LAST NOTE, I SWEAR: Okay guys, this is the end, the very last of it! No more! I'm not coming back in 72 years with one more chapter, I'm not making a sequel, I'm closing the book on this beautiful(?) little story once and for all. Maybe some of you are going to be sad to see it end and some reviewers have already said that, but I know most of you will understand that this is the way it had to be. If I tried to do anything else it would be kicking a dead horse, and the last thing I want is to draw it out too long and ruin how good it used to be. Thanks to Mikari for loyal readership and to DS and the newer readers for tuning in and liking what they saw; I hope the grand finale lives up to the hype. You know, even if I'm not writing about her anymore, Wendy will always live on in my heart. See you around, paesanos!
THE MYSTERIOUS SCENT: REDUX!
Chapter 18: Scents And Sensibility
...five months later...
"Hey, look at that, Bella – a Koopa!"
The other mushroom leaned in to whisper back to her friend as they eyeballed the scaly creature browsing through racks of summer frocks and sundresses. "You're right, it is. She must be the one who's married to Super Mario!"
"Of course she is, silly," her friend snapped. "How many other Koopa women are living in Mushroom Village on an official royal pardon?"
"Well, how can we know? There could be more lizards than just the three our queen introduced to the townsfolk. Secrets hidden under the crown."
"Portabella Jones, are you kidding me? There's only three Koopas here – and only five more in the whole world, besides."
A shifty look. "And you have that on good authority, do you? Keeping informants under your cap?"
"I can't imagine what Mario sees in her," the other one said, ignoring her friend's comment. "It's hard to assume that he's completely out of his gourd when he's saved our village so many times, but you'd have to lose at least one or two marbles to even entertain such a foul-"
Both mushrooms backed up in a hurry when the Koopa in question tried to wedge her way between the gossiping fungi. They were presented with a problem in this area due to her ample girth.
"Boy, you have really let yourself go," one of them muttered.
A claw hovered inches from the rack for a few tense seconds before the lizard whirled on her. "I beg your pardon?"
"You can barely fit down this aisle, Wendy O. Koopa," she followed up, though her voice was a little shakier with dozens of pointed fangs inches from her nose. "Maybe you swallowed Mario after the honeymoon like some kind of praying mantis, eh?"
"For your information," Wendy went on with a growl, "I am pregnant. Did you ever consider that possibility while you were jammering on and on about how fat and insectoid I am?"
The mushroom ladies were speechless. When at last they recovered, one sputtered, "You're... no. That's impossible, how can you be? You and your beau aren't even the same type of animal!"
"Too bad, because I am 'with child' whether or not it makes sense to you. Now, if you'll be so kind as to excuse my mile-wide ass, I need to find some decent maternity shirts or I might not be able to go back out in public again until I've laid this freaking egg."
Both women were staring after her with their jaws agape as she waddled around the clothes rack, angrily snatching at the hangers without really seeing them. After a moment, Portabella turned to hiss at her friend that someone really ought to run the Koopas out of town – only to find she was stepping forward and saying, "Are your ankles swollen?"
"What?" Wendy spat.
"Mine puffed up like balloons during my first and third."
Wendy grimaced as she glanced down in the direction of the ankles she was presently incapable of seeing due to her stomach. "Yeah. Water retention is a bitch. And putting my feet up doesn't make any real difference, no matter how many times people recommend it."
"You should drink more water."
"Are you crazy? Why would I want more water?"
"Trust me," she said with a slight laugh. "It actually flushes out what's already in your system a little, and exercise helps even more. And those heels are way too tight; you should be wearing leisure shoes or flip-flops."
After staring at the woman for a few seconds, watching the other one squirm uncomfortably from the corner of her eye, her pink-heeled toes turned inward toward each other. "You're probably right. I just can't spare the brainpower for stuff like that; I can hardly sleep when I'm not lying on my side and I keep puking up breakfast, so I mostly feel like I'm losing my mind..."
"Who's your OBGYN?"
"I don't have one," she admitted sheepishly. "None of them will see me. They either suddenly have to rush off on an emergency call, or they're closed for the day, or their schedule's packed so full they can't take on any new patients. The princess keeps offering her personal doctor's services but I don't want them if it takes a monarch to twist their arm into burdening themselves with me."
"Here." After a few seconds of rooting around in her purse, she came up with a card. "My doctor should let you book an appointment if you tell her I sent you."
"And who are you again?"
"Guepinia, but you can call me Penny. Everybody does."
"You really think this doctor knows anything about amphibious physiology?"
Penny laughed. "Wouldn't put it past her; she's a veterinarian as well as an Oh-Bee."
"Why is that not as reassuring as you'd hoped it would sound?"
While they were chatting, Portabella crept away and toward the lingerie, feeling oddly out of place. They had just been talking about how scary it was to be in the same department store as a Koopa, and her friend up and changed her tune. Was it just because the lizard was pregnant? So maybe she didn't have any kids of her own yet, but it couldn't be that unifying of an experience... could it?
"Good timing," Mario said as he finished painting the little purple-and-green flowers on the walls of the nursery. It hadn't taken nearly as long for him and Luigi to build the extra room onto the side of his hut, but only in the past few days had he been able to do any decorating. "How was the store?"
"Better than I expected," she sighed as she made her way into the nursery. "Just when I think I've got these mushrooms figured out, one of them surprises me. It's kind of..."
"Nutsoid." Then she took a quick look around and grinned as she pressed her hands into the small of her back. "Wow, this looks amazing, honey! You did all this in the last two hours?"
Mario grinned right back at her as he wiped his paint-flecked hands on his overalls. It was hard to even tell they were originally blue. "What can I say? Got into a rhythm." Then he yanked his gloves off and patted her stomach. "How's little Mario Junior?"
"Or Wendy Junior," she chided. "Or Razor."
Wendy frowned. "What? I like the ring of it. It's simple and to the point."
"Yeah, 'point' is right; she'll grow up to stab everyone in her path."
"Cut it out," she giggled. "I suppose you've come up with a bunch of pretty names while painting the pretty flowers?"
"How about Engelbert, or Chewbacca?" When she punched him hard enough to bruise, he winced and rubbed his shoulder as he said, "Or I dunno, Lou, maybe Tracey. Eddie, Joanna... Bob. To be completely honest, I haven't been thinking too hard about the names yet; just worrying about how healthy this kid is gonna be when it pops out."
At that, she dropped her packages and dug a business card out of her purse. "This lady at the store says her doctor would be a good choice; maybe I should stop in tomorrow before heading over to MVCC, ask what prenatals I ought to be scarfing down. To be on the safe side."
"That would certainly put my mind at ease," he gusted. At the sound of it, Wendy laid a gentle claw on his shoulder.
"Nothing bad is going to happen. I'd worry if you were the biological father, what might go wrong blending our gene pools together and all, but that's not a problem we have. So don't sweat it."
For the fiftieth time, Mario leaned in and whispered, "You're sure it doesn't bother you? Using your brother's DNA to make our baby?"
"Enough," she told him tiredly, turning away to run a claw along the edge of the crib. "There's kind of a shortage of Koopa sperm donors in the area, in case you hadn't noticed. Hey, it's not like we actually made it the old-fashioned way; he just provided the seeds for our little weed. In a clinical setting. Everything was on the up and up, and now we have a family just like we wanted." When he still didn't reply, she grunted, "This really bugs you, doesn't it?"
"Not really. It's more like... it bugs me that it doesn't bug you. I mean, he's not my brother. And..."
"What? Come on, talk to me, baby."
Mario pulled at the corner of his mustache for a few seconds before relenting. "Well, it's always going to rankle that I couldn't do it myself. Not that it's your fault, or his, or anybody's at all, but it still... kinda bites, y'know?"
"You are still his or her father," Wendy reassured him as she kissed him on the cheek, distended tummy rubbing into his hip and making him smile in spite of himself. "Come what may, it's going to be me and you raising him, not me and Uncle Lemmy. Just like it's not going to be you and Princess Toadstool raising their kid, right? And only the four of us and the lab technician know the truth, anyway; everybody else is going to think it's a cross-species miracle."
At that, he walked around behind her and slipped his hands around her waist, feeling for the kicks he knew would never come. Koopas laid eggs, and if the baby had kicked through its shell there would be some real problems headed their way. "Don't get me wrong, Wen. I'm gonna love the shrimp no matter what. It's a part of you."
Her head tilted back and rested on his shoulder, and as she stared up at the starry nighttime mural Mario had etched into the ceiling (complete with Rainbow Road), a tear rolled down her cheek as she whispered, "And you. Because I'm a part of you, now and forever."
They stood like that until it was time for her to head off to Mushroom Village Community College for her afternoon business course, and afterward to the movie theater where Peach had reserved a row for them, Luigi, Lemmy, Iggy and Toad. Mario took one last look around before they slipped out; was there anything else to buy?
There was – not that he knew it yet. Two more things.
…two-and-a-half years later...
"Are you sure you have everything you need?"
"Yes," Toad sighed for the millionth time. "Diapers, bottles, toys, TV remote. What else is there?"
Wendy sighed, running a hand down her appallingly-functional ponytail. "I know, I know, and I know you've done this so often it must be second nature by now. Just... call me if anything happens? If you can't get in touch with me, call Penny at the bakery; she's doing inventory and she'll be there all night, if the look I got at the pantry before I left is any indicat-"
"G'wan," he said, shooing with both his hands. "Put all this crapola out of your mind for a few hours and cut loose! The world'll still be here when you get back."
"Okay." She gave a thick swallow and stooped to sweep three flailing Koopalings into her arms. "Be good for Uncle Toad, okay, kids?"
"I wanna puppy!"
Reluctantly, Wendy grinned. "No puppy, Warren. Remember what happened to your Cheep-Cheep when you forgot to feed him?"
"But I wanna puppy!" Warren shouted, tuft of rainbow fur falling into his eyes as he fell back onto his shell. His limbs windmilled until his mother tugged him upright again. "Can't we go with you and you can buy me one while we're out? Or Aunt Queeny can buy it."
"Tonight is a very special night for Mommy and Daddy," Wendy told him as she used her thumb to wipe an unidentifiable smudge from his cheek. "It's our third wedding anniversary, which means it's a party for grown-ups. No one under ten is allowed, understand?"
"Why?" asked the boy with the unruly shock of blonde hair as he rubbed his eye with a fist.
"Listen," she whispered, "sometimes adults need to be by themselves, Lorenzo. Just like kids need to play by themselves, too. It's perfectly natural; we've been over this a dozen times. You won't keel over if Mommy and Daddy get a little alone-time."
"She means they're going to a hotel so they can have secret kissy-wissies."
"Are not!" Lorenzo shouted at the tiny girl with beautiful rainbow ringlets.
"Mom, Mandy's being gross!"
Wendy scowled at the girl as she folded her arms, privately amused but unwilling to show it. "Mandy, what did I tell you about teasing your brothers?"
"Not to," she said glumly. "But it's so easy!"
"That's not the same thing as 'okay'." Then she leaned in to whisper conspiratorially, "Just because we girls mature faster than the boys doesn't mean you can rub their noses in it. Understand?"
"It's going to be so boring with Uncle Toad," Mandy muttered, pouting. "He's too short to give us piggy-back rides like Daddy, or Uncle Lemmy and Uncle Luigi."
"You'll survive," she said as she kissed her on the forehead. "Be good."
"Go already," Toad groused, waving both hands in her direction. "I'm ready to get my baby-sit on, which I can't do until you actually leave."
"Thanks so much again, Toad – really, you can't know-"
"No biggie. Just have an extra dash of fun on my behalf, got it?"
"Loud and clear."
Then she was out the door, feeling six sad eyes on her back as she joined Mario by the gate of the picket fence that bordered their front lawn. The plumber with his hair graying at the temples had abandoned the usual overalls for slacks and a blazer, and combed his mustache thoroughly in anticipation of the event. When he spotted her, he grinned and asked, "Ready, doll?"
"Born ready," she grunted. "I love the hell outta my brats, but God do I need to get away from them once in a while!"
"Preaching to the choir. You missed the bubblegum incident this morning while you were minding the store."
"The what?" Then she flashed him a weak smile. "Actually, please don't tell me anything about it, I don't wanna know. Let's just go and enjoy a night's entertainment that's more highbrow than 'The Mr. Clownypants Show' and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."
"I thought you liked my PB and J."
Wendy hooked an arm around his waist. "It's the best in all the Lands."
"You smell amazing."
"And you always tell me that," she laughed musically. "I'm surprised you're not tired of my fruity bouquet by now – especially since it probably smells more like talcum powder and Play-Doh than anything these days."
"Ah, but what you don't realize is that those only add to your alluring scent, my dear." The look she gave him clearly showed skepticism, so he shrugged and went on, "Because we're a family. It's more pleasing to my nose than anything else."
A smile pulled at her lips as her heart fluttered for him all over again. "You big sap."
Six forks clattered to six plates as six sighs of contentment went up, all in unison. A few minutes passed before anyone elaborated. It was Luigi who finally said, "I never thought I'd say this, but Chef Torte has got pasta down to a science. Almost as good as Spinelli down the block did."
"Pretty good for a non-Italian," Mario had to concede. "He really can make anything."
"Does anybody else want a bite of this raspberry custard?" Peach hissed under her breath. "I don't want Torte to get a swelled head, but I think I'd divorce Lemmy and marry this instead. No offense, my love."
"Sure," Lemmy grunted, straightening his bow-tie in a highly-affronted manner. "I'm taking a back-seat to an after-dinner sweet. Who'd take offense at that?"
"Oh, pipe down," Wendy laughed. "And I'll take a bite, dear Sister-In-Law."
As the fork was passed around the table to her, a light, sweeping musical number was begun by the orchestra and Mario nudged his wife. "Hey, they're playing our song."
"We don't have a song," she told him around the mouthful. "I can't stand most of that Earth Land noise you listen to, so – mmm, I have got to ask Torte for the recipe! This is way better than mine, and I've been working at it for over a year. He's so stingy with his trade secrets, though – it's like bleeding a stone."
"Hey, Motörhead ain't noise, it's classic rock! And I'll freely admit that ACDC is an acquired taste, especially the singing, but how can you find something bad to say about the Beatles?"
At that she sneered playfully; they were retreading one of their favorite arguments mostly for the audience's sake. "Beatles. Hah! This from the man who listened to Boom-Boom's red album and was unimpressed? You've got rocks in your ears or something."
"I'll dance if they won't," a honeyed voice cooed into Luigi's ear. "Coming, sweetie?"
"O-okie dokie, Chanterelle," he stammered nervously as he was yanked to his feet. The remaining four at the table watched with some amusement as she showed him up on the floor; even though she was tall for a mushroom woman, Luigi was yet taller and kept stumbling as he bent awkwardly to meet her eyes. She kindly pretended not to notice.
"Do you think she'll ever stop playing around with his head and actually make an honest man out of him?" Peach giggled.
"Nah," Lemmy sighed into his champagne flute. "It's her favorite sport."
Then Mario stood and offered his hand to Wendy. "Cut a rug with me, Milady?"
"Why, good sir," she said, batting her eyelashes at him. "What will they think if they see the two of us together?"
"They'll think we're dancing. Let's go."
Slowly, Wendy was led out onto the floor, where Mario bowed and she curtsied. As his hand slid around her waist and settled in the small of her back, he whispered, "There's something kinda familiar about this."
"We've danced before, dipwad."
"Not that – or the anniversary thing, either." He drew back and examined her again, taking in her sparkling evening gown and hairbow, then he nodded to himself, a warmth of nostalgia flooding through him. "It's the dress."
"This is the same blue dress you bought right after I got you set up in your first mushroom hut. Can't believe it didn't hit me until now."
Wendy grinned into his shoulder as she laid her head against it, hands resting lightly on his shoulderblades as they turned in a slow circle. "It's not... but it's an exact replica. That one didn't survive the fire. Took me forever to find the right material, and then I had to pay out the nose for a seamstress to get it just right."
"Well, it looks just as good on you as the first one did."
"Really?" They danced for a few more seconds before she breathed, "I didn't think you were paying any attention to how I looked back then."
"The dress made you awfully hard to ignore."
Slowly, they drew back to look into each other's eyes. The noise and movements in the restaurant faded back to nonexistence, and Wendy said, "Stop making me love you more. I'm afraid I'll run out of love if you keep using mine up."
"You can always borrow a half-cup from me, Lady Fettuccine."
"Good." Her eyes were smiling as she said, "Thank you, Mario. Thanks for my whole life."
"The pleasure was all mine."
When their lips met, the moment held all the beauty and peace that a ripening union can hold. Instead of the spark fizzling after the honeymoon, theirs only burned down into a glowing ember that endured, keeping both hearts warm as they moved through school and small business loans and childbirth and rearing. And it would continue to glow and drive away the cold of loneliness for years to come.
They broke apart when they noticed the tempo had picked up, and smiled to watch Luigi come into his own a little more now that he could move and groove; he always had been clumsier with slow-dancing. At some point, Peach and Lemmy had joined in, and now Peach was twirling around him as he showed off some understated-yet-graceful moves of his own. Everything was complete in that moment, and Mario knew he'd never want for anything ever again so long as he had days like these in his future. No matter how many or few they might be.
Shortly thereafter was when the door to the dining room imploded.
"AAIGH!" screamed the maître d'. "Sacrebleu, it's an invasion!"
Anyone who had not known who the party of six were would have been surprised when suddenly wooden swords, claws and Fire Flowers were produced from nowhere. Of course, this was standard procedure for Mario and company.
"Why tonight?" Mario growled as he dug his heels in, ready to leap over tables if necessary. "Why tonight of all nights?"
"Calm down, honey," Wendy half-snarled, words at odds with her posture. "Maybe we can take care of it quickly enough to still have time for a moonlit stroll."
But then they found themselves speechless as a green dinosaur skidded to a halt in front of them. A few seconds later, a battle-scarred rider dismounted, yanking free his iron helmet to reveal-
"IGGY!" Lemmy shouted, dropping his bokken onto a discarded teacup with a loud crash. "Wh-what- you've been gone for- how did you- what the hell?"
"Such an eloquent speech," Iggy snorted. "Have long to prepare it?"
"Forgive us for not being all smiles," Peach began shakily as she stepped forward, only now lowering the flower she'd had at the ready, "but... your entrance was kind of... unexpected."
"And loud," said Mario.
"And destructive," Luigi added. He looked yet more angry because Chanterelle was cowering behind him, clearly less accustomed to superhero and villain entrances than the other five.
Iggy was already nodding when he reached them. "I know, guys. Sorry, but we really don't have a lot of time. I'm probably too late already, but I figured I'd hop aboard the Yoshi Express and beat feet to see if I could make it before-"
"-that," Iggy finished miserably.
"Oh, I feel rotten!" Toad sobbed as he bounded into the room, rivers gushing down the front of his face as he skidded to a halt in front of Mario and Wendy. "I didn't even turn my back on 'em for more than five seconds to get the ice cream out of the freezer, a-and- and when I looked again, they were- they were-"
"They were gone."
"They were gone!" Toad blubbered, not having really even registered that Iggy was in the room.
"Wait," Wendy began with a slight desperation creeping into her words, "You said they're gone? Who are gone?"
"You already know, Sis," Iggy told her. "I'm sorry."
Mario was instantly gripping the youngest of Bowser's sons around the shoulders, squeezing hard. "Hey, pal, what say you start being a little more forthcoming with the info from this point on? Since, y'know, it sounds to me like I'm about to be really, really peeved."
"You are. King Dad has the triplets."
Peach, Luigi and Chanterelle gasped, but Lemmy, Wendy and Mario only swore, the latter tossing Iggy backward in disgust. "I knew this was going to happen," Lemmy spat, hands curling into fists. "How... how is..."
"Momoko's fine," Iggy assured him sadly. "After all, she's a human child, so what would The Great Bowser want with her? Though I'll worry about him coming after her when she's of age for, uh... other reasons."
"Why does that make me feel ten times better, yet not help at all?" Peach lamented, hand over her mouth. "My precious daughter..."
"You failed, Little Brother," Wendy flung at him, and Iggy dropped his gaze. A gout of flame erupted from her mouth before she continued. "You were supposed to be keeping them in line and out of Mushroom World, weren't you? We were counting on you to plug up the Warp Pipe and stop them from coming back here to do exactly what they're doing right now! What went wrong?"
"Factions," Iggy said with no small amount of self-reproach. "I've got Morton and Ludwig more or less on my side, but Dad's still the boss as far as Roy and Larry are concerned. Until now, our petty squabbles have been taking up each other's time enough to distract him from your babies, but he decided the time has come to... bolster the ranks."
Mario went cold all over. "No. No, he's not – that's not fair. Those are not his children, he can't recruit from our playpen!"
"But they're his grandchildren. As far as he's concerned, that's all the permission he needs to steal them and raise them like 'true Koopas'."
Silence reigned. By now, almost all of the customers had fled, and only a few of the braver kitchen staff were peeking out from behind the swinging service doors.
"Lorenzo," Wendy said with a strangled sob. "Warren..."
"Mandy," Mario half-breathed, clutching for a table to keep from collapsing in the middle of the floor. "Leapin' lasagna, this can't be happening..."
"They're probably on their way back to Ice World as we speak," Iggy told them, mounting Yoshi again as he hefted his helmet. "Maybe, if we don't stop for bathroom breaks-"
But the next words died on his lips when he saw Mario was tossing his blazer to the floor. In a flash, he yanked the bib of his overalls out from under his shirt and fastened the straps on the outside, then donned the red cap that had been hiding in his back pocket. "I'm ready."
"Me, too," Wendy said as she tossed her dress aside. Luigi had already slapped his hand over his eyes, but he needn't have bothered; under the elegant formal-wear she had on bicycle shorts and a tank top. As they watched, she kicked her heels in Chanterelle's general direction while yanking a pair of sneakers from her purse. "Take care of my clothes, willya? This could take a few days."
"You guys ain't leavin' me behind," Luigi said as he yanked up his dress shirt. In his case, he was actually wearing slacks and not overalls, but he did have a hefty tool belt secured around his waist, most likely full to the brim with Fire Flowers and Super Leaves (besides the usual plumber's snakes and socket wrenches). "I'm there with you all the way, Brother Mio."
The only response Mario could manage was a nod, but it was enough. The Brooklynites knew the stakes, and little else remained to be said.
"Shall we, Peach?" Lemmy asked. "You can change when we pick up the ATV from the castle."
"No time to dress for the occasion!" Glancing around, she let out an angry grunt of frustration and grabbed the hem of her evening gown, ripping apart the seam until halting when she reached her hip. Taking a deep breath, she made sure her repaired and re-Starred crown was in place before barking, "We've got rugrats to save. Honor Guard, make sure you grab my parasol prototype and the two wands in our possession from the Armory; you remember the combination to the safe?"
Her honor guard bowed. "Got it. Wendy and I would be glad of the firepower."
"Excellent. Obviously, Toadsworth can watch the kingdom in our absence again; he practically lives for it, anyway. But let's make this fast; I'll be damned if my niece and nephews fall into Bowser's clutches without giving my all to circumvent it!"
"Lead the way, Ig," Lemmy told his brother with a satisfied grin.
"You got it, Lemmy Lee. To the castle, Yoshi!"
"Yosh!" the dinosaur cried out. "We go quick-quick, save babies of friends!"
As they spilled out of the restaurant and down the streets, Toad and Chanterelle stranded behind and anxiously gripping the handful of discarded garments, Mario turned to Wendy and panted, "They're gonna be fine. You know that, right?"
"Yep. My husband is Super Mario. Besides, Daddy Dearest would never hurt them; not when he thinks they're his only shot at restaffing his evil empire."
"Not exactly what I meant," he half-laughed, ignoring the questioning stares of the fungi bystanders as they watched the ragtag group thunder toward Toadstool Castle, curious and alarmed but content to gossip without getting personally involved. If the Mario Brothers were on the case, everything was going to turn out okay no matter the danger.
"Then what did you mean?"
"Those three have a mother who is anything but defenseless. Nobody could stand between ya, not even King Bowser. Which is why... call me crazy, but I'm not all that panicked."
Wendy flashed him a toothy grin, even as tears of worry streaked past her cheeks and into her golden locks. "We're a hell of a herpetological family, huh? Can't just hold a normal reunion at the local Mushroom Legion Hall like everybody else."
"So you believe me, Wen? You believe we stand a chance at rescuing our kids?"
"Oh, it's a sure thing." When he only gaped at her with combined surprise and pride, she reached out to snag his hand and grip it tight within her claw, just like she had in the Kingdom Waterworks all those years ago. "I trust you completely, Beloved. Eternally."
And somehow, as the seemingly-incompatible husband and wife set out for yet another zany adventure alongside no less than five comrades-in-arms, Warren, Lorenzo and Mandy's prospects didn't seem so grim. Not when their fierce Mommy and valiant Daddy would be a single Warp Pipe away.