Marco wasn't sure how to react when Star first told him she would rather stay at home and watch TV than go out and explore Earth-ni. Part of him was certain it must be a joke; Star Butterfly had always been the energetic, fun-loving, jump-into-danger-without-a-second-thought type. Now, with a whole new world to explore, their feelings for each other well and truly sorted out, and a nice relaxing week and a half of down time under their belts, she couldn't possibly be saying "no" to an adventure, could she?
"I'd just rather lie around for a while longer, you know? Besides, we haven't even finished the last season of Fiesta de la Noche! I have to know if they'll make it to the party on time! And don't forget about Manuel and Rosa! How are they gonna work things out after what happened with Ricardo?"
Star Butterfly was saying "no" to adventure. Adventure in a brand new place that they were directly responsible for creating, no less. Marco blinked a couple of times, but Star didn't look sick or possessed, so he decided to brush it off. Their lives had been awfully full of adventure for a while now. Maybe more down time would be good.
The second time Star refused to have an adventure was when Marco really started to worry.
"I don't know, it looks like the authorities have the Park of Certain Death pretty under control on their own." Star said, looking at a news report on the television that showed numerous uniformed humans, armored mewmans, and a few monsters equipped with varying levels of gear all running in terror of what looked like at least three different gargantuan beasts that had emerged from the depths of the new city park. Marco stared at her in shock for a moment. In the nearly three years he had known her, Marco had never once seen Star be so nonchalant about an ongoing attack, let alone a fight she could potentially involve herself in. As surprised as Marco was, Star looked equally unconcerned, and she looked up at him from her place on the couch and patted the seat next to her in invitation. Marco hesitantly stepped forward and sat down, and Star promptly laid her head on his lap and closed her eyes.
"See? Isn't this more comfy than running around fighting stuff?" she asked him. Marco was completely stupefied, and he blinked down at his girlfriend for what must have been a full minute.
In the end, all he said out loud was, "Yeah, I guess so." But he could tell something was wrong, and the only cure he could think of was adventure. So he started to hatch a plan to make sure Star had some adventure soon.
"Here... we... are!" Marco gasped as they rounded the last bend. He and Star were standing in the middle of a forest that was still mostly like an Earth forest, having just finished a rather lengthy hike out to a remote camping site. The only reason Marco even knew where to find it was because he had scouted out the area beforehand from Nachos' back. He had refused to bring the dragoncycle along, though, for two very good reasons: 1. He felt like having a living, fire-breathing, flying motorcycle along with them on this camping trip would kind of take the novelty out of experiencing nature, and 2. he didn't want Nachos to upset the local biosphere by hunting squirrels to extinction.
Star looked apprehensively around the tiny campsite.
"Are you sure this is it?" she asked, and Marco was confused when he heard no note of disappointment or excitement in her tone. She almost sounded... scared?
"Yep, I'm... one hundred percent... sure." Marco answered, taking the large camping backpack off his back, and regretting his insistence on carrying most of their gear by himself. After catching his breath for a moment, Marco pulled a hand-drawn map from his pocket and showed it to Star.
"See? This is the path we just came up, and we didn't turn right down here, so the only place we could've ended up is at the campsite I had in mind!" Marco was feeling a bit proud, despite his tiredness. He had scouted the area ahead of time, drawn a (mostly) legible map of the area, selected their campsite, convinced Star to come on this trip, and hiked all the way out here with her on foot in one day.
"It's just, it seems a little... Remote. And small. And forest-y." Star said, glancing all around them. It was true, the campsite was little more than a small natural clearing, about four yards in diameter, with nothing to indicate anyone had ever stayed there before apart from a small fire pit. Marco arched an eyebrow at Star while she was looking away from him, his concern over her uncharacteristic behavior growing even more.
"Don't worry about it, Star. We'll be fine. We've got everything we might need, and I made sure to let Mom, Dad, your parents, Eclipsa, Globgor, and even Tom and Buff Frog know where we are. We can just relax, enjoy the sights, and see what Earth-ni has to offer!"
Star nodded absentmindedly in response, but she looked concerned nonetheless. Marco frowned, seeing that his words had no real soothing effect on his girlfriend, but he hadn't expected it to be that easy. This trip was about adventure, not just relaxing someplace other than the couch. He turned back to the bag and began to unpack.
"Do you want to go get some wood for the fire? There should be plenty of loose sticks and things on the ground around here." Marco asked, but when he turned to glance back at Star, he saw that she was staring at him with something like terror on her face.
"Or I could get the firewood and you could set up the tents?" Star continued to stare at him. Marco swallowed.
"Or... or we could both set up the tents and then get firewood together?" he tried, not understanding Star's reaction in the slightest. Star's expression eased at last and she walked over to him.
"Yeah. Yeah. That sounds good."
Marco was starting to get really scared. Star wasn't acting like herself at all. She refused to leave his side for more than a few moments at a time, she didn't want to climb any trees or chase any animals, she had zero interest in exploring, and even lighting a small fire to cook dinner seemed to make her anxious. What had happened to the rambunctious Star Butterfly who made shopping carts fly them home, and pulled him off cliffs to escape from rampaging beasts, and who had destroyed the safe normalcy of his life with her very presence? It seemed like the longer they stayed out here in the woods, and the more Marco tried to push Star to have some small kind of adventure, the more she wanted to avoid it entirely. Something was really wrong, but Marco just didn't know what it was. He had just about made up his mind to talk to Star about it directly, when a strange whinnying noise broke through the trees. Star, who had been huddled near the opening of her tent, suddenly sat bolt upright, her eyes wide, and a bit of the sparkle Marco always associated with dangerous fun finally back in her eyes.
"What was that?" Marco asked, hoping to spur his girlfriend to action. Unfortunately, his words seemed to have the opposite effect, as Star looked at him for a moment before hunching over once again.
"Oh, it's probably nothing. Just forest sounds." Star said dismissively. Marco frowned again, and resolved himself to do something he might regret.
"Well, it's still pretty early. I'm going to go check it out." he said, getting up from where he sat at the opening of his own tent. Star looked up at him in surprise, but he quickly began to walk towards where he thought the sound had come from, hoping that would spur her to follow him. Sure enough, Star was soon at his side, saying nothing, though she looked more nervous than ever. Still, Marco thought he saw a bit of excitement in the way she was walking, so he dared to hope he was doing something right.
After only a few minutes of picking their way through the trees, the young couple came across an incredible sight. A whole herd of warnicorns was walking among the trees, the little light that remained illuminating them in a myriad of different colors. One warnicorn in particular stood out, a chestnut brown stallion that stood at least a hand and a half taller than all other members of his herd. Star gasped slightly at the sight of him, and Marco smiled slightly at her obvious excitement. Then, he got another idea, and he was almost certain he was going to regret this one.
"He's beautiful. I bet he'd be a blast to ride, huh?" he whispered, trying to keep any tremor of apprehension out of his voice. His girlfriend looked at him, startled, before looking downright panicked.
"No, no way Marco. Absolutely not. That is a terrible idea." she whispered frantically. Marco's smile faltered, and the sight of Star looking so worried gave him a curious kind of resolve to make her stop worrying no matter the cost. In what he knew might be the absolute dumbest act of his life, he turned away from Star to look back at the warnicorn that had captured their attention, and he took a step toward it.
"Marco! Marco! What are you doing?!" Star whisper-yelled after him, but Marco continued to step closer to the warnicorn, ignoring Star's urging to come back. He crouched down, trying to stay as quiet as possible, getting closer and closer to the warnicorn. Star began trying to follow him, but he had made a surprising amount of progress already, and she was much too late to stop him from stepping in the wrong place.
It was a fairly soft sound, but in the silence that followed, the cracking of that twig under Marco's foot seemed to echo like a gunshot. The large chestnut warnicorn was staring at him now, and for a moment, Star, Marco, and warnicorn stood frozen, staring at one another in astonishment. Then the warnicorn let out a screaming whinny, and every single one of its herd rounded on the two intruders. As one, they all lowered their heads, readying their horns, and began to charge.
"MARCO!" Star screamed, and she dived forward, just barely reaching Marco in time to knock both of them out of the way of the charging leader. Almost immediately she was hauling Marco to his feet again and the two were sprinting as fast as their legs could carry them away from the furious animals. The warnicorns were significantly faster than they were, but the dense tree cover gave the two youths a slight advantage in navigation, so they were just managing to stay ahead of the herd at first. Still, the powerful muscles of the beasts were bringing them closer with every stride. Both Star and Marco knew they couldn't keep this up, and when they heard the thundering hooves of the leader rejoining the chase close behind them, that became even more clear.
Star looked around for anything they could use to get out of this situation, and she spotted a tree just a little ways ahead, coming up fast, with a long, thick branch that hung over where they would be running.
"MARCO!" she shouted, hoping she could be heard over the thundering hooves and the pounding of her own heart, "CLIMB THE TREE!"
Marco heard his girlfriend shout and saw where she was looking, and he immediately understood. With practiced efficiency the two scaled the trunk of the tree as soon as they came to it and, before the herd had a chance to slow down, they jumped from the branch, landing neatly, Marco behind Star, on the bare back of the herd's leader. Star instantly tangled her hands thoroughly in the stallion's mane, and Marco held on to Star with all his might. As expected, the warnicorn did not welcome the two strangers on his back, and continued his sprint forward while jumping and turning as much as possible to try to shake his unwanted passengers.
Eventually, the leader and his herd with him began to slow almost imperceptibly, and Star knew that they would be too tired to bother pursuing them if they could make their escape soon. To her relief, she saw that the stampede was bringing them alongside a deep creek on their right side. She motioned to the creek with her head, and Marco understood. As soon as their ride drew level with the creek, the two teenagers jumped from his back into the water. The creek wasn't deep enough that they didn't hit the bottom, but it kept either of them from serious injury. The herd kept on charging until they were all out of sight, and it was then that Star and Marco pulled themselves from the water.
"That... was..." Marco said, beginning to smile despite himself.
"STUPID!" Star shouted, rounding on him. Marco's smile died on his lips. "WHAT in the name of corn were you THINKING, Marco Diaz?! You could've gotten yourself seriously hurt! You could've DIED doing something like that!"
Marco winced at her words, knowing she was right, and worse, he could've gotten her killed. But part of him grew indignant, and, in the emotion and exhaustion of the moment, he let that part speak.
"Star, that's exactly the kind of thing we used to do all the time! You used to love doing dangerous things like that! You lived for adventure! What happened to that?!"
"Wha... I don't know what you-"
"Of course you know what I mean, Star! When you first showed up on Earth, I was the Safe Kid, remember? You're the one who dragged me into danger after danger, and I learned to embrace it and enjoy it like you did! So why have you been acting like moving too far from me is going to make me fall to pieces? What's changed?"
"Nothing's changed! I just... things are different, now!"
"How? How are things different? Is it because I'm your boyfriend? Can you not trust me to have your back when it gets dangerous anymore because we're dating?" Marco's voice was getting softer, and tears were beginning to pool in his eyes, his own insecurities beginning to fuel this emotional outburst.
"No, Marco, of course not!"
"Then what is it?!"
"I DON'T HAVE MAGIC, MARCO!" Star shouted, shocking Marco out of his spiral. He hadn't expected her to mention magic.
Star sighed, looking down at the ground and speaking softly once again. "I don't have magic. Whenever we got into trouble before, I knew that, at least as a last resort, I always had magic. Even if we got into a situation where it looked like there was no way out, there was always some spell I could cast, something I could come up with. And lately... I realized how many times I saved you using magic, and I realized if something like that happened again... I couldn't do that anymore. And I started to get scared. What if we tried to go on an adventure like old times, but then I couldn't do anything to help you? What if you got hurt and I couldn't do anything? What if you...?" Star didn't need to finish the question. Marco finally understood. Star had been scaring herself more and more with the thought that she couldn't save him without magic, and if they kept going on adventures, she'd probably have to save him at some point.
Star was tearing up, now, and Marco felt guilty. He had dragged her out here while she was scared for his sake, and then he had endangered both their lives trying to get her back to herself, instead of just talking to her about it like he should have done. Like he would have done, not too long ago.
"I'm sorry, Star." Marco said, pulling her close to himself. Star wrapped her arms around him. "I wasn't thinking. I... Honestly, I missed our adventures. I wanted to have some more, but I wasn't thinking about why you might not feel like adventuring. I should've talked to you. I should've trusted you. I'm sorry."
Star sniffed. "I'm sorry, too, Marco. I could've just told you how I was feeling. Instead I kept avoiding everything without any good reason. I was just... so worried."
"I get it. I really do." Marco answered, rubbing Star's back soothingly, "But, you know you don't have to worry. I can handle myself."
Star pulled away from him to look into his face. "Not against everything, Marco."
Marco shook his head. "No, not against everything. And neither can you. But that's why we have each other, isn't it? We always get through things when we're together."
"When I had magic."
"Even without magic. Think about it, Star. You saved me plenty of times without magic, too. And most of the times you really needed magic, it was because magic put us in danger in the first place." Marco pointed out. Star thought for a moment, and then she smiled a small smile.
"I guess that's true. I hadn't thought about that." she admitted. Marco smiled at her.
"We can still have adventures, and still keep each other safe, can't we?" he asked her.
"Of course. As long as you promise not to sneak up on any more warnicorns." she answered with a laugh.
Marco gave a laugh of his own. "Easiest promise I ever made. But you've gotta admit, that was a pretty fun ride."
Star smiled, and her eyes sparkled in that way that let Marco know he was in for some dangerous fun.
"Yeah, it was."