One day, Applejack and Big McIntosh are alone in an orchard when Big Mac laments the problems of his love life. Then the conversation takes an odd turn, with big consequences for AJ and Big Mac's relationship.
Once upon a time on a sizzling August afternoon, Applejack and Big McIntosh were out in the orchards harvesting the first apples of the year. The ponies lathered and their hind legs were sore, but they bucked away, filling one basket after another with sweet red-gold apples.
Applejack noticed that the thuds of Big Mac's hooves on wood were louder, more strident, than usual. Pausing from her work for a moment, Applejack looked at him and saw his expression was unusually grim; angry, even.
"What's wrong, Big Mac?" she asked.
"Blossomforth." he grunted.
"Your new gal?" AJ said with a chuckle. "What's the matter now? She just came back from two weeks in the city, didn't she?"
"So, what's the matter; ain't you happy to have her again?"
Big Mac gave Applejack a meaningful stare, then shot a glance aside, over the horizon.
Applejack gasped. "Don't tell me she found somepony else?"
"Eeyup." said Big Mac through gritted teeth. "She tried to hide it, too. But she out-and-out cheated on me! I can't believe it! It's just one mare after another. If they ain't windigos that give me the silent treatment 'cause I look at 'em funny, or harpies that nag me to an early grave, they just up and break my heart the moment I've got my back to 'em!" He struck a log, sending it flying over the hill and out of sight. "What's wrong with me, AJ? Don't I deserve better than all that?"
"Well… a'course, Big Mac! I don't understand it myself. You're everything a mare could want. You're strong, handsome, patient, kind, hard-working; a perfect gentlepony. Frankly, none of the ponies you've seen so far have deserved you."
Big Mac's eyes were moist by now, but he slightly smiled. "Bless you, AJ. I love you."
Applejack smiled. "I love you too, big brother." She raised his bowed head with a forehoof. "I'm sure someday you'll find the mare for you."
Big McIntosh looked deep into his sister's eyes. "Well, I…" Suddenly, he looked away and shuddered.
"What's the matter?"
"Tell me, Big Mac."
"What in tarnation? Why not?"
He looked up at the trees, silently.
"Big Mac, you know I can hear you without you sayin' a word, but now you're just not tellin' me anythin'. What are you hidin'?"
"Mac, please! You can tell me anything you want."
Big McIntosh stared at Applejack intently.
He took a deep breath, and said "AJ… I love you."
Applejack laughed in relief. "Is that it? Well, I think I—"
"Nope." He took a step towards her and breathed deeply through his nostrils. The way he was looking at her was unfamiliar, and very strange. Almost as if…
"Big McIntosh? Are you sayin'—"
"Eeyup. AJ, I want you. I need you. You're the mare for me. Ain't nopony can hold a candle. You've been faithful and loving every day I've known you, since the day you were born. We've stood together through every trouble, from Ma and Pa dyin' till every last a' my dumb little lovers' quarrels. You're reliable as a mountain, and beautiful as the day. I won't settle for nothin' less."
Applejack's mouth hung open. She found herself, unexpectedly, not so much shocked as transfixed. She had seen his muscles ripple with strength, his mane wave majestically in the wind, his perfect teeth seem to dazzle her with reflected sunlight, and his mighty heart beat with passion. Her knees grew weak. She felt a great suppressed hunger awaken from deep within her, begging for release.
Quietly, slowly, his lips parting slightly, Big McIntosh leaned towards Applejack. She felt a slight pressure as his forehead came up against her hat…
And at that moment, like a strike of lightning, AJ woke up. No, this was no dream, but she had been in some sense asleep. She recoiled, took off her hat, and looked at it, as her brother stared at her, perplexed by the sudden shift.
"Big Mac," she said, "you're right. We have stuck by each other, always. Remember when I first started wearing these silly cowpony hats? It was after Pa died and we were left alone, just you, me, Granny, and little Apple Bloom. Pa always wore a hat, and since then, so've I." She put the hat back on. "Without our folks, we had to grow up fast, to take care of the farm, Blooms, Granny, and ourselves. All we've got to rely on when the chips are down are each other. But we'll always be here for each other, 'cause we're brother and sister.
"You may've noticed, recently," she went on with a grin, "that relationships are tricky. For every hundred relationships that set sail, only a few make it back to harbor. Romance is a risk worth taking, many ponies think—this one might not work out, or this one, or this one, but there are always more ponies to try. Makes sense to me. It's rainin' mares. But Mac, if we decided to be marefriend and coltfriend, and it didn't quite work out—as I think is, at least, a bit likely—we couldn't just move on! I don't have hundreds of big brothers I could replace you with. The bond we have as sibs is so important, more important to us, I think, than any wife will be to you or husband to me. To put that bond at risk of bein' broken forever, over the crazy idea of marryin' each other, when there are so many other ponies we could marry? Well, excuse me, Big McIntosh, but I love you far too much to ever do that. I want to be your sister forever."
Big Mac stared at the ground, speechless.
"So, how about you? Are you gonna be my brother?"
He looked up. Choking up, he said "Eeyup."
They embraced tightly, and wept with relief—still brother and sister, still standing by each other, through thick and thin.
"All right, you big crybaby." said Applejack after a while, drying her eyes. "Those apples ain't gonna buck themselves."
"Eeyup." said Big Mac, stretching a hind leg as he eyed the trees.
"We still need to find you a good mare, though. Y'know, I should set you up with a pegasus friend 'a mine. She's a champ flier, and I know you like athletic gals…"
As well as a deconstruction of certain romance and sex tropes (especially in fan fiction), this story is representative of my current thinking on incest. I've said before that sexual practices, however deviant, should only be condemned to the degree that we know they're harmful. (Actually, that goes for most any behavior, not just sexual behavior.) I can't say there's a strong research literature on consensual incest demonstrating its harm, so you won't see me defacing the homes of incestuous couples anytime soon. But, because sexual relationships tend to be volatile and one generally wants stability in familial relationships if in any sort of relationship, incest seems unwise to me.
Also, the word "intimacy" is a poor euphemism for sex. Intimacy may be related to sex, but there is such a thing as sex without intimacy, and, more importantly, intimacy without sex.
By happy coincidence, "The Perfect Pair", which aired two-and-a-half years after I wrote this story, canonized the idea that AJ's father wore a stetson like AJ's.