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Tennis the Menace

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It is dark, unnaturally so, for that time of day. Thick, billowing clouds sprawl across the sky as far as the eye can see—a promise of rain on the horizon. The air seems to vibrate with untold energy, something Luigi has begun to associate with places swarming with spirits.   

Before him, nestled in the bramble and skeletal trees of a long-dead forest, stands a massive, dilapidated mansion. To the untrained eye, the building appears to be positively ancient, but Luigi knew better. He’d seen enough while working with ghosts to know when he was looking at an illusion. It was very convincing, though, he’d have to admit, but he wouldn’t expect anything less from its creator. 

Luigi looks down at the sealed letter in his hand and then back up at the looming mansion. The déjà vu is almost overwhelming. 

The circumstances are completely different, however, from that day so long ago—the incident that began his reluctant (at first) career in the paranormal. No, Luigi isn’t answering a mysterious invitation. 

He is delivering one of his own. 

Luigi takes a deep breath and rolls his shoulders, minutely shifting the Poltergust as if to assure himself of its presence. He wouldn’t need it (hopefully), but King Boo could be unpredictable at times, and he found the device’s weight on his back comforting. The plumber checks one final time to make sure the glorified vacuum is properly camouflaged before trudging up the overgrown path to the mansion. 

The doors to the front entrance of the manor are enormous and intricately designed—bearing carvings with sharp angles that twisted and wound about the surface like an elaborate maze. Two lion-head door knockers are mounted into the wood just within reach. Luigi eyes them with a frown. He braces himself as he extends both arms toward the rings clamped soundly in their jaws. 

Sure enough, just before he makes contact, the eyes of the statues begin to glow an eerie shade of crimson. The iron material abruptly adopts malleable characteristics, allowing the lion heads a previously impossible range of movement, their lips curling back into a vicious snarl. A deep growl rumbles like thunder through the air. Then, in perfect synchronicity, the lions unleash ferocious roars rivaling that of their living counter parts. 

Despite the anticipation, the plumber can’t help but flinch at the initial outburst. That said, he quickly recovers and reaches back at the statues, even as they continue to vocalize their threat. Luigi firmly grasps the rings hanging in the lions’ open maws and yanks them downward with a harsh tug. The rings catch behind the metal beasts’ bottom canines, jarring them into silence with pitiful yowls of surprise. They snap their jaws shut and glare at the plumber’s retreating hands with ears drawn back. Luigi merely responds with a glare of his own. 

It could be his imagination, but the lions seem to recoil from his gaze. The glow in their eyes sputters out and they swiftly twist back into their resting positions. A ghostly whisper drifts by the plumber’s ears (something about a death glare?) before the doors creak open with an ominous groan. After a brief pause, Luigi leans forward and peers around the doors and into the darkness beyond. When no one comes to greet him, the plumber shrugs to himself and passes through the threshold. He comes to a stop after only a couple steps. 

“1…2…and..."  

The doors slam behind him. 

“There it is,” he sighs with resignation. King Boo may not always be predictable, but there were some haunting classics that not even he could resist. 

Luigi calmly retrieves a customized flashlight from his overalls. It contained simple functions, like a dimmer switch and a slide that changed the color of the lighting. He wasn’t trying to capture ghosts, so the specialized attachments on the Poltergust were completely superfluous, not to mention a tad aggressive for the nature of this visit.  

The plumber adjusts the torch’s beam so that it is a soft purple—a color, he had learned, that was easier on the spirits’ sensitive eyes. He slowly passes the cone of light along the floor, mapping out the foyer’s borders and gaining his bearings. 

“Hello?” 

Luigi’s voice echoes off the tall ceiling, but other than the creaks and groans of the settling foundation, the room is quiet. The plumber feels a shift in the air, and though he can’t hear or see anything, he knows there is another presence in the room; perhaps more than one.  

“I’m here to see King Boo,” he calls in the general direction of the invisible occupants.  

Ethereal laughter abruptly floods the foyer—the distinct sound undoubtedly belonging to a gaggle of Boos. A nearby grandfather clock booms to life, its chimes growing progressively more warped with each thundering gong. An array of cuckoo clocks takes this as their cue to join in on the dissonance. Picture frames and grand portraits rattle on the walls with the intensity of an earthquake. 

Luigi watches as a line of candles spanning the left and right side of the room gradually ignite with violet colored flames. A faint tinkling sound draws the plumber’s attention to a massive, elaborate chandelier hanging high above him in the center of the foyer. As it ignites with its own ghostly light, he takes several large steps back, ensuring that he is clear of the fixture’s fall radius should the spirits decide to indulge in yet another haunting classic. Luigi observes this all play out in quiet exasperation. 

Boos—always ones for the dramatic. 

“Hey, um, I don’t mean to be rude, but can we wrap this up? It looks like it’s going to rain soon and I didn’t think to bring an umbrella—” 

The din suddenly stops. Then, just as abruptly, an old umbrella falls in front of the plumber, causing the latter to jolt in surprise. 

“…Really? All this racket, and that’s the thing that startles you?” 

Luigi looks up from the unexpected offering to find the king of all Boos himself hovering just out of reach. Behind the spectral monarch looms a row of Boos all clutching noise makers (was one of them carrying a kazoo?) and random house-hold items. Each of the spirits wears expressions with varying levels of disappointment. King Boo, however, just seems unimpressed. 

“Um…thanks for the umbrella?” Luigi ventures, not really knowing how to respond. 

King Boo merely rolls his eyes and waves a stubby arm to dismiss his loyal subjects. They depart with a groan, letting their things drop to the floor in a noisy clatter.  

“Ever since you grew a spine you’ve been absolutely no fun, you know that?” the monarch grumbles. 

“I’m…sorry?” 

“Don’t patronize me,” he growls, drawing nearer. “Now, to what honor do I owe this little visit, hmm?” 

Luigi blinks, forgetting himself for a moment, before snapping back to attention. 

“Oh! Right.” He retrieves the envelope and extends it to the looming spirit. “I’m here to deliver this letter from Princess Peach.” 

King Boo arcs a brow at the offering and slowly accepts it with a questioning gaze. 

“That ditzy damsel had you come all this way to give me mail? Doesn’t she have Toads to handle such a menial task? Why not send one of them?” 

“She did.” Luigi gives the Boo a pointed look. “They never came back.” 

“Hmm. They sound incompetent. The princess didn’t have to bother you just because one little fungus baby couldn’t do their job. She could have just sent another one.” 

“She sent eight .” 

“That many? How tragic.” 

“Can you please let them go?” 

“I’ll think about it.” 

Luigi runs a hand down his face; they’d come back to it later. 

“Fine. Let’s just focus on the letter for now,” he sighs. 

King Boo hums noncommittally. He turns the envelope intangible and removes the carefully folded letter, tossing the former away where it bursts into supernatural flames before raining down into a tiny pile of ash. Luigi stares after the remains with pinched brows. 

“…was that really necessary?” 

“I don’t have fingers.” 

“That’s not…never mind.” 

The ghostly monarch unfolds the parchment and carefully reads over its contents. Luigi awkwardly, but patiently, shifts in place while he waits for the Boo to complete their scrutiny. He takes to examining the antique umbrella with dull interest. 

“You’re inviting me to play tennis?”  

The plumber jumps at the abrupt question, the query sounding impossibly loud in the near silent mansion. In his surprise he accidentally triggers the umbrella’s opening mechanism, startling him further. King Boo’s magenta eyes flash with amusement. 

“It’s bad luck to open those indoors, you know,” he cackles. 

“So I’ve heard,” Luigi retorts, sounding flustered as he struggles to close the device. 

“I should consider adding umbrellas to my haunts,” the monarch muses aloud. “Are you alarmed by other weather protective gear, dear Luigi? Rain boots? Mittens, perhaps? Oooo how about a sled? I know that last one isn’t technically meant to protect you from the elements, but you mortals sure did make a big deal about one in a comedic film I saw several decades ago.” 

“That wasn’t a comedy.” 

“Really? Are you sure?” 

“Very.” 

“Interesting. It would seem mortals and Boos have different ideas of what constitutes as humor, because there’s no way this,” he holds out the letter, shaking it with emphasis, “isn’t a joke.” 

“Why would it be a joke?” 

“How could it not be?” the king scoffs. “You want me to team up with Bowser in a doubles tennis match against you and your brother. Why in Stars name would I want to do that?” 

“It’s for a charity fundraiser.” 

“You say that like I care .” 

“I don’t get it…I thought you’d jump at the chance to beat me and Mario.” 

“Under different circumstances, you would be correct,” King Boo agrees, “but not if it means sharing the credit with that walking soup dish.” 

“Oh come on, it’s for a good cause!” 

“Still don’t care. It sounds positively boring, anyway. Do you honestly expect that people will pay to watch such a snooze fest?” 

Luigi gives the spirit a bewildered look. 

“It’s the Mario Bros. against two of the Mushroom Kingdom’s biggest villains. How is that boring?” 

King Boo’s eyes narrow dangerously. 

“…I’m in a fairly good mood, so I’m going to pretend you didn’t just lump me together with that hack,” he hisses. “But to answer your question, it’s because what you’re proposing is played out. Heroes vs. Villains, seriously? Why would anyone want to fork over coins to see something that happens on a near weekly basis? Worse, it would be on a tennis court of all things. Talk about dull!” 

Luigi’s shoulders hunch as he heaves a weary breath. 

“What would you suggest we do instead?” 

King Boo almost seems surprised by the question, like he didn’t expect the plumber to value his input. The spectral monarch falls into a brief, contemplative silence as Luigi patiently waits for a reply. 

He begins to regret asking when a devious grin suddenly stretches across the king’s face. 

“I’ll participate in your silly little game on one condition,” the Boo purrs, fangs flashing in the lavender light of Luigi’s torch. 

“…and what’s that?” 

“You and I are on a team.” 

That’s… not what the plumber was expecting. 

“What?” 

King Boo shoots Luigi a flat look. 

“You heard me, toilet trotter; you’re clumsy, not deaf. ” 

Luigi gives himself a hard shake, snapping himself out of his daze. 

“No, I mean, why would you want to be my tennis partner? I thought you hated me.” 

“Oh, sweet, simple Luigi,” the monarch chides condescendingly, “Of course I do! But, you also amuse me. Why else would I let you come and go as you please?” 

Luigi responds with a flat look of his own.  

“What, the Poltergust? Please.” King Boo sneers. “You can turn off that ridiculous disguise by the way. It’s insulting me.” 

The plumber’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise.  

“I’m not an idiot. Since when do you wear a backpack? Besides, I’m the master of illusions. Did you really expect that to fool me?” 

Deep down, he supposed he didn’t. With a quiet sigh, Luigi reaches back and flips a switch, dropping the camouflage and allowing the Poltergust to become visible once more. The spectral monarch bobs in the Boo equivalent of a nod, satisfied. 

“Much better. While I’m offended you thought you could hide that blasted thing with such a cheap trick, it does my cold, dead heart good to know that you still recognize me as a threat. And here I was worried that your newfound courage came packaged with an extra helping of stupidity.” 

“I only brought it in case you refused to give the Toads back,” Luigi swiftly clarifies. 

“You’re a terrible liar, Luigi. Remember that next time you try to deceive a seasoned manipulator.” 

The plumber takes a steadying breath. It wouldn’t do him any favors to lose composure now.  

“Let’s get back on topic,” he offers neutrally. 

King Boo smirks back with an air of silent victory. 

“Let’s,” they agree. 

The monarch begins to drift in a wide circle around the plumber, eyeing the man like a hungry predator stalking its prey. Luigi resists the urge to turn and keep the spirit in his sights. He had shown a sliver of weakness—of fear—and the Boo was attempting to intimidate him further. If Luigi doesn’t want this encounter to go south, he’ll have to keep face—a challenge if there ever was one. 

“So you want us to be a team,” he reiterates. “You didn’t answer why.” 

King Boo chuckles, slowing in front of the plumber. 

“It’s simple really: I want to see Mario beaten.” 

“But…you’ve defeated my brother before. Twice .” 

“Three times, actually.” 

“Oh. Right, the hotel.” 

“Good times.” 

“Not really.” Luigi frowns, tracking the spirit’s movements in his peripheral. “And that just further proves my point.” 

“Well, if you hadn’t so rudely interrupted, then I could have given you a complete answer,” King Boo snaps. “What I meant was, I want to see Mario beaten by you.” 

Luigi stares back at the monarch, absolutely bewildered. 

“You’re joking.” 

“I assure you, I’m not.” 

“…why?”  

“Because it would be incredibly amusing. Think about it! Brother against brother—each working alongside their respective nemesis. What is the audience to do? Cheering for one hero is jeering for the other, and no matter who they choose, they are indirectly supporting the very villains that lay waste to their pitiful kingdom. Victory for them is hollow regardless of the outcome!”  

King Boo suddenly looms closer, and Luigi has to resist taking a step back at the monarch’s fervent behavior. 

“But the thought of them seeing their number one lose to player two? Oh, that is positively delicious. Knocking that obnoxious tortoise down a peg or two is just a happy little bonus.” The king then sighs, looking wistful. “If only it was an actual fight and not just a frivolous game of tennis.” 

“…Good Grambi. I’m sorry I asked.” 

“Paints quite the picture, no?” 

“Speaking of which, can you please release those Toads you imprisoned?” 

“What makes you think I sealed them away in a portrait?” 

Luigi arcs an incredulous brow.  

“Am I really so predictable?” 

“I don’t feel safe answering that.” 

“My, my, you’re not as stupid as you look after all!” 

The plumber hardens his gaze. King Boo responds with a feigned shudder. 

“Oh, that must be the infamous ‘death glare' I’ve heard so much about. How delightful! It’s rather impressive for a mortal, I have to admit. With a little polish, you might be able to scare a toddler or—” 

“The Toads. Please. ” 

“Don’t be rude, I was paying you a compliment!” The monarch huffs. “And I’ll return the little spineless spores after you finish making the arrangements for our tennis match.” 

“I could just take them now, you know,” Luigi retorts, gesturing to the Poltergust in a silent threat. 

“Ah, but then how will I participate in your pitiful fundraiser? Even if you were to let me go before hand, something tells me my mood would be a bit too sour for the festivities. You’d have to find some other gimmick to draw the bumbling masses.”  

The plumber sighs, raising a hand to rub at his temples against an on-coming headache. 

“Can I at least see them before I go?” 

King Boo grins excitedly, looking every bit like a child preparing to show off their art project. 

“Absolutely! One moment.”  

The monarch waves an arm toward the floor, opening a small portal swirling with magenta and indigo shapes. A fairly large painting slowly rises out of the paranormal mists until it is floating at eye level with Luigi. With a flick of the other paw, the room lightens considerably, allowing the plumber a better look at the portrait.  

“Well, what do you think? Honestly, I think I’ve outdone myself. It’s like something out of the renaissance!” 

Oddly enough, that had been the first thought that popped into Luigi’s head. The eight Toads are centered in the painting, the backdrop giving the plumber the impression the setting is at some sort of garden party. Rose bushes, creeping vines, and hedges surround the portrait’s subjects. The Toads are gathered around an impressive array of food and drink—sipping from goblets, breaking loaves of bread, and passing bowls of fruit. They lay draped in pale fabrics and silks, making merry and gesturing about themselves in serene bliss. At least, that’s the atmosphere the piece is aiming for, anyway. Luigi can see the unease and fear in the mushroom folk’s eyes—like a bullet bill cannon was carefully aimed at them somewhere out of the observer’s line of sight. Terror aside, they appear to be unharmed, and that, if nothing else, puts the plumber at ease. 

“Beautiful isn’t it?” King Boo preens. 

“Yeah, in a macabre sort of way…” Luigi nods absently, distracted by his inspection of the monarch’s prisoners. “How did you even get them to pose like this?” 

“Easy. I threatened to eat them if they didn’t cooperate.” 

“You’re allergic to Toad meat.” 

“They don’t know that.” 

“I wish I didn’t either, honestly.” 

“Luigi, you wound me. I shared that with you in confidence! I thought you’d appreciate me being more open around you...” 

“Not when you talk about eating people.” 

“Oh that reminds me!” 

With another wave of the king’s arm, the painting is swallowed back up into the portal and the lights dim until the room is cloaked by a familiar darkness. The spectral monarch looms over Luigi, eyes glowing brightly in the eerie shadows. 

“Just so you know,” he grins wickedly, “If we lose that tennis match, I’m devouring your soul and feeding your entrails to my cat.” 

“…you have a cat?” 

“No.” 

Luigi stares up at the spirit, perturbed. 

“Well then! I think that just about covers everything. Tennis, mushroom mooks, death threats…sounds like a roaring good time! I’ll be seeing you at the match in a few weeks then, yes?” 

“Wait, aren’t we going to practice together?” 

“Nope.” 

Luigi starts when the front doors abruptly throw themselves open with a bang.  

“It’s been a lovely visit, but I’m afraid it’s time for you to leave. I have much to attend to and can’t afford to entertain guests any longer than I already have. Besides, we wouldn’t want you to get caught in the rain, hmm?” 

“Hold on a second! I still need—” 

“Away with you!” 

Before the plumber can object further, a powerful gust of wind blows him back through the foyer’s main entrance. He mercifully clears the stairs before landing in the dirt and tumbling a short distance down the path. Luigi lies flat on his stomach, glaring ahead with a touch of nausea and no small amount of annoyance. He’d forgotten that Boos could do that.  

Luigi rolls over and pushes himself into a sit. Ethereal laughter echoes out from the doorway as a lavender colored envelope flutters down onto the plumber’s lap. A quick inspection reveals a wax seal bearing what Luigi can only assume is King Boo’s crest. He doesn’t spare a thought toward the letter’s contents or the speed at which it was drafted. 

The manor doors slam shut with a booming finality. Thunder rumbles overhead, quickly followed by the patter of sparse water droplets, heralding the oncoming storm. Luigi spies the battered umbrella sprawled at his side, it having been expunged along with him in the spirit’s unbiased gale. He tucks the monarch’s letter in one of his pockets and gratefully retrieves the raggedy antique from the dust. The plumber holds it out in front of him and engages the opening mechanism to reveal— 

It’s full of holes. 

Luigi stares up at the marred material. Had it been like that earlier? Back in the mansion? He could have sworn it was completely intact when he had accidentally opened it, but then it had been awfully dark… 

"It's bad luck to open those indoors, you know"

The plumber quietly exhales, sounding somewhere between exasperated and fond. Honestly, he shouldn’t have expected anything else.