Title: The Delicious Brothers
Chapter: 1
Pairing: Red Delicious/Golden Delicious
Rating: PG

Warnings: Slash, grimdark
Summary: This fanfic was inspired by some discussion on /co/, concerning the nature of cutie marks, the Delicious brothers, and how one finds a mate in Ponyville. The only "married" ponies we've seen so far were Mr. and Mrs. Cake; this led to the assumption that either A) your symbol can change when you find someone to love, or B) ponies seek out their partners by symbol.
_

He knew he was in serious trouble the moment the guardmares came to find him on the docks.

Celestia never sent her guardmares out for anything less than ... well, he'd never heard of a time that they had been sent, actually. They were known as her highest-ranking guardians, the highest tier of the entirety of Princess Celestia's defensive force. They were her own personal guards, for the rare times that she had need of them, and they were rumored to never leave Canterlot. Any minor infractions that he had witnessed while onboard the PCS Yellow Flower had been dealt with by Her Majesty's pegasus battalion, even for the most severe instances of anti-friendship action.

Then again, Golden Honey hadn't just been sneaking himself a few extra tulips from the food stores this time.

It was the silence that unnerved him the most; the pegasus guys hadn't been too awful. Even though they were all silent, they always seemed to share a sort of camaraderie, even if Golden Honey had only imagined it. They were all servicemen, aiding Princess Celestia in keeping Equestria safe and happy; they all suffered equally under the laws that denied stallions the right to vote in the town elections, or to hold any significant ranking in the governing body. But the guardmares... he wasn't sure what it was, but they just gave him the heebie-jeebies. Maybe it was just the fact that they were female, he tried to calm himself, and unicorns weren't allowed in the naval ranks, so it wasn't like he was used to seeing those either. Unicorns and pegasi had far too many useful talents to be wasted out on the open sea, his sergeant had brusquely informed him; only earth ponies were considered strong enough to be able to swim to shore if their ship should sink. Or, Golden Honey had thought rebelliously, easily enough replaced if they should die.

He moved as quietly as he could between the two lead guardmares, hoping that they couldn't hear his heart as it pounded in his ears. It was so loud, it wouldn't have mattered even if the guardmares were talking - which they weren't. The most he ever got out of them was a cold, sharp glance, and the faintest hint of condescension that he couldn't quite give words to. But what the hell would he know: he was just a simple sailor. A simple, stupid sailor who had gotten tangled up in something he shouldn't have.

Golden Honey did his best to keep his head up as they entered Princess Celestia's throne room. If he looked guilty, he had no chance; then again, who had any sort of chance in here, especially a no-name stallion from the outskirts of Equestria? Getting into Her Majesty's navy had been a bit of a feat in itself, without any real training or references. He'd proved himself through brute strength alone, and he highly doubted he would be able to use that as a fallback in here. The room was supposed to be broad and airy, welcoming yet majestic, but all Golden could think of was how close the guards stood to him, and how very distant and cold Her Majesty looked up on her throne. She was supposed to be the leader of his people, their guardian and protector, and yet Golden didn't feel particularly protected right now. Then again, he was on the opposite side of that system now, wasn't he?

Once Golden Honey had been walked to the very end of the long room, standing directly below Princess Celestia's throne, she spoke. Her voice rolled like thunder, and despite how gentle she tried to make it, there was still a certain sort of terrible beauty in it that made all of Golden Honey's fur stand on end.

"My child. You have committed a grave crime." She said in that thunder-rolling voice, and Golden Honey was so transfixed by it he almost didn't notice the guardmares pulling away from him. What were they needed for? Princess Celestia could kill him without even breaking a sweat. "You have risked our treaty with the draconic kingdoms to the south."

Her words seemed to tug Golden Honey out of his panicked stupor, and he spoke thickly, as if the words were being pulled out of deep water. "Your Majesty, that was not my intention. I was only doing what I thought was right."

"What you think is right is not my concern. You had your orders. The draconic kingdoms do not meddle in our business, and we do not meddle in theirs. They allow us to use their channels, and in return we-"

"It was still warm!"

There was a sudden, deafening silence as the lowly earth stallion interrupted the princess, and even Celestia seemed to eye him a little more coldly. His heart, which had been pounding so loudly in his ears until now, suddenly seemed to stop, or perhaps drop down into his belly. He wasn't sure which, but it probably explained the panicky wave of sickness that he felt ripple through him.

"It was still warm. The egg." He tried to explain feebly, feeling more coltish than he had even back when he had actually been a colt. He struggled to hold his stance, refusing to deflate or genuflect even as the princess' eyes bored into him. "It wasn't - it wasn't dead, the water hadn't - I couldn't just -"

"Couldn't just obey the law?" Princess Celestia said softly, her voice torn between anger and a vague sort of curiosity. It was difficult to be curious, of course, when you were a pony goddess.

"I couldn't kill it! There was still a baby dragon in there!" Golden Honey insisted, his voice rising a little, some of his naked panic fading.

"What the dragons do with their failed offspring is none of our concern, Golden Honey." Princess Celestia said coldly, sitting back on her throne slightly, her hind legs folded under her.

"It - it wasn't failed, it wasn't even cold!" Golden Honey protested, his tail lashing once.

"There are many different kinds of failure."

Golden Honey couldn't keep his mouth closed, even if he wanted to; it had gotten him into trouble before with the upper ranks before, but he was pretty damn sure it had never gotten him into this much trouble. "Failure? There's nothing wrong with him! He's - he's perfectly healthy!"

"I can see that." Celestia said simply, and turned her long, elegant head ever so slightly to the side, watching as a new guardmare approached the Princess' throne. Golden Honey took a step forward, unable to keep himself in place, and was immediately rebuffed by the armored sides of the guardmares as they herded him back to his spot.

"Don't - don't hurt him." What he had intended to be a sharp, demanding whinny came out instead as a small, frightened warble, his eyes locked on the small dragon now cradled in one of the guardmare's forelegs. He'd grown a lot in the past month, the tiny bumps on his skull slowly grown until they had become the dragonic-looking spikes. But he was still just a baby dragon, more roly-poly and rounded edges than spines and spikes, and his squirming in the mare's grip was easily ignored. Golden hadn't seen him in a few days, being locked up and all, but he looked pretty healthy still, undamaged even by the stony stares of the guardmares.

"What do you think I would do to him, Golden Honey?" Princess Celestia asked, almost sadly, and the different tone in her voice made him turn to look at her again. The voice sounded sad, but her eyes ... it just didn't translate. It was like someone speaking in a foreign language they didn't quite understand. The words made sense, but there was no meaning behind them. "He has not done anything wrong. Your actions are the ones that have put him in harm's way."

Golden Delicious bit his tongue as mightily as he could, struggling not to look back at the little dragon. For so many weeks he'd tried to hide him belowdeck, carried him in the boiler room when the sleeping quarters got too cold, snuck him as many different kinds of food as he could until he found something he didn't spit back at him. He was just - just so /little/. He hadn't expected the egg to hatch; he'd done his best, but he wasn't a dragon, didn't know how to keep an egg properly warmed. He'd figured it would just die anyway, but ... he'd never had anything that little depending on him. The egg in the ocean, bobbing so merrily along, had tugged at him. Tugged him hard enough to send him over the side of the ship to retrieve it, hiding it in his bunk until that little purple guy had come nibbling his way out. Shit, he wasn't made of stone, he couldn't resist those big yellow-green eyes staring up at him, couldn't just dump him overboard when it became clear that there was now a highly illegal dragon onboard. On the Princess' navy ship, no less. It helped that the kid was quiet; dragons were supposed to be chatty, but this one was as mum as a little ... thing that was mum. He was better at thinking up analogies when he wasn't facing a lifetime dungeon sentence.

Princess Celestia let the silence stretch out, watching the little green-spined dragon as it wiggled in the guardmare's grip. She was quiet for what felt like a long time to Golden Honey before she spoke again, facing him calmly. "My child, you have committed a grave crime. But you are still my child, and so we shall find a place for you in this world, as we will the little dragon. Guard Tesla, find the -"

"Wait, you're taking him away?" Golden Honey asked suddenly, his eyes flicking to the little purple-and-green creature, now blinking back at him balefully with those big yellow-green eyes. "Look, I'm - I'm sorry. I'll serve my time, I'll do whatever punishment you have for me, but - but don't take him back there. He - he can stay with me, I'll take care of him."

"You?" Princess Celestia said, an air vague surprise entering her voice, as if she only half-felt the emotion. "You, a lowly earth sailor? A stallion in the navy, to raise such a small, complex creature? I think not. Who knows what damage you have already done to him. Dragons get rid of the younglings whose powers are too weak to serve their race, but we might find a use for him yet."

"A use for him? Like you find a use for your children?" Golden Honey snapped suddenly, his ears pinning back in a sudden flush of anger. He was still terrified of being turned into a teacup or something equally horrible, but something in him had ignited when he saw them taking the little dragon away. It was his dragon, dammit, and who knew what they'd do to the little guy. Make him some kind of - maid, or something? "Like you find a use for your stallions? One of the most powerful labor forces in all of Equestria, the strongest guards in all of the kingdoms, and you won't even allow them to vote?"

Princess Celestia's eyes returned to Golden Honey, and for a brief moment, he thought he saw a flash of real emotion there; unfortunately, it was anger. "Stallions have softer minds than mares. It is for your own protection that I do not give your kind too many distractions. If you had the capacity to understand what happened during the Unspeakable War, then you would not question my judgment. I keep my ponies safe and happy."

"Happiness cannot be had when half of your population is kept in servitude! We are not allowed to vote, not allowed to hold high ranks - how are we to live our lives happily if we cannot be equal to our sisters?" Golden Honey insisted, one hoof striking the tiled floor sharply, his anger burning in his gaze as surely as it burned in hers. "How can we be happy knowing we are second-class citizens?"

"You are a foolish stallion. The Unspeakable -"

"Mares fought in the Unspeakable War as well, Your Majesty, or have you forgotten that?" He snapped, and immediately, he knew he had gone too far. The princess' eyes burned into his, and Golden Honey struggled not to flinch as she seared him with her eyes. The Unspeakable War had been so long ago, but there had been rumors - rumors that the two princesses had not always agreed on their actions during that war, and that those disagreements had perhaps even bled into their reigns, causing the banishment of Princess Luna so many centuries ago. There was a reason it was Unspeakable, you massive idiot, Golden Honey thought to himself.

Princess Celestia stared him down until Golden Honey looked away, his ears still flat. "Guard Tesla. Take the foundling to Madame Trifle; she will know what to do with him for now."

Golden Honey could only watch as they carried the little dragon away. He'd never even had a chance to give him a name; he'd figured 'Little Guy' would work until he started talking. Goddess, what a fool he was, thinking he could sneak a baby dragon off of a ship in the royal navy. Thinking he could change the mind of the Princess by yelling at her.

"And as for you, Golden Honey." Princess Celestia said, waiting until the brown pony's head had swiveled back to her before continuing. "You will be remolded into the pony that you should have been taught to be in the first place. You are being given a second chance; you will be very grateful for it, once your mind is in the right place to receive it."

Golden Honey didn't protest, but even if he could, he wasn't sure what he would protest against. Remolded? What the hoof did that mean? Sure, he hadn't had the easiest upbringing, but - but he couldn't go back in time and do it over again, could he?

The Princess must have given some kind of signal; before Golden Honey could really realize it was happening, he was surrounded by three of the guardmares, all staring back at him coldly, their horns a nice sharp reminder to remain still.

"Your new name will be Golden Delicious." The Princess said evenly, and to Golden Honey's shock, she was descending from her throne, moving as light as a shadow.

"Golden - wait, my name - my name is Golden Honey." He stammered, more than a little afraid of the way she was walking towards him. He couldn't quite put a hoof on why, but it filled his heart with dread. But when he tried to back up, his flank contacted cold metal, driving him back into the center of the guardmares.

"Was." Said Celestia, her eyes lingering on him. "You have been selected for a very prestigious mission. You will be renewed in this life, given a second chance to correct the grave mistakes of the first."

"Grave mist-? look, I don't-"

"You will be given as the mate of a mateless pony, as it is decreed in our laws. 'Each pony shall seek its mate by its cutie mark, and in that way, shall know that they are destined to be together and to be fruitful.'"

"Mate - wait, you don't- Get the hell away from me!" His soft, uncertain demands had risen to a sharp, panicked shriek as the princess drew closer to him, power radiating off of her so fiercely it almost hurt.

But the princess would not be denied, and even as Golden Honey bucked against her guards, trying to free himself, she lowered her horn to his flank. A sudden, searing pain rolled through Golden Honey, driving him to his knees. He was not some silly frilly fru fru stallion, more loaded with books than with muscle, but the pain was like nothing he had ever felt before. It was if she was excising the very flesh from him with her horn, then burning whatever was underneath that. He couldn't halt the scream that tore itself from his lips, even when the princess withdrew her horn. It still burned, even when she pulled back, and he could feel his consciousness leaving him.

"Prepare the chariot. They ride for Ponyville at first light." He could hear the princess saying, brisk and warm, as if she hadn't just killed him, or whatever was happening now. Goddess, was this how it ended?

"Oh, Golden, my poor little angel."

This wasn't real. That much, at least, he could tell right off. He knew, logically, he wasn't awake, because he could see himself lying in the bed. His point of view seemed to be constantly changing, but wasn't that how all dreams worked?

"Hey mom, I'm okay, really." Came his tiny voice; it took a moment to realize that Golden was a child in this dream. Then again, he was tucked so heavily into that bed, he couldn't see much of himself at all. "I only fell out of the middle of the tree."

"Did Apple Jam put you up to this? Oh, I'm going to have a word with her! Always leading you around, getting you into trouble, why I-"

"Moooommmm." Golden whined, and dream-Golden chuckled, remembering that whine pretty damn well. "Apple Jam didn't make me. I said I'm fine, so you don't hafta worry, okay?"

"But - but your tooth!" His mother sniffled, brushing some of her blue mane out of her face as she bent over to get a better look at him. Indeed, there on the top row, was a neat gap where a tooth had been.

"It's not so bad, I barely use that tooth anyway." He insisted, trying to puff his chest out, to be brave for his mother. She needed him to be the big strong man, while Daddy was away!

"But Nurse Crosshatch said you might have problems with your memory, sweetie. You can't even remember coming inside, do you?" She murmured tenderly, smoothing a hoof over his rebellious black forelock.

"Yeah, but that was boring stuff. I'm sure I'll remember things perfectly from now on!" He promised, beaming up at his mother, bathed in the glowing warmth of her smile.

Golden Honey woke up with a sharp jolt, something ill-remembered flashing through his mind. But like all dreams, it began to fade as he returned to alertness, leaving only the gentle warmth of his mother's smile in his mind.

No, something was wrong. Well, lots of things were wrong, actually, but trying to make a list of them was difficult. Firstly, he was up in the air, lying on his side in what felt like some kind of chariot. He knew about the chariots that carried unwinged ponies around on official royal duty; he'd just never ridden in one himself, much less while unconscious. A quick glance revealed the two guardmares at the front, glaring back at him when they sensed his eyes on them.

Well, the plower's collar around his neck explained the next wrong thing, why he couldn't move around too much. Probably didn't want him toppling them out of the chariot mid-flight, he thought a little darkly. It would serve them right, though, dragging him around, zapping his - his flank! He twisted his neck sharply, trying to get a look at himself, fully expecting to see some kind of hideous burn, or a deep gash, perhaps even revealing a sickening glimpse of moon-pale bone.

But ... no. Nothing. Or rather, nothing obviously gory, although it still burned faintly. But there, in place of the golden pot of honey that had decorated his hip until very recently, was a golden apple, with a little green leaf on top.

Slowly, Golden Honey - or Golden Delicious, perhaps he should say - looked away from his flank, his eyes drifting to look down at the scenery as it passed below them. This was an area he had never seen; there was so much green, and here and there little homes speckled the landscape. A curling, lazy river wound under them, as if following their path through the air.

It would seem that the princess had been sincere in her desire to give him a 'new life.' His symbol was new, this land was new... but something else, something half-remembered, jangled at him, like the sharp pain of an -

Of an open socket. Where a tooth should be, HAD been, was now a gap, slightly painful and coppery tasting.

A deep shuddering overtook Golden Honey, making his skin twitch and his tail lash. Wrong. It was all wrong. This wasn't his symbol, his land, his mouth.

And that wasn't his mother.