A/N: Thanks for sticking with me to the end of the story! I'd just like to take a moment to shamelessly plug my next story, which will NOT be in the Mario section, but in crossovers: Mario and Zelda. It'll be another romance (what else) but the pairing is a secret for now. It's not posted yet, so I'll try to mention it in my other story, 100 reasons, when it is (or you can put me on author alert). Ok, ok, enough advertising, on with the finale! Thanks again for reading!
"Incoming; Clown Car 37, do you read?"
"Roger that, confirm occupancy."
"CC37, do you read me? Confirm occupancy."
Bowser's voice echoed through the hangar. "It's me and the missus, plus all the rugrats. Now open up and tell the janitors the hot tub had better be squeaky clean."
Bowser rubbed his aching back as the Clown Car self-piloted down into its usual resting place in the Darklandian castle. Even the usually energetic Koopalings were moaning and groaning, eager to wash up and stretch their limbs.
"Your Majesty, welcome home," called Koptel, a red Paratroopa, and the lead engineer in the hangar.
"Wow, the Clown Car looks like hell…wonder what they did to it this time…" muttered one of the senior engineers behind him, earning glares from Ludwig and Iggy.
"Take care of her, boys. She's been through a lot," Bowser muttered, barely coherent.
"Your Grouchiness," called Kammy Koopa, rushing into the hangar. "Welcome home. There are a number of items to report since your departure…"
"Save it, Hag. I'm going upstairs, I'm getting my shorts, and then I'm going for a good long soak."
"I said later!" he roared at her. "Take Peach upstairs as well and see what they can do about her sunburn."
"Yes sir," muttered Kammy as she whisked Peach upstairs to the castle infirmary, Bowser and the Koopalings wearily dragging shell behind them.
"Oh, my aching everything…" whined Iggy, pulling a suitcase or two out of the luggage hatch of the Car. He was completely unprepared for what came rolling out with the luggage.
"Bark bark!" Chompy's insane grin and wide, vacant eyes looked up at Iggy as he wagged his chain happily.
"Woah there! How'd a Chomp get in the luggage compartment? King Dad, can we keep him?"
Bowser cast his weary eyes back on the energetic, young Chomp, who looked back with a happy bark. He sighed, "Whatever, he's already here, might as well put him in the Chain Garden with the rest of 'em."
"Yay!" shouted the Koopalings, particularly the younger ones, who were already fishing in their suitcases for something to feed the creature.
"Look, he likes cookies!"
"He's a Chain Chomp, he probably likes to eat anything."
"He'd eat your stupid, ugly butt, you stupid butt, ugly face!"
"He? Are you entirely sure that specimen is male?"
"He's, like, round…how can you even tell?"
Bowser pinched the bridge of his nose with one hand. "Before we know it, we'll be starting a zoo," he mumbled.
Just as Bowser finished changing into his swimwear, Kamek appeared in his chamber in a flash of smoke and geometric shapes.
"What the—hey Geezer, you ever heard of knocking?"
"My apologies, sire. Kammy and I have discovered some interesting information regarding your—"
Bowser growled in annoyance, "I thought I already told you two to buzz off. Allow me to make it a little clearer for you: there is a hot tub downstairs and I intend to be in it in less than five minute. There is also a good chance that Princess Peach will join me. In the hot tub. In her swimsuit. With me." Bowser stuffed his face straight into Kamek's to drive his point home. "Interrupt me or ruin this in any way and, so help me, I will roast you into nothingness."
Kamek shrugged his shoulders, well accustomed to these sorts of threats. "Well, good luck then Your Casanovaness, and give my regards to the Princess. "
Peach sat in the bubbling waters and sighed, taking in the warm night air typical of the Darklands. What a crazy adventure. She glanced over at Bowser, who couldn't seem to decide what to do with his eyes, and smirked. Same old Bowser. Still, she thought, there had never been a kidnapping quite like this one before and for that she was mostly relieved. Like Luigi, she found it easy to envy Mario and all of his fabulous adventures. The way he told his stories, with that gleam of passion in his eye, made it seem like there could be no greater pastime than adventuring, alone or with friends.
I guess Mario's just a born adventurer, but maybe he's well practiced because of all the times he's had to rescue…Oh no! Mario! I completely forgot; he's probably out trying to rescue me right now!
The sudden look of shock on Peach's face did not go unnoticed by Bowser. "What's wrong?"
"I-I completely forgot. I was just thinking about adventures and rescuing and then Mario…he's probably out trying to rescue me. He could be anywhere!"
Bowser slumped. A romantic evening under the stars in a hot tub and all she could think about was Mario?
"Heh, don't worry Peachy; if he comes, I won't let him take you away. I'll fight him off like always, just for you."
Peach crossed her arms and gave a half-annoyed, half-endearing look. She dared not remind him he always lost when fighting the plumber. "No Bowser, I mean he could be out trying to rescue me for no reason, and that doesn't seem right. I need to contact him in some way and let him know I'm okay."
"Oh forget about him for a little while, I'm sure he's just-wait…" Bowser perked up, "Did you just say 'for no reason'? You mean…you don't want to be rescued?" Bowser could barely stop his tail from swishing the water.
Peach faltered; she hadn't really thought about what she was saying. "Well…I suppose at this point I wouldn't say I need a rescue but…"
"So you'll stay with me!" Bowser half-asked, half-declared, hoping against hope for a 'yes'.
Peach sighed, "No Bowser, that's not what I mean…I have to go home to my castle, to my people."
Bowser's features settled into a pout. "You should stay."
Peach glided through the water over to his side and touched his arm with a compassionate smile. "I had fun with you over these past few days. It was exhausting, but I'm glad you allowed me to come along."
Bowser huffed, but couldn't stop himself from smiling a little. "If you had fun, then why not stay with me and have fun all the time?"
"Bowser…I'm exhausted, you're exhausted, and at the end of the day we both have kingdoms we've been away from for far too long. It's not so much that I don't want to stay, it's just that I can't and…I think you know that."
"Yeah…but…" You could just marry me and then we could both rule our kingdoms from here!
"Maybe…maybe I could come visit sometime? Maybe we could have a picnic or do something a little less strenuous next time."
Bowser grinned, she wanted to go on a picnic with him. It wasn't a lifetime of marital bliss, but it was certainly better than nothing. "Sure, I've got to give your bracelet back to you after I finish having those stones put in, right?"
The nearby bushes rustled, and a voice behind them whisper-screamed, "Ow, ow, Morton you're on my foot!" followed by a deep, sleepy chuckle.
Bowser growled and with one deft swipe tore the offending bush out of the ground to reveal several Koopalings.
"Hiya Pops," chimed Larry.
"What do you brats think you're doing spying on Mama Peach and I?"
"Oh Daddikins, we like, totally didn't mean to. We wanted to, like, go swimming too, but we came outside and it was obvious that you and Mama Peach were totally having a moment and we didn't want to interrupt."
"And then nosy noser Junior wanted to hear what you were talking about like a nosy nose with a big fat nose, so he jumped into the bush."
"Uh, can we go swimming too?" asked Junior, red-faced and trying to divert the conversation.
Bowser grunted and waved his hand, indicating that the Koopalings could jump right in. With many a splash, the Koopalings tumbled into the tub all at once, the displaced water crashing on the ground over the side of the tub.
Bowser half grumbled and half sighed with contentment. It was good to see his family all together again, even if it was just to be as annoying as they ever were. He told himself he couldn't wait to ship the brats back to boarding school after summer vacation, but knew he would secretly miss them after they left.
"I'm so glad everybody is safe," Peach yawned, "but I think I've earned a little rest. Bowser, we can arrange to take me back to the Mushroom Kingdom tomorrow, right?"
All the Koopalings bolted upright.
"We, like, thought you'd want to stay with King Dad, you know, like, after your big adventure."
Peach sighed, "I'm sorry everybody…I'm just sure my kingdom is so worried about me…I've been away for so long. I promised your father I'd come back soon and have a picnic with all of you."
Peach smiled, "No buts. I'm going to go inside and call Toadsworth and let him know I'm coming home tomorrow. Please don't make it harder for me than it already is…I do like spending time with you all…and your father too…" She threw a glance up at Bowser and blushed. "But I have to go back…my people need me."
With that, she lifted herself out of the tub and wrapped up in a fluffy black towel, Bowser's grinning insignia featured prominently against her midsection. "Goodnight everyone and…sorry again."
Mario's Mailbox SP vibrated in his pocket, interrupting an otherwise fruitless trek through winding, tree-lined paths on his continued quest to rescue Princess Peach. A few seconds later, Daisy and Luigi's devices also began to vibrate. Mario smiled in smug superiority; ancient though his device was, his message came through first.
He flipped open the SP to reveal a message from Toadsworth. The quest was over, the princess was being held safely at Bowser's Castle in the Darklands, with the express promise she would be safely delivered to the Mushroom Kingdom before noon the next day.
Luigi nearly jumped for joy, "Does this mean we can go home?"
Even Daisy looked relieved at the prospect.
Mario sunk a little and nodded. The adventure was already over? Where were the great battles, terrifying enemies, and dangerous locations? This whole adventure seemed to be nothing but…sightseeing. Why in the world did Luigi and Daisy look so beat down and tired?
Mario kicked at a pebble and muttered, "Let's go."
Bowser sullenly trudged up to his room, ready to enjoy the comforts of his bed and the knowledge that his children were safely snuggled into theirs. And Peach, in hers…in my castle, but only for tonight.
He sighed; he had so much hope that she would come to see how he felt about her and when she gave a hint of reciprocity he had been over the moon, but now he felt a fool to have hoped she would stay with him, consider him…love him.
He kicked open his double doors at the top of the stairwell and jumped back from the two pairs of glowing eyes he hadn't expected to see behind them.
"Good evening, Sire. Was the hot tub enjoyable?"
"Jaydes! What the hell is WRONG with you two tonight?" He narrowed his eyes. "How long have you old perverts been waiting in my bedroom in the dark together?"
Kamek grinned, "Since you got in the tub, Your Highness."
"But…but, it wasn't like that, Your Grossness," Kammy sputtered.
"Hah, I know. I was just trying to get a rise out of you. Kamek's too old for that; all the potions in the world couldn't get a rise out of him, if you know what I mean."
Now it was Kamek's turn to be flustered.
"Ugh, just grossed myself out just thinking about it," the Koopa King grunted. "Alright, everybody out, I'm goin' to bed."
"But what? I'm tired and I want to sleep. You're telling me whatever it is can't wait until tomorrow?"
Princess Peach hovered by the door to Bowser's room. She had come to say goodnight and thank Bowser for taking good care of her on her adventure and certainly had no intentions whatsoever of possibly maybe getting one last goodnight kiss. When she reached the doors, it seemed like he was busy talking with Kammy and Kamek. Maybe I'll just wait here for them to leave…
"Oh for Granbi's sake, just look at the stupid paper," Kammy snapped. "The important part is highlighted; I found this when I was going through the castle financials."
Bowser grumbled and pouted as he fumbled for his reading glasses. All of this to show him some stupid glitch in the financials…what did they expect him to do about it? Bowser's eyes widened when he saw the highlighted item, but it wasn't the considerable sum of coins that got his attention. He had seen this company somewhere before.
"What. Is. This."
"Well Sire, we did a little research and it looks like the Koopalings have been up to some mischief again."
The line item read, as clear as day, Tourmaline City Inc. Several hundred thousand coins and a handwritten note from Kammy: "For 'villainous services' ordered by the Koopalings."
Bowser's face went pale. Those kids would be the death of him. Could have been the death of him, and of Peach. Those kids were going to be in so much trouble they were going to wish they had never been rescued at all. "You've got to be kidding me…"
"What is your will, Sire?"
Bowser growled through gritted teeth. "Round up the Koopalings first thing tomorrow morning. Early. I will lecture them in conference hall 8, afterwards I trust you two will be able to think up and supervise some very severe punishment."
"As always, it will be our pleasure to assist you. And regarding the Princess?"
Bowser slapped his hand to his forehead. If Peach were to find out the whole adventure…their whole time together had been a sham…she might hate him forever. "Ugh, for the love of Granbi, whatever you do, don't tell Peach."
"Don't tell me what?" came a soft voice from inside the doorway.
The three Koopas nearly jumped out of their shells when they saw Peach standing there, arms folded across her chest. "Don't tell me what?" she repeated, more insistently this time.
Bowser waived the paper in the air, "Oh, it's nothing, the Koopalings have just been buying stuff they shouldn't again…How long have you been standing there?"
Peach pursed her lips, "Long enough. Why wouldn't you want to tell me about that? Why would my name even come up in regard to that?" She stared hard at Kammy and Kamek, who stepped aside with raised eyebrows.
"Uh…I thought you'd be upset that I was gonna punish them. You know, since we worked so hard to rescue them and stuff. So yeah, what, uh, are you doing here, did you need something?"
"You're lying to me. I need you to tell the truth. What's on the piece of paper; will you please let me see it?"
Kammy stepped forward to block Peach's path. "Those documents are classified information for the eyes of the Darklandian Royal Family only."
Kamek rushed to Kammy's side to block the angry princess from advancing any further on his charge. "It's been a long day for everybody; perhaps it would be good to get some rest and maybe finish this discussion tomorrow morning over a cup of tea?"
"What wise counsel," Peach seethed, "Let me add a bit of my own: I suggest the two of you get out of my way as I fully intend of knowing the contents of that paper and don't plan on leaving until I have."
Bowser forced a smirk and held the paper aloft over his bed. "Well if you wanted to sleep in my room, you could have just said so…" Bowser wondered if this scary, angry side of Peach was a product of his influence, and moreover, would it become a regular thing?
He barely had time to register her movement before she was reaching to pluck the paper out of his hands. He moved the paper out of her reach and looked at her pleadingly.
"Sire, will you have us remove her and seal her in her room?" Kammy asked impatiently.
Bowser looked down at Peach reluctantly. "Not yet. Peach, c'mon, what gives? I don't even know what this thing is yet and I said I don't want you to see it. I don't want to lock you in your room but you can't come barging in to mine and start acting like…my enemy."
Peach recoiled in shock at Bowser's surprisingly logical plea. Tears formed at the corner of her eyes as she blurted out, "I'm sorry, I'm just really tired and I don't know what came over me. I just don't understand why you would want to keep secrets from me and lie to me. I thought we were…a team and could…and could trust each other."
Kammy and Kamek slowly backed out the room and closed the doors as Bowser put his arm around the sobbing princess.
"Hey hey, we can trust each other. You trust me right?"
Peach looked up and nodded.
"Good, then just trust that I didn't want you to see because I thought you'd be mad."
Bowser sighed, unfolded the paper, and handed it to Peach, bracing himself for impact.
"What? Why is this on here? What is this?"
Bowser sighed again, "They made it up. The whole damn thing. The kidnapping, the villains, everything."
Peach's eyes went wide, her mouth agape, and her cheeks pink. The whole thing had been…a lie? She recoiled from Bowser in shock and anger. She flashed him an accusatory look.
He threw up his arms, "I had nothing to do with this! I swear! I'm as angry as you are; probably more since I have to pay for it!"
Peach stared back in stony silence.
"Oh c'mon…you said you trusted me. Even I wouldn't do something like this. Ugh, just don't be mad…please?" He looked at her with his ever-familiar pleading eyes.
Peach looked at him, huffed a huge sigh of pent up frustration, and buried her face in his arm, lightly beating his bicep with her fist. "It was all for nothing? Why on earth would the Koopalings do such a thing?"
Bowser thought back to their adventure, the wonderful scenery, the romantic moments they shared, the whole family working together in the triumphant defeat of Biztech. He thought of the night on Emerald, when Ludwig insisted he allow Peach to travel with him. It all made sense now.
He looked Peach in her teary eyes and cupped her face in his hand. "They wanted us to be together."
Peach opened her mouth to argue, but closed it when she saw Bowser's saddened posture.
"I told you, they're crazy about you. Hell, we all are. I am, they are, the whole kingdom. It's not the way I would have gone about it, you've gotta believe me when I say I didn't know anything about it. I'm still gonna punish the kids for putting me, and you, in danger but…I don't…regret the time we spent together."
Peach grabbed his hand and squeezed tightly, unsure how else to cope with the raw emotion flowing from the usually closed-off king.
Bowser's heart raced and, in his panicked nervousness, he couldn't stop words from tumbling out of his mouth. "I know it's a lot to ask, for you to consider being a mother to eight kids and queen to another country but…ugh, how can I say this…well, it's the truest thing I know: I love you."
Peach's heart caught in her throat. It's not that she didn't know, but she had never heard him actually say before in such plain terms.
"I always have and I always will. I just…please, reconsider my offer. Stay with me and the Koopalings. I know they're miserable little brats, but if you stay I'll spend my every waking hour making sure you're happy and want for nothing. You can remain in complete control of your kingdom and rule from here, or even go back from time to time to visit. Anything you want, really."
Peach looked down at her hands, overwhelmed. Her cheeks flushed pink and she became aware of how alone they were, sitting on his bed with the doors closed, Kammy and Kamek nowhere to be seen.
She silently leaned her head back onto Bowser's bicep and sighed. It felt so nice to be loved and be told she was loved. But there was no way she could accept. It was a lovely fantasy, but reality was fraught with complications and procedure. As it was, her kingdom would never accept Bowser as king and even she herself could not be sure. A few weeks was hardly enough time to completely change her perception of the Koopa King, even if she would admit complex feelings beginning to surface.
He braced himself, the icy sensation of dread gripping his heart.
She smiled to herself, "I legitimately enjoyed spending time with you over the last couple of weeks and…I don't mean to keep you waiting but, what if we got to know each other better first…as friends."
Bowser grinned, for her, he'd wait forever.
She stared into his gently burning amber eyes, swallowing and leaning forward slightly. "Actually…I came in here to say goodnight and…"
Their lips met, plunging the room into soft silence.
Late the next morning, Peach practically danced through her court, bidding everyone a good morning, telling them how much she missed them in her long absence.
Sarasaland's heat wave had finally migrated to the Mushroom Kingdom, creating sweltering conditions that seemed to make everyone else in castle extremely groggy.
Mario, Luigi, and Daisy languished outside under a striped awning. They twiddled their thumbs, hopelessly bored.
Peach giggled and brought them a pitcher of raspberry iced tea. Next to her bright, glowing face, the Mushroom Trio looked positively sallow. She looked at them with a sympathetic smile.
"Say, if you're all so bored, who's up for some swimming?"