The peaceful night sky gradually wrapped itself around the star ship after a long day and still, Lubba hadn't yet finished heckling the bank toad in order to get the last remaining starbits he guarded so closely. The ship had been laid to rest upon my request just a few miles away from the worm hole that would take us home. I wanted to spend some time admiring the surroundings after my long imprisonment. There was something about the ominous sky that was so different to our own. It held a vivid power without our planet's light polluting it, our pollution that shrouded the beauty that the stars quietly hid.
Without fear of Bowser's return, everyone was finally able to put their feet up. Most of the toads had curled up to sleep among the grass with the lumas and Luigi had found a place in the heated depths of the engine room to rest his head. I remembered him telling me that he found the quiet whirr of the ship comforting as it worked to prevent the absence of gravity from claiming the ship for its own.
I was enjoying my own company for a while as lost myself in the serenity of outer-space. I hardly noticed the figure approaching behind me.
"You look like you're enjoying yourself, princess."
I turned around abruptly, pulled out of my gaze to find the red clad man who'd rested the ship. He must've been occupied as I hadn't seen him for the last hour or so. I tilted my head back to get a better view of the stars.
"I'm quite jealous of you, you know, you were able to spend so much time on here. The worlds you visited must've been quite something."
Mario let out a small laugh. "If I'd spent all of my time looking at the view then I don't think you'd be here right now."
I wasn't sure whether to laugh or say sorry. It wasn't easy being reminded that you were a constant burden to other people. I always tried to apologise and tell him to let someone else do it for once but he merely shook his head at me every time.
He stepped forward a little and hesitantly bent down to sit. I looked at him reassuringly while patting the floor next to me and he subsequently took the space that I had indicated, shuffling forward so that his legs could dangle over the steering-wheel platform. He smiled wearily, something I had grown used to has he escorted me home after every rescue.
The first time I looked at him while I waited in captivity, he surprised me to say the least. He was the last person I would expect to take up the task; short, a little chubby. Not to mention that afterwards, he'd always been handy at fixing pipes around the castle; a pretty mundane occupation to say the least. At first he had been foolishly talked into the task of retrieving me by Toadsworth, as new to this world and confused as he was. But... he came back for round two, three, and four despite the odds. I continued to see his face at Bowser's door again and again. It never changed. It was as if he'd fallen into some sort of delusional pattern. I was grateful that he had appointed himself the task without question, but still a little confused.
"You've always loved this kind of stuff haven't you? Looking at things..."
I laughed at his remark; he wasn't always one to choose his words carefully. "I don't just look at things for the sake of looking, Mario, otherwise nothing would be worth looking at anymore."
"So you might, perhaps, see me as something not worth looking at?" he added, with mock offense.
"Not quite, to me, looking and seeing are two different things."
Mario turned his attention away from the sky and onto me in bafflement. "How so?"
"Looking at something is merely light from the object entering your eye, but seeing allows you to make sense of what it really is and what it means to you. Of course, if you're looking at it scientifically, they're probably the same thing."
Mario's expression lit up. "That means I'm looking at a beautiful princess with bright blue eyes and a pink dress but I see her as Peach. Is that right?"
I couldn't help but blush a little at Mario's enthusiasm. "Well...I think what you would call beauty is a perception. I might not be beautiful to someone else. Though..." I paused as I felt a strange warmth spread through my cheeks"...I appreciate that you see me that way, Mario."
I couldn't understand why I was so flattered. I had been deemed many times as 'beautiful' by people all over the kingdom but those words held little meaning. This time didn't appear to be any different.
Mario sighed and looked at his feet for a while before turning to face me again "...How do you see me, princess?" he asked, drawing me out of my thoughts.
It was easy to talk about the idea of perception, but turning your own into simple words proved quite difficult. "The...the way I see you now is very different to the way I thought I saw you when we met."
"I can understand that." Mario chuckled and lay down on his back, closing his eyes. His fatigue was becoming more apparent but still, I continued.
"You're more determined than anyone I've ever met. But that's always intrigued me."
He slowly opened his eyes again, both of them filled with an inquisitive hue.
"Well there must be a drive behind it, Mario. Why do you always return? Why did you decide to stay in the Mushroom Kingdom instead of going back?"
Mario lowered his gaze. "I...I'm sorry...I..."
"No!" I gasped and fell down beside him. "You know I didn't mean it like that."
I turned onto my side to look at him. Mario opened his mouth to speak but no words came out, he just twisted his head to meet with my stare, almost taken aback by it.
"The Mushroom Kingdom is a pretty nice place and I, for one, never thought I'd make friends with royalty! It certainly wasn't like that where I used to live." He said, finally.
"That still doesn't explain why you constantly risk your life for that person though. You wouldn't just go out and save your national leader would you? You'd save that for the military or whatever you had."
A vast grin spread across Mario's face. I could tell he was probably making comparisons between his version of the military and my royal guards. Though undoubtedly amused, he was still carefully sidestepping the core of my question.
"Isn't that what friends are for?"
I fell silent in frustration. Why I was so determined for a proper answer I wasn't certain.
He watched my frown and sighed again. "...Look...the truth is..."
Raising myself off the floor, I started to observe him eagerly and he stared at me for a few seconds before avoiding my gaze completely.
"...What's important is that our kingdom is safe and I'm here with Luigi to keep it that way. That's all."
"I think I understand. Your reward is the kingdom's security." I said, pointedly.
Mario screwed his eyes shut, shaking his head. "No, of course not, I mean yes, but...I'm grateful to you for your rewards too. I enjoy getting a cake or..."
Something compelled me to interrupt. "Those thank you kisses I give you?"
The corners of his mouth quivered and his efforts to make eye contact were in vain. "Y...yes...those are..."
Mario stopped as my demeanour changed due to an unwelcome pang of guilt. "That reminds me, I didn't give you one earlier, did I?"
As I looked directly at him, he leaned backwards. "You really don't have to, it's fine I...uhh..."
He turned away and I shuffled across the floor to close the gap, closing my eyes, I leaned in towards his cheek.
My lips met with something unfamiliar however, softer than a cheek and yet...
I pulled back instantly; it was too late. Mario's face was directly in front of mine, his eyes like that of a deer caught in the headlights.
"I...I...I'm so sorry...I..." An uncomfortable heat rose in my chest like a hot air balloon.
His face too, began to glow a shade of red. "No...It's my fault I went to look to see what you were doing and..."
The balloon in my chest felt ready to explode, filling with something impossible to comprehend. Why? I simply slipped up. There was no need to get so worked up. Mario's expression had frozen, his eyes darting back and forth as he tried to read my face. I felt a pounding in my ears; all of this was new to me and a sudden rush of blood to my head made my cheeks burn. It was too much. An unexpected inclination caused me to move towards him for a second time, only keeping my eyes open to observe him. I didn't know what I was doing but it felt like the only thing I had left.
After watching me carefully for a couple of seconds however, he curiously moved his head towards mine, closing the gap even further. His nose brushed lightly against mine and he halted. I could feel his heavy breath on my face.
I didn't want to hear words. I quickly tilted my head and our lips met for the second time. His mouth tightened under mine as he shakily moved a gloved hand onto my face. I tried to put warmth into my eyes, telling him it was okay. The sound of my heart racing drowned out the noise of my surroundings; Lubba's chattering voice became a distant echo. Mario's hands finally relaxed onto my cheeks as his lips parted. I allowed my eyes to close for the couple of seconds that passed before the cold air hit my face again.
We lay in silence beside each other, dazzled. My head had been trying to ignore my heart for as long as I could remember, for as long as I had seen him at the door for round three and four. At first I had been embarrassed but now I...wasn't sure of anything.
Mario's eyes were still half lidded, and he whispered as if he were about to fall asleep.
"Maybe I was wrong. I don't understand why but I...I..." his hand fell limp on my face and his eyelids dropped down, his mouth falling into a gentle smile as they did so. I carefully lifted his arm and shuffled underneath it, pulling him close to my chest. A hushed sleepiness washed over me as it had done with Mario. I tried to think harder but it was impossible, all I could do was watch the stars fade with my vision as I let it take over. Only time could tell what the future would hold.