.

Loki swept low with his scepter. Cap leapt over it and drove a foot into Loki’s chest. He stumbled back, though his armor took most of the blow. AJ chucked Steve’s shield at him but he managed to bat it away with his spear again. This time, though, Steve caught it before it could clatter away as he leapt through the air towards him, twisting around for a hook kick. Loki blocked it with the haft of his weapon, forcing him back. But Applejack didn’t give him room to breathe as she charged toward him, throwing a wild backhand his way. She telegraphed the attack too much, though, and Loki ducked under it, driving a fist into her gut. It didn’t hurt as much as it probably should have, but she still felt it as he forced the air from her lungs suddenly. AJ stumbled back, unsteady on her feet as she fell to one knee. Cap started in, throwing quick jabs at the maniac while she caught her breath.

That was when the music started.

Applejack looked up just in time to see Loki grab Steve by the arm and toss him bodily across the pavement when a crimson rocket screeched through the sky over the square. Nat’s jet began wailing out some kind of musical cacaphony that Applejack idly thought Dash might have liked. She looked skyward for the source of the music when a flash of light burst out from the man-sized missile. A shrieking, crackling beam of energy exploded through the air, impacting dead center into Loki’s chest, sending him flying across the lot before landing with a meaty ‘thud’ on a stairway. The mad god let out a guttural cry as his spine slammed into the brickwork.

Applejack hefted herself onto one knee as she looked up at the newcomer in awe. A gleaming, gold and scarlet suit of armor impacted the bricks in a perfect three-point-landing, shattering the pavement beneath him. Applejack boggled, trying to process what she was seeing. Was it really a suit of armor, or was it actually a robot?

The metal titan stood, its hands crackling with energy as it raised them toward the fallen god. Hatches and slots slid open on its arms and shoulders as armaments and devices that AJ didn’t recognize slid out with metallic clicks and clacks, pointing themselves at their downed enemy.

“Make your move, Reindeer Games,” it spoke, its voice metallic and synthesized. Steve approached the downed god, slinging his shield over his arm, glaring down at their mutual foe. Applejack stood, stepping up behind him.

Loki looked between the three of them, his eyes calculating and considering before he raised his hands in a gesture of surrender, his armor dematerializing into nothing in a flash of golden light, leaving him in only a dark green tunic and gold bracers with a dark, leather overcoat.

The armored titan’s weapons slid back into hiding as it lowered its hands. “Good move.”

There was a beat as Applejack and Steve caught their breath. “Mr. Stark,” Steve finally said, greeting the newcomer.

“Captain.” The armor replied with a slight nod.

Behind the three of them, there was a roar of engines as Agent Romanoff’s plane hovered above the square. The vehicle pivoted in the air a-hundred-and-eighty degrees so that its rear was facing the group, the rear hatch opening as it touched ground with a surprisingly gentle ‘thud.’ Natasha quickly emerged from the hatch, moving toward the trio. With her she carried a set of handcuffs.

“Get up,” she said as she approached their fallen enemy. “No funny business.”

Loki stood, cocking a bemused eyebrow as she roughly grabbed him by the forearm, slapping the cuff over his wrist in a practiced, efficient motion.

“They’re made of adamantium.” Natasha said as she clasped the other cuff over his other wrist. “We’ve used them to hold much bigger fish than you, so don’t even bother trying to break them.”

A playful smirk appeared on Loki’s face as she grabbed him firmly by the shoulder. “Good to know I warrant such critical attention,” he teased.

Natasha turned nodding toward Steve. “Captain,” she said, pushing their new captive toward him.

The Captain nodded, grabbing hold of Loki’s other shoulder, helping to lead him away. As he passed, he turned towards AJ and shot her a smile. “Good work,” he commended, pushing Loki away into the plane’s hold.

AJ grinned, blushing at the praise. Her legs started to shake a bit as the adrenaline from the fight began to wear off. She let out a long, slow breath of relief as she leaned forward, placing her hands on her knees, taking a moment to compose herself.

“You’re new.”

Applejack froze as the armored titan repeated Loki’s words. She straightened, turning around just in time to see the armor’s faceplate split apart and shift away, retreating into the sides of the helmet, revealing the face underneath.

The man might have been handsome, if Applejack felt any sort of physical attraction to humans. His face was thinner than Steve’s, and just beginning to show signs of wrinkling around the eyes. His hair was a dark brown, with a cleanly shaven, matching goatee around his wide grin. Most striking, though, were his eyes. He had brown, inquisitive eyes that burned with a fire AJ found incredibly familiar - one that she’d often seen in the eyes of her friend Twilight Sparkle. They were the kind of eyes that observed and questioned everything they lay upon... though Applejack couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable just how long they lay upon certain parts of her anatomy.

“I thought Fury had spilled about everybody he was bringing on for his squad of super friends, but it looks like he’s still keeping secrets.” He said, approaching her casually, as if he wasn’t wearing two hundred and fifty pounds of whirring, clanking metal. “If he’d told me he was bringing on somebody as captivating as you, though, I might’ve agreed sooner.”

Applejack felt her mind go blank for a second. She blinked once, then twice before her thoughts managed to resume. “Are...” she sputtered. “Are y’all making a pass at me?”

“That depends. Is it working?” the newcomer said, somehow grinning even wider. Before Applejack could reply he held out a gauntleted hand towards her. “Tony Stark,” he said casually.

AJ felt her mind whirl a little bit as she took his armored hand. “Applewood,” she said hesitantly. “Jacelyn Applewood.”

She couldn’t help but be taken aback. Even when she was a pony, Applejack wasn’t particularly used to being hit on. She spent most of her time on the farm, and even when she went into town she was usually either surrounded by her friends or working at the apple stall. Stallions rarely gave her a second glance with lookers like Rarity and Fluttershy around, and for the most part she was fine with that. There was too much work to be done on the Acres to spend her time dallying with colts. Time and time again Rarity had desperately tried to gussy her up, insisting that if she spent hours doing up her mane and caking her face in cosmetics stallions would surely find her ‘ravishing,’ but she’d simply never felt the need.

So it felt sensationally weird to have a balding ape make a move on her.

As quickly as he made the move, though, Tony seemed to drop the subject. His eyes darted toward her hand and then back up to meet hers as they released the shake. “So what’s your schtick?”

“My… schtick?” Applejack asked, trying to keep up.

“Cybernetics? Genetic Engineering?” Tony asked, looking her up and down again. “Did they dope you up with some of Cap’s happy juice? Or are you really just six-six of all-American, corn-fed country gal?”

AJ blinked again. The man darted from topic to topic so fast her mind was tripping over itself trying to keep up.

“...Apples mostly” she finally managed to babble out.

For some reason, Tony seemed to find her reply amusing.

“Mr. Stark,” Natasha called from the bay of the jet, “Will you be joining us?”

“Of course, Agent Romanoff.” He replied, turning to the plane. “Somebody’s got to keep Prancer in line.” He turned back towards Applejack and, seemingly from nowhere, produced a small slip of paper. “Feel free to get in touch with me anytime, Calamity Jane.”

Applejack took the card, noticing that it was covered in more words she couldn’t read before the name registered. “Calama-what now?” she asked, only to see that he’d sauntered off towards the back of the jet. She looked back down at the card for a second, grumbling at her own inability to read, and pocketing it before following him back towards the plane. As she approached, Natasha put a sympathetic hand on her arm.

“He make a move on you?” she whispered.

“I… think so?” AJ replied, unsure what to say about the strange man.

Natasha nodded sagely. “Best to just ignore him. He’s like that with everybody.

AJ looked into the jet’s hold, spying Tony leaning against a wall casually. He was frowning now, gazing intently at Loki, who was now seated in one of the chairs along the side of the bay, looking all too comfortable.

With a sigh, AJ decided it was best to follow Nat’s advice. She had enough on her plate without having to deal with fancy-pants smooth-talkers in shiny suits.


--- --- ---


Minutes later they were in the air again. Applejack seated herself across from Loki, deciding it was best if she kept an eye on him. She wasn’t sure exactly what ‘adamantium’ was, but Loki was strong. She didn’t fully trust him not to stir up a fuss while they were up in the air and send them all crashing to the ground.

Loki seemed to take an equal amount of interest in her. Whenever he was addressed by Steve or Tony he looked downright relaxed, as if he somehow held all the cards. He never did anything to reveal his hand though, stalwartly refusing to talk about where the likes of ‘Agent Barton’ or ‘Doctor Selvig’ were, or what he was planning with the tesseract.

When his eyes met AJ’s, though, he looked downright venomous. Something about her was putting him on edge. She might have felt some measure of pride at that if she didn’t know from experience how dangerous an animal could be when they felt cornered.

“Well well well,” she suddenly heard Tony’s synthesized voice say from inside his helmet. She looked over to see the helmet shifting and whirring as he removed it from his head. “Somebody’s trending,” he beamed with a cheeky grin in AJ’s direction.

“...Trending?” she asked, briefly glancing at Steve for an explanation. The Captain shrugged, looking just as confused by the term.

“On Twitter?” he said, quirking an eyebrow. “You know, social media? Online? The Blogosphere?” At Applejack’s blank look he frowned. “Come on, I know they’ve got the internet deep in the heart of Dixie.”

“She’s not from around here Tony.” Natasha said coolly from the pilot’s seat.

At that Tony’s lips pursed and, if it were possible, he somehow looked doubly interested in Applejack. “Really now?” he mused, looking between her and Loki. “Are you…” he began to say only to be cut off.

“She is not of Asgard.” Loki cut in, a growl undercutting his words.

Tony turned back to Applejack with a bemused looking smirk. “Curiouser and curiouser then,” he contemplated before tapping a couple of buttons on his wrist. Suddenly the plane’s hold was lit with blue light as some kind of illusion erupted from Tony’s gauntlet and hovered in the air. Applejack nearly jumped back in surprise at the sudden display of what looked to her like magic, but managed to keep herself in her seat as she watched Tony scroll through dozens of white boxes on a light blue background. Applejack still couldn’t read any of the words, but she could clearly recognize what looked to be photos interspersed with the foreign writing.

There were pictures of her in Tony’s illusion.

The pictures showed her - in surprising detail - as she worked to get the police officers out of their wrecked vehicle. One of the pictures, to her utter astonishment, suddenly came to life when Tony gestured to it. Applejack watched herself rip the officer’s seat out of the twisted wreckage and turn it rightside-up again before the image suddenly replayed itself. Some more scrolling from Tony and another image started playing. This time it was her coming up behind Loki and slamming him in the face with Cap’s shield. She watched herself, enraptured, as she wound up her swing and then cracked Loki in the bridge of his nose with a resounding, metallic ‘clang!’

Behind her, she heard Loki growl something under his breath.

“It’s under the hashtag ‘Shieldmaiden.’” Tony suddenly said, looking up and meeting AJ’s eyes, looking smugly satisfied. “That’s what they’re calling you.”

“Shieldmaiden?” Applejack repeated, dumbfounded.

Tony suddenly grinned, scrolling over another moving image. “Look!” he said with a chuckle, “They’ve already remixed you decking One Direction in the face to the Mii Channel theme!” He gestured to the image and suddenly the clip of her hitting Loki with the shield was cut over and over again, so that it looked like she was hitting him in the face repeatedly. The clang’s pitch was shifted between the hits so that it sounded like it was playing a jaunty tune.

“Can we focus please?” Steve cut in sternly, placing a hand on Tony’s shoulder. The armored man closed his hand and the image suddenly disappeared. With a gesture, the two of them turned away and started whispering to each other.

There was quiet in the jet as the two of them whispered, consorting in the corner. The soft pitter-patter of rain began to drum against the hull of the jet, droplets beading on the windows.

“It seems the humans are quite taken with you.”

Applejack turned as Loki spoke, meeting his eyes and suppressing a shiver. She’d never seen eyes so cold and hateful before. She did her best, though, to keep up her composure, setting her face into a stolid frown. “What about it?” she asked, coolly.

“You really aren’t from around here, are you?” Loki pressed, suddenly grinning.

“And?” she crossed her arms, swinging one leg over the other and sitting back defiantly.

“You clearly know nothing of this world or the humans who inhabit it,” He continued, malevolent grin never once leaving his face. “You stumble around like a naive babe yet you fancy yourself fit to walk among their titans. You play at being their champion, yet you cannot begin to fathom how little that means to their fickle souls. Tell me, Applewood,” he sneered, her false name feeling slimy upon his tongue, “Do you imagine yourself their hero? Can you even begin to imagine how the humans treat their heroes?”

Applejack narrowed her eyes, scowling. “Listen here, varmint,” she snapped. “I may be new ‘round these parts, but I ain’t playing no games. I don’t imagine myself nothing.”

Loki hummed a little, leaning back in his seat with a devious, triumphant smirk. “I can tell.” he said mockingly. “Perhaps you aren’t as dimwitted as you seem-- you at least seem to be aware of your own lack of imagination.”

A peal of thunder suddenly rolled past and the triumphant smirk Loki wore suddenly vanished. Instead he suddenly started fidgeting, leaning over to try and get a look out the window. AJ puzzled at his sudden change of demeanor.

Apparently she wasn’t the only one, as Steve spoke up from behind her. “What’s the matter? Scared of a little lightning?”

Loki stifled his nervousness under a composed mask as he replied, “I am not overly fond of what follows.”

There was another flash and a rolling crack of thunder when all of a sudden the plane rocked and shook under a solid ‘THUD!’ Something heavy impacted the roof, leaving a visible dent in the ceiling as the four of them looked up at the noise.

Stark didn’t miss a beat, grabbing hold of his helmet and slipping it on over his head. The mechanized armor shifted and clicked into place, fastening itself over him and fitting to his form perfectly. Steve grabbed hold of his shield and slipped on his own mask as Natasha attempted to stabilize the plane. AJ tried to stand up only to stumble back into her seat, the turbulence making it hard for her to find her footing.

Before anybody could stop him, Tony had stepped over to a control panel on the wall and pulled a release lever. There was a hiss as the rear hatch suddenly came open.

“What are you doing?!” Steve managed to shout over the din. Before Tony could reply, though, another strange man landed in a crouch at the end of the hatch. A heavy clank of metal resounded through the plane as a dangerous looking hammer met the ramp of the hatch.

AJ managed to stumble to her feet, getting a split second look at the intruder. He was her equal in height, if not even taller, with long, blond hair that whipped about his face in the storm, matched by a trimmed beard. His eyes were a fierce, unearthly blue, and set into a furious, electric glare. Upon his chest he wore a metal breastplate, though his arms were bare, allowing all of them to see the thick, corded muscles that ran along his limbs. Behind him, a long, flowing red cape danced in the gale-force winds.

It all happened in an instant. Before Applejack could react, Stark had raised his glowing hand to fire a shot at the intruder, but the stranger moved like the lightning that heralded him, rearing back with his hammer and slamming him right in the chestplate. Stark hurtled across the floor, crashing into the Captain and knocking both of them prone.

Applejack leapt into action, swinging at the intruder with a wild haymaker. Her fist connected with a ‘CRACK’ and a lance of pain arced its way up Applejack’s arm. She winced, yelping as she drew her hand back in pain, though she managed to maintain focus on the attacker. The stranger looked stunned for a split second, reaching up to his face and wiping at his nose. His finger came away with a droplet of blood.

The stranger blinked once, then twice, looking back and forth between AJ and his finger, before his face set into fury once more. He opened his hand and the hammer he’d set on the floor rushed up into his grasp. Applejack didn’t even have a second to even look alarmed at the sudden display of magic, though. The stranger rushed her, reeling back with his hammer and swinging it forth into her--


And the world went dark.

Interlude - Dr. Bruce Banner

View Online

FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2012 - 3:04 PM

Doctor Robert Bruce Banner was in his element. Away from the chaotic bustle and noise of humanity that defined Kolkata. Away from the seedy, tenuous social order that barely managed to keep civilization running in the favelas. Away from the tension and tight military discipline of the main helicarrier deck, ever breathing down his back. Here, in a quiet research lab, with nothing but the sounds of his own fingers tapping at the keys and the hum of electricity running through the machinery. Here - not out there - he was a superhero.

As he continued programming his algorithm, keyed to detect waves of gamma radiation at a frequency and intensity that would normally be overlooked by your average sensors, he couldn’t help but idly wonder how long he could make it last. Perhaps SHIELD might offer him a place to finally settle down? Someplace protected from Ross and his cronies? They had been utterly civil with him, save for that one moment he’d tested Natasha, and that was really his fault. Compared to Ross’ special forces units they had been downright friendly with him.

It would be nice to finally be able to stop running. To stop living in slums and on street corners, barely holding himself together. To stop having to constantly look over his shoulders for Ross or for another Blonsky. It’d be especially nice to finally be able to get back to work in some capacity. To have the chance to really make a difference again.

It’d be nice if maybe, for once, he could stop having to feel so goddamn angry all the time. If he could finally stop feeling… the other guy constantly threatening to come roaring out, always pushing against the back of his eyeballs and banging against the inside of his skull, barely contained by his sheer force of will.


No, it wouldn’t work. Sooner or later he’d slip up again. It was a foregone conclusion, honestly. All that Bruce could do was prolong the inevitable - to keep it from happening as long as he could, and make sure it happened as rarely as possible.

This wasn’t Ross and his band of goons. SHIELD was a hundred times more competent, and a thousand times more dangerous. Bruce could tell from just how calmly and casually they acted around him. They were practically blasé, even. They barely even kept him under guard.

Which told him one thing:

...SHIELD had a way to put him in the ground permanently.

If he were to be honest with himself, that little factoid made some sick parts of Bruce want to stick around even more: The deepest, darkest, most exhausted parts of him, weary from eight years of nothing but running. Part of him was angry at the audacity of it all; that SHIELD would come to him to help them clean up their own mess, all the while quietly planning to slide in the knife as soon as he was done. Another part was angry at himself, because if he were truly being honest, he realized that he had nobody else to blame for the situation he found himself in. One moment of overconfident idiocy eight years ago and he managed to ruin his whole goddamn life… and who knows how many others? Given what the other guy tended to do, how could he possibly blame SHIELD for wanting to put him down?

And then there was the last part of him. The one, tiny, infinitesimal part of him that dared to cling onto a flickering ember of hope. Hope that he might one day be able to free himself from the other guy. Hope that he might be able to live a normal life again. Hope that he might one day be able to focus on the things that truly mattered again and complete his life’s work.

The part of him that insisted he hold onto hope and survive.

No. Bruce couldn’t stay. He’d finish his work for Fury and get out from under the sword of Damocles that hung over him as long as he dared to stay here. And then he’d get back to work trying to cure himself of his “condition.”

He was about two-thirds of the way through programming his algorithm when he heard the door to the lab whoosh open. Bruce didn’t bother to look up, assuming that it was Hill or Coulson asking for an update.

“The program’s almost done,” he said. “Once it’s finished compiling we can upload it to the spectrometers you’ve set up and we can begin tracking the Tesseract.”

“That’s neat and all,” said a familiar voice, “but that wasn’t what I came for.”

Bruce blinked, looking up to spy his cousin Jennifer, a sheepish smile on her face and a pair of drinks in her hands. “Jenny…” he muttered dumbly.

Jen paused for a second before awkwardly approaching Bruce. “I…” she said hesitantly. “I brought you some coffee. I remember you said you practically lived on the stuff back in college.”

Bruce looked at the steaming mug in her hands for a moment before awkwardly standing up, reaching out to take it. “Yeah, well… when you were taking as many classes as I did there wasn’t much time in the day to sleep.” He took a sip of the dark brew. Black, with enough sugar that it was practically coffee-flavored syrup. Just how he liked it.

His cousin smiled fondly. “Mom and Dad were so proud of you when you graduated early though. With a double-major no less.”

“Uncle Will and Aunt Elaine…” Bruce muttered. “God… it’s been so long since I…” He trailed off, gazing into his mug. “How are they doing?”

Jen grinned. “They’re doing well. Dad made Captain a few years ago. He keeps grousing about how he’s stuck behind a desk now, but he knows he’s getting too old to play detective. And it’s done wonders for Mom’s blood pressure, knowing he’s not going undercover in drug dens anymore.” The smile fell from her face as she crooked a finger under Bruce’s chin, raising his head so she could look him in the eyes. “They miss you, you know.”

Bruce winced, nodding. “I know.”

“I missed you too.”

Bruce sighed, pulling away from her and shaking his head. “Jenny… I couldn’t…” he stuttered, trying to find the words. “I was being hunted. Every waking second of my life was spent running. I didn’t want to drag you into it. I didn’t want to…” he hesitated.

“‘You didn’t want to hurt me.’” Jen finished with a light scoff.

“Don’t act like I couldn’t have.” Bruce said, frowning. “Like I wouldn’t have.” He sat back down at his desk. “You joined SHIELD. You know all the details of my life these past eight years. How I hurt Betty the day of the accident. Everything I’ve done since then.”

“You hurt us anyway,” Jen insisted, “you leaving without a trace like that. You seriously couldn’t have called us once? Sent a freaking letter?!”

“Ross might have tapped your phones,” he replied. “Or been screening your mail.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. You don’t know.”

“Perhaps not, but I do know that he was obsessed. I wasn’t willing to take the chance. If I tried contacting you he might have arrested you all for ‘aiding and abetting a known terrorist.’ He did that with a friend of mine once. Don’t tell me SHIELD never heard about what happened to Rick.”

Jen was silent, still fuming but without a decent rebuttal. As much as she wanted to argue, she knew that, in the end, Bruce was right. If it got back to Ross that the Walters’ had been in contact with him… let alone harboring him… at best it would have meant the destruction of her father’s career. More likely it would have ended with one or all of them in jail.

Finally, Jen sighed, the fight leaving her. Her shoulders slumped as she collapsed into a chair across the desk from him. “That fucking bastard…” she muttered under her breath. “That fucking bastard ruined everything.”

“I’m at least partly to blame.” Bruce said. “I’m the one who got over excited and tested the process on myself,” he chuckled grimly. “Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking. A scientist who’s supposed to be a genius pulls just about the dumbest move he can and tests his new, revolutionary super-cure upon himself? It’s like something out of a cliché comic book plot.”

“Ross was the one that hounded you, though.” Jen insisted. “He chased you to the ends of the earth over and over again when all you wanted was to be left alone. Even your…” she made a rolling gesture with one hand, “...other half said so in one of his rarer, lucid moments.”

Bruce took a long sip of his coffee before continuing. “Ross wanted to go down in history as the man who brought back Captain America. He wanted to be the one to finally complete the faulty serum that had been sitting in cold storage for over 60 years and bring super soldiers back into the light of day. When his pet scientist accidentally made something infinitely bigger and stronger than Captain America ever was…” he trailed off, shaking his head. “There was no way he was just going to let me go. He was obsessed with being remembered for something ‘great’ like that.”

Jennifer scoffed. “Even if you’d succeeded it would have been you who brought back Captain America, not him.”

“He oversaw it,” Bruce explained, chuckling ruefully. “He signed off on it. On paper, it was his project. I was just the one who did all the work.”

“And the one who got all the blame when things went wrong.” Jen spat. Her hands shook, her knuckles whitening as she gripped her coffee mug. “He got off scott free, you know? He’s been hobnobbing and ass-kissing all over Washington for the past couple years. I think he’s trying to become the next Secretary of Defense.”

Bruce sipped his coffee thoughtfully. He hadn’t heard that, actually. He could certainly believe it. It sounded like the old general to try and climb as high up the ladder as he possibly could, and damn anybody who got caught under his boot heel. The only person he actually seemed to care about in any real capacity was his daughter. And even then, he wouldn’t put it past the general to throw her under the bus if he thought it’d advance himself.

As if sensing his thoughts, Jenny continued. “If there’s any upside it’s that Betty’s completely cut ties with him. It clearly stresses him out.”

“Have you…” Bruce started, leaning forward in his chair. “Have you been keeping track of her?” At Jen’s nod he continued. “How is she?”

Jen swirled her coffee around in its mug. “She’s doing well. After cutting ties with her father she couldn’t use his contacts to get work anymore, so she took a job at Marquette University in Milwaukee teaching physics.” She chuckled. “She says she’s got some weird neighbors but other than that she’s making a good life for herself.”

For a split second, Bruce’s breath hitched and his heart beat a little faster. He quickly took back control of his breathing, though, setting his coffee mug down. “You’ve spoken to her?”

“Yeah. After your fight with Blonsky I tracked her down. We still keep in contact every now and then.” Jen said, looking up from her coffee to look Bruce directly in the eye. “She misses you too, you know? She still thinks about you... asks me how you’re doing.”

The news hit Bruce like a ton of bricks. As hard as he’d tried to forget the past… to keep moving forward and surviving one step ahead of those who hunted him… he still thought about Betty too. There was a part of him that desperately wanted to steal one of SHIELD’s quinjets and fly down to Milwaukee himself right that very second. To see Betty again for the first time in four years and take her into his arms.

It was more of an effort than usual to keep control of his heart and breathing.

“I can’t tell her anything more than the vaguest of information, though,” Jen said sadly. “I’m given access to your files as a courtesy from Fury himself. If I were to go spreading around confidential information like that, I’d be out on my ass before you could say ‘security breach.’” She sighed. “Though to be fair, it’s probably for the best I didn’t tell her. If I’d told her you were in India I’m pretty sure she would have been on the next flight out. And excommunicated or not, Ross would have definitely noticed his daughter making a surprise trip to Calcutta.”

“They’re calling it Kolkata now,” Bruce muttered lamely under his breath.

Jen continued, undeterred. “Then again… with how you look now, I’m not sure either of them would have recognized you.” She said softly, standing up from her chair. She circled around the desk and put a hand on Bruce’s cheek. “You never really got to tell me back on deck… what the hell did you do to your face?”

Bruce sighed. “After what happened in Harlem, not just Ross but the entire US military was gunning for me. A few foreign ones, too. I managed to hide out in British Columbia for a while, but it was little more than a month before I had spec-ops kicking my door down. I was forced to keep running, never stopping anywhere for more than a couple weeks at a time. I was running out of money and resources, reduced to begging on the streets. I finally got fed up with it all when I was in Russia. I begged on street corners for a month straight, barely eating anything and saving up what little I received to get enough money to meet with a doctor who was willing to do some… off the books plastic surgery for cheap. He used to be some secret Spetsnaz doctor back in the Soviet days, and I think he’d taken up working for the mobs since the USSR fell.”

Jen turned his face back and forth with her hand, getting a look at her cousin’s new visage from every angle she could. “I thought you couldn’t go under anesthetic? The reports said that if you were chemically put under you’d… change.”

“I can’t…” Bruce said, looking away from her. “Which is why I had the doctor use a local anesthetic.”

Jen gasped. “You… were awake the whole time?”

Bruce nodded. “I felt everything. Every cut of the flesh, every time the knife scraped against the bone, every dribble of blood… I just didn’t feel any pain,” he said, not daring to look his cousin in the eye. “It wasn’t easy. I had to keep perfectly still the whole time, and I spent the whole time meditating, desperately trying to keep the other guy at bay.” He smirked ruefully. “I think I kinda prefer my new face, though. It has some character.”

“I don’t like it,” Jen said plainly. Her bluntness actually got a quick, sharp laugh out of Bruce. She pouted playfully. “What?! I don’t!”

Bruce chuckled, smiling genuinely for what felt like the first time in eons. “I could always count on you to be straight with me, Jen, but I never expected you to just outright tell me that you ‘don’t like my face.’”

Jen started joining in, giggling herself. “Come to think of it, maybe I never liked your face. After all, I kept trying to change it myself. Remember the makeovers I tried to give you when I was five?”

“Oh god…” Bruce smiled painedly. “I was a teenager desperately trying to hold on to what little masculinity I had and there you were smearing lipstick and eyeshadow on me.”

The both of them broke into soft laughter, remembering better days, before lapsing into silence.

“What happened to us, Bruce?” Jen finally whispered. “What happened to our family?”

“Life, I guess?” Bruce answered, sparing a glance at his computer monitor. Thirty-two percent. It’d still be compiling for a while. “As a scientist I did everything I could to try and make sense of everything. To account for everything. But if being… the other guy… if being him has taught me anything it’s that life is chaos. You can never account for what happens next. And sometimes it’ll come completely out of left field and knock all your stinking teeth out.”

“We can still make choices though.” Jen said, looking Bruce in the eye. “We can still change our lives. We did that. You and me. When you gave me your bone marrow. You changed my life. And I took the chance you gave me and became a lawyer. A damn good one, if I may say so myself.”

Bruce nodded, conceding the point. “But sometimes things happen that are just… out of your control.” He sighed and finished off his coffee. “And sometimes you make a mistake that pretty much ensures you’ll never have control again.”

“But you do, though,” Jen insisted, “you do have control. When I slapped you back on the bridge you could’ve changed right then and there. But you didn’t. You took control.”

“It doesn’t really mean much.”

“It means everything,” said Jen.

Bruce shook his head again. “I still can’t live where I want. I can’t work where I want. I can’t be the person I was born to be. Even after changing my face I can’t make too many waves or someone will take notice and I’ll have the hounds after me again.”

“Maybe now you can, though?” Jennifer asked. “Now that SHIELD is on your side maybe they could give you a new identity? A job somewhere?” She smiled and waggled her eyebrows. “Maybe at a university in Milwaukee?”

Bruce glanced at her suspiciously. “Do you really trust SHIELD that much, Jen?”

Jennifer leaned back in her chair, pursing her lips, thinking it over. “...I trust Fury. He gave me access to your files personally, just because he knew I wanted to keep track of you. And I trust Coulson, even though I haven’t known him very long. Hill’s alright, even though she’s a bit of a bitch. And there are a few other people I’ve worked with that I know I trust. There’s this new girl who works on the same floor as me, Jill, who I really like.”

Bruce felt himself sitting up a little straighter. “Like or… like?”

Jen smirked, rolling her eyes. “Oh stop it, you.”

“I may not be your brother by blood, but I’ll give somebody a proper intimidating speech if I have to,” he quipped.

“Jesus…” Jen muttered. “It’s not like that, Bruce.” she said, adopting an annoyed tone, though she clearly had a wide grin plastered on her face. “I like men.”

“And yet, I seem to recall an email you sent me when you were still in high school.” Bruce prodded, a smile playing on his face. “Something about a girl on the cheer team?”

“Louise Mason...” Jennifer said, leaning back further in her chair and trying to hold back a blush. “Oh wow, I haven’t thought about her in years. Only friend I ever had in school. She tried so hard to make me less of a wallflower but it never really took.”

“Clearly,” Bruce grinned.

“Shut up,” she said offhandedly, making a dismissive gesture at him before continuing. “Jeez, I remember I used to call her ‘Weezi,’” Jen giggled, pinching the bridge of her nose and blushing. “She haaaated that nickname.”

“And what about that Applewood woman I met earlier?” Bruce asked. “You and she seem to have talked a lot. Am I going to have to fight her to defend your honor?”

Jennifer snickered. “You better not, cuz,” she said, “she might actually be a match for you.” Jen shook her head. “No, AJ’s just a friend. Her situation is… complicated. I don’t think she’s going to be in the mood for any relationships anytime soon.”

Bruce nodded “I suppose things are ‘complicated’ around here a lot.”

“The lives we lead,” Jen admitted, “just like you said; life is chaos.”

Silence reigned between the two of them once more for a few long moments. Jen’s head dipped as she gazed into her empty coffee mug. It was a good three or four minutes before Jennifer finally spoke again. “Bruce, I want you to promise me something.”

Bruce quirked a brow. “I’m not really good at keeping promises these days, Jenny. Stuff tends to get in the way.”

Jennifer held up a hand. “I want you to promise me…” she continued, “that when all this Loki business is said and done, you’ll keep contact with me this time. A letter, an email… something. Even if you have to write it in some kind of cypher or code. Even if you have to put ten layers of encryption on it. Give me something. But please… please don’t shut me out again.”

“Jenny…” Bruce muttered hesitantly.

“And if you can’t promise that,” Jennifer said, sniffling a little bit and wiping at her nose, “At least promise me you’ll try.” She looked up at Bruce, her large eyes wet and red behind her glasses. “Can you do that, Bruce? Can you at least promise me you’ll try?”

Bruce hesitated. There was so much that could go wrong. If he lost control again, he could easily lose SHIELD’s good will. He might be forced on the run again with even more powerful enemies at his back. And Jen was a part of SHIELD. They’d catch any communique he tried to send to her for sure.

But maybe…

...if he could control himself… just for this mission. Get off the helicarrier without screwing it up again… If he could keep himself in SHIELD’s good graces long enough to get off the ship and go to ground, maybe he could do it. He’d have to take precautions to make sure his communications weren’t intercepted by other parties of course… but…

“...okay, Jenny.” Bruce said, finally.

Jen smiled. It was a wet, tearful smile, but a genuine smile nonetheless. She stood, circling the desk again and pulled Bruce into a hug. “That’s all I ask, Bruce. Thank you.”

They held each other for a few long moments. There, in that moment in time, everything felt like it was going to be okay.

Finally, Jen broke the hug, chuckling to herself and sniffling. She pulled her glasses off and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “Alright,” she said, weakly clearing her throat. “I should probably get moving. I do still have a job here, after all.” Replacing her glasses she blearily winked at her cousin. “That paperwork won’t file itself.”

Bruce smirked, nodding. “Yeah,” he said. “I need to get back to work too.”

“Liar,” she said, pointing at his computer screen. The loading bar read thirty-eight percent. “I know you were just sitting here, watching a bar fill up and moping yourself into a deep blue funk before I showed up.” She stepped past him, moving towards the door. “As long as you’re in a place with modern conveniences, you should enjoy some of the luxuries. Maybe take a hot shower for once.”

Bruce gave her a lopsided smirk. “Are you telling me I stink?”

Jen turned her head and flashed him a smile as she opened the door to leave. “You said it, not me.” And with that, the door shut behind her and she disappeared around a corner.

Bruce leaned back in his chair, looking back at his computer screen. The number ticked over from thirty-eight to thirty-nine. He sighed.

A stone settled into his gut. This whole thing with SHIELD… it wasn’t going to work out.

But… even if it didn’t work out… maybe it would work out just enough that he could have something again.

He couldn’t have a life ever again. That was a given. He’d be on the run forever.

But he could have something in his constant struggle for survival. Or rather… someone.

Long distance, perhaps.

Inconvenient. He’d have to take extensive security measures.

The time between messages would be astronomical.

But it was something… it was someone.

That tiny, infinitesimal, flickering ember of hope burned just a little bit brighter.

Bruce stood, turning off the computer monitor and pushing away his chair. He made his way over to the door and pushed it open, poking his head out. A SHIELD agent standing guard next to the entrance blinked at his appearance and took a short step back. “Sir?” the agent asked.

Bruce smirked. “Can you tell me where I might take a quick shower?”

The Avengers: Ch7

View Online

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

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.


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 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.”


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


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

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.


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--


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.”

The Avengers: Ch8

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SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 2012 - 5:02 AM

“You think Loki is being controlled?” Natasha asked, clearly skeptical of the notion. “By who?”

“Not by who… by what” Applejack said with a confident smirk as she looked over the conference room. Seated around the dark, polished hardwood table were Jen, Natasha, Agents Hill and Coulson, and Director Fury. Thor leaned against the wall behind her, gazing at her attentively as this new information came to light. “I reckon that the staff he used to control Agent Barton and Doctor Selvig… is also controlling him.”

“Furthermore,” Thor added, scowling. “I now believe this whole foul situation to be a plot devised by someone far greater in power than my brother,” He rumbled, clearly incensed at the idea that somebody had willfully cursed his brother with a mind-addling artifact. “When I spoke with Loki on the mountainside, he claimed that he’d been shown true power. That he’d been given a glimpse of worlds beyond the scope of Asgard. And when I asked him who showed him these things… who gave him his scepter and pulls at the strings of the would-be-king… he would not say.”

There was silence in the conference room for a minute as the SHIELD agents digested everything. Only the sound of the clock ticking on the wall could be heard. Applejack’s breath quickened as she fidgeted in her seat, desperate to know what Fury’s reaction would be.

Finally, the aged spy spoke. “This is valuable intel,” he finally said. “If Loki is taking orders from somebody else then we have a lot more to worry about than just the immediate crisis. Somebody is targeting the earth and even if we stop his current stooge, there’ll be more coming after us in the future.” He grumbled, massaging his forehead with his hand. “Damn. We are not prepared for this.”

“How can we be sure that Loki is actually being controlled like Barton and Selvig are?” Agent Hill asked with a pointed look at Applejack. “How do we know he’s not playing a part in all of this out of his own free will.”

Applejack wrung her hands. “Admittedly… I only reckon that’s the case. But Thor tells me his brother ain’t acting normal.”

“Understatement of the century.” Natasha muttered.

AJ rolled her eyes. “I mean normal for Loki. He says Loki ain’t one for invasions and public murders and actin’ all noisy-like. He says he’s more of a spy type of fella-- made him sound like he was the one-man SHIELD of Asgard ‘fore he went and got too big for his britches.”

Thor blinked at the comparison. “That’s… not inaccurate.”

Applejack turned to Thor. “Y’all also said that he’s more concerned with ruling Asgard than having anything to do with people here on Earth.”

Thor nodded. “Now that is true. Loki was never particularly sympathetic towards Midgardians. In the past he has described your kind as insects - short lived and short sighted, with petty goals and small minds, not worth wasting his time upon.” He cleared his throat, coughing into his fist. “No offense.”

“Some taken.” Natasha said sardonically.

Thor shrugged. “T’was Loki’s words, not mine.”

“What I’m sayin’,” Applejack continued, “Is that this is a pretty hefty change in tune for him. Why would he want to invade and rule Midgard? Who wants to be ‘King of the Ants?’” she leaned back in her chair “A fella with an ego like his ain’t gonna settle for any consolation prizes.”

“This helps us fill out his psych profile,” Coulson said, fixing AJ with a patient gaze, “but it doesn’t really confirm that he’s being mind controlled.” He turned to Thor. “The last time you saw him was around the same time we met in the desert, correct?” At Thor’s nod Coulson continued, “That was two years ago, Thor. A lot can happen in two years. He could have simply gone mad.”

Thor took a deep breath. “I… admit to the possibility, friend Coulson. But I hold out hope that Lady Applewood’s theory is correct… if only for the chance that I might one day have my brother back.”

“I might be wrong,” Applejack said, “but it fits with what I’ve seen before.”

“Hold up,” Natasha said, an intense gaze in her eyes and steel in her tone. “You’ve seen this before? Mind control? When?”

“More like… mind scrambling.” AJ explained. “Not too long before I came here… to this world I mean… I saw something a lot like this.” Applejack ran a hand through her hair and muttered, “Celestia, it feels like it was only a couple weeks ago, but it was almost seventy years…”

“Miss Applewood,” Fury said sternly, prompting her to go on.

“Right, right.” AJ composed herself before continuing, “Well, there was this one unicorn… mage I guess y’all would say. Name of Trixie. She came to our village a couple years back. She was a performance mage by trade, but weren’t a very good one. She mostly drew a crowd by tellin’ wild, tall tales ‘bout herself and her feats of magic and puttin’ on a fancy light show to go with it.” Applejack’s gaze dipped as she took on a rather abashed tone. “We… didn’t treat her so well. Heckled her a little. Probably wasn’t good of us. Even if she was a right pain in the flank and had an ego the size of the moon she was mostly just tryin’ to make a bit.”

She shook her head. “Anyway, long story short, a monster ended up attacking town and when the townsfolk tried to get her to back up her tall tales and drive it away, she couldn’t even scratch the beast. My friend Twilight - who’s a bushel or three better at magic - was the one who had to drive the thing back, saving both the village and Trixie. She left town that night.”

“The next time we saw her, though, she’d changed,” AJ explained, “She wasn’t a stagepony out to put on a good show no more... She’d gone full ‘dark wizardess’ on us. She went and found a magical artifact called the Alicorn Amulet that boosted her magic and put her above even Twilight’s power level. And she used it to enslave the town and cook up all sorts of ornery tortures for us. And she singled out Twilight in particular, challenging her to a duel and banishing her from the village.”

Jennifer finally spoke up, raising a finger questioningly. “But why? If your friend Twilight saved her life wouldn’t she be grateful? I… I understand wanting to be stronger after being attacked by a monster like that but…”

“Exactly.” Applejack nodded. “Weren’t no reason for her to single out Twilight like that, ‘specially since Twi didn’t even join in with the rest of us what with the heckling. And there weren’t no reason for her to target the town like that. At most she maybe had reason to play a few tricks in payback on those of us who’d jeered her and maybe punish a couple’a naughty colts who’d caused her some grief, but there weren’t nothing that called for the scale of what she did.” AJ leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table. “Turns out it was the amulet. The amulet that granted her all that magic power was scramblin’ her brains, causin’ her to see Twilight as the cause of her trouble instead of the pony who saved her, and to see Ponyville as some sorta town full of angry plotholes who chased her outta town for something that weren’t her fault -- even though nopony never did no such thing.”

There was silence around the table for a moment before, finally, Agent Hill spoke up.

“And you think the same is happening to Loki.”

Thor took that moment to interject. “T’would fit with his sudden change of heart in regards to ruling Midgard. As well as his overly extravagant methods.”

Hill looked over at Fury, displeasure clear as day for all to see upon her face. Her lip twisted and her brow furrowed as she silently pleaded with him, begging him to stop listening to this nonsense and get back to finding a real solution.

Fury, however, didn’t seem to even acknowledge her. Instead his gaze was locked somewhere far away as he digested everything Applejack said.

Finally, the older spy took a deep breath and turned back to AJ.

“So, let’s assume this is all true,” Fury said slowly. “What do you want to do about it?”

Applejack took a deep breath of her own and looked Fury right in the eye. “I wanna talk to Loki.”

“Out of the question!” Hill blurted.

“Explain,” Fury said.

Hill whirled on him, a scowl on her face. “Director!” but she was silenced as he held up a hand, then gestured for Applejack to go on.

This was it. The part that Applejack feared would turn the Agents of SHIELD away from her the most. At this point it was all wild speculation and guessing about her new lot in life. But Applejack was not a stupid pony. Simple, perhaps. Uneducated, probably. Uncomplicated, almost certainly. But never stupid. Things didn’t always make sense to her, but she paid attention and did her best to keep a level head. It didn’t always work out, and she’d made some foolish gaffes in the past when she felt forced into a corner - a particular applebuck season and a little bit of needless hoopla after the Equestria Rodeo came to mind - but she wasn’t so dumb that she didn’t have a sense of pattern recognition.

Ever since waking up in this world, she’d had abilities that she’d never had before. Her strength had been amplified to degrees unheard of, even amongst the most magical of Earth ponies. Her durability had skyrocketed, allowing her to take cannonfire with barely a scratch. And, if she was right… something remained of her previous position as the bearer of the Element of Honesty.

Applejack took a deep breath. “I can see lies.”

Hill snorted, standing up from the table. “Director this is ridicul--”

“Agent Hill.” Fury didn’t raise his voice, but his tone stopped the deputy director in her tracks. “Sit. Down.”

Hill looked positively livid, her eyes narrowing at her boss, but she nevertheless complied.

Fury looked back at Applejack. “Go on.”

AJ nodded. “Y’all know how I didn’t know my own strength when I woke up? How I can take cannon fire and not get scratched?” At everybody’s nod she continued. “Y’all said I had ‘powers.’ I think… I think bein’ here in this world is somehow supercharging my magic.” She glanced down at her hand, tightening her fist, feeling the iron-hard muscles beneath her skin shifting and contracting. “Back home… my friends and I were the bearers of a set of artifacts known as the Elements of Harmony. Six magic gems with crazy levels of power packed into ‘em.” She looked back up at the assembled group. “My element was Honesty. And I think some of that element has followed me here.”

Fury considered this for a moment before speaking again. “And what do you mean when you say you can ‘see’ lies?”

Applejack shook her head. “It’s hard to explain, but when something ain’t right… when something’s false… I can just sorta tell.” She pointed at Natasha. “Like you, Nat. I don’t mean to offend or nothin’, but y’all act like you’re just a normal person, wandering around here with the rest of the agents, but you ain’t are ya? There’s something about y’all that you’re hiding. Something dangerous.”

Natasha was very still as AJ’s words sunk in. Jennifer, Thor, and AJ didn’t notice it, but the other SHIELD agents could tell that the normally unflappable woman was shaken by AJ’s words. Her breathing had quickened ever so slightly and her posture and shifted ever so much.

“And that ain’t all,” AJ continued. “When Steve and I were fighting Loki, I could see through his illusion when he teleported behind me. I didn’t know what was happening at the time, but in hindsight I think it’s related.”

“Anything else?” Fury prompted.

Applejack gulped before speaking again. “There’s one thing… when I went out on the bridge for the first time… I got a look at yer agents, Director Fury. A lot of them… I’d say about a third of them… there’s something wrong with them.”

Fury’s gaze was intense enough Applejack might’ve worried it’d bore holes into her. “Wrong how?”

“I… I don’t rightly know for sure.” She shrugged weakly. “All I know is that I look at them and sometimes… they seem to light up in my vision. Like they’re clouded by some sorta glowing red haze… And somehow I just know that there’s somethin’ about them that just fundamentally ain’t honest. I figured that it might just be because they were spies and lyin’ is what spies tend to hafta do… but now I ain’t so sure.”

Fury looked like he’d been struck. “Can you tell me any agents in particular? Is anyone in this room compromised?”

Applejack looked around the room. Jen was clean. As were Coulson, Natasha, Hill, Fury, and Thor. She shook her head. “No. There’s no haze ‘round nobody here.”

Fury let out a barely perceptible breath of relief.

“As for agents in particular…” Applejack cast her mind back, trying to remember. “That agent who told us where Loki was. Called us over to his station. He was lit up like a Hearth’s Warming Tree.”

“Agent Sitwell?!” Coulson gasped, stunned.

“Bullshit.” Hill snarled. “Sitwell’s been with SHIELD for longer than I have! He’s one of our highest level agents!”

Fury ignored the both of them. “And you think you can use these… lie detector powers… to determine whether or not Loki is under the same sort of spell as Agent Barton and Doctor Selvig?”

Applejack nodded. “I… don’t know exactly how to control these powers yet. Sometimes they give me weird answers and I hafta figure out what they mean - like, I ain’t figured out the difference between what’s goin’ on with Natasha here and what’s up with Sitwell and the other agents yet... but I think if I can talk to him… yes. I’ll be able to at least tell y’all if he’s doin’ all this himself or not.”

Silence reigned. The tension in the room was so thick in the air that the room felt more like a muggy, stagnant swamp than a well air-conditioned conference room. The ticking of the clock on the wall mocked the lot of them as time slipped away.

Finally, Fury stood up. “Agent Romanoff?” he said.

“Yes sir,” Natasha said stiffly.

He nodded to her. “Please escort Miss Applewood to the prisoner.”

“Director!” Agent Hill snapped.

Fury continued, heedless of Hill’s protests. “Agent Walters, Thor, you’re dismissed.” Jen stood on shaky legs, snapping a clumsy salute and hurrying out of the room, Thor not far behind her. “Agents Hill and Coulson, with me. I’m afraid we have a lot to discuss.”

Applejack sighed in relief. She stood slowly. “Thank you director.”

“Don’t thank me yet.” Fury snapped. “Just figure out what’s going on with that madman. Tell me once and for all whether or not he’s a victim the same as Barton and Selvig, or if he’s a mad dog that needs to be put down.”

“Come on,” Natasha said, putting a hand on AJ’s shoulder. “It’s time to jump into the lion’s den.”

Applejack steeled herself for the encounter to come.

SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 2012 - 5:35 AM

“You want to tell me what the hell that was all about, Director?!” Hill snapped before Fury even had a chance to slump down into the plush leather chair behind his large mahogany desk. He opened a cherry wood box of cigars and flicked open a lighter, sticking the end in his mouth.

“Agent Hill you are out of line.” Fury said calmly, the end of the cigar sparking alight.

She stiffened, glaring murderously at him. “With all due respect, sir, when you appointed me Deputy Director you told me my purpose was not just to carry out your orders, but also to be the one to question them.” Hill stomped forward and slammed her hands down on Fury’s desk. “Well I’m damn well questioning them!”

Fury didn’t even flinch. “You seem particularly convinced that using Applewood to try and determine Loki’s nature is a bad idea.”

“No shit it’s a bad idea!” Hill snapped, straightening up and proceeding to pace around the room. “The girl’s no agent... Hell, she’s barely a functioning adult! She’s completely naïve to the way the world works. Her world was apparently a happy-go-lucky fantasy land full of rainbows and unicorns and friendship where everything was sunshine and cuddles! And you’re sending her in to talk to a superpowered Hannibal Lecter! He’s going to eat her alive!”

The director quirked an eyebrow. “You’re really that concerned about her?”

“Oh it’s not just her I’m concerned about.” Hill growled, crossing her arms. “Loki could easily twist her around his finger and get her to reveal valuable intel. She is a civilian, Director. A traumatized, emotionally vulnerable civilian at best -- and one who I’m still not completely convinced isn’t just insane at worst! She knows nothing of proper interrogation procedure, nothing of proper secrecy protocols. She’s a child, Director. And you sending her in there jeopardizes both her safety and the safety of SHIELD!”

“A fair point.” Fury said calmly, blowing smoke out his nostrils and tapping the ash off his cigar into an ashtray. “But let me be frank, Agent Hill… none of that matters.”

Hill sputtered. “What?!”

“None of that matters, because we’re charged with protecting the safety of not just one traumatized civilian, or our own organization, Agent Hill.” He stood up, gazing her directly in the eye. “We are charged with protecting the safety of the whole world, Agent. We are all that is standing between Loki and the rest of the planet. And I think I made it very clear when I spoke to him that we are very desperate.” Fury stepped over to the window and took another drag of his cigar, leaning against the window, he gazed out over the city, just beginning to sparkle in the waxing light before daybreak. “It’s true. Applewood might leak something she shouldn’t. Loki might somehow be able to break her with nothing but words and trickery. She might be completely insane and her lie detection powers might be completely made up. But what choice do we have?”

“We’re already working on it though!” Hill protested. “Banner and Stark are tracking down the Tesseract!”

“And how long will that take?” Fury snapped, “Banner’s algorithm was supposed to have finished hours ago. For whatever reason he can’t seem to get a bead on the damn thing. Maybe it’s on the move and the damn thing can’t get a lock. Maybe Loki is concealing it or has taken it off-world somehow. Maybe he just forgot to carry a damn two somewhere. But every minute we waste is another minute closer to catastrophe; one that we are still unprepared for, and one that could strike anywhere on the globe.” Fury turned back to Hill. “If there is even a one percent chance that she might be able to help us stave off the oncoming storm then you’re damn right I’m going to take it and pray for a motherfucking Hail Mary.”

Hill scowled, her gaze breaking away from Fury’s as she looked down at the floor. “I don’t like it.”

“Welcome to the past 48 hours, Agent Hill. Glad you could join us.” Fury said gruffly. He stepped back over to his desk and sat down again. “None of us are exactly comfortable with the situation right now, Agent Hill. At this point, all we can do is hope Applewood can work some literal magic for us. In the meantime, we can make ourselves useful by discussing more long term matters.”

“Long term, sir?” Agent Hill asked.

“It’s like I said, Agent Hill,” Fury spoke dryly, taking another puff at the cigar, “Until such time as the world ends, we will act as though it intends to spin on. And Miss Applewood has very helpfully given us some important intel that I don’t think we can afford to ignore.” He turned to regard Agent Coulson, who had been quietly standing against the wall the whole time, arms folded behind his back. “So what do you two make of it?”

Coulson shook his head, unable to help but chuckle. “I’d say she’s a nightmare of a security risk, sir. Especially for an organization that makes keeping secrets its business…”

“True.” Fury said with an acquiescent nod. “But if she’s to be believed then she’s just helped SHIELD out tremendously.”

If she’s to be believed,” Hill stressed.

“Well, whether she really has lie detection powers or not, we can’t just ignore the possibility that something is rotten in SHIELD.” Coulson said. “If what she says is true, then we can’t waste our chance to circumvent whatever is happening. If nothing else it’s grounds for an investigation. A quiet one.”

Hill bristled. “You’re talking about investigating our own agents here. Agents that we have no reason to suspect any wrongdoing of, other than one woman’s say so. A woman whose credibility is questionable at best.”

“And if the investigation turns nothing up then nothing will come of it.” Fury declared. “On the other hand, if it turns out that there is some sort of conspiracy hidden inside SHIELD, then we’ll be damn glad that we followed up on her tip, won’t we?”

Hill grunted. She wasn’t exactly pleased that hardworking agents who’d done nothing to warrant an investigation would be looked into, but she couldn’t fault Fury’s logic. She couldn’t very well bemoan the potential breach of security that Applewood posed by talking to Loki, only to then turn around and ignore a much greater potential breach of security in the same breath.

“So be it,” Fury said, “Agent Coulson, I’m going to be putting together a team to quietly investigate suspicious activity within SHIELD. I’d like you to head it up.”

Coulson nodded. “Sir.”

Fury took another long drag on his cigar before speaking again. “There’s also the other piece of intel to discuss,” he said. “The idea that Loki may be under the control of an even greater power - one that’s set its eyes upon Earth.” He opened up a desk drawer and pulled out a manila folder marked ‘Classified.’

“Sir?” Agent Hill asked.

“I had an idea for a special operatives team specifically focused on extra-terrestrial threats after a bit of a… situation back in the 90’s. Nothing came of it then, but perhaps the current crisis will see to it finally getting approved.”

Hill and Coulson spared a glance at the folder. In dark, blocky letters it spelled out the word ‘S.W.O.R.D.’

Hill opened her mouth to ask a question only for a speaker on Fury’s desk to blare out. Fury quickly turned and pressed a button on the device. “Agent Romanoff?”

“Loki means to unleash the Hulk. Keep Banner in the lab. I’m on my way. Send Thor as well.”


SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 2012 - 5:31 AM

Awkward silence stretched on between Natasha and Applejack as they wove their way through the winding metal corridors of the Helicarrier’s lower levels. Applejack wasn’t the most socially competent pony she knew - that honor fell to Rarity - but she was savvy enough to know that Natasha was feeling shaken. And the way she walked, stiffly without sparing AJ even a single glance, was enough to tell her that she was probably the cause of it.

“Natasha…” AJ began, looking around to make sure that nobody was eavesdropping, “What I said back there…”

“How much do you know?” Natasha said curtly.

AJ stiffened. Nat didn’t sound angry per se, but she was definitely tense. “Not much,” she admitted. “I just know that there’s something you want to keep hidden. Something dangerous that you’re trying to cover up.”

Natasha hummed distantly.

“I swear that’s all I know,” Applejack said. “Whatever this power is, it just tells me somethin’s there. It don’t tell me exactly how somebody’s lyin’ or covering something up - I still gotta figure that part out myself. And it don’t tell me what the truth of the matter is neither.”

Natasha took a deep breath, and for a moment, Applejack swore she saw a chink in the steely woman’s armor. Her lip curled and her eyes blinked a little faster, and there was something vulnerable, buried far beneath her professional exterior. A split second later, though, all of Natasha’s walls went back up.

“Look I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t’a said nothin’.”

“No, you shouldn’t have.” Natasha snapped, causing AJ to flinch. Nat shook her head and spoke again, gentler this time. “Sorry, It’s just…” she trailed off for a minute, sparing Applejack a glance before turning back around. “It’s just that there’s a lot that I’ve been trying to leave behind. Both for my own sake as well as for my friends. The past is dead and it doesn’t matter anymore.”

Applejack wondered at Natasha’s words. What could have been so terrible in her past - made her into such a dangerous and powerful woman, yet one with such terrible inner hurt - that now she so desperately felt the need to forget that it ever happened in the first place? AJ got the sense that maybe the lie she saw in Natasha was the one she told herself.

“If y’all need to talk--”

“I’m handling it.” Natasha said, iron starting to edge its way into her voice.

Applejack nodded solemnly. “Alright.”

“We’re here,” Nat said, turning a corner, around which sat a huge, pressurized airlock door. Applejack could tell from just a single glance that there was something different about this door compared to most of the other containment rooms. The frame was clearly sturdier, and the door was made from a darker, more matte metal. It looked solid enough that AJ wasn’t sure if even one of her newly-superpowered punches would leave a dent in it. A baser part of her almost wanted to test it and find out, but that tiny part of her was smothered by the anxiety she felt as she got ready to speak to an absurdly powerful sorcerer - one who was either mind controlled at best, or downright insane at worst.

Natasha entered a code into pad on the wall beside the doorway. The door hissed open with a silence that surprised Applejack given its size. Natasha pressed a few more buttons and a panel opened up in the wall, revealing another “live feed scrying screen” or whatever they were. In the window, she could see Loki pacing around his cylindrical glass cell, looking for all the world like a wild cat prowling his domain.

“I’ll be watching you from here.” Natasha instructed. “He’s going to try and manipulate you; twist your words around and trap you with them. Don’t let him bait you. If he tries to pull anything too dangerous I’ll drop him.”

Applejack nodded. “Got it.”

She made to step in through the door but felt Natasha put a hand on her arm. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

AJ looked her in the eyes. “If I have a chance put a stop to this before it gets any more outta control I gotta try…” She shrugged. “Sometimes a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do, right?”

Natasha nodded. “Right. Good luck, Applejack.”

There was a slight quiver in her knees as she took that first step into a dark corridor. She paused and took a deep breath, tempering her nerves before continuing forward and around a corner. As she rounded the bend and came to the top landing of a set of metal stairs, she spied him.


He stood there in the center of his glass prison, watching her as she stepped down the grated metal of the staircase, clearly having heard her coming down the hallway. His face broke out in a wide, mocking grin as she descended towards him.

“Oh, now this is simply precious.

Applejack resisted the urge to roll her eyes, keeping her gaze locked with Loki’s as she came to the bottom of the stairs, circling around the railing to face the mad god head on.

“I have to say,” Loki said, “Fury I expected. Or perhaps his redheaded lackey. But I never even considered the idea they’d be so foolish as to send in a mere babe like you to talk to me.”

“I asked them to.” Applejack said, trying to keep any waver out of her voice.

“And they agreed to it?” Loki’s grin seemed like it might split his face. “Goodness, Fury must be even more desperate than he let on if he’s sending in the likes of you.”

Applejack frowned, pulling a chair from against the wall and settling it directly in front of his cell door. “I think y’all may find I’m a bit more familiar with your type than y’all think.”

“Oh really,” Loki said, pacing around the edge of his cell before sitting down on a bench that ran around the far side of his prison, eyes locked upon hers. “And just what do… y’all… perceive ‘my type’ to be?” he said, drawling out her countryism mockingly.

“A snake,” Applejack spat, failing to keep her emotions entirely contained, though she quickly reigned herself back in. “Somebody who cheats and manipulates good folk into doin’ the sort of things he wants them to do with the right lies whispered in the right ears. Somebody who thinks they’ve got everyone else figured out and thinks himself big and important enough that he deserves to milk everybody for every last drop they’re worth.”

“How hurtful,” Loki said, gently clasping a hand to his chest. “You’ve barely known me half a day.”

“And in that time, y’all tried to stab me in the back and then tried to manipulate me into doubtin’ my friends.”

Loki grinned. “Is that how you see them, then? Your friends? You can’t have known them much longer than you have me.”

Applejack shrugged. “Maybe. Far as I’ve seen they’re decent folk. I’d say they’re good friends to have.”

Loki narrowed his eyes, though the grin never left his face. “As far as you’ve seen, you say? Yet you admit that you’ve known them but hours.” He leaned forward in his seat, his elbows propped on his knees and his hands folded. “What beautiful little ball of sunshine must you have come from to have such a naïve outlook on people?”

Applejack folded her arms over her chest and leaned back in her chair. “I ain’t seein’ how that’s any of your business where I came from.”

“Oh but it’s simply adorable.” Loki said. “A stranger from another world shows up just in the nick of time to help save the earth and unite the world with the power of friendship. It’s just such a beautifully virginal notion it might sweeten my very blood were it not so utterly pathetic.” His smile, already mocking, turned positively feral. “If you knew even the first thing about your new ‘friends’ you’d be running for the hills.”

“That so?” Applejack raised an eyebrow.

Loki laughed. It was a slimy, slithery sound. “Oh you’re going to love this. Of course there’s the Iron Man, Tony Stark. Did you know they once called him the Merchant of Death? He sold weapons the likes of which you couldn’t even begin to imagine, bringing ruin to the lives of thousands, if not millions. All to make a profit so that he could live in the lap of luxury.”

Applejack growled. She may have been new to her powers but every sense was telling her that everything Loki was saying was true.

The mad god continued. “Or how about your friend Miss Romanoff? Would you like me to list the atrocities she committed personally? How she set fire to a hospital to kill a single man? Or how she murdered the daughter of another simply to demoralize him? What company do you keep, Applewood, when you ally yourself with such heinous wretches?”

Again. All true. “I think you’ve made your point.”

“Oh but I don’t think I have.” The look in his eye was wild now as he stood and approached her. “Your friend Steve. Did you know he willingly let himself be experimented upon? That he was a willing tool of murder in the greatest war this planet has ever known? How many bodies must he have left in his wake, do you suppose?”


Loki cackled. “And then there’s my utter barbarian of a brother: A warmonger who’s lived for thousands of your years gleefully hopping from world to world, spreading violence and death everywhere he goes. Why, over the millenia he’s been alive he’s likely murdered millions! Would you call such an abomination ‘friend,’ Applewood? Would you let them drag you down to their level and make an abomination out of you too?”

True. All of it was true. Applejack scowled, glaring directly into Loki’s eyes as he gleefully laid out her teammates’ lists of crimes for her, and her newfound power gave her the benefit of knowing that every single charge was the truth.

Applejack glared back at Loki defiantly as he chuckled once more and gave her the most smug, triumphant grin. “I simply hope I’m there to see your face when the truth of your new friends’ natures come to light and the monsters tear everything apart around your head.”


--- --- ---


Natasha scowled as she watched the feed from the room beyond.



--- --- ---


“Y’all seem to think you know a lot about my friends.” Applejack said, scowling.

“I assure you,” Loki said, smirk never once leaving his face, “everything I’ve said is true.”

“Oh I believe it.” Applejack said, crossing one leg over the other, her gaze never leaving his. "What I'm wonderin' is if y'all care to tell me how they've actually been more recent-like."

Loki frowned "I do not understand."

"I think you do." Applejack said, her expression never changing. "Is Tony still the 'Merchant of Death?' Does Steve make a habit of killin' folks for fun? If Nat's such a monster, why's she eatin' herself alive over what she done in the past?" Applejack shook her head. "Folks can change, Loki. And if my friends have changed for the better I ain't seeing the issue."

"Truly?" Loki's frown deepened into a scowl as his eyes narrowed. "All those atrocities, and you're simply willing to let them slide? To see them go unchallenged?"

"Maybe they deserve to be punished. Maybe they need to repay for what they done. But maybe they already have. And even if they haven't, I reckon it ain't my place to say." Applejack crossed her arms, fixing Loki with a stony glare. “Y'all know a lot about their pasts, Loki... but y’all don’t know horseapples about mine, do ya?”

Loki merely blinked

AJ smirked. “You don’t, do ya? That’s why y’all tried to off me back in Stuttgart, isn’t it? You’re powerful enough that you coulda got Steve the same way any time you wanted, but you held back. ‘Cuz for whatever reason you wanted to get his attention. Y’all wanted to be here.” She pointed at the ground. “Here, right now, in this cell. Am I right?”

Applejack stood up. “But y’all didn’t count on me. Y’all didn’t count on a new piece landing on the board, didja? You broke character.

Loki scoffed, taking a step back into his cell. “You are but another pawn in Fury’s game. Nothing more.”

“Am I? You sure about that?” A fire burned in Applejack’s eyes “Y’all know so much about my friends, maybe it’s only fair you hear somethin’ about me. Wouldn’t want y’all to be playing your little chess game at a disadvantage, would we?”

Applejack stepped forward, their faces now mere inches from one another, separated only by a clear pane of glass. “My name is Applejack Smith-Apple. I’m from the land of Equestria on the planet Equis. I’m the bearer of the Element of Honesty, and you. Don’t. Fool. Me.” Her voice was hard, neither a scream nor a whisper. Every word punctuated with iron. “I’ve seen your type before. Y’all ain’t nothing but another Saturday to me.”

Loki’s reply was equally hard. “I think you’ve already made very clear what you consider ‘my type’ to be. I assure you that I’ve not lied once--”
“Oh I know.” Applejack smirked.

If anything she’d said had caught Loki off guard, it was that. His eyes widened and his brow wrinkled. “But--”

“I’m the Element of Honesty, Loki.” Applejack’s smirk widened as she interrupted him. “I can tell when somebody’s tellin’ a lie, and you weren’t. Not technically, at least. But that’s what makes you such a good liar, ain’t it? The best liars know when to tell the truth.” She chuckled. “You thought you had me all figured out, didn’tcha? That I’d run crying from the room and go and confront them over it? That I’d find out it was all true and abandon them? Maybe even fight them over it?” Applejack shook her head “Maybe if y’all’d caught me a couple years ago, but I’ve hooked bigger fish than you since then.”

“Thor was right, you know,” She continued, causing Loki to scowl deeply. “He told me y’all was a manipulator. That y’all liked to get folks to dance to your tune.”

“I believe I am done speaking to you.” Loki said, sitting back down on his bench.

“Oh really? ‘Cuz I’ve only just started.” Applejack said. “I know your type, Loki. Snakes like y’all slither in silence, doin’ your best to get around unseen. And y’only strike from the bushes when your opponent steps too close. What’s more, you’re good at it.” She crossed her arms. “Which is why it don’t make no sense y’all’re playing at being a dragon.”

Loki raised an eyebrow, clearly taken off guard. “What nonsense--”

Applejack jabbed a finger at him. “You heard me. Thor told me all about how you nearly took over Asgard with nothing but the right words whispered in the right ears. How does somebody like you go from that to announcin’ himself and makin’ a right public scene of it in the middle of a crowded city? Why does he even bother to try and conquer a planet of short-lived, short-sighted insects? That was how y’all described them, wasn’t it?”

He narrowed his eyes. “You’re trying to get me to reveal my plans to you.” He said, smirking smugly. “It won’t work.”

“I don’t give a sack of dried beans what your plan is.” Applejack shouted, locking eyes with him. “Don’t matter none to me either way what your plan is. I’ve stopped so much worse, there ain’t even a question of whether or not I’ll stop you too!” She jabbed a finger at Loki. “What I want is for y’all to ask all this to yourself! How does a god go from nearly ruling Asgard to cooling his heels in a cell?!” She pointed at Loki’s prison, never once breaking eye contact. “This cell! Right here, right now! I know a little glass ain’t stopping you from teleporting away! Y’all could slink back to the shadows, plan your li’l conquest in silence, and we’d never know when or where you’d be coming from! But you won’t! Y’all’re determined to sit there on your plot and make a right gloatin’ spectacle of yourself instead.” She slammed her hand down on the glass with a resounding ‘BANG.’

“So tell me, Loki! Why. Are. You. Here?!”

Applejack looked deeply into Loki’s eyes. They were blue, icy and cold, without a shred of mercy or compassion as he gazed back hatefully at her. She’d seen eyes like his before, whether they were a maddened red and yellow or a glowing, slitted green. And yet there was something about Loki’s eyes that gave her pause. Something that sent a shudder down her spine every time she saw him. Something that simply didn’t sit RIGHT with her.

She looked deeply into his eyes. Behind the blues of his irises and the whites that surrounded them. She looked deeper.

And she saw a red, hazy glow.

Applejack blinked. Then she blinked again. Loki’s eyes were no longer the icy, intelligent blue they had been a moment ago. They were red. Glowing red. And no matter how many times she blinked, they kept glowing red.

Applejack smiled, a genuine grin breaking out over her face. “And there it is.”

“There what is?” Loki snarled.

“You’ve been--” Applejack started to say when a sound suddenly stopped her. From down the hall, she heard footsteps clattering against the metal floors of the corridor, growing steadily closer. Loki heard it too as they both turned just in time to watch a haggard and out of breath Jennifer Walters rounding the corner, sweat pouring down her forehead and wheezing for air.

“Applejack!” Jennifer cried. “You’ve got to come quick. They’re fighting!”

AJ blinked. “Who?” She asked. “Who’s fighting?”

“Stark!” Jen yelped, trying to compose herself. “Steve, Thor, Director Fury… They’re all fighting! It’s getting really bad up there!”

“And there it is.” Loki grinned as he echoed her words back at her. “Perhaps I’m not as much of a liar as you thought,” he said smugly, “am I, Applejack?”

AJ scowled whipping around and jabbing a finger at the caged god, glaring straight into his glowing red eyes. “We ain’t done here.”

“Oh but I’m afraid we are, Applejack,” he said with a chuckle. “Good luck sorting out your friends.

Applejack snorted turning and dashing up the stairs. She caught hold of Jennifer and hefted her into a bridal carry causing the poor girl to squeal in shock as she barrelled through the Helicarrier corridors.

As she charged up the stairs towards Banner’s laboratory, Jen pointing her in the right direction, she desperately prayed that Loki’s half-truths about her friends wouldn’t turn out to be whole-truths.

SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 2012 - 6:08 AM

Applejack heard their voices long before the lab came into view. All of them were shouting, each trying to be heard over the other as they all unloaded upon one another with everything they had.

“Put on the suit and let’s go a few rounds.” Captain America growled dangerously.

“You people are so petty and tiny!” Thor rumbled.

Applejack dreaded the coming encounter, though she thanked Celestia, Luna, and all the stars up above that they were still just shouting at each other… even if Steve’s words suggested that wouldn’t be the case for long. She scrambled up the stairs, dodging nervous-looking SHIELD agents, her hands trembling as they carried a jittery looking Jen.

Fury interjected sternly. “Agent Romanoff, would you escort Mr. Banner back to his--”

“Where?! You rented my room!” Banner shouted.

She so desperately wished she didn’t have to do this right after her confrontation with Loki. Now that she was away from him she could feel how much he’d shaken her. All too much of her bluster about being the Element of Honesty and having faced bigger threats than him was just that; bluster. Without her friends to complete the Elements of Harmony, Nightmare Moon and Discord would have completely rolled over them. And they actually hadn’t managed to stop Chrysalis. While Loki didn’t seem to be as powerful as any of they were, she wasn’t actually particularly sure how well she’d hold up in a one-on-one fight with him.

“The cell was just in case--”

Of course, the prospect of an imminent super-powered throwdown here on the Helicarrier was keeping her adrenaline pumping enough that she didn’t feel too hampered.

She just hoped that Loki wasn’t actually right about them. While at first she’d thought his words were half-truths and he was well known for being a manipulative liar, she now worried that perhaps they weren’t half-truths after all. This most recent fight was planting a seed of--


Applejack grabbed hold of that seed, threw it on the ground, and stomped on it.

This fight didn’t necessarily mean anything. She and her friends had fought all the time back in Equestria. She and Rarity would so often fail to see eye-to-eye, after all, and there were even times she’d come to blows with Rainbow Dash.

Applejack whirled around a corner as she raced towards Lab B when she heard Banner shout again.

“In case you needed to kill me, but you can’t! I know! I’ve tried!”

Jen gasped, practically leaping out of Applejack’s arms as they approached the threshold to the lab. “I got low,” Banner said as the open door came into view. AJ and Jen spied Banner standing aside a desk upon which sat Loki’s scepter. Nearer to the door stood Thor and Natasha, while across the room stood Steve and Tony. “I didn’t see an end so I put a bullet in my mouth and the other guy spit it out!” Banner snarled, his hand reaching out to grasp the staff upon the table--

“Bruce!” Jen shouted. Everybody in the room seemed to snap to attention as she darted into the room past Thor and Natasha, grabbing hold of his arm before he could close his fingers around the haft.

“Jen--” Bruce sputtered lamely, only to be cut off as Jennifer buried her head in his chest.

“You never told me it got that bad...” Jen wept, shaking a little as Bruce put his arms around her.

“What in Tartarus are all y’all goin’ on about in here?!” Applejack snapped, closing her fingers around the doorframe, feeling the metal bend between her fingers.

“Ah good.” Stark muttered. “The pretty pink unicorn has arrived. Now we’ve got the complete set.”

“Unicorn?” Thor asked, bewildered.

Steve growled. “Don’t you start again, Stark.”

“HEY!” Applejack barked. “Enough of that! Loki’s cooling his heels down in the brig and y’all’re up here duking it out with each other? Did y’all just forget that he wants us all dead?! How do y’all expect to fight him and his army off if y’all’re sniping at each other every chance you get?!”

There was a pause for a split second as the rest of the room stared at her, only for a sudden beeping noise to break everybody out of the reverie.

Gently, Banner pried himself away from Jen. “Hopefully we won’t have to.” He muttered as he bustled over to a monitor across the room. “The computer has a lock.” Natasha quickly followed him.

“You’ve located the Tesseract?” Thor asked.

“I can get there fastest.” Stark interjected

Steve shook his head. “Look all of us--”

“The Tesseract belongs on Asgard” Thor bellowed, “No human is a match for it!”

Applejack scowled as the lot of them descended back into infighting. Jen looked lost, her terrified eyes desperately darting between the seven of them, mouth opening and shutting as she tried to find the words to say something.

“You’re not going alone!” Steve shouted, grabbing hold of Tony’s arm.

Stark slapped it away. “You’re gonna stop me?” he challenged.

Steve looked over at Applejack. “AJ, would you talk some sense into him?”

“Hiding behind your girlfriend now, Captain?” Tony sneered.

“Leave Applewood out of this, Rogers.” Fury warned.

“Hey!” Applejack shouted, slamming a fist into the wall and leaving a dent. “Do y’all have rocks in your ears?! Listen to me! The Staff is--”

Bruce gaped at the monitor. “Oh my god--”

And then everything exploded.

The Avengers: Ch9

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SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 2012 - 6:11 AM

A second ago, the room had only been on fire metaphorically.

Now the entire laboratory was engulfed in flames as an explosion ripped straight through it. Applejack felt herself get thrown off her feet and was tossed into the doorframe she’d been standing in. Tony and Steve were hurled bodily into the opposite wall. Natasha and Banner, meanwhile, were thrown through a pane glass window and went hurtling to the floor below.

Thor and Fury managed to duck for cover away from the sudden gout of flame that burst through the center of the room. Jen wasn’t so lucky. A light fixture suddenly dropped from the ceiling, collapsing on top of the poor girl with a terrifying crash of broken glass. Jen cried out in pain as the lights slammed down onto her legs, throwing her to the floor.

“Jen!” Applejack shouted, desperately scrambling to her feet.

“Put on the suit!” Cap grunted at Tony, who nodded back, rolling to his feet and running out the door.

“Jen!” AJ cried, ignoring the flames that danced around her legs as she scrambled over to a coughing, hacking Jennifer. She struggled, pinned beneath a large light fixture. “Jen are you okay?!”

“Is she hurt?” Steve asked, rushing over.

“I’m fine!” Jen shouted at the Captain, “Go with Stark!”

Steve nodded and rushed out of the room. Applejack grabbed hold of the light fixture and made to heft it off of her, only for Jen to let out a sharp, pained shriek. AJ gasped.

“You’re bleeding!”

Jen clutched at her gut. Her fingers came away red and wet with blood. “It’s just a scratch.” She coughed, shifting and scrambling away from the fire and smoke, trying to stand up. “I’ll be fi-AAGH!” She collapsed back down to the ground. Applejack gasped when she saw a shard of glass nearly the size of her palm sticking out of her friend’s abdomen.

“Celestia… That ain’t just a scratch, Jen!” Applejack said, reaching for Jennifer’s gut.

“Don’t touch her!” Fury shouted, halting AJ’s hand. She whirled around, glaring at the director hatefully for daring to keep her from helping her friend. “If it hit a vital she could bleed out.”

Applejack blanched. “What do we do?”

Fury leaned down, slipping one of Jen’s arms around his shoulders and hefting her up with a grunt, supporting her weight. “I’ll make sure she gets to the medbay. You go with Stark and Rogers!”

“Wait!” Jen croaked weakly. “Bruce! Where is--”

A guttural bellow suddenly resounded through the ruined laboratory, wracked with pain and anguish and hate. As Banner cried out from the maintenance tunnels below them, his voice distorted, growing lower and more thundering with every moment, transforming into a feral roar, rumbling and howling with unfettered rage.

Applejack turned to Fury, gulping heavily. “Be frank with ya, Director? I think I’d better see to Doctor Banner instead.” She turned and made a dash towards the broken pane window Banner had been thrown from.

“Applejack wait!” Fury shouted, but it was too late. AJ leapt out the shattered window. “Dammit,” he snarled, hefting the groaning Jen as fast as he could out of the ruined laboratory.


--- --- ---


--- --- ---


I screwed up’ Banner’s mind swam. He was scared. Panicked. Angry. And he knew exactly where it was going to lead him. ‘I screwed up I screwed up I screwed up I took too long and now we’re under attack and Loki’s going to break free and it’s all my fault and now He’s coming out stop please for the love of God I’ll do anything just stop

Banner scraped and scrambled for purchase on the grated floor of the maintenance area he’d fallen into, his muscles twitching and spasming erratically. He felt tiny shards of glass digging into his skin, tumbling down the back of his shirt and opening a dozen tiny cuts down his back. One had found its way into his shoe and was digging painfully into the arch of his foot. All it did was serve to spike his adrenaline higher - make him angrier.

“We’re okay!” He heard somebody shout from off to his left somewhere. Natasha.

It’s her fault we’re here NO!’ Banner shouted, his muscles all seizing up painfully as he tried to stand, only to feel a shard of glass digging into the back of his knee. He fell back to the floor with an agonized cry, panting and breathing heavily.

“...we’re okay right?” Natasha asked him. “Doctor?”

Bruce couldn’t take it. He let out a pained scream as his knuckles whitened around a handrail. The metal started to twist in his fingers as his muscles seized and contracted again all at once. His scream quickly deepened several octaves as he howled in agony, both from the dozens of injuries he’d received not moments ago, and from the way his muscles twisted, contracted, tore apart and expanded, shifting rapidly beneath his skin.

She brought us here We were good We were helping people She roped us into this It’s all her fault No no no!’ Bruce’s brain felt like it was spinning inside his skull. He felt his mind tearing in two. Two personalities warring, desperately trying to fight each other off. A fight the Banner side of him was quickly losing as the veins running through his body started to turn green. ‘I can’t lose control again you need to stay down Attack We were good We were quiet We can still be good She planned this She tried to stop this Smash her Make her regret it Please for the love of God think about Jenny!

For a split, crucial moment, the other voice quelled.

Banner seized hold of that moment. ‘We promised we wouldn’t screw up again for her sake Dragged her into this It was her choice to join she wanted to see us again Used her If we screw up now then we might never see her again!’

“Bruce you’ve got to fight it,” Natasha said, desperately trying (and failing) to keep the waver out of her voice. “This is what Loki wants. We’re going to be okay, listen to me.”

“Doctor Banner!” came another voice from somewhere above the two of them. Somewhere off to his right, he heard the sound of a body - a heavy one - crashing into the metal floor.

“Get out of here!” Natasha shouted to the newcomer.

Applewood!’ Bruce thought ‘She’s insane What does she want with Jenny She’s dangerous So are we Could hurt her So could we Smash No Smash Stop Smash her before it’s too late!

“Bruce, are you okay?” he heard Applewood ask, completely ignoring Natasha.

Stupid girl Get away!’ Bruce twisted and writhed in place before letting out a howling cry of rage and anguish. He felt his body forcing the jagged pieces of glass out of his skin, painfully feeling every single shard slowly sliding against his muscles and blood vessels as they were ejected from his body.

Applewood spoke again, desperately trying to calm him down. “Bruce… Bruce I need y’all to calm down. I need you to get a grip. Jen’s hurt and we need you to--”

HURT?!” Bruce howled, his voice low and monstrous. Both women froze in place as he reared up onto his back, muscles seizing once again.

Jenny is hurt Wouldn’t be hurt if she weren’t here Only here because of her SHIELD Natasha Applewood Jenny’s hurt Her fault Smash her Crush her Punish her Jenny No Jenny Yes Crush Break Smash

Bruce felt the fabric splitting around his shoulders as his muscles expanded, skin shifting and growing to contain his new bulk even as it turned a dark, emerald green. The buttons on his shirt all popped off at once as he thrust his chest out, his pecs expanding rapidly.

“Get away!” he heard Applewood cry, along with the sound of shifting metal. “I’ll try and hold him.”

“But--” he heard Nat say

“Just go! Help Jen and Fury!”

FURY! Fury’s fault Fury Rage Livid Hate Smash them Crush them No Please Smash

His bones popped and cracked as they swelled with mass and weight. He groaned and howled as his spine lengthened and his feet burst from his shoes. He scrambled, one final last ditch effort of lucidity to try and get away from the two of them, to try and spare them his imminent wrath, only to find himself tumbling off a catwalk onto the cold, hard, concrete floor below. His arms and legs were bulging now, swelling with new mass as his neck and abs thickened, giving him a solid trunk of a torso. His shirt was now little more than rags as he cast one last look up to the catwalk. There stood Applewood, gazing down at him, her mouth open in horror and her eyes shining with pity and sadness.

And then he lost himself.


--- --- ---


Applejack had seen a lot of terrifying things in her relatively short life. She’d seen a chaos god turn her hometown into a strangescape of whimsy and madness. She’d seen an army of insectoid shapeshifters descend upon the capital of her nation. She’d seen the sun itself banished from the sky as Nightmare Moon declared that the night would last forever. Each and every one of those events had been terrifying and world-shattering.

Bruce Banner’s transformation gave them all a serious run for their money. Oh sure, it was nowhere near as apocalyptically world-breaking as her adventures in Equestria might have been, but it was far more visceral and stomach turning. Applejack was taken off guard by how utterly gruesome it was to watch. She felt nauseated and shivers ran down her spine with every pop of bone, every horrible ripping noise as his muscles and tendons tore themselves apart only to reknit themselves and do it all over again. And the whole time, he screamed; not just in the rage and fear that triggered the transformation in the first place, but in pain. Unbelievable, excruciating pain.

How could anyone expect anything else as your body was torn apart from the inside out and stitched back together, over and over again, until you’d grown to three times your normal size?

And it wasn’t just the sight of Bruce’s body twisting, breaking, and rebuilding itself that turned her stomach. It was the smell. Nobody had bothered to tell her just how awful Bruce smelled in this state. AJ was reminded of a time she’d joined Rainbow Dash at a carnivore restaurant once - Dash had gained an appreciation for certain meats over the course of her friendship with Gilda. The scent of cooking meat was nauseating to the strictly-vegetarian farmpony.

This smell was all too similar: Like Bruce’s flesh was cooking and burning from the inside out under some sort of intense, searing heat.

Her mind already reeling from witnessing Bruce’s horrific metamorphosis, though, Applejack now found herself at a loss for what to do. Part of her ached so much to try and reach out to Bruce, to try and ask if he was okay and offer what little comfort she could. But Steve had told her what Bruce was like in this state, and if what he’d said was accurate, there was little reasoning with him like this.

For now, he’d crushed a boiler tank under his forearm and seemed to be ignoring her, panting heavily and catching his breath in the aftermath of his transformation. But there was no telling how long that would last. As far as she knew, Natasha had vacated the area and was on her way to help Fury get Jen the proper medical care she needed, so she didn’t have to worry about her getting hurt by Bruce’s alter ego.

Maybe if she just stayed completely quiet he’d hold tight where he stood and calm down; revert back into mild mannered Bruce Banner. She gently started to back away, praying that he didn’t have enhanced hearing in this form.


Applejack winced at the sound of glass crunching beneath her foot. The monstrous form that had replaced Bruce stiffened, and the Hulk slowly turned its head to gaze at her, feral eyes glowing green and mouth turned into a rictus snarl.

“...Whoa Nelly…” Applejack muttered resignedly under her breath.

The roar was earsplitting. Far louder than anything a human voice box should have ever produced. Applejack flinched, clapping her hands over her ears, only to be caught off guard and forced to stumble and leap away clumsily as the Hulk came at her with murderous intent. A single leap and he was back up on the catwalk with her, the metal groaning and buckling beneath his massive feet. His swing was wild, whiffing past AJ as she leapt to the side. Even so, she could feel the force behind it. The air whistled and screamed as his fist rocketed past her. Her orange jacket rippled around her in the gust of wind his wild haymaker created.

There was no time to speak or think. The Hulk followed up with a left cross. She barely managed to leap back in time, only to crash into the catwalk railing. She felt herself stumble back as her balance failed. Backwards over the rail she went, falling a dozen feet and crashing flat on her back on the concrete floor below. The wind blasted out of her lungs on impact. Her ears rang as her head collided with the concrete. Only her new sturdiness kept her skull intact.

The Hulk gave her no time to rest. Before Applejack could catch her breath, he came leaping over the catwalk rails. His feet angled to drop right on top of her. AJ rolled to the side and narrowly avoided the Hulk’s deadly foot dive. The floor buckled and cratered beneath him. She rolled to her hands and knees, standing just in time to cross-block a crushing hammerfist. The blow forced her back down onto one knee. Her other knee impacted the concrete with enough force to make it crack beneath her. AJ yelped in pain and shock, sweat rolling down her forehead as the Hulk’s overwhelming strength bore down upon her.

Her arms trembled and shook, desperately trying to hold off the monster’s hammerblow. Her eyes were wide with panic. The meaty fist was inching closer and closer to her face. The Hulk shot out with his other arm and suddenly Applejack felt a pulverizing blow to her ribs as he punched her in the side with his other hand. AJ went flying. She crashed spine-first into a metal pipe. The pipe bent and broke beneath her weight, spraying steam everywhere. AJ fell to the floor, landing on her stomach. She struggled to breathe, clutching her side. Nothing seemed broken.

If she’d still been a pony that punch would have shattered her ribs and liquefied her insides.

Another roar warned of the monster’s approach. AJ looked up to see the Hulk charging through a mess of pipes, rails, valves and pumps. The metal fixtures shattered under his onslaught, bursting away and scattering all over. The Hulk reared back with both arms, crashing forward onto AJ with both fists. She barely scuttled to the side as the Hulk’s fists cracked the pipe she leaned against.

Applejack rolled to her feet. ‘Have to end this fast.’ she thought, Can’t let him keep tearing up this place.

AJ didn’t know what the pipes and valves surrounding them were for, exactly, but she assumed that they were probably important. If they were connected to the engine, too much damage would probably send the whole airship falling from the sky.

Not that it wasn’t already, but anything she could do to keep the situation from getting worse

AJ ducked aside from another of the Hulk’s wild swings, a plan quickly forming in her head. As the Hulk threw another punch at her, he overextended himself and AJ snatched hold of his huge wrist with both hands. She pulled the Hulk forward and kicked at the back of the monster’s exposed knee.

It felt like kicking a block of pure steel. Applejack’s foot ached and throbbed. Nothing felt broken, though. Thankfully, the kick had the desired effect and the Hulk went to one knee, uninjured but startled.

Applejack took her chance to duck under the Hulk’s arm and scramble behind him. Before he could climb back to his feet, she leapt upwards. She wrapped her arms around the Hulk’s neck and grappled him from behind, desperately tightening her grip around his throat.

The Hulk did not take kindly to AJ’s attempts to choke him out. As soon as the monster was back to his feet, he began thrashing, swinging this way and that. Forward and back he struggled, trying everything he could to dislodge his opponent from around his throat. Applejack held on tight, dredging up her experiences at the Equestria Rodeo. She’d spent a lot of her childhood wrestling angry, thrashing bulls as they tried to desperately buck her off.

The Hulk reached back with his arms to grab her and throw her off. Ironically, the Hulk’s own massive frame was just too big for him to reach her. His own enormous muscles were getting in the way of each other, leaving him incapable of reaching onto his own back.

So the Hulk started slamming himself into the walls.

AJ winced as she felt a boiler bend and buckle beneath her as she slammed bodily into it. Her spine felt like it was being crushed under a collapsing barn. Still she held tight to the Hulk’s throat.

The Hulk repeated the move, slamming her into pipes, walls, and other machinery. Applejack winced, screaming through her gritted teeth as she desperately held on with all her might. Pipes and valves broke against her body, buffeting her head and back. Still she held on, unwilling to lose this rodeo.

He slowed, allowing her a brief, second’s worth of reprieve as AJ no longer felt her spine slamming into the surrounding machinery. A small spark of hope alighted in her chest that her efforts might have borne fruit…

Then the Hulk leapt.

He steadied himself, leaning forward and bending his knees. With a mighty heave, the Hulk leapt into the air. Applejack watched as the ground disappeared beneath them as they sailed two stories up, past Banner’s ruined lab and straight into the ceiling.

There was a resounding CRASH as the two of them broke straight through the ceiling and kept on going. Dust and debris scattered through the air as Applejack felt concrete, steel, and tile shatter against her back. Her grip slackened as she felt another, massive object thrown aside as the two of them burst from below.

Still they rocketed upward, until they hit the next ceiling and Applejack felt glass explode against her spine. They’d crashed into a fluorescent light fixture, shattering it to pieces and sending sparks and shards flying everywhere. Applejack screamed out in pain and exhaustion as she felt her grip release from around the Hulk’s throat as gravity reasserted itself.

Hulk and Applejack both fell through the air. They tumbled a good fifteen feet, chunks of glass and metal scattering through the air around them. They’d emerged from the floor into a large, well-lit room. AJ crashed face down onto a smooth, polished surface. The metal screeched and crumpled beneath her. The Hulk impacted the tiled floor, leaving another crater of faux-marble and grout around him, not too far from the ruined hole in the ground from where they’d made their overly dramatic entrance.

AJ groaned, rolling onto her side and coughing up dust. She blinked her eyes clear, taking in the room. Rows upon rows of long metal tables were arranged in a grid, one already knocked aside next to where they’d emerged from the ground. Along one wall, large sheets of pane glass allowed her a glimpse of the sky outside. Or it would have were it not obscured by clouds of thick black smoke from the Helicarrier’s failing engine. Along the opposite wall ran a counter with a glass pane running along it, where trays of food were clearly meant to be held. And behind the countertop, she could clearly see a kitchen of some kind with two terrified cooks boggling at the both of them.

Applejack waved an arm desperately at the cooks. “Go!” She cried, “Git outta here!” The cooks finally managed to take the hint and fled out another exit. AJ didn’t have time to reorient herself, though, when she heard the Hulk roar again.

The Hulk, back to his feet, charged at her, arms open, clearly planning to grab her in a crushing bear hug. AJ rolled off the table, ducking to the side as the Hulk crashed into it. The table was sent flying into the windows, shattering through the glass. The room was suddenly filled with howls and screams of gusting wind. Smoke from the engines choked the air in the mess hall.

AJ leapt to trembling feet. She couldn’t just defend anymore. The Hulk was too powerful. She didn’t want to hurt Banner - if she even could - but if she wanted to survive this then she had to fight back and try and get him on the back foot.

She just prayed she wouldn’t make him even angrier.

The Hulk skidded to a halt as he tried to reverse his charge, turning on the balls of his feet and digging long grooves into the floor. He slammed the ground with his fists and growled, rearing for another charge. Applejack wasted no time. She grabbed hold of one of the polished metal tables and heaved.

It had been bolted to the floor, but that hadn’t seemed to hinder her at all. The table came away with the trademark screeching and snapping of twisted, breaking metal. Widening her stance, she steadied herself on her feet and as the Hulk came into range she chucked it at him.

The Hulk ducked his head, battering the table away with his shoulder. It tumbled over his back and clattered to the ground behind him. The move forced him to take his eyes of AJ for a second, though. She hunkered down, planting her feet and struck forward with a powerful kick to the monster’s gut.

It felt like kicking solid steel. AJ’s toes ached and throbbed. She managed to briefly stagger him, though. The Hulk stumbled to the side, his charge diverted for now. He growled, rage bubbling behind his eyes. Applejack didn’t give him a chance to reorient himself. She dashed forward and shoulder-checked the Hulk with everything she had. Both of them to tumbled backwards, crashing through the serving counter. The ceramic countertop cracked and crumbled beneath their combined weight.

Applejack felt herself sprawling atop the fallen Hulk - exactly the last place she wanted to be. Before she could leap off him and get back to her feet, the Hulk sat up and grabbed her around her around the leg with a single meaty hand. The world inverted, then spiralled as she was dragged through the air by her leg and then hurtled backwards over the Hulk’s head and into the kitchen.

A stove broke her fall. Her weight crushed the appliance beneath her and set one of the burners ablaze. Pots and pans went flying, an empty stewpot clattering away into a corner. She barely managed to avoid getting scorched by the errant flame, stumbling backwards as she pulled herself out of the broken fixture.

The Hulk burst into the kitchen, sending a stack of dishes tumbling and shattering to the floor. He grunted and roared, grabbing a serving cart and barrelling toward AJ. He held the cart held out in front of him and slammed full force into the staggered Applejack, who crashed against the back wall.

A splatter of blood burst from AJ’s lips as she impacted the wall. Again the Hulk slammed the serving cart into her middle with all his ungodly strength. He pressed, trying to crush her between the cart and the wall. Applejack felt the wall creak and crackle beneath her, cracks spiderwebbing around her body. The serving cart twisted and bent in the Hulk’s hands. He pulled back, giving Applejack a sweet, split-instant to stumble back to her feet and take in a breath of precious air, only for the Hulk to smash the cart into her ribs again.

AJ felt her bones creak. Her body was screaming in pain. Too much more of this and even with her enhanced durability she’d be a smear on the wall. The Hulk reared back again and Applejack fell to one knee, managing to catch the serving cart with her hands this time when he tried to slam it forward again. Her arms shook. Her elbows bent. The Hulk’s strength was just too great. She couldn’t match him in a one-on-one test of strength like this. She needed to find an advantage to leverage.

In a desperate move, she heaved the serving cart to the side. The Hulk twisted off balance, stumbling to the left. With her right hand, Applejack felt out, reaching for anything she could grab - any weapon at all would do. She felt her fingers close around a metal handle. Swinging out, with a wild uppercut at the Hulk’s face, she discovered it was the discarded stew pot.

The stew pot impacted the Hulk’s skull with a resounding, metallic ‘CLANG!’ The Hulk stumbled back, falling backwards into the fiery stove. He flinched and twisted in pain when his massive hand settled onto the flame-spewing burner. Applejack saw her chance. With a shrieking war cry, she leapt forward. She tackled the Hulk around his shoulders and slammed the stew pot down atop his head. Blinded, the Hulk twisted and thrashed in place.

AJ took the chance to grab the next thing she could: a frying pan. She shot forward and slammed it into the stew pot. There was another terrible ‘CLANG!’ and the pot dented and distorted. She hit him again. ‘CLANG!’ Again. ‘CLANG!’ The frying pan broke off in AJ’s hands.

The Hulk roared in rage and pain. The tinny, metal crashing noises tore at his sensitive ears. AJ tossed the ruined frying pan away and pressed her advantage with her fists. She ducked under a wild swing and drove her fist into the Hulk’s gut, a thunderous ‘POW’ ringing out as her super-strong punch landed in his solar plexus. The Hulk stumbled back, lashing out again with another blind swipe at her. This too she ducked. She drove another punch into the side of his belly, then kicked him in the shin. He lost his balance and stumbled backwards into a countertop.

Before AJ could press any further, though, the Hulk seemed to take a page out of her book. Grabbing out blindly, his massive green hand grabbed hold of a blender. He ripped it out of the wall and blindly lashed out at her. Applejack yelped and blocked but she was too slow. The glass pitcher of the blender impacted her head with enough force that it was practically reduced to dust.

AJ felt something hard and jagged land in her eye. She screamed, rearing back and clutching it.

His opponent now on the back foot, the Hulk upped the pressure. He grabbed out again, blindly grabbing an electronic mixer and chucking it at the spot where the scream came from. The hefty machine crashed against Applejack’s head. She fell to one knee, dizzy and still clutching her eye. Next came a food processor, which crashed against her hips. The Hulk ripped a microwave out of the wall, planting his feet and slamming the bulky appliance into AJ’s side, sending her tumbling back out of the kitchen and crashing against what remained of the serving counter.

Applejack’s head spun. Her ears were ringing and she coughed up a wad of blood, staining her shirt. She scrambled against the counter and struggled her way to her feet. Her left eye was bleary. Whatever landed in there had since dislodged, but her vision was still bleary with tears. She tried to shake off the dizziness and blink her vision clear when she heard the deep, screeching sound of twisting, tearing metal. Turning to the kitchen, she was too late to duck when she saw a refrigerator hurtling towards her head.

The massive thing crashed into her, completely unimpeded. Applejack screeched as she heard something ‘POP’ in her shoulder and her entire right arm felt like it was being torn straight off. Her arm went limp as she crashed through the countertop, through the remaining tables, and went skidding across the floor towards the shattered windows and the open air outside. She scrambled, trying to stop herself, but her right arm wouldn’t respond properly. She barely managed to get a grip, her fingers digging grooves into the floor with her left hand, as she felt her body twist and jerk around. Her legs fell out the window, followed by the rest of her torso, when she finally managed to dig herself to a stop.

She dangled there, hanging out the mess hall window by one hand. She struggled and screamed in terror, pain still radiating up her right arm as it hung limply against her side. The wind buffeted her with an intensity she’d never felt before, and would surely have torn her away and sent her hurtling into the rocks below were it not for her enhanced strength. Her heart hammered in her chest, her eyes wide and panicked. Her breathing was rapid and shallow and she felt herself grow dizzy from how petrifyingly high up she was.

The sound of screeching metal once again drew her attention. The Hulk stood over her, tearing at the pot upon his head. The Hulk tore at the metal with his bare hands, his fingers sinking into it and ripping it asunder from around his skull. The pot came apart in his hands in two pieces of twisted metal, which he quickly tossed out the open window. His vision cleared, the Hulk glared down at the helpless Applejack with a feral snarl, his teeth clenched murderously.

Applejack watched with horror as he reared back, clasping his hands together and bringing them up over his head, intent on crushing her remaining hand.

A pair of meaty arms appeared from behind the Hulk and something was suddenly pulled against the monster’s exposed throat. “AWAY FROM HER!” Thor bellowed, yanking the Hulk backwards and off balance.

Thor’s hands wrapped around the haft of his hammer, desperately trying to choke the Hulk out. Despite the god’s impressive height and frame, he dangled like a ragdoll from the monster’s back as the Hulk thrashed around, trying to throw him off.

Mind running on autopilot, Applejack took the chance while she still had it. Summoning up as much of her impressive strength as she could, she one handedly hauled herself up, fingers digging deeper grooves into the floor to get herself better purchase. She dragged herself up out from the window, her elbow catching onto the floor. Dragging her useless right arm in, then swinging her legs back over the overhang, she rolled onto her back and back onto solid ground, scrambling to get as far from the open window as she could. She took in a deep gasp of air. Coughing and sputtering, she groaned in pain as she sat up, watching Thor as he desperately tried to keep the Hulk off of her.

The two of them weren’t anywhere close to bringing him down.


--- --- ---


Natasha managed to rendezvous with Fury minutes after leaving Applewood to hopefully deal with Bruce. The director was needed on the bridge to help coordinate the counterattack, so it was up to Natasha to get Jennifer Walters the medical attention she needed.

She felt useless leaving AJ behind. No way the pony-turned-human could possibly take the Hulk on alone. But she was in no condition to help her fight him. She’d been hurt in the fall, and even now her leg still twinged as she ran through the hallways, hefting the limp, barely conscious form of Jennifer Walters on her back.

Even if she hadn’t been hurt, there was nothing she could reasonably do against the emerald giant. Her skills lay in quick takedowns, lethal precision strikes, and nimble evasion. Much as she hated it, the truth of the matter was that she simply had nothing to even slow him down. And one good hit from the Hulk would probably kill her. If she’d tried to stay she’d have only been a liability.

She just hoped that Applewood was durable enough to live through a Hulk attack.

Nat abandoned the grim thoughts and focused instead on what she could do to help. Right now, one of their number was wounded. Jennifer dangled from her shoulders, weakly holding onto Natasha in a limp piggyback. Though her ankle screamed at her with every step, Nat would let nothing get in the way between her and the medical attention Jen needed.

And she needed it badly.

There was a shard of glass the size of her palm sticking out of the poor woman’s abdomen, blood seeping around its edges. Natasha had to hold onto the smaller girl’s hands just to keep Jen from following her instincts and pulling the glass out. There was every chance that if she did she would undo the only thing that was stopping the flow of blood. She carried Jen carefully, making sure not to press the glass further into Jen’s belly. For once, she was thankful for the years of strength and endurance training she’d received before joining SHIELD. It helped that Jen was a tiny thing.

Jen groaned and cried out with every bump and stagger through the rumbling hallways as she fought through the pain. What little adrenaline she’d had coursing through her when the lab first exploded had quickly drained away and she was beginning to swim in and out of consciousness. The only thing keeping her awake was the pain.

Natasha burst down a flight of stairs and through a pair of large, swinging doors labeled with a red cross. “Medic!” She cried out as several doctors and nurses turned away from where they were bandaging a gash on one agent’s arm, while several others looked up from where they’d been treating another’s mild burn. She heard several gasps as she laid Jen down on a vacant medical stretcher.

“What happened?” one of the doctors asked, dashing over and shining a pen light into Jennifer’s eye, breathing a small sigh of relief when the pupil shrank.

“Light fixture fell on her in the explosion,” Nat said, perfectly masking how shaken and exhausted she truly felt. She watched as a pair of nurses descended upon the smaller woman, cutting away her suit jacket and shirt with a pair of scissors and tearing them away to reveal her bloodstained belly. “About six minutes ago.”

One of the nurses inspected the wound, dabbing around it gently with a cotton swab to clear away the blood. “Doctor, it’s punctured her liver. She’s going to need surgery.”

Another nurse prodded at Jen’s stomach, causing the tiny girl to cry out in agony. “There’s a great deal of blood pooling in the abdomen. It may have nicked the hepatic artery.”

“Dammit.” The Doctor swore, running his hands over his face. He turned to Natasha. “Do you know her blood type?”

“Same as Doctor Banner’s,” Nat said. “O-negative.”


“Is there a problem?” she asked, growing increasingly tense as a nurse desperately tried to calm Jen down, poking an IV into the girl’s left arm and making calming shushing noises at her. The other nurse busied herself by dabbing at the girl’s forehead with a damp cloth.

The doctor turned and started down a nearby corridor, gesturing for Natasha to follow. “She’s sustained damage to at least one major blood vessel. She’s going to need a transfusion.” He led Natasha down a short hallway and opened a door labeled with the words ‘Cold Storage.’

“Normally this wouldn’t be a problem,” the doctor continued, “but the explosion rocked us pretty badly.”

Natasha looked. Where the doctor gestured, there was a massive refrigerator lying damaged on its front, ripped away from its spot on the wall. Blood leaked out from a crack in its face and pooled in a deep red puddle around where it lay.

“Bozhe moi,” she cursed.

“We’re trying to salvage as much as we can, but O-negs can’t take any other blood type besides their own. We could try to call an agent in for a transfusion but…”

“...the alert.” Nat finished for him.

“Nobody will come until the crisis is over, and if we don’t get her into surgery asap she’s going to drown in her own blood.” The doctor said, running his hands over his face again. He turned and looked Natasha in the eye. “None of my staff are O-neg. You wouldn’t happen to be…?”


“Damn,” the doctor grumbled.

Natasha chewed the inside of her cheek, desperately trying to figure out how to save Jen. It was a cold, callous thought, perhaps, but if there was anybody that needed to get out of this attack alive, it was Jennifer Walters. They’d brought her on board the helicarrier. It was because of them that she was in this position in the first place. If they let the Hulk’s cousin die, there would be hell to pay. An enraged Hulk, with all of his ungodly fury condensed into a laser focus targeted directly at SHIELD? The whole organization would be crushed to less than powder within a month.

But what could she do? Run into the halls and start yelling at passing agents, demanding to know their blood type? One agent could be the difference between turning the tide of the battle and the helicarrier dropping from the sky. Natasha felt her mask slipping. There was nothing to be done...


“I have an idea.” Natasha said, spinning on one foot, ignoring the pain in her ankle as she sprinted towards the medbay exit. “Keep her alive until I get back!”

The doctor didn’t even have a chance to ask her what she was planning before she’d burst through the medbay doors and darted a right towards the stairwell leading to the lower decks.

Natasha had to get to Phase 2 storage.


--- --- ---


Thor was clearly not as experienced as AJ at holding onto a raging bull. With one mighty thrash, the Hulk dislodged the thunder god from his back, sending him hurtling over his shoulder. The god was still a skilled combatant, though. Gracefully, he flipped over the Hulk’s head, landing on his feet and spinning in place. As he spun he thrust his arm forward and his hammer hurtled straight toward the Hulk’s face. Hulk dodged, but as the hammer soared past him the beast reached out and grabbed at the haft.

Applejack’s eyes widened and she was forced to duck under his massive green body as the Hulk was dragged along with the hammer. The Hulk sailed over her head before crashing to the floor, his hand pinned beneath the hammer’s handle.

The Hulk snorted furiously. Quickly he rolled to his feet and grabbed hold of the handle with both hands. He roared in frustration and rage as the hammer lay steadfast on the ground. Hulk pulled and pulled with all his might. His feet began to sink into the floor, tiles buckling and cracking beneath his weight and strength.

Applejack boggled as she slowly stood on trembling legs, supporting herself against a crumpled table. Was Thor really that much stronger than the Hulk? Not moments ago the Hulk had been tossing around refrigerators with seemingly no effort. Now he was struggling to lift a hammer that Thor wielded as if it were nothing? How heavy was the hammer? How powerful was Thor?!

Questions for later. Action now.

Applejack took the opening presented to her. With the shrillest battlecry she could muster, she charged the Hulk, completely ignoring her throbbing, useless right arm. The Hulk turned her way just in time to see her charge him with a headbutt directly to the bridge of his nose.

Applejack’s forehead plowed into the soft tissue of the Hulk’s nose (soft being a very relative term with the Hulk involved). Her skull rang, but it worked. The Hulk stumbled backward, clutching his nose and howling.

A drop of dark, forest green splattered against the floor.

All three combatants paused, eyes locked on the droplet of blood. The Hulk’s eyes burned as he glared daggers into AJ.


The Hulk moved so fast he practically teleported. Before AJ could react, the Hulk had already swept her up in one palm, lifting her up and slamming her into the ground. Once. Twice. Three times she was slammed into the floor, tiles cratering around her. She was only saved when Thor tackled Hulk off of her and made to wrestle him to the ground.

He only managed to drag the monster off balance enough to get him to one knee, though. Changing tactics, Thor wrapped his right arm around the Hulk’s impossibly thick neck, desperately trying to choke the monster out. “We are not your enemies Banner!” He snarled, struggling with all his strength to try and hold the beast down.

Hulk howled in rage. He grabbed Thor by the arm and swung him over his head. The god of thunder was chucked flailing across the room. He crashed straight into Applejack, sending both of them sprawling in a heap across the room. They crashed to a stop against smooth metal, ruining another table as it crumpled beneath them.

Hulk stomped, grunting and snorting as he beat his chest twice with his meaty fist. The monster leaned forward and roared, lowering himself for another charge and--


A noise reverberated through the room. A silver canister clattered to the ground between the fallen AJ and Thor and the charging Hulk. The Hulk hesitated, rearing back at the sight of the thing and a moment later world suddenly exploded in noise and horrible, blinding light.

Applejack shrieked in surprise as the world suddenly flashed away in a haze of bright, eye-scorching white. Her ears rang, whining with a terrible, high pitched squeal. Faintly, through the pounding in her skull and the ringing in her ears, somebody shouted.

“GO! GO! GO!”

AJ blinked frantically, rubbing desperately at her eyes with her good hand. Her vision slowly started coming back to her. At first it was faint, and she saw double, but she could make out a second canister on the floor, some kind of stinging gas pouring from it and filling the room with an irritating, white smoke.

She saw the Hulk, thrashing about wildly as the emerald giant tried desperately to get his bearings. He clawed at his eyes and swung about with flailing arms. He struck out at the air around him in a vain attempt to force away his newest attackers.

Through the smoke, AJ spied a dozen heavily armored men, mere shadows through the haze and blur of her vision. They lined up in formation, three in front and the rest falling back. Those in front knelt down, putting the Hulk between them and the broken window, and each hefted up a large, silver, oblong device; so long that the agents were forced to rest them on their shoulders. AJ couldn’t begin to tell what they were, but she sensed she knew what was about to happen.

“N-no!” AJ tried to shout, only to choke and sputter through the stifling haze.

“Wave one!” came a rough, gravelly voice from somewhere deeper in the cloud of smoke. “FIRE!”

The air itself distorted.

Heavy vibrations caused the air to warp and twist. The cloud of smoke was suddenly blown apart as a terrible rumbling, warbling noise cut through the air. Applejack felt her teeth rattle in her skull and she clasped her hands over her ears as best she could. Still, it felt like her entire skeleton was vibrating apart.

Whatever it was doing to her, though, the Hulk was getting far worse.

The furious giant was standing directly in their line of fire, and the crashing wave of sonar tore into him, sending his flesh rippling. The Hulk tried to retreat, taking several steps backwards towards the broken window. Suddenly though, the Hulk sank to one knee, his muscles spasming and seizing.

As Applejack’s vision cleared, she watched as dark, forest green veins began to poke out from the Hulk’s forehead and neck. Sweat beaded upon his brow. The Hulk’s face was caught in a terrible snarl, as he glared hatefully at the attacking soldiers.

...but for some reason, the Hulk did not move.

“That won’t keep him down for long!” the commanding voice once more shouted. “Wave one fall back! Wave two, ready up!”

The three men who’d fired their weapons at the Hulk fell back into line, discarding their massive weapons. Three more took their place, each carrying another sonic cannon device.

True to the commander’s words, the Hulk was already getting up. He shook his head and roared, ready to charge.


The second wave of men fired their own sonar devices, another wave of distortion cutting through the room. Once again, the Hulk found himself forced back. The Hulk held up his arms in front of him, desperately trying to block the pulverizing burst of sound, but all to no avail. He stepped backwards towards the window, one heel peeking over the edge when he froze up again, dropping to one knee, his veins pushing out against his throat and face once more.

Again, AJ felt her teeth and bones rattle. She heard a noise from beside her and turned to look, only to find it was difficult to turn her head. With a surprising amount of effort, she turned and looked to see Thor, too, was down on one knee, groaning and supporting himself with his hammer.

Whatever this weapon the agents were using was, it was enough to even affect Thor.

The Hulk now stood at the edge of a massive drop, the wind from outside the window buffeting at his short, dark green hair. His looked agonized. Whatever these sonic weapons were, they not only somehow froze him in place, but they were terribly, oppressively painful.

As the second assault from the agents ended, the front line of soldiers all threw their bulky weapons to the ground, standing and falling back as a third line of soldiers with bulky silver weapons resting on their shoulders took their place. The Hulk began to recover again, climbing to his feet and shaking his head, disoriented.

“Third wave!” the commander called out.

“S-stop!” Applejack tried to cough out. “You’ll--”


The final line of soldiers fired.

The Hulk raised his hands in a futile attempt to cover his ears.

The wave hit.

He took a step back.

“No!” AJ and Thor both shouted.

And the Hulk fell, roaring as he tumbled out the window and hurtled toward the unforgiving ground below. His terrible howl of anguish and fury faded away, growing softer and softer as he disappeared beneath the clouds, until all that could be heard was the rushing of the wind outside.