A distinctive, terrible crunch sounded from the floor, muffled by the carpet and the foot that bore down upon a hopelessly busted pile of plastic. Norway swore and lifted his foot up, inspecting the bottom and wincing as he picked out a broken fragment of toy airplane from his toe. He studied the little emblem on a piece of wing, twirling it in his fingers and sighing.

"Denmark!" he called.

From the kitchen, the door of the fridge slammed closed, and Denmark appeared from around the corner, his arms full of beer and a lone slab of cheese sticking out of his mouth.

"Wh'ron'?" he mumbled.

"I'm going to the store. Emergency shopping."

Norway picked up the toy and held it out for Denmark to see, and the smaller nation's eyes went wide. He sucked in the cheese and swallowed it quickly.

"We're doomed."

"Not unless I can replace it without him noticing," Norway said, shoving the broken parts into his pocket. "Keep him occupied while I'm gone."

"How do I do that? What if he starts asking where it is?"

"Make something up."

"But Norway!" Denmark begged, as Norway grabbed his car keys. "What if he starts crying? I won't make it out alive."

"You'll be fine."

Denmark stared forlornly as Norway quickly left through the door, and kept staring as the car started and drove away. The bottles clinked in his arms as he shivered uncontrollably, turning with spaghetti legs to deposit the beer on the counter in the kitchen. He lined them up and popped each one open, draining them in a record time that would leave Finland mildly impressed. Maybe.

With a little more alcohol-driven confidence, Denmark crept to the back door, poking his head out cautiously.

The happiest three-year-old you ever saw blundered through the grass under a blue sky, a trail of sparkles following him wherever he went. Iceland was wearing Norway's hiking boots, his legs consumed almost completely as he tromped around, scattering terrified butterflies left and right. Denmark flinched as one butterfly flew too close, but he popped his head back out the door again to watch once the coast was clear.

After some time observing and basking in the relief that distracting Iceland would be no trouble, Denmark suddenly noticed the little black shape slinking along behind Iceland, shadowing his sparkles and leaving a trail of flattened grass behind it.

Frowning, Denmark stepped out onto the back porch, peering closely at the shape. Was it a cat? He couldn't tell. The grass was too long, and the sun too bright for him to see properly.

Iceland certainly didn't notice it. He was busily gathering up handfuls of grass and throwing them in the air, giggling as one stray blade landed on his nose and made him go cross-eyed. He tried to blow it off, and in doing so, lost track of where he was running, tumbling head over heels as he accidentally trod on his stray shoelace. He landed on his back, blinking with surprise, the rest of the grass he'd gathered flying up in the air and eventually settling down all over him.

Dreamily, he looked up at the sky, then rolled onto his front, feet kicking with effort. His eyes lit up with delight as he finally saw the shape slithering towards him. It rose up out of the cover of the tall grass at last, chattering and peering down at him with three curious, burning red eyes. A long, two-pronged tail swung behind it, wrapping around the grass and gathering it in bunches the way it had seen the little sparkling boy do just moments before.

Watching from afar, Denmark's eyes popped out of his skull as the thing reared up, and he yipped in terror and bolted for Iceland, just as the creature crouched back on its hind legs and pounced.

Millions of jumbled thoughts burned through Denmark's mind while he ran: about how he'd failed as a babysitter; about what kind of animal, exactly, he was dealing with here; about how devastated Norway would be, returning to find his baby brother ripped to pieces by wickedly long claws; about the insects that buzzed around his head and fueled his insane, loping gait.

He was too far away, and too late, as the slender black creature flew through the air and attacked Iceland, the momentum of its jump sending the pair of them rolling over several times. Iceland squealed, and Denmark's heart turned to ice at the sound, his legs running on autopilot now because his brain was crashing.

Roaring mightily (or, in this case, because it was Denmark, screeching and gibbering in what he thought was a good roar) Denmark made a beeline for the creature, leaping just as it had done – albeit less gracefully - and landing flat on his face a few inches from where his actual target had been.

Spitting out a mouthful of dirt and grass, Denmark pushed himself up, hands dragging himself forward as he reached for the swinging tail that swam lazily in front of him. He reached out against every instinct, grabbed a handful of blackness, and pulled, determined to save Iceland. The creature gave a piercing howl of annoyance, turned, and swung a set of claws at him. Denmark ducked in time not to be decapitated, but was unprepared when the tail disposed of its collection of grass and settled for wrapping around his legs instead.

Only when he was hanging upside-down in the air, flailing all over the place, did Denmark realize that Iceland was not squealing in fear or pain as he had at first thought; the little nation was climbing back onto his feet, one boot slightly askew, and hair ruffled beyond belief. But he was beaming happily, and he stumbled forward and wrapped his arms around the creature's middle, still laughing in excitement.

"Vettlingur!" he purred, releasing the creature and pointing at it.

In response, the creature abruptly released Denmark and turned to Iceland, wagging its tail and sticking out an absurdly long tongue to lick him on the nose. Recovering from his fall, Denmark sat up, and his eye twitched as he saw the saber-like teeth in the animal's mouth, as well as the fire in the back of its throat that matched its ember eyes.

Perhaps Denmark's thinking had gone haywire because of the fact that he was sitting covered in nature; or perhaps it was also the fact that what appeared to be a drooling demon was sitting less than a couple of meters away. Whatever the case was, the quivering nation ran on instinct alone as he scrambled to his feet and fled, screaming in terror, all thoughts of protecting and looking after Iceland evaporating from his brain.

He got perhaps halfway out the front door before he collided headlong with Norway.

"OW! Denmark, what-"

"Norway there's a thing in the back and it's black and it's huge and it has teeth and claws and a tail and it grabbed me and it has Iceland and it has three eyes and-"

"Wait, what?" Norway blurted, stopping Denmark's verbal diarrhea in its tracks. "What has Iceland?"

"A DEMON, Norway!" Denmark wailed, clinging to his best friend. "There's a demon in the back garden!"

Norway could not have moved faster, dropping his shopping bag and Denmark gracelessly as he flung his body through the door and pegged it for the back. His face was set in a determined grimace of concentration as he spotted the black mass that slithered around in the grass. Ignoring the twist in his heart that told him to run as far as possible in the other direction, he set course to strangle the life out of the thing that now held his baby brother up in the air with its tail.

He faltered when he heard Iceland giggling. Skidding to a halt in the grass, he stared in wonder as the demon gently set Iceland down on the ground between its paws and began correcting his messy hair with its tongue, looking in all respects like a large, three-eyed feline mother cleaning its young. Iceland, trying to squirm out of the creature's paws to evade the cleaning, suddenly spotted Norway and beamed brightly.

"Norway!" he squeaked, slapping both hands against the demon's paws. "Vettlingur!"

Norway had no words to return to his little brother. He simply stared, jaw slack, trying to interpret the situation and failing altogether. Behind him, Denmark came slinking up, clinging onto his back and stealing the occasional glance at the demon.

After some time, though, the demon, satisfied that Iceland's hair was right again, absently tried to chase one of his sparkles with its tongue, and released Iceland from its grip. The little nation ran off as fast as his brother's boots would carry him, grinning all the way, until he reached Norway and flung his arms around Norway's knees. Norway bent down and picked him up, clinging to him tightly with something like shock.

The demon rose up and shook itself wildly, then stood there, staring steadily at the strange, two-legged beasts in front of it. Then it chattered again, tail wagging, and turned away, bounding across the yard, consuming butterflies as it went. When it came within close proximity of a grand old tree, the air around it started to ripple, then erupted in a spinning flurry of crimson fire. It was taken up in the air by this bizarre storm, wiggling as it squeezed its way through the borders of this universe and its own. It disappeared just as suddenly as it had bounded off, its tail the last thing to go through before the flurry of sparks and flames spluttered out, leaving behind several areas of smoking grass and the distinct scent of sulphur.

From his position in Norway's arms, Iceland turned and waved, his sparkles intensifying as he watched the spectacle with fascination.

"Bye, Vettlingur!" he called, before grabbing Norway's hand and waving it.

And in spite of his alarm and the still-lingering protectiveness Norway held, the older nation was surprised to find a slow smile spreading across his face. He looked down at Iceland, who turned back to him with that same happy expression, eyes alight and dancing with joy the same way they would for years and years to come.

"Norway, I want airplane!"

Shaking his head and laughing, Norway turned, grabbed onto Denmark's hand with his own free hand, and led the way back into the house, plastic airplane parts poking sharply at his leg through his thigh pocket as he went.