Author: Cyndi H.

Date Submitted: September 1st, 2007

A wooden door creaked open, shedding yellow light into an otherwise gray room. "Bowser? Are you awake?"

"Mh," came the grunted reply. Bowser stuck just his head out of his shell and squinted. His once brilliant flame-colored hair was streaked with white. A few of his eyebrow hairs were also changing color. He blinked sleepily at the figure in the doorway. She wore a red dress and had Mario's black hair and dark Italian skin, but her face...she looked just like Peach. "Cherry?" he wiped at his eyes, "How did you get here?"

Cherry giggled, covering her mouth. "Junior 'kidnapped' me and we went out to lunch."

At this, Bowser grinned. He poked his arms, legs and tail completely out of his shell and pushed himself up to sit. The long years had given him a slight pot-belly, which was common for Koopas his age. "Where is that brat anyway?"

"Trying to fix the Koopa Clown Car. The propeller broke."


"Afraid so." said Cherry, smiling, her lips painted as red as the fruit she was named after.

"Great." Bowser stared at her for a moment. Gods, she looked so much like Peach. He shook himself out of his funk and stood up. "I better help him fix the damn thing before he breaks it even worse."

Her smile dropped a little. She fell into step with Bowser, frowning. "I hope you'll be careful. You know what the doctor said about your heart!"

"I'm fine!" he growled. "I'm the first Koopa in my family to survive four heart attacks. A little exercise won't kill me." he patted his stomach, "Besides, I could probably use it. Sitting around and getting fat isn't good for my heart either."

Cherry just shook her head at Bowser's stubborn posturing. Though his desire for the Mushroom Kingdom died when Peach did, he was still a bull-headed jerk at times and rarely listened to his doctors. They gave him pills for his heart and he wouldn't take them. Not even after three out of his four heart attacks left him on complete life support for several weeks. Cherry could remember how it devastated Junior to see his father pulled out of his shell and hooked up to so many machines. In fact, doctors advised Bowser to stop wearing his huge, heavy shell. He outright refused. "A Koopa without his shell is a pathetic sight!" Bowser had said. So the shell stayed.

Bowser heard a small explosion outside, followed by loud cursing. He shoved a Goomba out of his path in his haste to reach Junior. "Junior!"

"You damn, good for nothing pile of..." A spitting image of Bowser in his youth crawled out of the smoke, coughing. His hands and the white bandanna around his neck were black with oil. He threw a wrench down and flopped to sit, growling. Beside him, the the Koopa Clown Car was lying on its side with its engine parts exposed.

"Junior!" Cherry picked up her red skirt and dashed to the young Koopa's side. "Are you okay? What happened?"

"Oil isn't getting to the propeller mechanism for some reason. I think the tank is clogged, and--oh!" he stopped talking long enough to notice Bowser looming over him. "Hey, dad! Uh..." his face melted into a huge, sheepish grin, "it broke."

Amused, Bowser stuck one of his beefy hands out. "Gimme the wrench." When Junior handed it over, Bowser crawled into the Koopa Clown Car. He made some clanking and banging noises. Then he hit the ignition switch. The propeller started right up without a problem. Bowser grinned at this. I still got it! He shoved the panel shut with his left hand and straightened.

Junior and Cherry had moved closer to the castle, where the lava didn't create as much heat. Bowser rested an elbow on the rim of the Clown Car, settled his chin on his palm and sighed, watching them. The way the two gazed at each other excluded everything else.

Well, Junior and Cherry were in their own little world. That was a very good sign. Bowser chuckled to himself and eased the buzzing Koopa Clown Car up into the air.

Sunlight caused golden pollen motes to glow around the hilltop. In the midst of the pollen stood a golden statue of Peach. She was posed in a way that one had to kneel to meet the statue's eyes, and she had one hand slightly outstretched in silent greeting. The grave marker was its most beautiful at high noon - it glowed and cast a halo of light on the ground in all directions like a beacon.

Bowser parked the Koopa Clown Car at the foot of the hill and climbed up. In one hand he carried a rag, in the other a red rose. He was out of breath by the time he reached the statue. Two years ago he could sprint this hill and he sometimes got winded just walking down a hallway. It annoyed him.

"Hello, Peach," Bowser said gently. He laid the rose with the other six already lying under Peach's name. Then he used the rag to wipe the dust off the statue, kissing the outstretched hand before wiping it clean as well. Tears spilled from his eyes when he returned his gaze to her smiling face. "Junior broke my propeller again. You'd find that amusing, I know. Crazy kid...he really likes Cherry. No, not like...he loves her. Just like I still love you."

Ten years. Ten rotten, painful years had gone by since Peach died. The day of her death, she'd given him a hug after he stopped by to say he was getting too old to keep kidnapping her and that it wasn't fair to mess with a married woman. Hours later, word came to him that she fell down a flight of stairs and broke her neck. A foolish, freak accident. Bowser went to her funeral and everybody stared in shock when he broke down next to her casket. Breaking down was the ultimate humiliation. Mario tried to pat his arm and comfort him. He'd turned on Mario, Peach's shell-shocked widow, and berated him for not being there to protect Peach from such a fall. The tirade left the little plumber weeping. Cherry had to console Mario while Junior dragged Bowser back to his seat.

For months afterward, people visited Peach's grave. As time passed people came less. Some still stopped once in awhile to pray or pay respects. Mario ceased to appear after two years. Cherry and Junior would come on her birthday and the anniversary of her death. But Bowser was the only one who came every single day, regardless of the weather. He made sure her statue was clean, he clipped the grass over her grave and he always, always, brought a rose.

"I miss you, Peach." he grumbled, staring at the ground. He frowned and traced the letters of her name with his huge thumb. "I even miss my left ear going deaf from your screaming." More tears escaped. He swallowed, hoping nobody was around to see him cry. "I wish you could have loved me...I was terrible about showing it, I shouldn't have gone in saying I wanted to conquer your kingdom. You were what I really wanted. Peach..." the dam broke and he curled up, sobbing, his voice hoarse, "I'm sorry I wasn't there that day! I should have stayed! Can you ever forgive me for leaving?"

Of course, no answer came. Bowser didn't expect one. The silence only tore at his heart even more. He retreated into his shell so nobody would see him cry.

"There he is." Junior nudged Cherry and pointed.

"By mom's grave again." Cherry sighed. "Poor guy."

Nodding, Junior prodded Lakitu's shoulder. "Thanks, Lakitu. Take us down. We'll take him home in the 'Car."

Lakitu just grumbled about being a taxi service and his cloud slowly descended. Junior helped Cherry hop down. They landed quietly beside Bowser's shell, where the sound of him sniffling was apparent. Junior hated seeing his dad like this. He just couldn't forgive himself for something that wasn't even his fault.

Cherry knelt near the head of Bowser's shell. "Bowser?"

The sniffling instantly stopped. "What? I'm fine! I'm just having...some, um, allergies."

Junior made a face. Cherry shot him a glare and bent to peer into the shell. She could just make out Bowser's russet eyes and bushy eyebrows. His weeping was so obvious a blind person would notice. Rather than berate him about it, Cherry just smiled gently and said, "There's a lot of pollen in the air today. Come on, let's go back to your castle. I'll make you a Cheep Cheep kabob."

Bowser's eyes crossed as he considered the offer. He did love those kabobs, and nobody made them like Cherry. His eyes closed and his head and limbs popped out of the shell. "Make it two kabobs and you have a deal."

"Two it is."

"I'll take mine extra crispy," Junior said, grinning. It was all he could do to not feel embarrassed on his father's behalf. He stopped when Cherry's black hair caught the light and gleamed. Five years ago she had pimples and almost no figure...she seemed to blossom overnight into a stunning woman befitting the role of princess. Gods, he loved her. He even had a crush on her when she had pimples.

"Junior, come on." Bowser smacked him in the back of the head and pulled him closer to whisper, "Stop gawking with your mouth open. Girls don't like that."

He blinked, "How did you--"

"You're my son," Bowser winked and wiped the tears off his face, "I know that look."

Cherry thought the two of them standing with their heads together was funny. They always did that when whispering about her. She glanced at her mother's statue and her smile sobered a bit. The love Bowser had for her mother...Cherry could not begin to fathom how deep his heart was. She had a collection of love letters he'd written to Peach. In person, Bowser was a gruff ruffian who tended to put his foot in his mouth, but his letters were passionate enough to make any woman blush. Peach loved those letters, but never replied. Bowser stopped sending them after she married Mario.

Bowser finished saying whatever he was saying to Junior. " it?"

"Okay, okay, yeah." Junior and Bowser separated, but Junior ran ahead. "Shotgun!"

"No, idiot! Remember? I'll fly it! You just take care of her."

Junior's eyes crossed. He rubbed a hand over his hair, which looked like fire in the sunlight. "Oh...right. Hey, Cherry!"

They arrived home in less than an hour, all of them hungry. Mario would be mad that Cherry missed dinner again...but that old plumber had gotten fat with age as well and wouldn't be much of a challenge. Once home, Bowser felt pride in his heart at how Junior pulled Cherry's chair out for her when they sat down to eat the meal she cooked. Cheep Cheep kabobs were huge, each fish the size of an adult Koopa's fist and drizzled in some foreign cheese-like sauce Cherry called "afraido"...or something. It made them very juicy and messy. Bowser and Junior each had two sticks with two Cheep Cheeps apiece, while Cherry only had half of one. Rather than talk, Bowser just crunched his kabob and watched them.

Bowser taught Junior how to "accidentally" brush his forearm against Cherry's shoulder when he reached for his napkin. The kabobs were greasy, so there were plenty of opportunities to pull this off.

If this works, kid, you'll have what I always wanted, he leaned back, her love...

" your hair." said Junior.

"What?" Cherry glanced at him, blinking.

"This afternoon. It was shiny, I guess I didn't notice..." Junior glanced towards Bowser. Bowser made a pushing motion with his hand and pointed to his eyes. Junior went on, "...that it makes your eyes look really--" he glanced over again, fishing for a word. Bowser picked up his blue napkin and pointed to it. Junior's face brightened and he finished, "--blue! And I like blue." He peeked at Bowser again. Bowser curled his thumb and index finger into an 'okay' sign, grinning.

Cherry's face turned bright red. She giggled and turned towards Bowser. Bowser dropped his napkin on his kabob stick and leaned back, pretending to be bored. She shook her head and smiled up at Junior--"You're so cute, Junior."--and Bowser tilted so far back that his chair tipped over. The Koopa King scrambled back into his seat in time to see Junior's face turn as red as Cherry's dress.

After finding himself staring into Cherry's blue eyes longer than intended, Junior cleared his throat. "So um...dessert?"

Dessert was a huge fudge cake. Bowser and Junior made pigs out of themselves while Cherry had one dainty little piece. She seemed to find their appalling table manners amusing. She finished first and stood up, dabbing her mouth with her napkin. "I should head home...daddy is probably mad already. Thanks for letting me do your dinner, it was fun!"

"It's early, though," said Junior in a pouting tone.

"I know..." Cherry sounded annoyed. "But you know how he is."

"I should go down there and kick his wrinkled ass." Bowser said. Chocolate crumbs splattered down his chest when he spoke. He wiped them off with his palm. Cherry started for the door. Bowser blinked and waved his hand until he had Junior's attention, then made a walking gesture with his fingers.

Junior blinked a bit dully. "What do....oh!" He ran to catch up with her. "Hey, Cherry, I'll reverse-kidnap you home."

"Aw, why thank you." said Cherry with a smile. She slid her hand into Junior's as they disappeared from the dining hall.

Bowser belched and grinned. The kid was a chip off the old block!

Sunset turned the volcano an angrier red. Despite its heat, nothing felt warmer to Cherry than Junior's huge hand holding hers. She was full aware of what Bowser and Junior were trying to pull. They were so funny...and trying so hard that Cherry felt it'd embarrass them to reveal that she knew their intentions.

She turned her head slightly to peer up at Junior, liking how the red light flashed across his saurian features. Koopas were like works of art. Her eyes drifted to his hand, paused on the big spiked bracer on his wrist and followed his thick orange forearm to the bracer on his bulging bicep. He was flexing a little on purpose, trying to impress her with his muscles. And it worked. If it wasn't for the white bandanna around his neck, people would think the old Bowser had returned to menace the Mushroom Kingdom all over again.

Perhaps marrying Junior would truly join both kingdoms together. The Mushroom Princess and the Koopa Prince. His dad taught him everything he knows about leading armies, and a Koopa army would be a great ally to help us protect ourselves against invaders. Cherry rubbed Junior's palm with her thumb. And while he is a big dork, he's not a huge jerk like some of the other princes I've met. I'd rather marry someone I care about...not a stranger.

They climbed into the Clown Car together. Storm clouds turned the horizon varying shades of purple and orange.

"Oh, Junior, look!" Cherry pointed as they rose above the volcano's rim.

"Looks like quite a storm." Junior said. A reflection of the horizon glowed in his russet eyes. Cherry noticed his eyes could smile while his mouth didn't. And they did that a lot when he looked at her. He noticed her watching him and blushed, "What?"

Cherry's face flushed, "N-nothing. You've got chocolate on your fangs."

He rubbed his tongue over his fangs to clean them off. Cherry's face got even redder. She focused on the oncoming storm. Beside her, Junior said, "The wind might get nasty. Grab onto me if you get scared."

Less than ten minutes later, a huge blast of wind nearly blew the 'Car off course. By then the sun was down and half the sky blackened by clouds. Cherry spun and pressed her face against Junior's chest. He laid a hand on her back, smiling. Invisible butterflies fluttered through her stomach, making her heart pound. She'd been friends with Junior since she was little. He always made her feel strange inside, almost like her heart itched. But never had she been more conscious of that sensation than she was right now.

The Koopa Clown Car slowly descended towards the flickering lights of the Mushroom palace.

"Um, Cherry...we're hovering outside your window." Junior lowered his head and got a snout full of her cherry-scented hair. He inhaled like he was smelling a delicate flower, his eyes drifting shut. Without further comment, he helped her climb into her window. She pulled herself into the darkness and immediately stuck her head back out. There was only one way to scratch this itch in her heart, and she wasn't sure if she'd have to courage to do it tomorrow.

"Wait, Junior! Come back this way. I forgot something."

He turned the 'Car. "What?"

"This," Cherry leaned forward and kissed him. Just a quick peck in the middle of his snout. She felt his mouth press back into the kiss and move away. He was blushing. She giggled. "Thanks for the ride."

Junior stared at her, his mouth hanging open. He collected himself and laughed self-consciously. "Sure! No problem! Think I can call later tonight? My dad doesn't care what hour I call, but I know yours..."

Cherry made a face. Mario never forgot how Bowser blamed him for Peach's death. That anger made him a little bitter over the years. Rarely was he ever the jolly plumber she knew as a child. She smiled up at Junior, "Who cares. Call if you get bored picking up after Bowsie-wowsie."

"Bowsie-wowsie? Oh, don't let him hear you say that."

They laughed. Cherry drew back into her room and Junior took off into the storm.

"...and then she leaned out and kissed me!" Junior finished his recap of the entire trip to Cherry's castle. His heart pounded as he remembered her soft lips brushing his mouth. Him and his father were sitting in the throne room, which was only illuminated by the huge Koopa-head shaped fireplace behind Bowser's throne. It caused Bowser's shadow to dance menacingly off the gray walls and floor.

Bowser sat slumped in his chair, listening to Junior's excited chatter while sipping from a spiky goblet of cactus tea. Junior waited for a sign that he did well. He did not need to wait long - his story won a huge grin from the old Koopa. " just went further than I ever did with a princess."

"I-I know." Junior flopped to sit on the floor next to Bowser's feet. "I want to marry her, dad. Not a forced one...but the kind where both want to. We could cement our alliance with the Mushroom Kingdom. Their army is weak, but if we took over as their military forces, we could protect them. I could protect Cherry. And in return they'd share their medicine and water-mining resources to help make us a richer nation. Imagine the trade routes we could open up...and the parties we could throw for no reason other than we feel like it! What do you think?"

No answer came for awhile. Crackles and pops in the fireplace punctuated distant thunder from the storm Junior narrowly escaped on his flight home. The moving light outlined Bowser's shell and seemed to catch in his eyes. For a few seconds he looked like the malevolent being bent on destroying everything for Peach's hand.

"That's not a good idea," Bowser said, deadpan. He drained his tea. Then he broke into a huge grin and ruffled Junior's hair. "I'm kidding! It's a great idea! I'm so glad I thought of it."

Junior looked up and laughed. "Aren't you the one who taught me to steal the best ideas?"

"Which means I'm allowed to steal them back, too." Bowser winked. Then he wrinkled his nose and rubbed his left arm.

The joy left Junior's expression. "Dad?"

"What? Oh...don't start that again. My arm just itches, okay? Can I rub my arm without you freaking out?"

"Oh...okay." the boy visibly relaxed. "It's just..."

Bowser's eyebrows drew together, "You just what?"

"Nothing." He shuddered as the sudden adrenalin drained away. It always started like that - with Bowser rubbing his arm. Then he'd grab his chest and collapse...and Junior thought he was about to witness it all over again. He'd been poised to call for a doctor and perform chest compressions if necessary. "I'm gonna call Cherry. Maybe it'll piss Mario off."

A cheeky grin curled the corners of Bowser's mouth. He poked Junior between the eyes, "Don't talk dirty yet, okay?"

"Gotcha. G'night." Junior launched himself down the hall. Halfway to the door, he jumped in the air and clicked his heels together. "I love my life!" he yelled.

Junior's spiky shell disappeared from Bowser's sight. The instant it did, Bowser clutched his left arm and the tea goblet crashed to the floor. He felt like an invisible fist was crushing his chest. Doctors called this angina, and there was only cause to worry if the pain didn't pass in a few minutes. He never told Junior about these pains. Spasms in his coronary arteries were nothing to freak out about. The crushing ache slapped into him again. He doubled over, gasping.

"Please..." Bowser whispered, "Not now. Let me see my son marry...let me see that he'll be okay...give me that long. Please..."

Whatever higher power was out there, it listened. The pain subsided and Bowser leaned back, wiping his hair out of his eyes. Sweat poured down his face like tears.

"Dammit!" he snarled and flicked the goblet into the fireplace with his tail. Deep down, he knew he didn't have much time. I need to get Junior married to Cherry. He can handle everything afterward, but I'll have to play nice guy with that pipe-dick plumber if there's gonna be any wedding bells. It won't be legal if they run off and elope, which I know they would do if Mario says no. Bowser drummed his claws on the arm of his throne. His face was pulled in an ugly sneer. Lightning flashed outside, illuminating a painting of Peach he kept on the back wall. Her unchanging smile reassured him. This time around, we'll do things the right way.

Bowser uncurled from his chair and headed to his sleeping chambers. Pausing outside the door, he told the Hammer Brothers guarding his bedroom, "Nobody wake me unless the volcano is erupting and the castle is about to blow up. I want to sleep in tomorrow."

The black-armored beings bowed in tandem. "Good night, your Badness."

Bowser entered his chambers, but paused when he heard Junior dialing the phone across the hall. Sleep could wait a few more minutes...he wanted to hear this.

Meanwhile, Cherry changed into her white nightgown and slowly brushed her long, black hair. Behind her, the brilliant reds and pinks of her bedroom revealed themselves dimly in the glow of her pink mushroom-shaped bedside lamp. She had just set her brush down when someone knocked on the door.

"Come in!"

Mario stuck his head in and peered over his half-moon glasses. His hair and mustache were completely white, his cheeks sagged a little like a dog's jowls and he had wrinkles around the corners of his eyes and mouth. Age caused his bottom lip to stick out more, making him appear to be perpetually pouting. "Cherry..."

"Yes?" she sat down on her bed.

He closed the door. "Ya were-a hanging around with-a Junior again. I saw him-a drop ya off."

Cherry's face blushed when she remembered giving him a smooch. "Yes. We would have been back sooner, except the Clown Car broke down again. Bowser fixed it. I had dinner with them as a thank you for being so patient with me being there."

"Those-a Koopas are-a trouble!" Mario snapped. "Especially that-a testa di cazzo, Bowser!"

"No!" she jumped up, offended. "Daddy! They're great. Don't talk like that about them." A hurt look passed across Mario's blue eyes. Cherry immediately felt bad. She reached out and hugged her father. "Daddy, Bowser has a secret you should know about. It's about mom."

"Oh?" he sniffed.

"Do you remember that tirade he went on at her funeral?"

"How-a could I forget?" the little plumber's expression darkened. "He-a blamed me for-a Peach's death!"

"I know...but the truth is he blames himself," she said, looking right into Mario's eyes, "He was projecting because he was still in shock about what happened. Junior and I...went looking for Bowser when he disappeared this afternoon. He was crying over mom's grave and telling her he was sorry that he left that day. He seems to have it in his head that if he hadn't left, he could have caught her or something. It''s nobody's fault, but you know how Bowser is, he has to blame somebody or something."

For a long time Mario didn't speak. He turned towards the window, as if the lightning had drawn his attention. Finally, he sighed and said, "Mamma mia, I had-a no idea...oh, all-a these-a years..."

Cherry patted his hand. "You guys need to make amends. Tell him it wasn't his fault. Or forgive him, I don't care what you say. But stop being enemies. The Koopas would be great allies if we could just get along."

Mario rubbed his mustache, frowning. "Let-a me a-think about-a it, Cherry."

"Don't take too long."

He nodded, and opened his mouth to say more when the mushroom phone rang.

Cherry grabbed it. "Hello?"

"Hey," it was Junior. "I'm calling to annoy your old man."

She giggled--"Hi, Junior!"--and watched Mario roll his eyes and walk out. "It worked! He just walked out, pouting."

That made Junior chuckle. He had a silky voice and musical laugh that didn't sound anything like his father's deep bass growl. Though Junior's voice did have a growl to it...the result of his first language being the roars, growls and grunts of his native race, his accent wasn't as pronounced as Bowser's.



"You kissed me."

Grinning, she flopped down on her bed. "It felt right. Did you like it?"

For a minute he didn't say anything. Then, he laughed again. "Yeah. But next time, I wanna kiss you. Deal?"


"Awesome. Now...uh--huh?" the phone shuffled and Cherry heard Bowser's voice in the background. Coaching him again, by the sound of it. Junior came back, "Hey, um--the big Mushroom Carnival is coming in three days--and I was wondering if--you'd like to come with me on--" his voice faded again, Bowser mumbled something, then he returned, "--a date."

A date! Cherry almost screamed in delight. She'd been waiting years for Junior to truly ask her out. "What time should I be ready?"

"Ten o'clock on Saturday."

"Works for me!" she smiled. She heard Bowser and Junior slap hands.

"Great! Awesome! I'll see you Friday..." Junior coughed and Bowser loudly corrected him in the background, "oh, I mean, Saturday!"

They were too funny. Cherry covered a giggle with her hand. "Okay...bye, Junior."

"Bye." Junior's line hung up.

Saturday took forever to arrive, but finally the sun came up on Saturday morning. Junior jumped out of bed, raced to shower and spent ages in front of the mirror, combing his orange hair. He was so nervous that his hands shook. A date with Cherry! He didn't want to mess it up!

It wasn't until the sun lit up his room that he stopped dead in his tracks. The horror of horrors stared back through his reflection.

A zit was growing on the side of his forehead! Right in a place where his hair wouldn't cover it! He might as well have a neon sign on his head because the zit was so obvious against his green skin. What if this ruined his date?

"Oh, no...DAD!"

Cherry stepped out of the shower at seven o'clock sharp and went about drying her hair. She'd decided not to wear her princess garb today. Instead, she'd wear her red T-shirt under a blue denim jumper, a feminine version of her father's old plumber outfit. For a carnival, it was more comfortable and her skirt was less likely to fly up on a ride. Arranging her hair took over an hour before she decided on a simple ponytail.

Then she saw herself in better light and froze.

There was a pimple on her chin! To Cherry, it looked as huge as Bowser's volcano crater. She crashed back into her bathroom for more makeup, but nothing would cover this monster. What if this ruined her date?

"Oh, no...DAD!"

And so it came to pass that Junior arrived at the Mushroom Castle wearing a ridiculous orange baseball cap. Cherry waited on the steps with a little white lace fan coyly covering her mouth and chin.

Cherry asked, "What's with the hat?"

And Junior asked at the same time, "Why do you have a fan?"

Sheepishly, Junior took off his hat so Cherry could see his zit. Blinking, Cherry lowered her fan so Junior could see her zit.

"I never would have noticed," they said simultaneously.

Junior grinned, Cherry covered her mouth and they both laughed until tears ran down their faces. Neither would forget this awkward moment for as long as they lived. Junior helped Cherry climb into the Koopa Clown Car and they sped off towards the brilliant colors and spirals of the Mushroom Carnival. There, they would completely forget the time.

Mario went to the carnival a few hours after Cherry. He hoped to find Bowser there, but the Koopa King was nowhere to be found. Then he glanced towards the hill holding Peach's statue, which was set in the center of the carnival, and saw a spiky shell. Of course...Cherry once told him Bowser went there at noon every day.

Pushing his way gently past two red yoshis and a toadling, Mario made his way up the hill. Bowser was kneeling, clipping the grass with a pair of gardening shears. He kept at it until Peach's grave looked like a perfect rectangle. Then Mario watched Bowser wipe the dust off Peach's statue with a gentleness that belied his fierce saurian appearance. Even more startling, he had tears rolling down his snout.

"Today's the carnival. Junior and Cherry are on their first date. Junior was so nervous that he puked...I spent half the morning laughing at him. He freaked out. Good thing he's got a dad like me to set him straight, huh? I used to get that nervous before kidnapping you...heh, heh! Imagine getting'd probably laugh too."

"She-a would have." Mario said.

Bowser whipped around, wide-eyed. His eyes flashed in recognition and he immediately wiped the tears off his face. "What the--" he cleared his throat, trying to sound angry, "w-what are you doing here? I didn't invite you!"

"Scusi!" he said sarcastically, "This is-a my wife's a-grave. I can-a come any time-a I want."

At that, Bowser's expression melted a little. He seemed to remember that he wasn't the lonely widow here. And judging by his frown, he was sulking about it. Mario scratched his mustache while observing the aging Koopa King. Bowser's hair had white streaks and his eyes were a little more squinty than he remembered. It wouldn't surprise him if Bowser's eyesight wasn't as sharp as it used to be and he just refused to wear glasses.

"How come you don't come here?"

The question startled Mario. It also made him feel guilty. His head sank a little into his shoulders and he shifted uncomfortably under Bowser's accusing glare. "I guess it's-a just a little easier if-a I remember her where-a she lived. If-a I come to her-a grave-a..." a hot lump swelled in his throat, turning his voice hoarse, "all-a I can-a see is-a her death. I don't-a want to remember her-a dead. Does-a that-a make sense?"

Bowser's eyes cooled to a less menacing gaze. Suddenly, he turned away to look at Peach's statue. "That's more than I'll ever have, Mario. You saw her smile, heard her laugh, made love to her. I'll admit I went about loving her in totally the wrong way, but that does not change the fact that I did love her." He said his words without growling or snarling, just utter frankness. It was also one of the few times Bowser ever said anything that didn't include a taunt or threat. "This," he gestured to the grave, "is all I have. Dammit, Mario! I never got to say goodbye!"

Mario dared to venture close enough to sit next to Bowser's hulking form. Bowser made no motion to encourage or discourage the action. Mario stared up at Peach's golden, smiling face. He could still remember finding her at the bottom of that damned staircase, her body twisted amidst the fabric of her pink gown and gold hair...her beautiful blue eyes dilated with death. The grave always made him remember that horrible moment. How he knelt and cried over her...those bitter tears welled up again like a painful swelling in his chest. He took his glasses off and covered his face with one hand, weeping openly. "It-a was not-a your fault, Bowser..."


"Peach...her fall-a was not-a your fault. No-a-body a-could have stopped it-a from a-happening. It-a was just-a very a-terrible accident." he sobbed, wiping his eyes, but the tears came so fast that he could not stop them. He didn't see the fresh silver trails blazing down Bowser's face. "Sometimes...there are-a days where-a I wonder if-a I a-could have stopped it-a if I'd just come around-a the corner five-a minutes sooner. Oh, my sweet-a Peach..."

Mario felt a huge, warm hand lay itself across his back. Before he realized what had happened, he was pressed to Bowser's side. "Let it all out." Bowser said, his bass voice trembling. "We've been crying for ourselves for too long. Now, we cry for her. Let it out."

Mario curled into Bowser and sobbed, faintly able to hear Bowser crying as well. Him and what was once his worst rival, weeping together for the woman they both loved. He knew Bowser was laying a lot out to cry in front of an adversary like this. It honor share this vulnerable moment with him. They cried until they ran out of tears. Then they leaned against each other, clinging for strength. Finally, Mario scooted away from the Koopa, pulled an old rag from the pocket of his blue overalls and blew his nose. Bowser just turned his head and blasted a half-gallon wad of snot into the bushes six feet behind Peach's grave. A couple of yoshis jumped up and cursed at them in their native language. Mario's face went from red to green and back to red.

"What?" Bowser wiped the residue off his nostrils and sniffed. "They don't make tissues strong enough for Koopas."

"'s-a just..." Mario went from tears to laughter, "That-a was-a mighty far-a shot! And ya ruined their-a picnic."

"Oh." Bowser's eyebrows crossed. He glanced at the bushes and laughed as well. "I just beat my old record! Yeah! Serves you right for eating there!"

The angry yoshis picked up the food that hadn't been snot-balled and stalked down the hill. Mario glanced past them and saw Cherry and Junior on the ferris wheel. He put his glasses on for a better look. They were kissing, smiling and holding hands. Bowser followed his gaze, squinting.

"They're in love. No doubt about it." said Bowser. "Hey, pipe-head...why not let those two get married? No, wait, don't say anything until I finish."

Mario closed his mouth.

"They love each other. Junior's had feelings for Cherry since they were little...and I've been thinking. Well, it was Junior's idea too, but...if they got married, we could ally our kingdoms. Open trade routes and stuff. The Koopa army could protect the Mushroom Kingdom from invaders and the Mushroom people can share their medicine with us. We could exchange technology, improve the economy, all kinds of good stuff. I can't see any better way of making the merge than by letting our brats hook up. But they'll hook up the right way...and maybe once in awhile I'll come around and kidnap your daughter--" and Mario glared at him for that, which made Bowser guffaw. "Mario! I'm kidding! Bwahaha! Oh, your face is redder than a spanked yoshi's ass!" Laughing made Bowser's wrinkles deepen.

Mario shook his head at the giant Koopa king and chuckled. He turned again to watch Cherry lay her head against Junior's bicep. Peach used to lean on him in a similar manner...and Peach did once say she'd rather that Cherry married for love than property or money. In this case, it'd be for both.

"Cherry does-a love him. She-a tried to-a keep it-a secret, but she-a is like her a-mother, I can-a tell. Letting them a-marry young might-a mean a long reign-a, wouldn't it?"

"Yeah, it would."

There was no need to think about it any longer. Mario met Bowser's eyes. "Let's-a do it."

"Awesome!" Bowser pumped his fist in the air. "We can finalize this on the go-kart track, whaddya say?"

"You're-a on!"

Various dings and beeps echoed around the stuffy yellow tent. Cherry and Junior stood over the Whack-a-Mole machine, pounding away.

Cherry shouted directions, "Quick! He's coming up again! AH! Get it!" while Junior tried to hit them with the mallet. The game wasn't designed for his huge hands, so he had trouble swinging the mallet without tossing it across the tent. So, just like his father, he cheated. He started using his tail and racked up a large ticket pile.

"Gotcha!" Junior roared triumphantly. He looked at the pile of tickets. "Oh, wow, I think we should stop playing now...the locals are getting mad..."

"Sure." Cherry tore the tickets from the slot, balled them up and stuffed them into Junior's shell. "C'mon, let's go watch the go-karts!"

Junior grinned roguishly, which made Cherry's heart do a flip-flop. As they walked out of the tent, she gave him a playful poke in the arm. He poked back gently. She nudged him a little harder. He goosed her ribs with his tail. Squeaking, she shoved him sideways as hard as she could...which did not move him very far. In return, he gave her a sideways shove so hard that she fell into the kiddy ball-pit. He laughed and took off running. She freed herself from the ball-pit and chased after him, giggling.

They arrived at the go-kart track gasping, flushed and sweaty. The track was a straight-away that curved into a hair pin turn, then straightened out like a concentric letter B. Cherry pushed to the front to see who was racing. Junior used his size to shove people out of his way and leaned on the railing. He spotted the two racers taking their positions by the stoplight. One was massive with a spiked shell and the other wore a red cap. There was no mistaking them.


"I see them too!"

The stoplight began to flash. Bowser grabbed a banana peel someone left on a nearby railing and set it against one of Mario's back tires. At the green light, Bowser took off. Mario spun out on the banana peel and got a face-full of dust.

"Playing fair is for wimps!" Bowser roared as he sped by. He went so fast that his hair was blown straight back. Cherry covered her nose so the dust of his kart wouldn't make her sneeze.

Mario finally got his kart going. He depressed the gas and zipped down the track towards Bowser, shouting, "Stronzo!"

Their engines roared around the corner towards the hair pin curve. Bowser kept trying to edge Mario off the track. They were shouting at each other and...Junior couldn't believe it...laughing. Smoke rose from their tires constantly bumping together. They came around the curve, Bowser in the lead. Ten feet from the finish line, Mario bumped Bowser's back tire in a way that made him fishtail off the road and crash into the bushes.

"You pesky pipe-pissing plumber!" roared Bowser, shaking his fist.

Mario stood up with his hands on his hips, leaned back and laughed. "Someone once-a said-a 'playing-a fair is-a for-a wimps!'"

"And it's a damn good quote, too! Because I made it up."

Junior turned away from their banter and stared goggle-eyed at Cherry. "Are you seeing what I'm seeing? Are they actually joking with each other?"

"They must have talked about mom." Cherry replied. "Let's follow them!"

"I--oof!" Junior tripped over his own tail in his haste to catch up with her. "I feel like I'm in some mirror universe where everybody has a goatee."

They followed Mario and Bowser into a tent with two pads covered in arrows on the floor. In front of them was a screen full of moving arrows. Mario focused on hitting the arrows under his feet. But Bowser? Bowser began to all-out breakdance. For such a huge, beefy guy, he was extremely athletic. Drops, six-steps, freezes, the turtle, air chairs, a huge windmill and he finished up by spinning around on his shell to win the game. The five-minute routine left him gasping and sweating, but he rolled back to his feet and shook Mario's hand. Apparently, in whatever competition they had, it was over and they were even.

Junior backpedaled a little when Bowser glanced towards him. Rather than walk over, Bowser just kind of steered Mario to a corner and they resumed their conversation.

"I think we should leave them alone to do their business," Cherry said, tugging on his arm. "C'mon, let's go get some hot dogs or something. I'm hungry."

"Hot dogs!" Junior grinned. "Big, fat juicy hot dogs with so much stuff on 'em that they spill everywhere. Now, I don't mean to brag, but," he pretended to polish his claws on his chest, "I can eat six hot dogs at once if I want."

Cherry burst out laughing. "I'd like to see that!"

"You asked for it." Junior said, leading her to the hot dog vendor and pulling a sack of coins from his shell. "I'll pay for yours, too. Just one? Gotcha." he paid for their food. The hot dogs arrived on a small tray that Junior carried to a secluded picnic table under a fat apple tree. He sat down and the wooden bench creaked under his weight. "Just kick me or something if this gets too gross for you."

Snickering, she picked up her hot dog and bit into it. Relish, mustard, ketchup and even bits of onion splattered back onto her tray. She let the different tastes sting her tongue. It was hard not to laugh at how bad Junior's table manners could be. He stuffed half a hot dog all the way into his mouth, bit down and chewed like a cow. Anyone who didn't know him would think him an ill-mannered buffoon, but she knew better. She sat there, watching him put all six hot dogs away in less than ten minutes. He pumped his fists in the air when he finished.

You're so funny. Cherry thought. She picked up a napkin and gingerly wiped the ketchup off Junior's mouth. They stopped and stared into each others' eyes.

"You're so much like your dad," said Cherry, laying her tiny hand on top of his huge one. "Junior, whatever happens in the future--if your heart goes bad, please listen to the doctors."


"Just promise."

He frowned and licked his fingers. "Okay, I promise. Why are you talking like this? My dad isn't gonna die any time soon."

Cherry shook her head, wiping a black lock of hair off her forehead. "I guess I just's hard to lose someone close to you too soon."

"Aw, Cherry, I'm not goin' anywhere if I can help it, so just--"

"BOO!" Bowser jumped out from behind the tree.

"AHH!" Junior fell off the bench, rocking on his back while Bowser laughed.

"Bowser!" Cherry held her chest, startled. "You almost gave me a heart attack! Oh...sorry..." she shrank back when her statement made his eyes flare. Heart attack jokes were not funny to him at all. He cooled and waved it off.

"I need to talk to Junior for a minute." Bowser said. His eyes were brighter than Cherry had ever seen them, almost as if the weight of the world had been taken off his shoulders. He dumped a handful of coins into Cherry's hand. "Scram, this is man-to-man business. Go play some games or something." the sharp words were said with a smile, indicating he didn't mean it in a rude way.

Cherry playfully tossed her napkin at Bowser's head and slid off the bench. "Sure. Junior, come find me when you're done."

Junior nodded, giving a thumb's up. Bowser leaned over and started talking into his ear. Whatever he said, it made Junior look really happy.

Happiness would be an understatement for how Junior felt. Reality moved at a snail's pace as Bowser said the magic words into his ear: "I worked everything out, kid. You're gonna marry Cherry." He was so happy he cried all over his father's chest. For once, Bowser didn't shove him away and tell him to stop it. The Koopa King's expression was unusually composed. "Kid, Junior, hey, listen...look at me."

Junior straightened to look Bowser in the eye.

Bowser reached into his shell and pulled out a small black box. In it was a ring, a beautiful gold ring with several diamonds set in a tiny Koopa shell-shaped frame. The brilliant stones sparkled like rainbow stars in the sunlight. Nothing in the world was more beautiful than that rock...except for Cherry. "Propose to her with this. But do it right. Make her look you in the eye. Then get down on one knee, real slow, and don't let go of her hand. Pop the box open with your thumb and let her see the ring. That is when you ask. It's all about the set-up."

"I'm nervous...what if she freaks out?"

"She won't." he said, placing the box in Junior's hands and closing his fingers around it. "This ring means a lot to me, Junior. I had it made for Peach, for when we got married. Since that didn't happen, I want you to have it." Junior's eyes wandered down to his father's hands clasped around his own. Bowser went on in a whisper, "I'll see a dream come true through you. Now, don't ruin it by getting drunk after you propose. Don't get drunk at your bachelor party and for shit's sake don't get drunk at your wedding--when it comes. Now go get your girl."

"Dad...isn't this a little soon?"

"No. The younger you two marry, the longer you can boss people around." Bowser grinned roguishly, showing off his sharp teeth. He gave Junior a push. "Go propose! No kidnapping unless she says no!"

Junior laughed and sprinted into the crowd.

Humph! I'm not fat like that! Cherry thought while observing her reflection in the fun house mirrors. The mirror she stood before made her look wider than she was tall.

Suddenly, a green and orange shape that looked like a saucer with flame-colored hair sprinted up in the background. "Found you!" Junior stopped next to a mirror that made him look tall and toothpick-thin, and Cherry barely covered a giggle.

"Hi, Junior! What's with the guy talk?" she took his hand. "Oh--you're shaking. Are you okay?"

"Y-yeah...Cherry, I'm fine." Junior replied. Licking his lips, he led Cherry away from the mirrors. His palm was damp against hers. He was really nervous about something. Maybe Bowser broke the news to him that they couldn't get married. She swallowed, building herself up for the bad news when Junior stopped and turned. As gracefully as a seven foot five inch tall Koopa possibly could, he dropped to one knee and looked up at her. "Cherry?"

Air suddenly caught in her throat. The rest of the world vanished and there was only the question on the tip of Junior's tongue. She saw it in slow motion--his hand opening to reveal a black box, the ring in the box glittering in the sun and his russet eyes moving to search hers. She saw all of his love for her lying naked on his saurian face.


"Junior..." her eyes welled over.

"Will you marry me, Cherry?"

Her knees buckled and she fell to eye level with him, cupping her free hand over the ring. Tears streamed down her cheeks. "Yes," she whispered against his mouth. "Yes," she kissed him deeply, "With all my heart, yes."

Junior's huge arms pulled her to his chest. Their kiss turned hot, passionate, a swirl of tongues and softness that stole their breath away. Then Junior drew back with a sheepish grin. He placed the ring on Cherry's finger. She marveled at how it sparkled against her bronze skin.

And around them, cheers erupted. Bowser came out from behind the fun house with Mario right next to him. Cherry saw Bowser give Junior a thumb's up. She suddenly realized that anyone in the area had seen Junior's very public proposal. And she could not stop giggling about it. He'd made her giddy...nobody had ever done that to her before. She saw Mario smiling at her with a twinkle in his eye.'d be so proud.

The next six months were filled with stress and wedding plans. A mile long guest list, reception details, ceremony details, places where Koopa and Mushroom cultures could mingle and the astronomical cost of the whole thing. Cherry and Junior hired and fired several wedding planners--they figured planning the wedding themselves would be easier than having some stylist tell them what to do. Their wedding cake was going to have twelve tiers. Chocolate cake shaped like Koopa shells, whipped cream frosting drizzled in more chocolate with cherries around the edges. At first, Junior and Cherry planned to have exotic food for the reception, but quickly changed their plans when they realized how impersonal it would be. They chose instead to have Cheep Cheep kabobs cooked en masse. The exotic part would be the drinks - various Mushroom and Koopa wines and punches. They also planned to provide a lot of finger-foods, like carrot sticks, meat platters and cheese. At one point, they sat down to read etiquette how-to books for both Mushroom and Koopa weddings. Both contradicted each other so much that they threw the books over their shoulders and laughed.

Mario and Bowser spent much of their time on paperwork. Creating treaties, signing mergers on their land and preparing the royal marriage license.

Bowser had another heart attack during the proceedings. A small one from all the stress, but damaging enough that he was out of commission for three weeks. He signed paperwork from his bed and threw a fit whenever Junior showed concern for his health. "We're planning your wedding, not my funeral!" he'd say.

When Bowser was well enough to walk around again, he helped Junior with his tuxedo fittings. Junior chose a pristine white tux. The only color would be his blood red boutonniere. Bowser's suit was the same, save he'd have a red cumber bun and tie. He couldn't stop looking over at Junior though...his littlest one, his baby, was going to get married. And he looked so handsome in his suit.

Just like his old man, Bowser thought, puffing his chest out.

At the same time, Cherry was having her dress fitted. She had decided to modify her mother's ballgown wedding dress to match her own personal style. For one, she had a red trim added around the hemline, red laces in the front and bits of red threaded through the edge of her veil.

Sometimes the planning got so insane that Junior and Cherry would hide from their fathers or the caterers. Closets were good for this. They'd sit in there and giggle like children while Koopas wearing chef's hats and Mushroom people carrying ribbons scrambled to look for them. At least, it was great until Bowser opened the door in search of toilet paper and caught Junior and Cherry about to consummate their wedding a little prematurely.

"Save it for your wedding night! Get your ass into the hall and help decorate!" Bowser shoved his son towards the far corridor. Junior kinda shrugged his shoulders in apology.

Cherry found Mario standing nearby, arms crossed and foot tapping. "You are-a definitely your-a mother's daughter." he said. "Let's-a go help the cooks."

They arrived in the kitchen. Mario broke off to help the poor chefs organize. Cherry's attention immediately went to Bowser, who came in and sat at a table by himself. He was never quite right after his latest heart episode. He moved slower, he tired faster and he seemed to have aged ten years in the span of weeks.


He looked up and barked, "I'm fine."

She smiled softly and laid her hand on his. "You're not needed right now. There's an empty room in the next hall over. It's got a bed. You should rest."

"Cherry..." Bowser sighed. "I--appreciate that you're worried about me. But I'm not a weakling."

Cherry took his hand. "Come on."


"Bowser!" she imitated his tone. "Just lie down for a little bit. If we need you, I'll come get you."

"Cherry," Bowser said yet again when they reached the room. He pulled her in and closed the door, leaning on it and staring her dead in the eyes.

She stopped tugging his hand. "Do you need a doctor?"

"No." he shook his head. "I'm dying, Cherry."

Reality screeched to a halt.

"Wait, what? But...what if you--before the--"

"I won't. No way in hell. I'm gonna be here to see his wedding." he looked away, clenching his teeth. "That's why I've been pushing it so fast...I know for a fact that I won't be here this time next year, which is the usual time it takes to plan such a huge deal. The doctors--they said the next big one I have will be the killer. I could drop, or I could be sick for awhile before I go. DON'T tell Junior! You can't," his tone turned pleading, "please, Cherry. You can tell him after the wedding, or maybe after I've had the big one. He'll be mad that I didn't tell him first--"

"Bowser...what..." Cherry struggled to wrap her brain around Bowser's revelation. The sorrow just didn't fit with the joy surrounding her upcoming wedding day. "W-what about your wishes? Machines, all that stuff?"

"I don't want it. My wishes are in writing and Junior knows it. That's why he freaks out every time I even look at my left arm funny. When I go, next time, I'm going to go." his forehead wrinkled and he put a hand over his eyes. "I'm sick of being hooked up to machines like a weakling. I've had a good life, my youngest is about to marry a gorgeous girl...I've done all I can and now it's time to move on, I guess. And look on the bright side--thanks to this wedding, I'll have a snazzy suit for my funeral."

The morbid joke didn't make either of them laugh. It finally occurred to Cherry that he was afraid. She'd never seen Bowser scared of anything before in her life. He was facing something that could knock him down so far that he would never get back up. Her heart swelled for him, compelling her to reach out and pull him into a hug. "Please rest then, Bowser."

The Koopa King finally relented. Scooting over, he settled down on his side. She stayed until she thought he was asleep. Just as she opened the door, he spoke, "It's not death that scares me, Cherry...I just don't want to die alone. Every time I go to sleep, I wonder if I'll wake up again. I...I've been dreaming about this door at the top of a staircase. I can't open it. What happens when it opens? What if I open it in my dream and then never wake up?" his eyes welled over.

Cherry moved back to his side and ran a hand over his hair. "Maybe my mom is on the other side, waiting for you."

He smiled at that.

"She kept those letters you used to write, you know."

"Did she?" Bowser's cheeks turned a funny shade of red. "I--didn't think they got to her."

Cherry nodded. "I think, deep down, she wanted to love you. She used to say you seemed so trapped in your ways," she picked some fuzz off his shell. "Maybe things for you didn't work out because Junior and me were meant to happen. And I wouldn't be here to marry him if my mom and dad didn't get married and have me. Anyway..." she shook her head, giggling self-consciously. "I believe in true love, and a love like that goes beyond this lifetime. If you love her as much as your letters said you do, you'll see her again."

"Thank you," Bowser closed his eyes and waved her away. "Scoot before I decide to get up and harass Junior some more."

Cherry shut the door, leaned against it and cried. And Junior, who seemed to have a radar when it came to her crying, came scampering down the hall.

"Are you okay?"

"Huh? Oh..." Cherry shook her head and wiped her eyes. It was easier to pretend she never heard Bowser's revelation. She leaned back, smiling through her tears, "Just stress. I made your dad take a nap, so keep your voice down. He's had the least sleep out of all of us over the past month."

"Tell me about it. He wants this to be as perfect as possible. Probably trying to make up for what he wanted for his own wedding to Peach. Sometimes it's damn funny." Junior said, chuckling. He tugged on his white bandanna. "At least our personal touches will be there, right?"

"Right." she started to lead him down the hall. "So the caterer actually okayed my cherry punch fountain?"

"Yup! I had to threaten to sit on the cake before he gave in." he grinned, offering his arm to escort her down the hall.

She slapped his arm before taking it, "What about the music?"

"Ludwig has something cooked up for us. Wendy is gonna sing at the reception, and that's if she doesn't whore herself around to every guy who isn't related to my dad first."

Cherry rolled her eyes. "You know the receiving line is going to be hell, right?"

"If it gets too bad, I'll just kidnap you."


The day of the wedding dawned cloudy and cold, but cleared and warmed as the sun climbed over the horizon. Bowser watched the morning come from his bedroom window. Once the sun broke the clouds, he smiled and padded to Junior's room. Junior was asleep with all but his head pulled into his shell. Bowser stood over his sleeping son, letting himself remember when he was just a tiny Koopaling. The other children grew up and away. Junior grew up...but always stayed close. Looking at him was like looking back in time, seeing himself in his younger years. In a way, having Junior marry Cherry was like time-traveling to the past to fix his mistakes with Peach. An old Koopa proverb even stated that "The son most like the father is the one who will erase the father's past sins."

Bowser reached out and tapped on Junior's spiked shell. "Junior, wake up. It's your big day."

"Five more minutes," mumbled Junior.

"Save it for when you're married." Bowser tipped Junior into an upright position and patted his face. "C'mon, up we go."

"Ack!" Junior's limbs popped out of his shell so he could sit under his own power. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and looked up, "I'm really getting married..."

"Yeah, you are. But you're gonna be late unless you get your shell in gear. Shower, breakfast, tux!" Bowser clapped his hands in a 'go, go, go' fashion.

"Dad! Slow down, would you?" snapped Junior. Then he let his breath out and a smoke ring rose from his nostrils. "Sorry...but wow the wedding isn't for six hours. I'd rather put the tux on later, so I don't get it dirty."

Bowser drew back. He felt little remorse for being so pushy, but he hadn't taken Junior's nerves into consideration at all. It dawned on him that this wasn't his future. He'd been pushing all of this on Junior out of his own selfish desire to see him marry into the Toadstool family because it was the closest thing to seeing himself marry Peach. Junior and Cherry happened to fall for each other on their own...with a little of his help, of course. But he was rushing everything out of fear of his own mortality.

"I feel like it's all going so fast. The day will zip by unless we stop and breathe, dad. I want be able to sit and watch, not just act, know what I mean?"

"Yeah. But breakfast is important. I'm gonna make my famous Bowser bacon. Nobody makes it better than me!" Bowser puffed his chest out and tried unsuccessfully to suck his stomach in. Then he sighed and patted his belly. "I'm old and fat."

Junior slapped his father's belly. It didn't jiggle like pure fat. "I prefer to think of it as experienced and well-fed."

"Great idea!" Bowser jumped up. "Good thing I thought of it."

More awake now, Junior stood up and stretched, laughing. He ran to the window, threw open the curtains and shouted loud enough to wake the dead, "I'M MARRYING CHERRY TOADSTOOL TODAY!"

"Shut up!" somebody else yelled.

Yes, you are, kid...yes you are. Bowser laughed, tapped his tail once and headed out. He hadn't bullied the chefs in awhile...they were due for a good scare.

"Buon giorno, my-a little-a bride to-a be..."

In the dark room, Cherry's eyes fluttered. "'s early."

Mario smiled softly down at her, petting her dark hair. Just like her mother, she wasn't much of a morning person. "I know. There's a lot-a to-a do. Hair-a, nails, makeup and a lot-a of a-nerves."

"I'll be nervous when I'm more awake." Cherry sat up to kiss Mario's cheek. "Am I dreaming, or am I really getting married today?"

He stared down at her sleepy blue eyes and messy hair. His heart ached with memories of Peach, who also looked extremely discombobulated when she first woke up in the morning. Ever since he first held Cherry in his arms, he hoped and prayed that she would marry someone who took good care of her. Someone who cared about her, loved her and wanted her happy. He just never expected it to be Bowser's son. He could remember not wanting her to be friends with Junior at first, fearing he'd turn out just like his tyrannical father.

But Bowser changed when Peach died. Mario saw how much when they cried together several months ago. He was also there when Bowser had an attack in the middle of a hallway. The Koopa King passed out cold in his arms, gasping for air. The Mushroom medics got him stable enough to go home...but Mario never forgot the sight of Bowser's face turning white from lack of oxygen.

Mario shook off the memory and turned back towards Cherry. "Your-a mother would-a be so-a proud. And-a I'm going to-a say it again-a when I see-a you in-a ya wedding-a gown."

She sighed deeply. Taking his hand, she rested her head on his knee. "I'm really going to be a bride."

"Si." said Mario. "The-a most-a beautiful-a bride..."

"I wish mom was here."

Those five words touched something in his heart. He blinked away tears and patted her head. "She-a would-a say that-a no a-woman has-a ever looked as-a beautiful-a as-a you will-a today."

"I'll believe it when I don't look like a zombie." Cherry said, sitting up. "I guess I better go eat breakfast and take a shower." she kissed the end of Mario's round nose and staggered into her bathroom. Then, after freshening up, she made her way to the kitchen for a hearty breakfast.

A white figure stared through Junior's mirror. No, Junior reminded himself, that was his own reflection. That handsome guy in a white tuxedo was him. He glanced over his shoulder at Bowser, who was finishing up his red bow tie.

"We are going to be the hottest guys there," Junior said.

"Don't you forget it either." said Bowser with a grin. "Now, for the last touch..." he flipped open a box. Inside it sat a rare red Fire Flower mixed with tiny white baby's breath blossoms. Junior stood up straight while his father pinned it to the lapel of his tuxedo jacket.

"Looks great, dad." Junior opened the other box, which just contained an ordinary rose. He pinned it to Bowser's coat lapel.

"Awesome. Now...listen because this is really important. On your wedding night, you guys can't just jump in bed and screw. There's no romance in that--"

Junior's face flushed. "Dad!"

Bowser raised a hand and cut him off. "It's the truth. Sex is rough between two Koopas...a female can take it. But Cherry isn't like us. She's more fragile. You're a big boy like me and she's a virgin...I hope."

"Y-yeah," he shifted uncomfortably, "you caught us before we got that far."

"Oh, so she saw how big you are?"

"Uhh...yeah...and it didn't scare her. She just said 'oh, you're just big all over, aren't you?'"

"Ah--in that case," Bowser grinned like a cheshire cat. "Girls seem to like it when we Koopas get on all fours. So just kind of crawl up to her on the bed with it all hanging out. And growl to show how much you want her. But when it gets down to it, Junior, you have to go slow. You're going to be pushing into something about--" he curled his thumb and forefinger together, approximating something barely larger than his little finger, "--this big. So you should lick her clitty 'till she's good and wet before you pop her cherry. Heheh, her name's Cherry, you're gonna pop Cherry's cherry! BWAHAHA!" he slapped his knee, laughing. "Anyhow, for shit's sake, give her pussy time to stretch for you, or she won't like it when things get heavy and you'll end up sleeping on the floor."

"Lick her clitty? Pop her--DAD! Holy shit, you are the biggest pervert I ever met." Junior's eyes grew saucer-sized. He could not believe he was talking about sex with his father like this. The wedding itself made him nervous enough! Maybe things would have been easier if he and Cherry did it in the linen closet and got it out of the way! Now he was going to be worried about hurting her, or worse!

"And I'm damn sexy, too." Bowser guffawed at Junior's nauseated expression. He grabbed his shoulders, spun him around and pushed him to the door. "C'mon, son, you don't want to be late to your own wedding. Let's go!"

The next two hours went by Junior in a blur. Years later, when he looked back on this day, he would barely remember arriving at the castle or greeting his older siblings. Wendy finally grew some long red hair that she draped over one eye...and she wore a slutty red dress with what looked like a slit reaching to her armpit, but it somehow flattered her voluptuous frame. Roy and Morton both wore zoot suits - Roy's was red like his sunglasses frames and Morton's a light gray like his shell. They were both fatter than Bowser, though Junior knew Morton was all muscle. Iggy and Lemmy had loud tuxedoes that nearly required earmuffs to even look at them. Larry's black tie looked rumpled on his short frame, and he'd slicked his blue hair back. Ludwig had on a cutaway jacket with tails--he grew up to be very tall and lean, so the jacket made him look like a scarecrow.

Ludwig hadn't changed a bit. He stood at the far end of the great hall, shouting at his orchestra. "Nein, nein, nein! That is not the vay it goes! Go back to measure eight and pay attention to the time change! Don't crescendo until the tempo rubato on beat three, and observe the staccato marks. Are ve ready?" He lifted his baton. The orchestra, a compilation of Koopa troopas, Mushroom people and yoshis, all held their instruments at ready. On the downbeat, they began playing an incredible march. It sounded like a war song until it segued into a flowing melody.

Junior thought about how Cherry's hair shone in the sun and how her eyes flashed when she laughed. He stared straight ahead at the great hall. A red carpet had been rolled out all the way to the gigantic multicolored rosette window in the back. Sunlight was just beginning to hit the southeast stained glass windows, making them glow. He knew that by the time Cherry walked down the aisle, she'd be walking through pillars of sunlight. She'd be glowing. Literally.

"Little Bowsie Junior is getting married! I can't believe it!" Wendy dropped onto the bench next to Junior. Her six gold bangles jingled together on her wrists. "You look nervous. Don't be so scared, it's just a bunch of pomp and poof."

Junior ducked his head and grinned, "Maybe to you. How many times have you been married now? Six?"

"Eight. They were all bastards." she turned to eye the others walking around. "Just you wait 'till Ludwig gets going. He really set up a nice concert for the wedding procession. Oops! I better go, I need to rehearse for the reception! See you later, shrimp!"

"Have fun, Barfhead."

She glared at him and stalked off. As usual, she whined in Bowser's ear about it before storming out to her rehearsal.

Cherry stepped from her dressing room to observe her reflection. The bodice of her off-the-shoulder wedding gown hugged her frame, red straps lacing up the front to make it more snug. Her skirt, layers of tulle fluffed by a crinoline, flared from the red-trimmed basque waist and ended in the red thread at the hemline. She'd removed the train, opting instead for a cathedral length veil that she could take off after the wedding. The tiara her veil was attached to was six inches high and covered diamonds. She thought it was a terrible, heavy thing at first, but once she got used to it, it really wasn't so bad. The hairstylist had pulled her black hair into a bun with curls dripping down her cheeks. A ruby choker and matching bracelets completed her look.

She had just pulled her blusher veil over her face when the door swung open. A short figure in a tailored white suit appeared.

"Oh...mamma Cherry..." Mario froze and began to weep openly right there in the doorway. "My bambina...Luigi, she-a looks-a stunning!"

Luigi plodded in, leaning slightly on a snazzy wooden cane. His hair wasn't completely gray yet and he didn't wear glasses, but his face had many wrinkles. He grinned over at Cherry, his eyes twinkling, "Cherry! Ciao! Come stai?"

"Uncle Luigi! Va bene cosí." Cherry replied, swishing over to hug her uncle. Over his shoulder, she saw Daisy wearing a yellow ballgown with a less poofy skirt. "Auntie Daisy!"

"Cherry!" Daisy swept into the room, all smiles and not one bit self conscious of her gray hair, which she'd decorated with gold beads. "Oh, my goodness, you look gorgeous!" she clicked her tongue and gasped as if awestruck. "Oh, stand with Mario and Luigi so I can take a picture."

And so Daisy went wild with her camera.

Cherry went along with the poses, but her mind was on Junior. She thought about how his eyes smiled just for her and the gentle way he always held her hand. They met when, during one of Bowser's many attempts on Peach, Junior fell out of Bowser's Koopa Clown Car and hurt his foot. He started crying and cursing. She ran out against her father's wishes, pulled the band-aid off her knee and stuck it to his bleeding middle toe. He'd snorted, glared with beady eyes and said "You're pretty for a shrimp!" and then ran to catch the rope ladder Bowser dropped for him. The very next day...he reappeared alone and gave her a yellow tulip. Didn't say a word, he just handed her the smooshed flower and ran away. From then on until Peach died, they played together in secret.

It was hard to believe that beady-eyed, snot-nosed Koopaling would one day be her future husband.

But I wouldn't change a thing about it, Cherry thought as she smiled for Daisy's camera. I don't regret any of this. No regrets, no fears, no second thoughts. So what if he proposed during our first date...this is better than walking into a room and facing some man I don't even know. This way I can see the future. Junior will make me happy, and I'm going to make him happy, she blinked as the camera flashed, We're going to start a new era together.

Bodies packed the benches in the Mushroom Castle's main hall. Koopas on one side, Mushrooms on the other and many yoshi species mixed between the two.

The ceremony began with Bowser and Junior. They emerged from the back in complete silence - Bowser carrying an unlit torch and Junior holding a small tray of oil. They faced each other, lit the torch with their flaming breath and set it down in a stand by the altar. The oil bucket was set aside. Koopa marriage traditions dictated that at the conclusion of the ceremony, Junior had to drop the torch into the tray, then leap over the flame with Cherry in his arms. It would symbolize his willingness to protect her from all dangers, even those that risked his own life. Lava was normally used, but there was no way Mario would allow lava inside the castle, so a controlled fire became the substitute.

Bowser took up his best man position next to Junior and nodded to Ludwig. Ludwig's eyes lit up. He turned to the orchestra, lifted his baton and began the first movement. It was the march Junior heard earlier. Right on cue, his brothers and sister emerged, each one with a Mushroom person of the opposite sex at their side. Wendy looked utterly offended at having to walk next to someone half her height. Junior tried not to snicker. He let his eyes lose focus until the people just looked like blobs moving through the shafts of sunlight.

Two baby yoshis, one red female and one blue male, came skipping down the aisle behind Junior's family members. They dropped red rose petals from little baskets clutched in their clumsy hands.

Then came two Goombas - one wearing a red bow on her head and another wearing a red bow tie around his neck - bearing the precious wedding bands in their teeth. They presented the rings to Bowser, who knelt to accept them. Junior's ring was actually a gold bracelet--with all the planning, Junior forgot to get a ring sized for his huge finger, so he was going to use a bracelet instead. Nobody could tell the difference.

Daisy appeared by herself, bearing a bouquet of yellow roses that matched her gown. Luigi's dreamy eyes followed her from the back of the church to the altar.

The music decrescendoed to just a single violin, like a fire dying to an ember. All eyes turned to the double doors in the back.

"Remember this moment," Bowser whispered in Junior's ear. "Your life changes now."


Ludwig gave a downbeat. His orchestra began the haunting melody that made Junior daydream earlier. The double doors in the back swung open and Cherry emerged into the first shaft of sunlight. Her dress became a gleaming star moving fluidly from sun patch to sun patch. Junior swallowed hard. Tears came into his eyes. He didn't even notice Mario holding Cherry's arm. He saw nothing but her form seemingly floating in outer space. Cherry felt the same, all she saw was that amazingly handsome Koopa waiting for her in front of the rosette window. She did not see Bowser standing right next to him, nor did she see Toad hopping up onto the altar. Just like the proposal, time ceased to be for Junior and Cherry. All that separated them was a twenty foot aisle.

Bowser found himself overcome with emotion, something he did not expect. When Junior stepped forward, kissed the hand Cherry so gracefully extended and then knelt down on the altar stairs so they were eye to eye...Bowser felt tears roll down his cheeks. His mind kept replacing the image before him with one of himself and Peach. He blinked it away, not wanting to miss Junior's ceremony.

Mario slowly withdrew from Cherry's arm. His eyes were also overflowing a little. He couldn't believe his baby, his little girl, was about to get married. Cherry glanced back at him, smiled and patted his cheek. Mario dabbed his eyes with a fancy white handkerchief.

"You're beautiful," Junior whispered.

Cherry smiled softly, "And you look handsome."

He grinned at her.

Toad cleared his throat and looked out over the congregation. "Who gives this Princess away?"

"I, King-a Mario, do." Mario stated. His voice remained steady despite his emotions. With a graceful bow, he sidestepped and sat next to Luigi. In a whisper, he said to his brother, "I never thought-a I'd see-a the a-day..."

Luigi nodded and lowered his head. The wedding hurt him slightly - he and Daisy couldn't have children. He wouldn't get to see any of his own babies marry off like this. They made up for it by adopting Amaryllis and Larkspur, the baby yoshis that carried the rose petals down the aisle. Luigi's brief bitterness quickly disappeared as the wedding atmosphere permeated the giant hall.

Junior and Cherry faced each other. Neither noticed much beyond one another's eyes. Toad's voice floated to them from somewhere far away.

"Cherry, Bowser Junior, we have come together here to witness not only your joining in marriage, but the joining of two kingdoms who were once bitter enemies." Toad spoke so all could hear him, smiling. He saw how the two looked at each other. "Junior..."

At the sound of his name, Junior jerked himself back to reality. "I do!"

Laughter broke out in the congregation. Cherry socked Junior's shoulder and wrapped her arm around him, giggling. Bowser slapped his palm over his eyes and shook his head. Junior's face flushed bright red. He mumbled an apology, but now it was impossible to be completely serious. Ah, maybe all the pomp and circumstance wasn't so bad after all.

"We might be jumping the fire a little too soon, there. You don't say 'I do' until after I've told you what you're saying 'I do' to." Toad said, his eyes twinkling.

"But I already know what I'm getting into," Junior replied. Cherry cracked up and slapped his arm. He looked out to the crowd, "See what I mean? Pre-spousal abuse!"

"It's not too late to run for it, Junior!" Larry shouted. At that, Junior pretended like he was going to bolt. Then he grinned and returned to his kneeling position in front of Cherry.

"I can't believe I'm marrying this dork." Cherry snickered affectionately.

Roaring laughter erupted again, breaking the nervous tension. Bowser crossed his arms, shaking his head in amusement. Junior never could do anything the conventional way. In a split second he'd turned his somewhat boring, tradition-laden wedding into a funny memorable moment.

Once everybody settled down, Toad turned towards Junior and nodded his head. "Prince Bowser Koopa Junior, do you take Princess Cherry Toadstool as your legal wife? Do you promise to love her through rain and fire, through sickness and health, through rich times and poor times, through laughter and tears and with eyes for no one else as long as your heart beats?"

Junior met Cherry's eyes and squeezed her hands. "I do."

Toad asked Cherry to repeat the same vows. She grinned and let her forehead touch Junior's. "I do."

At the appropriate moment, Bowser held out his hand so Junior could grab Cherry's ring. Junior awkwardly grasped the tiny band between his forefinger and thumb claws, terrified of dropping it.

"Repeat after me," Toad smiled. "With this ring, I wed thee forever."

Junior slid the ring onto Cherry's finger. "With this ring, I wed thee forever."

Bowser's hand extended towards Cherry. She blinked at the size of the ring, took it and shrugged with a knowing grin. A few people laughed in the audience. Even Toad giggled.

"Repeat after me. With this ring, I wed thee forever."

"With this ring, I wed thee forever." Cherry pushed Junior's ring onto his middle finger. She had to squeeze it over the second knuckle. Once she got it in place, it would never move again.

Toad closed the scroll he was reading from. "Congratulations, you two," he whispered happily. Then he raised his voice so all could hear him, "With the power given to me by the King, I pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride!"

This was the moment Junior had been waiting for. He delicately lifted Cherry's blusher veil, smoothed it behind her shoulders and pulled her close. She cupped his cheek, her new wedding ring gleaming for all too see. Their lips met in their first kiss as a married couple and the entire hall burst into cheers.

"Misses Cherry Toadstool-Koopa." Junior grinned.

"Mister Bowser Koopa-Toadstool Junior," Cherry grinned back. "Let's jump the fire."

"You got it." he said. Grabbing the torch, he threw it into the tray Morton hastily pulled up to the stairs. Then he swept Cherry into his arms and leapt over the roaring flames. "Yahoo! I'm a married Koopa now!" Upon landing, he twirled around and kissed her again, utterly giddy with happiness. "We did it, Cherry! We did it."

"We sure did," Cherry clung to his neck. "Ready to party?"

He tossed his head back, flicking his hair out of his eyes. "Hell yeah."

Bowser watched from the altar as Junior spun his blushing bride around in circles. All the times he thought he'd seen Junior look happy were obliterated by that one moment where his smile caught the light. He stood there in stillness as Junior carried Cherry all the way to the doors leading outside.

He's married his princess, his Cherry. Oh, Peach, can you see how happy they are? he glanced up as if expecting her spirit to be there. Of course, there was nothing but color from the stained glass windows reflected on the white ceiling. He watched his new in-laws process up the aisle.


Bowser's eyes flicked to Mario. He hadn't even noticed the plumber approaching. "What'cha want?"

"It's-a lonely moment for-a me-a too." Mario turned to the open door. "But-a they're a-gonna be just-a fine."

The Koopa King lowered his gaze to the floor and smiled. All the pushing, advice-giving and teaching was over. There was nothing more to teach Junior. He lifted his head again, remembering the night in his throne room where he pleaded with the fates to let him live to see Junior marry.

"Thank you," he whispered.


He glanced at Mario. "Oh, nothing...c'mon, let's go make pigs of ourselves."

The reception was set to take place in the courtyard, where a huge canopy had been strung up keep the sun from melting the eight foot wedding cake. Wendy took over the stage by the stone dance floor and crooned into the microphone. She was a great singer. Everyone got into the food - the Cheep Cheep kabobs were a huge hit - and drink glasses clinked everywhere.

Bowser vaulted up onto the stage after Wendy finished a song. He roared and spat a stream of fire over the crowd to get everyone's attention. Once the courtyard went silent, he held up his huge wine goblet. "It really chaps my ass when nobody pays attention to me," he began, grinning when Junior rolled his eyes. "Mario, get up here."

Confused, Mario hopped up on-stage next to Bowser.

Bowser went on, "Everybody, look around. I'm better-looking than whoever you're sitting next to. BWAHAHA! Just kidding! Okay, seriously now..." his bass voice grew softer, "Junior, I'm so proud of what you've done today. You did what I could never do, and I couldn't be happier than I am right now. And Cherry, you gorgeous young lady, you're really a sweetheart. Just like your mom was. I hope my boy makes you happy." Then, turning to Mario, he said, "Now, I propose a toast to the joining of our kingdoms. To the start of the Koopa-Mushroom empire!"

Everybody cheered and raised their glasses. Bowser slapped his glass against Mario's before downing his entire drink.

Laughing, Mario opted to use the microphone instead of shouting. "I'd-a like to-a say congratulazioni to-a Junior and-a my sweet-a Cherry. At-a first I was-a skeptical about-a this-a wedding, but-a Cherry a-changed my mind-a about-a Junior and-a Bowser. This-a day means a lot-a to me-a. Cherry, your-a mother would-a be-a so a-proud. Mamma mia, I'm-a getting emotional..." his voice cracked, but he cleared his throat and wiped his eyes. "I hope-a for-a many-a happy years to-a come after today." he sniffed and raised his wineglass, "Buona fortuna!"

The gathering cheered in unison and took a hearty drink of whatever they had in their glasses. Then the dance floor cleared as Junior and Cherry made their way to the center. Cherry had removed her veil, but still wore the glittering tiara. Junior was so much larger than her that it appeared their dance would be awkward, but they had practiced this moment for months. Junior took Cherry's right hand in his left and settled his free hand on her back. She let her free hand rest on his right arm.

Wendy cued the musicians and began to sing, "I took my love, I took it down. Climbed a mountain and turned around. I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills, 'till the landslide brought me down..."

Cherry and Junior drifted gently around the dance floor like two stars bound by gravity. Once again they forgot anyone else was there, having lost themselves in their wedding bliss. Wendy's clear voice carried them through their first dance. Junior finished by lowering Cherry into a graceful dip. She giggled and kissed him, arousing cheers from the crowd.

The reception really took off after that. Junior and Cherry cut the cake and fed each other a piece. Morton got in a fight with Ludwig over the orchestra and Larry had to break them up. Luigi danced with Daisy. Larkspur and Amaryllis gave flower petals to anybody who wanted one. Three Goombas managed to get squished when a serving platter fell on them. Bowser and Junior staged a tandem breakdancing session that cleared the dance floor. Cherry proved she could still do a backflip while wearing heels and a wedding gown. Iggy and Lemmy passed out in the corner, mumbling about the fuzz in their heads. Mario drank Lakitu under the table. Wendy charged all the single men two gold coins to kiss her and walked around jingling her purse. Roy released a fake Bob-omb that made noise and threw confetti everywhere. It was the biggest party the Mushroom kingdom had ever seen, and everybody was having a good time.

Finally, the sky began turning orange as the sun began its descent.

Cherry performed the customary bouquet toss. Wendy caught it and bragged her head off until she saw that a yoshi snagged the garter. The yoshi puckered his snout for a kiss. Seeing this, Wendy screamed. Everybody laughed at her.

Bowser and Mario stood together once again to watch Junior and Cherry leave the reception. All of Junior's brothers scribbled vulgar words for sex all around the huge JUST MARRIED banner tied to the back of the Koopa Clown Car.

"Bye, daddy!" Cherry shouted over the Clown Car's engines. She read one of the words written on the banner and blushed.

Mario waved to her, a bit wobbly from all the liquor he consumed with Lakitu.

Junior gave a thumb's up that Bowser quickly returned. Then the Clown Car lifted off. Nobody really noticed a rope dangling from the back of it until a loud bang drowned out the cheers. All eyes went to the crudely-carved, ten foot long wooden phallus swinging behind the Clown Car. The shocking sight gave way to roaring laughter. Cherry grabbed Junior's arm and showed him the source of the joke. Junior stopped the 'Car, peeked over the side and immediately looked at his dad. Bowser grinned and guiltily pointed to Mario. When Mario noticed Bowser pointing at him, he elbowed Bowser's ribs. Junior almost fell out of the 'Car laughing. He cut the rope and sped away.

"And there they go," said Bowser. "So, Mario....Mario?"

Mario was sprawled out on his back, snoring.

Bowser rolled his eyes and bent over, "Ugh, never let tiny people drink Koopa wine." As he reached for the unconscious plumber, he felt a tightening behind his breastbone. It had enough punch to make him pause mid-motion and touch his chest. The sensation disappeared as fast as it came. He forgot about it, hefted Mario over his shoulder and walked back towards the party, "Hey, everybody, check it out! Mario's drunk! Who wants to write on him?"

In Bowser's castle, a wedding suite had been prepared for the married couple. Soft velvet sheets, pillows, candles and champagne were all waiting for them when they arrived. Junior carried Cherry over the threshold. They were literally buzzing to go after they spent most of the Clown Car ride kissing and watching the sunset. But Junior wanted to brush his teeth first so his garlic breath didn't ruin their night.

The things Bowser said to him about the wedding night came crashing through his mind. Junior finished brushing his teeth and spat in the sink. Mating between two Koopas was so simple. The guy just climbed onto the girl's back, did his thing and then left the girl to take care of herself afterward while he cleaned up. The rules were different with Cherry. He had to go slow, make sure she felt pleasure instead of pain and be willing to let her get on top if she wanted.

What if I screw this up somehow? I...I could get carried away and break one of her arms if I'm not careful, he squatted down and shrugged his shell off. Naturally, he was a hunchback because the heavy shell bent his spine. He felt naked and vulnerable without its weight. I wonder if--

"Junior..." a bronze leg slid around the door, the foot still wearing a white high heel. "Come on, big boy. Get undressed and come to bed."

Junior gulped and his pants suddenly got tight around his lower half. "C-coming! Just a sec! I'm--I'm getting naked in here..." Oh, THAT was real sexy, he thought. He pulled his pants and jacket off and hung them up. Then came the tie and shirt. He paused to smile at his wedding band. The whole day seemed like a dream until now. He shut the bathroom lights off and peeked into the bedroom, glad to find the light low in there, too. Good, less chance of his hunched back freaking her out.

Here goes, Junior slipped into the bedroom. Cherry had also undressed and was lying on her side. She patted the mattress, smiling. His feet got cold all over again. She was gorgeous.


"You call that a growl?" Cherry raised an eyebrow. "I thought Koopa mating growls were a lot, oh, I dunno..."

She moved her legs and her scent curled towards Junior's nose. He felt his senses come alive with instincts he didn't understand. All he knew was this woman belonged to him, and no one else could have her. His throat contracted in a deep, guttural growl that rattled the walls. "Mine," the growl said in his native tongue, "you are mine!" A second later, he crawled onto the bed, looming over her so she could see how much she excited him. He saw her breath catch. If he frightened her, it only lasted a second.

"Cherry," Junior whispered, "We don't have to--"

"Shh," she pressed her lips to his and guided one of his hands to her breast. Her free hand stroked his hair, calming his nerves...but wasn't she supposed to be the nervous one? If she was, it didn't show. "Just go slow. I'll let you know if I don't like something. Deal?" When he nodded, she pulled the velvet covers over their heads and giggled.

A moment later...


"Mmh, Junior, that feels so...w-what?"

"Uh, nevermind."

Major changes took place over the next four months. Roads between the two kingdoms were planned. Joint ownership was given to a gold mine discovered on the border of both kingdoms. Cherry and Junior decided to mint a new coin to commemorate the kingdom mergers. The new coins had Mario's head on one side and Bowser's on the other.

Cherry noticed Bowser growing withdrawn as time passed. Reading paperwork left him grouchy. His visits to Peach's grave grew longer. Flights of stairs made him wheeze more than usual.

One warm Sunday afternoon, a rough game of tennis with Junior caused his feet to swell up three times their size. He could hide this from Junior, who was good at not seeing what he didn't want to see. But Cherry wasn't fooled.

"You're pushing yourself too hard." she scolded him.

"Old age. You get tired faster when you're old. Sucks, doesn't it?"

"It's more than that. Have you told Junior?"

"You know he's just going to get clingy when I do."

"He loves you, he'd want to be with you."

Bowser looked at her from under his bushy eyebrows. Looking up like that made his forehead wrinkle. The fierceness in his eyes reached her from all the way across the room. He was slouching on his throne, his right elbow propped on the chair's arm, his cheek resting against his fist and his right ankle crossed over his left knee. It was daylight out, but the throne room was always gloomy.

"And I think Junior has a right to know so he can say goodbye, given the chance." Cherry walked forward, her red dress swishing around her legs. "It's not fair to take that away from him. Think about how you felt when you heard my mom felt robbed."

He looked away.

"Bowser...daddy..." she'd taken to calling him 'daddy' on occasion, now that he was her father-in-law, "You've been his strength all his life. Having you die without a goodbye would be like a castle losing its foundation. He'll collapse and he'll blame himself and then he'll get angry at you for leaving him."

"He's a big boy. He'll live."

How could he be so dismissive? Cherry clenched her fists and bit back the urge to swear. "You just don't want him to see you die. Is that it?"

Bowser doubled his efforts to avoid meeting her gaze. Finally, he said, "I don't want him to see me weak."

"He already has. He doesn't think anything less of you. Tell him, Bowser. He'll have that much more time to prepare if the worst happens."

He chewed on his pinkie claw and the wrinkles in his brow deepened. "I'll talk to him tonight."

Cherry nodded once. "Good, because if you didn't do it soon, I would have done it for you."

A rumbling chuckle from Bowser, "Now let's hope I don't croak before tonight."

"You better not."

Hours later, over a huge pasta dinner, Bowser kept his word and told Junior everything. Cherry watched the color drain from Junior's face. While Junior tried to collect himself, Bowser blithely went on, "...and it's up to you whether or not you want to be around if I linger before I go. I won't get pissed if you leave the room and I won't get pissed if you're not with me when it happens." he scooped some meatballs into his mouth and talked with his mouth full, "You don't have to take care of me if you don't want to. Cherry already said she would deal with breaking the news to people and arranging the funeral and all that other crap that happens after somebody dies."

Junior couldn't seem to talk. Cherry reached over and laid her hand on his arm. Bowser went on eating as if everything he just said meant less than the weather. Finally, Junior excused himself and walked out into the south corridor.

Never in her life had Cherry seen someone break such bad news in such an appalling way. Maybe it was easier for Bowser to treat it like a triviality.

"Are you gonna eat that?" he pointed to her meatballs.

"You can have it." Cherry shoved the plate towards him and stomped out into the hall.

She found Junior standing under a wall sconce, staring a painting of his father. Being a conceited creature, Bowser had many paintings of himself hanging all over the castle. Each picture depicted him looking strong, all bulging muscles and bared teeth. There were even a few "nudes" where he was painted in battle with his penis sticking out, the Koopa way of displaying masculinity in art. They were not a shy race when it came to showing off. She even thought the genitals were exaggerated until she saw Junior's. Their private parts really were that long. She shook away her thoughts and studied the image that held Junior's attention. The painting showed Bowser leaping, his muscles flexed as he spit orange fire at an unseen foe on his left.

Looking at the picture let Cherry realize how much Bowser had aged. His arms and legs were still all muscle, but lacked the definition of his youth. He was thicker around the middle. Even if he worked out every day for a year, he would never regain the body he had at Junior's age.


"My dad has always been the toughest guy I know. He'd get beat down by Mario and get back up again. He survived those heart attacks and got back on his feet. I just can't imagine him going out this way. Parents aren't supposed to die...but they do. You know that more than anyone." He faced her, deadpan. "He's always been there for me. I can't imagine that one day I'll look for him and he won't be there."

She leaned on his chest, "I'll still be here."

"I know, and I'm glad," he said. His big arm came around to cradle her against him. He sniffled and she felt warm wetness drip onto her cheek.

"Junior, I was an ass back there." They both looked up. Bowser appeared in the doorway. "I just don't want to make a big deal out of it. Moping about it won't change things. I've been getting the best out of every day. At least if I don't wake up tomorrow, I won't sit on a cloud somewhere thinking 'I could have done this' or 'I wish I'd done that'. I'd much rather wake up there, massively hung over from the wild party I called 'my life'," he punctuated the words 'my life' with a quotation mark gesture, "and piss it all out all over the sun."

Junior leaned away from Cherry a little. "Piss on the sun?"

Bowser scratched his head and shrugged, "It's yellow, Junior. Think about it. Dead people probably piss on it all the time."

The sniffling became snickering and Cherry suddenly realized what Bowser was doing. He always knew how to make Junior feel better when he got upset like this. It broke her heart to know his sick sense of humor wouldn't be around during the time Junior needed it most.

Later that night, Cherry found Bowser asleep in his throne with a pen in his hand and piles of paperwork in his lap. She woke him up and sent him to bed.

It happened the next day.

Bowser woke up earlier than usual to a tingling in his left arm that wasn't quite pain. He knew this preceded his past heart attacks. When would it hit? He didn't know--he just knew it was coming and he wasn't going to lay in bed to wait for it. If Death wanted him, it had to chase him, because he was going to go about his day for as long as he possibly could. Maybe he'd keel over at the breakfast table. Or how about face-first into his dinner dish? He could also die while taking a dump...that would be a funny way to go. A million possibilities crossed Bowser's mind as he rested a hand on his chest.

Joking with myself because I'm idiot, he shook himself and made his way into the bathroom. Well, I guess I better go take a crap so I don't crap on myself when I die. Geez, who woulda thought the last shit was the most important?

The toilet got clogged. He attacked it with a plunger until it flushed. Then he looked at the plunger, smirked and stuck it back behind the toilet. At least I didn't have to call a pesky plumber. It'd suck if Mario was over here when I died. HAHA, why is that so funny? Damn...joking with myself again...I need to quit stalling and get going while I still can.

"I smell bacon," Bowser said as he descended the staircase twenty minutes later, clean and refreshed. Walking made him lightheaded. "Who's cooking?"

"Me!" Junior yelled. "Cherry's in the shower. We were messy this morning."

He grinned wickedly, putting his hands on his hips. "You mean you missed the hole?" For that, Junior threw a raw bacon strip at him. It slapped against his chest and slid down to the floor. Bowser picked it up, sniffed it and ate it. "What's the agenda?"

"The usual. Paperwork, sex, tax harassment and getting those trade routes going."

"That's my boy!" Bowser stood on his toes to look over Junior's shoulder, watching him cook. He edged him out of the way and grabbed the pan. "The secret to Bowser bacon is pouring the pepper in the pan and moving the bacon around on doesn't work to dump the pepper on the bacon."


"Gets it nice and spicy." said Bowser. He dumped pepper powder into the pan and moved the bacon around to coat it. "A little pepper here..." then he lifted his leg and loudly passed gas, "...and a fart for flavor."

"I don't know you," Junior laughed and almost bumped into Cherry, who was just walking in.

"What's going--oh, yuck!" Cherry covered her nose with a lock of damp hair. "Who did it?"


"Hey! Stench follows the ass that makes the gas!"

"No, it's 'he who smelt it dealt it'."

Cherry shoved her way between them, "Ooh, peppered Bowser bacon, yum!" and took a piece.

Bowser noticed Cherry looking at him between bites. He left the kitchen to sit down at the table. She came out a few minutes later and set a plate of bacon down on the table. Bowser really didn't feel like eating, but he ate anyway so he wouldn't arouse any suspicion. The last thing he needed was Cherry telling him to lay down.

"So, how are you?" she sat next to him. "You seem a little pale. Are you okay?"

"I'm great," Bowser said quickly. "Am I pale? Eh," he slapped the end of his snout, causing it to gain some color. "There."

Cherry snickered, "I better help clean up the kitchen. Junior is having a messy morning."

He smirked and his eyes twinkled. "He's like his old man."

Bowser sat back, watching Junior and Cherry smile at each other while tidying the kitchen. Cherry ate. Junior cleaned. Then they'd trade. After a bit they spilled into the dining area with more paperwork. Bowser helped them sort through and stamp some with the royal Koopa seal, which Bowser liked because it was shaped like his own handsome face inside a spiked circle.

"Geez, they must have killed a forest to make all this paperwork!" Bowser muttered. He squinted and tilted a sheet of paper several ways. The small letters that Junior and Cherry read without a problem were just blobs to his aging eyesight. Then he shoved the scroll aside and grinned. "Not that I care, but that wood could've made a trebuchet to launch Birdo eggs at Mario's yard."

"Yeah, well..." Junior shrugged, "If you could claim land by spitting on it and saying 'it's mine!', we could avoid this."

He laughed. "I should make that a new law."

Cherry turned sideways in her chair and eyeballed them both, "And watch the chaos that happens. Everybody will be claiming everybody else's land. You'd see fights over property because one guy has an acre more than his neighbor. I don't think you want to waste your time settling land disputes."

Bowser and Junior looked at each other. "She has a point," said Bowser. "Good thing you married her."

Junior blushed and stamped more papers, setting aside the ones he wanted to review more before giving his approval. Wait, blushing? Bowser 'accidentally' dropped a pen so he could look under the table. Cherry had wedged her foot against Junior's crotch. A grin spread across Bowser's face. She wasn't so innocent after all.

Heh, they probably did it in the chairs around the table, he mused. Deciding to see if he was right, he got up and stretched. "Well, I'm gonna go take a walk and make sure the servants are doing their jobs. So you guys--" a wave of dizziness made him grasp the edge of the table, "--just keep working the papers. I'll be back later."

With that, Bowser walked out into the hall, turned around and peeked into the room. Cherry had moved to sit in Junior's lap. He could see their tongues in action while they kissed. His suspicions confirmed, he grinned cheekily and walked off to give them privacy.

He headed out to the racquet ball court behind the tennis and basketball courts. There, he hefted his racket and practiced his tennis serves. He went out onto the baseball diamond and utilized his one-handed swing to smash balls over the volcano's rim. Then he trudged onto the basketball court, grabbed a ball and did a few lay-ups. His breath came shorter and shorter and his heart palpitated irregularly like a jackhammer, starving for oxygen, but he refused to slow down. Willfully slowing down meant giving up, and he never gave up.

Sweaty and tired, he went back inside. The kitchen was empty.

"Dad? You look like hell...what gives?"

Bowser startled at Junior's voice behind him. He turned, grinning, "Lay-ups, kid. I'm fine. It's just hot out. I'm gonna wash up so I don't gross Cherry out."

"Oh..." Junior sniffed, "yeah, you're ripe. She'd shoot you."

"Yup. See what happens when you mix with women? They make you smell like flowers."

They laughed. Junior continued down the hall and Bowser slipped into his room. Normally, bathing wasn't a high priority. Koopas always has a musty scent that got stronger when mixed with sweat. Bowser thought he smelled manly, but Cherry wasn't much a fan of it...not even Junior's. So they all compromised--he and Junior agreed to shower on days when they got sweaty so their Koopa musk couldn't fill up a room. Junior took to showering every morning whether he sweat or not. Bowser only bathed if he sweat or got dirt on him.

The cool spray felt nice on Bowser's face. He crouched over to rub soap all over his scales. Every once in awhile he'd stop and flex in front of the mirror across the way. Pretty sexy for an old Koopa! he mused. Without even drying off, he went downstairs and made himself a gigantic beef sandwich that he crushed and fed to the Piranha Plant growing outside the window. Usually they only ate meat, but this one was so stupid that it often ate its own leaves. Bowser knew Cherry was watching how much he ate, so he at least wanted to appear like he had a normal appetite. He left the crumbs on the counter and walked back into the dining room. The clock on the far wall read eleven-thirty.

It was going to be his last visit to her grave. The idea of flying that far away made him nervous at first. Not going at all would cause too much suspicion. After a five minute debate with himself, Bowser gathered his usual supplies and climbed into the Koopa Clown Car. He flew slowly and a little lower than usual. The landscape before him stretched on forever. Green hills, brown spots where crops were growing and multicolored houses everywhere. The Mushroom castle loomed like a Thwomp next to mineral deposits. Back in the old days, he used to slowly bring his hand down over the castle, pretending to crush it. He chuckled as he recalled the memory. The wind blew his hair around his horns. He turned his face into it, imagining it as a kiss from Peach.

Speaking of Peach...her statue shimmered in the distance, a gold star against the horizon. Bowser set the 'Car down in its usual spot and hopped out, breathless. The hill nearly ended him. He forced himself to climb it, even though it meant digging his claws into the dirt and dragging himself up like an infant. His lungs felt like they'd explode. Blackness pricked at the edges of his vision as he forced his body to stand. He placed his ritualistic rose under her name, wiped the statue down and tenderly kissed its outstretched hand. It was so hard to breathe...even when breathing with his mouth open he felt like he couldn't get enough air. Bowser had outrun Death all day, but now it was gaining on him. Death could run forever. He couldn't. But that was okay...he knew Junior could take care of himself now.

"Peach..." he gasped, "I guess--I won't be--coming around here--anymore. But--don't worry--Peach...I think--I'm gonna see--you--real soon. Maybe tonight...I'll come back--if I'm--still breathing--this same time--tomorrow," he dropped to his knees, his russet eyes gazing longingly at the golden sculpture. "The kids...they're all right--they're all right. It's all really is. I love you--Peach."

Bowser crawled on his belly down the hill and climbed into the Clown Car. His body screamed at him to just land somewhere and go to sleep. He resisted the urge. If Death wanted him, it would have to tackle him running because he wasn't stopping.

The flight back home was scary. Bowser kept shaking himself and focusing on the horizon to stay conscious. Reality swam and swirled around him. He descended into his volcano, landed the Koopa Clown Car and hopped down, trying to look nonchalant. For someone who felt like he couldn't breathe, he thought he did a damn good job.

Junior walked out into the afternoon glare. Bowser only heard bits of what he said. "...called road...mountain mines..."

Silently, Bowser walked up to Junior and took his face in his hands. Junior stiffened and squinted, surprised by the strange gesture. Bowser studied his son's face in detail, admiring, loving and memorizing every inch of his features. His flame-colored hair, his russet eyes, how his fangs gleamed in his mouth and the white bandanna around his neck. Junior's image blurred behind a haze of tears.


Bowser felt as if a fist crushed his chest. Not quite pain....that was coming and he knew it. He braced himself for the agony just seconds away. "Don't remember--this moment, Junior--don't--remember what--you're--about to see. Remember me strong--strong, Junior...not--like--th--ARGH!" And the pain hit like a Thwomp to the chest. White hot, cramping agony exploded behind his breastbone, raced down his left arm and shot up into his jawbones. He even felt it in his neck, tail and toes. The rest of him went numb. Cold sweat broke out on his brow. He clenched his teeth so he wouldn't scream like a sissy. "Junior...if I can' anymore...later...consider this goodbye..." he grinned, his eyes faraway, "Love ya...brat..."

Then he collapsed into Junior's arms. Death had made the tackle and was sitting on his back.

"Dad? Dad! I've got you...CHERRY!" Junior roared, drawing the attention of everyone in the area.

Bowser's vision flickered and went white each time a pang tore through his chest. Was it his actual eyesight, or were his eyeballs rolling around?

"Can you hear me?" Cherry bent over him. When did she arrive at his side? He looked at her. She patted his hand, "It's okay. Don't try to talk. We're going to stay with you. You won't be alone."

Bowser tried to thank her, but his voice wouldn't work. The world flipped as Junior laid him down, letting his head rest on Cherry's lap. Pain ripped searing lines behind his breastbone. Was he whimpering from it? He forced himself to be quiet...he wouldn't let himself sound weak.

"Junior, are they coming?"

He blanked out and missed the reply. Once in awhile, or was it every few seconds? he'd look up to see Cherry and Junior still with him. It was so hard to breathe...he could hear himself huffing and puffing as if he ran a marathon.

Footsteps sounded. A lone Koopa troopa came out with a tank of oxygen and a huge mask built for Bowser's snout. "Assistance is on its way. Don't try to move him yourself."

Again, Bowser winked in and out of awareness. The smell of plastic made him struggle. Plastic over his face? He'd really suffocate! He pushed the offense away, growling. Junior's hand tried to replace it. He wouldn't let him. Cherry attempted to put the mask back on. He still refused. Finally, he started hearing more footsteps. Everything that came after reached Bowser in fragments. Somebody pried the heavy shell off his back. Many hands lifted him and carried him inside. The hands settled him into his own bed--he knew it was his bed by the flamboyant crimson bedding and spiked headboard. Cherry pressed a cool rag to his forehead. A needle was hastily jabbed into his arm. It released something that made him stop caring about the pain and lack of oxygen. He felt Junior holding his hand and heard Cherry instructing him to blink if he could hear her. He blinked rapidly. The drugs made him sleepy. He didn't want to sleep!

"Can you hear me?" whispered Junior, "Dad..."

Bowser turned towards Junior's voice. His eyelids started to get heavy. He felt them fluttering from his efforts to keep them open.

"Bowser, go to sleep." It was Cherry, but he couldn't see her. He heard her voice tremble. "It's okay. Don't fight the medicine. Shh..." her fingers combed through his hair. "Junior and I are right here. We aren't going anywhere."

No, not sleeping till my body makes me...I wanna stay awake as long as possible! Bowser panted and fought to keep his eyelids open. He knew that once he went to sleep, he'd never wake up. There was still time to experience life long as he stayed awake. He focused on Junior's worried face. What a handsome guy...just like himself. He tried to smile and look brave for him. Things started getting blurry. His eyelids drooped lower despite his efforts to lift them. Once they closed, nothing he did opened them.

Peach, I hope all that talk about an afterlife is real, I really want to see you again. He relaxed and Cherry and Junior's voices began fading into the distance. Waves of terror washed over him, but the more tired he got the less afraid he felt. In a few seconds the darkness became comforting. I guess this is it. Damn, my life was a great party...I wonder how much piss the sun can take...

The world around him slowly dissolved and his mind went silent.

Loud gasping punctured the dim room. Junior sat on the edge of Bowser's bed, clutching his hand. Bowser's eyes were closed and his mouth wide open, his tongue flexing with every labored breath. The sounds left Junior distraught. Was his father in pain? Was he still aware of anything going on around him? Could he still hear? He looked so strangely small lying supine without his shell. He never slept sprawled out on his back...he slept on his stomach, curled up under his shell. His chest heaved and each breath moved the spiked choker around his thick neck, a sign of his struggling. Fighting for every second of life he could get.

Bowser managed to fight the sedative for over an hour. Now, he just fought to breathe.

Overwhelmed...numb even, Junior moved to stand.

Cherry stuck her arm out, "No, Junior, you stay with him."

"He needs another pillow for his head."

"I'll get it."

Bowser was like a rag doll. He stopped breathing when Junior sat him up to put the pillow behind him. Junior laid him back down. The gasping resumed, shallower than before. Junior's eyes shot desperately to Cherry. He was helpless...unable to escape the inevitable silence waiting in the future.

Junior sobbed, putting his head down on his dad's shoulder. "I don't know what to do...Cherry, I'm so scared."

Cherry slid onto the bed on Bowser's other side. She placed her hand over Junior's, which clutched his father's limp fingers. "Keep doing this. Don't let go of his hand, he still needs you." her voice cracked. Tears streamed down her cheeks.

Bowser moved his head side to side and groaned. Junior bent over him, hoping beyond hope that he'd miraculously wake up and say it was a joke. He looked desperately at the IV in Bowser's right arm. "We have to do something!"

"No," she started to cry. "No, Junior. Just the painkillers. It's what he wanted."

Junior tried to swallow over the lump in his throat. He didn't know what to say or do.

Fortunately for him, Cherry seemed more prepared for this difficult time. Her calmness eased some of his panic. He watched her rest Bowser's head on her chest and pet his gray-streaked hair. Miraculously, the painful labored breathing quieted. He also drooled all over her chest. She just wiped his mouth with her skirt and looked up, whispering, "My heartbeat calmed him down. I'm not sure if Koopas spend any time inside their mothers...but with people like me, one of the first sounds a baby knows is its mother's heartbeat. My mom once said that we become like a baby again when we're about to pass on, and something as simple as a heartbeat can bring comfort. See how relaxed he is now?"

Cherry, you're the most amazing woman I have ever met, Junior thought as he watched Cherry comfort his dad. True, he probably wouldn't stand for it if he was awake enough to protest, but being held had to be better than lying alone in a smelly medical ward.

Cherry and Junior took turns holding Bowser all through the night. One slept while the other kept watch.

Junior sat up against the headboard with his dad's head cradled on his chest, listening to him breathe. He remembered how Bowser pleaded with him not to remember his last hours. Try as he might Junior couldn't make himself block this out. His mind hung on every moment that trickled by. Every breath, every twitch, every moan and every pause in between. He expected the end to come around midnight or early morning. Bowser wouldn't quit. He was still panting when the sun came up.

The medic, a Koopa troopa in a white coat, came in to check on Bowser at seven o'clock. His normally high blood pressure had taken a nose dive.

"His heart is starting to fail now," whispered the medic, his tone grave.

"How will it end?" Junior heard Cherry ask. "I mean...will we know he's about to go, or will he just stop breathing?"

"His breaths will get smaller and smaller until they stop," said the medic. He paused to check the IV and went on, "then he'll go into cardiac arrest and that'll be it. No struggle at all, it's quite peaceful. He might get very cold or turn blue right before this happens." He looked over at Bowser, bowed slightly and backed towards the door, "Rest well, my King."

Bowser never moved throughout the whole exchange. He didn't look like he could hear anything going on around him. The only sign he lived at all was his chest heaving.

Junior stormed into the bathroom to empty his bladder and wash his face. It was either take a leak or go beg the doctor to help his father...and he didn't want to go against his father's wishes.

Later in the morning, Cherry called Mario to let him know that Bowser was actively dying. He came to the castle within the hour via a warp zone, but didn't enter the room. "It's-a not-a my place to-a be in-a the way," he'd said. Instead, he kept the castle running and cooked a few extra meals. Junior could smell the different Italian treats.

Bowser's labored breathing resumed at eleven o'clock in the morning. Junior called Cherry back into the room. By the time she got there, Bowser's snout and tongue had turned blue, a sign that he wasn't getting any oxygen.

Cherry took one look at Bowser and turned her eyes to Junior. "He's going now."

"I know..." Tears flooded down his Junior's face. Bowser was about to die right in front of him. It hurt in ways he never knew he could feel pain. He wasn't ready for this. He'd never be ready.

"Junior, whatever happens, don't stop holding him." Cherry's lips trembled as she struggled to control herself. Her strength amazed Junior. She bent close to his father's ear and whispered to him, "Can you see the door?"

Bowser grunted 'yes' in native Koopa. Junior startled at the sound. Bowser's eyes moved under his eyelids. He appeared to be dreaming.

"It's time to open that door, Bowser." She stroked his hair like she did last night.

"Peach?" Bowser rumbled and his eyebrows crossed, which almost made Junior laugh through his tears. He was so stubborn that he tried to respond while barely conscious. Junior squeezed his dad's hand and looked across him at Cherry. Bowser thought she was Peach. Or did he see Peach somehow? Was this one of those deathbed visions he read about in books?

"Yes, Bowser, it's Peach." Cherry answered. "Now open the door." His face suddenly contorted and tears flooded over his snout. She brushed them away, "It's okay, shhh, it's all right, don't cry." Cherry dabbed at her own eyes. He began to gasp again when her hand moved off his face. They were shallow gasps, each one smaller than the last. She put her hand back on his cheek, bent down and softly kissed his brow. "You're almost there. Don't struggle." Then she leaned over and kissed Junior as well, "These are his last few breaths, Junior...say something. Please say something to him."

The pain hit Junior like a stone in his belly. I don't KNOW what to say! He broke down and cried all over Bowser's shoulder, clutching his hand tightly as if that alone would keep him alive. "'s okay. I'm gonna be fine," he choked out. It seemed like a lie...he didn't feel fine at all, dammit! He forced himself to look at Bowser's ashen face. He remembered one of their last conversations, the one where he said something about dead people and the sun being yellow. From that thought, he blurted out, "Don't forget to piss on the sun."

Bowser turned his face slightly towards Junior. He squeezed his hand and laughed. Faintly, just a catch of his breath and a twitch of the fingers, but he'd let Junior know he could hear him. His face relaxed again and his chest slowly stopped moving.

"Dad?" Junior bent over him. His face contorted and he looked up at Cherry. She shook her head, covering her mouth with one hand.

A full minute went by. Then two. Nobody moved.

Suddenly, Bowser's eyes flew open. He sat bolt upright and reached forward with both arms, mumbling something that made no sense.

Junior caught Bowser's left arm and Cherry grasped the other. "It's okay! Dad, it's Junior. You're okay!" Junior pulled Bowser to his chest so he wouldn't bump his head on the headboard. Bowser didn't seem aware of him at all. He kept reaching towards something invisible. Panicked, Junior struggled to keep his dying father from falling off the bed. "Cherry!"

"Hold him!" she answered as his huge fists closed around her wrists and wrenched her forward.

Bowser roared and thrashed violently in Junior's arms. Foam flecked the corners of his mouth and spilled out onto his chest. His eyes stared vacantly at something only he could see. Junior pried Bowser's hands off Cherry and felt them grab him instead.

"C-Cherry..." Junior was so scared now. This wasn't his dad! His dad had more dignity than this!

Cherry sobbed and rubbed her wrists. "I don't know...this wasn't supposed to happen."

"Peach!" Bowser cried desperately. His thrashing gradually weakened and ceased. The look on his face went from vacant to awed, as if he beheld something beautiful beyond imagining. Tears welled in his eyes. His hands suddenly released Junior's arm and reached out towards Cherry. "I love you, Peach..."

Cherry clasped his outstretched hands, "I-I love you too, Bowser. Shh...I love you too..."

Bowser smiled at her. Then he looked straight into Junior's eyes and let his breath out. His entire body relaxed, his head lolling back over Junior's arm. A moment later, the light in his eyes faded like a candle under glass until his pupils were completely dilated.

He woke up lying in the stairway leading to that blasted door he kept dreaming about. His shell was back on, but he didn't remember donning it.

"Can you see the door?" whispered a familiar voice. It seemed to come from everywhere, the walls, ceiling and floor.

"I see it," he answered.

"It's time to open that door, Bowser."


White light showed through the crack under the door. "Yes, Bowser, it's open the door. It's okay, shhh, it's all right, don't cry."

Bowser wiped his eyes and crawled slowly up the stairs. He looked behind him in time to watch the ceiling collapse, blocking him from going back.

"You're almost there. Don't struggle..."

"'s okay. I'm gonna be fine." it was Junior's voice in his ear, choked with emotion. "Don't forget to piss on the sun."

Laughing at that, Bowser ascended the last three steps and pushed the door open. The light was blinding until his pupils adjusted. At first he saw just shapes and a white sleeve...somehow he was dressed in an all white tux like Junior's. He squinted at himself, looked past his arm and gasped. It was the Mushroom castle's great hall, except the aisle runner and the stained glass windows were all white. He looked towards the end of the aisle at the rosette window. Twin reflections of the rosette window and the silhouetted figure seemingly emerging from it danced across his red eyes.

"Good things come to those who wait," Peach raised her head and smiled behind her wedding veil. "Bowser..."

"Peach!" Bowser's eyes widened. He stretched his arms out and raced up to her, his earlier fatigue forgotten. Peach felt so tiny and fragile in his arms. She cupped his cheek and gazed up with her beautiful blue eyes. He lifted her blusher veil out of the way and bent his head forward without hesitation, crushing her lips in a fierce, passionate kiss. "I love you, Peach."

The glow in the rosette window brightened. Bowser saw his whole life in Peach's eyes. There was nothing but love now. He kissed her again as they faded into the light.

Nothing moved for an eternity. Junior stared straight ahead in stunned silence. It was so still that he nearly leapt from his skin when Cherry laid Bowser's hands down in his lap.

A terrible dread settled behind his breast bone. He'd only imagined that thrashing. Those lifeless black things weren't his dad's eyes. This wasn't his dad's body in his arms. His dad did not just look into his eyes and die. Dads who were playing sports and laughing without a problem twenty four hours ago did not die like this. This was a dream, a nightmare. Any second now he'd wake up.

"Junior," Cherry touched his hand. She was crying and shaken by the events of the past few minutes. "It's over. He's gone."

Her words broke something in him. He bent over the lifeless form in his arms and made noises he hadn't made since childhood. She put her arm around his shoulders. He heard her crying along with him. All that struggle, and now it was over in the span of a heartbeat. He didn't want it to be over. He wanted his daddy...he wanted him to make fun of him for crying or tell him to stop being a baby. Something, anything besides the silence.

"He's gone..." Junior repeated. Through the haze of tears, he noticed the time. It was exactly noon. "He went with Peach...she took him...she came and took him...gods, he was up running around less than a day before...oh, dad...she took you. She came and took you."

Whatever wall Cherry had been putting up came crashing down. She pressed herself to Junior's side. "I believe you." She rubbed her face against his chest. He laid Bowser down and hugged her tightly, his tears trickling into her hair. The pillar of strength he relied on had fallen. Now he had to stand on his own. Cherry had to do it when she lost her mother. If she could do it, he could too. He had no choice.

They cried until they were exhausted. Then they focused on what had to come next. Junior insisted on closing Bowser's eyes before anything else. His mouth wouldn't stay shut, but his eyes did.

"It's still not enough, Cherry." Junior wiped angrily at his cheeks. "I-I need something of his...something I can take with me."

"I understand." Cherry whispered. Junior felt her take his hand. She was studying him. Then her eyes moved to Bowser, softened and looked up again. "Junior, take off your arm bands."

He unclasped the two spiked arm bands he wore on each wrist and bicep. While he did this, Cherry removed Bowser's. One at a time, she slipped them onto Junior's arms and re-hooked the clasps. Then she put Junior's bands on Bowser. Her trembling hands went to the choker, but he stopped her. "No, his choker stays. That's his."

There was no physical difference in the size of the arm bands or anything...yet knowing they were the same ones his father wore every single day made them special. He would never take them off. Junior gazed down at Cherry and managed to smile. "Thanks, Cherry. He'd have wanted that."

She nodded and clasped his hands. "We should let his men take care of him now."

It took six pairs of Hammer Brothers to lift Bowser onto the gurney. They laid him on his side, covered him with a black velvet sheet and wheeled him away. In and out in three minutes.

Junior looked down at the floor. Bowser's empty Koopa shell sat propped against the wall. Looking at it broke his heart all over again. He dropped down onto the bed, onto the space still warm from Bowser's body, and wept. Cherry tried to pacify him, but he didn't want to be consoled. He just wanted to cry. Understanding, she left him alone to do so.

He cried himself to sleep. His dreams were filled with his father's horrifying last moments.

Cherry soon discovered that preparing for a funeral was just as stressful as planning a wedding. Maybe even more so because it all had to be done in less time. Within minutes of Bowser's body being taken away, she got handed paperwork. Junior was still in horrible shock over the whole thing. She'd never forget the dread on his face moments after Bowser stopped breathing. He wasn't the least bit prepared. A part of her was still upset with Bowser for waiting so long to say anything about his condition.

Junior's siblings were surprisingly cold about the whole thing--except for Wendy, who got noticeably sniffly during the call. They all sent money through a same-day mail delivery service to help pay for the funeral, but none of them came to the castle. Maybe they were in shock, too.

She began to notice Bowser's absence as the day wore on. Usually he was at the kitchen table, making small talk with her while she cooked. It felt wrong not having him seated across from her. She tried hard not to imagine him lying cold and still in the underground morgue.

They were going to mummify Bowser's remains. As in...take out his internal organs, grind them up and serve them mixed into food at the funeral meal. Cherry shuddered at the knowledge that even his eyeballs would be removed. Marbles were to be stuffed under his eyelids to make them look "natural". After the funeral, his body would be stripped of any clothing worn during the viewing, gently curled into the fetal position and sealed inside his shell. That also struck her as slightly morbid. Now she couldn't look at Junior's shell without imagining the day he had to be buried in it. Koopas literally carried their caskets on their backs!

Usually, Koopas threw their dead into lava pits. Bowser didn't want that. Cherry guessed where he wanted to be before she even checked his written instructions.

She felt a hand on her back. She looked up to find Mario. He asked, "How's-a Bowser?"

The question slammed into her like a ten ton weight. In all the craziness, nobody thought to tell Mario. She clenched her fists, fighting back tears. "Bowser died a half hour ago. Nobody told you?"

Mario gasped and his eyebrows crossed. "No...oh, my sweet-a Cherry. Are ya okay?"

"I'm fine." Cherry said. Then the reality of it all, the pain and the stress, fell on her all at once. She burst into tears and buried her face in Mario's chest. "He cried out for mom when he died...he said he loved her...and he thrashed around so much. It happened so fast, daddy. He was walking around and laughing yesterday! Now he's's almost like it was with mom."

Mario's arms wrapped around her head and she found comfort in his heartbeat. "I'm-a so-a's-a Junior a-doing?"

"Shocked." she sniffled. Not wanting to talk anymore, she wrapped her arms tightly around her daddy. For one instant she felt guilty to have a father to comfort her when Junior didn't, but that feeling quickly faded.

He understood and resolved himself to stroking her hair instead of asking questions. "You've-a been-a strong for-a it's-a okay to-a fall apart. I'll-a be-a strong for-a my-a baby girl." Then he squeezed her shoulders and told her about how he and Bowser cried together at Peach's grave. He said it was a memory he would keep forever.

Cherry took comfort in Mario's soft voice and gentle hands. One day, he'd be gone too, and then her and Junior would have no one else but each other. Perhaps, by that time, they would both be strong enough to stand on their own.

"I could use a bowl of your famous minestrone soup right about now."

"Con piacere." She felt him smile against the top of her head. "I'll-a go a-make some. I also made-a enough-a food to-a last a week, so-a you a-don't have to-a cook-a so-a much."

"Thanks, daddy," said Cherry with all the gratefulness in her heart. She pondered checking on Junior, but decided not to.

Junior dazedly entered the kitchen and sat down just as Mario brought Cherry her soup. Without comment he went back and dished up another bowl. Junior stirred it slowly. His nostrils flared. He slurped up a spoonful, licked his lips and drank right from the bowl. "More," he said. More was brought. He drank that too. "More." He did this four more times. Mario finally grabbed the whole soup pot, still steaming, and set it on the table. Junior picked it up like a giant beer jug and chugged every last drop of soup from the pot. There was at least a gallon in there. He slammed the pot down afterward and released a huge belch.

Cherry started to giggle at Junior's terrible table manners. Junior coyly covered his mouth, trying to look innocent with the orange-red soup broth dripping off his chin. Mario made a face at them both. The three of them laughed because they all knew Bowser would have found that hilarious.

Going to see Bowser's body was a choice Mario would regret for the rest of his life. That pale, shell-less thing lying on its side on the stone table didn't look like him at all. His hair was a mess, his genitals were exposed and his tongue lolled out of his jaws. The spiked collar and arm bands he usually wore were missing, piled up on a nearby table. Leather straps tied his ankles and wrists together while one around his waist kept him attached to the table. His chest and stomach had been expertly dissected so the incisions were hidden between the yellow ridges on his belly. From those incisions, all of his major organs were removed. Heart, lungs, diaphragm, stomach, intestines, liver, kidneys, bladder...everything but his testes. Those were left so he could fertilize the earth...or something like that, Mario couldn't remember the Koopa ritual regarding that. They'd taken his brain out through a hole drilled in the roof of his mouth. The only signs of this seemingly barbaric thievery were faint bloodstains and the organs laid out on a table--a table Mario kept his back to. A glass marble had been pushed into his eye sockets and his eyelids sewn shut over them. The tiny stitches looked like eyelashes. Maybe it was cosmetic as well as functional. He looked so utterly naked and vulnerable. All of his dignity had been stripped away.

Bowser's limbs would twitch every so often. Reflex, the medics had said. Just a reflex. Mario was advised not to stand right next to the table because the embalming fluids caused muscle spasms. Something as simple as a temperature change might make the body thrash. That's why he was bound like a piece of game meat. Even in death, Bowser could still be dangerous.

Mario swallowed with a dry throat. He wanted to cry and yet...couldn't. No tears came. Just a cold hole in the pit of his stomach.

A Koopa troopa wearing a lab coat slipped into the room and thrust a clipboard at Mario. "Sign here."

It was a form basically stating that he had seen Bowser's body. A confirmation of his death. Mario chewed his bottom lip and signed on the line. "Are-a ya a-going to-a put his-a spikes a-back on?"

"Yeah," the troopa said, "We're gonna dress him in that suit he wore to the wedding after we're done."

Mario nodded, relieved. He exited the room, averting his eyes from the gory table he had to pass on the way out.

Junior blocked out most of his father's funeral, moving automatically through much of the ritualistic motions. He hated all of it, especially the somber atmosphere surrounding everything. That wasn't his dad's way. Bowser would have wanted a loud, obnoxious party. If he'd been a common Koopa, he could've had it. But because of his status he had to have the big, puffy, sob-story type of funeral.

First came a memorial service in the Koopa castle throne room, where paintings of Bowser had been hung wherever there was space on the walls. No one could look anywhere without seeing Bowser's face staring back at them. People walked up to the front and prattled on about everything Bowser achieved and what a great guy he was. Junior tuned it all out. When his turn came, he spouted all kinds of bull. He'd regret it all later, but right now he was too angry to care.

Next was the viewing. People filing past Bowser's bed, where his body had been laid out in state. Once again he'd been placed on his back with his hands folded on his chest, a pose that didn't look at all natural. It was too neat. Bowser was rarely neat when he slept. He slept on his stomach. He snored. He drooled. He farted. He didn't lay there with his mouth shut and a look of peaceful repose on his face.

Wendy took one look at Bowser and started bawling. Always a drama queen. Junior wanted to slap her. She didn't see him die, but her behavior made it seem like she did.

Junior's only comfort was knowing that wasn't Bowser anymore. That was just a shell, a shell he'd taken off just as easily as he could remove the one on his back. His dad was in the sky somewhere, partying or causing trouble--or both.

He went through the motions of thanking everyone who offered their condolences.

"Try to be a little more convincing," Cherry berated him, "They're family!"

"I don't know half of these people." Junior replied dully. "Plus, they're only saying they're sorry because that's what you're supposed to do. They don't mean it."

"Geez, Junior, you've been in this rotten mood ever since the funeral started."

Junior sneered. "It's not what he wanted. I can't believe you let Ludwig arrange this. He's so overly formal. It's not my dad's style at all."

"Well, gee, I'm sorry. You should have done it yourself instead of throwing it at me. I couldn't do it because I don't know the traditions. Ludwig said he did, so I told him to handle it."


"All right, fine." Cherry stood up, her face pinched in a very Mario-like frown, "You can sit here and stew, your highness. I'm going to start setting the food out."

"Cherry!" Junior gasped and jumped up, suddenly aware of how badly he'd been treating her all day. It wasn't fair of him to project his anger on her like this. His dad always used to tell him, "if you're gonna be nasty, be nasty to everyone EXCEPT your wife." "Cherry, wait..." he caught her arm, pulling her to his chest. "I'm sorry...I'm being a real ass. You don't deserve it. I...I think I'm just pissed off because we're the only ones who saw how he went. It just burns my ass that everybody says dying is a peaceful, dignified thing. It's not."

Her tiny, fragile body pressed more firmly to his belly. "He wasn't conscious for most of it, Junior. Please try to remember that," she squeezed his hand, "and I do understand how you feel. I shouldn't have snapped at you. I acted like this at my mom's funeral, too."

"I remember...kinda. You dumped punch on me because I hit on you. My dad's idea. He thought it was hilarious, too."

"Figures." Cherry smiled and stepped back. "I know he was pushing you onto me, but he really didn't need to. I realize now that I've always loved you, Junior."

Those words were like a band-aid for his aching heart. He hugged her tightly. "Let's go eat."

They worked together to set the table. The gore Mario saw in the morgue had been ground up so fine that only Junior, who helped fix the food, could tell which dishes it had been mixed into. Junior noticed the plumber's hesitation about what to put on his plate. He leaned over to him and said, "The pasta's clean. I promise. But don't tell anybody else."

"Grazie," Mario replied. He heaped his plate with fettucini alfredo. Cherry had the same. Everybody else feasted off the lavish Koopa dishes, some of which were served live. Junior did take pity on Mario and Cherry, though, hence his sneaking pasta into the mix. It looked so much like the Birdo tapeworms Morton brought that nobody noticed the noodles weren't moving.

No one talked during the meal. Junior looked around at everyone. They were all forlorn and picking at their food.

Junior couldn't stand the silence anymore. He slammed his palms down on the table and stood up, growling, "ENOUGH! I can't take it anymore! Stop focusing on his death, dammit! I swear if I hear one more person talk about how nice his suit looked, I'm going to puke." he turned his head, flipping his hair out of his eyes. "Focus on his life!"

"Junior," Cherry kicked him under the table. "Don't!"

He ignored it. "Remember that huge wooden dick he tied to the Clown Car at the wedding?"

"Yeah, because we helped." Larry looked at Morton and snickered.

Junior looked at Mario. "Mario, what about that go-kart race? Cherry and I saw it. He stuck a banana peel under your cart and you made him crash into the bushes."

"He-a always was a joker." Mario replied, staring down at his plate. "I never would have-a known...back-a in-a the days when-a we were-a fighting."

Lemmy and Iggy looked at each other and nodded, agreeing with Mario. Lemmy said, "Dad was a funny guy."

"He was! Once, bought me a castle sight unseen because I asked for it." Wendy piped up. "Then, when I told him I hated it, he had it blown up. The land owner was pissed. Daddy just laughed and laughed."

"I remember his wedding toast," said Cherry with an amused grin, finally catching on to what Junior was doing. "Going on about how he was better looking than everybody in the audience. It was great."

A few more giggles rippled through the gathering. People began to call out different memories. Some made the whole table roar in laughter. Junior sat back and smiled. The knot of pain in his chest compacted into a hot sphere, but it was a good pain, like stretching a cramped muscle. He imagined his dad sitting at the empty head seat, pounding the table and laughing with everyone else. Finally, this was the memorial his dad wanted. One where people talked about how he lived instead of how he died.

Hours later, after the funeral officially ended, Junior helped the morticians take Bowser's suit off. He was also the only one physically strong enough to crush Bowser's ribcage in preparation for his internment. Removing the internal organs made this process faster and cleaner. He made Cherry leave the room, lifted his fists and brought them down hard on his dad's chest. His ribs flattened with a sickening crunch, deforming his chest. Junior pushed Bowser's knees to his chest, tied them together and then folded his hands around them, tying them to his knees. His tail was tucked up next to his thighs. Then he picked him up and placed him face-up inside his shell, trying hard not to notice his icy skin. Bowser fit with room to spare, his shell cradling his body.

Junior stopped to stare down at Bowser's face. He looked more natural this way. Junior swallowed hard and lightly touched his dad's hair. It felt softer, thinner than his own hair, and it occurred to him that it was beginning to fall out. He suddenly realized why Bowser wouldn't take medication to prolong his life. He didn't want to waste away. He wanted to go out at the height of his 'life party' rather than at the end, where things were petering out.

"That's why," Junior whispered, "I see what you've been trying to show me all this time. You knew you were dying that day, didn't you?" The painful ball in his chest swelled into his throat. "I guess it's a good thing I watched as well as listened. Thanks, dad. Thanks..." he smoothed Bowser's gray-streaked orange hair back and touched a light kiss to his forehead. Bowser would hate that, but Junior didn't care. He wanted to say goodbye without using words. He picked up the shell with Bowser cradled in it and carried it down to the morgue.

Spring melted into summer. Summer became fall. Winter blew through. Spring returned, bringing new flowers.

Getting over Bowser happened one day at a time. Junior and Cherry grew accustomed to running the castle without him overseeing everything. They finished the mountains of paperwork necessary to join both kingdoms into one. Two of the four major roads between the two lands had been completed. Once in awhile, they'd get angry letters from people disputing over property, but those were quickly and fairly dealt with.

Junior burst into the kitchen. "Hey, Cherry, what looks sexy in red?"

She raised an eyebrow.

"Me!" he laughed when she frowned. "Aw, I'm just're the one who's sexy in red."

Cherry threw a breakfast roll at his head. "I want a divorce! My husband doesn't like me anymore!" she giggled. "Anyway, it's about time you got down here. Daddy's birthday party is this afternoon. I was thinking we could leave early..."

The humor faded from Junior's face a little. "Can we stop on the way?"

"That's why I suggested we leave early. And we better get out of here before somebody drags us into a meeting." She tugged on his white bandanna, bringing him down for a kiss. Against his lips, she said, "You know how much I hate those."

"Right," he grinned at how her blue eyes sparkled. "Let me get the presents. You get the flowers."

Ten minutes later found them riding the Koopa Clown Car. The sky was filled with clouds, but not enough to block the sun. They kissed, laughed and joked. A year of marriage had deepened their relationship. Junior realized he could lean on Cherry if he needed strength, and she learned that it was okay to be vulnerable once in awhile.

A soft breeze blew as Junior set the Clown Car down at the foot of the hill. He and Cherry made their way up the hill.

Peach's statue glimmered under the noonday sun. She wasn't alone on the hill anymore. Beside Peach stood a golden sculpture of Bowser. He was grinning at Peach and clasping her hand--the same hand he used to kiss each time he visited. It was probably the only piece of art that did not depict him being violent. He looked happy, peaceful and loving, a side of him Junior and Cherry felt the world needed to see.

"Hey, dad. You're a little dusty today." Junior pulled a rag from his shell and wiped the dust off Bowser's statue. He handed the rag to Cherry so she could wipe Peach off. Then he knelt to place the roses over Bowser's name. "It's Mario's birthday...we're gonna go harass him. I've got the perfect prank to piss him off,'d love it, dad. You'll be laughing your way across the sky when you see what I'm going to do."

Cherry bopped him with her roses before she placed them on her mother's name plate. She rarely spoke to Peach's grave, choosing instead to think her words privately. Junior and I are getting along well. Bowser did a good job matching us up. I don't know if you're with him now or not...but if you are, I hope he's making you happy. Junior misses him a lot. I think he's getting better, though. He doesn't cry at the grave as much as he used to. She smiled, blushing, I think it's a good thing you and Bowser waited until you met in Heaven to go crazy. If he's as passionate as Junior... she let the thought trail off and glanced at her husband.

Junior's prattling gradually quieted down. He traced Bowser's name with his thumb claw. King Bowser Koopa Sr.. Now the title of king appeared next to Junior's name on paperwork. He still hadn't gotten used to writing "king" in front of his name. He also didn't like it when people called him Bowser. His name had always been Junior. So what if his legal name was the same as his father's? He grew up being called Junior. That's what he always wanted to be called. His dad was Bowser. Period.

"Ready to go?"

He turned to Cherry and smiled. "Yeah." and to the grave, he said, "bye, dad. Bye, Peach. See you two tomorrow."

An exhausted Mario closed the doors after his long birthday party. Goodness gracious, it was almost as big a party as Cherry's wedding! He had more gifts than he could open in one everybody was coming back tomorrow to continue where they left off today.

The aged plumber wiped a hand down his face. He just wanted to sit on his throne and enjoy the silence for a few minutes. That was not to be. When he entered his throne room and turned on the lights, his eyes widened. Someone had propped a familiar wooden object up against his throne. Dangling from it was a banner that read 'Do old men still get wood?'

He gawked at the offensive sight until he heard a snicker. Then he noticed an orange tail poking around a pillar. "JUNIOR!"

Junior leapt out from behind the pillar and dashed out the door, laughing. "Happy birthday, you old fart!"

"Mamma mia! Stronzo! Testa di cazzo! You're a-worse than-a your-a father was!" Mario ran to the door, angrily shaking his fist in the air. His voice rose in pitch as he swore in Italian.

Junior dove into the Koopa Clown Car and took off, leaving Mario in his dust. A safe distance from the plumber's reach, he shouted, "Thanks!"

Mario grabbed the garden hose. He turned it on full blast and sprayed water at Junior's 'Car. "Scram-a! Get-a outta here!"

"Haha!" he dodged the spray and sped away. "I'll call you when my toilet clogs again!"

Oh, Cherry was going to kill him when Mario told her what he did...but the look on his face was so worth it. His dad used to send Mario an obnoxious gift every year for his birthday. Junior thought it was a tradition worth continuing. He snickered as he flew through the bright moonlight. The breeze stirred his orange hair.

He was so pissed...he's probably on the phone with Cherry right now. He glanced up at the clear, starry sky. Hm, getting flowers before I go home is a good idea. Yeah. Flowers AND chocolate.

Junior grinned and quickly changed directions, heading for the nearest town. He buzzed the hill where Peach and Bowser were buried. As he passed the two statues, the Koopa Clown Car's propeller blew the roses off their graves. They landed together like lovers between the two gleaming name plates.

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