Disclaimer: I don't own Mario. Sadly.

Author's Note: A long time ago I saw a rather disturbing interpretation of Booster and Peach's almost-marriage, and while I know he's more of the harmless sort of crazy than the evil sort, I could never quite shake that initial impression. That what-if idea inspired this story, with Peach acting as the vessel for my somewhat skewed perspective on Booster's personality. On a side-note, this is the first fanfic I've ever written on a computer that's not my ancient desktop, but here's hoping the change of routine won't manifest itself as a change in writing quality.

I'd Never, I Do

Princess Peach Toadstool weaved her way through the forest. She was still too jittery from the day's events to rest – and Mario's thunderous snoring didn't help either, although Mallow seemed to sleep soundly despite it. She wasn't sure if Geno actually had to sleep, being a doll possessed by a Star and all, but his eyes were closed and he hadn't stirred when she snuck out of camp, so Peach figured he was catching up on some sort of rest. She knew she should sleep too – it had been a long day, but her mind was racing too fast to let her lie still.

She was going on an adventure. She was going to help save the Mushroom Kingdom. For once, she was going to be fighting alongside Mario, rather than being the one he was fighting for. She wouldn't need saving this time… Or at least, not again.

The trees were thinning now, and in no time, Peach found her view unobstructed as the forest gave way to the base of the Star Hill. The majority of the blue rocky formation was behind her, to the south of where the group had made camp, having just come from gathering the Star Piece that had fallen on the hill. They would be heading to Seaside Town in the morning, and Mario promised they'd sleep in a proper hotel the next night, but Peach didn't mind that they decided to camp out that night instead of taking the nearest Warp Pipe back to town. For one thing, she knew that arriving this late at night would raise eyebrows, and she knew her "grandma" Toad couldn't cover for her forever, so the less attention she drew to herself, the better. Plus, the nearest town they could backtrack to was Marrymore, and Peach had seen enough of that place to last her a while.

Peach shuddered at the thought, looking up at the dark shape that she knew was Booster Tower, barely visible in the starlit night. Sure, finding the Star Piece, joining Mario on his quest and sneaking out of the castle had been exciting, but they weren't the only reasons for why she couldn't sleep. They weren't the reason her heart was still pounding in her chest.

"Super Buzzsaw Bro. keeping you up too, huh?"

Peach nearly shrieked as Bowser's low, growly voice snapped her out of her thoughts. She whirled around, glaring at the shadowy figure leaning against a nearby blue boulder. "Don't sneak up on me like that!"

"I was here first," snorted Bowser, before pushing himself fully upright with a grunt. "You're the one sneaking up on me."

"I was not!" huffed Peach. She had heard Bowser get up and leave earlier, but she hadn't thought much of it. She wondered if maybe the absence of the imposing Dragon-Koopa villain would help ease her galloping thoughts, but she was soon disappointed, and by the time she also gave up on sleep, the fact that he too would be lurking somewhere in the woods never occurred to her. She scowled as Bowser walked up to her and turned away, staring out at the view offered by the outcropping. "I just wanted to do some thinking – in private." Peach hoped Bowser would get the hint, but the Koopa King stayed rooted to the spot, and while his head was turned to follow Peach's gaze, his eyes were fixed on the princess herself.

He had been kidnapping her a lot recently, and while she had yet to grant him any civil conversations that didn't revolve around freeing her and making peace between their lands, he was getting pretty good at reading her body language. It used to be that when he captured her, she quaked with fear, but as he failed, time and time again, he could see the despair vanishing from his captor. She was always afraid when he first snatched her, and would scream incessantly for help even though she surely knew no one could hear her once they were high in the sky in his Clown Car or one of his airships. But when they arrived and he locked her in her special, escape-proofed guestroom, she no longer stayed curled on the floor, watching the door with wide, tear-filled eyes. Nowadays she stood her ground when he came knocking, her arms crossed defiantly, staring him down with the cool confidence that sooner or later, it would be Mario coming through that door instead of Bowser.

But he could remember when he first started kidnapping her – when he'd throw her in a cell in the dungeon, or a cage in the back of the battle area he had prepared for Mario. He remembered how she would avoid his gaze and shy away from him, squeezing herself against the furthest wall possible, her hands clutched together over that jewel inlaid upon her chest. She wasn't inching away from him now, but her hands were over her heart once more, and he had seen that shudder earlier, even in the poor lighting of the night.

"You can see my Keep from here," he mused. "You can see that stupid sword sticking out of it…" He looked back at Peach, noting that she too had looked northwards, towards the Keep. "It's not my only castle of course – just like that one over there's not your only home," Bowser nodded eastwards, although the Mushroomian castle wasn't visible from where they were. "But I still want it back – and all my minions too, lousy deserters though they are."

Peach was the one to look away from the view now, surprised that Bowser had admitted that he had lost his troops. Mario and the others had already filled her in on the full story, rather than the phony "vacation" excuse Bowser tried to feed them earlier, but hearing it from the Yoshi's mouth still took her aback.

"And I gotta stop this from spreading, too. Don't want the rest of my country taken over – the rest of my minions, my other castles…" My children, he added to himself, not prepared to let Peach know everything that was on his mind just yet. "And I guess you're worried it'll spread to the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom too?"

"Of course not!" Peach rounded on Bowser. "Mario hasn't failed yet – we're going to stop Smithy, no matter what!"

"Oh really?" Bowser arched a bushy eyebrow at Peach. "Then what's the matter?"

Once more, the princess was taken off guard. "N- Nothing's the matter!"

"Please – you think after kidnapping you all those times that I wouldn't be able to read you like a book? Princess, you're freaked out about something, so what is it?"

"W- well what do you care?" snapped Peach.

"Well, if you're going to start bawling in the middle of battle or something, I'd like to have some forewarning is all," shrugged Bowser, turning away from Peach.

The Mushroom Princess scowled up at him – she knew that wasn't the real reason. But she couldn't help but think of what he had just said to her about his minions, and the real concern that crept into his voice as he spoke about protecting his kingdom and saving his Keep. She didn't know why he was suddenly being all open and caring - it seemed rather out of character. But she wasn't going to look a gift-Yoshi in the mouth, and if Bowser wanted to play nice, she supposed that she could do better than biting his head off for his troubles.

"I'm not going to start 'bawling' in the middle of a fight," sighed Peach, also turning to look out across the gorge separating them from Bowser's stolen Keep. "It's just… Today was…" She shook her head. "You wouldn't understand."

"Try me," said Bowser.

Peach rolled her eyes. "If you could understand, you wouldn't keep kidnapping me." She glared up at Bowser. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to be kidnapped all the time? How scary and awful it is to be snatched away and locked up and not know what's going to happen to you?" Bowser opened his mouth, but Peach cut him off. "Of course you don't! You've never been kidnapped! Or held anywhere against your will! We've never even taken you captive after you've been defeated - even though you'd deserve it!"

"What can I say? I'm a bad guy!" growled Bowser defiantly, although he was actually enjoying Peach's sudden outburst. Rage becomes her, he thought to himself. "Bad guys kidnap princesses – it's what we do."

"No, it's what you do – you and that- that- Booster!" Peach practically spat out his name, and as she continued, her arms snaked around herself protectively. "I mean, he was crazy! He was scary! I was crying and he asked me if I was leaking – he wiped a tear off my cheek and licked it off his finger! And then he licked my face to get more! My face!"

Bowser wrinkled his nose in disgust. "It beats what he did to me with his tongue."

"Exactly! That could have been me!" Peach had laughed when she saw the overly-excitable Booster take advantage of Bowser waiting for a kiss from Peach, his eyes closed and his lips puckered. At the time, she was just so relieved that she was no longer at the receiving end of Booster's whims, anything would have been funny, but now all the memory did was remind herself of the bullet she barely dodged. "If Mario – if all of you had been a few minutes later, that would have been me! He would have forced me to marry him – and who knows what he would have done to me! He acted like he had the mind of a child, but he wasn't a child!" Peach could still feel the pain of being dragged around like a rag doll by the brute. Her arms nearly wrenched out of their sockets, her dress nearly ripping as he seized her by the collar and pulled her, sobbing, to the altar. "He didn't care if he hurt me! He did hurt me! And what if he- what if he-" Peach's voice was tiny as she continued, talking more to herself than the Koopa King standing beside her. "It was… so scary. I was worried- I know this is silly, but I started to worry that Mario wouldn't get there in time… I haven't been that scared in so long... It just, it makes me afraid that maybe… one day… he won't come in time."

Peach's voice had dropped to barely a whisper as she put her thoughts to words. She knew, deep down, that Mario would always save her but what if they didn't fix the Star Road? Geno said the Stars were the reason Peach was always saved from Bowser, and she had seen first-hand how close she had come to an… unimaginable fate without the Stars. What if she wasn't so fortunate next time? She had to be ready to fight for herself – to defend herself from villains like Booster or Bowser or-

"Peach!" Once more, Bowser nearly elicited a scream from the princess as he suddenly reached forward and grabbed her by the arm, spinning her around to face him. She was startled to see that his eyes were as wide as hers, his face aghast as he stared down at her, calling her by her first name, no less. "Peach – you don't think that I would ever do that to you, do you?!"

"Wh- what?"

"I kidnap you, yeah, but I would never hurt you! I would never, never force you to do anything!" The intensity of his eyes, flashing red in the night, was almost frightening, but her elbow still gripped in his arm, Peach couldn't try and pull back. "I would never force anything on you – aside from maybe some paperwork signing the Mushroom Kingdom over to me… But never anything like, like that." Bowser shook his head in disgust, finally releasing his hold on Peach, who staggered a couple steps back from the Dragon-Koopa, still staring at him in shock. "I'm evil, yeah, but there are some lines I won't ever cross! Remember that! I'm a villain – not a monster! I won't lay a claw on you – and if Booster or anyone else ever tries anything ever again, I'll rip them apart myself! No one kidnaps you but me – and when Mario's dead and gone and your kingdom's mine, no one will ever kidnap you again! You won't have to be scared ever again!"

"You p-promise you won't hurt me?"

"I promise."

"You won't force me to marry you?"

"Never," said Bowser. And he meant it.

Peach nodded, a small smile creeping onto her face. In her heart, she didn't really doubt that Mario would fail to save her one day. Even without the Star Road and wishes, she still believed that good would triumph over evil. But even so, it was a comfort to hear that if Mario took his sweet time saving her again, or if worse came to worst and he never came for her, that at least, in Bowser's care, she would be safe.

- Some Time Later -

"This place sure is weird, huh?" Peach turned to see Bowser walking up to her, looking around at the pixilated world around them. "I can see why it's called the Bitlands – it's like an old videogame! …Or, well, maybe more like a new videogame trying to look 'retro'." He smiled down at Peach, even though she was once again looking forlornly out over the Tile Pool. "A couple of the Koopalings are real gamers – I'm no good at 'em myself, but I still pick up on some of the ol' lingo here and there."

"Hm," grunted Peach in acknowledgement, not even bothering to look at Bowser. It had taken them all day to cross the pixilated sea, and they decided to camp for the night before scaling the Dotwood Tree. Part of her wished they could keep going, even through the night – the Void was getting a little bigger every day, and she worried they would run out of time.

Bowser waited to see if Peach would manage something a little more engaged than "hm", but as the silence stretched on, he cleared his throat awkwardly. "So… Why exactly are you out here, instead of resting by the campfire?"

"Doing some thinking," she said.

Bowser nodded. "Yeah, Bullhorn Breath does make it kinda hard to hear your thoughts – but you've been travelling around with him for a couple days already: I figured you would've gotten used to his snoring by now."

"It's not Mario that's keeping me up."

"You sure? Because I'd be happy to shut him up for you – I figure a boot to the belly would knock the wind right out of him for a bit, wouldn't you say?" Bowser grinned toothily at Peach, but she just scowled and turned away again. "Or maybe just a couple toe-prods and he'll roll over – that's what worked last time we were all adventuring together, if memory serves…" Bowser smirked, "I'd rather kick him to the curb of course, but we can do it your way, I suppose – anything's fine as long as my wife get's her beauty sleep-"

"For the last time…" hissed Peach, finally getting to her feet. "I'm NOT your wife!"

Bowser's smirk widened – he much preferred a pissed-off Peach to the brick wall act. "It was real enough for the Chaos Heart."

"And you think that's a good thing?" Bowser had been joking about their "marriage" all day long, and until now, Peach had managed to keep a lid on her annoyance, but she couldn't swallow it anymore – there were no Pixls, no Mario around to maintain a pretty face for. Just Bowser – and boy was he asking for it this time. "The world- all worlds are in danger because of what happened." She flung her arm out behind her, pointing at the Void as it hung, ever-present, beyond the sky. "That thing is sucking everything away – it will grow and destroy everything and kill everyone unless we stop it."

"And we will stop it," said Bowser unconcernedly. "Aren't you the one who always boasts that Mario never loses? And besides, you've got someone even better on your team now - the Koopa King of Awesomeness! I ain't scared of no Void!"

"That's not the point!" said Peach frustrated. "All day, you've been joking about how we're married, but that's the last thing you should be joking about – and not because it's a fake marriage, but because it's the reason we're here, now – on this quest to save the world from the problem we made!"

"I thought we were on a quest to save that butterfly friend of yours?"

"I mean the greater quest!"

Bowser chuckled. It wasn't every day that he managed to get the Mushroom Princess this exasperated. "Relax – I knew what you meant."

"Oh really?" Peach's eyes narrowed. "If you understood, you wouldn't be treating it all so light-heartedly. Don't you see? It's our fault this is happening. Every dimension that is consumed while we waste our time resting… Every life that is lost… Everything – it's our fault."

Bowser frowned at Peach. "Is that why you can't sleep? Peach, it's not our fault – it's that Bleck guy's fault. He's the bad guy this time, not us." Bowser smiled hopefully at Peach. "And we're going to stomp him and fix everything, and in the meantime, don't worry. It's not your fault. I mean, you weren't even in control of your actions at the time."

Peach smiled bitterly, her eyes averted. "That's true… I didn't say 'I do' because I wanted to… I was forced," she turned and looked up at Bowser, and to his surprise, there was pain in her eyes. "I was forced to marry you! But you went along willingly – you said 'yes'. You were more than happy to say yes, even though you knew I didn't want to marry you – that if I could, I would've said 'no'!"

It was Bowser's turn to try and avoid eye contact. "Y-yeah, so?"

"'So'?!" spat Peach. "So- so- you promised you wouldn't do that to me!" Bowser stared in shock as Peach cried out her confession, her eyes suddenly swimming with tears. "Don't you remember? That night after you guys rescued me from Booster? You promised you'd never hurt me – you promised you'd never force me to do anything I didn't want to do with you! You promised!"

"And I meant it!" gasped Bowser. "I meant every word – I'd never force you to-"

"But you did! You did force me to marry you!"

"N- no I didn't!" stammered the Koopa King, scarcely believing the scene that was unfolding. "That Bleck guy was the one who did it, and that woman with the glasses, they-"

"But you went along with it!"

"Well, I mean, it's not like it was a real wedding…"

"Then why do you keep saying it was?" demanded Peach, tears still sliding down her face.

"Oh come on, can't a guy have a little fun?"

"Not at someone else's expense!"

Bowser rolled his eyes. "Right, because I always mind other peoples' feelings. C'mon Peach, it's me you're talking to here – I might be fighting on your side this time, but I'm still a Grade A supervillain."

"Yes, you are," said Peach woodenly, looking away from Bowser and trying to wipe away her tears. "Really, I don't know why I even expected anything more from you… Why I even believed you all those years ago…"

"'Why you even-' Now, wait just one moment! You were right to believe me then, because I was telling the truth! Just because I like making jokes and pretending like we're married doesn't change the fact that, under normal circumstances, I would never-"

Still seething, Peach cut him off. "So, what, all it takes is someone else to blame everything on and you no longer feel obligated to keep your word? Your word is nothing in that case!"

"SHUT UP!" roared Bowser, startling Peach into silence. "Just listen to me for a second here! When you were scared of what almost happened to you at Booster's hand, it wasn't just the marriage – it's what would have come next, and don't you ever, EVER think that I would force you to do that. And without that, it wouldn't matter if everything else about the marriage was real - which it wasn't, but even if it was – it wouldn't have been a real marriage. I mean, we didn't even kiss – and I wouldn't force you to do that either! I want everything that happens between us to be done because you want it to be done as much as I do. To get it by force would be like a hollow victory – it'd be worse than a hollow victory, because I don't want to hurt you. Not then, not now, not ever!"

Peach looked up at Bowser, mulling over his words. She knew he liked her – she had known for a while, but she was still a little surprised that he would admit it in so many words. Just as she had been surprised when he came clean about his deserting minions during their last adventure together. She had tried to tell herself that he had just been buttering her up to get her to tell him what was bothering her, but even so, she supposed that wasn't necessarily a bad thing – and when she eventually learned of the crush he had on her, she realized that both his willingness to drop his defenses and the concern he had shown for her had been genuine.

She never told anyone about the promise he made to her that night, but it had always given her comfort to know that, should the unthinkable happen, at least she didn't have to worry about Bowser doing anything to her. And then, when he did break his promise and agree to marry her despite her clear unwillingness, it was nothing short of a betrayal – she didn't think it would hurt her so much, but it did, and it made her feel like an idiot. She left camp that night because she couldn't bear to look at Bowser for what he had done to her, but now she wondered if that had been unfair of her. As he said, it was his nature to be inconsiderate, even when he wasn't setting out to be downright malicious. And as he had shown her just now, he certainly wasn't trying to hurt her, and while she knew better than to expect an apology, his earnest insistence that she really was safe from any real harm made her feel a lot better – both about the recent "marriage", and about the trust she had placed in the Koopa King that night on Star Hill.

"I believe you," she said, before looking up at Bowser, a smile on her face and a defiant gleam in her eye as she put her hands on her hips. "But I still won't tolerate you joking about that sham wedding."

"Well, you're just going to have to get used to that, because I'm not going to stop joking about it," said Bowser, crossing his own arms. "The girl of my dreams marries me and you expect me to pretend like it didn't happen? As if."

"But it didn't-" Peach caught herself and sighed dejectedly – there really was no arguing with Bowser, and now that she knew he didn't truly believe she was his wife, she supposed there was no point in worrying about it. "Has anyone ever told you that you're far too stubborn for your own good?"

"No!" lied Bowser. "I'm the King of the Koopas – everything about me is awesome and flawless, and one day, you'll realize that – and then you'll wish you were married to me for real." Bowser winker at her cheekily. "Of course, all you'd need to do is say the word and we could fix that… Well, two words, actually."

"You mean, 'no way'?" snorted Peach, before side-stepping Bowser and walking away from the shore. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to bed."

Another man might have made a crude retort, but Bowser's interest in joking around at Peach's expense ended at marriage – bedroom humour was on the other side of the line he had promised Peach he wouldn't cross. The line he didn't want to cross himself.

Instead, he watched her go in silence, only looking away when she had vanished into the dark. He sighed to himself as he turned to look out over the water, wishing that the day she'd love him back would hurry up and get there already. But he was a patient Koopa – or so he told himself, and he knew that all he had to do was bide his time. If anything, their conversation convinced him that the day was already on its way – he felt bad about making her cry, but in a way, her tears were the proof he had been hoping to see for a long time. Proof that he really did mean something to her – that his promises and his feelings weren't falling on deaf ears. No, he and Peach had something going between them – he could feel it and now he knew that she felt it too. For now, it was trust, soon it would be friendship, and someday, Bowser wistfully told himself, it would be love.

A Koopa could dream, couldn't he?

The End