The nights of winter in the Mushroom Kingdom were the prettiest of any season, which moonlit skies with an endless number of stars sparkling in a sky that stretched as far as one could see. It would rarely snow, but when it did, there was nothing more beautiful to Princess Peach. A blanket of white covering the rolling hills of her land, giving her tower bedroom balcony the best view. On nights like this, she loved to blow out all the candles, sit on her oversized bed, and simply gaze out her open-curtained balcony doors and over the sprawling landscape. Or stargaze in the only partly clouded sky.

But tonight was not one of those nights of happy dreaming. She left her glass paned doors be—the thin silk curtains loose and hardly blocking the bright moonlight that showered half her room. It gave the bedroom an almost depressing color, and she wouldn't argue against it fitting her mood one bit.

The Princess herself was seated at her dresser, her night gown loosely draped about her, with her delicate hands in her lap—mulling with one another while her downcast eyes watched on without really paying any attention whatsoever. To say her mind was elsewhere was an understatement, but the ring she fiddled with, adorned with a massive diamond that would surely have anyone's eye in her court, seemed to be what her fingers toiled with the most.

Queen Toadstool. It was a title she'd be promised all her life. It was a title that, once given to her, would change her very identity. No longer would she be Princess Peach, the vacation taking carefree girl in the fancy pink dress. It was the beginning of a life devoted entirely to her people. To a life full of responsibility that she had been raised from birth to take on. It was the moment of her life that she dreaded and longed for most at the same time.

And soon it would come to be. With a simple vow that bore complex meaning, to a simple man that had done so much for her over these years, and so much for her kingdom that adored him almost as much as it adored her. Marriage would tie them both to the crown, and they would rule side by side as so many had foreseen from the first fabled time he rescued her.

She should be happy. She had said yes without a moment of hesitation when he kneeled down before her, offering her a ring that must've cost him all the coins he'd ever collected in his adventures. She had cried, and hugged him, and kissed him, and the Mushroom Kingdom celebrated like it hadn't in a long, long time. Her destiny was coming to fruition and she was prepared to answer the call.

Or.. so she thought..

It was an afterthought. It was heaven for those first few weeks. Wedding date plans, visits to tailors from all across the kingdom just dying to make her a dress beyond her wildest dreams, guest list rundowns with her best friend and fellow princess Daisy. It didn't seem to get much better than that. She had to admit, she was floating on cloud nine from the second that plumber had slid that ring on her finger.

But when she thought about him..

It was like a punch to the gut. She was fine one moment, and then nearly falling over the next—clutching the frame of her bedroom doorway in a moment of dizziness that almost toppled her to her knees. How could she of forgotten him? Him of all people. The one person she'd never think she'd be able to forget—next to Mario himself. There was almost instant dread. Instant worry about what his reaction to this would be. Instant fear that it would spell disaster to her destined day of happiness.

But that wasn't what nearly floored you, is it?, her mind would mock her.

No. It wasn't a fear of her wedding being ruined. It was a feeling she had grown accustomed of suppressing when it came to him. Something she thought she'd mastered and would continue to hold at bay for as long as she needed to. A feeling she failed to restrain and it nearly consumed her during the happiest moments of her life.

Guilt. Amazing guilt. A feeling she only had when he would wisp her off and away and when Mario would have to trek across dangerous lands and face off against her captor. Because she was too weak to stop him, when she exactly how she could do so..

But guilt for him isn't what eats at you the most, is it?, her mind continued. It isn't Mario that makes you feel this way.

Of course not… Mario was a good man. He fetched her whenever that time arose, and it arose often. It hurt her that he felt so obligated to save her, but that was what lovers did, isn't it? He loved her. He would fight the biggest monsters. The baddest villains. Just for that kiss to the cheek and her appreciation. How he had the patience to come for her time and time again was beyond her.

What tore her apart was not Mario's doing. It was her own. It was a problem she'd hesitated in fixing. One she always imagined would fix itself eventually, as silly as it seems now that the time was fast approaching that she'd have to do so.

Matters of the heart were never her forte, as she always managed to sit back and let the courting be done by the suitors (namely Mario and the occasional prince from nearby kingdoms), but one had never taken no for an answer. He was the most loud, the most pestering, the most persistent and certainly the most dedicated of them all.

A deep sigh had her hands coming up to her face—the ring left alone long enough for the sleep to be rubbed from her tired eyes. Sleep was not coming easy now, and she found herself like this many nights as of late. Wondering what might happen. Wondering if he knew. She knew he had to. He followed every word about her life that he could manage to get a hold of.

If Bowser took the news of her upcoming marriage lightly, hell would have surely frozen over. That large royal koopa had his sights set on only two things the entire time she'd known him; the kingdom she ruled and the princess herself. It was hardly unknown to anyone within her castle that Bowser was taken with Peach beyond just the prospect of power gained from kidnapping her for ransom. He loved her more than she would like to admit to herself, and despite her softly spoken wishes for him to move on and stop fawning over her, he would refuse time and time again to listen.

What started off as attempts to seize her crown became attempts to seize her heart, and King Bowser became more and more determined over the years. Almost making it some sort of casual game between himself, Mario and Peach. So much so that Peach almost stopped fighting him when he'd burst through the castle doors, putting on the fiercest and most ferocious demeanor possible to her terrified guard, then throwing her over his shoulders and into his nearest clown-copter.

At first she'd been terrified. Particularly when the great King was less than obvious with his desire for her hand, but after a while it just became annoying. He'd burst in at almost predictable times again and again, eventually becoming much less brutish in his entrances and just becoming cocky. Despite his failures to keep her in his clutches for longer than a few days. Mario would come, Bowser would be defeated, and they'd leave him alone with his eight kids—normally with him vowing to one day take Mario down and win her over.

But.. there were times.. in-between the inconveniencing moments of his abductions and the long journeys to his elaborately-built lava-surrounded castles, where he would drop some of that fierce nature and nearly charm her with his, admittedly, overly-smug pick up lines. It became so routine that the trips were mostly spent with them… actually talking. About the affairs of either kingdom, the affairs of his kids and their involvement with his nefarious schemes, and whatever the two would eventually begin talking about.

In fact, there wasn't much that they didn't talk about. Not everything, obviously, but the only thing that was pretty much strictly off limits was the subject of Mario (and to a lesser extent, Luigi). It always got Bowser so infuriated, and was the subject of her constant defiance when she was more unaccustomed to his kidnapping.

And of course he confessed his love to her. Oh lord did he. He did it every time without fail, and she would answer with the same gentle let down she always gave him. Actually going out of her way to not hurt him. Why? She couldn't say. He was kidnapping her after all. Why didn't she just tell him flat out? Why didn't she crush his feelings when he first began to open up to her? When her refusal would've stunned him most?

She suddenly removed her hands from her cheeks, blinking her eyes at the reflection of herself in the mirror. The lighting from the snow covered ground and the moonlit sky outside her windows made her look so very pale. She couldn't help but frown at the sight, turning her gaze back down to her hands that once again fidgeted in her lap.

It.. was because he grew on her, right? Somehow, that cocky, smug grin of his and his determined nature to treat her with as much respect as possible (at least when his subordinates and her guards weren't watching) while abducting her of all things had actually had an effect on her. Did she love him? Of course not! No way she could love Bowser. It wasn't even remotely entertainable… Yet… here she was. Losing sleep over him. Worrying if he'd be upset.

It didn't help that… it'd been months now. Months, since he last came and busted into her castle and held her for ransom once more. The most time Bowser had ever allowed her to go without one of his visits was a few weeks. The longest he'd gone without sending her letters hinting at his next fool proof plan and his boastful taunts of inevitable success at capturing and actually keeping her were just a month at most.

Yet there were no letters. No word on his activity. No hint to what he was planning. All that stopped the day her marriage was announced. In her excitement, she hardly noticed. She received so much mail from so many people congratulating her and Mario, she didn't notice his oversized black and red envelope with his trademark wax seal of his grinning face.

And when she did? She'd instantly fallen into this.. unexplainably sudden depression. One which no one really noticed, thankfully. Mario was too busy assisting in all the more mundane wedding details, the toads of her castle were too busy with all of the work for the upcoming festivities in their honor. Even if the wedding wasn't for another few months, it was a far too busy time for anyone to notice the princess suddenly becoming more withdrawn and less attentive to the constant updates given to her daily.

In fact… the only one that noticed Bowser's sudden lack of activity was Luigi, who only made a partial comment early in that very day while he and his brother were having lunch with Peach. Mario had scoffed, offering that perhaps Bowser had finally given up. That hopefully they'd never have to worry about him again.

And that had upset her more than she wanted to admit.

Clouds must've roamed in front of the moon outside her windows, because it suddenly became quite a bit darker inside her room. Her reflection dimmed in the mirror as she glanced up at it with a frown, till only a dim outline of her pale frame remained to stare back at her.

'Fitting', she would think—drawing her eyes away from the glass and towards her bed which was looking more inviting by the moment.

Yes. Sleep would make things better. It was with a lazy gait that she padded her way across to her lavish bedpost, swinging up atop the mattress and falling against her pillows in an almost melodramatic fashion. The room would light up almost immediately afterwards, the clouds outside pushed by wind she could barely hear.

Sleep always did have a habit of making things better…

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"If I were to ask you to marry me, to by my queen, what would you say?"

"I would say no."

"Without hesitating, right?"

I frown, my hands scrunching up the hem of my dress. I take a moment to try and determine what's best to say. It doesn't go unnoticed.

"Ah ha!" His grin is far too toothy and broad for my liking.

"You know what my answer would still be, Bowser. It.. can't happen."

He's too far gone now, leaning against the banister of his own stairway—sidetracked from escorting me to my 'cell' which was actually more of an elaborate guest room within one of his towers. The cage would come later. As Mario got closer.

"You'd still hesitate, which is sayin' somethin'. Like the answer wouldn't come so easily."

I roll my eyes, my arms crossing in front of my defiantly. "It wouldn't be easy to say because the matter isn't exactly as simple as you seem to think it is."

He raises a brow, "It's a yes or no question."

I raise one back—clearly not as amused by this as he is. "I don't think you even know what would happen if me and you married."

"Oh I know what would happen.." He's narrowing his eyes at me, biting the tip of his tongue with that smug smile of his. "You'd be mine, our kingdoms would become one, and we'd live right here in this castle. You, me, and the kids."

He steps closer, surprising me with the seriousness of his tone—his ruby eyes not losing this unsettling flame they radiated with. "I'd show you what it's like here. What it's really like. Show you how happy you can be by my side.. and in my bed."

He was nearly growling at the end of that, and it was all I could do to keep myself from gulping beneath his burning gaze—and there's a moment where he's looming over me to the point I'm backed against the railing, my eyes widened by his advances—this forwardness and charm I'd yet to see. I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to say, and it's more embarrassing than I'd care to admit.. "I… I-It wouldn't be right, Bows—"

He cuts me off, a wave of hot breath buffeting against my face, "And marrying a plumber would be 'right' then?" His tone is darker, a hint of anger filtering through the smoothness he held beforehand. "What's more fitting Peach? A king or a commoner?" He leans back, I breath a sigh of relief. He doesn't fail to notice that either, a frown hinting at the corner of his snout.

"Who cares if it's 'right' if we love one another—"

"I don't want to discuss this anymore!" It's my turn to cut him off, and it has the effect I was afraid of—but at this point, I'm too shocked by his more than unnatural behavior. He recoils only a bit, his eyes widening as my shout reverbs down the stone staircase.

"Just.. please.. Put me in my room. The sooner we get this over with, the better for the both of us.", I say this as I turn anyways, walking towards the familiar door just a few feet away without bothering to wait for him.

His reply comes a moment or two later, still standing next to the banister—with more venom in his words than I can recall ever hearing from him before. "… As you wish, Princess~"

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A shiver ran up her spine, blue eyes fluttering open in confusion as a gust of wind rippled the curtains of her bed frame—the moonlit fabric catching her attention in her drunkenly sleepy stupor.

"A dream…?" Her mind tried to refocus, to remember the details of what happened. "No… that was months ago.. One of the last times he—"

Another gust of wind made the bed curtains blow, rising the princess further from sleep. There wasn't ever a draft in here before. Unless.. she turned towards the balcony, and sure enough, the door stood ajar. The curtains on either of the two paneled doors wafting in the picking up wind.

She didn't really think anything of it, slipping her legs over the side of the bed after realizing she had fallen asleep without even getting under the covers. After a hiss of unpleasantness at how cold the stone floor was across her bare feet, she stepped over and grasped both the doors by their handles—pushing them shut with a parting shiver. Already feeling the coldness retreat from the room.

It was when she looked out the window pane that she saw it. A clown-copter, parked right up against the railing. Unmanned, more silent than she would've imagined it ever being.

Her eyes barely had a moment to widen before his voice, calm and deep—the saddest sounding greeting she'd ever heard from him—came from behind her, across the room. The half still hidden by shadow.

"Hello Peach."