A/N: In the note for "How to Keep Friends," Humon refers to Austria as a "mad scientist." But the events of the strip didn't really bear that out, and he hasn't appeared since. I don't know about you, but that sounds like perfect fanfic fodder to me!
Part 1: Monster Mash-Up
First, a little background.
Norway and Sweden are Denmark's best and second-best friends, respectively, but there are some things he just won't do with them. Like camping. In the woods. Where there are pine trees and butterflies and…and chupacabras, probably. He would in fact slightly prefer to spend the weekend squeezing lemon wedges into his eyes. So when they had the sheer front to invite him along, he gave them a few choice words and stormed back into his house to sulk.
Because you have to have your priorities in order.
Roughly ten minutes after they shrugged and left, the first little spike of loneliness stabbed him in the heart. He downed a beer and called the Netherlands, who was sometimes his third-best friend and sometimes his fourth-best, depending on his mood.
"'Sup?" came the familiar drawl.
"Wanna hang out? Norway and Sweden left me to go frolic with the chupacabras again."
There was a pause, just slightly too long to be that of normal puzzlement. "Are you high?" said theNetherlands.
"What? Of course not. I only get high when I'm with you. So can I come over?"
"To my place? Nah, I'm not at home. I'm on my way to Germany's."
That clinched it-Germany was the friend that the Netherlands kept switching places with in the ranking. "Sweet! I'll join you."
"You know the drill. Bring a case."
That was how it came to pass that Denmark and the Netherlands went to spend the day drinking at Germany's house. It was almost like the set-up to a joke about national stereotypes.
About a beer and a half into the visit, Denmark forgot all about feeling betrayed by his fellow Scandinavians. He had other friends, and they had booze. Story of his life, pretty much. They sprawled around Germany's patio table and passed bottles to each other and clinked them and sang rounds of "Ein Prosit" whenever they lost track of the conversation, which happened an average of every twenty minutes.
Then the bushes rustled in a particularly attention-grabbing way, and that was the beginning of the end.
The three of them shifted in their chairs to stare unsteadily at the foliage. A head—blond, mustachioed, and wearing a pair of goggles like something out of one of the lesser-known Edgar Rice Burroughs novels—rose out of Germany's privets. The head's owner pulled out an electronic recording device and muttered a few brief sentences into it. They would have been largely incomprehensible even to someone who was perfectly sober and contained the names of more Greek letters than was probably healthy for anyone other than a Greek kindergarten teacher.
The head then started to lower again, but Germany—who was better than many at functioning while tipsy, especially when annoyed—reached over to grab the hair and drag the intruder out.
"Austria," he said, "I've told you not to screw around in my garden."
The mad scientist of Europe dusted himself off and peeled off the goggles. "Interesting choice of words there, Germany," he said, waggling his eyebrows. "'Screw.' You know what Dr. Freud would say."
"Dr. Freud wouldn't even admit to his own oral fixation," said Germany. "What are you doing here?"
Denmark burst into a fit of giggles. "You said 'oral.'"
"Ah, Denmark," said Austria. "How I long for the day I can finally introduce your skull to my calipers. And the Netherlands is here too, I see. This must be my lucky day!"
"Forget it," said the Netherlands. "We're here to have a good time, not to let you stick electrodes in our brains."
"You know, it's funny you should mention that, because if you put it in just the right place an electrode can…but I'm getting off the subject. Did you three happen to see…something unusual not too long ago? Did an unfamiliar animal, perhaps, come this way?"
"Oh, Jesus," Germany muttered, rubbing his temples. "What escaped this time?"
"This might take a few minutes to explain," said Austria. "Let me get you some new beers."
While they tucked into the fresh drinks, Austria showed them a photo of his newest pet project. It looked like someone had randomly selected 50 members of the animal kingdom, chucked their DNA into a blender and hit Puree, injected the results into a zygotic nucleus, let it grow to infancy, described it to Tim Burton while he was doodling concept art for his new movie, and then showed the drawing to the Pokémon fans on deviantART and let them indulge their own imaginations.
"Ew, what is that?" said Denmark.
"I call him Fritz," said Austria. "He's a work in progress, but once he's finished he'll contain enough gene sequences to express the genome of any animal in the world! Think of the possibilities!"
"Oh, I get it," said the Netherlands, twitching his nose in distaste. "It's a crime against nature."
Austria pouted. "That's a very short-sighted view. The point is, Fritz got out and I'm not having much luck tracking him. I could use a little help."
"I sincerely hope you find it," said Germany. "But you'll have to look somewhere else. The three of us are taking the day off."
"Are you sure I can't change your minds?" said Austria.
"Yes," they chorused.
"Are you positive?"
"Even if I tell you what I put in your beer?"
"Ye—wait, what?" said Denmark.
Germany dropped his bottle so that he would have both hands free to grab Austria by the shirt. "What—did—you—DO?" he demanded, too alarmed to be properly angry.
"I guarantee you, it's perfectly harmless," said Austria.
Denmark's hair quivered slightly as two strands, thicker and darker than the rest, stood upright and coiled up at the ends.
"Whoa!" said the Netherlands, gawking and pointing.
"Oh, good, it's already taking effect," said Austria. He whipped out a tiny digital camera and snapped a picture.
Denmark reached up to feel the protrusions. "What the hell?" he said. "What's happening to me? What…how come I can smell my fingers?"
"They're antennae," Austria explained as if it were no big deal. "This is promising!"
"Wait…" said Germany. "Antennae as in bug feelers? What did you give us, some kind of bug extract?" Denmark made a squeal of horror.
"Not exactly," said Austria. "Oh, look at your hands! Wonderful!"
The backs of Germany's hands were sprouting blackish fuzz. Now it was his turn to squeal. "I'm turning into the Wolfman!"
Austria slipped the goggles back on and peered more closely at his neighbor's hands. "No, we can safely rule out anything in the canine family. It's not fur."
"Then what is it?"
"Pinfeathers. The barbules show up under magnification." He took more pictures.
The Netherlands started inspecting himself suspiciously. Denmark carried on whimpering and pressing his new appendages down into his hair in the vain hope that they would eventually stop springing back out.
"I slipped you all a little essence of Fritz," Austria said conversationally, "and now you're expressing different parts of his genome."
"I thought you said it was perfectly harmless!" Germany screeched, redoubling his grip on Austria's shirt. The feathers were already growing in larger and thicker and spreading up his arms, and an uncomfortable prickle at the base of his spine suggested a tail was on its way.
"You're not in any pain, are you?"
"That's not the point!"
"Well, if this is how you plan to manipulate us into helping you, forget it! Give us the antidote or you'll be sorry!" Denmark demanded.
"There is no antidote…yet," Austria said smugly. "Can you guess what I need in order to make it? It's really quite brilliant."
"Fritz?" guessed the Netherlands. His consonants came out a little thick and he immediately began feeling his teeth.
"DING DING DING!" Austria whooped. "So really, you have no choice but to help me. To be honest, I'm not sure I could have caught him without the animal abilities you'll all develop as the transformations progress. So it all works out!"
"Progress?" Denmark repeated. "You mean this is going to get worse?"
"Of course not!" said Austria. There was an expectant pause. "It's going to get better!" He flashed them all a toothpaste-ad grin.
With a sustained wail, Denmark flung his arms in the air and ran away.
"Denmark, wait!" said the Netherlands, slurring around his rapidly enlarging incisors. His ears were growing too, and fine fur was coming in all over his body.
Austria regarded the fleeing country through his goggles. "I don't think he'll go far. He'll probably stop at the flowerbeds out front."
"Let's just get this over with," said Germany. "And maybe we should think positive. If I'm turning into a bird I'll at least be able to fly, right?"
"That's the spirit!" said Austria.
They went around the house and found Denmark...hovering…over Germany's wisterias. There was really no other word for what he was doing—he bent close to them, inhaling deeply with a blissful expression while his antennae caressed the petals, and overall seeming that if he picked up his feet he would drift away on the breeze. The only missing element was a literal set of wings, and those would probably be along sooner or later.
The antennae thing was kind of creepy, but he didn't seem to realize he was doing it. Otherwise he would have been freaking out all over again.
"Hey, Denmark. You doing all right?" said the Netherlands, idly scratching behind one elongated ear. (His transformation was the farthest along, and his rabbit features were plainly obvious…especially with the fetching symmetrical markings on his face. Dutch markings, naturally. That might have been why he was taking it so well.)
"I don't know why, but I'm finding this very calming," Denmark murmured. "Pretty, pretty flowers…is anyone else getting hungry?"
"I could eat," said the Netherlands. "Is there a good salad bar around here?"
"No time for that, boys!" said Austria excitedly, fiddling with his goggles. "I've just picked up Fritz's chemical signature! He was here not too long ago! If we hurry, then with any luck you can be back to normal by dinnertime!"
"Okay," said Germany. "Okay. We can handle this. Which way did it go?"
"That's where you fellows come in." He turned to Denmark and clapped his hands imperiously. "Bug Boy! Come over here and apply those feelers to something useful!"
Denmark ambled over, but he didn't look in a cooperating mood. "Let's get a few things straight, Professor Freakshow. Number one: my name is not Bug Boy. Number two: the only reason I am doing this is because we need that little monster in order to be fixed up. You don't get to order me around like a servant. Are we clear?"
"Mm-hmm," Austria said distractedly, adjusting the goggles some more. "All right, I think this spot will give us the best indication of which way Fritz went. Get that magnificent sensory array of yours down to the ground and show us some natural magic!"
Denmark rolled his eyes, but he lowered himself to hands and knees and began…well, sniffing with the antennae. "Guys, I cannot begin to tell you how weird this feels," he said.
"Good!" said Austria. "If it felt normal, you'd still be too human for it to work."
"Can we not keep bringing that up?" Denmark said. "I don't know about this…how am I supposed to pick out a direction? I've never tracked anything by scent before. And this is making my back itch really bad." He shifted position and started scratching.
"It was worth a try," said Austria. "We can explore the immediate area for clues and try again once you're further along."
"I said to stop bringing that up!"
"So, Germany…is there anything near here that might be attractive to a brand-new life form testing taking itself for a test drive?"
"Uh…there's a park."
"That's as good a place as any to start."
There was a brief sound of tearing fabric. "Dammit! I ripped my shirt!" Denmark complained.
"Did you at least get the itch?" said the Netherlands.
"I think so. I…" Denmark trailed off, eyes widening. Something was growing out of his back, right through the tear in the knit. He reached back over his shoulders to feel, and his face went white and he began to tremble like an aspen leaf in the breeze.
If they were supposed to be wings, they weren't very good at it. The immediate impression was that his shirt was giving birth to another shirt, with the second shirt in the usual condition for a minutes-old newborn. Germany and the Netherlands did a double-take of mild disgust, but it didn't last—the damp reddish wad continued to swell and de-wrinkle, just like in those time-lapse videos people post on YouTube.
"It's one of the miracles of nature," said the Netherlands, wiping away a tear. Austria took another photo.
Denmark rose to his knees, flapped his brand new Dannebrog-patterned butterfly wings once, and began to scream at the top of his lungs…
…unless they were spiracles.
To Be Continued…