Author's Note: How does aging work in this fic?! I don't even know! It just worked for the story!
Also making Seto talk was actually really difficult, soooo, ummm, sorry?! (Also sorry for the vagueness of what went down in Halloweentown. I planned on Joey asking questions while they were in bed but I can't make the scene work so congratulations you're just as in the dark about it as Joey!)
I don't care if it's not Halloween anymore there's mentions of Thanksgiving and Christmas so it works.
In Our Town of Halloween
Seto let his hands fall to his sides, worn out. He felt a hand rest on his shoulder and was too exhausted to flinch.
Atem gave his shoulder a firm squeeze. "It's over, Seto. Gozaburo is dead and his lackeys have fled Halloweentown. What's left of the 'wolves are going out to track them down. You don't have to worry anymore."
The brunet glanced at the factory building across town, still billowing smoke. "No. No, I think I really do."
His cousin followed his gaze, frowning a little, then looked down at the body in front of them. "He was poisoning candy and putting razor-blades in the bags, Seto. You had to stop him."
Seto thought about telling him all the terrible things his step-father had done to him. He'd been beaten, starved, and forced to create some of the things that would have hurt children this Halloween. He'd wanted to scare children better, not hurt them, but his creations had been twisted into things that would cause chaos.
"…Halloween is in one week," he croaked instead, voice cracking a little. "All of our sugar stores have dwindled to nothing. Once the harvest was taken from the cocoa trees, they were chopped down to fuel the fires in the factory. Someone burnt the cornfields so we have nothing for popcorn balls even if we could scrounge up sugar for caramel. All we have left is pumpkins. I do not even have flour to make cakes or cookies. We have nothing left but weapons that were meant to maim human children."
Atem flinched as he watched the vampire cover his face and huff, trying to hold back tears. He knew things were bad, but he felt things could only get better from there. He'd been so busy fighting for his life that he hadn't thought about the coming Halloween, or any of the resources that had been used up in the process of reclaiming the throne. Seto had always been involved in making kids happy; he should have known he'd tick the days off on his calendar until he could scare them into giggles again.
Halloween was only a week away and they had nothing but chains and barbed wire, poisoned candy, razor-lined candy bags. They had nothing to make new candy with and while the chains and wires could go toward decorating the town, they didn't have anything to decorate the human world. He doubted they could even scrape together enough sugar for a lollipop.
What would Jack Skellington have said about them now?
Atem took in a sharp breath through his nose. "Christmas Town."
Seto took a deep breath, frowning in confusion, then turned to look at him in confusion. "What?"
"Jack left notes, and it's in the history books," the smaller man explained, hurriedly reaching down to grab some of his wayward wrappings. "That year when Jack Skellington stole Christmas, but then came to good terms with Sandy Claws. Come on, it's in the library."
Seto's brows furrowed, but he followed him diligently; the maggots worked quickly in Halloweentown, and it wouldn't take long for them to devour what was left of his step-father (and any other fallen townspeople, he realized with a sharp pang). He hesitated for a moment. "Mokuba—"
"He's fine. I locked him in a closet to keep him from coming after you," the mummy replied, shrugging.
"…You locked my little brother in a closet?" the brunet snapped, glaring at him.
Atem shot him a dirty look. "He bit me when I tried to stop him and the closet was right there!"
Mokuba sneezed as a book was slammed down on the table, dust wafting up as Atem turned the brittle, faded pages as quickly as he dared. He looked up at his brother and scowled when he saw that he'd only wrinkled his nose. Someday he'd be just as scary as Seto, and then he wouldn't sneeze like a little kid because of some dust. "What are we looking for, anyway?"
"I read somewhere, I think Jack Skellington wrote it, or his wife, Sally. It told of a year when Jack, despondent, searched for something new and found his way to Christmas Town. He contrived a way to steal it and become Sandy Claws himself, to deliver toys on Christmas, and failed spectacularly," Atem explained as he carefully scanned the book. "But from his failure he brought a new age of Halloween, each scarier than the last, and his children and his children's children followed in his footsteps. Coincidentally, that only stopped after your step-father murdered my father and turned our town into an industry."
Mokuba looked up at his brother again. "Do you remember Jack Skellington, Seto?"
Seto scowled at him. "Exactly how old do you believe I am?"
The younger boy raised an eyebrow. "Do you really want me to answer that?"
"I was turned around the same time that Jack and Sally Skellington passed away. I do recall their children and vague rumors of Christmas Town," the brunet sighed, because wow, he really was that old. He wondered if this meant he could yell at kids to get off his grave dirt and get away with it.
"What we're really looking for," Atem cut in, glaring at them for a moment. "Is the fact that Jack Skellington and Sandy Claws parted on good terms. Perhaps we could go and ask for aid from Christmas Town. If I recall correctly, they at least make candy. We can scrape something together for decorations ourselves if we can depend on them for some candy."
Seto turned and looked at the factory through the manor's cracked and dusty windows, frowning. "The chains could be… useable. The barbed wire, of course, that will have to be given to the town. I suppose I can try and find some of the tarantulas, see if they are still alive and collect some silk."
"If you can find them, let Ryou collect the silk," the younger man ordered, using his finger to track down the page before he turned it and continued skimming. "He's always been better at coaxing the tarantulas to behave. He'll be glad to have them back, and they'll be glad to be back home."
"Probably," Mokuba added darkly. He and tarantulas had never seen eye-to-eye.
Seto looked at him for a moment, then decided not to ask about it, because he probably didn't want to know. He loved his brother dearly, but he did not always understand him.
"Here it is!" Atem exclaimed excitedly. "Listen, it's—Oh my pumpkins, they wrote in rhyme back then."
The three men paused to get their disgust under control. Poetry. They weren't cupids.
Atem cleared his throat, then read, "'My dear Jack,' said Sandy, 'I applaud your intent. I know wreaking such havoc was not what you meant. And so you are sad and feeling quite blue, but taking over Christmas was the wrong thing to do. I hope you realize Halloween's the right place for you. There's a lot more, Jack, that I'd like to say, but now I must hurry, for it's almost Christmas day.' Then he jumped in his sleigh, and with a wink of an eye, he said 'Merry Christmas,' and he bid them goodbye. Back home, Jack was sad, but then, like a dream, Sandy brought Christmas to the land of Halloween."
Seto paused to take this in, then turned to walk out of the mansion. "I would prefer to rip out my own toenails."
"That does sound a little… cheery and nice," Mokuba added hesitantly, brows furrowing together. "I'm surprised Seto didn't just throw up."
The mummy wrinkled his nose. "I'm surprised I didn't throw up. Gross."
The younger boy frowned and said, "I really don't think we should be calling Sandy Claws and Christmas Town gross if we're about to go beg them for help."
Atem thought he'd rather hang himself with his wrappings, but decided he couldn't leave Seto alone with this mess.
"This is creepy. And I hold the market on creepy," Seto said, lifting his lantern to peer into the Hinterlands. "Are you sure you cannot go there by yourself?"
"Jack Skellington was overcome with awe while he was there; I need you to keep me grounded." Atem stomped through the dry leaves as he examined the map he'd found pressed between the pages of the tome he'd been pouring over for more information. "I really don't want to go on a stealing spree when I get there. He stole the 'C' from the Christmas Town sign. That just seems offensive on top of stealing Christmas altogether."
The brunet sighed. "Can you at least allow me to navigate? You are terrible at reading maps."
"I am not!"
Seto rolled his eyes toward the bare branches of the trees and sighed again. Atem made him sigh a lot.
They stiffened as they heard more feet tromping through the leaves, and then flashes of gold and red. Atem screamed and leapt into his cousin's arms.
Seto would have dropped him if he hadn't been planning on throwing him at whatever attacked and running.
Two women with tangled hair and bloody mouths peered out of the shadows at them. The older woman's eyes flashed red again, and the brunet promptly dropped the mummy in frustration. "It is just werewolves."
"Agh!" Atem flailed and grunted when he hit the ground. "Shit!"
The alpha werewolf stared at the Pumpkin King for a moment, eyebrows almost in her hairline, before she turned her eyes on the brunet and lifted a hand to pick between her teeth with her claws. "Gozaburo's lackeys have been taken care of. We're going to rest before Halloween and the Full Moon."
Seto inclined his head to acknowledge it. "Thank you for your service."
"Oh, honey," the younger woman sighed, smiling a little. "Mom has wanted to tear out Johnson's throat since he hit on her."
The alpha sniffed in disgust. "He told me that he'd make my tail wag."
Seto and Atem flinched. Telling a werewolf that they would make them feel something so much they'd act like actual canines was a death wish on the best of days.
"Well. We'll let you get back to what you were doing, whatever that was," the younger woman added, waving a little, before they melted back into the shadows.
"…Werewolves scare me," Atem muttered, brushing some dirt from his wrappings.
Seto took a moment to straighten his jacket. "Well, just be glad that she was only after Johnson and was uninterested in you." They both took a moment to shudder at the thought. "Anyway, provide me the map and I will get us to Christmas Town."
"You're going the wrong way if you're going to Christmas Town!" the alpha barked from behind them, and they were reminded of just how excellent werewolf hearing was. "Turn due east!"
"Isn't that where we're going?" Atem asked, frowning.
"GIVE ME THE MAP!" Seto roared, and snatched the map from his hands.
The mummy held his hands up defensively before glancing back at the werewolves and frowning. "I wonder how she knows how to get to Christmas Town."
The brunet huffed and snapped, "Are you willfully ignorant? There was a huge uproar twenty years ago when she left to mate with an outsider and then another upheaval five years ago when she came back without her mate and a child in tow. Honestly, Atem, it is like you would not know any of the townspeople if it was not for me."
Atem beamed up at him. "That's why you're the mayor!"
"I DID NOT EVEN RUN FOR MAYOR! PEOPLE JUST STARTED CALLING ME BY THAT!" the vampire snarled. He thought about picking up his cousin and throwing him just to feel better, but hurriedly reminded himself that Halloween was in a week and Sandy Claws would probably rather negotiate with the Pumpkin King than with a mayor that hadn't even been correctly elected.
"I don't know what Jack Skellington was talking about. I have no desire to steal anything," Atem stated, crossing his arms and trying to pull his wrappings tighter. "Also, it's cold."
Seto rolled his eyes skyward and sighed, then grabbed his cousin by the bandages around his neck and dragged him down the hill. "I am sure Sandy Claws will be glad to hear that you have no such kleptomania."
"Can I borrow your jacket?"
"Mummies do not wear jackets. We had this discussion the last time I suggested that you should put on some clothes over your wrappings. 'I would not be as scary then,' you said."
Atem scowled. He'd experimented wearing clothes over his wrappings. He looked stupid. "Fine. Just leave me to suffer then."
"Your suffering always brings me joy," Seto deadpanned.
The mummy couldn't even laugh, because it was actually true. He mournfully thought about how from anyone else, that phrase could have been a joke. Sometimes he wished that Seto hadn't been 'alive' so long, because clearly the years had worn away his sense of humor.
"Oh for the love of pumpkins," the brunet spat. "Gingerbread houses."
"WHY?!" Atem shouted, throwing his hands up. He paused when he heard jingling, then turned, frowning a little when he saw all the small creatures looking up at him, the bells on their hats and shoes still vibrating.
"…Long-lost relatives?" Seto asked after a moment.
The Pumpkin King seriously thought about punching his cousin in the balls, because he thought this was the kind of thing to be joked about. "Don't disparage my height."
The brunet smirked. "You mean the lack thereof?"
Luckily, one of the jingly creatures approached them, its hat bobbing as it waddled with expert ease over the cold snow. "Good evening, and welcome to Christmas Town!" He swept his hat off his head and bowed, exposing curly blond hair and pointed ears that had been hidden under the thick green cap. He popped back up straight and placed his hat back on, the silver bells jingling beautifully. "Is there anything I can help you with?"
Seeing that the brunet looked like he might just explode with disgusted rage, Atem quickly replied, "We were hoping we could meet with Sandy Claws. I'm the Pumpkin King, from Halloweentown. It's actually rather an emergency, if we could just—"
"Oh, right this way!" another elf said, hurriedly motioning for them to follow her. She smiled sweetly when the blond elf shot her a dirty look. "You were supposed to go fetch the reindeer for a test flight."
Seto fought not to wrinkle his nose in disgust as they approached the brightest, most warm-looking gingerbread house on the lane. He kept reminding himself that he needed assistance in making Halloween happen. He'd been doing this for centuries and refused to ruin his record as the second-best scare-er after Atem (some years he might even have been scarier, but with this new vampire craze sweeping the globe, he'd lost that 'beautiful undead' aspect, and he refused to douse himself in glitter to appeal to anyone).
"Come inside please!" she exclaimed cheerfully, before Seto could even pause outside the door.
They were swept into a rather messy looking room, lists everywhere and every available surface covered in knickknacks or plates with half-munched cookies or glasses filled with milk or—Seto sniffed, and grimaced—eggnog. The man sitting behind the desk looked positively jolly, cheeks flushed red and stroking his white beard.
Seto reached over and snuck some bright green slime into one of the glasses just to soothe his frazzled nerves. Someone would be scared when they cleaned the dishes, at least.
Atem cleared his throat when the old man failed to acknowledge them, still scratching at the long piece of parchment he was pouring over. "Sandy Claws?"
The man jumped, turned toward them in surprise, then, surprisingly, beamed at them. "Hello! You must be from Halloweentown! I'd recognize eyes like that anywhere! Have a seat, have a seat!"
The two spooks looked at each other awkwardly. Usually people weren't happy to see them, let alone ask them to stay. It was a bit out of their depth. Finally, though, Atem sank into one of the warm, squishy velvet chairs, eyebrows rising in surprise at how comfortable it was despite not having any nails or sharp pins in it. Seto awkwardly stood next to the window, unable to bring himself to relax after recent events. It would probably take him decades to unwind enough to sit.
"So, what can I do for you two ghouls?" Sandy Claws asked jovially.
Seto's eye twitched.
"Er—We, um, we read in one of our history books that you and Jack Skellington parted on good terms?" Atem finally said, fidgeting with his wrappings. "And we were hoping for assistance. Some things have happened, recently—"
"Halloween was sabotaged. We took care of the perpetrators, but we have no means to recreate everything that was ruined, and we thought that you could help," Seto cut in, unwilling to listen to Atem sugarcoat anything when the room was clearly already sickly sweet.
Sandy Claws blinked at him in surprise, then looked at the mummy, frowning. "You have nothing at all?"
"…Seto said he couldn't even get together enough sugar to make a single lollipop," Atem muttered, brows furrowing together. He shifted in the seat, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. It figured that his rein would be the one to bring disaster to Halloween. "And our cocoa trees have all been destroyed."
The old man stroked his beard and sat back in his seat, brows furrowing together thoughtfully. "And you've come to ask for help?"
"We thought, maybe you could lend us some sugar, or some chocolate, or… or just anything," the mummy finished, shoulders sagging. "Or there won't be a Halloween this year."
"I don't have any cocoa," Sandy Claws sighed, looking deeply apologetic. "And our sugar stores are running a bit low as well. The cupids haven't given us any in years, and we're due for payment for a delivery from some of the Hounds, but I don't think you have anything the Hounds would want."
"What do the Hounds require for payment?" Seto asked, lifting his head a little. He was wealthy enough; he could probably pay them. He'd give them everything if it meant making it through this Halloween. He could rebuild afterward.
"They… ask for a fully grown reindeer for food. They live out in the snow." The old man looked deeply uncomfortable. "After they eat, they bring us boulders from the sugar quarry out there."
Atem frowned. "There's nothing we could do to convince them?"
"Well, perhaps Yugi could convince his friend. He's somewhat of a freelancer and will sometimes bring some pretty large rocks of sugar to the house as long as we give him some cookies," Sandy Claws murmured thoughtfully. "I'd hate to leave you in the lurch. Halloween tides the kids over until Christmas, since Thanksgiving is more of an adult holiday."
The old man nodded decisively. "It doesn't hurt to ask. I'll get Yugi to call for him while I go get my coat." He paused in the doorway to look at them. "…You can wait outside, if you want."
Atem opened his mouth to thank him but was cut off by a loud creak and a blast of cold, snowy air. "AGH!"
Seto had fled out the window and was standing on the underside of the roof, wrapping his coat around him in lieu of his sensitive wings to block out the cheerfully blinking Christmas lights.
Atem would have teased him, but he saw the tiniest of overwhelmed trembles run through the vampire. He knew Seto didn't like to ask for help, and he hadn't stepped foot out of Halloweentown since he'd been turned and brought to live there. He was probably completely overwhelmed and humiliated, considering it was his sire that had destroyed the town.
Calling Yugi's friend was apparently as easy as throwing some peppermint sticks in the fire. He'd smell it, the smaller boy said, smiling just as brightly as his grandfather.
Seto wanted to gouge his eyes out. He stole some peppermint extract instead because it did smell good and he wanted to experiment with it.
It took a while. Seto gave up his jacket when he saw Atem begin to shiver (and would lord it over him later). He paced around, casting his superior hearing out across the expanse of icy tundra, but he couldn't hear anything over the sound of the blizzard building up outside the safety of the town limits.
Then suddenly there he was, melting out of the white background, covered in a thick, blond fur coat. He stepped out of the snow and shook his head, dislodging the snow that had built up as he walked, then pushed his wet hair out of his eyes and glanced up at them. "Hey."
"Hi, Joey!" Yugi exclaimed, approaching him quickly with a pair of pants. He jumped back in surprise when another figure melted out of the snow, shaking ice from his head as well. "Oh."
"So Hirutani's not gonna be a problem anymore," the blond drawled, holding his hand out to examine his sharp nails. "We were on our way here t' tell ya. Ya need some sugar from the quarry, right? We'll go get it."
Sandy Claws frowned. "What do you mean, Hirutani's not going to be a problem?"
Joey smiled, showing all of his sharp teeth. "If I tell ya, you'll be me on the Naughty List." The way his eyes sharpened, though, told the tale; Hirutani wasn't going to be a problem because of him. "Sugar?"
Yugi gaped up at him, stunned, but shook it off quickly. "Actually, Joey, we might need extra. …Like, a lot more than we would seem to need."
The blond's sharp brown eyes trailed over the Halloweentown denizens before moving back to his friend. "Those guys need some, huh? What's in it for me?"
Sandy Claws looked even more distressed at that, which made sense, considering he embodied a very giving holiday. Yugi, however, seemed to understand the Hound. "If they don't have sugar, there's no Halloween."
Atem and Seto flinched when both the Hounds looked at them critically. The brunet made a low noise in the back of his throat. "Halloweentown needs help?"
"How are the werewolves?" Joey asked, bristling a little. "They okay?"
"Last we saw, yes," Atem answered, confused but hurrying to placate. "The alpha was quite pleased to have—" He glanced at Sandy Claws, then paused awkwardly. "Ah…"
"Johnson said he would make her tail wag," Seto cut in, figuring that the Hounds would understand.
Both of the Hounds bristled, but the brunet almost immediately calmed, corner of his mouth quirking up in amusement. "Man, your mom's scary."
The blond sniffed. "My ma is an alpha." He soothed his hackles down. "How much sugar we talkin' about?"
Atem looked up at his cousin and frowned. "How much do we—"
"Since we are not making popcorn balls, and we have no cocoa—how much may I ask for?" Seto asked.
The brunet snorted. "You make the candy?"
"I make the candy," the vampire confirmed, glaring at him. "I also bake. The emperor tasted some cakes I prepared and cried tears of joy. It was uncomfortable."
The blond Hound let out a surprised bark of laughter. "I bet." He looked down at his claws thoughtfully, then shrugged. "I'll bring ya what I can. Ya said ya have no cocoa though? I thought Halloweentown was only second t' Valentine Town when it came to cocoa production." When the two ghouls awkwardly looked away, he pursed his lips. "One o' those things, huh?"
"…Cupid owes you," the brunet Hound said slowly.
Joey paused, then tilted his head. "He does."
"…And Tom Turkey owes you."
"…Easter Bunny owes you, too."
"Why do all of these people owe you?" Sandy Claws asked suspiciously.
Joey just smiled at him before turning sharply toward the brunet. "Send Mai t' Cupid. Even if he tries t' put up a fuss, she's vicious."
"He's wronged her too, so that's perfect."
"Send Bakura after Tom, too, 'cause that guy even scares me," he ordered, moving back into the blizzard. "And Duke can finagle anything outta the Easter Bunny—"
Their voices faded as they disappeared into the snow.
"…Wait, does that mean they're helping us then?" Atem asked in surprise.
"Joey has a soft spot for Halloweentown," Yugi answered, shrugging, and began ushering them back to the house to wait inside. "He's only half Hound and grew up hearing all about Halloween from his mother until she left. Sometimes I think he'd be happier there, being half werewolf."
The Pumpkin King hummed in sudden understanding. "Oh, so that's why the alpha knew how to get here."
Seto grabbed a handful of snow and shoved it down his wrappings with rage.
Joey returned the next day, strapped to a large sledge with a leather harness. He was in a canine form, though, a beast so large that Seto didn't even need to look down to meet his eyes. His sheer size would probably have been shocking enough on its own, but on the sledge was a large boulder of sugar—at least two and a half tons, if not more.
Seto may have squeaked a little. It was a lot of sugar.
The vampire and mummy were further impressed when the blond trudged past him, straining a little in the snow instead of on the ice of the tundra but soldiering on. When he reached the hill on which the door that would lead them back to the Hinterlands resided, he paused, not in movement but in thought. He circled the hill carefully, the sledge's runners digging deep tracks in the snow and packing it down.
The elves figured out the problem and quickly set about strapping the boulder firmly to the sledge so that it wouldn't roll off as the blond climbed the hill. Once it was stationed firmly on the sledge, the blond canine turned and began struggling up the considerable slope.
"I feel like we should help him," Atem finally said, frowning.
"You will most likely end up dragged behind that sled when your wrappings get tangled in the runners," the brunet replied.
The mummy glared up at him. "Well, you could help him."
"Just how strong do you believe I am?!" Seto exclaimed, spinning to shoot him a confused glare. "I have considerable strength, but I have no traction on snow, and as a bat, my strength diminishes significantly!"
"…Does he always talk like that?" Yugi asked the mummy quietly.
Atem shrugged. "He lived during a time when they spoke very… intelligently, for lack of a better term. Pompously, or respectfully, clearly, perhaps would work as well. They were very proud of their superior language back then."
"You were not even alive when I was born," the vampire pointed out, glaring at him. "I am centuries old!"
Yugi looked up at him, eyes bright with curiosity. "How old are you?"
Seto blinked at him in surprise before finally answering, "…Old."
"He has the number written down somewhere in his room because he had difficulty keeping track after his second century," Atem added, smirking.
Seto thought about throwing him face-first into the snow, but the blond was approaching the top of the hill. "I will assist Joey through the door and do my best to begin preparations. Unfortunately, most of the citizens of Halloweentown are still wary of coming out of their homes, but I will at least start the work."
"I'll try and coax people out as soon as I get back," the mummy answered, nodding. "I'll stay here to keep out of your way while you get everything set up."
"Hurry back. I will concentrate on the confections and you can work on the treat bags. Mokuba—" Seto paused. "…Ryou can probably handle decorations," he amended, because they'd found the tarantulas.
All of them. By walking into a large web. They'd doubled in size.
At least Ryou had been pleased.
Seto was only a little surprised to see the blond had slowed nearly to a stop on the barren ground of the Hinterlands. "I can acquire a cart."
Joey turned to give him the side-eye, then glanced at the roots covering the ground. The runners on the sledge would probably be better than the wooden cart Seto had been thinking about. He wasn't even sure that the cart could hold a load that heavy.
"Would you like me to… push?" the brunet asked after a moment.
"Please don't," a voice called out, and the vampire turned in surprise to see the alpha werewolf approaching, her daughter bouncing beside her. Behind them were a few other werewolves following at a more sedate pace.
The alpha shed her clothes unashamedly and quickly shifted into her wolf form, growing even larger than the blond Hound and rushing to tap noses with him. Seto felt a dull pang at the sight of their reunion, but it was so small he didn't even bother to acknowledge it. He'd forgotten his parents' faces long ago and could only hope Gozaburo's face would fade quickly. Mokuba and Atem were the only family he had now and all he wanted.
Seto watched all of the werewolves gather around the blond or the sledge and help him pull or push the boulder of sugar through the thick roots until the runners slid from the wood and onto the slippery detritus of leaves that constantly rotted on the ground. Once there, the blond Hound dug into the dirt and began shouldering most of the weight again until the runners on the sledge scraped against the cobblestones of the Town Square.
Like a well-oiled machine, the werewolves spread out a surprisingly clean sheet on the ground beside the sledge. They procured hammers and wedges from seemingly nowhere and went to work breaking the large boulder down, tossing the smaller and more manageable pieces of rock sugar onto the sheet. As they worked on that, more werewolves arrived, carrying a strange-looking machine that looked partly like a sausage grinder and partly like a flour sifter.
Once the contraption was set up, Seto watched with interest as the werewolves began cranking the handle of it. The smaller rocks of sugar were lifted into the grinder part and, with a loud, jarring crunching, were broken down into even smaller pieces. Those pieces fell from the grinder into the sifter, where it was broken down into the granules Seto would need to make the treats. It seemed that the older, more experienced werewolves were the ones tasked with breaking down the boulder and the younger ones were left to crank the machine.
After watching the young werewolves switch off for the third time, Seto stripped off his jacket and shouldered them out of the way, taking up the job himself. He needed the sugar quickly, and he had centuries of hard work behind him. He could probably crank for days before he fatigued, and he needed the sugar as soon as possible.
"Wow," Atem murmured, eyes wide, as he stepped into the factory that his cousin had only a few days ago shut down. It was up and running again, though, for an entirely different reason than chains and barbed wire.
Apparently everyone owed Joey something. They'd gotten bags of cocoa and some cocoa trees to replace the ones Halloweentown had lost from Cupid. Tom Turkey had sent pounds upon pounds of flour and corn. The Easter Bunny had given them dozens of eggs and quarts of honey.
Seto had set up an assembly line for candy. Mokuba was walking up and down the hard candy line, inspecting and trying different ones for quality control and helping the people whose candy was not yet up to par. Ryou was working the taffy line with all the skill of an expert spider-silk weaver, leaving the others working with him staring in awe even as they worked their own ribbons of gooey taffy. The werewolves were working popcorn balls so quickly that there would probably be excess for the town to enjoy (which made sense, because werewolves had always made the best popcorn balls).
Seto, however, was over at a table working a ball of dough between his hands, the mixture tinted orange from pumpkin. As Atem watched, the brunet slid the mound of dough in front of the blond Hound and made him knead it for a few minutes to make sure it was to his satisfaction before he turned and grabbed another lump of dough to work.
He approached cautiously. Seto was a tricky creature to converse with even when he was too busy working to worry about being mean. "You usually do the baking by yourself."
"Joey dropped a large piece of rock on his foot and broke it. He is too injured to stand in one of the lines," Seto replied swiftly.
Atem looked toward the blond for confirmation only to find him keeping an eye on his dough with the intenseness of a thousand suns. "…I see."
"Also he is a horrendous cook and I fear he might inadvertently set himself on fire."
The mummy blinked. "Even on the popcorn balls?"
"Ma won't lemme 'cause I can't control my kernels and I usually eat more than I make," Joey mumbled, brows furrowing together as he used a rolling pin to spread the dough out. He motioned at the dough to make sure he'd rolled it enough, then grabbed one of the pumpkin-shaped cookie cutters and began stamping out cookies with probably a little more force than necessary.
"…How long have you been working," Atem asked slowly, narrowing his eyes.
Seto handed the blond a cookie sheet. "Sixty-three hou—uh." He flinched. "Minutes. I have been working for sixty-three minutes."
"You are a liar and you know that you need to sleep at some point!" His cousin looked him over quickly. "You're going to fall asleep standing up again."
The vampire looked at him in disgruntlement. "I have been taking care of myself for three hundred and fifty-seven years."
"If I remember correctly, that's only because Mokuba usually pesters you into your coffin."
Joey looked up from his cookie sheets. "You actually sleep in a coffin?"
Seto snarled, cheeks tinting pink. "I DO NOT SLEEP IN A COFFIN."
The blond almost looked disappointed. "Oh." He turned back to carefully putting his dough on the cookie sheets.
"…Do you want me to sleep in a coffin?" the vampire asked, brows furrowing together.
"Well it's not scary if ya go to sleep on a waterbed," the Hound drawled, shrugging.
Seto looked lost for words. "…It's a king-size comfort-foam mattress."
Joey looked up at him in appalled disbelief. "You sleep on a comfort-foam mattress?!"
"My body is over three and a half centuries old!" the vampire snapped. "Pardon me for not coveting the thought of having to be rolled out of bed because I am too stiff and sore to struggle out of it myself!"
"Ya look pretty spry for a guy with a foot in two different graves," the blond mumbled, scowling.
Atem raised his eyebrows as he watched his cousin's fingers clench in the dough. He normally only refrained from hurting people he li—
Seto turned toward him in alarm. "Oh?"
The mummy smiled coyly. "Yes, oh."
"NO!" the vampire roared, then turned and buried his head in his arms.
Joey stared at him. "What."
"You look like you could use a drink!" Atem said cheerfully, ignoring his question. "Hard slime? Crabapple cider, perhaps?"
The blond eyed him skeptically. "…Curdled milk, if ya have it."
The mummy was somewhat impressed by the way the werewolf and Hound blood played off each other. Milk was more of a Christmas drink, but he couldn't imagine Sandy Claws or the elves drinking it curdled. He wasn't as large as the werewolves when they transformed, but he wasn't as small as the Hounds. He didn't crowd together like the werewolves did, always touching each other, but he was always near the pack that he'd taken as his after a bloody fight for dominance with Hirutani. He wasn't mean, but he wasn't exactly nice either.
It figured that Seto would become attracted to such a walking contradiction. He always seemed to make things hard on himself.
"Would you like a roasted rat, Joey?" Mokuba asked politely.
The blond eyed him suspiciously. "Nah."
"Joey, you have to eat something," his mother scolded, reaching out to place a roasted rat on his plate. "You're being rude!"
"Maaaaaa," Joey moaned, sagging in his seat. "You're embarrassin' meeeeeeee!"
"You are old enough to know how to act and Mokuba is your elder so—"
"He looks like he's twelve!"
Atem frowned thoughtfully around his mouthful of beetles. "Well, he was around twelve when he was turned, from what Seto says."
The younger vampire scowled. "I'm one-hundred and ninety-eight."
Seto reached over and swatted him lightly on the arm. "Adults eat more slime."
"Slime is gross!" the boy exclaimed.
The brunet sighed and rolled his eyes to the dusty ceiling of the mansion. "You are very mature, Mokuba."
"Have some slime," the alpha werewolf ordered, slopping some onto the younger vampire's plate.
"But—" Mokuba began, complaints on the tip of his tongue.
"Eat," the older woman ordered, eyes flashing dangerously.
Seto watched as Joey, Atem, and Mokuba began wolfing down their food in terror and looked down at his own roasted rat. He pushed it around his plate awkwardly before instead grabbing his goblet of blood and draining it in several long gulps. He was truly getting old; solid food didn't appeal to him anymore.
He began to stand. "I should return to work." The blond's mother shot him a dirty look. He returned to his seat.
She clasped her hands and cleared her throat. "Joey has said that he's willing to bring you a shipment of sugar each year until we can get our own sugar production back up. Our sugarcane went up in smoke fairly quickly, so perhaps we should try sugar beets instead. The trip is too long and our equipment too old to do this every year, and Santa doesn't have enough time to make us a new one."
"I could construct a new one," Seto answered, looking offended that they thought he couldn't.
The alpha pursed her lips. "Joey would still have to bring the rocks here."
"Oh. Yes, I suppose that is correct."
Joey peeked up from his food, frowning. "I can make the trip every year, Ma. It'll give me an excuse t' see you and Serenity more often."
Seto felt the pang of missed family this time when he saw the proud alpha's face melt. It was clear that she loved her son, even if she'd had to leave him behind. He'd been in Christmas Town too long to be Halloweentown bad, even though he'd probably never be completely good or nice like the elves or Sandy Claws and his family.
He wondered if his parents had missed him.
"Be that as it may," the alpha werewolf said, clearing her throat to dislodge the lump that had formed there. "We shouldn't depend on you for the entirety of our sugar. We need to be independent. Unless you want us to pay you, Joey, but I can't imagine we have anything you want."
"Ya can pay me in pumpkin baked goods 'cause that stuff was like eatin' orgasms," Joey offered hopefully, sitting up a little straighter.
Seto blushed a little and glanced down at his plate. "Um."
"Joseph Martin Wheeler," his mother hissed, glaring at him sharply. "That is not a word we use at the supper table."
"Ugh, Ma, I've been living with Dad, what the fuck did you expect from me?" the blond snapped, glaring at her.
"…I am going to depart now," Seto told his cousin and brother quietly, then quickly dashed from the table.
Atem and Mokuba weren't fast enough, and the alpha werewolf turned her attention back to them before they could flee after him.
Seto woke up tied to his bed with a tarantula on his chest because of it. Mokuba may have hated tarantulas, but he hated eating slime more.
Seto stared at the door to the werewolves' house, frowning. It figured that they'd have a wolf's head for their knocker. He looked down at the pumpkin pie he was holding, then turned and began to walk away. "No, no, no, this is not happening. I refuse."
"Who are ya talkin' to?"
Seto jumped and turned around. "Uh. Good evening."
Joey glanced around awkwardly before looking back at him. "Yeah. Um, didja need somethin'? You were standin' out here for a while."
"…Here," the vampire muttered, shoving the pie into his hands. He nearly fled after that; it had been decades since he'd tried to woo someone, but shoving food at someone didn't seem to be right, from what he recalled.
The blond's face brightened. "Oh! Thanks! Is this 'cause of what I said yesterday? Because I don't wantcha t' think I'd expect payment." He used his claws to cut a decent-sized piece and pulled it out of the tin, lifting it up and taking a hefty bite. He moaned loudly. "Oh my stockings. You make such great food."
Seto let out a quiet, frantic squeak and fled. He hadn't gotten so hard so quickly since he was newly-turned and couldn't control all of his urges.
"Uh… thanks?" Joey called after him, confused, then shrugged and turned to limp back into the house.
"Ya know ya really don't hafta do this," Joey mumbled around a chocolate-chip pumpkin cookie.
Seto sighed loudly and with feeling. "On the contrary, I certainly must."
The blond give him a weird look. "Snowflakes. It's like talkin' t' an old book."
The vampire frowned in concern. "Do you find my way of speech unfavorable?"
"…That's adorable," Joey cooed, reaching up to pat his cheek. "You're adorable."
"…Do you find that… agreeable?" Seto reached up to touch his cheek, skin still tingling at the blond's warmth.
"Huh?" The Hound blinked at him before his face melted into an expression of slow understanding. "Oh."
Seto scowled. "Why do people do that when I find someone attractive?"
"Oh pumpkins." The blond looked delighted. "I haven't seen someone as smitten as you since Tristan and Duke noticed Serenity wasn't a pup anymore!"
"I cannot tell if you are mocking me. This appears to be mocking," the vampire spat, glaring at him.
Joey cupped his cheeks and drew him down to tap noses with him. "Hon', I'm goin' back t' Christmas Town after my foot heals. Why wouldja wanna start a long-distance relationship?"
"I recall that you expressed a desire to visit Halloweentown more frequently." Seto raised his eyebrows as the blond moved his face closer and rubbed their noses together. "Perhaps… perhaps you might also call on me, when you do."
The Hound nipped the corner of the vampire's mouth, then leaned back, smiling with eyes half-lidded. "Maybe I will. You could always come visit me, too. There's a house on Candy Cane Lane that doesn't have any twinklin' lights on it. That's the one Yug' lets us stay in when the blizzards get so bad we might not survive." He winked playfully. "No one 'll care if I they hear a few screams from my room."
Seto frowned in concern. "Why would you scream?"
"Oh my pumpkins," Joey groaned, rolling his eyes. "I gotta be totally gone on ya if I think your obliviousness is attractive. Because we'll be havin' sex, you dummy."
The vampire paused before carefully placing his hands on the blond's hips. "…I had carnal relations with a banshee once. She screamed and made me lose consciousness. You cannot do that, correct?"
Falling to the ground because he was laughing so hard wasn't exactly the response Seto wanted, but he'd take it.
Joey paused when he saw Seto sitting at the edge of the oily fountain in the town square, then frowned, changing course so he limped over to him instead of toward his mother's house. "Hey."
"Good evening." The brunet looked away from the moon, which was always full in Halloweentown, to watch the Hound sit next to him. "I assumed you would be partaking in Halloween with the others."
"Nah. Nothin's scary about a wolf with a limp," the blond replied, shrugging, and motioned at his foot that was still wrapped tightly. "'sides, Ma mentioned that ya don't usually go scarin' on Halloween and spend it all alone."
Seto sighed and rolled his eyes. "I am not… adept at scaring children. They have very different opinions of what is 'scary' than I do." He paused, then added, "Also, last year Mokuba was mauled by teenage girls. Apparently vampires are the newest fad. Vampires that sparkle, if I remember correctly?" He frowned. "Atem had to rescue him. It was a very strange year."
"Ah." The younger man hummed thoughtfully and turned to face him, so their knees were touching. "Well, glad I don't hafta see your little brother gettin' mauled."
"I am told it was terribly amusing once they got beyond the squabbling." The brunet smiled a little as the Hound gently cupped his cheeks in his hands, even though he knew those hands had probably ripped out someone else's throat.
"I'm sure it was." Joey leaned in to rub noses with him, smiling. "You deserve the rest anyway. I know some days ya didn't sleep, even though ya told Atem and Mokuba that ya did." He leaned in and nipped the corner of the brunet's mouth.
"Your sister conveyed to me that rubbing noses is a very intimate gesture among werewolves," Seto murmured. "She informed me that I should be flattered you did not request a token."
"I don't need anyone t' hunt for me. I saw ya crankin' that sugar pulverizer for hours, after any of the werewolves woulda needed a rest. I kinda wanted t' lick your abs."
The vampire snorted in disbelief. "That is absolutely disgusting."
"You guys eat slime," Joey retorted firmly, swinging one leg over the brunet's hips so that he straddled his legs. "That's disgustin'."
Seto tilted his head back to look up at him, lips quirking up into another tiny smile. "I prefer blood and candy to slime." He placed a hand on the blond's hip and gave it a small squeeze. "But you must believe I am attractive. Serenity also informed me that biting the corner of my mouth was quite suggestive."
"Your ridiculously muscular arms are suggestive." Joey leaned down to nuzzle the side of his face, sighing quietly. "Ya smell like fresh grave dirt."
"…Is that distasteful?" Despite that small worry, he tilted his head to the side to let him nip his pointed ear. "Well, you do not appear to dislike it."
"Mm, ya know how much dirt we get in Christmas Town? It's all snow. Dirt smells great." The blond leaned back, eyelids heavy as he licked his lower lip. "Ma says that you're really traditional, and you were givin' me food t' show intent. Throw me a bone. What were ya intendin'?"
Seto glanced away for a moment, then looked back up at him, lips curling into a smug smirk. "Maybe I was only planning on causing your blood sugar to rise. I do enjoy sweet things, you know, and your blood is no different."
Joey blinked at him in surprise, then grinned—quite a vicious expression on him. "Oh really?" He rolled his hips forward, making the brunet gasp quietly and dig his sharp nails into his hips. "So ya don't wanna mount me?"
The vampire let out a long guttural groan, eyes flashing threateningly. "That is a very tactless way to articulate it." His hips shifted as the blond pressed harder against him, fangs aching to sink into the long chord of muscle at his throat. "If I was allowed to—"
"We could see if your stupid fancy bed is any good for somethin' more active than sleepin'," Joey suggested, grinning. "It's okay if ya can't keep up with me, though. You're over three centuries old. Ya probably couldn't do more than one ro—"
Seto groaned again, tangling his fingers in the blond's thick hair and tugging him into a kiss with more fang than lips, but with the way the Hound fervently kissed back, he didn't mind a little blood.
"Well, it's nice to see you two getting along. And getting it on, apparently."
Seto jerked back, eyes wide, and let out a small, embarrassing 'eep' as he fell backward into the oily black-green water of the fountain. He flailed his arms upward to catch the blond before he could tumble in after him, holding him above the slimy liquid.
Joey flushed brightly. "Ma."
His mother chuckled and carefully pulled the blond onto his feet, then reached into the water to clench the vampire's shirt and drag him back into a sitting position. "I'm allowed to be happy that my son has finally found someone he deems an equal enough to think about mating with him."
Seto hacked up some brackish water, then paused, blinking up at her. "Mate?"
"Maaaaa!" the blond wailed, blush traveling down his neck. "You're embarrassin' meeeee!"
"I get to embarrass you. I'm your mother and labor for you lasted thirty-six hours," the older woman stated, placing her hands on her hips.
Joey groaned loudly and covered his face. "MOM."
She huffed. "In the cold snow of the tundra while your father got drunk on fermented fruitcake!"
"Can we forget about the day I was born just once?!" the blond wailed. "Ma, this guy thinks I'm attractive and he's not gonna try t' make me submit and you're gonna scare him off talkin' about how painful I was t' give birth to!"
Seto blinked. "Um."
"Don't be silly. Seto's the Mayor for a reason; he doesn't get squeamish!" The alpha werewolf clapped him on the shoulder. He fought very hard not to flinch. "Isn't that right, Mayor?"
"I still do not understand how I was elected Mayor when I was not even a contender," the vampire replied, frowning.
She waved her hand flippantly. "Write-in votes. A majority of the townspeople decided you were the least likely to fuck things up. The vote was between your step-father and his henchmen, you know."
Seto didn't know whether to be offended or flattered. On one hand, yes, he was much better than his step-father and his henchmen. On the other, they were just looking for someone the least likely to screw up Halloween. That wasn't exactly what he wanted people to think of him.
She seemed to sense his irritation and added, "We couldn't have chosen a better mayor. We had a week to prepare Halloween from scratch, and you went out searching for the tarantulas to make webbing decorations before the maggots had finished off Gozaburo's body. You even went to Christmas Town to ask for help even though everyone knows that you don't like bright lights and flashy colors.
"There is no one that loves Halloween more than you, Mayor," she added earnestly. "And every year the human children go home giggling because it's been the best Halloween yet. You're the perfect example of what Halloween should be like for everyone else. You take pride in your work, and you make everyone else proud of theirs, even if it seems insignificant to anyone else."
"No one's effort is insignificant," Seto replied indignantly.
She frowned. "Really, that's all you got out of that?"
"…Man, if you were a werewolf," Joey sighed, blushing a little at the thought.
His mother cooed. "Oh, hon', if he was a werewolf, you'd have to fight me for him."
The blond glared at her sharply and snarled. "Ma!"
"The fact of the matter is that I am a vampire, not a werewolf," Seto cut in quickly, before they could draw each other's blood. "So I am really only attractive to your son."
The alpha werewolf smirked at him. "Oh, you're still attractive to me—"
Joey snarled again. "I'mma bite your throat!"
She lifted her hands and laughed. "Joey, he remembers me in diapers. That's off-putting enough."
Seto frowned. "I do not actually recall you—"
"Honey, stop," the alpha werewolf sighed, rolling her eyes. She patted her son on the shoulder. "I'll just… leave you two alone then." She smirked coyly. "I'd say I'll see you tonight, but I probably won't, so—"
"GO AWAY!" Joey roared, fur bristling.
Seto watched the woman walk away with a certain pep in her step and frowned, then turned his attention back to the Hound. "…I should bathe."
The blond frowned thoughtfully as he took in the vampire's sopping wet clothes. "Oh. I guess ya should."
The brunet stood and looked down at his clothes, wondering if they were ruined, then glanced up at the Hound and awkwardly murmured, "…I might… require assistance."
"Oh." Joey blinked up at him for a moment. "…Because you're so ancient ya can't scrub your back, or because…" His eyes drifted down to the brunet's crotch before jerking back up to his face.
Seto hesitated before answering, "Will you persecute me if I admit that it is because of both reasons?"
Joey had a beautiful laugh. Seto thought he could get used to it, even if it was at his expense.