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The Last Ingredient

Chapter Text

Living on the streets of New York might not have been the safest decision he’d ever made, but it was definitely the wisest. Nobody would bat an eye seeing another kid on the street, and CPS would never find him in the city with eight million people.

According to the police’s official report, his mom had left him. According to them, she’d grown tired of raising a child on her own, and in a moment of weakness, had left one day while he’d been at school. However, they couldn’t give him a satisfying explanation to why she hadn’t taken anything with her, or why she hadn’t touched her bank account even once. ‘Look, kid, your mom probably has a secret account in the Cayman Islands that we know nothing about’ was just one possible explanation to some of the facts — a pretty sloppy explanation if anyone asked him — but since none of them had known his mom like he had, and since nobody liked to listen to a kid, it had been an open-and-shut case.

And since they’d shown him how untrustworthy law enforcement, and adults in general, could be, there was no way in hell he’d trust them to take care of him. So he’d run away, when he’d was fourteen, from his home, from the small town he’d spent his whole life in, and from everything he’d ever known. He’d run away before they could even tell him what they’d do with him. He wasn’t stupid. He knew where a kid with no family would end up when his mom disappeared, and he wouldn’t submit to the police’s decision, because if he did, it would be the same as accepting their explanation.

It had taken him quite some time, but he’d managed to reach the concrete jungle where dreams were made of after several months on the road. He hadn’t expected it, but turned out he had quite nimble fingers when it came to pickpocketing. He would’ve gotten here a lot faster if his conscience hadn’t kicked in, making him steal strictly from those who wouldn’t even notice if they misplaced a hundred bucks or something. Of course, he’d stolen from the less wealthy groups as well, but he always felt incredibly bad about it, and he’d only done that if he hadn’t eaten for a couple of days.

For a kid like him, The Big City was full of danger as well as exciting challenges. He didn’t have to choose his target from a single pool anymore, since he’d soon learned that it felt a lot more rewarding if he could steal from other pickpockets — like his own version of competing. Furthermore, New York City was full of criminals, and the more dangerous they felt, the better he felt stealing from them, since those criminals were losing to a sixteen-year-old boy.

That was another thing about him: somehow, he had a sixth sense about that kind of stuff. He could tell if someone was too wealthy for their own good, or if someone reeked of danger. Good thing this lifestyle didn’t come with a lot of opportunities to talk to other people, since he had no idea if ‘he reeks of money’ or ‘I can smell their kindness’ was an acceptable explanation. Logically, he knew there was no way he could actually smell those things, just like there was no way he could smell that someone was behind him — unless they had really, really bad body odor — but that was just how his sixth sense worked. That was also how he’d managed to not get into any kind of trouble, since no one could take him by surprise or corner him in any way.

As he slowly walked down the street, his eyes landed on a tall guy in a suit in his late 40s walking towards him. The guy made him felt uneasy, simply for the fact that he couldn’t tell a single thing about the guy, and not in the way most people appeared to him. Usually, he could tell that someone was nobody — they did nothing significant in their life, neither good nor bad — but with this guy, it was like seeing a baby. That uneasy feeling made him pick the old guy as his next target.

A quick walk-by and he was holding the guy’s wallet in his hand. It had always been that simple for him, and his target never noticed. Sometimes, he used his ability to stop bad things from happening as well. Bad people, gang members, and people with a weapon and bad intent in general, walked around the streets more often than anyone cared to notice. He tried his best to steal as many of those knives and guns as possible. He kept some of the knives he found pretty, but most of them ended up at the bottom of either the East or the Hudson. The guns usually ended up being thrown into a precinct or a police car, since he figured they would be able to do some kind of CSI shit and maybe solve a murder or two with them.

With a smirk, he hurriedly returned to the alley he’d been using as his lair for the past couple of months. During winter, he’d had to move around quite often, breaking into places after closing time to keep him warm. But as the weather turned warmer, the need to stay warm subsided, and he could have a more regular place to return to. It was already sometime in September, so he knew he’d need to move again soon, but for now, it was still the closest thing to home for him. After all, no matter where he went, he’d always need a place for him to store his trophies, or the cute things he’d managed to collect from time to time, like lucky charms, knives, bullets, or even wallets.

Speaking of wallets, the guy’s wallet didn’t have anything personal whatsoever, which only intensified the uneasy feeling he’d been having. Sure, there were a couple of hundred bucks in there, but other than cash, there was only a business card that belonged to a John Smith in there. The wallet felt new, as if the guy had just bought it recently.

Maybe it was because he was too preoccupied with his thoughts, or perhaps he was too distracted by the wallet, but the curly-haired teen didn’t feel anything amiss until a hand was placed on his shoulder and a voice came from behind.

“Dustin Henderson?”

 


 

Wentworth Tozier didn’t usually do this. If he was being completely honest, he’d stopped doing it 30 years ago. Looking for missing members of the community was the responsibility of the young pups trying to have their first big win, or the old dogs who just wanted to take the easy jobs. Never in his life had he imagined he’d spend his time tracking someone from the middle of nowhere to New York. However, Claudia Henderson had been a dear friend back in the days, and as soon as he’d heard the news, he’d taken the first flight to Indiana to look for her kid.

What he’d thought to be a two-day job had dragged on for almost two years, since the kid was more gifted than he’d anticipated, especially in such a big city. However, as he spotted the young boy from afar, the man couldn’t help but let out a relieved sigh. That had been the easy part. After all, the kid had been the only rogue one in a two-mile radius, so it was pretty difficult to spot once he’d narrowed down the search area. He still needed to talk to the boy somewhere private, persuade the kid to come with him, and tell him that everything he’d ever known had been a huge lie. The steps were only getting more and more challenging.

From what his informants had told him, and from what he’d observed, the second step was achieved as he intentionally let himself be chosen as a target by the boy. It had gone a little different from what he’d anticipated. According to his plan, the boy would pick him because he’d stuffed the most dollars in his newly acquired wallet. However, he could sense the young teen’s confusion, then determination, as he was zeroed in. The act itself, if he was being completely honest, wasn’t that good, but it was understandable, since the kid was completely untrained and didn’t know the extent of his abilities, while he’d been a professional for a really long time. He let the boy get away with it, lowering the target’s guard, before secretly following him back to his nest. As the kid rummaged through his fake wallet, he carefully approached the boy from behind, effectively blocking the only exit, before putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder and cleared his throat.

“Dustin Henderson?” He asked, and got the expected reaction. The kid immediately turned around, jerking away from his hold, and looked up like a cornered animal.

“Social services?” The young boy asked, his voice breaking a little. It was clear that he wasn’t used to using it. “How did you find me?”

“I’m not from wherever you think I’m from,” Wentworth said calmly, putting a little warmth and authority in his voice, hoping to soothe the boy a little. “I was a colleague of your mother’s.”

“Who I just happened to pickpocket in a city with eight million people?” The teen huffed. “Fat chance. Leave or I will scream.”

The Henderson kid was checking out all his possible exits as he said it, so it was apparent that he was still looking forward to a fight. It would be the easier way, but the kid would never trust him if he did that. Wentworth sighed and tried again, putting more effort on the calming aura and the authoritative voice.

“Both of us knows screaming isn’t gonna do you anything in New York,” he said. “You’re not gonna get help by a Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. But I’m not going to hurt you or force you to come with me. I do want you to come with me, though, and if you do, I can tell you what happened to Claudia.”

That had gotten the attention of the young boy. He tried to hide it, but there was a sliver of hope in his eyes. “What do you know about my mother?”

“I’m not going to tell you here,” Wentworth shook his head. “You’re not physically or mentally ready for that. If you come with me, I will provide you with a roof over your head, and we can talk when you’re well-rested and nourished.” Seeing that the boy was still eyeing him skeptically, he sighed. “You can tell I’m not lying.”

“How did you do that?” Dustin asked. “I couldn’t read you back then, but I can read you now. Or at least I can read something now.”

“I underestimated you,” the older man shrugged. “But it’s a long conversation.” He started to turn around and walk away. “My car is parked at the end of the street. If you decide to come, gather your stuff. I’ll be waiting for half an hour.” He had no intention of leaving the boy alone, but he knew if Dustin wasn’t going to come with him now, he’d need to think of another plan, maybe bringing in reinforcement. However, he hoped that the promised conversation about Claudia would be enough to get the boy to safety.

 


 

The guy didn’t even bother to take the wallet back. It was clear to Dustin that whoever this stranger was, he was one of those people that were too wealthy to care for their goods. Personally, he’d love to believe that a fairy godfather had just appeared in front of him and given him a safe haven, but that was never how real life worked. He couldn’t detect the slightest hint of insincerity in the guy, but that hardly mattered if the guy could hide it.

However, there was one thing he couldn’t deny: if the guy knew something about his mom, he needed to find out. Dustin had been craving for that information ever since before he’d run away. He knew his mom wouldn’t leave him like that, yet none of the adults believed him. Well, none except the John Smith he’d just stolen money from, apparently. So if he truly thought about it, he didn’t really have a choice. Slowly, he picked up the small box he’d been using to store his things, and headed outside, looking for a car at the end of the street.

The car only strengthened Dustin’s impression that this guy probably burned money to keep him warm during winter. He didn’t know a single thing about cars, and he could already tell it wasn’t the kind you could just buy at any dealership. He wouldn’t be surprised if there was a button somewhere that turned it into a mini aircraft, Men In Black style. It was a surprise anyone would let a dirty homeless kid inside such thing, but this guy did.

“So, where to, John?” He asked casually once he’d put his belongings in the back and fastened his seatbelt.

“You do know that isn’t my real name, right?” The guy raised an eyebrow.

“Yet you never bothered to introduce yourself properly,” the young boy huffed. “Seems pretty unfair seeing as you know my real name.”

“Touché,” the old man chuckled. “My kids are gonna love you. I’m Wentworth Tozier, but you can call me Went. And we’re going to New Jersey.”

“New Jersey?” Dustin furrowed his eyebrows. “Why New Jersey?”

“We have a community there,” the guy — Went — said. “It’s easier to secure an area in New Jersey.”

“What community?” Dustin was reconsidering the possibility of him being kidnapped and sold to the highest bidder.

“That’s part of the long explanation,” Went said. “For now, just enjoy the ride.”

 


 

“So, I take it that the new kid is coming today?” Lucas asked as he sat down next to Mike in Biology.

“No, dad wanted us to prepare one of the guest bedrooms so you can drop in anytime without notifying anyone,” Mike snorted and immediately got hit by a ball of paper from behind.

“Ignore him,” Beverly chuckled as she looked at the black boy, “he didn’t get much sleep last night.”

“And whose fault was that?” Richie huffed from his seat next to her. “You three kept giggling all night. Next time you have a sleepover with those nocturnals, do it at one of their houses.”

“I’m not having a sleepover at Max’s,” Bev rolled her eyes, “and I’m definitely not having a sleepover at the Chief’s house.” She rolled another ball of paper and threw it at Richie, who just yawned lazily and didn’t bother to deflect it. “And last time I checked, you are also nocturnal.”

“Getting a little sidetracked here, guys,” Lucas cleared his throat. “New kid?”

“Oh, right,” Bev chuckled. “Yeah, Went said they’d be back sometime today. He might be there by the time we get home. You’re welcome to drop by and see for yourself.”

“Actually, he’s not,” Mike corrected. “Dad didn’t want to overwhelm the kid. Precisely why Will and Eddie aren’t welcomed this weekend either.”

“So that’s why you two have been acting like little shits,” Bev smirked.

“We have not!” Richie protested.

“You kind of have,” Lucas hummed.

“Anyway,” Mike glowered, “no changing, no hocus pocus, nothing exciting in the house until dad has the talk with him.”

“What’s his name?” Lucas whispered as the teacher walked into the classroom.

“Dustin,” Richie provided. “Claudia’s kid. Not that you know who she was.”

“Is there something you want to share with the whole class?” The teacher, Mrs. Ratliff, asked loudly. “Mr. Sinclair, Mr. Tozier. Mr. Wheeler, and Miss Marsh?”

They all shook their heads innocently, and Mrs. Ratliff turned back to the whole class. “As I was saying, everyone turns to page 96. Today we started learning about Spellcasters.”

“At least you guys get a new cat,” Lucas whispered as they followed the instruction.

Chapter Text

Dustin was certain he was either dead or dreaming. Everything was so warm, soft, and fluffy that he had a feeling he was lying on a cloud. However, as he slowly woke up, the memory of this morning also returned to him. A strange guy who’d introduced himself as Wentworth Tozier had claimed to know what had happened to his mother, and he’d followed the stranger home. He’d been shown to a nice room and had been told to take a shower and rest. Although he was still wary at the old man, the boy figured if the guy was going to kill him, it wouldn’t make sense to bring him to such a beautiful house in this nice neighborhood, so it wouldn’t hurt to do as he was told. Furthermore, he didn’t exactly have any plan for his future anyway, so it wasn’t like being kidnapped would affect his career path or anything.

The shower he’d taken had been more than just relaxing. It had been weeks since he’d last taken one, and months since he’d last had hot water. He’d stood under the shower head for half an hour doing nothing, letting the water relax his muscles. That had been the most luxurious thing he’d done in two years. After the shower, he’d changed into the clothes that had been left for him on the bed, which was at least two sizes too big, before lying down and taking a nap.

Dustin opened his eyes and found out that he wasn’t alone in the room. On the bed, inches away from him, a black cat was sitting and looking at him. Seeing that he was awake, the cat approached him slowly, and as he stuck his hand out, the furball sniffed it curiously before purring, and he chuckled softly as he started stroking his little visitor.

“Hey there, little fella,” he sat up, “how long have you been there?”

The cat let out a soft meow as a reply, and he couldn’t help but chuckle. The guy — Dustin had decided to call him Mr. T — couldn’t have been a bad person if he had such a friendly cat. He didn’t care what pop culture was trying to depict, in his book, no animal-loving person could inherently be evil. “You’re so adorable,” he whispered. “Were you waiting for me to wake up to play with you?”

The cat turned his head and meowed, and that was when Dustin noticed a second black cat sitting on the desk, staring at them.

“Uh, hi?” He said sheepishly and immediately felt dumb for trying to start a conversation with a cat. His second visitor didn’t seem as interested in him as the first one, or at least, the cat wasn’t interested in him the same way the first one was. The feline’s greenish-yellow irises stayed on the curly-haired boy, and Dustin found himself unable to look away, at least until there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” he said and cleared his throat as his eyes darted towards the clock. It was just a little past 7pm, so he’d been asleep for roughly five hours, and the rest of the house’s occupants had probably gotten home.

The door opened and a redhead girl with short hair walked in with a tray of food. “Hi, you’re awake,” she said with a smile. “Maggie said you might want to eat in the bedroom tonight. Too many new faces at the same time can be a bit overwhelming.”

He hadn’t expected to see someone his age in this house at all, but now that he thought about it, he should’ve. Mr. T had told him that his kids would love him, so he had more than just one kid, and since the clothes he was wearing was definitely a boy’s, they were definitely not hers, or Maggie’s.

“Boys,” the girl frowned as she turned to the two cats, “I told you not to bother him.” The cat on the desk meowed back at her, and she scoffed. “I don’t care if it was his idea. You’re also here, aren’t you?”

The curly-haired boy couldn’t help but chuckle at the scene. It wasn’t that he’d never seen anyone talk to animals before — he’d just done that minutes ago — but the way the girl talked to the cats reminded him of his mom.

“I’m sorry that Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber woke you up,” the girl turned back to him. “I’m Beverly Marsh, but you can call me Bev.”

Marsh, not Tozier, his brain pointed out as she put the food tray on the nightstand. “Hi, I’m Dustin. Dustin Henderson. Which one is Tweedle Dumb?”

“The one on the desk,” Bev replied and the aforementioned cat immediately hissed at her. “What? Or do you want to be Dumber?”

This time, the cat on his lap made a sound that he assumed meant disagreement. That made him raise an eyebrow. “Are they, like, smart or something?” He asked.

“Nah,” she chuckled. “Things are a bit complicated around here. Went will tell you all about it later.”

“You’re not his daughter, are you?” Dustin asked.

“I’m just a kid that he helped, like you,” the redhead girl shook her head. “He has two boys, though. They’re a pain in the ass if you ask me.”

Both cats meowed at her, which she blatantly ignored.

“Anyway, if you want, we can talk later,” Beverly said as she turned around and walked to the door. “But right now, you need to eat first. Mikey, Richie, come on.”

With that, the two cats, whose real names he assumed were Mikey and Richie, left the room with Beverly, leaving him alone with the tray of food. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was until that moment. They only gave him soft food, and not a lot either, but he could tell from the taste that the food was made with care. The blue-eyed boy remembered his mom had once told me something about easing into eating after he’d been sick for days and had been unable to eat. He supposed this was the same thing.

It felt weird, having someone care about him again.

 


 

“Are you guys serious?” Beverly hissed as soon as the door closed behind her. “Your dad said he didn’t know anything.”

As she turned around to look at them, the two cats had turned into two lanky dark-haired twins — Mikey and Richie.

“We know that,” Mikey snorted. “We didn’t transform in front of him. And I only came with Richie to make sure he wouldn’t do anything stupid in front of our new kid.”

“And you still let Dustin play with him?” Bev asked.

“How should I have stopped him, then?” Mikey scowled. “Turned back into a human and thrown Richie out the window?”

“I’m right here, you know?” Richie scoffed. “I’m not that irresponsible.”

“You greeted me with cat ears,” Bev reminded him. “I thought I was going crazy.”

“I already told you, that was an accident,” the taller boy groaned. “It’s about time you forgive me for that.”

“And it’s even more dangerous in his case because he’s way overaged,” the girl pointed out.

“Yeah, Mikey already said that like, six times now,” Richie rolled his eyes. “I’m not gonna do anything to scare the kid away. I like him.”

“Is that supposed to make us feel better?” Mikey raised an eyebrow. “Because I’ve known you my whole life, and let me tell you, you’re even more unpredictable around the people you like. He’s been living on the street for two years, so please tread carefully.”

“Fine, I get it,” Richie raised both his hands up, “I’ll keep my distance.”

Beverly sighed at Richie’s reaction. The taller boy was a lot more emotional than he let everyone believe. They might’ve upset him by implying that he was too much. She shot Mikey a glance, but the other twin had already put his arm over his brother’s shoulder.

“Look, we like you, and we wouldn’t want you to change,” Mikey sighed, “but we don’t know the kid. He might need some time to adjust to everything.”

“I know that,” Richie rolled his eyes, “but you guys keep thinking that I can’t behave around the kid.”

“Right,” Mikey mumbled, “sorry about that.” He retracted his arm. “Look, I’m fully aware that you’re capable of not scaring him away, but that won’t stop me from worrying. You know me.”

“Unfortunately,” Richie sighed before turning to Bev. “Is dad home?”

“Not yet,” the girl shrugged. “We have a new member. Bet he’s dealing with all the paperwork. By the way, you guys do know Dustin is gonna look for two cats in the house, right?” 

“Well, until dad tells him everything, I guess Mikey and I are going to have to take turns being a cat in front of him then,” Richie shot the two a grin.

“Well, I’m not helping you guys with that,” Beverly rolled her eyes. “By the way, there’s a bat in our dining room.”

“Lucas?” Mikey asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Bill,” Bev grinned. “Everyone is curious about the new kid.”

 


 

Dustin didn’t know if it was okay for him to leave the room and wander around the house, but since he wasn’t a prisoner, he did it anyway.

His plan was just to bring his empty tray back to the kitchen to save whoever was in charge of retrieving it some work, and maybe try to see if there was anything he could eat in the fridge. He appreciated the food, but it was definitely not enough to keep him full for long. And if he happened to run into the two cats he’d seen earlier, then good for him.

Finding a kitchen in a strange house wasn’t that difficult. He just had to follow common logic for a minute, get to the first floor, and wander around a bit until he found the room. It also helped a little to follow his nose. However, he hadn’t thought about what he’d do if he ran into someone. Two someones, in this case, although technically there was only one new face to remember, because they shared it.

“Uh, hi?” He said sheepishly as the two boys turned to him simultaneously. The two were undoubtedly a lot taller than him, and he suspected the clothes he was wearing belonged to one of them. They both had black hair, extremely pale skin that made him wonder if they’d ever seen the sun, and dark brown eyes. One of them, however, was wearing glasses, and that one had slightly more curly hair than the other. The blue-eyed teen wondered if they always did everything in sync, or if it only happened because they heard him at the same time.

“Hi, Dustin,” the one without the glasses said. “We were just about to check up on you.”

“Yeah, I wanted to bring the tray down so you guys wouldn’t have to,” he cleared his throat and said, holding up the empty tray.

“And he has manners as well,” the other boy chuckled and approached him, taking the tray from his hands. “Told you, everyone is gonna love him.”

“Are you hungry?” The first boy asked. “Maggie said you might be hungry later, but she told us not to bring you too much at once or you’ll be sick. I think she made enough mashed potatoes to feed the whole house the entire weekend.”

Dustin had too many questions he wanted to ask, so he felt incredibly stupid when the first thing to leave his lips was, “what day is today?”

“Today is Friday, old chap,” the second boy answered with a bad British accent. He put the tray down next to the sink and walked back to the shorter boy, holding his hand out. “The name’s Richie Tozier, but you can call me Richie. Nice to meet you. That kid over there is Mike Wheeler.”

The blue-eyed boy’s eyes widened at the introduction. There was just too much information in those three seconds. Tozier. So this is the guy’s son, his brain pointed out. But the kid over there is Wheeler. But these two look exactly like each other. Doppelgänger?

He’d probably taken too long to process the information, because the boy without the glasses sighed and approach him as well. “He always does this,” he shrugged. “We are twins, but he likes to introduce us as if we just happen to look alike to see people’s reaction.” The boy — Mike — punched his brother’s arm. “I told you to ease him into it, not make him confused even more.”

“But I rarely get the chance to do that,” Richie pouted at his brother. “Would be a huge waste of opportunity not to.”

“So,” Dustin had found his voice again, “what’s the story, then?” He definitely didn’t need to specify what he was asking.

“Mom and dad split,” Mike answered, “and I lived with her until I was 10. She remarried when I was 7, so I go by my stepdad’s last name.”

“Which gives me the chance to try and confuse people,” Richie grinned at him. “Sorry, buddy, but the look on your face was priceless.”

The blue-eyed boy rolled his eyes but didn’t respond. He supposed if he hadn’t been the victim of it, he would’ve found it funny as well. However, he still had more questions. This wasn’t the first time he heard those two names.

“So the cats are named after you two?” He asked.

“In a way, yes,” Richie chuckled. “It’s a long story.”

The shorter boy knew ‘it’s a long story’ was code for ‘I’m not gonna talk about it now’ so he moved to the next questions on his list. “Who’s Maggie? How many people are there in this house?”

“Maggie is our stepmom,” Mike answered. “I believe she’s the only one you haven’t seen yet. You have met dad and Bev, after all. Maggie is a great cook. Which reminds me, are you hungry?”

Dustin’s stomach grumbled, answering Mike’s question. The taller teen smirked and walked towards the fridge, taking out a Tupperware box.

“Where’s your dad?” The blue-eyed teen asked, changing the subject before it got too awkward for him.

“He’s out taking care of some business,” Richie answered as he propped himself up and sat on the dining table. “Do you want to talk to him or something?”

“Yeah,” Dustin replied. “He promised to tell me something.”

“Oh, he definitely needs to talk to you, alright,” Mike snorted as he put down a plate of mashed potatoes in front of Dustin. “The sooner the better.”

“But let’s talk about you first,” Richie said with a grin. “Tell us something about yourself.”

 


 

“Yeah, they like him, alright,” Beverly’s voice came from Richie’s laptop. “If Went isn’t adopting him, I’m sure they’re gonna unofficially do it anyway.”

“Shut up, Bev,” Mike groaned. “What’s wrong with welcoming someone to our community?”

“Remember how you treated me when I just moved here, Wheeler?” Max’s voice came from Mike’s speaker. “Plus, from what Bev told me, you two let him play with you.”

“Richie was the one he was playing with,” Mike scoffed. “So that didn’t say much.”

This was sort of a nightly ritual among their groups of friends. Mike would call his Party on his laptop, and Richie would call the Losers in the same room, and they would just talk to each other like they were all in the same call. Somehow, nobody had ever suggested creating another group with all twelve of them, and Mike was grateful for that. He could barely keep up with the messages in his own group of five, and Richie’s group was even more talkative. If they made a group with twelve people in it, and one of them was Richie, his phone would never stop vibrating.

“But he does sound nice,” Will said. “I can’t wait to meet him.”

“If he doesn’t freak out and try to run away when dad tells him, you’ll probably meet him on Monday,” Richie said.

‘We can turn into cats and so can you,’ there’s no way that can go wrong,” Stan snorted. “Should we go on patrol that day just in case?”

“With that kind of positivity, things can’t possibly go wrong,” Bill said sarcastically.

“I think if we can befriend him before dad tells him, he will be less freaked out,” Richie said.

“And how are you going to do that in 24 hours?” Lucas asked. “By sneaking into his room and lying on top of him as a cat for the whole night?”

“You might be onto something there, Lucas,” Richie smirked, and Mike rolled his eyes at his brother.

Eddie scoffed. “Richie, I swear, if you replace me with him—”

“Nobody’s replacing you, my little Spaghetti,” Richie cooed. “But he’s part of our pride now and someone has to look after him.”

“Don’t call me that!”

“He’s part of your pride already?” Mike — Mike Hanlon, not him — asked. “That is fast.”

Sharing a name with someone his friends and family members were also on a first-name basis with meant they'd have to find a way to address them without causing confusion, and because Richie had called him Mikey since before the dumb nicknames, everyone just kept using that. Granted, it was way shorter and more convenient than 'Mike the cat' and 'Mike the dog', but he hated to think that they'd still call him that when he was 500 or something.

“I told you, they really like him,” Bev chuckled. “I think it took them a month to accept me.”

“Blame Mikey,” Richie rolled his eyes. “He’s the unfriendly one among us.”

“Well excuse me for being wary,” Mike scoffed, “but in case you guys haven’t noticed, Bev isn’t exactly a cat.”

“I beg to differ,” El hummed, “she acts like a cat and smells like a cat. She’s a big cat, but a cat nonetheless.”

“But if we both turn and walk around the streets of New York, humans will only call the zoo for one of us,” Mike grumbled.

“But they have a point, Mikey,” Will said softly. “You warmed up to this Dustin kid really fast. Not that it’s a bad thing or anything.”

“Well, maybe it’s because I finally feel like an older brother to someone,” Mike huffed. “I can be a mentor and teach him stuff. Feels nice to be the middle child for once, since I definitely didn’t feel like an older brother to Bev.”

“True,” Stan hummed. “If anything, Richie turned into the middle child because of Bev.”

“Not my fault that both of you do dumb shit all the time,” Bev huffed.

“And I suppose you don’t?” Mike rolled his eyes.

“To be fair, none of you three acts like the oldest sibling,” Mike Hanlon chuckled, “although occasionally one of you might sound like one.”

“I’m just gonna point out that technically the kid isn’t anyone’s sibling, and neither is Bev,” Lucas said.

“Are you sure you want to pick this fight, Batboy?” Richie scoffed. “Cats eat mice, even ones with wings.”

“Bats are not mice,” Bill protested. “We aren’t even rodents.”

“Flittermice,” Mike reminded the boy.

“Okay, listen up, Wheeler—”

“I went to the bathroom for two minutes and they started this again?” Ben’s voice interrupted Lucas.

“Are you surprised?” Eddie snorted.

“Sadly, no,” Ben sighed.

“Hey!” Mike, Richie, Lucas, and Bill said in unison.

Chapter Text

The people in this house were all pretty nice, which was something Dustin didn’t get. Sure, he believed that good people still existed in this world, but he didn’t think there would be anyone who would treat the stray kid their father or husband brought home like this and wasn’t a sparkling bloodthirsty vampire living in a small town where it rained for most of the year. He’d been trying to look for any signs of danger, or anything to indicate that he shouldn’t trust any of them, but so far there hadn’t been any.

The moment he walked into the kitchen the next morning, he was met with a strange woman whom he believed to be the only person in the house he hadn’t been introduced to. She turned to him as she heard him come in and gave him a warm smile. “Hi, Dustin,” the woman said, “did you sleep well?”

The curly-haired teen blinked as he took in the cheerful appearance of whom he believed was Richie and Mike’s stepmom. She was probably in her mid-thirties, with short wavy blond hair that was tied neatly behind her, and she smelled friendly and nice and a bit like toast and scrambled eggs. How the fuck do I know that? What the fuck does ‘smelling friendly and nice’ even mean?

“Y-Yeah,” the curly-haired boy nodded sheepishly. “You must be Maggie,” he said, recalling the name everyone had mentioned the previous night.

“That I am,” the woman — Maggie — chuckled. “Are you hungry? I can make pancakes if you want? Of course, if you’d rather have more mashed potatoes, that’s fine as well.”

“It’s fine,” he shook his head, “you don’t need to make anything for me.”

“I’m making it for the boys anyway, so it’s really no trouble,” the woman shook her head before turning around to gather pancake ingredients. “So, tell me about yourself.”

The blue-eyed teen sat down at the counter and bit his lips nervously. “There’s not much to tell, really,” he said. “My mom disappeared when I was fourteen, and I’ve been on the streets ever since.”

“Went told me you picked his pocket yesterday,” Maggie mentioned, and Dustin’s eyes went wide. He’d talked about his life to Mike and Richie yesterday, and of course, he’d mentioned the things he’d done on the streets, but he’d glossed over that little detail since he hadn’t wanted to come up as untrustworthy. Apparently, he and Went hadn’t been on the same page.

Perhaps he’d been quiet for too long, or maybe Maggie had simply sensed his discomfort, but she quickly turned around and beamed at him. “Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble,” she assured him, “I was actually impressed. Not many people can pick Went’s pocket. Richie has been trying since he was fourteen. And you have to be really skilled if you want to pick his pocket without him noticing.”

“What does he do for a living?” The blue-eyed boy couldn’t help but ask. From what he’d just heard, it sounded like Went was a highly-trained secret agent or something.

“He’s a dentist,” Maggie answered, and it wasn’t an exaggeration to say, that had been the last thing Dustin had expected. He’d expected to hear superspy, bodyguard, genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, or even a reporter for The Daily Planet, but not that, since he didn’t think someone could fake being a dentist as a cover job. That sounded legit.

“Well, he’s also a council representative, but he’ll tell you about that later,” Maggie continued, confusing him even more.

“What council? The Associations of Dentists in the Tri-State Area? Does he take away someone’s license if they do a bad job or something?” He asked.

The woman raised an eyebrow and quirked her lips, but before she could say anything, her attention shifted to the kitchen door behind him, where someone had just walked into the kitchen, and Dustin turned around to a yawning mop of black hair carrying a cat on his shoulder. This was one of the twins, but he didn’t know them for long enough to know which twin just yet.

“Morning, Mag,” he said as he plopped down onto the seat next to the curly-haired teen. “Morning, Dustin.”

“Morning, Richie,” Maggie greeted and turned her gaze towards the cat, who had just moved from the boy’s shoulder to the countertop. “Why isn’t Mike joining us?” She asked in an amused tone.

“He didn’t want to get his lazy ass out of bed,” Richie said with a grin and reached for the cat, who just hissed and swatted at his hand despite having just ridden him there. “So I brought Mike the cat. But I’m sure neither of them is hungry anyway.”

The whole thing was pretty weird in Dustin’s opinion, especially as Richie and the cat were having a staring contest as if they were silently arguing about something. Maybe they actually were, since the blue-eyed boy had noticed that the cat had understood what Beverly had said yesterday.

“Huh, I see,” Maggie hummed after watching the two for a moment. “I’m still making pancakes for Mike the cat, so would you be a dear and grab some plates for me?”

The taller boy begrudgingly got up to help his stepmom while muttering something about a stupid rock paper scissors game, and Dustin chuckled at that behavior. “You aren’t a morning person, are you?”

“I am a morning person,” Richie huffed. “People just disagree with me on what should be classified as ‘morning’ and what shouldn’t. Eight o’clock on a Saturday is too fucking early.”

“Language,” Maggie chided the other boy. “Neither you nor your brother would be this tired if you had gone to sleep at a reasonable time.”

“But it was a Friday night,” the dark-haired boy whined. “We should’ve been able to go out and party and be stupid teenagers.”

“Take it to your father, then,” Maggie shrugged.

Dustin’s attention slowly shifted from the conversation by the stove to the cat on the countertop who was also watching the interaction.

“Hey,” he said softly, and the cat turned to him with a curious look.

“You’re not the one from yesterday, are you?” The blue-eyed boy asked. 

It had taken him approximately five seconds to come to that conclusion. The cat on his bed yesterday had been a tad more affectionate than this one, who had now stepped closer and sniffed his hand, but still kept enough distance so Dustin wouldn’t be able to pet him without having to slightly reach out. This was probably the one on the desk, and if this was Mike, the other one would be Richie.

Before he could try to do anything, Richie the human plopped back down next to him, carrying two plates in his hands, and he turned back to Maggie putting a third plate down in front of him. “You boys enjoy,” she said. “I have to run some errands for a bit. See you all later.”

Without waiting for a response, she left the kitchen. Although since Richie was currently busy pouring syrup on his pancakes, he doubted the other boy had planned to say anything anyway. The cat was giving Richie the most unimpressed look Dustin had ever seen, so that was also quite amusing to watch.

“Mike doesn’t really like humans, does he?” The shorter boy asked.

“What?” Richie momentarily turned to look at him before his gaze shifted towards the cat and he chuckled. “Nah. He’s just a judgemental little shit. Don’t worry, he already loves you.”

“How can you tell?” Dustin raised an eyebrow.

“Even Bev can tell,” the raven-haired boy shrugged. “But let’s eat first.”

 


 

In Mike’s opinion, this was a really bad idea, and the only reason he’d agreed to do it was because he’d bet that this was a bad idea.

Of course, his dad had a lot more experience than him in this particular area, so there was a good chance it actually wasn’t, but he doubted Went had dealt with kids before. The guy probably just wanted to get it out of the way so he could address the more important matters.

He was currently sitting on his dad’s desk, right in front of the man himself, while Richie was lounging on the armchair facing them — both in cat form. They were waiting for Beverly to bring Dustin to the study.

This is a really bad idea, he grumbled.

Or so you said, Richie replied. That’s exactly why I’m on the couch.

“He’s not going to freak out, boys,” Went sighed. “Of course he’s gonna be taken aback a little, but it’s gonna be alright.”

One of the perks of being a cat shifter was that they could understand felines and communicate with them telepathically. In fact, all shifters could do that with the species they turned into — canine shifters, avian shifters, and so on. That had definitely made his dad’s tracking job a lot easier, since cats were everywhere — especially in big cities — and not a lot of targets managed to hide from all of them. That was also why Mike couldn’t complain about this in any form without his dad hearing. Sometimes he wished twin telepathy was a thing.

If he freaks out, I win the bet, Mike scoffed. This is so stupid.

“About that,” Went hummed, “what happens if I win the bet?”

You already roped both of us into this, Richie huffed. If you win the bet, we’re even.

Before their dad could reply, they all turned to the door as Beverly and Dustin’s footsteps grew closer and closer.

Showtime, Richie said cheerfully and climbed onto the headrest right before there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Went said, and Dustin’s head popped in.

“You want to talk to me, uh, sir?” The curly-haired boy asked.

“I do,” the old man nodded, “and I believe you’re expecting a conversation as well. Have a seat.”

Don’t harass him too much, Mike said offhandedly.

Please, I could climb on his head and he still wouldn’t mind, Richie replied.

Boys, behave, their dad chided tiredly.

As soon as Dustin sat down, his annoying twin immediately leapt down to the boy’s lap. The blue-eyed teen raised an eyebrow but quickly started to scratch the cat’s head before moving his eyes back to the old man. “You promised to tell me what happened to my mother,” the boy reminded him.

Went took a deep breath and leaned forward, crossing his fingers under his chin. Mike didn’t see this serious side of his dad very often.

“She’s dead,” he said calmly, looking into Dustin’s eyes.

The boy didn’t react for a while. His hand was still scratching Richie’s head, so Mike was certain he wasn’t too shocked to move or anything. Furthermore, the teen didn’t smell distraught or like he was panicking. Instead, the short boy was slightly wary.

“How do you know?” He asked after a while.

“You don’t seem too surprised by this,” Went remarked offhandedly.

“I knew my mom wouldn’t leave me, so something bad must’ve happened,” Dustin replied, his eyes still glued to the old man in the room. “But how do you know?”

“We found evidence of an attack, and blood that matched hers in our database,” the man answered.

“The cops said they didn’t find anything unusual.”

“They didn’t know what to look for,” his dad shrugged. “Claudia’s case wasn’t something common law enforcement could solve.”

“Oh, so you’re FBI, then?” Dustin raised an eyebrow. “CIA?”

“I’m afraid they’re also among the ‘common law enforcement’ that I mentioned,” Went shook his head. “We have people everywhere to inform us about cases like Claudia’s so we could assign qualified personnel to them.”

“Oh, there’s a ‘we’ now?” Dustin looked a bit unimpressed at this information. Mike doubted the boy believed what his dad had just said. “Am I allowed to ask what that means?”

“We’re part of a secret community,” Went said patiently, fully aware of the young teen’s attitude. “Your mom, me, my family, and you as well.”

“What secret community, exactly?” The curly-haired boy asked.

“We’re shapeshifters,” the old man said. “Your mom was one, and you are also one.”

Mike didn’t need to look to know Dustin must’ve had the classic ‘oh my god this guy is crazy’ look on his face. If he hadn’t known about his heritage, he would’ve thought the same as well.

“Right,” Dustin hummed. “Shapeshifters. Of course. Silly me. Why didn’t I think of it?”

“Your mom was a cat shifter,” Went said, as if he either didn’t notice or didn’t mind the sarcastic remark. “That means you are, too. You must’ve noticed her fondness towards cats.”

“So I’m guessing every cat person out there is also a cat shifter then,” Dustin raised an eyebrow. “That makes perfect sense.” The teen’s eyes then drifted to Mike, who had been silently watching the exchange. “Wait. So I guess that’s why these cats are named after your sons, then,” he snorted.

“I know it must be difficult to believe—”

“In what?” Dustin asked. “Fairytales? Monsters? Shapeshifters? Demons? Oh, do you have vampires and werewolves as well?”

“They don’t generally like to be called that,” Went sighed.

“This keeps getting better and better,” Dustin mumbled.

Dad? Richie furrowed his brows. He’s upset.

Of course he’s upset, Mike groaned. I would’ve been as well.

“Mike?” Their dad said quietly, asking him to do what they’d discussed.

After taking a deep breath, Mike leapt off his dad’s desk and transform back into a human.

The effect, needless to say, was something he’d never thought he’d see in his life. The shorter teen’s eyes immediately went wide, and his fight-or-flight instinct must’ve kicked in, since he’d tried to climb up the headrest to get away from something he couldn’t explain. The armchair, which had obviously not been designed to withstand that kind of treatment, fell over, throwing both him and Richie on the floor. Mike could smell the panic from the blue-eyed boy who was still trying to scoot away.

“I just want to have it on record that I was adamantly against this,” the raven-haired teen mumbled as Dustin was still on the ground, eyes glued to him, mouth undoubtedly trying and failing to curse out loud.

“But at least now he knows what I’ve been saying was true,” Went shrugged.

The boy ignored his father and slowly crouched down to Dustin’s level, concern in his eyes. “You okay?” He asked. “Well, of course not, but take a deep breath and say something.”

Yeah, sure, Mikey, as if that would help, Richie rolled his eyes from his spot — surprisingly still on Dustin’s lap.

“Oh, yeah?” Mike scoffed. “Next time you go and scare people off. I’ll be the emotional support cat.”

I thought you don’t like to let strangers touch you? His twin snickered.

“Well, excuse me for disliking this shit even more,” Mike groaned. “How many times have I said I hated this?”

“Y-You— B-But— What— How?” Dustin had finally found his voice, and the taller teen averted his eyes from his brother.

“Honestly? I don’t know how either,” Mike said slowly. “But this world has a lot of things science can’t explain, like magic and demons and, as you’ve already seen, shapeshifters.”

“But you were a— And now you’re a—”

“And you’re still holding onto my brother,” the raven-haired teen reminded the boy, who immediately looked down at the cat in front of him with wide eyes.

Great, Richie mumbled, now he’s expecting me to turn into a human and scare the shit out of him again.

“Look, Dustin,” Mike cleared his throat, “it’s complicated. That’s why dad needed to bring you back here before he could explain it. Just take deep breaths and when you’re ready, we’ll continue with everything, okay?”

The blue-eyed teen stared at him for a long moment but didn’t show any signs of having heard his words. The taller teen could hear Dustin’s blood rushing to his brain, feel the boy’s head overheating due to the amount of information he’d been exposed to. He didn’t need to be an expert to know that his dad’s plan had turned terribly wrong. Finally, without a warning — because of course there wouldn’t be a warning, Dustin fainted.

 


 

For the first hour after he’d woken up in his own room, ‘What the fuck?’ had been the one sentence that popped into Dustin’s mind the most often, simply because holy fuck these people can turn into cats holy fuck how the fuck can this happen fuck fuck fuck! Mike, Richie, and Bev had been sitting by the bed for fuck-knows-how-long, but their dad was nowhere to be found. He’d rushed to the bathroom and emptied his stomach because he’d suspected that the woman — Maggie — had put something in the pancakes. That would mean Richie would’ve been affected as well, unless the boy had taken some kind of antidote in advance, or he was immune to whatever it was somehow. Or perhaps he’d been drugged since the previous day and the substance in the mashed potatoes had been dormant for half a day before kicking in. Or perhaps whatever it was was in the water, or even the air. He didn’t know what these people were capable of. Of course, that would mean they had to be exceptionally good at that, since he could literally smell all the ingredients in anything he ate, and whatever he couldn’t, he’d be able to taste it. One guy had tried to drug him by offering him free food before, so he knew the extent of his unusualness.

As he splashed water on his face for the fifth time, trying to look for any other signs that indicated he’d been hallucinating, there was a knock on the door, and for some reason he refused to think about, the boy immediately knew who it was.

“Dustin?” Richie asked. “Are you okay?”

He scoffed at how ridiculous the question was, but didn’t say anything. The other guy had to realize how ridiculous the question must’ve sounded, didn’t he? There was nothing remotely okay about any of the things he’d just seen. Just? How long have I been out?

There was another knock on the door.

“I know it’s a lot to take in, but we can help you understand this,” this time it was Mike. How the fuck do I know this? They literally sound the same.

What did they think they’d make him understand? That they were all nuts? That they were a cult trying to recruit young homeless children? That they were telling the truth?

But you did see that, his brain pointed out, and you didn’t spot a single strange thing about the food, water, or even the air you breathe. They do sound crazy, but if you go and tell others what you can do, people will call you crazy, too.

He couldn’t believe that a part of him actually wanted to believe these people. Well, actually he could. He’d known that he was special, and he’d always wanted to find out why and how special he was. This whatever it was, no matter how crazy it sounded, was the first explanation he’d ever had, and the only reason for his disbelief was because everyone knew it wasn’t real. But what if they didn’t know?

After taking a deep breath and mentally scolding himself for actually doing this, he turned off the water and approached the bathroom door, opening it.

“If I don’t like what you guys say, I’m leaving,” he warned the three pairs of eyes — four, if he counted Richie’s glasses.

And so they talked. They waited for him to sit down on the bed again before starting to explain everything. And after half an hour of listening, Dustin was still not completely sure he hadn’t been hallucinating everything because these people had drugged him.

That would’ve been a much more logical explanation.

However, he’d also experienced some of the things these people had pointed out, long before he’d met any of them. For instance, they had talked about how he could tell if someone was friendly or not because his nose could pick up on the chemicals people emitted, and his enhanced senses had also been why he could see, hear, or smell things humans couldn’t. They had also talked about the tendency to hoard things and the kleptomaniac behavior that the box of ‘trophies’ in the room he’d slept in had stood for.

Finally, they had also shown him a picture of their dad and his mom among a group of people the guy claimed to be one of the teams that had dealt with supernatural affairs back in the days. He could tell these people weren’t lying, and the fact that he could do that was another case in point, but he still couldn’t understand it.

“I told him it was a bad idea,” Mike said for the umpteenth time, “I told him, but did he listen? No.”

“Yeah yeah we get it, you’re brilliant. Can you stop saying that?” Richie yawned and grumbled.

Apparently, after he’d fainted, Wentworth Tozier had come to the conclusion that his method of approaching this situation hadn’t been the best, and had told his two sons to take over the explanation. That was why he was in the twins’ bedroom, sipping hot chocolate that Beverly had made, while trying to once again absorb the fuckton of information he’d just been exposed to, while the old man was nowhere to be found.

“What you’ve been saying is, there can be shifter for every single living thing?” He tried to sum things up.

“Yeah,” Mike nodded. “I think there used to be, too, but some species disappeared because of natural selection and shit.”

“So I’ve always been able to, what, shift? I just didn’t know how to?” The blue-eyed teen raised an eyebrow.

“Nah,” Bev shook her head. “Feline shifters can start shifting when they’re about 14 years, 2 months, and 10 days old, give or take a few days for different species.”

“Why that specific number?” The boy furrowed his brow. “Isn’t it supposed to be like ‘when you turn 14’ or something like that?”

“A year is a human concept,” Mike explained. “Our powers are a lot more ancient than that concept. Just think of it as having to wait a certain amount of time before you can tap into that power. That amount won’t change even if you use another way to measure time.”

“And you— I mean, we have been around since the beginning?” Dustin asked.

“Pretty much, yeah,” Richie hummed. “Myths have to come from something. Vampires? Bat shifters. Werewolves? Canine shifters. Ancient Egyptians worshipped people with bird heads, cat heads, or dog heads. Zeus is just a bird shifter with a very active dick.”

“Humans paint them as immortal beings because shifters have a significantly longer lifespan than them,” Beverly chimed in.

“How long?” Dustin frowned.

“Do you know how old your mom is?” Mike asked. “Or has she ever told you any stories from when she was a kid?”

The blue-eyed teen furrowed his brow as he tried to recall what Mike was asking. He came up with nothing. In all his mom’s ‘when I was younger’ stories, she’d never talked about any time-specific event or milestone. Come to think of it, he didn’t even know his mom’s high school.

The other boy nodded as if his silence was a good enough answer. “That’s because she was older than you thought,” he said. “Went has been around for about 400 years now.”

“So how old are you guys?” Dustin asked. Four centuries old wasn’t the weirdest thing he’d seen or heard today. The pair of cat ears pointing out of Richie’s unruly hair and the black tail whipping back and forth had taken one of the higher spots on the list.

“Don’t worry,” Richie chuckled, “we’re around your age. Mikey and I are seventeen, and Bev is gonna be as well.”

“This world is weird,” Mike shrugged, “but it has its own rules. There’s magic all around you to keep everything in check, and that includes giving birth to supernaturals like us.”

“Okay, you lost me,” the shorter teen shrugged. “Adding magic to the mix is just too much information for one day.”

“Then you’re gonna lose your mind when we tell you about the spellcasters,” Richie snickered.

“And that’s where the school comes in,” Bev grinned at him. “You’re gonna learn everything we know.”

“What school?” Dustin frowned. Apparently, there was a school for people like them.

“Oh, right,” Mike said, “dad enrolled you to our school. You’re gonna learn everything about our history and abilities there. Of course, there’s also the usual classes you find everywhere else as well. Have to prepare all of us for the future and all.”

“Dad’s also going through the paperwork to be your guardian, if you still want to stick around,” Richie chimed in. “He’s in charge of all the cats in New York, and he wants to keep you safe and educated.”

“So, school and parents again,” the curly-haired boy scrunched his nose. “Can’t wait.”

Mike chuckled. “You’ll do great in school. We can teach you how to shapeshift and everything.”

“And you’re gonna meet our friends,” Richie nodded eagerly. “You’re gonna love them.”

Dustin wasn’t sure if he’d be able to make new friends, but he sure was intrigued by the fact that he’d go back to school. He supposed it wouldn’t be bad, especially if this school was the supernatural equivalent of Hogwarts.

Chapter Text

Despite Dustin’s wish to spend his Sunday taking a crash course in Whateverology about whatever he was, they’d all agreed that it would be better for him to talk to his principal about it on Monday, since the rest of them might not have the answers for everything. As a result, his last day before school had been used to cram all the necessary knowledge he’d missed in his two years on the streets. That had been a lot to take in, so even though Maggie had been a spectacular teacher and he’d spent literally all his waking moments listening to her, by the end of the day, he was still only about 80% certain he was good enough for school.

By Monday morning, only a tiny part of him still thought he’d been drugged the whole time, but that didn’t mean he’d start treating these people like family. Sure, they gave him food and a place to stay and seemed to care about him, but the curly-haired boy still didn’t think anyone could be that kind to a random stranger without an ulterior motive, and he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Being cautious was necessary to stay alive, after all.

Of course, that wasn’t what he needed to focus on the most at the moment. As he walked with Mike, Richie, and Beverly, absentmindedly listening to gossip and names that meant nothing to him, his mind drifted towards his biggest problem. He was attending a new school, and he knew how exciting life could be in his shoes, with all the bullies having new blood to target. Normally he wouldn’t need to worry about that since he’d been able to survive for years on the streets, but if he was going to a school for those like him, chances were they could also do what he did. The blue-eyed teen was definitely below average in height, and that didn’t help him intimidate anyone or ward off any bullies either.

“Earth to Dustin? Dustopher? D-flat? Where are you?” Richie’s voice snapped him back to reality.

“Sorry, I spaced out for a moment there,” the shorter teen shook his head. “Wait,” he frowned, “what’s with the dumb nicknames?”

“That’s something Richie does,” Mike shrugged. “Don’t bother telling him to stop. He won’t listen.”

“What were you thinking about?” Bev asked.

“Nothing important,” he said with a sigh. “So, my first day at school. Yay.” He sounded exactly like he felt.

“Ah,” Richie said with an all-knowing nod. “Don’t worry about bullies. As long as you walk with me, nobody will pick on you.”

“Do you, like, run the school or something?” Dustin raised an eyebrow.

“I think what he was trying to say is,” Mike rolled his eyes, “as long as you’re a reasonable enough distance behind him, people will bully him instead of you. Our groups aren’t the most popular around here.”

“Your groups? You guys don’t hang out together?” The curly-haired teen asked. He’d assumed that since they lived in the same house, they’d spend most of their time with one another.

“I guess we do hang out as a group as well,” Richie chuckled, “but some of the things Mikey’s group does are too nerdy for the rest of us. My group is the fun group.”

“Excuse you,” Mike huffed. “First of all, you guys go to the arcade too. Second, the only thing you guys do that we don’t is smoking, and that isn’t enough to be called fun in my book.”

“Let me remind you, my Eds doesn’t smoke,” the other twin waggled his finger in front of his brother. “Me being in my group is enough for it to be the fun one. And you guys also go to science fairs and have your AV club and that’s lame.”

“I didn’t hear you say anything when we filmed your play for Eddie,” Mike retorted.

“Anyway, since they’re distracted,” Bev gave Dustin a smile, “if you asked anyone else at school, they wouldn’t be able to differentiate. To them, we’re all losers.”

“This is why I don’t miss going to school,” the blue-eyed boy sighed. “But at least that means we don’t have to worry about what people think of us.”

“‘We?’” Richie asked with a grin.

“I’m not gonna ditch you guys just because you’re not popular,” Dustin rolled his eyes. “What kind of asshole do you think I am?”

“I knew he was a good guy,” Mike chuckled.

 


 

“They’re taking forever,” Will heard Lucas whine for the third time.

“Just be patient,” Mike — Mike Hanlon — chuckled as he patted the other teen on the back. “They’re walking the new kid to school, so it’s not like they can go at their usual speed.”

Even though his Party and the Losers Club sometimes had members-only activities, since most of the time they hung out together as a big group with 12 members, it had been slightly inconvenient, not only for Will but for most of his friends as well, to find a way to address both Mikes in an effective manner. They’d all ended up using Mikey — Richie’s nickname for his brother since as long as the teen could talk — to address the other twin. Of course, the resident Trashmouth had come up with a lot of other nicknames, but none of them thought calling Mike ‘Micycle’ because the guy used to ride a bike was a good idea, and Will also didn’t get the reference when they called the twins Mike and Ike either.

“Yeah, calm your tits, Lucas,” Max rolled her eyes. “The witches didn’t even complain half as much as you.”

Eddie immediately scowled at the remarks. “I told you to stop calling us that,” he said. “I will seriously jinx you, Mayfield.”

By ‘witches’, the redhead meant Will, Eddie, and Ben. The official term to address them was ‘spellcasters’, however, most people preferred using ‘mages’ as the gender-neutral term. To the hazel-eyed teen, ‘witches’ was fine, but the name did have a stigma around it.

“And I will tear your limbs off if that happens,” El said in a disinterested tone before turning to Lucas. “Anyway, if you didn’t want to wait, you should’ve gone in first like Bill and Stan.”

“Stan has a test today, and you guys know how he can get about it,” Mike explained. “Bill already saw the new kid, so he’s making sure our lovely boyfriend doesn’t overreact.” 

“You guys are sickeningly sweet, you know that?” Lucas huffed.

“As if you weren’t when you dated Max,” Will reminded his friend.

“But it’s not like I did that all the time,” the other boy protested.

“Can you blame Mike, though?” Max smirked. “It’s just who he is.”

“And my boyfriend thought it was a good idea to break into my room the day before my Potions test with a bag of weed,” Eddie scoffed.

“In his defense, you kinda needed to unwind, though,” Ben pointed out. “You were so stressed out, you cast a silencing charm on half the kids in the library.”

“Hey, I was not stressed out,” the short brunet scowled. “They were breathing too loudly. How was I supposed to focus on anything like that?”

While it was true that nobody could be as scary as Stan before a test, Eddie wasn’t that far behind either. Will couldn’t count all the times his friend almost exploded at them because of something insignificant. It was a good thing Richie always knew how to defuse the young mage in those situations, but the brown-haired teen wasn’t sure if that was because of raw talent, boyfriend instinct, or years of experience from riling the shorter boy up.

“They’re here,” Mike, Max, and El suddenly said in unison and turned towards where the other group usually emerged from, before any of the others could sense anything.

“Finally,” Eddie groaned, drawing the attention of all his friends. “What?” The boy furrowed his eyebrows. “I couldn’t meet Richie all weekend because of the new kid,” he tried to explain. “It felt weird being left alone for 48 hours.”

“You guys texted non-stop, right?” Max raised an eyebrow.

“It just wasn’t the same,” the brunet shrugged nonchalantly.

When the other three said their friends were there, it meant they were finally able to pick up the scent with their sharp noses, which gave the group about ten seconds before their friends arrived. Mike was a dog shifter, while Max and El were wolves, which meant there was literally no one in their friend circle who was better at detecting people from a distance than the three. If they had been in the woods instead of in front of a school filled with hormonal teenagers, their range would’ve been even more impressive.

Most of the time, Will wished he could have heightened senses like his friends as well. Sure, being able to cast spells came with many perks, but in his opinion, the others were so much cooler. Max, El, and Mike could smell people from half a mile away with their canine noses. Richie, Mikey, and Bev could see clearly in the darkest cave, and could land gracefully and quietly on their feet after leaping from a tall building. With their bat ears, Lucas and Bill could hear whispers from the other end of the school if they wanted to, and they were literally the masters of echolocation. They could also grow wings and fly if they wanted to, although if he was being fair, bat wings weren’t as beautiful as Stan’s milk-white dove wings. Not to mention, along with those heightened senses came heightened strength, speed, the whole shebang, things even skilled spellcasters had troubles replicating with their magic. In other words, if they ever got in a fight, Will would be the deadweight everyone had to look after. Unfortunately, he was speaking from experience.

“Look, there they are,” Ben said, stopping him from continuing his train of thought and redirecting his attention to a group of four approaching them.

His first impression of the new kid was that the guy wasn’t very friendly. Not in the sense that he was rude or anything, but he seemed reserved and probably was a bit wary of new people as well. That didn’t surprise him too much, since he recalled Mikey saying something about Dustin living on the streets for about two years. Something told Will that the new cat would wear the brightest and most contagious smile if they were lucky enough to become good friends.

As he turned to convey his thought to his friends, the hazel-eyed teen spotted something unusual in Lucas’ demeanor. The young bat was looking at the approaching group with wide eyes. His mouth was agape and his pupils were slightly bigger than usual — Will only knew this because he tended to observe his friends to draw them. Despite having never seen his friend like that before, something about the black teen seemed very familiar to the young mage. He knew he’d seen that look somewhere before, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

“Hi, guys! You must be Dustin,” he heard Mike say, and just like that, the bat snapped out of whatever state he’d been in.

“Hi Dustin,” Will greeted. “We’ve heard so much about you. It was like Mikey couldn’t shut up about the newest member,” he said with a grin. If that statement had a tiny hint of jealousy in it, then nobody had to know. Of course, it had been a bit unsettling when everything his boyfriend talked about was a boy he’d never met, but looking into Mike’s eyes, Will could tell the taller teen thought of this newcomer as family.

“Hi,” Dustin said awkwardly. “I don’t think I know your name. Everyone has been throwing out a lot of names, but unless I can link them to your fac—”

“Eds!” Richie exclaimed, interrupting the other boy as he rushed towards his boyfriend. “I missed you! How’s my favorite boy?”

“Don’t call me that, dipshit,” the brunet scoffed but let the raven-haired teen pull him in for a hug nonetheless. “You know I hate it.”

“Don’t call you what? ‘Eds’ or ‘my favorite boy’?” Richie smirked knowingly.

“You know what,” the mage grumbled.

“Well I call bullshit,” the catboy grinned at his boyfriend. “We can all see the blush you have right now.”

“That’s because I’m frustrated, dickhead.”

Will turned back to the new kid with a bashful smile. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to the chaos that is Richie and Eddie,” he said. “I’m Will, by the way.”

“Well, I have been living under the same roof as Richie for the last two days,” the curly-haired teen shrugged. “Didn’t think it could get any more interesting, though. Apparently, I was wrong.”

“Nice to finally meet you, Dustin. I’m Mike.”

“Mike?” The boy raised an eyebrow, undoubtedly wondering how they addressed the two individuals with the same first name.

“Yeah,” Mike nodded with a soft smile. “The one standing behind you looking at Will like he hung the moon, we call him Mikey.”

“Hey! I wasn’t looking at Will like he hung the moon,” Mikey protested.

“You weren’t?” Will asked, turning to his boyfriend. Understandably, that had turned the raven-haired teen’s cheeks to red.

“I mean, I was, but I didn’t appreciate Mike pointing that out,” he hastily explained.

“So whipped,” Max snorted before turning to Dustin as well. “Hi, I’m Max, and this is my girlfriend El. The kid currently sucking face with Beverly is called Ben. As you might’ve guessed, the one whose face is being eaten by Richie is Eddie.”

Ben reluctantly pulled away from his girlfriend, blushing slightly but unable to say anything. Richie, however, decided to be even more obnoxious, to the point where Will was seriously starting to wonder if Eddie was actually enjoying it.

That was also when Will realized the last person on the welcome wagon hadn’t said anything. He shot the dark-skinned boy a concerned look. His friend was acting a little strange.

“I— Uh, Lucas. Yeah,” the teen finally managed to say.

“So, Uh, Lucas, are you able to form full sentences?” Dustin raised an eyebrow. That had probably snapped the other teen out of whatever he was in.

“Excuse you,” the bat huffed. “I’m fully capable of talking, thank you very much.”

“Well, didn’t seem like it, so I didn’t want to assume.”

Will’s eyes were wide from how his friend and the new kid interacted with each other. It was totally not normal for Lucas to behave like that, and it was definitely weird for the two of them to act like they had either been friends for centuries or were mortal enemies. He hoped it wouldn’t be the latter.

His boyfriend was also a little taken aback by the other two, but he quickly regained his composure. “Guys,” he said, “thanks for waiting for us here, but Dustin needs to drop by the principal’s office before classes start today.”

“Oh, right,” Ben hummed. “New school, new schedule.”

“Not to mention all the questions he might have about this world,” Bev chimed in. “He’s been aware of it for two days.”

“Great,” Dustin mumbled. “Another authority figure.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll love her,” Will chuckled. “She’s the best authority figure you’ll ever find. She’s my favorite.”

“I don’t think a lot of students pick their principals as their favorite,” the other boy raised an eyebrow.

“Can’t help it if I’m biased,” he grinned back. “She’s my mom.”

 


 

It had been a while since Joyce last had to explain everything to a newcomer.

Usually, the kid’s parents would explain everything to them by the time they were of age, since if the child didn’t know about their powers, they wouldn’t be able to control them, and surely everyone would be delighted to clean up after someone lost control over their power. However, she had been informed about the situation of the boy sitting in front of her.

“I’ve been informed that you’ve been aware of your heritage for two days,” she said calmly. “I’m guessing you’re feeling a little overwhelmed.”

“A little? That’s an understatement,” the kid — Dustin — snorted. “Sorry.”

“It’s alright,” she gave him an encouraging smile. “I’m guessing you have questions?”

“How is any of this possible?” Dustin went straight to the point.

“The science that you know doesn’t include everything,” she said slowly. “There’s magic all around us, but not all species are able to use it, or even are aware of it. Humans are among the smartest species in the planet without the ability to tap into that magic.” She swirled her finger, and a man-shaped figure made of smoke appeared in the air. “There are also beings that are made from magic. They’re born without a physical body, and humans called them demons.” She repeated her movement, and this time, the smoke turned into a horned head. “I’m not an expert in that area, but luckily, we’re here to talk about those in the middle — the ones with physical bodies who either have magic in them or can tap into that power. That’s how shifters can shapeshift, and that’s how spellcasters can use magic.”

She could tell that the blue-eyed teen had a lot of questions that he either wasn’t ready to know the answer to, or that she herself didn’t have one, so it was the right move to remind the boy to focus on the right questions.

After taking a moment to process everything she’d said, the boy looked up at her again. “How many, uh, species are there in that middle?” He asked.

“I don’t think anyone can give an exact number for that question,” Joyce chuckled, “but generally we’re split into shapeshifters and spellcasters, based on the different ways we use magic.”

“Different as in, shapeshifters turn into animals, and spellcasters cast spells?”

The principal couldn’t help but laugh at that question. “While that notion is usually true, extremely skilled spellcasters can also turn into animals, and there have been cases where shapeshifters cast spells.” She didn’t think she’d met anyone like this kid, and she definitely wouldn’t mind if the next time she had to do it, that kid would be as smart as this one as well. “Think of it like this, shapeshifters store all their magic in them. That magic enhances them, make them stronger, give them sharper senses, and of course, allow them to turn into animals. Now, having magic in you also means it’s really difficult to store more than your maximum capacity.”

“So I’m guessing, spellcasters don’t store magic in them, then?” Dustin asked with a hint of a smile.

“Spellcasters are more skilled in borrowing magic,” Joyce explained. “When they ‘cast’ a spell, they borrow the magic from the words they chant, from the ingredients they use. It’s like they carry their magic around in a balloon. That way, they can store more magic, and the balloon expands the more they collect, but that magic is more detached from them. It doesn’t enhance anything.”

Most people would need a couple of minutes trying to imagine what she’d just said, but the curly-haired teen didn’t take half as long before he started nodding. “To be honest, I was expecting something more confusing.”

“I believe the reason Mr. Tozier wanted me to answer these questions was because I’ve been doing this for over 200 years,” the principal laughed.

The kid raised his eyebrows at that statement for a while before clearing his throat. “I’m not sure if this is an appropriate question, since I’m still new to this, but how old are you?” He asked awkwardly.

“Oh,” Joyce chuckled. “It’s okay to be curious. I’m only 42 years old in this lifetime.”

“This lifetime?” The boy furrowed his brows.

“Oh, right, that’s another difference between the two types of magic as well,” Joyce smiled. “Shapeshifter’s magic also makes you live a lot longer than an average human — there have been records of shifters living up to 1500 years. Since spellcaster’s magic doesn’t enhance anything, our lifespan is roughly the same as a regular human. However, since the magic we acquire tends to be fond of us, when we die, a large part of it will sacrifice itself to bring our memories and powers back to life in another newborn.” She waved her hand, and a smoke circle appeared in the air. “That’s what human calls reincarnation. Then we’re back to borrowing magic, and another part gets lost when we die again. The magic required to reincarnate is so absurd that normally, it’s impossible for a spellcaster to make up for it in one lifetime. So eventually, our magic runs out and we die for the last time.”

The blue-eyed teen thought for another moment before continuing. “If we can live that long, why haven’t we overrun the world yet?”

This would be another question that made Joyce laugh. In all her years, nobody had ever asked her anything like that before. “It’s not easy to give birth to new magic,” she replied. “I think I’m going to let your Sex Ed teacher answer that for you.”

Since it was difficult for magic to die, it was also equally difficult for magic to be born as well. For a new life to be conceived, the parents needed to harvest the morning dew when there was a full moon on Lupercalia, which only happened twice every 19 years, and seal that dew with a special charm that could only be done once per person, for at least half a decade. The exact amount of time varied from species to species, so she wouldn’t be able to give a straight answer anyway.

“I do believe with your brain, you’re going to find out everything I’ve said on your own eventually,” Joyce said. “Do you have any specific questions that you don’t think you can find in a book?”

Dustin thought for another moment before turning his attention back to her. “So have I been able to shapeshift all this time?”

“Yes and no,” the woman replied. “You might have noticed you’ve had heightened senses all along, but it’s just a small fraction of what you can do. You couldn’t use your magic if you didn’t know it was there, but now that you know, with a little training, you’ll be able to do it soon.” She thought for a moment before continuing. “But in your case, the first couple of times might not feel very comfortable. It’s a muscle that you haven’t used in a long time, so you’ll need time getting used to it.”

“How long is it gonna take?”

“That is entirely up to you,” Joyce said with an amused expression. “It shouldn’t take more than a month, though.”

The blue-eyed teen flashed her a grin. “So, when do I start?”

Chapter Text

It had been two weeks since Dustin ran into Wentworth — or, to be more precise, since he was targeted by Went. It had also been two weeks of school, and he was beginning to get used to this new pace. He was still struggling slightly with algebra, but if he gave himself another week, he doubted that would be a problem.

He’d also spent half of his time at home reading everything he could get his hands on about the subjects that were foreign to him, or about this new world in general. Learning something new had always been fascinating to him, but learning about something unknown to science was even better. The kind of knowledge in these books was magical, both literally and figuratively. For instance, in Biology, he learned about the different kinds of shifters, their strengths, weaknesses, habitats, and everything he could ever hope to know about them. History books had also taught him about their past and how it intertwined with human civilization.

Turned out, it was a good thing that all shifters were only able to shift sometime after their fourteenth birthday, since that meant he’d only missed one year’s worth of classes. He wouldn’t have been able to catch up with anyone if they’d studied this since primary school — although, some parents had taught their children about their own species since they were kids.

Other than the familiar classes and the classes with a slight twist to their syllabi, he got to experience brand new classes as well. Most of those classes were electives and were tailored for every species, so he got to learn the basics of hunting, hiding his own tracks, and fighting as a feline shifter. Or at least, that was the plan, since without being able to shift, there weren’t too many things he could do other than to read the theory, and he was still working on the shifting part. Gym was the one compulsory class that was also tailored for every species, since in this school, people took the whole ‘not judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree’ rather seriously. Overall, he’d never enjoyed school this much in his life, and with him being a nerd, that was saying something. 

He’d also made tons of new friends in just two weeks — all of them were friends with Mikey, Richie, and Bev — and they’d helped him a lot with learning about this new world as well. Furthermore, with 12 new friends, he was never alone in any class. Almost all of them were cool as well. Almost.

“Are you kidding me?” Lucas huffed. “Who in their right mind would say 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3 was a logical sequence?”

“Who in their right mind would watch a movie released in 1999 before a one released in 1977 in a marathon?” Dustin retorted.

“They would if it was a prequel, dumbass,” Lucas rolled his eyes. “You have to respect the timeline of the story.”

“Does that mean you watch the last Final Destination first?” The curly-haired teen shot back. “Or do you watch Prometheus before watching Alien?” He let out a loud gasp. “I swear, if you watch The First Avengers before Iron Man, we’re enemies.”

The batboy’s eyes widened at the accusation. “Those are different!”

“No, they’re not!”

“That’s it,” Bill grumbled. “Mikey, you’re banned from suggesting movies for movie nights until further notice.”

“How was I supposed to know they’d argue for half an hour about it?” Mikey whined.

“Hey!” Dustin scoffed. “I’m only telling Lucas how undeniably wrong he is about this.”

“I’m not—”

“Okay, both of you shut up,” Max groaned. “One more word and we’re watching Titanic tomorrow.”

The threat effectively shut both him and Lucas up.

It wasn’t that he disliked that particular movie, but there was no way Dustin would sabotage his chance to marathon one of the greatest movie franchises of all time.

“Should’ve used that trick when they started bickering,” Stan sighed. “Can’t believe I got a headache and it wasn’t because of Richie.”

“Speaking of whom, Dustin and I should probably head home, too,” Mikey said. “They’re probably ready for us by now.”

By ‘they’, the raven-haired cat shifter meant Richie, Beverly, Will, Eddie, and Ben. Mikey had asked them to assist him in helping Dustin with his shifting.

“Cool,” Mike replied with a soft smile. “See you guys tomorrow for movie night.”

After they all bid their goodbyes to each other, he followed Mikey home in silence as he thought about how they could possibly help him with this when he was supposed to do all the heavy lifting and he didn’t even know how to. So far, all the teachers at school had told him to close his eyes and imagine the form he wanted to be in. Apparently, he needed to feel it coursing through his veins or some shit. That sounded poetic and beautiful, except they didn’t tell him how to get to that stage. Every day, he tried to do it in his room. Every day, he closed his eyes and tried his hardest to transform. Every day, Richie told him he looked constipated.

“Will’s mom gave us some pointers,” Mikey suddenly said, breaking him out of his thoughts. “Of course, your case isn’t normal, but it’s not the first case in the world either. She’s told you about it being like unused muscles, right?”

“More or less,” the curly-haired boy mumbled.

“For you, it’s not technically unused, since when you were on the street, your body already tapped into a part of those muscles,” the other teen explained as they approached the house. “Because that part came to you instinctually, we thought maybe we could let your instinct help you with the rest.”

As Dustin approached the front door, his friend trailed behind and put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t freak out, okay?”

He was about to ask what Mikey meant, but as soon as the door swung open, it certainly hit him. Or to be more precise, the lack of it. Of everything.

Suddenly, it was like he’d gone blind, or like someone had gone through great lengths to hide every source of light in the world. He was standing in front of the house, in the late afternoon, yet there was no light. There was also no wind blowing through the leaves, no birds chirping in the trees, no faint sound of traffic in the background, like someone had pressed mute on everything. His nose didn’t work either, since one moment he could smell the flowers Maggie grew in her little garden under the front window, the next, it was also cut off from the world. The only thing he could feel was Mikey’s hand on his shoulder — which was probably the only thing stopping him from panicking.

“You probably don’t see anything,” Beverly’s voice came from somewhere in front of him, “but there is light. Just not the kind human eyes can see.”

He tentatively took a step forward, and Mikey’s hand left his shoulder.

“The house is currently under a spell,” Richie said. “Everything has been turned down to the point where human senses can’t register. The only way to break it is to reach the spellcasters somewhere in here.”

“Of course, we’re gonna try to stop you,” Mike said from behind him. “But first, let’s try not to run into everything in this house, shall we?”

If at any point in his life Dustin had wondered what it’d feel like to go blind, he would’ve gone back and slapped himself for it. Sensory deprivation was not a fun thing to experience at this particular moment. Within the first 30 seconds, he ran into a wall twice and stubbed his toe once. However, things started to get annoying when there was the unmistakable feeling of a cat’s paws against his chest, making him lose balance and sending him to the floor. “Hey!” He complained and slowly got up.

There was the sound of another cat made his jump somewhere behind him, and he turned to dodge at the very last moment, feeling a soft tail brushed against his arm as he did so. However, he tripped against what was undoubtedly the hand rest of the living room sofa and fell anyway.

“Impressive,” Beverly hummed. “I’m joining the party.”

Dustin tried to focus on the sound from where her voice came from, but it was like the girl had disappeared. He was starting to get the hang of it, but obviously, it still wasn’t enough. Mike and Richie’s strategy had been to jump at him from various directions, so he could hear them when they jumped or built momentum, but Beverly had decided to just slowly walk to him and swat him with her lion paw instead, and the blue-eyed teen couldn’t hear that before it was too late. “Seriously?” He asked when he got knocked down by her for the fifth time. However, this time, something changed. Her scent lingered. It wasn’t like he could see her, but the boy could tell where the source was, so he decided to keep his distance.

After another unsuccessful jump, he could detect Mikey’s scent coming from where the cat was supposed to land. “He’s making more progress than he has in two weeks,” the boy chuckled. “Commencing step three.”

Dustin couldn’t help but smirk at that comment. His nose and ears could tell him the other two had turned back to humans as well. “Three against one is hardly fair, guys,” he commented.

“Who said anything about playing fair?” Richie chuckled before darting towards him, and as he took a step back to avoid the taller teen, Dustin bumped into a wall.

“You’ll need more than just knowing where we are if you wanna even find the other three,” Mikey said before going at him as well, and as the shorter boy tried to dodge, he found himself bumping against another wall to his right. Shit. I’m in a corner.

As a reflex, the blue-eyed teen raised his hands to block Mikey’s strike, and suddenly he could see. He could make out his surroundings, the three people in the same room as him, all partially shifted with feline eyes and noses. Mikey and Richie also brought out the cat ears. With how he’d been able to detect them, Dustin supposed he also looked like the twins at the moment. More importantly, he could spot Will, Eddie, and Ben in the kitchen holding hands in a circle, less than twenty steps away. Everything was shrouded in an eerie light, but he could see nonetheless. He could feel his instincts and something more course through his veins as Mikey had undoubtedly noticed this new development.

“Good job,” the twin smirked, “but your goal is to reach them, not to find them. You’re only halfway there.”

The shorter boy was fully aware that there was no way for him to get past these three in his human form, but he already knew what to do by now. He imagined shifting, shrinking down and growing whiskers and a tail, and suddenly Dustin found himself with four paws on the ground, between Mikey’s legs.

“Shit,” he heard the other boy curse out loud, but the cat was already on the move. “Richie, Bev, stop him.”

In this size, it was almost too easy to dodge the three teens as he dashed towards the kitchen, only turning back to human at the last moment.

Dustin, wait, Mike’s voice echoed in his head as he put his hand on Eddie’s shoulder.

And just like that, the whole world exploded.

 


 

“We had a deal,” Mikey said as soon as he stepped into his dad’s study, with Richie and Beverly following close behind.

“I’m aware of that,” Wentworth said without looking up to greet his boys.

The bet Mike had won when his dad had failed to explain things to Dustin had allowed him to make a deal with the man. Since Wentworth had proven that he didn’t understand teenagers enough, if Mikey proved himself to be worthy, he could be the alpha cat of their little pride. Of course, their dad was the alpha of all the cats in the area, but there were just too many of them, the guy couldn’t possibly be in charge of every single shifter individually. Therefore, each group — usually each family — had their own alpha, and those alphas reported back to him, the same way he reported back to the one in charge of him, and that guy to the guy above him, and so on.

“So, am I good enough to be the alpha now?” Mikey asked. “I even got Dustin to shift for the first time.”

“And how is he now?”

“Still out,” Richie provided. “It must’ve been painful, not being used to that amount of data.”

As soon as Dustin broke the spell, everything was back to normal again, which meant, the shorter teen was able to see, hear, smell everything again. Sure, the guy might’ve been able to pick up more than usual before, but that was nothing compared to the full extent, and without being used to tuning things out, everything was too bright, too loud, and too strong for his poor senses. Ben had quickly cast a sleeping charm on the screaming teen, and the curly-haired boy had been out ever since.

“Smart decision to have your spellcaster friends here when he changed for the first time,” their dad commented.

“Mrs. Byers said that might happen,” Bev said. “She also suggested we shouldn’t let him focus too much on shifting, but rather let it happen on instinct.”

“She’s a wise woman,” Went chuckled. “I’m glad she’s around this time.”

Mikey was as well, since he didn’t know what he’d do if Will wasn’t around.

“Have I passed the test, then?” He raised an eyebrow.

“There are no tests, Michael,” his dad shook his head. “I never said there was one in the first place.”

“But you said I could be the alpha if I proved myself to be worthy enough,” he protested.

“I never said you had to prove it to me,” Went pointed out. “I don’t pick the alpha of a pride, Mikey. The pride picks one among them.”

He raised an eyebrow before turning around to look at Richie and Bev.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” Beverly shrugged.

“As long as it doesn’t mean you can boss me around all the time,” Richie smirked.

A smile appeared on Mikey’s lips as he turned around and looked at his dad. “Well, you heard them.”

“Technically, Dustin is also part of your pride, too,” Went reminded him, but a smile was already forming on the old man’s lips. “Very well, Alpha. Take good care of your members.”

“Thanks, Dad,” he grinned and turned around, leaving the room with the other two.

“So, you’re the leader of three cats now,” Richie grinned once the door closed behind them. “Feeling any different?”

“Who are you calling a cat?” Bev asked, but there was a smirk on her lips.

“If I knew it was this easy, I would’ve gone to him ages ago,” Mikey chuckled.

“But I meant what I said,” Richie raised an eyebrow, “you’re not bossing me around.”

“I don’t boss people around, asshole,” he huffed.

“Yes you do,” his brother rolled his eyes. “You do it all the time. ‘Do your homework, Richie’, ‘Clean our room, Richie’, I’ve lived with that my whole life.”

“If you call that bossing around, how are you in a relationship with Eddie?” Mikey rolled his eyes.

“That’s different,” his twin huffed. “We have a special connection.”

“I have a feeling I don’t want to hear the rest of it,” he scrunched his nose.

“No, I’m serious,” Richie insisted. “Me and Mrs. Kaspbrak have been doing it for—”

“I was right,” Mikey groaned, “I don’t want to hear the rest of it.”

 


 

Richie didn’t know what woke him up. A glance towards the clock told him it was only a little after 3 in the morning. Staying up till this hour was a normal occurrence, but he never woke up before 7am. He groaned and closed his eyes, trying to go back to sleep.

But then, a quiet whimper from his brother’s bed snapped him out of his half-asleep state. He immediately elbowed the sleeping figure next to him.

“Ouch!” Mikey immediately groaned as he was jostled awake. “What the fuck, Richie?”

“Shh,” he hushed the other teen as the whimper grew louder.

After Ben had put Dustin to sleep, they’d all agreed to bring the other boy to Mikey and Richie’s room instead of his own, since because of their habit of bickering in the middle of the night combined with Richie’s loud music preference, it was the only soundproofed room in the house. That certainly came in handy when the car engine from two blocks over could trigger their newest member, and that was also why Mikey had to bunk in with him.

Mikey’s eyes shot open when he realized what was happening. They both carefully got up and approached the other bed, trying not to make any unnecessary sounds.

“Dustin?” Richie whispered, eliciting another sound from the curly-haired teen.

“Too loud,” the other boy said weakly as he tried to bury his head under Mikey’s pillow.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “You need to shut your senses down.”

“How?”

Focus on my voice and try to visualize yourself turning down the volume on everything else, Mikey communicated wordlessly. I know we’re asking a lot from you, but if you can’t do this, it’s gonna get worse in the morning.

Richie wasn’t sure if the other boy was able to hear his brother just yet, but that was the safest way to say anything without making a sound, so he also started talking like that. He talked about earlier that day — or the previous day if he wanted to get technical. He talked about how it had taken Will, Eddie, and Ben an entire hour to put that spell on the house. He talked about Joyce’s advice, about everything that had happened since Dustin had been put to sleep sans the alpha news — which wasn’t a lot, by the way. 

He could tell from his body language that the shorter boy was listening, so he kept going. He recounted his childhood memories with Mikey. He badmouthed the teachers Dustin knew. He started ranting about his friends. He’d joked many times in his life that being able to talk nonstop was a gift, but this was the first time that had ever been put to good use. He didn’t care what he talked about, only that he had to give Dustin something to focus on.

After fifteen minutes or so, the curly-haired teen finally removed the pillow and slowly opened his eyes.

“How are you doing?” Mikey asked quietly.

“Better,” Dustin mumbled. “Do you guys always experience that?”

“Nah,” Richie chuckled. “We weren’t dormant for two fucking years, so our senses didn’t go haywire like yours.”

“But that was just one thing,” Mikey reminded them. “Your eyes definitely won’t like it if we turn on the light.”

“Then don’t.”

“Can’t turn off the sun, genius,” his brother rolled his eyes. “We have until morning to teach you how to control it.”

“But first, I’ll show you the good side of having enhanced senses,” Richie grinned. “Let me grab your dinner.”

Chapter Text

In the end, it had taken the whole weekend for Dustin to finally learn to control his powers. Needless to say, for his own sake, his friends had decided to cancel their plan to hang out, since the process was already excruciating enough without nine additional teenagers. He’d spent the entire Saturday wearing sunglasses and noise-canceling headphones, and even then, it had still been too much. Fortunately for him, by Sunday evening, he’d gotten accustomed to everything enough to only get a moderate headache at the mall. That had been a huge improvement from the splitting migraine he’d had earlier from seeing and hearing too much. However, his friends warned him that the headache wouldn’t go away unless he could magically master something that had taken them a month to do. Of course, everyone had advised against using magic since it would hinder his progress, so that was also out of the equation.

The mall had been a test run to see if he could go to school without breaking down — a rather shitty test run — as he realized with every step towards the building.

“How did you get used to this?” The blue-eyed teen groaned. “To the stench of hundreds of adolescents and their sweat and hormones and odor and— I don’t even want to analyze the rest!”

“You think this is bad?” Richie chuckled. “Wait until tomorrow. Some people just love Taco Tuesday.”

The mall was certainly bright and loud enough to prepare him for school, but back there, the only smells he had to worry about had been the nauseatingly greasy fried food and the unbearable smell of that one person who always used too much perfume. None of those had burned his nose like the combination of what he now dubbed the ‘dumb teens stink’ — which he refused to analyze. Of course, not all of them had been unpleasant — he didn’t think his housemates were awful — but the bad still won by a landslide.

“Again, it’s because you’re still attuning to this,” Bev chuckled. “Give it a week or two and you’ll be able to pick up just the data you need.”

“A week or two?” Dustin asked incredulously. “I’m not sure if I can last a day or two.”

“And here I thought Mikey was the extra one in our pride,” Richie snickered.

“Excuse you?” The other twin huffed. “Have you met yourself? You’re ten times worse than me.”

“See what I meant about being extra?” Richie grinned. “I’m at most two and a half, maybe three times worse than him.”

“My point still stands, asshole,” Mikey punched his brother in the shoulder, “you’re the extra one here.”

“Last I checked, I was still the older brother,” Richie shrugged. “So technically, you’re the extra one.”

“Older by ten minutes,” Mikey rolled his eyes. “That doesn’t count.”

Before meeting them, Dustin had thought that all twins were like Fred and George Weasley — being so similar to each other that even their mother would have a difficult time telling them apart. However, in a weird way, Richie and Mikey were both eerily similar to and drastically different from one another. For instance, despite their similar appearance, Richie’s hair was always a bit wavier than Mikey, and the younger twin had more freckles than his brother. They were both extremely pale, but he would say Mikey was a shade or two lighter. The way their eyes sparkled were also different from each other, but Dustin couldn’t quite put it into words. The older teen was also a bit taller, but that could’ve been because of the fluffy hair. Their scents were also different underneath the layers of soap, shampoo, and other products either on them or their clothes, with the younger twin smelling like pinewood forests in winter, and his brother like ripe lime gardens during summer. They also both had a bad taste in fashion, but while Mikey’s wardrobe looked like his nana had bought him half of his clothes, Richie’s outfits were the kind he always imagined Rick Riordan’s Poseidon wearing — colorful Hawaiian shirts clashing with equally colorful T-shirts. At least the teen didn’t wear shorts like he’d just gotten back from the beach. Their personalities proved to be immensely different while being very similar as well. Mikey had a quieter way of fussing over Will, while it was impossible not to notice when Richie was worried about Eddie.

“Ten minutes is a long time, brother dearest,” Richie put on a faux British accent.

“I feel bad for Eddie if you think so,” the other twin mumbled.

“Mike-and-Ike got off a good one,” the older teen cackled. “Good job.”

If Mikey had a reply to that, Dustin didn’t hear it, since his focus was shifted to the new scent that had just popped up. He quite enjoyed this aspect of having an enhanced nose, since he could know what someone was without having to ask like he’d been doing so far. For instance, Richie and Mikey both had a very distinctive cat smell, while Bev’s scent gave him the impression of hot savanna wind — a fitting smell for a lion shifter. He’d also picked up Will and Eddie’s scents in Richie and Mikey’s room from some of the objects the two teens had either lent their boyfriends or had left behind. Apart from the very unique scent each of them had, there was a distinctive smell that Mikey had said was the cauldrons-and-potions scent that every spellcaster had even if they didn’t dwell in that particular field. This new blip on his radar smelled like blood and humid dark caves, and there was also the earthy scent of the forest ground at night after a rain. He’d walked to school enough times to know who would join them around this area even without needing to look to his side to see a familiar bat transforming back into a boy.

“Yeah, he’s a cat, alright,” Lucas hummed. “Smells a lot more like it now.”

“And you’re a bat, alright,” Dustin rolled his eyes. “A blood-sucking bat, by the smell of it.”

“Well, excuse me for not being one of those lame fruit bats,” the taller teen scoffed. “Blood tastes way better, anyway.”

“Well, excuse me for not finding the idea of some poor helpless souls being cornered in a dark alley appealing just so you can have a nice meal,” the curly-haired boy retorted.

Of course, that wasn’t what actually happened, but Dustin still liked to pretend that was how Lucas fed. His friends had explained to him that hematophagous shifters like vampire bats mostly fed on wild animals or expired blood bags. It had been the only thing Bill and Lucas had to begrudgingly agree that the Twilight series had gotten right. Of course, fresh blood was preferred, but when hundreds of bat shifters lived in a big city like New York, there weren’t many opportunities for them to hunt. In some cases, they could also get a donor — someone willing to give them fresh blood — but in most of those cases, the donors were either their family members or partners, since bat shifters found that method intimate.

“You just say that because you used to be the poor helpless soul in the dark alley,” Lucas jabbed back.

“Please,” Dustin rolled his eyes, “if you find yourself in a dark alley with me, don’t be mistaken, you’re the victim.”

“As intriguing as that sounds,” Bev sighed, “why don’t we just stay away from dark alleys in general?”

“Why, Bev?” Mikey grinned. “Mufasa told you to stay away from where the sun doesn’t touch?”

“Bet you didn’t listen to that when Ben—”

“Beep beep, Richie!”

 


 

Max had her eyes on her target as she made her way across the crowded hall. Lunch could wait, since she had something slightly more interesting in mind. Her ex-boyfriend had been acting strange for a while now, and she had a pretty good idea why. It wasn’t like Lucas had been strange enough for others to notice — maybe Will had, but that was it — but since they had dated for almost two years, it wasn’t that hard to spot the odd behavior. However, it was still time for confrontation. She could’ve let it go, but as her friends usually said, where’s the fun in that?

“Mind if I talk to you for a moment, stalker?” The redhead finally asked as she put a hand on the batboy’s shoulder, making him turn around to face her.

“Can’t it wait until we get to the others?” Lucas asked quizzically.

“Alone,” Max rolled her eyes and added. “I wouldn’t have stopped you here otherwise, would I?”

The taller boy raised an eyebrow but didn’t object as she dragged him towards the back door instead of the cafeteria. Richie and Bev used this hideout sometimes if they wanted to skip class, but during lunch, it was almost guaranteed that she could have some privacy around here.

“So, I wanna talk about your latest development in the romantic department,” the redhead decided to cut to the chase.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Lucas said, trying to act nonchalant, but the girl’s wolf ears could pick up the subtle change in her ex-boyfriend’s heartbeat.

“C’mon,” she groaned, “a promise is a promise. You were the one who said we should let each other know if there’s anyone, and I did deliver.”

“To be fair, we could all see it before you came clean to me,” the boy mumbled.

“I still did, didn’t I?” Max rolled her eyes. “Now, about the reason you’ve been walking to school with the cats,” she said with a smirk.

“What about it?” Lucas played dumb. “I used to walk to school with Mikey and Richie all the time.”

“Yeah,” Max agreed. “But that was before you could shapeshift. You said flying to school would give you a few extra minutes in the morning, and we both know you need those minutes now that Erica is taking more bathroom time.”

“Maybe I got that figured out,” the taller teen shrugged. “Maybe I don’t mind waking up early as much as I used to.”

“Of course you don’t,” the blue-eyed girl hummed. “That’s why I wanna talk about your motivation. Other than the first morning, you’ve never missed a single opportunity to go anywhere with Dustin.”

“That’s not weird,” Lucas huffed. “We’re the only single people in our group. I know what third-wheeling to all of you feel like, so I don’t want him to feel that way.”

Max didn’t give a verbal response to that, only sending the black teen a pointed look as she crossed her arms in front of her chest and leaned back against the door where they’d just come from. That lasted for about ten seconds before the taller teen finally cracked.

“Fine,” he mumbled, “maybe I find Dustin a little cute sometimes.”

“Only sometimes? You didn’t have to downplay your feelings,” Max snorted. “Don’t think I didn’t notice that somehow you always ended up walking next to him, or that you’re currently secretly worried that someone else might’ve taken your seat next to him by now, which is ridiculous, by the way, since you actually think that some of us might actually choose to sit next to Dustin instead of our boyfriends and girlfriends.”

Her ex-boyfriend didn’t have a coherent response to that, so she enjoyed the brief speechless moment before continuing. “So, what are you gonna do about it?”

“Nothing!” Lucas said exasperatedly. “He’s still new to our group, and he’s adjusting to everything, and I’m not even sure if he’s interested in boys, let alone in me.”

“We know he doesn’t have a problem with always ending up next to you,” Max pointed out.

“Because that clears everything up,” the boy snorted.

“Shut up, stalker,” the redhead rolled her eyes, “I’m trying to help.”

“How many times do I have to tell you?” Lucas groaned. “I don’t break into people’s rooms and watch them sleep at night.”

“Won’t stop me from calling you ‘stalker’, though,” the girl snickered. “Also, whatever mating dance you are doing, he’s definitely picking up.”

“I’m not doing any ‘mating dance’, thank you very much,” the taller teen said, making an air quote at the redhead’s choice of words.

“You mean the bickering wasn’t it?” Max raised an eyebrow. “Because as much as it surprised me, that seems to be working.”

“I told you, I’m not doing— Wait, what? What’s working?” Lucas asked, and the redhead was certain if she put her hands close to his cheeks right now, she would feel the heat radiating from them.

“He seems to be enjoying those conversations with you,” the girl shrugged. “The rest of us, not so much.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” the batboy sighed. “Like I said, he’s new, so he’s probably enjoying having friends for a change. Remember what that feels like?”

“Let’s put it to the test, shall we?”

“How exactly are we gonna do that?”

“Let’s skip lunch today,” Max smirked. “Just you and me. If that bothers him, you’ll know he’s been paying attention to you.”

“Wouldn’t that bother El as well?” The taller teen raised an eyebrow.

“Not if I text her first,” the wolfgirl said nonchalantly. “After all, we also need someone to pay attention to his behavior, and my girlfriend is an expert at that.”

“You mean I have to let another person know about it, too?” Lucas asked exasperatedly.

“If you have a better idea, I’m all ears,” Max raised an eyebrow. “If not, I just need to know whether you’re too clingy to do this.”

Her ex-boyfriend frowned at that statement, and she gave him a mischievous smirk.

 


 

Dustin hadn’t seen Lucas since second period.

Of course, Max had also missed lunch, but those two were slightly different in his book. For starters, Max was a canine shifter, and although he got along just fine with her, El, and Mike, their scents weren’t as comforting as some of the others. Unsurprisingly, his pride members had some of the most soothing scents, and he could concentrate better when he was around Bev, Mikey, or Richie. The surprising part was how he found Lucas’ earthy scent the most calming. As soon as the bat showed up that morning, all the things that had been bugging him had turned into background noise, and he’d found himself not minding the stench that had burned his nose earlier or the sounds that had pierced through his ears just moments before. He also learned that the 'forest ground after the rain' scent was Lucas' alone, and not just one of the general bat scents, since Bill also smelled like blood and humid caves, but the redhead had a more minty aroma.

He would’ve loved that effect during lunch as well, but unfortunately, El had informed the group that Max and Lucas wouldn’t be joining them, and nobody had found it necessary to ask for details. He was well aware that it wasn’t the batboy’s job to hang around and help him control his powers, but that didn’t make dealing with it any easier. As a result, by the end of the day, his mood was only slightly sour. He couldn’t help but wonder whether the other teen would walk home with them, despite his attempts to not think about it.

Deep in thought, he didn’t realize someone was approaching him until he was harshly shoved against his own locker, his cheek grazed against the metal edge of the open door.

“Look who it is,” a strange voice came from behind him, “the new cat.”

Even before he turned around, Dustin could already tell the one behind him was bad news. The guy definitely smelled like a wolf, but it wasn’t the kind of friendly smell El and Max had. Rather, he had a feeling someone had condensed all the worst characteristics of being a canine and a predator and sprayed it all over the jerk. He could feel his fight or flight instinct kicking in, telling him he wouldn’t win against this guy, but at the same time, he knew stepping back would mean allowing himself to be put in this situation again.

“Who are you?” He asked, trying to buy himself some time until a teacher decided to walk past them. It was apparent from the look on the other students’ faces that it would be wiser of them to not be a part of this little scene, so he didn’t expect any of the spectators to help.

“Your worst nightmare, that’s who,” the bully sneered. “In case you haven’t noticed, you’re in my turf now.”

“Really?” Dustin raised an eyebrow. “Because I could’ve sworn this was my locker.”

The guy pushed him again, and this time his back hit something that felt like the combination dial of the locker next to him. It was definitely not a pleasant feeling.

“Don’t try to be smart, you fucking mongrel,” the bully said. “We wolves eat you pussies for breakfast.”

“What do you want from me, then?” The catboy tried to push his assailant away but quickly learned that he wouldn’t be able to do it.

“I want you to learn your fucking place in the food chain,” the guy smirked. “I want you to bow to me whenever you see me around the school. I want you to get out of my fucking sight. I want you to know you’re only breathing because we wolves have mercy.”

“You know, if I get out of your sight, you won’t know if I bow to you or—”

Another slam against the locker cut the rest of Dustin’s sentence off as the dial jabbed him in the exact same spot. That would definitely bruise later.

“What did I tell you about being smart?”

“Leave him alone, Troy!”

If he was being completely honest with himself, Dustin had never thought he’d be this relieved to hear his friend’s voice. As his eyes darted towards the speaker, Mikey had already drawn out his claws and fangs. Richie also had his claws out right next to him, and on his other side was Lucas with his boney bat fingers that could undoubtedly do some serious damage. Based on the scents, the rest of his friends weren’t too far behind, and the bully — Troy — could probably sense that as well, since he reluctantly stopped his display of power.

“Look at you insects,” Troy sneered. “Came swarming because one little bug got hurt?”

“A hundred ants are definitely enough to take down a grasshopper,” Richie warned. “Let him go.”

The bully narrowed his eyes but let go of Dustin anyway. “This isn’t over,” he warned before turning around and walking away.

They all waited until the guy disappeared behind a corner before approaching Dustin.

“You okay?” Mikey asked, and he replied with a nod, although the wince might’ve betrayed that nod already.

“First encounter with a bully,” Richie chuckled, “went better than expected?”

“Who’s he?” Dustin asked.

“He’s part of the Bowers gang,” Lucas provided. “They’re the worst, and they definitely won’t let this go.”

“In that case, you guys shouldn’t have gotten involved, then,” Dustin chuckled.

“Did you just get hit in the head or something?” Richie rolled his eyes. “You’re part of our ohana now, and you know what they say about that.”

Before he could respond to that, Eddie burst through the crowd. “Jeez, you guys are fast,” he panted.

“How did you guys know so fast, then?” Dustin raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t think people were talking.”

“Ask that guy,” Mikey shrugged and pointed towards Lucas, who was suddenly interested in the rest of their friends approaching. “He said he smelled your blood.”

The blue-eyed teen moved his hand to touch his cheek, where he’d scraped against the locker. It stung a bit, but there wasn’t any trace of blood he could see anymore. “You could smell this much blood from the other side of the building?” He asked incredulously.

“Well, not normally,” the bat bit his lips nervously. “But your blood is different. I can’t really explain it, so don’t ask.”

Something told Dustin that it wasn’t about whether he could, but whether he would. However, his friends had just helped him out of a tight spot, so he supposed he could let it slide for now.

“Anyway,” Will interjected, “are you hurt anywhere? Other than your cheek, obviously.”

“It’s okay, guys,” the curly-haired teen shook his head. “I’ve survived worse.”

“And you’re gonna have to deal with worse,” Stan commented. “You’re lucky that was only Troy, and not the entire Bowers gang.”

“Yeah,” Mike hummed, “Henry wouldn’t have stopped even if we’d all shown up. I should know.”

Again, there was definitely a story behind that that he would love to hear another time.

“Thanks, guys, for showing up so quickly,” Dustin said sheepishly. “And thank you, too, Lucas. I guess.”

“What kind of alpha am I if I let you get hurt on my first day on the job?” Mikey chuckled.

“Technically it’s your third day on the job,” Richie reminded.

“You know what I meant, asshole.”

“If you guys don’t stop bickering, we’ll all leave you behind,” Bill warned.

After what had just happened to him, Dustin doubted anyone would leave anyone behind today. Nevertheless, that still got the twins to stop, even if they started another no less than five minutes later.