A/N: This story was the result of a plot bunny that simply refused to die. Feel free to think of it as complete and utter crack if you like. It's really just a big "What if" experiment, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.
Mario and his friends slowly and cautiously walked down the stairs that would take them to the bottom floor of Creepy Steeple, almost afraid that the Boos would start moving it around before they even made it all the way. Mario was holding tightly onto the Ruby Star that he had won from Doopliss just minutes before. The group's goal now was to deliver it safely back to the Thousand-Year Door so they could locate the next Crystal Star on their list.
"I am so ready to get out of here," Goombella sighed in relief as they reached the ground floor and passed through the main foyer. "This place gives me the major creeps."
"I wish those Boos would go away," Koops agreed with a shudder, looking up at the hundreds of pale apparitions floating around above their heads. Everyone in the group had silently hoped that the Boos would take off now that Doopliss was gone. No such luck.
"Ah, I'm not afraid of any dumb ghosts," scoffed Stabby, the little orange Yoshi and the baby of the group.
Unfortunately for them, each and every Boo in the steeple had their eyes on Mario's group as they walked hastily toward the entrance. Leaving would not be as easy as they had hoped.
"What is this?" demanded one particular Boo from her perch high up near the ceiling.
Mario and the others all skidded to a stop in alarm as the Boo came careening down toward them, emitting a ghostly wail of fury. She parked herself directly in front of Mario, who quickly lost all the color in his face.
"What do you think you're doing with the Ruby Star?!" she roared at him, baring her fangs. "That treasure belongs here! How dare you take it from us!"
"Wh-what?" Mario asked, trying to sound innocent. "T-take it from you? We're not – "
A second Boo pulled up directly behind the first one. "The Ruby Star has resided in Creepy Steeple for a thousand years!" he declared. "It's ours, and we won't let common thieves like you steal it!"
"But you let that creep Doopliss have it!" Goombella objected, inching backward ever so slowly along with the others.
"We enjoyed watching Doopliss torture those idiotic Twilight Towners!" barked a third Boo, appearing directly in front of Goombella and causing her to scream and jump back. "At least he kept it where it belongs!"
Mario and the others only just now realized that this entire time, every Boo in the room had floated down around their group and completely surrounded them, cutting off any possible escape.
"Either the Ruby Star, or your lives!" declared the first Boo. "Make your choice!"
"Screw you guys!" Stabby spat fearlessly. "We're not leaving without the Ruby Star, and that's that!"
The Boo leader laughed cruelly at his words. "Fools!" she bellowed. "You will learn the error of your ways!"
In a split second, a free-for-all broke out between Mario's party and the army of ghosts. When the Boos weren't slapping their opponents silly, they zoomed around and repeatedly crashed into Mario and his friends, buffeting them around mercilessly. But Mario's group fought back valiantly. Goombella and Koops were fighting back to back while Flurrie summoned a powerful Gale Force to blow a group of disoriented Boos straight into a wall. Mario was swinging his hammer around wildly and creating a wide circle between him and the ghosts, and even the terror-stricken Vivian was unleashing a fiery punch on any Boo that got too close.
Stabby was fighting the most fiercely of all. Totally unaffected by fear, he Gulped and Ground Pounded the Boos left and right, mocking them all the while.
"Ah, come on! That all you got?" he jeered at one as he threw an egg directly in its face. "I thought you guys would be harder than – "
His voice caught in his throat as he turned around and found himself face-to-face with the Boo leader.
"Your pride will be your downfall, little one," she said coldly. "I think you will be the first to go!"
"Mario, darling!" Flurrie alerted, but Mario was too wrapped up in his own battle to break free. All he could do was look over his shoulder and watch in terror as a dozen Boos suddenly surrounded Stabby, separating him from any help and circling around him faster and faster. The little Yoshi began to show nervousness for the first time as his head whipped frantically around, trying vainly to keep his eyes on all the Boos at once.
"H-hey! Whaddaya think you're doing?" he demanded, and immediately got his answer.
Each one of the Boos opened their mouths at the same time, exposing their entire mouth of glistening fangs and slobbering tongues, and as one, emitted an unearthly shriek.
Mario's blood ran cold as he saw Stabby suddenly clutch at the air with bulging eyes before he collapsed to the ground, stiff as a board.
"Stabby!!" he screamed, hurling himself at the Boos that surrounded him in an attempt to get at the Yoshi. "Get away from me, you damn – somebody help him!!"
Vivian was alerted by his cry and answered it immediately. Raising both hands above her head, she cast a devastating Fiery Jinx spell on every Boo present. All at once, two hundred balls of flame erupted all around them as the inflamed Boos bellowed in pain, writhing in the air. Seeming to get the message, each one of them suddenly took to the air and retreated, vanishing through the windows and the walls.
"Stabby, Stabby, Stabby," Mario gasped the instant the six of them were alone and safe. He scrambled up to the Yoshi, whose glazed eyes were focused on the ceiling as his face rapidly drained of its orange color.
"What's wrong with him?" Koops cried in alarm.
"The Boos spooked him! He's literally paralyzed with fear!" Vivian fretted. She had spent a lot of time in Twilight Town in the past and was well acquainted with the Boos and their methods of attacking. "We have to get his lungs working again, or he'll – "
Mario didn't let her finish. "Dammit, Stabby, snap out of it!" he begged, shaking the unresponsive little Yoshi. Mario hated to play favorites among his partners, but he had an almost paternal bond with Stabby, having rescued him before he had even hatched. If anything ever happened to him –
Goombella suddenly let out a cry of shock. Everyone else spun around to see what had surprised her, only to find that a lone Boo had suddenly appeared in front of her. The ghost was eyeing Stabby gravely before she turned to the others.
"Follow me," she said. "Now."
She floated over to the door that led out to the steeple grounds. No one moved.
"Do you want him to die?!" the Boo demanded. "Come on! I can help him!"
Deciding they had no choice but to risk it, everyone leapt to their feet and followed after her as she phased through the door. Mario scooped Stabby up in his arms and charged ahead of the others, throwing the door open and scrambling out into the grounds. The group followed after the Boo as they ran through the tall, sickly grass, finally coming to rest where she had stopped to wait for them, underneath what appeared to be a tree made of pure, shining gold.
"What kind of tree is this?" Goombella gawked.
"Why, it's positively beautiful!" Flurrie marveled.
Ignoring all of them, the Boo flew up to the highest branches of the tree and came down momentarily, holding several Golden Leaves in her hands.
"Make him eat these," she ordered Mario, holding the leaves out to him. Mario nodded firmly as he took them from her. Laying Stabby carefully on the ground, he stuffed the leaves in the Yoshi's mouth and helped him chew them up, then tilted his head forward so he could swallow.
Everyone waited. After a pained, tension-filled moment of silence, Stabby suddenly sat bolt upright and let out an enormous gasp before falling backwards again, his head lolling off to the side.
"Is he okay?" Mario asked worriedly, checking to see he had started breathing again.
"He'll be fine. He'll wake up soon," the Boo assured him, and everyone sighed deeply. Now that the immediate danger had passed, Mario's group found themselves gazing very awkwardly at the helpful specter.
"Um. . . well. . . gee, thank you," Goombella said after a moment.
"Not to be, uh, mean or anything," Koops continued, "but, uh. . . why'd you help us? Those other Boos were all attacking us."
"I can't stand those other Boos," the ghost replied darkly, gazing resentfully at the ground. "They're so cruel, attacking people constantly for no good reason. I don't associate with them at all."
Vivian ventured to speak up. "But aren't you upset that we're taking the Ruby Star?"
"You can have it, for all I care," the Boo sighed. "The others never did anything useful with it, and Doopliss only used it to wreak havoc. I think it will be better off in the hands of people like you."
No one knew exactly what to make of this, least of all Mario. While he was grateful, he was caught completely off guard by the nature of this Boo, who seemed so much kinder and more peaceful than any other member of her kind he'd ever met. Even Bow had been proud and haughty at the best of times.
"You're an awfully nice Boo," said Goombella, voicing exactly what he had been thinking.
"It's because I'm different from them, I suppose," replied the ghost. "I'll tell you something secret about Boos, if you're interested."
Everyone glanced at each other.
"Almost all Boos – at least the ones I know – are people who died with anger and resentfulness in their hearts," she explained. "Usually it's because their lives ended too early, because they were killed or some reason like that. They have unfinished business here, and they won't let themselves move on to the next world. They're so bitter over the loss of their lives that their only satisfaction comes from causing an equal amount of suffering in others."
Everyone stared at her.
"That can't be true about all Boos," Mario protested, thinking back to all the ones he knew. As stuck-up as Bow was, he knew deep down she was a nice person.
"Yeah. You're sure not like that," said Koops.
"So how did you die, then?" asked Goombella. "Did you get killed?"
"Oh, no, nothing like that. But. . . I do still have unfinished business here," the Boo said softly. Mario thought he could see a deep sadness suddenly fill her eyes.
"You don't have to tell us anything," he said quickly.
"No, it's fine," the Boo assured him. "It's a common story, I'm sure. You see, I think I left behind a lot of people when I died."
"Left behind?" repeated Flurrie.
"You know. I had so many people I loved. So many people who loved me," she tried to explain, but looking more and more miserable at the thought of her lost memories. "My mother and father, all of my friends, my. . . ."
She trailed off and turned away, fighting back tears. Mario wondered if she wasn't thinking about someone in particular.
"So you became a Boo. . . because you didn't want to leave them?" Koops interpreted.
"So why are you here? Why don't you go visit them?" queried Goombella.
"I'm too ashamed," the Boo said in a low voice, almost at a whisper. "I'm afraid of what they'll say if they see me like this. And besides. . . I don't want to make it any worse for them."
"How would you make it worse?" Mario protested.
"I'm afraid, if I ever see them again. . . they'll just never be able to let me go," the ghost said helplessly. "I can't do that to them. To my family and friends. I'm gone, and that's that. I'm afraid of letting any of them know I'm here. If they know, they'll never move on. But I just can't leave them."
Mario was holding Stabby's head in his lap and stroking it absentmindedly as he pondered this. He had so many run-ins with Boos on a regular basis, he never stopped and thought about what it must be like for them. They used to be living, breathing creatures, and now they were reduced to nothing more than whisps of ghosts that frightened most people away. And how many of them must have had stories like this one?
"It seems to me," he concluded, "that you're the one who can't move on."
Everyone turned to look at him.
"Why else would you want to stay here?" he elaborated. "I think you're feeling guilty because you think you abandoned all your loved ones, when that's not true at all."
"Mario's right," Flurrie agreed. "It's not your fault you had to die, darling, and I'm sure your family and friends all know and understand that. They must miss you, but they would also want you to be happy. And you're certainly not happy in a place like this."
The Boo looked at Flurrie unsurely. "So. . . you think I should leave here? I should go find them all?"
"Nah, I think you were right when you said that would only make things worse," Goombella spoke up. "You've gotta let them move on. It's the right thing to do. And that means you've gotta move on as well."
"Is it possible to. . . you know. . . stop being a Boo?" Koops wondered. "Is too late for you to go to. . . you know. . . the next place?"
The ghost gazed off, looking at a loss.
"I don't think it's too late," she admitted. "I think any Boo could do it if they wanted to."
Her face screwed up in pain. "But if I did that. . . I'd truly be leaving them."
"Listen," Mario said immediately, putting Stabby down and shuffling over to her. "We all have to let go of people we love once in a while. It doesn't mean we stop loving them. There's just a time and a place for everything. We say goodbye, but we always remember them."
"Yeah. I know I'd give anything to be with my dad and my girlfriend right now," said Koops, rubbing the back of his head and blushing slightly. "But I knew that Mario needed me, so I had to leave them for a while. But not forever."
"I know it certainly pained me when I took my leave of the stage," Flurrie continued. "And when I left with Mario, I did feel guilty about having to leave my dear friends the Punies. But it certainly doesn't mean we've stopped caring for each other."
The Boo nodded slowly, then drew her gaze to Vivian, waiting to hear her input.
"Oh," Goombella said quickly, "well, I don't know if Vivian really – "
"No. I do," Vivian suddenly said, with surprising firmness. She had been gazing at the ground, but now she lifted her head up to look at the others. "I know it sounds strange, but I . . . I still love my sisters, even after everything they did. It makes me feel terrible that I can't really be with them anymore."
She fiddled with her gloved hands. "But I still hope that we'll be able to be together again someday. And until then. . . well. . . I think I may have found some other people to love."
Mario, Goombella, Koops and Flurrie all gave Vivian warm smiles. She found herself smiling back, her shyness and insecurity visibly melting away.
"You. . . you really think that's what I should do?" the Boo ventured.
"Well, you don't want to stay here anymore, do you?" asked Goombella.
"No. I certainly don't," the Boo replied with conviction. "But, if I do go. . . I won't be abandoning them?"
"Never," Mario assured her. "Not as long as you love them."
No one spoke for a while. However, Stabby suddenly decided to take that very moment to groan and sit up, coughing and gasping.
"Ugh. . . man, Gonzales, what just happened?" he asked weakly, looking around and noticing the relieved and joyful looks everyone was giving him. "Dude, what's up with you guys?"
"We were just talking with this young lady," Flurrie informed him, gesturing at the Boo.
"You should thank her, Stabby. She saved your life," said Goombella.
"Oh. Really?" said Stabby, looking at the ghost. "Uh, thanks, I guess."
She smiled. "I think I should be the one thanking all of you," she replied. "You're right. I don't want to be here any longer. I want everyone to live and be happy while I'm gone."
She turned to briefly look up at the sky, the moon hanging low amid the mix of deep pink and purple and bathing the steeple in its perpetual twilight.
"I think. . . I'm ready to let go now."
"Good for you," Mario said with a smile.
"And remember, you'll see them all again one day," Flurrie reminded her. "We all meet again eventually."
The Boo nodded. "Until then."
She closed her eyes and slowly drifted away from Mario and the others, looking more and more content as she went. It seemed that a weight that she had borne for a long time was finally being lifted away, leaving her at peace at long last.
She stopped a few feet away from them, where the light of the moon seemed to shine the brightest.
"I've wanted to do this for so long," she sighed.
Mario's eyes widened as the Boo suddenly began to fade away right before them. She wasn't simply turning invisible, he could tell; this felt more permanent. He could feel her presence slowly vanishing from the world, finally going where she belonged.
He turned to look at his friends, and they all gave him smiles. Somehow, he felt this encounter had left the six of them closer than they had ever been before. He knew each one of them had to leave behind people they loved in order to go on this adventure, but in return, they'd gotten each other.
"Goodbye," Koops called to the Boo, waving after her. She opened her eyes and flashed them a smile, nearly out of sight by now.
"Wait a minute!" Vivian suddenly gasped, and everyone turned to look at her as she floated up to the Boo.
"Before you go," said the Shadow Siren, "can you tell us what your name is?"
If the ghost thought this was a strange question, she didn't show it. The very last the group ever saw of her was her smile growing even wider as she pondered her answer.
Her final words drifted back to them even after she had completely disappeared from sight.
A/N: You know what makes that ending even worse? Who's the partner you meet right after this? :P