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On a brief interlude on their quest to make wishes come true again, Bowser continues to pursue his own agenda, Geno wants them to get on with it, and tennis proves to be extremely popular with the party.
Written for BobcalMoran @ AO3 for Yuletide 2010. Thank you to Yuuo for betaing this.
This fic is set somewhere between beating Star Hill and first entering Seaside Town.
Originally this was going to be a fishing tournament. Or surfing or something that was beach related. Then I remembered Mario Tennis. And it was a sport you could play with two people on a team and...
But, wait, didn't Slayers NEXT do a doubles tennis-related filler episode? Dang.
On the other hand, the jokes kept coming so, in the end, I went with the uncreativity of tennis. And tried to avoid repeating any gags.
Geno knew Mario had a reputation for heroism; he hadn't been lying when he said even the denizens of the Star Road had heard of Mario. But he hadn't thought about what that meant until now.
They had stopped in Marrymore after retrieving the most recent piece from Star Hill, and had ran into the young couple that Booster had kicked out of the chapel. Who Mario was friends with. And who were nervous about their trip to Yo'ster Isle. So, of course, Mario had offered to escort them to the coast to find a boat to the island, rather than take them through the underground pipe-maze. Slowly enough that they had all decided to stop in the port city of Pearl Town for the rest of the day after helping the happy newlyweds to their ferry.
He wasn't sure how this justified everyone taking the day to enjoy the beach, through.
Geno sighed, and spread the map out on the beach blanket. Mallow looked over from his chair. "What are you doing?"
"Divining the location of the last three Star Pieces," Geno said. "Or trying to." So far, it seemed like they had stayed where they had fallen, in a rough circle of the lands below the Star Road. "I suspect if we continue to work our ways along the coast, we'll at least find rumors of the next one."
"Really?" Mallow asked.
Geno nodded. "See, so far, we've found pieces in the mines and in Star Hill, and near the Maze Forest and Mushroom Kingdom." His finger traced out a curve down the eastern side of the map. "If we follow that, then-"
Bowser sat down next to them, knocking sand over the map. Geno looked up. "Do you mind?"
"Look at them." Bowser didn't seem to register this, pointing with one clawed hand. Geno and Mallow looked up. Near the waterline, Geno saw Mario and Toadstool, hand and hand, the picture of two people out for a walk down the beach in their bathing suits. "It's disgusting, don't you think? If I had a Keep to take her back to... What does she see in that scrawny hairy plumber, anyway?"
Someone whose idea of a romantic getaway didn't involve kidnapping? Geno thought. But, Bowser was an ally right now, and between them, Toadstool and Mario seemed to have things in hand.
"Maybe you should try a different approach," Mallow said. "You know, since we're allies now."
"What do you know about women, Fluffy?" Bowser said. He sighed, burying his shell deeper into the sand. Geno picked up the map, shook it free of the sand, rolled it and placed it back into the tube. No more work was going to be done today, since even Mallow was absorbed in the impending relationship drama. "But," he continued, "Maybe this is my chance. Now that we're working together I can show her what a stand-up guy I am. I mean, I'm sensitive. I'm a family man. What's not to like?"
"A family man?" Mallow asked.
Bowser nodded. He pulled a set of photos from... well, Geno decided not to think about the places giant turtles store their things, and handed them to Mallow "Here's my kids. Since Mortona, my first wife, had that freak canoeing accident, I've been a single dad. Tragic, isn't it? The kids are off making their ways in the world. Lousy ingrates haven't answered me back about helping kick Smithy out of their childhood home. I wouldn't need... um... I wouldn't have bothered with Mario then. With the Koopa family reunited, no one could stand against us."
"Except Mario," Geno said under his breath. He'd never heard Bowser talk about his family, but it didn't take a genius to figure out that, if Bowser could have defeated his arch rival, he probably would have by now.
Bowser ignored him. Or possibly didn't hear. "Anyway, women like athletes, right? Look at this." He pulled a pamphlet from where-ever he kept the photos. "There's a tennis tournament today. It starts in an hour. I'd bet she'd be impressed if I won that, right?"
"We do have the whole 'Star Road' thing to think about," Geno replied. "You know, saving the world from Smithy, making sure wishes can come true, getting your Keep back."
"Well, it is only for today, Geno," Mallow replied. "We already decided to take a break." He took the pamphlet from Bowser. "It says here its a Doubles tournament. Who's your partner?"
"Not me," Geno said. "I don't know the rules."
"I'm not very good," Mallow added.
Bowser grabbed the pamphlet out of Mallow's hands. "Give me that!" He studied it. "You're right. And it's not like I want either of you along, anyway. You'd just cramp my style."
"So, who ya gonna ask, then?" Mallow said.
"Toadstool!" Bowser said, snapping his fingers as if he had just solved the mystery of everything. "That's perfect. It's a great way to spend some quality, non-kidnapping time with her... with Mario stuck in the stands with you two. And we can ask the other contestants about these Star Piece things, so she'll agree out of duty or something."
He was still talking like a runaway mine cart, and Geno realized they weren't going to be able to dissuade him from the idea. Hopefully, Toadstool would shoot him down, he'd sulk a bit, and then Smithy's goons would distract him by reminding him they kicked him out of his home.
Of course, then Toadstool picked that time to return from her walk with Mario. Bowser thrust the pamphlet towards her. "Check this out. People are coming into town from all over to play tennis. If we can get one Star Piece from talking to one old geezer-"
"-Grandpa's not an old geezer," Mallow muttered.
"Then think of how many we can find out about by entering the tournament ourselves and talking to all the players before we grind them into the dust. What do ya say, Toadstool?" Bowser gave her a grin that Geno was certain any sane person would find terrifying.
"Why, Bowser, that's... actually a pretty good idea." Toadstool replied.
"You think so? I mean, of course it is! The leader of the Koopa Troop never gets bad ideas!"
"I'm not a bad tennis player, actually. It's one of my favorites. Come on, Mario, let's go enter."
Mario, who had been setting up a second umbrella, looked up and nodded.
"Wait... Mario?" Bowser said. "Hold on just a second! It was my idea. Why's he got to come in to ruin things?"
"Well, we normally play together. He learned from his brother, so he keeps in practice," Toadstool replied, seemingly ignoring the scowls Bowser was tossing Mario's way. "It's a shame, Luigi's not in the area right now. The two of them play a mean game."
"Never a second-banana plumber around when you need one," Bowser muttered. "But, come on!" he added louder. "What's a guy to do to get some credit around here?"
"We could draw straws?" Mallow asked. "If it's all right with the Princess?"
"I don't mind," Toadstool said, "if Bowser is so insistent on this. May the luckiest person win."
"Fine. Because I'm such a good sport. Hey, Mario! Quit messing with the umbrella and get over here so we can get this over with!"
x x x
Mallow had prepared the straws. Geno had checked them to be sure, despite noting that he was only grudgingly participating in this plan. Thus, Bowser couldn't really complain about unfairness when he lost. Not that it stopped him.
"You don't have to watch them practice," Geno said. He was learning a bit about tennis -- the goal was apparently to keep the ball going back and forth over the net, using only rackets. Some bouncing was allowed, though some wasn't. And he quickly decided the scoring system was invented by the non-Euclidean tentacled creatures that featured in Star Road horror stories. Mallow actually understood the game, and was loudly shouting out advice from the sidelines. He had tried to explain it to Geno, but Geno had shut down the conversation once they got into technicalities.
"Of course I do!" Bowser said. "If Mario gets tennis elbow or something, I have to be willing to bravely step in to console Toadstool. Speaking of..." He took out a banana, peeling it with surprising grace, given the giant claws on his hands.
"What are you doing?" Mallow asked, standing up.
"Course hazard." Bowser flipped the peel onto the court.
"Mine!" At that moment, Toadstool was running to catch a ball that was heading for the center back of the court. Mario stepped forward, getting out of the way. Her eyes were on the tennis ball, not on any 'course hazards'. Geno could see the accident coming, but he still couldn't look away as Toadstool's foot made contact with the peel and she lost her balance. She shrieked as she fell, though that was quickly covered up with a guttural cry as Bowser realized exactly what he had just done.
"Princess!" Mallow tripped over the seats getting out to help, and Geno paused to help him up. Mario also bounded over to the princess's side. Geno knew next to nothing about what constituted injury for ground people, besides the ones he had seen Mario and Toadstool take in fights, but she certainly was in pain.
Mallow, on the other hand, was not a bad medic. "Are you all right? What did you hit?"
"My ankle hurts," Toadstool answered. "I might have twisted it when I slipped." She smiled. "Funny, we made it through Star Hill and all those monsters fine, and I fall down playing tennis."
Mario looked over at Bowser, and Geno followed his gaze. The Koopa King was still looking shell-shocked at Toadstool sitting on the ground, the incriminating banana peel a smear on the court.
"We should get you off the court," Mallow said. "Some ice would help. I can try to heal it, but it might be a good idea to stay off your feet, at least for today. Mario, Geno, help her up. Um... please?"
Geno stepped over and offered his hand to Toadstool, who took it, and used her good foot to lever herself up. Mario moved to the other side, helping her keep the weight off her bad foot. "I guess I won't be playing tennis today, huh? And we already paid the registration fee."
"We can still watch," Mallow said. "Maybe make friends in the crowd."
"Or... Bowser, you said you play, right? Bowser!"
Bowser looked up. "What? I'm trying to have a tragic moment of angst here!"
"Toadstool wanted to know if you play tennis," Geno replied.
"Of course I play! I'm the Keep champion of tennis. Which you guys would know if you ever accepted my invitations for a Keep-Mushroom Kingdom tournament."
"We figured it was a trick," Toadstool replied. "After the first time..."
"Well... yeah, okay, it was a trick. But that doesn't mean that I don't have a mean backhand." Bowser waved his claws to demonstrate.
"Well, then, you can play with Mario while I rest, right?" Toadstool asked.
The expression on Mario and Bowser's face were nearly-identical looks of 'you're kidding, right?'. "Play... with him?" Bowser was the first to speak.
"Well, it was your idea," Toadstool said. "This way, you two can see if any of the contestants know anything about Star Pieces without me. And Geno and Mallow can do the same with the crowd. If I wasn't hurt, I'd be happy to help, but..."
Bowser hung his head. "Yeah, yeah. Fine." He stomped down to the court and grabbed a spare racket, swinging it like it was a club. "But mustachio over there better not hold us back."
Mario gave the Koopa King a confident grin and picked up his own racket, echoing Bowser's swings.
"Mallow and I will get Toadstool settled," Geno replied. "The tournament is about to begin."
x x x
It took longer than Geno expected to make sure the princess was no longer in pain. Or maybe Mallow was just fussing too much. It would be worth it if she was feeling up to walking tomorrow. Of course, then she had wanted to see the match, and they had to find crutches for her, and help her back to the court.
Of course, the crowds didn't help. It seemed like most of Pearl Town had turned out to see the tournament. From the excited murmurs, the fact that arch-rivals Mario and Bowser Koopa had turned out as tennis partners had drawn out people who hadn't been planning on going. And that Mario and Bowser were actually pretty good working together -- at least, they had made it to the finals -- had fed the flames. The stadium was standing room only to watch them play -- definitely bad for a woman on crutches, and Geno had been shouted at at least three times to sit down and stop obstructing the view.
"Think we can get in on the floor as their crew, or coaches or... what would the term be?" Geno asked Mallow as they scanned the crowd. Well, Geno and Toadstool scanned the crowd and Mallow tried to see over others' heads. Geno was thankful his borrowed body was more than a bit taller than the average mushroom person.
"We could, but it would make us miss part of the princess's plan," Mallow replied. "Hey, there's seats by the referee."
By the time they worked their way to the referee's stand, the match was in play. Geno could easily pick out Bowser, though he thought most of the crowd would only know Mario from his red cap, worn with tennis whites. The crowd roared when the ball sailed out of play, past one of the competitors.
"He hit it hard. Was that good?" Geno asked Mallow.
"No!" Mallow replied. "He knocked it out of bounds."
"Score is thirty-fifteen," the ref yelled out.
"How many more points?" Geno whispered.
"Two," Mallow said. "But they have to win by two points. If you hear 'championship point', that's the final one."
"'Championship point'," Geno said. "I can remember that."
This time, Mario served the ball and it was quickly returned by one of the other team members, a young man in a green cap. Quickly, so quickly that Geno was surprised when Bowser's swipe with his racket connected, sending it speeding back over the net and over the man's shoulder. The man's partner, a young woman, dove for it, returning the ball like a falling star. Geno could barely keep up with the action, until he saw Bowser land another unreturnable hit.
"Was that bad?"
"No!" Mallow said. "It landed in play, so Mario and Bowser get the point. You really need to pay attention, Geno."
"Forty-fifteen. Championship point," the ref called.
"Already?" Geno asked. They must have spent longer than he thought trying to find a seat.
Mallow shrugged. "If all of them played this quickly."
"Who knew Mario and Bowser could be such a team when they weren't trying to fight one another?" Toadstool added.
There was probably a lesson in that. Not that Bowser would ever let any of them repeat it. Geno suspected the Koopa King would be loudly bragging before, during and after the tournament about how Mario had supposedly begged to join the Koopa Troop and was part of Bowser's plan to retake his castle after mumble-mumble. So much for information gathering.
Bowser served again, and Geno was worried he'd do what he did during the second to last point. Please, just end the game, he thought. The man in the green cap returned it, and it was setting up for another long volley. He could see the crowd's heads darting back and forth as the ball sped over and back over the net. Geno watched Mario and Bowser, Mario darting all over to cover for Bowser's lack of speed, and Bowser slamming the ball so hard that Geno was surprised either opponent could hit it.
The woman on the other team hit the ball high -- Geno was sure there was a technical term, but dust if he knew it -- and both Mario and Bowser scrambled to cover it, eyes on the ball and not on each other. They're going to collide. Which probably would lose the point. And, possibly make them unable to continue, given how hard Bowser could run into things. "I can't watch!" Mallow cried, covering his eyes.
Then Bowser tripped and Mario jumped, racket flashing at the apex of his flight, slamming the ball down, hard. It bounced a couple of times as the other team ran for it, eventually petering out and the crowd broke into roaring cheers.
x x x
They eventually made it down to meet Mario and Bowser. After the awards and Bowser's long-winded attempt to convince people that he really was as dangerous as his reputation stated. Again.
Right now, he was clutching the trophy as if to dare Mario to take it away from him, and talking to the woman on the opposing team, who had a pained expression on her face. "... and if you get sick of Fairy-Boy over there, or what's-his-face, the pig guy, gives you a problem, well, I'm going through a rough patch with Toadstool right now, and am trying to branch out. Terrorize new kingdoms, meet new princesses-"
"Really, Bowser?" Toadstool hobbled up to him, Geno and Mallow attempting to give her enough space to move with the crutches.
Bowser practically jumped out of his shell. "Toadstool! Ah, it's not what you think..."
Mallow quickly motioned to the other woman, who took the good sense to flee the scene. Geno didn't blame her. "Did you learn anything about Star Pieces?" Geno asked.
"What? Oh, right. Star Pieces. We were getting to that. Turns out there aren't any in her kingdom."
"Hang on. It's on the tip of my tongue. High... High something. Eh, we can check the scoreboard. They'll have the names." Bowser waved dismissively, as if he had totally forgotten he had agreed to help find the Star Pieces to get help in re-taking his Keep.
"Maybe Mario learned something helpful," Mallow said.
Geno could only hope so, because watching half of a game of tennis was not worth Toadstool's injured ankle and a missed half-day. "Yes, maybe he did." But not at the rate their luck was going. "Where is Mario?"
Bowser shrugged. "Like I keep track of all my underlings. But, I happen to see him head over to speak to the ref." He motioned over his shoulder.
"Do you see him, Geno?" Mallow asked.
"I see a red hat," Geno replied. Which could be Mario. Or it could be a fan, or possibly a garden gnome. "Come on. Are you coming, Princess?" Somehow he suspected leaving her alone with Bowser would end poorly, even with their truce.
Toadstool nodded. "Just let me turn. These crutches are tricky."
"Well, if you're all coming," Bowser said. "You're not leaving me out."
The red cap was Mario, who waved them over. The referee, a Mushroom Kingdom woman in black and white, looked up -- and farther up to see Bowser. "Congrats on the match," she replied.
"Hey, you wanted quality, you got it," Bowser replied. "Maybe next year I'll come back and kick some more tail. Wouldn't want to disappoint my fans."
"Indeed." The referee didn't seem horribly impressed, which Geno had to give her some credit for. Bowser seemed to intimidate most people he met. Mario tapped the referee on the shoulder, and she nodded. "As I was telling Mario, you may wish to take care on the road ahead."
"And why is that?" Bowser said. "We're not that easily intimidated, you know."
"Why?" Toadstool said.
"Would it have anything to do with a shooting star?" Geno said hopefully.
"Not with the sea fog we've been getting, Mister," the referee replied. "But, we've heard rumors of pirates up the coast. And a couple of travelers haven't made it back from Seaside Town yet. If you could go investigate..."
Mario was already nodding. Another diversion, Geno thought. Great. At least it would get them farther up the coast, which seemed promising. "Just no more sporting events?" he asked.
"I think we can arrange that, Geno." Toadstool replied.
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