A/N: I currently have about seven fanfics sitting around half-finished that I could finish. I have a second chapter of Ribbon in the Wind that I need to work on, plus half a dozen oneshots... this just ended up being the first one that got done.
This is a pretty random, plotless oneshot. Vaguely angsty with a bit of fluff? If you've read my other stories about Luigi, then you'll probably know what to expect. It takes place after Super Paper Mario and references things from that game, but you don't need to play it to read this.
He showed up at her door on a cold and lonely February night. Rain was hammering against the windows and the roof of the castle, a crescendo that might, under different circumstances, have been peaceful. Tonight, the only feeling it inspired in her was despair. It drove home how empty the castle was, how distant all of her servants were, how much she missed being in the Mushroom Kingdom with her real friends.
He was clutching his waterlogged cap to his chest, as if he'd taken it off in salute to her, but it just made him appear more pitiful. His eyes were haunted – more so than usual – and droplets of rainwater were rolling off the end of his long nose.
'Luigi?' she said in a tone of disbelief. 'It's 1AM.'
He grimaced, averting his gaze from her face to his shoes. 'I-I-I'm sorry, Princess Daisy,' he said. Was that stutter in his voice caused by cold, fear, or something else? It was impossible to tell. 'I-I j-just... needed to...'
Her manner softened, disbelief tucked away behind a carefully-built wall of sympathy. She would question him later; for now, the only thing that mattered was getting him to a safe place. Not here, on the rain-soaked porch, where he was so clearly running from whatever experience tormented him.
'Come in,' she said, taking his arm and pulling him into the candlelit entrance hall. The shivering sigh of relief that escaped him as he was suddenly wrapped in warmth did not go unnoticed. 'Are you hurt anywhere?'
Luigi didn't answer, merely fidgeting with his hat in his hands. This time it was Daisy's turn to sigh as she gently, but firmly, led him down the hall and up the grand stairs leading to her quarters. His silence bothered her, not because it was unusual – Luigi was a quiet person by nature – but because this particular kind of silence usually heralded some unpleasant news. She dreaded to think about what she might learn when he finally plucked up the courage to open his mouth.
The castle corridors were dimly-lit. Nearly everyone had gone to bed, leaving only a few candles burning on the walls. It was sheer chance that had led Luigi to knock on the door moments before Daisy herself decided to turn in for the night.
'Wh-where are we going,' he murmured a few seconds later, his voice so monotone that it was barely even a question.
'My room,' said Daisy, and without another word she pulled him unceremoniously through the door to her quarters. The muscles in his arm stiffened slightly as he gazed around. He'd never been in here before, and the massive four-poster bed was nothing compared to the collection of swords, guns, action movie posters, and other generally un-Princess-like she kept in here, hidden from the world. Her own little luxury.
She opened a closet and dug through the contents, cursing herself for being so untidy when it took thirty seconds to find what she was looking for. A fluffy yellow dressing-gown, the best one that she owned.
'Change into this,' she said, tossing it over to Luigi, who caught it by reflex. He proceeded to stare at the gown as if she'd just handed him a dead snake.
'Put it on. Your clothes are soaked. I don't want you getting sick because you let yourself get cold and wet.'
'But... you're right there.'
'I've got my back turned, Luigi. Just do it!'
Cringing at the harshness of her tone – which he knew wasn't directed at him but stung nonetheless – he slowly began stripping off his waterlogged clothes. Not that she saw this, because she was honourable enough to keep looking away. There was a mirror on the inside of the closet door; if she turned just the right way then she would be able to see him... but she restrained the urge. She would not break his fragile trust in her.
This was the third time Luigi had shown up at her door in the middle of the night. She was beginning to get used to the strangeness of it, but she would never get used to that haunted look in his eyes. The look of someone who desperately wanted to switch off their brain and sleep for three days straight.
The first time, he had been trying so hard to hide the reason why he'd decided to come over, stammering out the most pointless of excuses, until Daisy all but forced the truth out of him, shouting at the poor man until he gave in. The second time, he'd shown up in a worse state. Biting his lip as he held back tears, his eyes framed by dark shadows that had made her gasp. He'd looked terrible.
This time, he wasn't lying through his teeth or on the verge of crying. He was simply... here. Exhausted, ragged, and defeated-looking. She did not know how to respond to it, but gave him the same treatment she always did; a little bit of tough love mixed with enough forcefulness to get the truth out of him. On this occasion, she was dreading hearing about it.
The fact that Luigi was willing to travel all the way to Sarasaland on a winter's night just to visit her... She couldn't understand it, not least because she knew she didn't have the most sympathetic personality. He could talk to someone like Peach, or his friend Toadette, back home and receive an outpouring of sweet words and comfort beyond anything Daisy was capable of giving.
Maybe he came here because he needed her forcefulness, needed someone who wouldn't mess around, wouldn't coddle him, and would pull the truth from him whether he liked it or not. Maybe he needed that harsh reality. No sweet words were powerful enough to chase away the nightmares.
Daisy waited until she was mostly sure he'd finished changing before she sneaked a look in the closet mirror. He was sitting on the edge of her bed, wearing her yellow dressing-gown. His wet clothes had been tossed into a corner, as far as he'd been able to throw them. He was gazing contemplatively at his own knees, not saying anything, clearly wanting Daisy to be the one to initiate the conversation.
She rose to the bait. 'So, what happened?' she asked without preamble, walking over to sit beside him.
He shrugged. It was a hopeless, defeated gesture. 'Same as usual...' he murmured. 'Nightmares. I-I woke up Mario. He wasn't very happy.'
She could barely restrain herself from grabbing his arm and yanking him around to face her. 'Not happy? Luigi he didn't... did he?'
'No!' His response came with a vehemence that both startled and relieved her. 'Mario would never do something like that! He... he was just upset. He doesn't know how to help me, and... I don't know, either. I'm tired of waking him up every other night because I can't stop dreaming about... that. Mario has enough problems of his own to deal with. It's not fair that he has to deal with me too.'
'And it's not fair that you have to suffer these nightmares,' Daisy informed him. 'Look, Mario and I are worried, OK? We care about you, that's why we always try to help. But we can't help because you won't open up to us.' Luigi opened his mouth defiantly, but she plowed onwards before he could speak. 'Maybe if you just told us about these nightmares, you'd feel better.'
'How would talking about them help?' Luigi retorted, brow furrowed. 'I just want to forget about them, not keep thinking about them when I'm awake.'
'I don't get why it helps, but sometimes it does,' she said. 'Why don't you at least give it a try?'
He shook his head evasively. She could see his whole body turning away from her as his thoughts went back to whatever dark pit they'd emerged from, and once again, she had to stop herself from physically grabbing him out of frustration. Sometimes he was more open with her, but other times – like tonight – he refused to cooperate, even though he'd come to her for help.
'What do you expect me to do, Luigi?' she said, letting exasperation seep into her voice. 'You come here in the middle of the night, tell me you've been having horrible nightmares again, but every time I try to talk to you about it, you close up.'
He drew in a breath as if to speak, then let it out. In a sharp, worried huff.
'I need a drink,' he mumbled, and climbed off her bed to leave the room. Daisy reacted fast enough to pursue him before he could shut the door in her face. 'Why are you following me?'
'Because one, you barely know your way around this place, and two, I'm still trying to talk to you. Making excuses and running away isn't gonna help you, Luigi. If you want to get better, you need to start opening up to people you care about.'
He gave no sign that he'd heard, unless the stiffening of his shoulders counted. Making his way through the dark corridors with a stealthy grace that impressed her, he found his way to the kitchen. It was pitch-black in there; no lights were left on after the last meal of the day had been cooked. Seeing Luigi fumbling around in search of the fridge, Daisy stretched a hand up the wall to flick the lightswitch on.
'Grazie,' he mumbled as he opened the fridge door and pulled out a can of Coke. She raised her eyebrows at the unconscious slip into his native language, but didn't comment. Later, when things had settled down, she might tease him about it.
She watched and waited, leaning against the doorframe, as he pulled open the can and took a swig of the contents. He took his time, drinking about a third of the can before he even attempted to speak up. Apparently the caffeine and sugar gave him as much courage as a bottle of liquor.
'I keep dreaming about the time Mario, Peach, Bowser and I went on that adventure,' he said slowly. 'When we travelled through other dimensions and fought that evil guy, Count Bleck. The one who was trying to destroy all the worlds.'
Daisy nodded. She'd heard this story enough times that she could've recited it herself, but instinct told her to bite back the impatience and give Luigi time to speak.
'But he wasn't the real bad guy,' he continued. 'He thought he was, and everyone else thought he was, but the real bad guy... was Dimentio. The evil jester...'
A small shudder racked his frame and he took a gulp of Coke to steady himself.
'Dimentio... he used me for his plans. He possessed me so that I didn't remember who I was, or what I was doing. He forced me to attack my own brother, a-and I don't even remember doing it. But I learned about it later. Mario said he'd been terrified.'
'He was probably terrified that he'd never get you back,' said Daisy, as gently as she knew how. 'Not that you'd hurt him.'
Luigi didn't seem to understand. 'I could have killed him. My own brother. And Peach, and Bowser. Dimentio could have made me kill all of them, and I would've woken up to find their bodies lying in front of me... He would have told me it was all my fault... and it was. Because I was weak enough to let him control me.'
'Luigi,' she said, interrupting before he could go any further. 'It's not because you're weak. Some people are just more vulnerable to possession magic than others – it's got nothing to do with your own strength, or willpower, or anything else. It was just pure bad luck that Dimentio was able to possess you.'
He sipped his drink, then frowned and shook the empty can.
'I keep telling myself that,' he said. 'But it's hard to believe when he keeps appearing in my dreams, whispering that it was my fault. Every night.'
He carefully put the can on the kitchen counter and eyed the fridge as if he were considering getting more, but Daisy's pointed throat-clearing stopped him in his tracks.
'You're just gonna have to keep telling until you believe it,' she said. 'Because you know it's not your fault, and everyone else knows it too. Mario was the one who had to fight you, and even he knows it wasn't your fault. If he understands, then there's no reason for you to keep holding onto this belief that you did something wrong.'
'It's hard,' he protested. 'You seem to think it's easy. But I'm not choosing to have nightmares.'
Daisy restrained a sigh and racked her brains for a way to console him. He was one of her closest friends, yet she was damned if she understood his feelings at times. She wished she knew how to make him feel better; to tear all of his fears and insecurities away and throw them into a deep, dark ditch where he would never find them. This wasn't a problem she could solve with brute strength or charisma, and that left her feeling lost.
'Come back to my room,' she said at last. 'I don't want you to go home tonight. Stay here for a while.'
'I-I can't do that.'
'That was a statement, not a question, sweetie.' She grabbed his arm, and while he grumbled indistinctly at being manhandled, he didn't put up any real fight. Smirking a little, she led him back up the stairs to her private quarters and shut the door firmly behind them.
She didn't have another bed to offer him, but she found some spare blankets in the closet and created a makeshift one on the floor. After being kept awake by his night terrors and then travelling to Sarasaland to see her, she imagined that Luigi was too exhausted to care much about the quality of his sleeping arrangements.
When she finished, she looked up to see him standing near the window, arms hanging limply at his sides. He was wearing a dumbfounded expression, as if he couldn't believe she would go to such lengths for him.
'C'mon, get some rest,' said Daisy, deciding not to comment on it.
He hesitated, then sighed and crossed the room. With great awkwardness, he climbed into the makeshift bed – which consisted of several blankets with another blanket on top – and stared blankly at the ceiling as Daisy prepared to return to her own bed. She felt a bit guilty climbing into the spacious four-poster, seeing him huddled up on the floor like that.
'How did you get here?' she asked, feeling a sudden overwhelming need to break the silence.
'Warp pipe...' he murmured. 'There's one near our house that goes straight to your castle grounds.'
'Really? I've never seen it. You'll have to show me sometime.' She allowed a teasing note to creep into her voice. 'So, you've got a secret way to sneak into my castle whenever you like?'
'Not a secret... I just told you, didn't I?'
The conversation trailed off into a silence even more awkward than the last, and Daisy fidgeted, unable to fall asleep when she could hear Luigi's uneven, very-much-awake breathing beside her.
Eventually, she pulled herself up onto her elbow and gazed down at him. The room lay in darkness, and it was a strain to even make out Luigi's outline among the blankets. But what she did see made her suddenly very aware of how small he was.
He wasn't, not really. Not literally. He might not be taller than her, but he was still taller than average, and he practically towered over his brother.
But sometimes, he looked... tiny. Especially when curled up defensively like that, wrapped in blankets, with his arms pulled tight around himself to conserve warmth. Clearly still awake even though he wanted to pretend otherwise; clearly struggling to fight off the memories of whatever night terrors still plagued him.
Daisy knew full well that Luigi didn't want pity. It only made him feel worse, because it made him feel like he was nothing. He wanted to be strong – the kind of person that others could depend upon – and it gnawed at him that he couldn't be that person. She gritted her teeth as she lay there in the dark, watching his body move with the faintest of breaths. He might not be strong, but he meant more than the entire kingdom to her.
'Luigi,' she hissed softly, coming to a decision.
He jerked upright. For one worried moment, she thought he had been asleep, but his perfectly alert response told her otherwise. 'H-huh? What is it?'
'Come over here?' she said, making it sound like a question even though it wasn't. 'With me?'
She could tell, even in the dim light, how Luigi's brain short-circuited as he tried to process her words, and couldn't help but grin.
'It doesn't look comfortable down there, and you need a good night's sleep. Especially after being kept awake by those dreams. Just c'mon. This bed's plenty big enough for both of us, don't you think?'
He swayed forwards an inch, then hesitated. He was clearly struggling to decide whether she was being serious or merely teasing him. Do I mess with him so much that he can't tell the difference? she thought, wincing and vowing to try harder from now on.
'Come on,' she said insistently. To emphasise her point, she rolled sideways and patted the now-empty space beside her. 'Or we can just swap beds, if you'd prefer it that way. I don't mind sleeping on the floor...'
That did the trick. Luigi scrambled to his feet, instinctively grasping the edges of the dressing-gown to keep it closed around him. Without saying a word, he carefully climbed into the four-poster bed and lay down as far away from Daisy as he could physically manage.
She huffed out a breath. How easy it would be to just roll back over and drag him into her arms, unwillingly or not. He would probably make that adorable squeaking noise that he always did when something caught him off-guard, and then blush and stammer out the beginnings of a question. And she would reply with something silly and unhelpful, holding him tighter. And eventually, he would give up and resign himself to being held, terrified yet somehow relishing it at the same time...
She blinked hard. Now was not the time for idle fantasies. Luigi was scared and exhausted; he needed her comfort, not her teasing. She briefly wondered if she'd invited him into her bed because she thought it would help him sleep... or just because she wanted to indulge her daydreams for one night.
'Sleep well, sweetie,' she murmured, rolling over so that she was facing away from him. He was settling down fast, his awkwardness drowning in the face of a comfortable bed and a tidal wave of sleep.
'Grazie...' he mumbled indistinctly. She smiled faintly, not because of what he'd said, but because she'd recently learned that Luigi tended to slip into Italian when he was extremely tired. It was cute – but also sad, in a way. He shouldn't have to be this exhausted.
She continued listening to his breathing as she lay there, smiling when she realised it had finally evened out into the soft, regular pattern of sleep. It felt... good to know that he trusted her enough to rest easy in her presence, and that if he had any more nightmares, she'd be here to help him through them.