Chapter 1: Bros 4 Lyfe

A breezy summer morning in the idyllic Swedish countryside blew fluffy clouds across blue sky, the same gentle wind that rustled the crisp white sheets on the clothesline just outside Sweden's country home.

The sunshine lit the rolling hills a brilliant shade of green and warmed Sweden with nothing more than a warm, nearly human touch. The peace beyond the walls of the house was the exact reason Sweden had chosen to busy himself with touching up the exterior of his house. Inside, however, four other people were visiting.

But usually, it was three, not four.

Iceland, living slightly isolated (or in this case, ice-solated, haha) from the Nordics on a chunk of volcanic land due west, had a certain naivety that shrouded him. He was young, sixteen years old, soon to seventeen, but Sweden wondered if Iceland actually knew about the basics of life—the inevitable truths, such as the birds and bees, and the fact there were bad people and things out there. Like his older brother, Iceland was well-mannered, but he had a certain youthful shyness to him that Norway's six years of seniority had turned into reticence and steadfastness.

Sweden, difficult to entertain, found it vaguely amusing that Iceland refused to believe they were brothers, even with the proof of a DNA test and the obvious similarities between them in personality and habits. Both were respectful and quiet—Sweden often forgot they were at his house, only to catch himself annoyed with himself and his surprise at finding Norway sitting in the living room or Iceland observing the quiescence of the countryside just by the window, even though they had already been there for three days.

Finland, the most human of them all, Finland visited so often Sweden was accustomed to finding a visitor nearly every time he returned home from a long day. How Finland managed to get into Sweden's house was beyond him; Finland didn't have the house key or anything. He seemed to materialize out of thin air, grinning, usually laden with bags of trinkets, food, or books to share with Sweden and anyone else. Despite Finland's twenty years of age, he was mature, humble and gentle, with a warm heart—the stark opposite of Denmark, the visitor that Sweden wished he hadn't invited. Whether or not Sweden invited him, Denmark would show up and 'crash the party' because Denmark had no sense of humility or common sense. Besides that, Denmark lived for causing trouble, drinking excessively, and doing as he pleased without any consideration of anyone else. Denmark was the one house guest that Sweden deeply resented, and had resented for centuries.

He brushed his brooding thoughts aside and flung white bed sheets over the clothesline, pinning them expertly. Already he could hear barbaric yelling from inside the house, though it was too indistinct and accented for him to make out the exact words. But by the pitch and volume of the voice, he knew it was Denmark.

"What? Ice wants a tattoo?" And that was all Denmark could manage before he succumbed to throes of wild laughter.

Iceland, feeling the rosy flush of humiliation creeping up his neck, folded his arms and gave Denmark a childishly obstinate look. He watched, mortified, as Denmark's laugh turned silent and tears seeped from his tightly-shut eyes. Iceland decided it was time to defend himself. He would not be laughed at for something so trivial.

"What? It's just a tattoo. They're cool." Iceland said under his breath. "You have plenty."

"Yeah, but it's me. I'm badass. That's what makes the difference." Denmark replied through final giggles. Although Iceland would call tattoos of a mermaid, his flag, a crown, and an axe particularly "badass."

Lodging more laughter in the back of his throat, Denmark stood up from the wood floor of the kitchen and surveyed Iceland from head to toe, giving one final hoot of amusement and landing a heavy hand on Iceland's shoulder.

"We're telling your brother." Denmark chuckled as he steered Iceland toward the living room.

"I don't think that's such a good idea." Iceland murmured quickly, casting a nervous glance toward Denmark, who shoved Iceland into the living room.

Reclining gracefully on the couch, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle, book open in hand, and sailor hat placed at a casual angle on his head, was Norway. As soon as Denmark stormed in, Norway looked up from the book he was reading and blinked, unimpressed by this typical behavior.

"Hey, Norway! Listen to this!" Denmark cried, flailing his arms about.

"Is there are problem?" he asked flatly, closing his book. It was difficult to tell what he thinking, or if he was thinking at all, but there was always a bored, dull look to his eyes. Iceland felt ill at ease around his brother, though whether or not his brother felt the same was a mystery.

"Your little bro," Denmark pinched Iceland's cheek in what was supposed to be an affectionate gesture that ended up being quite painful, "wants to get a tattoo. How cute is that?"

"Is that true, Iceland?" Norway inquired.

Iceland was a little hesitant to reply. His brother's expression was so maddeningly indecipherable. Did he or didn't he approve of the idea? But Iceland saw his brother's left eyebrow quirk downward slightly in a gesture of doubt or perhaps vexation as the seconds ticked by.

"Is this true?" Norway repeated, firmer this time.

"Well…yes, it is." Iceland replied hesitantly, scratching his head nervously.

Norway made a noncommittal sound in his throat and uncrossed his legs. He slung them over the side of the couch and rose to full height, stretching slightly. He gave a short sigh.

"Hm. I see." Norway said thoughtfully. He gazed at Iceland for a long time, analyzing him (and probably scouring Iceland's soul) before waving him over. Denmark shoved him toward Norway, and Iceland nearly tripped over a coffee table. Iceland felt hot and uncomfortable, standing there, at the mercy of Denmark and Norway as he awaited one of his brother's verdict he so rarely offered.

Finally, Norway shrugged and said, "Let's take you to the tattoo studio, then."

"Oh—well then." Denmark said, taken aback by Norway's decision. He smiled and gave a carefree shrug.

Even more surprised was Iceland, who was stunned into silence by his brother's reaction. Truthfully, he wasn't expecting that. What Iceland expected was long diatribe aimed at his 'rebellious' ideals and 'bad' tastes. Iceland clambered into the back seat of the car without a word and watched the green hills pass by.

Denmark was chatty, giving bad directions between stories about the adventures he and Netherlands had at a club in Amsterdam last week. Iceland wasn't too thrilled to listen to his stories, which usually involved violence and beer. Unfortunately, it was a fairly long ride to the suburbs, and Denmark showed no signs of running out of stories to bedazzle them with. He blatantly ignored any order of silence that Norway threw at him.

"And then, Netherlands slammed this guy in the mouth! Blood was everywhere—"

"That's disgusting." Norway said flatly, frowning slightly. "Right lane or left lane?"

"That one. Anyway—"

"Are you referring to the right lane?" Norway asked. Iceland noted a bit of irritation in his voice.

"Yeah. Anyway, this guy was so baked, he thought the blood was tomato soup—"

"What do you plan to get a tattoo of, Iceland?" Norway asked. He didn't sound particularly interested, but it was better than listening to Denmark blather on and on about his experiences. Iceland, lost in a turbulent reverie about his mysterious brother, hadn't exactly given that thought.

"Get that volcano. Ejyafjallajokull." Denmark suggested, turning all the way around in his seat to eagerly gaze at Iceland/

"Be quiet. I asked Iceland, not you." Norway muttered. Iceland sank in his seat, feeling put on the spot once again. Norway watched him in the rearview mirror, which only added to Iceland's unease.

"Volcano!" Denmark whispered. "Get it on your back, and then get it so that lava is spewing all the way up to your neck, and add a flaming skull too, and a hot spring with skeletons—"

"Denmark. That's enough." Norway growled. Denmark lifted his hands in a coy act of defense.

"Well, I was thinking about getting a puffin." Iceland said. "Like, just black ink and shaded and stuff—not cartoony."

"A puffin? That's so dumb!" Denmark exclaimed.

"Like the one that follows you around?" Norway asked. He threw Denmark a warning look—Norway would not tolerate any harassment of his younger brother.

"Only at my house. He doesn't like any other place. That's why he's not here now." Iceland replied. He felt incredibly stupid. The puffin didn't even have a name. Iceland didn't want to name it. But Iceland knew him as the cute little birdie that was perched on his head or shoulder in Reykjavik. Denmark scoffed at this comment and Norway nodded thoughtfully.

"That way he'll always be with you even when you're away from home." Norway mused.

"Sure. Something like that." Iceland agreed in hopes of ending the conversation.

Upon arriving at the tattoo parlor, Norway bombarded the tattoo artists with questions about safety, disease transmission, HIV, and experience. Iceland wanted to leave, simply because he felt humiliated. Norway was making a fool of himself, but Norway obviously didn't care—or didn't notice. Once he was satisfied with the answers, he filled out Iceland's waiver quickly and said, "I'll be out here. If you need me, let me know."

"You're not going to watch?" Denmark asked, grinning.

"No, I don't like needles." Norway took a seat on a couch in the waiting area and primly crossed his legs. From his jacket he withdrew the book he was reading and let it fall open to the page he was on in his lap. Norway cleared his throat loudly and shooed Iceland and Denmark to the back, where Iceland would be stabbed by a needle thousands of times. Denmark was supposed to supervise, but he would probably feed risks of tattooing to Iceland throughout the procedure. Pain, HIV risk, etcetera.

The tattoo artist introduced himself with a smile. Iceland tried to smile back—simply looking at the tattooing equipment was a little unnerving. He didn't even want to know how the process went, and this pulled him into another reverie about inventing a way to get tattoos without needles…and it was then he realized he was being asked about where he wanted his tattoo.

"Right shoulder blade." Iceland replied, flustered. He fumbled for something in his pocket, and pulled out a neatly folded piece of paper. He unfolded it and handed it to the tattoo artist. "And, um, could you do that puffin?"

The artist excused himself for a moment to go make a stencil of the image, leaving Iceland and Denmark alone together. Denmark had a mad grin on his face. Iceland knew what this forecasted.

"Pain." Denmark whispered, leaning closer. "Blood. Suffering. Needles. Stabs."

"Shut up." Iceland snapped, glaring at him.

And minutes later, after all the equipment was prepped, Iceland gasped in pain and surprise when the needle first pierced his skin, marking the start of the outlining process.

Throughout the procedure, Denmark continued his adventure story with Netherlands, which the tattoo artist found amusing. Denmark had no shame to tell a stranger about such heinous experiences with the drug lord of the countries. Norway stopped by once or twice, to make sure Iceland was still alive and that Denmark wasn't being too much of a nuisance. Iceland had decided to focus on the buzz of the needle, which drowned out the pain and pushed Iceland into a cloudy, trance-like train of thought. And before Iceland knew it, a bandage was smacked over his tattoo and he was handed a pamphlet on instructions about how to care for the tattoo as it healed. Norway paid, and the three were on their way back to Sweden's countryside house.

"It actually looks really good." Denmark said with an approving nod. "Seriously. And you didn't even cry. Good job."

"Thanks?" Iceland said, shrugging.

"So…this tattoo." Norway piped up, sounding businesslike. "Is this a way to renounce your childhood, or just an impulsive act that you will regret as you age?"

"Way to kill it, Norway." Denmark murmured, frowning.

"Neither, really." Iceland replied. He racked his mind for an actual reason, but he couldn't find one. It was, more than anything, and impulsive act. But Iceland had been pondering this for a while, so it wasn't impulse alone. "I just wanted a tattoo. Of a puffin."

"Innocent enough, right, Norway?" Denmark said, tousling Norway's hair in a rather brusque fashion. Norway pushed him away halfheartedly, keeping his eyes on the long road ahead of him.

"I suppose." Norway said begrudgingly as he smoothed his blond hair.

"Do you not approve?" Iceland asked curiously. He should've said something about it. Iceland wasn't a rebel. He'd not have had the tattoo done if Norway said no, although Iceland wasn't sure why he cared about this man's opinion.

"It's not that." Norway said. "It's more of a…" he paused, searching for the words. "A big brother thing."

A big brother thing. Not very eloquent, particularly for someone as cultured and well-read as Norway. Iceland shrugged. He didn't know what that meant, and he never would, but it was useless to worry about. Besides, Iceland was a bit hungry and wanted to take a nap in the meadow outside.

As soon as they got out of the car, Denmark sprinted inside, yelling about Iceland's tattoo. Iceland actually saw Sweden scowl through the open window at the sound of Denmark's shouts. But Iceland and Norway, normal compared to Denmark, walked calmly, side by side, silently, up the path to the front door. Then, without warning, Norway wrapped an arm around Iceland's shoulders and gave him a manly squeeze. A conservative, nearly undetectable smile followed this brotherly act. Iceland returned the smile shyly, and the two entered the house.

I love the Nordics.