Chapter two...finally. I honestly only need to type this up, but I'm lazy. Sorry!

This whole story will be around thirteen chapters once it's done. Don't forget to review!

Chapter Two

The Mushroom Kingdom had thrived and flourished in the years since Bowser's defeat. The King, Peach's father, had since passed peacefully on, and the fair Princess Peach Toadstool had inherited the throne. Backed by her royal court of Toads, she had transitioned into the position of Queen quite nicely. And, about three years ago, she and a certain plumber from Brooklyn had tied the knot. The people of the kingdom were overjoyed: the Mushroom Kingdom had never been so safe, nor so powerful. With Mario as their king, they felt security like never before. And their queen was so happy! It was all that the people had ever wanted for their homeland.

Without the threat of an attack by the Koopa Troop, people's memories of the horrible invasion a decade before had faded, and children of this generation didn't fear the Koopas. Stories were told about the bravery of the king and his brother, and the two of them were idolized. Everyone was anxiously awaiting the day that Toadstool would announce the inevitable birth of a child to carry on the great heroes' bloodline. So long as the legacy of the Mario Brothers lived on, so would the Mushroom Kingdom.

Of course, in that sense, people had their eyes on the younger brother of the king, as well. He too carried the superior genes that were expected to guard the kingdom in the years to come. He, however, seemed much more of a hopeless case. Although many women adored him and had tried to win his heart, Luigi appeared convinced that no one was the right one for him. So he had been somewhat pushed into the background as years had gone by, though whenever an heir was mentioned, prying eyes focused on Mario's bachelor brother, as well as on the king and queen.

Mario and Toadstool were, of course, naturally concerned for Luigi. With their ties to new, foreign lands, they had introduced Luigi to other princesses (all whom had been quite fond of him), but he still had refused each and every one of them. He had become weary, and had moved out of the castle and into a small cottage amongst the general population, just so that he could remove himself from the public eye as much as possible. Luigi lived alone in his house, save a Yoshi that he had adopted many years ago. It was a quiet place, on the outskirts of the small town a few miles from the Mushroom Castle, and Luigi liked it for that reason. Without any reason to go off adventuring, he had settled down very easily, and at that point, he would have very much enjoyed living there on his own for the rest of his life.

…The week so far had been relatively quiet. The weather had been nice: sunny and calm, the kind of weather that Luigi liked best. Today, he was outside, enjoying it as best he could before Mario and Toadstool paid their weekly visit and he had to invite them inside. Stretched out in the grass, Luigi sighed. It wasn't that he didn't love his brother or Toadstool…he just wanted to enjoy some time alone, for once, where he didn't have to worry about the pressures of keeping his house suitable for company. And holidays…holidays were Hell, when they weren't spent at the castle. Mario could still eat like a garbage disposal, and all that did was create dozens of dishes for Luigi to wash. He rolled over and pressed his face into the cool grass. Hopefully Yoshi would come home soon. He could, at least, help to distract Mario and Toadstool from how exhausted Luigi was feeling, and how unwilling to have company he was. He closed his eyes. Maybe Mario will get caught up in something, he thought. Maybe they won't be able to visit today…?

"What're you doin' in the grass, little brother?" asked a hearty, all-too-familiar voice. Luigi sank inside, but forced it back up as he sat and grinned at his brother and his sister-in-law. Toadstool smiled warmly at him, and Mario chuckled, reaching down to help Luigi to his feet. Mario hadn't changed much at all in the past ten years: he still had a round stomach and a cheerful face, and the trademark moustache that both brothers shared. His eyes were bright and sparkling, and aside from being slightly balder under his cap, Mario was just the same (albeit in nicer clothes). Toadstool was just as beautiful as ever, with flowing blonde hair and a well-fitting pink dress. Her face lit up when she smiled, showing no signs whatsoever of aging.

Luigi, on the other hand, looked as if he might have been older than Mario, now. He had grown even thinner in recent years, and frown lines had begun to mar his face. His gray-blue eyes were dull and sad, and gray hair had touched his temples. He forced a smile, though, and brushed himself off, leading his guests inside. They remained at ease as he went to get them drinks, and he sighed in relief, praying that Yoshi would come home soon to draw their attention further away from him. Luigi brought them their cold drinks and sat in the chair opposite his old sofa, being careful not to look at the two of them if he could help it. Mario sighed loudly.

"So, Luigi…how've things been?" he asked in a loud, purposeful voice. Luigi shrugged.

"They've been alright," he replied, and although he was smiling, his voice betrayed his reluctance to speak. "Ahh…Yoshi and I have been doing pretty good…I'm thinking of planting something in the yard this spring…maybe a vegetable garden…or something…" He swirled his drink in its glass and looked down into it, as if deep in thought. In reality, he was just trying to think of something—anything—else to say. "…I dunno…been thinking about taking a vacation…"

Mario's impressive eyebrows shot up under his cap. "A vacation?" he asked, as if to point out that Luigi had absolutely no one to vacation with. He exchanged a glance with Toadstool before leaning forward and looking hard into his younger brother's face. "…Luigi…are you sure that everything's okay…?"

Luigi sighed heavily, feeling the doubt in Mario's gaze. "…Mario…" he murmured, shaking his head. "I'm fine! You need to stop worrying so much about me. I just like things quiet, that's all." Toadstool looked at him thoughtfully, her mouth pulled down into an uncertain expression. He took a long swig of his drink to delay the need to say anything else, wishing that he could just fall asleep until he felt better. He always got upset when anyone came to visit, but whether it was the thought of the impending you should really start dating talk, or just a general dislike of company, Luigi had no idea. He started when a small, slender, gloved hand reached out and touched his knee.

"…Luigi," Toadstool said, her voice like a soft song. "You can tell us if you're not feeling well. And…if you'd like us to leave—?"

"Please…yes," Luigi mumbled, without even realizing it, at first. He lowered his head into his hands when he realized what he had said, and he felt his companions' sad eyes upon him. Mario's brow furrowed.

"…Luigi…this isn't like you," he said, his voice flooded with concern. Luigi shook his head.

"Mario…I just don't wanna talk about it…" he sighed. Mario and Toadstool looked worriedly at each other, and Toadstool's hand left Luigi's knee. A long, uncomfortable silence passed between them, and Luigi imagined himself curled up under a rock, slowly but surely disappearing. He didn't want to hurt anyone…he just wanted to be left alone…

Mario sighed deeply and shook his head. "…Fine. Let's go, Peach," he murmured. Taking his wife's hand, the two of them rose from the couch and showed themselves out, with Toadstool casting one final, sad glance at Luigi. He grunted and massaged his temples when the door had closed, feeling a lump aching in his throat.

…What's wrong with me…?

He started when something slammed into the back door, and he jumped to his feet, his wide eyes fixated on the restlessly shaking doorknob. He relaxed when Yoshi found his way in, but his brow furrowed in concern when he saw the anxious look on the dinosaur's face. Yoshi closed the door and stared at Luigi, obviously troubled. "Yoshi!" Luigi said, baffled. "What's the matter?"

"Koopaling!" Yoshi gasped, blinking his huge eyes. "In Donut Plains! Koopaling kill Toad!"

Luigi's eyes boggled. Had he really heard Yoshi right…? "…W-what?!" he choked in disbelief. Yoshi's mouth opened and closed like a fish's a few times before he repeated what he had just said.

"Big, tough Koopaling, with pink shell and sunglasses!" Yoshi added. "He have Toad, all torn up…Luigi, we gotta tell Mario!" Luigi's head was spinning. This was not how he had planned to spend today. But he nodded slowly in agreement, registering how serious this was, and he ran for the front door. He threw it open and was relieved when he saw that Mario and Toadstool were still in sight.

"Mario!" he shouted. "Queen Toadstool! Wait, please!" he ran for them as quickly as he could, and they turned around, puzzled, when they heard his voice. They looked even more confused when they saw him running at full speed toward them. Luigi skidded to a halt and looked intently at Toadstool. "Queen…have you missed any Toads today?"

Toadstool, confused by his question, looked thoughtful for a moment, then her eyes widened in odd realization. "Why…yes, in fact…Mario, one of the guards was absent from his post this morning! Why, Luigi? What is it?"

Luigi pursed his lips. "…Yoshi just came home. Apparently, he saw Roy Koopa dragging your Toad off from Donut Lake, dead."

Toadstool's hands rose to her mouth in shock, and Mario's hands clenched to fists, his lips pulling back in a snarl. "Roy Koopa?!" he echoed. "That bastard…Peach, I have to do something about this…!"

"Mario, what are we gonna do?" Luigi asked wearily. "If we launch any kind of attack, we'll get caught up in some war we can't afford to fight!"

"We can take 'em on, Luigi!" Mario growled. "We can take 'em down like we did before! We—"

"You're ten years older," Toadstool murmured, staring solemnly at the ground. "And the Koopalings are, too. They were only children when you fought them last, Mario…you can't take on seven Bowsers at once…" Mario looked taken aback by Toadstool's cruel honesty, and his shock slowly gave way to hurt. Suddenly, the bright, cheerful afternoon seemed a whole lot gloomier. Luigi's shoulders drooped even more.

"…But Mario's right, Toadstool," he mumbled, wringing his hands. "We can't just let this slide. Roy will get cocky, you know how he is…soon he'll be coming into villages…"

Toadstool raised her hands nervously, and there was quiet for a moment. "…I won't have either of you running into the Valley and slaughtering Koopas left and right. If you swear to control yourselves…you may take guides to the Neon Castle to…speak with Roy, or better yet, with Bowser himself."

"Speak with him?!" Mario gaped. "He won't listen! Peach…are you crazy?!"

"They've been docile for all these years, Mario," Toadstool said quietly, regaining her composure. "I'm certain…they'll be willing to negotiate…" Mario stared at her, but Luigi felt a burst of fire deep within his chest. He straightened his shoulders and looked hard at the queen and king of the Mushroom Kingdom.

"…I'll go," Luigi said, startling them both into looking at him. "I'll go alone. The King shouldn't be going into potentially dangerous territory, anyways! I can take Yoshi…we'll be alright…I know the way!"

"Luigi," Mario said, his face lined and sad. Luigi looked at him and saw, for the first time, some signs of aging in his brother's face: gray hairs at his temples, speckling his moustache. Crow's feet at the corners of his eyes. He truly was the elder. Toadstool grasped Luigi's hand, and he turned to her.

"…You're certain…? Luigi…please, take along a few feathers…and fire flowers…just in case…" Her voice was so wary it almost scared him. He squeezed her hand affectionately, and managed a genuine smile.

"Hey," he chuckled, "I will. Don't worry. I might not be so young anymore, but I can still put up a fight!"

Toadstool gazed into his eyes for a few moments, searching for and finding the honesty within them. She looked afraid, though. Very afraid. "…Do you promise…that you'll come back alive…?" she whispered.

The world was grimly silent, but Luigi still felt stronger.