Quick note: I lost the file for this and just recently found it again! I broke this fic down into chapters after seeing many reviewers stating it was a good idea. This is a couple years LATE, but better late than never.

The site may give you error messages stating the next chapter is not up yet. Please do not send me reviews telling me so. Believe me, I'll know. It is an issue with the site's servers not catching up to the changes. Please be patient if this happens. The chapters ARE all there. This website is just painfully slow at keeping up with updates. Thanks!

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Vicissitude (vi-sis'i-tude) n - change of condition; succession of one set of circumstances by another.

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Well, I've been afraid of changing

'Cause I've built my life around you

But time makes you get bolder

Even children get older

And I'm getting older too...

Stevie Nicks - "Landslide"

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Chapter 1

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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."

"Again?"

"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.

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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 now...now 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.

o

"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. "...got 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!"

o

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...

"I...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!

o

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.

o

"...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. "Congratulations...you 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.

o

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.

o

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...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.

"Cherry..."

"Yes?"

"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?"

"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.