A/N: Short chapter is short. :/ Sorry about that. This chapter contains some disturbing imagery, just so you know.

Mario sat despondent and silent in his golden framed prison, ever consumed by his guilt, loneliness, and ennui. King Boo's lair was quiet and still. The guards were slacking again, which suited Mario fine. Whenever King Boo left the lair, he assigned at least two Boos with strict instructions to guard the portrait prisons, but these Boo sentries had grown lax in the past decade or so.

In the early months of his captivity, Mario tried to speak to his fellow captives, though his limited field of vision prevented him from seeing them. They had never been much for conversation, however. Mario surmised that they had been captives long before he ever set foot in the mansion, and the long years of nothingness had certainly taken their toll. The Butler had been imprisoned here the longest, as far as Mario could tell. The strange old man's mental instability certainly corroborated this theory. On the rare occasions that the aged butler spoke, he would mutter about his romantic fantasies involving a woman named Melody. At best, these ramblings made Mario roll his eyes. At worst, Mario would plug his ears in disgust. If the Butler wasn't speaking of Melody, he would scream in terror about fire and burning flesh.

The other prisoner, an old clockmaker, had been slightly saner, and he was nice enough, though a bit reserved. Mario only ever managed to share a few words with him, however, as the Boos quickly shut down any conversation between prisoners.

There was a time when the Boos acquired no end of pleasure and entertainment from taunting and leering at him, but as the years went by, Mario grew steadily more like his fellow captives, silent and unresponsive to their jeering. Eventually, the spherical specters grew bored with him and guard duty in general, often sneaking away when they were sure King Boo would not be coming back for a while.

Mario released a sigh and hung his head in misery. How much longer would these ghosts subject him to this torture? Surely even Hell would be preferable to this. At least there, he could presumably move around more than a couple of feet. He had never fully appreciated the phrase 'fate worse than death' until now. Perhaps the most frustrating part of this agonizing existence was the complete futility of any hope. He smiled cynically. Not even death could provide relief or escape. If only he had been imprisoned alive, he could have at least looked forward to death. At the very least, he could have perished of old age. If that did not happen quickly enough for him, he could have starved himself to death to escape this suffering. Alternatively, he could have banged his head hard enough against his prison to split it open. Squeezing his large hands around his throat tightly enough to crush his windpipe would have been another option.

This morbid train of thought suddenly elicited a shudder from the dead plumber as his thoughts drifted to his younger brother. He squeezed his eyes shut as the unbidden memory of Luigi's lifeless hanging body entered his mind. Thanks to Mario's foolishness, Luigi had committed suicide in an attempt to escape torture, yet his little brother still was not free. He still roamed the mansion alone and scared, under the watchful eye of King Boo and his servants. Mario buried his face in his hands. If anyone deserved peace, it was Luigi. Yet Mario's stupidity had brought not only himself, but his innocent twin brother an eternity of suffering. Maybe this cruel internment was exactly what Mario deserved.

Mario took his role as an elder brother very seriously. It did not matter that he was only older by twenty minutes or that his "little brother" eventually surpassed him in height. From the time they could crawl, Mario was Luigi's protector.

Throughout childhood, a troubled Luigi sometimes claimed to see ghosts and specters. This worried their mother, but she chalked it up to anxiety and an overactive imagination. Their father and many other adults in their lives accused Luigi of telling lies for attention. Eventually, Luigi stopped speaking about these frightening encounters, afraid of the scorn and accusations of others, only ever confiding in his twin brother. In his portrait prison, Mario grimaced. He had done his best to comfort Luigi and lend a listening ear. Even so, he never fully believed his little brother either and he suspected that Luigi knew this. Nevertheless, Luigi still trusted him enough to confide in him. Mario let out a bitter chuckle at the cruel irony. All throughout his short life, he believed he had humored his paranoid brother's misguided belief in ghosts, only to end up a ghost himself, a prisoner of a psychotic demon and his spectral followers. If he ever saw his little brother again, he would fall on his knees and beg forgiveness for not believing him. Small comfort though it was, Mario clung to the hope that all Luigi needed was someone to listen to him and that Mario had at least filled that role, despite his own doubts of Luigi's experiences.

Mario would never call Luigi weak, but the younger brother was timid, sensitive, and easily frightened. The younger twin's shy, quiet nature sometimes made him an easy target, and Mario swore to protect him from any threat, whether it be bullies or their own father. Their father, Pietro, was… a complicated person. Mario could never completely shake his resentment towards the man, but he knew Pietro had not always been the angry, bitter person he remembered, and not all the brothers' memories of Pietro were negative ones. On his better days, Pietro would tell them stories from his homeland, or read to them from his old, battered copy of The Adventures of Pinocchio. He would recount what small memories he had of Italy, having left to come to America as a small child. When the boys were old enough, Pietro taught them the basics of carpentry and plumbing, and even let them tag along on some of his jobs.

According to the boys' mother, war irreversibly changed Pietro. Shortly after their marriage, Pietro went to Europe to fight against the Axis powers. Pietro never regretted his involvement in the war. He knew the importance of stopping Hitler and Mussolini, and he took pride in knowing that he had played a role in freeing Italy from fascism. But like all soldiers, the horrors of World War II took their toll on Pietro, and he returned to New York a different man.

Once, when the twins were small, they snuck into Pietro's workshop to play, breaking a chair the carpenter had been constructing. When a drunk Pietro suddenly entered the workspace and saw the damage, he flew into a rage and hit Luigi, almost knocking the child unconscious. Thankfully, their mother heard the noise and came to their rescue, swearing to Pietro that she would leave him if he ever hit their boys or set foot in their home drunk again. Once sober, Pietro had apologized to the boys profusely, but they never completely trusted him again.

Growing up, Pietro could be harsh and unforgiving. Mario understood how a man who witnessed so much death and destruction could become easily frustrated with crying children or upset teenagers and find their problems petty. A schoolyard fight or the death of a pet bird seemed insignificant when one had witnessed friends blowing up on the battlefield. Even so, it was no excuse to berate children for simply reacting like children, and Luigi's sensitive nature often made him a target of his father's distain.

Why are you crying over a scraped knee? Big boys don't cry!

Speak up! Stop mumbling and look me in the eye!

Stop lying! Ghosts don't exist! Stop making up stories for attention!

While Mario and his mother always did their best to lift Luigi up and encourage him, Mario knew his father's harsh words still cut deep.

Pietro never hit Luigi again while their mother lived, but when she died of illness shortly after the boys turned thirteen, Pietro spiraled ever further down a path of anger and drunkenness, becoming ever more unstable, violent, and wrathful. He often took out his anger and frustration on Luigi, harshly criticizing his younger son's perceived weaknesses and faults, and even hitting Luigi when drunk enough. Mario did all he could to protect Luigi, even if it meant taking blows for him. They would flee their father's drunken rampage as soon as they could, and patch each other up when necessary. They often ended up sitting in the cemetery by their mother's grave until their father sobered up. They would huddle together while Luigi sobbed out apologies, begging Mario to forgive him for being weak and stupid and for getting them both hurt. Mario would hold him close, doing his best to convince his fratellino that none of Luigi's self-accusations were even remotely true.

Pietro's death came as a relief in some ways, but it left the boys orphaned at the age of sixteen. Their maternal grandparents and uncles had all died at this point, and their only living relatives were virtual strangers living in Italy. For a few anxiety-filled days, the twins were terrified of entering the foster system and possibly being separated. Thankfully, their fears were unfounded. A neighboring family offered to take them in, with the condition that boys would help around the house and cover their own living expenses. The brothers agreed. Left with only a modest amount of money from their father, they landed an after-school job at a bottling plant to help make ends meet and to hopefully save a little money for their future.

Three months after graduating high school, the brothers had saved enough money to rent their own apartment and managed to score an apprenticeship with a plumber named Ernie, an old associate of their father's. Unfortunately, just as life seemed to be going well, the United States army drafted Mario to fight in Vietnam. Mario had not been thrilled at the prospect of going to war, especially since it meant leaving Luigi alone, but he took comfort in knowing that he was fighting for his country. He believed this was his opportunity to defend democracy, like his father's generation before. Instead, he endured two years of Hell, where the war forced him to kill or die in a gruesome conflict that only seemed more hopeless and pointless with each month. He came home to New York with a tortured mind and shattered heart, greeted by sneers, glares and obscene gestures.

On his way to meet Luigi for the first time in two years, he wondered if his fratellino would greet him with the same scorn and hatred he saw in the eyes of countless others. Perhaps they were right. Maybe he was no longer a man, but a despicable, worthless monster completely beneath contempt. To his relief, Mario soon discovered that he had misplaced his fears. Luigi met him with open arms and relieved tears, overjoyed to see his big brother returned and in one piece.

Mario knew beyond any doubt that Luigi saved his life after Vietnam. Thankfully, Luigi had saved some money in Mario's absence and Ernie allowed him some time off to care for his older brother. Though rough around the edges, the crass old plumber was more kindhearted than he let on. The green twin supported and loved his older brother unconditionally, taking care of him through his episodes of despair and deep depression. It had been a bit of a role reversal. Luigi often calmed Mario down during and after night terrors, soothing and encouraging him. Frequently, the knowledge that Luigi loved him and cared about him had been the only thing keeping Mario from ending his own life. He had clung to the knowledge that even if he and the entire world saw him as worthless, Luigi still cared. Luigi still needed him.

Mario's mental state gradually improved, allowing Luigi to return to work. Eventually, Mario was well enough to return to work as well. The brothers continued to work and train with Ernie for five years before leaving to start their own plumbing business.

Life continued to improve from there. Business was good and the brothers had many friends, including their childhood friend Yoshi. They made new friends, like Peach, the girl of Mario's dreams. He sighed sadly and wondered for the umpteenth time if she would have accepted his proposal. He had no sense of time in his torturous prison, but he recalled King Boo claiming it had been four decades. Mario inwardly groaned. He believed it. He would have been an old man by now. Would Peach have grown old with him, sharing children and grandchildren? He wondered if Peach had found love again. A sharp pang of sadness struck his heart at the thought of Peach ending up with someone else, but he did sincerely hope she was happy. Had she married or had children? He hoped his untimely death hadn't hit her too hard.

Mario shuddered and wrapped his arms around his knees. Had Bowser hurt her, or abducted her, forcing her into marriage like he had always wanted? A ghostly tear trailed down his cheek. He couldn't protect her anymore, and he had only his own stupidity to blame. If he had shown just an iota of sense or caution… But no, he had charged right on forward into an obvious setup, having so much overconfidence in his own invincibility. He chuckled bitterly. After all, he survived Vietnam. Sure, that experience wreaked havoc on his mental state, but he had suffered no lasting physical damage. He had fought and beat thugs twice his size protecting his brother and his girl, so what threat was a dilapidated mansion? "Stupido," he spat bitterly to himself. Now it was painfully obvious that the mansion had all been a trap. And if he had just paused to think for a moment, he would have realized it. Now it was too late. Bowser had won, and that Bastardo had involved Mario's little brother as well.

Mario buried his face in his hands, too lost in his memories to notice the quiet voices on the other side of the chamber's wall, or a muffled crash. He barely registered the quiet, hesitant footsteps and a small gasp. He did not bother looking up until he heard a trembling voice choked with emotion, a voice he had longed to hear but been denied for decades.


Mario's eyes snapped open, and he lifted his head. Luigi? He slowly, hesitantly glanced to his right, both hopeful and terrified of what he would see. Staring right at him with wide, tearful eyes stood the trembling ghost of Luigi, his slain little brother. Mario blinked and turned his head fully, returning his brother's teary gaze. Luigi's spirit looked almost as Mario remembered him in life, but with pale blue ghostly skin and horrible wounds and bruises around his neck. Luigi's bright blue eyes glowed and glistened with emotion. Did Mario possess similar markings indicating his cause of death? He couldn't remember much, but he believed some thug had knocked him out. Mario tried to recall the grisly sight of his own dead body and thought he remembered a bloody throat.

The taller apparition swallowed and spoke again, shaking Mario out of his macabre musings. "M-Mario… Bro… Is it really you? A-are you in there? C-can you hear me? I-I've looked for you for so long, and I've missed you so much! I-I'm sorry I didn't find you sooner. I-I'm so, so sorry!"

Mario, too shocked to reply at first, parted his lips to speak, but no sound came out. He swallowed and tried again, managing in a quiet, raspy voice. "F-Fratellino…? A-are you real?"

A/N: Mario serving in the Vietnam War is a reference to the 1983 Game & Watch game "Mario's Bombs Away," where Mario is depicted as a soldier carrying bombs. Of course, it never explicitly says where the game takes place, but some fans have speculated that the setting is Vietnam due to the jungle environment.

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