Foreword:So. Hi. Look who's NOT dead. C: I'm not going to even bother with excuses this chapter. The closest thing I have to an excuse is that I had this thing almost done, 14 pages in, when I lost EVERYTHING. But besides that, It's been over a year, and the fact that some of you have been worried, trying to get in touch, are still thinking about this at ALL is...absolutely mindblowing. I've cried over it more than once, y'all don't know how much you touch me. As such, this chapter and my return ("Return", even though we're literally at the end. TOOK ME LONG ENOUGH, EH?) are dedicated to those of you who've stuck with me and tried to pull me back into writing. Reyairia, Cathy, my mom (mom, if you were serious about reading this tome...hi), and especially Mikari get the biggest nods. :) And to EVERYONE, including those of you who completely forgot about this story but never really took it off alert and are like "wtf is going on", I'm SO sorry. But I AM going to finish this. Y'all deserve that...and so, so much more, but. It's really the least I can do. So, without further ado, here's the penultimate chapter of Change of Heart! If it seems rushed, it's because we're at the end of the slope, and that always goes faster!


Both having the afternoon off, Kammy and Kamek were walking the Darkland halls in animated discussion. When they spent their time helping each other with the workload instead of making it harder on each other, things got done a lot faster. And Wendy was surprisingly helpful, giggling madly whenever she saw them together and apparently taking their job as nanny. "Just let me be your flower-girl!" was her only request which, of course, landed her under the angry point of both Kammy and Kamek's wand. After spending the rest of that day as a orchid, she learned to keep those kind of comments to herself.

And so for the rest of the afternoon, with Wendy tending to her siblings and the empire in fairly good order, the magikoopas were free to do whatever they chose.

Genially, Kamek swug the door open wide. Unable to hold a smile, Kammy opened her mouth to say something when a rouge birdie flew at her from inside the room. Howling, she jumped out of the way. "Are you trying to kill me?" she snarled, eyes blazing.

Kamek's own eyes bugged out as he dipped his head into the pickleball room. Birdies were flying every direction, roars and grunts drowning out the loud smack of Bowser's racket or the blasts of the automatic birdie-deploying machine. "Sire!" Kamek shouted, ducking down as another birdie ricochets in his direction.

Still, Bowser didn't stop, just roared, "Get out, nut-brain!" and angrily smacked a few more volleys.

"Your awfulness, you must stop!" Kamek wailed, covering his head with his hands as the missiles fly around him.

"Oh, seriously, Kamek," Kammy snarled, pushing past him and pointing her wand at the machine. Shapes shot at it, shutting off the machine and ending the volleys. She waved her wand again, stilling all the birdies still ricocheting around the room and dropping them dead to the floor.

None of the magic in her wand could have stopped Bowser's anger though, and he threw his racket down with a roar. "What in the name of Kamek's smelly underpit made you do that, you flea-bitten rat-faced hag?" He stormed towards them, flame sparking off his tongue.

"You're an idiot and I hate you," Kamek hissed up at Kammy, tugging at her robes from his hunched position. "And let it be known that my last words are you're an idiot and I hate you!"

Ignoring him, Kammy put her hands on her hips and stared up at Bowser, unmoved by his display of aggression. "You can hurt me all you want, Oh Violent One, but that's not going to make your problem go away anymore than denting all of Princess Peach's birdies is."

Bowser tore the net down, continuing his slow, heavy march towards the magikoopas. "It's not like she's ever gonna play here again, Maggot-Breath!" he roared, emotion threatening to enter his voice. "You didn't see that stupid video. She's happy with that idiot, ugly plumber and doesn't freaking care about me anymore!"

Kammy rolled her eyes, tugging Kamek to stand up next to her. "That's not true, your vileness," she reprimanded. Nudging Kamek hard, she snarled, "Come on, old man! Agree with me!"

Still technically behind Kammy and protecting himself from any of Bowser's aggression, Kamek nodded. "Kammy's right for once. There's no way Peach doesn't care about you anymore. She was practically head-over-heels for you last week!"

Bowser stopped a few yards away from Kammy and Kamek, breathing hard. "You didn't see it," he repeated in a defeated growl. "She was laughing and happy and garbage like that. She loves Mario. It's always gonna be stupid Mario who wins the Princess."

"Oh, for evil's sake, Bowser," Kamek drawled, rolling his eyes magnificently. "Sometimes when I hang out with your punk kids I laugh and feel happy and 'garbage like that'. Does that mean I'm in love with any of them? Does that mean I'd rather spend my life looking after your snively kids than bossing around this old hag?" He gestured to Kammy with his thumb, raising an eyebrow at Bowser and fiercely ignoring Kammy's eyes. Yeah, he'd basically just made a giant confession about his feelings, but that didn't mean he had to own up to it.

"I wouldn't wanna do either," Bowser replied, slight amusement in his tone. "My kids suck and Kammy's a rotten bag of tomatoes."

"That wasn't his point," Kammy said, her eyes still searching Kamek for any cracks in his defenses. "He means that just because Peach isn't absolutely miserable with Mario doesn't mean she wouldn't rather be with you anyway." Unable to get anything more than a fleeting glance from her superior, Kammy turned to face Bowser again. "Your problem is that, when it comes to Peach, everything's always been so black-and-white for you. She liked Mario; she was happy with him, giving him kisses and calling for his rescue. She didn't like you; she cursed you and yelled at you to set her free. Those moments of getting along with you were far and few between. But Bowser, guess what? That doesn't mean you and Mario have switched places.

"In case you didn't notice, you're still you, even now that Peach actually likes you. In all likelihood, Mario's still Mario, too. Which means she has no reason to suddenly start hating him."

Kamek nodded, stepping a little closer to the Koopa King. "You can be friends with someone and love someone else, Sire. What about your first wife? Weren't you friends with her, even though you were in love with Peach?"

Running his claws through his mane, Bowser sighed loudly. "I guess so, yeah." He chewed on his lip, staring over the magikoopas. "So you think I...I still have a chance?"

Kammy and Kamek nodded in unison, Kammy asking, "You didn't see her kissing him, did you?"

Bowser shook his head, a smug smile slowly forming. "But she did kiss me."

Kammy smiled widely. There was the over-confident king she knew. "And why wouldn't Princess Peach love you?"

"She must," Bowser agreed, his toothy grin filling out his face. "Peach is way too smart to not love me."

"Exactly right, your smarminess," Kamek said with a laugh. He pointed his wand at the torn net, repairing it and sending the birdies all flying into the equipment bin. "Now, sire. This living fossil and I were planning on playing some pickleball before we found you. How about some 2-on-1?"

Bowser nodded, turning tail and walking back to his side of the net. He slapped his tail on the ground, sending the racket flying and back into his claw. "Prepare to be pulverized, you pruny, pitiful punks."

Kammy clapped her hand on Kamek, smiling gratefully at him on her way to take her own position and materialize a purple racket. "We're not going easy on you just because you have feelings, Bowser."

Raising an eyebrow, Bowser pointed a threatening claw at them both. "Hey. Hey. We are never mentioning that again, or I'll make the two of you into a leather love-seat."

Kamek shrugged innocently, juggling his own magicked racket between his hands. "Then I guess you'll have to win, won't you?"

xxxx0o0o0o0o0o0o0xxxx

Peach was skipping down the halls of Hotel Ca' Shygredo, curtseying to one particularly confused shy-guy pushing a housekeeping cart. She was singing as she went, flitting from doorframe to doorframe until she finally reached her own, throwing the door open. Her smile stretched impossibly wider when she noticed Daisy under her sheets. "Daisy!" Peach rang, spinning and turning her skirt into a perfect circle before shutting the door. "Dasiy!" she repeated, taking a flying leap and landing on her sleeping cousin.

Daisy opened her eyes wide enough to glare at Peach, rolling under her cousins weight to look at the alarm clock. "Peach. What in Underwhere are you doing on top of me at two am?" she seethed, pushing Peach off. Daisy sat up groggily, smacking her mouth full of sleep.

"It's so beautiful outside, Daisy. The lanterns are so bright! And the boats are so pretty! And the stars...oh, Daisy, the stars are so pure! Twinkling up in the blue-black sky, winking like they have secret wishes they're just dying to answer. The people here are so wonderful, too! There aren't very many out there right now, and most of the people are either really scary or really in love and oh, Daisy, isn't love amazing? You have all these...all these feelings that fill up your entire body, and you know that your whole life is special because of that one person. And the very best part is you know, burning deep underneath those feelings, that the person making you feel like that has the same feelings. For you! You know that this crazy, starry, spectacular life-enveloping emotion is enveloping that person you love, too!"

"It's two am."

"Isn't two am wonderful?"

"Not really, Peach, no," Daisy groaned. She rolled over, wrapping the pillow around her ears. "And if you woke me up to prattle on about lanterns and stars and love, you can go...wait." She let go of the pillow, letting it flop back into place, and rolled back to look closer at Peach. "You're happy again. And talking about love."

Peach sat on Daisy's bed, legs crossed under her dress and she nodded eagerly. Her eyes were sparkling as she clutched at the sapphire over her heart. "It's the most wonderful thing in the world. I don't know why I ever wanted to talk about anything else."

Daisy sat up, rubbing her eyes before narrowing them at Peach. "So you...did you...do you have something to tell me?"

She giggled, nodding again. "I'm in love, Daisy. I've been in love, but now I'm really in love. And he loves me back. The most wonderful, funny, loving person in the world loves me and I love him. I love Bowser!"

Daisy's eyes popped open and her grin spread across her face as she laughed, pouncing on Peach in a hug. Peach hugged back, laughing and squeezing, smiling and crying.

"I knew it!" Daisy laughed into Peach's hair, squeezing her tightly. "I knew you loved him. I knew it! I'm so glad you figured it out!"

"I had some help," Peach admitted when they separated, wiping her eyes. "From a lot of people. But I am, Daisy. I am so in love and all I want to do is tell everyone, especially Bowser. He...oh my word, he doesn't know! He HAS to know! I have to tell him!"

She leapt of the bed, pacing in front of it, then spinning to face Daisy. "When I tell him, he's going to be so happy. He'll hug me, and we'll kiss, and we'll kiss again, and he'll love me forever and ever and we'll get married and I'll be Queen and he'll be King, and I don't know what we'll do with our countries, but it won't matter, because I love him! And he loves me! And everyone in the world will see how much we love each other, and they'll love each other, too, and there will be world peace, and-"

"Woah, sweetie," Daisy interrupted, chuckling. "I think you're getting ahead of yourself."

"I'm sorry, Dayz. It's just...when you know that you want to spend forever with someone...you want forever to start right away, you know?"

She smiled knowingly, nodding. "You should still take this step by step. I suggest telling your father, and your lov-ah, and Mario before jumping right into the world peace thing."

"My lover," Peach repeated, hugging herself and spinning in a fit of giggles. "I don't know how you don't feel like this every second of every day, Daisy! I didn't even kiss him this time, I just...know!"

"Sometimes I feel like that, but you get used to it."

"I hope I never get used to it," Peach whispered, flopping onto Daisy's bed. "I hope fifty years from now, when Bowser's hands are all wrinkly and old, he holds mine and rubs my wedding ring and kisses my cheek and I feel just as ready to explode as I do right now." She rolled onto her back, eyes sparkling up at Daisy. "I hope people write epic songs and stories and plays about our love that never dies. Because this feeling? I've never felt like this before, in my whole life. And he's felt like this for so long. I'm going to make up for it somehow. First, I have to tell him. I miss him so much, Daisy."

Daisy leaned over, rubbing Peach's shoulder. "I know. But Peach...how are you going to tell him?"

"I'll go over to the Darklands, of course! And I'll-"

"You don't even know where they are," she reminded her cousin calmly.

Peach opened and closed her mouth like a cheep-cheep, pouting. "I guess I'll have to wait for him to kidnap me, then."

"Never thought I'd hear that one," Daisy laughed. "Royalty can get in contact with other royalty, can't we? So maybe you won't have to wait that long. Maybe we just have to get home to the castle and figure it out from there."

"I don't want to wait that long, either," Peach whined, tugging on her hair.

"Well...maybe you're bugged?" Daisy hovered over Peach, looking for a hint of electronics. "Hey, Bowser!" she said, speaking to Peach's chest. "Hey, ya doofus! Peach wants you real bad!"

Peach laughed, shaking her head. "I'm not bugged, Daisy. If I was, he would have picked me up the second you mentioned this was even a possibility."

"Well, that's amusingly inconvenient." Daisy sat back, nesting into her pillows. "What are you gonna do, Peach?"

"I don't know," she groaned. "Just wait, I guess. He chose a horrible time to be patient. Patience is boring. I'd rather be kissing him."

Daisy barked a laugh, shaking her head. "Go to sleep, Princess. You can kiss him all you want in your dreams."

xxxx0o0o0o0o0o0o0xxxx

"Look, I'm in charge, and I say we're doing it!" Wendy's nails were drumming along her crossed arms, her glare steeling all the other koopalings in place.

"And I'm not a stupid girly idiot girl and say we're not!" Morton bellowed, glaring back with almost as much anger.

"Yeah, Wendy, you can't make all of us do it," Roy snarled, hands on his hips. "Dere's seven guys here. Ain't not one of us want to get our hair did but you! And you don't count for nothin'!"

Eyes wide, Lemmy waved his claw in the air. "That's not true," he hollered. "I want my mohawk to look cool!"

"...yeah," Iggy agreed, sheepishly, nodding at his nearly identical brother. "I have a few ideas for my hair as well."

Triumphantly, Wendy squealed and hugged them both. "See!" She snapped towards the other brothers, "You're, like, totally preventing the forward movement of gender-equality in our siblings. Hair isn't, like, just a girl thing!"

"Well, yeah," Larry agreed, eyebrow raised. "You're a girl and you don't even have hair."

That did it for Wendy. Screaming shrilly, she flew at Larry and starting thrashing her claws at his hair. The other koopalings began to shout and yell, Ludwig and Lemmy desperately trying to separate the fight while Morton and Roy cheered them on.

"You guuuuuuys!" Bowser junior wailed, tugging Roy's arm and yelling for attention. "You guuuuuys, we can't fight! We gotta save Mama Peach!"

"Priorities, little dude!" Roy laughed back, pushing Junior off his arm. "There is a bonafide catfight going on. It'd sure be hotter if Larry was a chick and Wendy wasn't our stupid sister, but eh, you gotta take what you kin get, ya know?"

"But Mama Peach...!" Junior wailed again, this time tugging on Morton's arm.

"Jun-hnng-Junior," Ludwig grunted, his hand covering Wendy's face and avoiding her teeth as he kept fighting to pull her back. "I can most assuredly promise you that Princess Peach is not going to disappear from Grand Canal any time in the immediate future. Calm yourself!"

"Yeah, loser-face," Morton replied, laughing and clapping. "Get your loser-face out of my business if you're not gonna bet on nothin, Smelly-foot loser-face!"

With a harumph, Junior let go of his brothers and glared at the fight before him. "Fine, be like that!" He shouted. When there came no reply, he added, more frustrated than before, "We'll see who Mama Peach loves the most when I save her all by myself. Again!" He stormed out of the room and away from the din of the fight, breaking into a run as he formulated a plan.

Going alone was not his plan, but surely the clowncopters weren't that difficult to fly. He tore down the hallways, slipping through the railings of an atrium bridge and freefalling three stories. He landed with a thunk on his shell, flipping back to his feet and racing towards the hangars.

Rounding another corner, Junior still had yet to run into anyone important. He'd passed a few maids and a few hammering repairman, but no one who would think twice why he was alone and at a full run. Then, he heard a scream from up ahead. Shocked at the noise, he started to stumble on his feet. He flailed his arms and shrieked until finally, he fell with his nose smacking straight into the the stone.

Junior groaned and opened his eyes, the screamer standing right in front of his nose, tiny hairy arms covering his blue face. When at least he saw the threat had stopped running, the little blue spider wiped his face. "Ah, tank goodness ya fell!" he laughed, tapping Junior on the nose. "Wail, not tank goodness for ya, I s'pose, but tank goodness for me! Ya woulda crushed me! Splat!" He laughed, exposing his mouth full of gold teeth and empty sockets. "Whatchu doin' runnin' round here anyway fo?"

Junior glared at the spider, pushing himself off the ground and into a sitting position. "I don't wanna tell you."

The spider pouted, scurrying closer to the koopa prince. "Aw, why not, yer 'ighness? I didn't mean teh scare ya. I jus' didn' wanna die, yanno?

"I wasn't scared!" Junior yelled, crossing his arms defensively. "I was only surprised. You just surprised me. I could have crushed you if I wanted!"

"Yeah, but is a good thing ya didn't!" The spider said, eyes wide. "The missus woulda been reeeeeal mad! And shoo, you don' wanna be married to a mad woman who don birthed you seven-hundred childjuns, 'ighness. I kin tell you that much. But anyway! Where you's a-runnin' to?"

"It's a...secret."

"Aw, you kin tell me," the spider promised, crawling up Junior's foot to perch on his toe. "Ah'm mighty fine at keepin' secrets, highness. Do it all ze time fer yer dad, or yer Peach, or whoevah!"

Junior bit his lip, thinking it over. "Well...I suppose I should tell someone. It's a super genius plan and nobody even knows to tell me how super genius it is!"

"Ah kin tell you how super jeenyus it is!" the spider cheered, leaning up with a shining grin.

"Okay," Junior quickly decided, scooping the spider up and putting him close to his face. "I'm going to steal a clowncopter and fly to Grand Canal, then I'm gonna rescue Mama Peach!"

After a few seconds, the spider furrowed his brow. "Zat it? Zat's your super jeenyus plan?"

Junior frowned. It WAS a super genius plan! "Well...yeah! Why, you think you got a better idea, Mister?"

"Whatchu gonna do about all ze gaurds in ze hangar, 'ighness?"

"Beat 'em up, obviously," Junior guffawed.

"But then you got just a few minutes to fly 'afore 'is majesty finds out, right? We had teh amp up secur'ty after all y'all rescued her last week the first time. And they track those things, yanno? Das my job, actually, to put in the gee-pee-ess in all the clowncopter things. Takes forever to set up or turn off, and by ze time you do dat, zey gon' be on your tail already! Is not gonna work, 'ighness."

"You're mean," Junior snarled, trying to think of a way around his plan. "Don't you think someone should rescue Mama Peach?"

"Shoo, of course ah do!" the spider said back, grabbing Junior's nose and staring him straight in the eye. "S'why I wantcho plan to work, 'ighness! What you gotta do is get to yo Mama Peach wifout being caught leaving the palace. Do it some way they ain't gonna check nothin'."

"That's impossible," Junior countered. "There's no way."

The spider let go, tapping his own chin thoughtfully. At last, his eyes lit up. "Is not impossible, 'ighness. Zere's a way. You ain't claw-stro-phobic, right?"

Junior blankly blinked back in response.

"Scared of itty-bitty spaces," the spider clarified, looking around to make sure no one could hear them.

"I'm not scared of anything at all!" Junior shouted back with pride.

The spider broke into another grin, looking fiendish. "Zen I got a plan fer you."

xxxx0o0o0o0o0o0o0xxxx

After being forced to sleep in, Peach was finally awake and pacing her bedroom. "I don't know if I can do this, Daisy," she muttered, taking tiny bites of her brunch croissant with every step. "I know I need to, I know I want to...I just don't know if I can!"

"Don't be ridiculous, Peach," Daisy said from lying flat on her bed, the video game in hand making all sorts of tinny noises in the background. "You're awesome. You can do anything. This is nothing!"

"It's not nothing," Peach replied, continuing wearing her path into the carpet. "What if I break his heart? What if I ruin Mario for ever and he never trusts women again?"

"That's not gonna happen. He's Mario, one big elastic ball. How long does it take for him to get over anything? The second he sees something shiny that needs saving or smells pasta or whatever and he'll forget all about how you destroyed the romantic life he's been building since he was in diapers."

Peach paled. "Oh, heavens, you're right! I can't do that to him!"

"Dude, it was a joke!" Daisy said, not even looking up from her game. "Calm down, princess. He'll be fine. And neither of you are gonna be happy if you spend your life trying to make it work when you love someone else. Especially when that someone else is your doting husband's arch-nemesis."

"Mario's not my husband," Peach snapped back, chewing nervously on her croissant again.

"He will be if you don't break the news to him pronto. Neither of you are getting any younger, Peach."

Sighing, Peach flopped down next to Daisy on the bed. "You're right. I just hate disappointing people. That's not who I was raised to be."

"You weren't raised to fall in love with Bowser either, and look where that got you." Daisy finally paused her game, rolling to look at Peach. "Just get it over with. Enjoy the rest of the time you're here, and let him do the same. I can promise you that he won't be heartbroken for long, if at all. He's your friend, and he's gonna want what's best for you. That's all there is to it."

Finally, Peach nodded and sat up. "I'll tell him over gelato. Nothing can ruin gelato for Mario." She got up and went to her phone, dialing Mario's number while Daisy held her hand. After a quick conversation, she hung up, chuckling a little. "He's already there."

"What?"

Peach shrugged, still laughing. "He wanted gelato before lunch, apparently. He's at the place three streets over." She stood up and gathered her things, hugging Daisy. "Wish me luck."

"You don't need it, but okay," Daisy replied, squeezing her cousin tight. "Good luck."

The walk down those three streets felt like miles to Peach, cheery flags and laughing passerbies taunting her the entire way. At long last, she found herself in front of the gelato place, its tricolor awning waving mockingly. She took a deep breath and pressed in, the tinkling of the bells and her high-heels alerting Mario to attention.

He was seated at a table in the middle, Luigi right there with him and their three empty bowls. "Princess Peach!" Mario cheered, waving her over. "Good-a morning at last!"

"Hi, Mario," Peach said, smiling as sincerely as she could. "Hi, Luigi. Daisy made me sleep in, since I was up late last night...thinking."

"That's-a what I heard," Luigi replied, nodding. "Daisy said-a you woke her up at two am!"

Peach laughed drily, pulling up a chair. A shy guy quickly rushed over to take her order (just a small hazlenut gelato, and another bowl of orange for Mario) before leaving them alone again. "Luigi, can I...um, can I talk to Mario alone?"

Confused, Mario looked from Peach to Luigi and back again, but didn't say anything. Luigi raised his eyebrows, fiddling with his mustache before nodding. "Si, that is-a fine. Mario, I will-a just get a head start, okay? See you in a bit." He put money down on the table and nearly ran out of the restaurant, leaving Peach and Mario alone with their gelatos.

They ate in silence for a little bit, Peach unaware how to start and Mario having nothing to say. Finally, Peach looked up from her gelato and stared hard at the man across the table. "Mario, are we a couple?" she asked.

Mario looked back blinking in surprise. Slowly, he said "Si...? We are, aren't we?"

Peach wrung her hands, looking away. "Are we? Do you call me your girlfriend? Or am I just the princess that you save all the time? Daisy and Luigi are obviously a couple, but are we?"

"Not every couple can-a be like Daisy and-a Luigi," Mario countered, pointing his spoon at Peach before taking two more bites. "They are...they are like-a my parents. Two peas in a pod."

"Don't you want that?" Peach asked honestly. "Don't you want to be so in love, like Luigi and Daisy, or like your parents, or like...so many other couples? Don't you think that's what life and relationships should be about...love?"

Mario shrugged, chewing thoughtfully. "I guess-a so. It seems nice. But I'm-a okay if we don't."

Peach swallowed hard. This is exactly what Daisy was talking about. Mario was so set in his life, so okay with it that if she didn't do something, their present would just become their future. "I'm not, Mario. I'm not in love with you. And honestly, I don't think you're in love with me. And I don't think we should be dating."

Mario's spoon was in his mouth, his frown forming around it. He swallowed, looking around the restaurant. "Are you-a sure, Peach?"

She nodded. "I'm sure. I'm...I'm in love, Mario. And I want to take advantage of that, because he loves me back. I don't want to string you along for the rest of your life while I spend mine wishing you were someone else."

"So...we are not a couple then?"

Peach couldn't help but smile a little bit at Mario's simple concerns. "Yeah. We're not. If we were, which...I'm not too sure about, honestly...I think this is our official breakup."

Mario sighed, wiping a bit of gelato off of his mustache. "Okay," he finally said, eating more gelato.

"Okay? Just...just okay?"

"We are-a still friends, so it's okay. And I can-a still rescue you without the kisses, si?"

Peach laughed. "Of course. But honestly, I don't know how much rescuing you'll have to do, Mario."

Mario's spoon clattered in his bowl. "But-a...why not?"

Blushing furiously, Peach started to play with her own gelato. "Because...remember when I said I was in love and he loved me back?"

"Is-a he going to rescue you now?" Mario asked, jealously clear in his voice.

"No," Peach laughed. She swallowed hard, looking deep into Mario's eyes. "It's Bowser," she whispered.

"It's-a what?"

"Mario, shh! Keep your voice down! I promise I'm not brain-washed, or going crazy, or under a spell or any of that. I just...last week, I was with him and I..."

"How long have you been in love with-a Bowser?" Mario asked back, gripping his spoon defensively.

"I don't know, but not more than a week," Peach promised, looking around the restaurant nervously. As much as she wanted to shout about her love from the rooftops, if anyone found out it would spread like wildfire. And she wanted to tell Bowser...not to mention her father...herself. "I'm not crazy, I swear."

"Mama mia," Mario groaned, leaning into his chair. "So all these years, I have-a been rescuing you from...from your secret lover?"

"What? No!" Peach balked. "I hardly even liked him before last week. It wasn't like that at all!"

Narrowing his eyes at Peach, Mario took a few more bites of gelato. "But you are sure that you-a love him now?"

"I know it seems fast to you, but it seems like I've been falling in love with him forever to me. I'm positive, Mario. And it's not like I'm going to accept his hand in marriage or anything...I want to see where things go. See if this is real, if we can make it work. I really do love him, and I care about you, too. So I wanted you to know." She watched him cautiously, but he wasn't saying anything as he filled his mouth with more orange gelato. "And I'd really appreciate it if you supported us, too."

"So no more rescuing you from Bowser?"

"No, I think I'll be perfectly content to stay with him," Peach replied with a laugh. She quickly caught on to his disappointment. It seemed like losing his rescue missions hurt Mario more than losing his almost-girlfriend. "Hey, Mario," she said, gripping his hand with hers. "There will be other princesses that need saving. Stars won't stop going missing just because Bowser might not be the one stealing them. You'll still be the hero of the Mushroom Kingdom, you know!"

Mario sighed, taking a rather large bite. "I know. I saved the world last week, and you were-a not involved."

"Exactly." They were quiet for a bit, Peach releasing Mario's hand and taking a few more bites of her own gelato. "So...you're sure you're okay with this? You're not mad, or ruined for other women, or any of that?"

"No way," Mario chuckled, continuing to scrape the near bottom of his bowl. "I am-a happy for you. Love will be nice. And maybe Bowser won't-a let you get kidnapped in the first place."

Peach smiled at that. No, he certainly wouldn't. "So do you...want to hear how it happened or anything?"

Mario took his last few bites, thinking it over before shaking his head. "I'm-a fine. Besides, Luigi and I are going to take a tour of-a the plumbing in Grand Canal. It's a water city, you know. So the plumbing is-a crazy!"

Peach laughed lightly, smiling to herself. He'd be just fine. "Alright, Mario. And hey- if you figure out a way to get to the Darklands, I've got a conversation to have with Bowser. I have to break the news to him, too."

"That Grand Canal is-a good for plumbing?"

"No! That I love him!"

"He doesn't know?" Mario asked, apparently interested again.

"I don't think so," Peach replied, smiling as she imagined telling him.

"Mama Mia, Peach." Mario shook his head, sorting through the bills in his wallet. "Good luck," he said, putting the money on the table and getting up to find Luigi. With a wink, he said, "So long, Queen Bowser," and left.

Peach just grinned into her gelato.

xxxx0o0o0o0o0o0o0xxxx

Walking back into the hotel, Peach was in high spirits. Mario was okay with her and Bowser, she was very much okay with her and Bowser, and after talking to a few more people, she could begin their lives together at last. She headed towards the golden elevators, mind on cloud nine, when a shrill voice broke into her thoughts.

"Princess Peach!" a shy guy behind the main desk called, waving her over. "Princess Peach, I 'ave something for you!"

Curiously, she walked over. "Something for me? But it's...has the mail already come?"

"Two zings, actually," the shy guy muttered, turning around and rummaging through a bunch of cubbies. "Zis is for ju," he said, presenting her with a lovely bouquet. Peach squealed in delight, pressing her nose into the gorgeous flowers. They were from her dad and Toadsworth, a note attached. She opened it to read it when the shy guy's grunts caught her attention. "Ah-and zis," he wheezed, tugging on something below her line of vision and behind the desk, "Is also for ju.

He grunted and after awhile reappeared, wobbling around with an enormous box. The box thunked down on the table, leaving the shy guy doubled over and gasping for breath. The box was thick cardboard, "Fragile", "Extreme Rush Delivery", "Do Not Bend", "Valuable Contents", "Do Not Crush", "High Priority", and "Caution" covering nearly every inch of its giant size. Curiously, Peach wrapped her arms around the box and chirped in surprise at its weight. The shy guy was not exaggerating! She bent her knees, whirling the box around and wobbling as it took her farther into the middle of the lobby.

A few tourists raised their eyebrows at her, giving Peach and the mysterious box a wide berth. Whatever was in this box was too heavy to carry all the way to the elevators. Peach caught her breath, bending over the box and ripping through the thick layers of tape.

Suddenly, the contents of the box seemed to jump inside it, throwing the flaps wide open and inhaling loudly. Peach shrieked at the sight before her- Bowser Junior, airmailed and gasping for breath. "Junior! What are you...Junior!"

"Mama...Peach!" he managed between loud breaths.

Peach was acutely aware of all the eyes still on them, hastily closing the box again, much to the displeasure of Junior inside. "Shhh, stay in there!" she hissed, fighting against his claws on the box's inside. She sat on the box's top, smiling widely at everyone who passed. Apparently, opening the box in the lobby was a terrible idea.

Hardly a minute passed before Junior stopped fighting, content to tear another tiny hole in the top. A busboy shyguy walked over, looking at Peach with confusion. "Could you help u- me?" Peach asked sweetly. "I need to carry this package to my room, but I'm afraid it's much too heavy for me." She stood up, praying that Junior wouldn't break the lid off and thrilled when her hopes came true.

The busguy bent over to try lifting the box, failing almost instantly. "If you'll excuse me," he purred, rushing away for additional assistance. When he came back, three other busguys trailing behind him, Peach positioned herself on the box.

"Don't you dare move," she whispered, hoping Junior could hear. The busguys chattered in Italian, situating themselves and counting to tre. With all the combined help, the box was soon lifted and slowly marched to the elevator. "I'll open it," Peach promised, running ahead.

The elevator opened just in time for the busguys to bustle in with the box, setting it down and grunting. They rode in silence, Peach eyeing the box the entire time. "Mama mia, Miss," one of them mumbled, fanning his face. "What is in this box?"

Peach shrugged, avoiding their questioning eyes.

Eventually, the elevator reached the seventh floor, so Peach directed the shyguys to her room. Daisy looked up from her game, eyebrows raised. "Geez, what's that, Peach?" she asked, throwing the game aside to peer curiously.

Peach waved away Daisy's question, tipping and thanking the shyguys. Once they left, she knelt down in front of the box. "Daisy, just so you know, I was just as surprised as you." She opened it, getting a full face of Bowser Junior. She was expecting the worst and received it as Daisy shrieked in terror.

"What's he doing here?" she wailed, backing up to the bed.

Junior glared at Daisy, hugging Peach possessively and whining, "Mama, what's she doing here?"

"Junior, I'm on vacation with Daisy. I want to know why you're here!"

Squeezing tighter, he replied, "Rescuing you, duh!"

Daisy managed to calm down, still several feet away from the miniature Bowser. "See, Peach. It didn't take that long for you to get kidnapped."

Peach furrowed her brow, pulling away to look at Junior. "No, but I really believe Bowser wouldn't try and kidnap me right now. Junior, does your Papa know you're here?"

He shook his head, proud. "I'm gonna bring you home as a surprise!"

Looking to Daisy, Peach bit her lip. "You know...that's actually not a bad idea."

"It's not?" Junior asked, in surprise. Even after years of 'rescuing', no one had ever given a pleased reaction.

"It's not!" Daisy agreed, moving closer to them both. "I mean, you can't get there alone, right? And you obviously gotta tell him as soon as possible."

"Tell who what?" Junior piqued.

"Oh, Peach, speaking of that- how did Mario take it?"

"Really well, actually. He didn't even want my explanation afterwards...I guess he realized it wasn't as real as he might have thought. He's mostly upset about the rescuing thing."

"Mario took what where?"

Continuing to ignore Junior, Daisy smiled widely. "I told you he'd be okay. And really, Mario has so many interested parties going after him at any given time, it's not like he's doomed."

"Trust me, I know," Peach chuckled.

"Know what?" Junior shrieked, tired of being talked over.

Daisy knelt down and stuck out her hand. "Bowser Junior, I don't think we've formally met. I'm your..." she looked to Peach, receiving an affirming nod, "Auntie Daisy. I've heard a lot about you."

Junior grinned, grabbing Daisy's hand firmly and shaking it. "Of course you have! I'm awesome!"

Daisy chuckled. "And a lot like your dad, I see."

Humming in agreement, Peach ruffled Junior's mane. "You have no idea." She pressed a light kiss to Junior's head, making the koopaling flush red. "Now, Junior, I certainly hope you've got a real plan to getting us back to the Darklands. Because I need to go there as soon as you can possibly get us. And there's no way I'm being mailed to your dad."

Junior chewed on his lip thoughtfully, wandering around the room. At last, he spun towards the princesses, cheering "Ah-hah! I've got it!" Peach and Daisy leaned forward in interest, and just as Junior opened his mouth to say something, the hotel door handle started to jingle.

Peach shrieked, lunging forward and grabbing the koopaling. She yanked him off the ground and, ignoring his roars of protest, shoved him onto the bed. Daisy quickly covered Junior up with pillows, sat on him, and snarled "Shut up!" while the jingling turned to knocking.

Shaking a bit, Peach adjusted her hair and dress, looking back at her cousin nervously. Daisy looked incredibly suspicious, perched on top of a pile of moving pillows, but...it would have to do for now. She opened the door slowly, peeking her head out and seeing the hotel manager.

"Um...your highness?" He started, a question in his voice. She opened the door a little wider and he thrust out the abandoned bouquet of flowers. "You left this downstairs."

xxxx0o0o0o0o0o0o0xxxx

Toadsworth paced around the conference room, his hands rubbing his cane over and over and over again. "Oh, calm down, would you?" Toadette said, exhasperated, as she continued to fiddle with cords. "We're going to be thousands of miles away from them. No one's going to hurt you."

"You don't know what kind of newfangled technology they might have, poppet. They could travel through wires now; who knows?"

"You're being insane, Toadsworth," Toadette drawled, making her last few connections. "The King wants us to have a better international relationship with the Darklands, and this is the best way to do it without actually endangering anyone, alright? The best way. Besides; Peach isn't even home." The screen sizzled to life, making Toadsworth shriek and Toadette roll her eyes. "We haven't even connected yet, sir."

"Maybe I don't want to connect after all. You ever thought o' that, eh?"

"I kind of figured," she grunted back. After connecting a few more cords, the royal Toad logo appeared on the screen. Toadette grinned and skipped in front of it, wielding her remote like a sword. She followed the on-screen directions, typed in a bunch of codes, and ignored Toadsworth's nervous mumblings as the video tried to connect.

Thousands of miles away, the koopa on security in the media room nearly fell off of his chair. Lights on the dusty video conference modem were flashing in a pattern he'd never seen before...not that the modem lit up much at all. Frantically, he fished for his book of proper procedure and hunted for right page. "Uh...Kamek?" he croaked, finger shaking as it touched 'Video Conference from Mushroom Kingdom desired' and the handwritten 'ACCEPT IMMEDIATELY'. He slammed his hand down on a button to buzz in Kamek, stuttering, "There's a si-situation with the video conference requests..."

Kamek magically appeared next to the kopa, startling him right out of his chair. As if that was his intention all along, Kamek took the vacant seat and watched the pattern of lights. "Well, I'll be darned," he said quietly to himself, disappearing again and leaving the poor koopa even more at a loss. He had just begun to calm down when Kamek magicked his way into the room yet again, this time flanked with Kammy and Bowser.

"This better be freaking good," Bowser growled, hands on his hips.

"Sire, the Mushroom Kingdom..." Kamek began, walking over to the modem and pointing at the lights. "They want to video conference."

The blood drained out of Bowser's face as he fumbled around the room. "But why? Does that mean Peach is home? She was supposed to be in Grand Canal for a whole week! They wouldn't want to talk to me unless it was about Peach...does she miss me? Is she calling to say she hates me? What do they want?"

"We won't know until you accept the call, sire," Kammy said patiently. She walked over to the modem, a wrinkled finger stretching out before Bowser tackled her to the floor.

"I'm not ready!" He whined, letting Kamek pull him off of the old magikoopa with grunts that he'd break her bones. "I'm not ready!"

"Your'e not ready for what, your awesomeness?" Kamek asked, helping Kammy off the floor and straightening her robes. "To talk to the girl you love? To see her family out of their own request?" Bowser was silent. "Let's just accept the conference and see what they want, okay?"

"Wait! My...uh...my kids!" Bowser said, his hand covering the flashing lights completely. "They'll want to see this."

Kammy sighed dramatically, pulling out her wand. "Fine, your gentleness. I'll go get them for you." Kammy popped away, leaving Kamek, Bowser, and the groaning koopa alone and silent. Bowser lifted up his claw, staring down at the lights while his heart pumped in time with the flashes. What did they want?

At long last, Kammy appeared again, seven koopalings chained together behind her. "We have a situation," she said gravely. "Junior's missing."

xxxx0o0o0o0o0o0o0xxxx

"And that concludes our tour!" the shyguy chirped, earning himself a smattering of applause before the crowd of plumbers dissipated. The tour through Grand Canal, leading them through the pipe system underneath the canal itself, was incredibly illuminating, and Luigi left with a notebook full of ideas. Mario, however, looked a little distracted.

"What's-a wrong, Mario?" Luigi asked, frowning and putting away his notebook.

They zoomed out of a pipe, Mario shrugging once their feet hit dry ground. "I'm-a just thinking. About...about a lot of-a things."

"Such as?"

Mario sighed. He didn't normally give in to such prodding, but he really did need to talk to someone. "It's-a Peach. She...she is-a not my girlfriend."

Luigi looked back at Mario, eyebrows raised in surprise. "Since when?"

"Since today..." Mario replied, walking with Luigi back towards downtown. "She is-a in love with someone else. And so, is a good thing we are not-a together, but...it's weird, you know?"

Luigi nodded in understanding, walking in mostly silence. "Are you okay?"

"Si," Mario sighed. "We are-a friends, and I think she is a little-a bit crazy, but...this whole world is-a crazy, you know?"

"Crazy for leaving you?"

"No, not-a that. Crazy for being in love with-a Bowser. It's-a King Bowser, you know? Mama mia..."

Luigi nodded, chuckling as he agreed, "Si, that is-a pretty crazy."

Mario stopped dead in his tracks, staring at Luigi. "Wait a minute...did I tell you this before?"

Luigi turned around slowly, answering "No..." before his eyes widened. "Oh! Oh! I meant-a to say 'King Bowser? Why is-a she in-a love with King Bowser? Ohhh, no!" Luigi pulled at his mustache, looking at Mario nervously. His brother just narrowed his eyes right back.

"You already-a knew, didn't you?"

Luigi stared at Mario before finally releasing his mustache and sighing. "Si, I already knew...I'm-a sorry, I was supposed to be surprised for you."

"Daisy told you?"

Nodding, Luigi chuckled, "Daisy told me."

Mario caught up with his brother, sighing. "You are-a better at-a keeping secrets than I thought," he said, amused.

"Oh, Mario, you have-a no idea." Luigi scratched the back of his neck, thinking back on the elaborate plan that Daisy had concocted to keep Mario happy. It made him wonder...with Peach permanently out of danger from Bowser, would Mario be okay? "How are-a you handling it, Mario?"

"It's...weird." Mario admitted. "But I think I am-a okay. Peach and I...we were not in-a love, like you and Daisy. We just...dated out of-a convenience, you know?" Mario made a face, continuing, "I'm not even-a sure we dated at all. It was...assumed, I think."

"But what about with-a her picking Bowser? Are you okay with-a that?"

"She's not stupid," Mario said, "so I have to kind of-a trust her. And you know, when-a Bowser wasn't busy kidnapping Peach or trying to take over the kingdom, he was kind of-a fun to play sports with. Very competitive. And bad at-a go-karts."

Luigi chuckled and nodded. "Competitive" was an understatement. "Is a good point, Mario. And with-a Peach, he might even be less of a tyrant, maybe."

"She's-a Princess Peach, not a miracle worker," Mario laughed. "But Bowser always-a treated her good. So...it might-a be okay."

"Like you said, she's-a not stupid," Luigi agreed. They kept walking in silence, Luigi mulling over everything. Mario was taking it shockingly well, considering Peach had been his girl for years and years. His only other real girlfriend was back in Brooklyn, before their lives turned upside down. "So, you're-a sure you're not heartbroken?"

"Just disappointed," Mario admitted. "Bowser set up-a really good obstacle courses."

Luigi laughed, shaking his head. "I bet he would-a be willing to set-a them up for fun." Mario brightened considerably, nodding at that. It wouldn't be the first time he risked his life for just a few coins, or whatever. "And hey, plenty of-a other fish in the sea when it-a comes to love, si?"

Mario chuckled, pulling out his cellphone and scrolling through the pages of names. He nodded, even as his finger stilled, Meredith's name highlighted. "Si...plenty of-a other fish."


Author's Note: I hope I didn't become terrible in writing since chapter 50, I hope you guys still liked that! As I said, this was the penultimate chapter, so the next one is the LAST CHAPTER! WOO! It'll probably be longer than average, because I have lots to get in. Unfortunately, I won't be able to wrap everything up quite as neatly as I'd like, but I'll definitely try. No promises as to when it's coming out, because I want it up quick but I also want it to be PERFECT. And I'm moving to Disney World in 28 days, so...that'll be...busy! But anyway, just to reassure you all- I love you guys SO SO SO MUCH, I love my otp SO SO SO MUCH, and I'd never abandon you for real. This story is going to be finished, and YOU'RE GONNA LIKE IT. hopefully ;)