"Now come on big brother, I said you should look nice," said Applejack.
"I tried that already," Big Macintosh said. He was obviously unhappy.
"Well you looked too nice. We can't go looking like we just walked out one of them wedding catalogues. But now you just look like you came from working on the farm. Now go back and fix yourself up some more."
"A.J...." said Big Mac, rolling his eyes.
Applejack sighed. "Am I gonna have to fix you up myself? Look at me, I look nice don't I?"
Big Mac looked her up and down.
"But I don't look too fancy?"
"Then off you go. You're a big boy, you can clean yourself up." She smiled.
Big Mac smiled himself before going back to his room.
It would be his fourth try. First he didn't do anything, he just walked straight from the farm and said he was ready. But Applejack wasn't going to allow him to do that, and she sent him off to get cleaned up. He came back looking like he was ready to go to one of them fancy parties Rarity always talked about. Applejack didn't even know he had duds as spiffy as that. When he came back again he didn't look much different than he normally did. He just wasn't filthy. To be honest, that was better, but Applejack wanted this to be special. His average look just wasn't going to cut it.
Finally his door opened and he walked back out. Applejack looked him over.
The first thing Applejack noticed was he wasn't wearing anything silly. He also didn't have his usual piece of straw in his mouth. His tail was brushed, and there weren't any stupid things like mousse in his mane.
"It'll do," said Applejack, pleased. They walked down together and had just opened the door to leave when Apple Bloom bounced out of the kitchen.
"Where're y'all going?" she asked, looking at Applejack and Big Mac in turn."Can I come?" She tilted her head in confusion. "Why're y'all looking so fancy?"
Applejack's eyes widened for a moment. Awkwardly she glanced at Big Mac, and then to Apple Bloom.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Well you hardly ever braid your tail or mane. And Big Mac looks pretty cleaned up too. You two going to some party?" She suddenly looked excited. "Can I come?" she asked again. Her eyes grew big. She was obviously trying to butter Applejack up. But it wasn't going to help this time.
"Sorry Apple Bloom, we're not going to a party, and you can't come."
"Aww, but why not?"
Applejack chuckled. "Don't you worry about it none sugarcube. Trust me, you wouldn't find it interesting anyway." Applejack heard Big Mac snort at that. "Now go on back to the kitchen and help Granny Smith with supper."
"Does Granny know you'll be gone?"
"Of course she does," said Big Mac. "Told her a few days ago we wouldn't be around for supper today."
Applejack leaned down and nuzzled Apple Bloom for a moment. "We'll get back past your bedtime Apple Bloom, just so you know."
Applejack motioned for them to go.
Apple Bloom just kicked at the ground and grumbled, "I never get to do anything." Applejack smiled. Apple Boom would have an easier time than Applejack did, when it came to this sort of thing.
The walk into town was silent. As they got closer, Applejack felt more and more nervous. But she'd wanted to do this, and she wanted it badly. There was no way she was going to get cold hooves now.
Finally they'd arrived.
Sturdy Oak's restaurant was just on the edge of Ponyville, and was pretty popular with all the ponies in Ponyville. Applejack looked around and saw groups of all kinds. Other couples out on dates, groups of friends, a few ponies who looked to be just having a fun outing with family...it was why Applejack had chosen this place. They wouldn't look odd at all, just a brother and a sister spending some time together than wasn't home and work for once.
"Just the two of you?"
Applejack's focus snapped back to what was in front of her and she saw an Earth Pony, obviously a waitress, looking at them expectantly.
Applejack smiled nervously. "Yep, just the two of us."
The waitress nodded and led them to an empty table at the edge of the room.
They sat down across from each other before the waitress said, "My name's Soup Spoon, and I'll be your server today." She smiled at them. "So what will you two lovebirds have to drink?"
Applejack had to physically restrain herself from gasping. She suddenly felt like she couldn't breathe. She tried to deny it but words didn't seem to be forming proper and she ended up just mumbling noises.
Big Mac chuckled, looking nervous. "We're brother and sister," he said to Soup Spoon. "And we'll both just have water."
Applejack tried to nod, but her neck wasn't working either.
"Oh, my mistake," said the waitress. "Two waters? Easy. Okay, menus are to your right, and I'll be back with the waters and to take your orders in a minute."
It wasn't until she had trotted off before Applejack could move again.
"You sure are nervous A.J." said Big Mac. "You do remember this was your idea right?"
Applejack rubbed her temples with her hooves for a moment, trying to clear her head.
"Don't act like you didn't want to do this too," she said, putting her hooves back down. "We both wanted to get out for once and do something like a normal couple."
"Yep," said Big Mac. "But I'm not the one who insisted on looking out of the ordinary."
Applejack scoffed. "There's nothing wrong with trying to make this a little special. Even if we were just coming out here as family, dressing up a bit is nothing weird." She glanced around at the other ponies for a moment. "Is it?" She looked worryingly at Big Mac.
"Well uh....I don't know."
"Here's your waters!" said Soup Spoon brightly. Applejack didn't know how she kept popping up without being seen. "Now, what can I get you?" She pulled small notebook out and set it on the table, before taking a pencil in her mouth to write.
They hadn't even opened a menu.
"Can we have a bit more time?" asked Applejack. As quick as a flash, the pony had put the pencil and notebook away.
"Sure can!" she said. "Take all the time you need. I'll be back in a bit, or wave me down if you're ready sooner." With that, she walked off again to assist some other table.
Quietly, Applejack and Big Mac took a menu from their place at the side of the table, and opened them. Honestly Applejack had no idea what sort of food was here. She just knew this wasn't a particularly fancy place, and there wasn't anything strange about simple family coming here.
A few moments passed in silence.
"These hay fries with cheese sound good," said Big Mac. "As an appetizer."
Applejack looked at the item, and then looked up at her brother.
"Wouldn't that look a bit strange, us sharing them when we're not supposed to be on a date?"
Big Mac shrugged. "Probably not."
"Well, let's not chance it. No appetizers."
Big Mac sighed, but nodded.
Returning to her menu, Applejack tried to decide what to get. Would it matter how expensive it was? Did ponies spend more on dates? Would that give them away? What if they ordered the same thing? Was she just being paranoid?
Applejack closed her eyes tightly for a moment. She was being silly.
Finally Applejack settled on a simple salad, and put her menu down.
That darn Soup Spoon was staring right at her when she looked up.
"All done?" she asked.
"Uh, yeah," said Applejack. She said her order and watched the pony take it down.
Soup Spoon put her pencil down and looked at Big Mac.
"And for you, handsome?" Applejack scowled as she watched the waitress flutter her eyelashes at Big Mac.
His face was impassive as he said, "I'll just have the roasted carrots, and a side of sliced apples."
She took that down and then gently brushed his hoof with hers as she said, "I'll have that right out for you." She didn't even look at Applejack.
As soon as she was out of earshot Applejack said, "darn hussy."
Big Mac chuckled.
"Don't you worry about it, A.J. you know I'd never fall for another filly."
Applejack felt herself blush.
"It's nice to hear you say that Big Mac," she said. "I wish I could hear things like it more often."
There was concern on Big Mac's face.
"It's not that I don't think things like that A.J. it's just-"
Applejack cut him off. "I know, I know. When we're together we're always busy, or other ponies are around, or something happens so we can't be off by ourselves for long. I was just saying is all, I don't blame you or anything. Not a lot of opportunities for sweet nothings when you're dating your...."
Applejack didn't finish that sentence because, finally, she saw the waitress coming.
Applejack tried to appear normal as Soup Spoon but their food in front of them.
"Now if there's anything else you need," she began, looking right at Big Macintosh, "don't hesitate to tell me."
She trotted off, looking mighty pleased with herself, and Applejack had to bite down hard to prevent herself from saying something.
"Don't let it get to you A.J." said Big Mac.
Applejack said nothing as she started on her meal. It was hard sometimes, being together with her brother. Actually, it was hard a lot of the time.
Applejack stopped eating. She could tell her eyes were watering up. She looked up at Big Mac, who saw her and stopped eating his own meal once his eyes met hers. He had such nice green eyes. They were just barely darker than her own. She suddenly wondered what he thought of hers.
"Don't worry A.J, everything's all right." There was concern in his voice. Applejack blinked to try and dry her eyes a bit.
"I know," she began. "It's just I worked so hard to set this night up for us, you know? And here we are, finally, and all I can think about is our problems. I just want to go out on a date like a normal couple. Like normal ponies. I want to be normal." She emphasised each word of that last sentence.
Big Macintosh smiled suddenly. Then snorted. Then laughed. And he kept laughing.
Applejack was feeling worse and worse as he kept going. Her ears dropped, and she could feel her eyes getting all watery again.
Finally, seeing how she was reacting he stopped. He gave her a sad smile.
"Sorry sis," he said. "I couldn't help it. Part of it was the way you said it but also...." He grinned for a moment. "It ain't normal for ponies to date their siblings."
"Thanks, that makes me feel loads better." She tried to be angry at him but she couldn't bring herself to. Maybe if he'd said that a couple of months back when they first started dating it'd have bothered her. Back then, she had all sorts of concerns about their relationship, especially since she was the one to make the first move. She wondered if there was something wrong with her, if maybe she was just latching on to her brother as a strange way to get a new father-figure, or if it was just that she hadn't had much success with attracting colts and was just desperate to find somepony in her life. She'd settled those issues a while ago. She just loved him. It no longer mattered to her to know why.
She looked back down at her plate. This date wasn't going well, and suddenly she didn't feel very hungry.
"I was thinking A.J." said Big Mac. Applejack's head snapped back up at her brother's words. "Maybe we could find a way to get a whole day off together. Maybe two. We could go someplace else, visit a different town, have a date there. Someplace where nopony knows who we are."
"We could kiss in public," said Applejack. She smiled at the thought. "I could nuzzle you without worrying about how long I was doing it. We could be...."
"Normal," finished Big Mac.
Applejack's spirits lifted just at the idea of it. It'd be tough going, but if they worked real hard they might be able to afford to take a whole day or two off.
"We'll have to find a way to make it happen Big Mac," she said finally, before going back to her food.
The rest of the meal went by well enough. Mostly Applejack just talked about her friends and all the interesting things that were going on with them. Big Mac listened attentively to her prattle on. Somewhere in the midst of it all, she realised how happy she was to be here. Even if it wasn't perfect and she still had to be careful.
Finally, they were done. Soup Spoon came back to drop off the cheque, but of course couldn't keep herself from making eyes at Big Mac again. Then she did something that Applejack couldn't allow.
As she took their money and cleared away their used plates, she leaned on the table towards Big Mac.
"Say, how'd you like to go out sometime? You look like a pretty fun colt. Handsome too." She smiled and fluttered those darn eyelashes of hers again. Applejack could see Big Mac swallow hard.
Applejack stood up so hard she knocked the stool she was sitting on back. The noise it made shocked Soup Spoon into looking in her direction.
"Now you listen here missy!" she said without thinking. "My brother's not interested! He's taken, and no airheaded filly like you is gonna take him away from m-"
Finally she realised what she was saying and stopped.
Big Mac's eyes were wide as saucers as he stared at her. Applejack looked around. Everypony was staring.
Oh no, Applejack thought. Did they know what she was about to say?
Soup Spoon just rolled her eyes.
"Pfft, fine, no need to make a scene. I don't see why he couldn't have told me himself though."
Soup Spoon turned back to Big Mac, who was sitting as still as a statue. "That's one over-protective sister you got there," she said. "Anyway, if you ever break up with whoever you're seeing, I'll be here."
Applejack watched as she finally went away. Silently her and Big Mac left the restaurant, mindful of the glances they were getting.
They were well on their way back to the farm before anypony spoke again.
"We ain't never gonna go back there again," said Applejack.
"Yep," said Big Mac.
Granny Smith and Apple Bloom were asleep by the time they got back. They paused at Big Mac's door. She looked around real quick to make extra sure nopony was awake.
She kissed him. She wanted desperately to follow him into his room, to just be able to kiss and cuddle together for a night. But that wasn't possible.
It took some inner struggling, but finally she broke away. Big Mac smiled down at her before she went on to her own door across the hall. She paused and looked at Big Mac once more.
"Good night," she said, voice low. "I love you."
Big Mac opened his door. "I love you too."
Entering her room she didn't bother to turn a light on before sitting on her bed. She took a moment to undo her braids.
She smiled to herself. It hadn't been a bad date at all. Even with the annoying waitress, it'd been fun. And if they could visit another town one day, it'd be even better.
The next day was just a normal day. Apple Bloom wanted to know where they'd been, but Applejack assured her it wasn't important. Granny Smith seemed to have forgotten they'd been anywhere at all.
Halfway through the workday, Rainbow Dash stopped by. Applejack was always pleased to have a friend over for company. Rainbow Dash especially was normally too busy to see her, but they always had fun when she did show up for a visit.
"Hey Applejack, how's it going?" she said. Applejack picked up an apple off the ground and dropped it into her basket.
"Just working, you know, the usual."
Rainbow Dash grinned as if thinking about a joke.
"I heard you caused a scene last night at Sturdy Oak's! Man I wish I'd have been there to see it!" She gave a good laugh before continuing. "Say, I didn't know your brother was seeing anyone. Who is it?"
Applejack stopped what she was doing. She could feel herself begin to panic. But suddenly, it was gone, and she was calm again.
"It's not important," she said, trying not to lie. "Just some Earth Pony. Quite a catch if I do say so myself." She almost laughed at herself. "But he doesn't really want anypony to know about it, so I'm afraid I can't tell you."
"Aww, come on A.J. what's a little secret between friends?" She nudged Applejack on the shoulder.
"Sorry Rainbow, no can do."
"Aww man," she said, kicking to ground. "Hey, when you're done for the day, want to go over to Twilight's place? I hear she's got something cool to show us later!"
Applejack dropped a few more apples into her basket.
"Sounds fun Rainbow. I'll head on over as soon as I'm done here."
"Great! I'll see you then!" Rainbow Dash wasted no time in flying off. Applejack thought about it.
Maybe, maybe one day, she could tell her friends. Maybe one day, she could feel that they'd understand and be okay with it. Then she share her relationship with some ponies, like normal. But that day was definitely not today.