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Erudition

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He was the last one to enter their group. Having not met any of them until the fourth grade, he knew that they shared a deeper bond than one he could ever hope to have with them all. 

That didn't make it hurt any less when they excluded him from things.

Which was why when he left Hawkins the summer after everything went down, he was glad. Glad to get away and experience something for himself. Camp Nowhere was something that he experienced on his own. It was a place where almost everyone was meeting for the first time.

There were no secrets between any of them. 

Here, Dustin didn't have to watch as Mike and Eleven pushed the world away. Focusing only on themselves. Here, he didn't have to see the way Will lied any time he said he was fine. He didn't have to stay off to the side as Lucus and Max hung out alone. He didn't have to see how they were all distancing themselves from one another or how they all grew annoyed when he showed up to hang out.

Here at camp, he was free to be himself.

He enjoyed being a friend they could all count on. All his life he'd been one for observing those around him. Which is why he noticed how everyone seemed to be growing bags under their eyes. How much paler they've grown. How there seemed to be a rising tension between them all. Not just between those in the party, Dustin's noticed the same with Hopper, Jonathan, Nancy, Steve, and even Will's mom; Joyce.

He kept track of what each of them was doing before that faraway look in their eyes appeared.

He marked down in his notebook what seemed to trigger them all. He's looked up ways to keep their minds focused on the present. 

He memorized plenty of ways he could help any of them should the need arise. It was slightly disturbing how many times he's managed to pull Steve out of a panic attack the past few years. Roughly thirteen times now he's had to distract Jonathan and Nancy whenever lights began to flicker. For Will he stays nearby, always carrying an extra jacket or a hat to lend him, to keep him warm. Anytime Mike snaps out of a daydream, panicking, Dustin was there, with an outrageous story to tell. Whenever the world around them grew to be too much at once, Dustin would find someplace void of others to take Eleven to. 

Lucus and Max were easy enough to look out for. He just had to find a way to get them together, they always managed to calm one another down. When that failed all he had to do was joke around, or sit by them quietly until they snapped out of the funk they fell into.

The adults were a bit trickier. 

Hopper and Joyce outright refused his help the first time he came across them reliving their memories of the Upside-Down. It took quite a bit of meticulous planning, but he found a way to be there for them.

He just had to talk about how the others were doing and where they were.

Accounting for where and reiterating what everyone was currently doing, and that they were all safe seemed to be more than enough to calm both of them down. Anytime that didn't work all he had to do was put them near each other. Much like Lucas and Max, they were able to keep each other calm before the panic took over.

He's had two years of practice. Perfecting how to help them all. He's thought up plenty of other ways to distract them from their thoughts.

Only… not once has any of them ever noticed him. 

He still gets nightmares of everything that's happened. He still freaks out anytime he's outside alone and hears odd noises. He can't stand the sight of roadkill, the image it presents far too similar to the leftovers of Mews… Being around Tews leaves him with a heavy feeling in his gut, threatening to drag him down to the point where he’d never want to get up again.

Then again, burying the mangled remains of your pet which you've had for years was bound to leave some mental scars.

Scars which might include feeling uneasy around other cats that triggered his memories more often than not.

Occasionally he'd dream about D'art. How much pain he must've been in when they practically blew up the tunnel. Most often his dreams are occupied by the Demogorgon or the Mind Flayer. Each nightmare always involved one of the others, if not all of them dying. Painfully and slowly with nothing, Dustin did being capable of saving them.

He could never save them.

All those nights with no sleep, the near-constant paranoia threatening to consume him. It was all becoming too much for him. Dustin was finding it harder with every waking morning to go about his day as though nothing was wrong. Steve started to catch on that there was something wrong, Dustin tried to deny it but he couldn't bring himself to lie to Steve.

Not when he was the only one to be there for him last year. Not when Steve was actively becoming a better person. Not when, somehow, Steve grew to be his best friend.

He told Steve about having nightmares but he never went into detail.

Steve seemed to understand there was more then Dustin felt comfortable saying because ever since he found out, for the last two weeks before he left for camp, Steve would always call Dustin before his mom would send him to bed. He always made him promise to call if he wakes up from a nightmare. Three out of five times, Dustin would call. Steve did help a lot, but there were some things his presence couldn't help with.

Which was why he decided to go camping in the first place. 

He figured some time out of Hawkins would be good for him. He was worried, terrified really, about leaving for the summer. How could he keep an eye on everyone if he wasn't there? He'd been just about ready to cancel going but Steve made him swear that he would go.

He never breaks a promise.

Camp… camp would be his time to heal… it was okay. He could do this.

So he left shortly after summer break started.

Camp Nowhere was everything he had dreamed of, and more. Not only was he learning all sorts of new things but there were even a few kids there that had a passion for the supernatural. Most of the stories they shared sounded fake but a decent amount stuck with him even when the time came for him to return home. He was a man of science, he had a love for technology but there was just something about the supernatural aspect of the world that he loved.

Even before everything that went down with El, Will and the Upside-Down. 

Without a doubt, the best part about camp… was Suzie. Dustin would miss her, that was for certain but he knew that they would keep in touch. Grinning widely, Dustin glanced down at the silver and gold wristband he wore. He tried to give it back to her, knowing that the bracelet had been the last present Sadie’s dad had given her, but she was adamant on him keeping it. At least until the next time they saw one another, it wasn’t much but Dustin figured since she’d given him something of her dad’s, he could give her the one thing he ever owned that he knew belonged to his dad.

His cap.

Gently tightening the bracelet to make sure it stayed on, Dustin glanced around his cabin. The other boys had already packed all of their bags yesterday and left early this morning. Sadie’s mom picked her up a few hours ago. He was one of the last ones left in the camp. 

He would’ve left at the same time as all of the others only… his mom couldn’t drive out here to pick him up.

If he knew Steve wasn’t busy going for his job interview then he would’ve asked him to come and get him, but he didn’t want to risk making Steve lose his chance. That was why Dustin got permission from the camp counselors to stay an extra day while his mom figured out a way for him to get home. She offered to start driving tonight to get here by tomorrow, but he knew she wasn’t comfortable with driving long distances.

Not since the accident all those years ago.

Maybe he could call Mike or one of the others and see if their parents could come to get him? Only… they haven’t exactly kept in touch all that much. They were all busy enjoying their summer, and Dustin found himself busier than he thought he would be with camp activities and hanging out with Sadie.

“Heya kiddo!” 

Dustin startled, watching with wide eyes as Austin walked into the room.

Austin was a volunteer counselor at the camp, he was a science major at Stanford University and the hours he spent volunteering were going towards his resume to teach. At first, Austin treated him like every other kid at the camp, but then he realized how similar their names were and how Dustin was a science fanatic as well.

Dustin grinned, dropping the shirt he was in the middle of folding on top of his suitcase, “Austin! Weren’t you supposed to head back to California today?”

“I was,” Austin sat down on the edge of Dustin’s bed, “But I could always leave whenever I want. I’m still on break remember?”

“So you just decided you’ll hang around here? Dude, the camp’s over.”

Austin chuckled, “I know, I know. I was thinking… is it alright with you if I drove you home? You live in Hawkins right? It’s not that far from the route I need to take back home.”

“You.. want to give me a ride home?” Dustin repeated slowly, “...You do realize how creepy that sounds right? We don’t even know each other.”

“Sure we do. We’re Dustin and Austin, the only two at this camp that gives a damn about science as much as we do.”

Hesitating, Dustin looked down at his suitcase, staring at it as he thought Austin’s offer over. Technically speaking, Austin wasn’t as much of a stranger as the other counselors were. From when he could remember of their interactions this past summer, Austin was a nice guy.

“Uh, yeah. If you don’t mind then yeah, could you give me a ride?”

What was the worst that could happen?

In the end, they decided to wait until the next morning to set out for Hawkins. Dustin finished packing away the rest of his things, needing to use an old bag of Austin’s to put the new items he’s acquired since the start of camp into. He borrowed the old phone in the campgrounds home office to call his mom and explain that he had a ride home.

He only felt slightly guilty when he changed the subject to how she and Tews were doing when she tried asking who was driving him home.

He didn’t want to lie to his mother, but he knew that he couldn’t just outright say that he was getting a ride home from someone that she’s never met before. Ever since Will had gone missing years ago, the same with Barbara and a few others he couldn't remember the names of, his mom's been picky with who he hung out with. 

The first time she found out about Steve and him being friends she warned him to stay away.

She told him that Steve had to be someone with bad intentions and that she didn't want Dustin to go near him. It took Dustin almost a month to convince her that Steve wasn't going to kidnap or hurt him. In the end, the only reason why she grew fond of him was because of how the other's parents told her that Steve was one of the best babysitters they've seen. It worked in his favor telling his mom that Steve was friends with Nancy and Jonathan, who she knew personally.

Quickly wishing his mother goodnight, Dustin hung up and made his way back to his cabin.

Austin had warned him to go to sleep early tonight because both of them would have to leave early in the morning if they wanted to get to Hawkins by nightfall. Sleeping in a cabin with three other people was enough of an incentive for him to keep quiet during the night, or not bothering to go to sleep if he thought his dreams would grow to be too much. The first few nights here he had nightmares that left him screaming in the middle of the night. He overheard the counselors discussing whether or not to send him home because he was disturbing the other kids.

That was why he started sleeping on his stomach, that way he could rest his head with his mouth slightly open on his arm. After that, anytime he woke up from a nightmare, it was because of the pain building in his arm from biting down in an effort to keep himself from screaming.

Now that he was the only kid left in the cabin… he wasn’t sure if he wanted to risk changing how he slept or not.

His mom was a very deep sleeper, so he never had to worry about his nightmares waking her up. Wouldn’t it be for the best if he learned to condition himself to stop his screams before anyone could hear them? This way if there was ever others at his house, or if he was staying elsewhere, then he could muffle any noises and keep the others from hearing him. While sleeping on his stomach was somewhat uncomfortable, and made it a tad harder to breathe while sleeping, it did seem to be for the best.

He couldn’t risk staying up through the night. 

What if because he stayed up, he fell asleep in Austin’s car? What if he had a nightmare? His screaming could result in them getting into an accident where they could get seriously injured or even killed. He couldn’t risk that, especially not if it could result in someone else getting hurt.

Slowly making his way back to the cabin, Dustin eyed his bed miserably. 

Coming to Camp Nowhere has helped take his mind off of things, but knowing that he would be returning to Hawkins sometime tomorrow and that there weren’t any distractions left in the camp, he felt all his old worries returning to him. Getting ready for bed, Dustin hesitated for a few seconds before turning on all four lamps in the room. 

One of the joys of going away to camp, he didn’t have to worry about an electricity bill.

Slowly, he drifted off to sleep.

It was freezing. No matter how tightly he pulled his jacket around himself, he couldn't get his body to warm up.

He was standing outside of Will's house only everyone else was gone. 

He couldn't see them outside, nor could he see much of anything. He began to walk towards the house, if no one was outside then they had to be inside, right? Their cars were all in the driveway, Hopper, Joyce’s and even Steve’s. The door was unlocked, it opened on its own the moment his fingertips touched the wood.

"G-Guys? Where are you!" Dustin called out, coughing slightly as an odd scent greeted him, "Guys?"

Bar the sounds of the wind outside picking up speed, he was surrounded by silence. There was no one else here. There was dust covering almost every inch of the place, every step he took caused bits of the dust to float through the air.

He felt as though he were suffocating. 

As if each breath he took would turn out to be his last. There was a bandana covering his mouth but the dust still managed to come through, he could taste it as well as a startling bit of ash. He tried to speak, but each time he opened his mouth all that would come out was a hoarse rasp before he broke off into a coughing fit. It was dark inside the house, the only source of light coming from the Christmas decorations still hanging up. They continuously flickered, varying in how long they stayed lit the longer Dustin tried to focus his vision.

Warily moving forward, Dustin kept one hand pressing the bandana against his mouth while the other he held out in front of him.

"H-Hello? Guys! Where are yo-" Dustin yelped as his foot connected with something hard, throwing off his balance.

Falling on top of whatever he had tripped over, Dustin scrambled to push himself up. Sitting back on his heels just as the lights flared, Dustin was greeted with the sight of Steve's wide vacant eyes.

Screaming, Dustin threw his body back as far as he could to put distance between himself and… and Steve.

"Oh my god," Dustin bent over and heaved, his stomach cramping as whatever was left in him made an appearance all over the floor, “S-Steve? Steve?”

His entire body shook as he forced himself to glance back over at his friend, there had to be a mistake. Steve wasn’t dead, he couldn’t be… he was just… he was just sleeping with his eyes open. Sleep paralysis was a thing, wasn’t he? He’d read about it somewhere before, he was sure of it. Steve was just… sleeping with his eyes open. Hesitantly Dustin crawled over towards Steve, his fingers gently brushing against his arm. 

He was cold, freezing really, and his skin felt unnaturally stiff.

“W-Wake up. Steve, you have to wake up, please,” Dustin pleaded, tears making their way down his cheeks, “Wake up. Wake up, Steve. Steve! P-please, please wake up."

Dustin jolted into awareness with an odd taste filling his mouth and a pain in his forearm as well as soreness to his gums. His entire body shuddering, Dustin lifted his head, staring blankly at the flecks of blood appearing on his skin.

He'd bitten down hard enough to break through the skin.

He was exhausted, but Dustin knew he wouldn't be able to get any more sleep. Not after that dream. Hastily pushing the covers off of himself, Dustin quickly jumped out of bed. He wasn't sure what time it was, but with his dream still fresh in his mind, he couldn't deny the urge to hear Steve's voice.

Not stopping to grab a pair of actual shoes, Dustin slipped on a pair of sandals that were left in the cabin just by the door. 

He wasn't sure who they belonged too but they were much too large for his feet. He ended up having to take them off halfway to the home office. He nearly tripped with them trying to walk through the campgrounds. The ground was freezing against his bare skin, some part of him was grateful for the cold. It was working to help wake his body up. Although it was giving his body another reason to shiver.

It may have been summer still but one couldn't tell with how cold it's been the past few days.

Dustin quietly let himself into the office, usually, there would be someone sitting up front with a sign-in list. Since most of the kids and counselors left, there wasn't a need for someone to stay in the office overnight. Dustin made his way behind the counter and pulled one of the chairs from behind the desk and over to the phone on the wall.

It was now, as he held the phone in his hand that he hesitated.

According to the clock above the desk, it was a little after two in the morning. It was more than likely Steve would be asleep, especially after going through a job interview. Those were bound to be nerve-wracking. Was it worth waking Steve up just because of a nightmare? His hand began dialing Steve's number before he even realized what he was doing.

He had to make sure. He just needed to hear his voice.

The longer the phone continued to ring the more anxious he became. He couldn't tell if it was because of Steve not picking up or because he might pick up. Just as he was starting to think that Steve wouldn't pick up at all, the was a click on the other end of the call before an all too familiar voice spoke.

"It's not even morning . Who the hell is this?"

"Steve?" Dustin winced as his voice cracked halfway.

"D-Dustin," There was shuffling on the other end, "Are you okay? What's wrong?"

"Nothing, I'm fine." Dustin cleared his throat, "Sorry if I woke you up."

"No apologizing, you didn't wake me up. I told ya, you could call whenever."

“Y-Yeah.”

“How’s Camp know something going?”

“I-It’s Camp Knowhere Steve!” Dustin corrected laughing, “It was awesome! I learned a lot of new shit and got to do a shitton of experiments! I made a few friends too.”

“That’s great man! So how much longer are you going to be at Camp? I’m starting to miss having a mini shadow talking my ear off all the time.”

"Hey!"

"You know what I mean."

Dustin snorted, glancing over at the window to see if it was still slightly dark out, "Camp ended already. I'll be back sometime tomorrow."

"Tomorrow as in today? Or as in actually tomorrow."

"Uhh," Dustin shrugged despite knowing Steve couldn't see him, "I dunno? It depends on how fast we drive. Anyway, you realize that not once since you picked up the phone have you told me how your job interview went."

"Oh! I got the job."

"You got the job?"

"I got the job! They moved my job interview up, officially I've been working there for two days now. The rest of you brats wasted no time in coming in during my shifts."

Grinning broadly, Dustin leaned his head back against the wall, "Yeah? Have you been giving them free ice cream? Does this mean when I get home I get to have free ice cream?"

"You guys are going to get me fired you know."

"Oh come on," Dustin teased, "At least for me? I'm your favorite, aren't I?"

"Okay dipshit, but if I get you Ice cream then you need to bring me some of your mom's casserole."

"Deal." Dustin grinned, "I should probably go get ready to go. I'll see you when I get back?"

"Yeah, I have a shift later today until closing. So stop by and visit alright?"

Giving his agreement and saying goodbye, Dustin hung up. Getting to his feet, he stretched before making his way back outside. The temperature had, thankfully, gone up while he'd been on the phone. So walking back to his cabin wasn't as bad as it had been earlier that morning. Instead of changing out of his pajamas, Dustin went to the bathroom and searched in the cabinet for a first aid kit.

He needed to clean his arm up before anyone saw it.

The indentations from his teeth had faded a bit, only small, barely noticeable cuts left in their place. The bruising left on his arm was another matter, that wouldn't be as easy to hide. Then again it wasn't as If him wearing long sleeves even during the summer was a new occurrence. Cleaning up the mess he made, Dustin hurried out to his suitcase and quickly changed into clean clothing.

The clock told him that it was a few minutes before four in the morning.

He had roughly two hours before Austin said they would have to leave. Since he knew that he wouldn't be able to get any more sleep, Dustin climbed up onto his bed and pulled out the old science textbook Austin had given him. It was much more advanced than what he was used too, but it was fun for Dustin to read through and try to figure out just what was being explained.

It was all too easy for him to get lost in the motion of reading, absorbing as much as he could with each new page he turned too.

Which was why when a hand suddenly landed clasped him on the shoulder, Dustin flung himself over the opposite side of the bed, accidentally smacking his knee into the end table there.

“Whoa! Easy there,” Austin rushed around the bed to help Dustin stand up, “You okay? I didn’t mean to startle you that badly…”

Dustin looked away, embarrassed, "I-I'm fine!" 

"You sure? You went down pretty hard…"

"Y-yeah. Sorry. I didn't hear you come in, I guess I was a bit too into reading…" Dustin chuckled weakly, reaching up to scratch at the back of his head.

“...Okay,” Austin hesitantly moved away, “Well, if you’re all set did you want to head out now? We can stop for breakfast along the way, it’ll be my treat.”

Dustin nodded his head, quickly getting up and pulling his, well Austin's really, backpack on before picking up the textbook. Austin reached down and grabbed his suitcase before Dustin could even make a move towards it. Neither of them said a word as they made their way outside to the campgrounds parking lot. Dustin was a tad worried about getting into the car with Austin, but he knew that if things did end up taking a turn for the worse then he could always just jump out and hope he wouldn't break anything. Either way, he was a bit anxious but mainly excited.

It was time to head back to Hawkins.

Chapter Text

Driving with Austin was weird, awkward to the point that Dustin wanted to leave the car, and concerning how Austin was acting.

While he was glad that they stopped to get something to eat, Dustin was growing worried with how slowly Austin was driving. Instead of making it back to Hawkins by twelve-ish, they didn’t arrive until a little after seven at night. Dustin was all for them just driving until they arrived but Austin kept making stops at landmarks, stopping at gas stations, and he even paid for lunch and dinner at random fast food joints along the way. 

It was fun, and Dustin saw a lot more of the world then he can say he’s ever seen in his life but that didn’t stop the small ball of dread growing larger with the more detours Austin took them on.

It’s because of that, that the moment they pulled up outside of his house, Dustin hastily thanked Austin for the ride, barely remembering to say see you next year, before he grabbed all of his stuff and all but ran into his house. He fumbled a bit withholding everything on top of trying to pull out his key to get inside, but Dustin managed to do it without too much embarrassment.

Taking a ride from someone he barely even knew? That was definitely not something he planned on doing, ever again.

Setting his stuff down on his bed, Dustin walked around the house. He knew that nothing really changed since he’s been away at camp but he had the urge just to look around and make sure that everything was alright. Nothing had been moved around and he saw Tews sprawled out on the couch.

Moving over to the coffee table, Dustin snatched up a piece of paper and searched for a pen.

Once he found a pen, something that took him longer than he would have liked, he wrote out a note for his mom telling her that he was at Scoops Ahoy with Steve and that Steve would give him a ride back home. He wasn't sure if she knew Steve worked there now, but he had a little over an hour before they closed. Steve did say to come to visit him.

Excited, Dustin quickly ran outside, pulling his bike out from the garage.

A noise coming from the side of the house startles him, he paused just before he could swing his leg over onto his bike. He stood there, listening for any other noises but nothing else happened. Shrugging it off as something falling over, it was getting windy tonight, Dustin pushed off. Peddling down the street as he made his way towards the Starcourt Mall.

Biking for roughly twenty-five minutes after sitting in a car for hours on end left him cramping as he gently leaned his bike against the side of Steve’s car. 

There weren’t that many people out this late at night so he hoped that his bike would be okay. It was mostly adults out this late, and he doubted an adult would steal some kids bike. The only cars he could see in the parking lot near the entrance were Steve's car and a few other cars that could have belonged to co-workers or customers. Grinning softly to himself, Dustin made his way into the mall and walked to the food court. Only a few people were sitting down at the tables and counters, he couldn't see Steve right away and there was some girl behind the counter. While it was a bit disconcerting not to see where Steve was at right away, Dustin didn’t let that stop him from walking up to the front counter.

“Hi.” Dustin grinned.

The girl quirked a brow “Hi.”

Not off-put by the girls look, Dustin continued, “I’m Dustin. Dustin Henderson.”

“I’m Robin,” The girl, Robin, nodded her head ever so slightly, amused.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Dustin gestured towards the back door, “Uh, is Steve still here?”

Robin’s mouth opened before she could say a word, however, the door to the back flung open and Steve did a small jump into the room.

“Henderson!” Steve grinned widely, glancing at Robin, “He’s back!”

Dustin laughed, “I’m back!” 

They did their handshake, laughing all the while, Dustin was glad. A small part of him had been worried that while he was away Steve would’ve noticed how nerdy their handshake had become and decided to forgo doing it. Though Dustin was still shocked by how enthusiastic Steve became anytime they did it.

“How many children are you friends with?”

Steve frowned at Robin, rolling his eyes slightly before looking back at Dustin, “Hey you mind taking a seat? I’ll be back out in a few minutes, I just need to finish taking the trash out.”

“Sure thing,” Dustin watched as Steve quickly tied up the trash from behind the counter and carried it into the back.

“So, you two are friends?”

“I’m fourteen,” Dustin explained, shrugging, “Not really a kid when you guys are only a few years older. Is it that hard to believe we’re friends?”

“We’re five years older,” Robin smirked, “Adults compared to you, so tell me, how’d you and dingus here become friends? It’s not that I don’t believe you, anyone with eyes can see you two are friends, my question is how?”

“I was in a bit of a tight spot last year, I didn’t have anyone else to ask to help me out. My… my dog, D’art went missing. Steve stayed up all night helping me look for him.”

Robin frowned, “I’m sorry to hear that, did you guys find him?”

“Y-Yeah we did,” Dustin cleared his throat, “He… he got hit by a, uh, by a car.”

He didn’t think telling someone that he just met how he technically was the one to kill D’art was a good conversation starter. Especially, if he went on to explain how D’art wasn’t even a dog, to begin with. Talking about D’art was… not something he was okay with. D’art was his pet, even if he was a demodog, and a pet was the owners' responsibility to protect. Something he failed to do.

Robin hummed, turning away and pulling out a plastic dish. Dustin watched as she filled the bowl with ice cream before adding a few things and turning it into a sundae.

“Wh...What?” Dustin stuttered as Robin held the bowl out to him, “I don’t… I don’t have any money on me.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Robin smiled, “Consider it on the house.”

“T… Thank you.” 

Dustin took the sundae and walked over to a clear table closest to the counter, Robin waved in his direction briefly before turning her attention to an older woman who just walked up. He wasn't even a third into his sundae before Steve sat down next to him in the booth. Steve raised a brow at him, gesturing at the sundae and Dustin shrugged in return.

"How's it feel to be back home?" Steve asked, "You miss all of us?"

"I've only been back for about an hour now, but considering I've already gotten free ice cream I'm going to go ahead and say it's been pretty good so far." Dustin took an extra-large spoonful and shoved it in his mouth.

Steve snorted, "You eat like an animal."

Swallowing the ice cream, Dustin grinned at Steve and purred.

"Yeeeeah, don't do that." 

"Fine," Dustin rolled his eyes, before smiling at Steve, "So you done with the questions so I can tell you some good news?"

Steve leaned back against the seat, "What's the good news?"

"I got a girlfriend."

"What? No way."

"Yeah," Dustin smirked, "Her name's Suzie, she's hotter than Phoebe Cates. Way hotter."

"No. No way. Hotter than Phoebe Cates?" Steve shook his head, "No."

His mouth filled with ice cream, Dustin settled for humming instead of attempting to speak, "Mm-hmm." Shutting down his spoon Dustin turned in his seat to face Steve, "She's brilliant too. She doesn't even care that my real pearls are still coming in."

It was tempting to tell him how she thought that kissing was better without having teeth in the way but he shut his mouth before he could say it. He doubted Steve wanted to hear him talking about that anyway. Steve shot him a look, immediately Dustin could tell that he didn't believe him.

"Wow. Yeah, that's great," Steve clapped him on the shoulder, "Proud of you, man."

"So," Dustin cleared his throat suddenly desperate to change the topic of their conversation, "Do you, uh, do you really just get to eat as much as this as you want?"

"Yeah. I mean, sure. It's not really a good idea for me, though." Steve shrugged, gesturing to himself, "You know, I gotta keep in shape for the ladies."

Dustin's lips twitched as Robin suddenly called out, "Yeah and how's that working out for you?"

Dustin snorted.

"Ignore her."

"Why?" Dustin tilted his head towards Robin, "She seems cool."

"She's not," Steve said immediately, "So, where are the other knuckleheads?"

"I told you I've only been back for an hour, Steve."

"Oh, you meant that you actually just got back? You haven't contacted the others yet?"

"No. I figured I'd come to visit you first. I can see them tomorrow." Dustin scrapped the last of the sundae to the edge of his bowl, lifting it and poured it into his mouth.

"...Is everything alright?" 

"Yeah? Why wouldn't it be?" Dustin asked, not quite sure what Steve meant.

Steve frowned at him, shaking his head before sliding out of the booth, “Nah, forget about it. Let me finish helping Robin close up and then we can get out of here, alright?”

“O-Okay?” Dustin blinked.

It didn’t take them that long to clean up, Dustin even helped Robin with wiping down the tables while Steve swept.

“Did you bike here?”

“Yeah,” Dustin nodded, “I left it out front near your car.”

Robin locked up while Steve gestured for Dustin to follow after him. 

“Bye Robin!” Dustin called, waving briefly before jogging to catch up to Steve.

“See ya, kid!”

“Your mom was cool with you biking all the way to the mall?”

Dustin shook his head, glancing around the mall as stores began closing up, “Nah, she wasn’t home when I left the house.”

Steve made a face at him before pulling out his keys as they grew near his car, “Guess that means I’ll be carting around your bike in my trunk?”

“I could always just bike home-”

“Like hell, I’d let you do that. Just be careful putting it in. I don’t want any scratches on my baby.” 

Mock-Saluting Steve, Dustin wheeled his bike around to the trunk and worked on putting it inside while Steve started the car. The car ride back to his house only took them a little over ten minutes. The entire time Steve blasted his music and the both of them sang along like idiots, Dustin noticed each time Steve messed up on a word and Steve kept laughing anytime Dustin sang too high while the singer sang low. It was fun getting to just goof off with Steve. Steve parked in the driveway, and Dustin walked around to the driver's side once he climbed out of the car.

“It’s nice to have you back, Henderson.”

“It’s good to be back,” Dustin sighed dramatically, “I can only imagine how the others have been hounding you without me there to keep you company.”

Steve snorted loudly, anything else either of them planned to say getting cut off as the front door opened and Dustin’s mom stood out on the porch, waving over to them.

“Oh, Steve! Would you mind coming over here?”

Steve looked at Dustin worriedly, “What? Why does your mom want me to get out?”

“Relax dude, it’s not like you’re in trouble or anything.”

Steve climbed out of the car, gently cuffing Dustin on the back of his head as he moved past him, over towards the house. 

Claudia smiled at Steve warmly, “Thank you for giving Dusty a ride home, you didn’t have too but thank you anyway.”

“You’re… you’re welcome?” Steve glanced at Dustin who stared back at him with wide eyes, “It was no problem, I don’t mind giving him rides.”

“I’ll let the two of you say goodnight to one another, Dustin please make sure you remember to unpack but don’t stay up too late, okay?”

“Yes mom,” Dustin kissed her on the cheek, moving to pull the door shut as she walked further into the house.

“What was that about?” Steve questioned.

“What was what about?”

“Why was she thanking me for giving you a ride home? It’s just like the first night I drove you home.” Steve folded his arms, “Your mom knows I give you rides, you told her and I’ve even waited inside with her while you got ready before. So what gives?”

“It’s not a crime to say thank you, Steve,” Dustin snarked, pausing as he lowered his voice, “... but… she might think that you picked me up from camp.”

“What?”

“I said… She thinks that you were the one that picked me up from camp, okay?!”

“No. No not okay,” Steve stepped closer, glaring down at Dustin, “She doesn’t know who drove you home? What a minute, who the hell did drive you home?”

Dustin shifted from one leg to the other, avoiding Steve’s gaze, “Uh… a friend of mine… from camp.”

“You made a friend at camp who’s old enough to drive?” Steve frowned, “I thought it was a kids camp?”

“We’re not kids,” Dustin sighed in annoyance, “It’s a camp for teens, Steve. And yeah… he was a counselor at the camp.”

“Right,” Steve drawled, “So you befriended a counselor, and how old was he?”

“What?”

“How old was he, Dustin.”

Dustin’s brows furrowed, “I think he said he was twenty-five? I know it’s somewhere in his twenties. Why does his age matter anyway?”

"His age is pretty fucking important Dustin."

“St-”

“No!” Steve snapped, “You got into a car with a stranger. You’re smart enough to know how stupid that was, right?!”

Dustin scowled, “I got into a car with you and you were a stranger!”

Shaking his head, Dustin spun on his heel and stormed into the house, ignoring how Steve called after him and slammed the door shut behind him.

He already knew that getting into the car with Austin wasn’t the best decision he could’ve made, and he knew he wouldn’t do it ever again. He didn’t need Steve of all people lecturing him on stranger-danger awareness. Steve was the one who literally let a bunch of kids he didn’t even know into his car and drove them around all night. Steve was the one who used to have strangers going to his house for parties, Dustin could easily recall all the overheard conversations older teens had about ‘King Steve’.

Flopping down onto his bed, Dustin buried his face into his pillow and groaned loudly. Both in regret and annoyance as he realized he left his bike in Steve’s car.

He didn’t want to fight with Steve. He knew where he was coming from, he really did, but that didn’t make it any better. Steve had always been protective, and he wasn’t the only one. Hopper, Joyce, Jonathan and even Nancy were all protective of them and each other. That was fine, it was a good thing but sometimes it felt… stifling. Mainly with the rules against riding their bikes on their own, and having to go out in pairs if they ever hung out outside of school or their houses.

...He’ll apologize to Steve tomorrow. 

Chapter Text

He was woken up surprisingly enough not by a nightmare but by someone knocking on his bedroom window.  It wasn’t exactly knocking, more along the lines of something scraping against his window repeatedly. Dustin scrambled to get up out of bed, immediately going to his closet and pulling out an old hockey stick. He hadn't used it in years, it wasn't even his, it belongs to his dad and they ended up carrying it with them to Hawkins in the move. The last time he took it out was to shove D'art into the dweller/basement...

Pushing that thought aside, Dustin slowly inched his way over toward his window.

There wasn't a shadow or anything definite he could see through his curtain. Dustin leaned up against the way, his face not even a full inch from the edge of the windowpane. His hand shook ever so slightly as he gently grasped the curtain, taking a deep breath in, Dustin yanked the curtain open. He stood with the hockey stick held out protectively in front of him as he furtively glanced outside.

Nothing.

There was nothing out of the ordinary, the only thing that stood out was that the lawn would need to get mowed soon. Sighing, Dustin moved out from under his curtain, though he kept his eye on his window just in case. Perhaps he should try going outside to look around, maybe then he could figure out where the noise was coming from. Some part of him, a large part really, hoped that the noise had simple been Tews messing around, or even a wild animal digging through the trash. The sudden, shrill ringing of the landline startled him badly enough that he knocked over his lamp with the hockey stick as he spun around.

“Shit!”  Shooting a glare at the hockey stick, Dustin tossed it onto his bed and rushed out to the living room where the landline was hooked up. 

 “Hello?” Dustin breathed, wondering for a brief moment if it was his mom calling from work to make sure he didn’t sleep in late.

“Dustin? So you are back!”

“Will?” Dustin blinked, a phone call from Will was definitely not what he was expecting, “Yeah, I got back last night, how’d you know?”

“Steve dropped Max and Lucas off a few minutes ago, he asked if you were coming over. We didn’t even know you were home but he said you were. El and Mike are already here, do you wanna come over and watch a few movies?”

“Uh, yeah. I can head over now.”

“It’s technically Mike’s turn but since you just got back, he’ll probably let you pick the first movie.”

“S-” Dustin dropped the phone as a loud crashing noise came from right outside, he instinctively jerked backward accidentally hitting his elbow against the wall, “Ow, Shit, what the hell was that?”

All of these noises popping up out of nowhere was doing absolutely nothing to help with his paranoia. Turning towards the living room, Dustin peeked over at the windows in the room. His mom always opens the curtains before leaving for work, from where he was he couldn't see anything other than bits of the yard. For all he knew, whatever was out there could’ve been hiding out just below the window. Before he could make his way over there, Dustin’s attention was brought back to the phone as he could hear yelling from the other end. 

“Dustin! Dustin are you okay? What was that noise?”

“I-I don’t know, but it was probably just Tews knocking over a trash can again. He’s always knocking shit over.”

There was a brief silence on the other end, Dustin was tempted to call out to Will, just to see if he was still there.

"Dustin, Hopper says to wait inside, he'll leave now to come and pick you up."

"What? Why?" Dustin shook his head, only realizing afterward that Will couldn't see him, "No it's fine. I can just take my bike-"

There was some sort of shuffling on the other end and Dustin winced as Hopper's voice came through the line.

"Just stay inside kid. I'll take a look around outside and then I can give you a lift."

"I can go look-"

"No! You stay inside until I get there. Do you understand me?"

Dustin bit his lip, swallowing the urge to argue, “...Okay.”

That was the first time Hopper had ever actually snapped at him like that, Dustin hung up before one of the others could try talking to him through the phone… that probably wasn't the best idea. They'll be mad at him for not staying on the line with them until Hopper got here, he could always lie and say his mom was still at the house during the phone call.

…Is this really the type of person he was now? 

Immediately his mind went to falling back on telling lies in order to get out of trouble? Lying to his friends, his best friends despite knowing that there were supposed to be no secrets between them. Honesty was a trait he always valued the most, above everything else. His mom once told him that only bad people lied. The lies started years ago, but that had been to protect El and keep the rest of Hawkins safe… it's only gotten easier for him to lie. Most of the time it would just be small white lies, a variation of the truth. 

Then his dreams grew worse and he found himself lying to his mom, and Mr. Clarke anytime he asked him if he was feeling okay, near constantly.

He's never lied to Steve before… he swore not too. Not after all the shit, they've been through together and yet, each time he said he was fine, those had been lies too. Weren't they? Chest tightening, Dustin sat down on the floor, just below the landline as he kept his gaze somewhere between the sofa and the window.

"...Maybe I shouldn't have come home…" Dustin mumbled.

At least at camp, he was surrounded by distractions. At least at camp, he had Suzie there, she'd accidentally seen him have a panic attack and handled it like a pro in his opinion. While it was still embarrassing for her to see him freaking out and crying, it just made him fall for her even more.

He wished she was here.

She would've assured him he wasn't a bad person, even if he did lie to the people he cared about.

He wasn't sure how much time had passed while he sat there lost in thought, but eventually knocking from the front door brought him out of his reverie. Dustin warily got to his feet and made his way over to the door. While may have grown an inch or two at camp, he wasn't tall enough to see out the peephole of the door without something to step on.

"Dustin? Are you there?"

"Steve?" Dustin quickly unlocked the door, pulling it open and staring.

While he knew Hopper was on his way, he didn't expect to see Hopper AND Steve on his doorstep. Steve quickly shoved past him into the house, he was carrying his bat and Dustin wasn't sure how to feel about that.

"Uh… what?"

"You wait here with him," Hopper nodded at Steve, "I'll go take a look around out back."

"Are you okay?" Steve pulled the door shut behind him, looking Dustin over.

"What? Yeah, Steve, I'm fine, but what are you doing here."

"Hopper sped past me on his way here, I realized where he was going... so I followed him."

Dustin stared at him causing Steve to fidget in place. 

Clearing his throat, Dustin glanced at the front door before looking back at Steve, “I, uh… Steve. I want to… I’m sorry okay? I shouldn’t have snapped at you last night, I know you’re just being your usual self and you were right… I’m sorry.”

Steve stared down at Dustin’s outstretched hand in confusion, “...What are you doing?”

“Well… I drew first blood.”

“No, I did. I was the one who yelled at you,” Steve held his hand out, “This is one of your D&D rules right? The person that drew first blood has to be the one to apologize first or something?”

"...Yeah. Yeah, it is," Dustin smiled, shaking Steve's hand.

“So,” Steve jerked his head towards the front door, “Mind filling me on in what’s going on here?”

Dustin led Steve over to the couch and sat down, silently wondering what was taking Hopper so long, "I was on the phone with Will and there was a crash from outside. Hopper overheard, he was at the house too, and told me to wait inside until he got here to check the noise out."

"What kind of noise?"

"I dunno," Dustin shrugged halfheartedly, "It sounded like a trash can falling over."

“You have no idea what it was?”

“I thought it was Tews messing around like she usually does.”

Their conversation was stopped as Hopped hurried inside, a large frown marring his face as his eyes sought out Dustin.

“Kid, which way to your room?” 

“My room? Why?”

“Just show me,” Hopper said tersely, his entire posture tense.

Dustin glanced at Steve, who shrugged before nodding at him, “Okay… Uh, It’s down the hall, the last door on the left.”

"What happened here?"

Dustin slid past both of them to pick his lamp up off the ground, and set it back on his desk, "I was sleeping but something was scratching at my window woke me up. Grabbed the hockey stick just in case but I knocked my lamp over with it when the phone rang."

“You said scratching at your window?” Hopper pulled the curtain all the way to the side, opening the window up entirely before leaning out.

“Uh, Hopper?” Steve cleared his throat, “Mind telling us what you’re doing?”

“Was this morning the only other time you heard a noise from outside?”

“No,” Dustin shook his head, “When I was leaving last night there was a weird noise coming from the side of the house but it stopped, so I didn’t look for it.”

“I think you should stay at one of the other kids' houses for the night,” Hopper turned toward them, gesturing for them to come over to him.

Steve moved over there first, looking out the window as Hopper instructed him too. Dustin didn’t like the way Steve’s head immediately snapped around to stare at him, he pushed aside the slight feeling of unease building up as he walked over to them and looked outside.

He wished he hadn’t.

The area of the house, just below his window was covered in deep gouges crossing over one another. There was no way Tews would’ve been able to do that much damage with her tiny claws. Which meant… whatever had been hanging around outside of his house not only was dangerous but also oddly intent on getting inside of his bedroom.

“I…” Dustin swallowed, “But what about my mom? I can’t just leave her here.”

“I can get her set up in a motel,” Hopper said, “Neither of you is staying here until we find whatever the hell is doing that to your window and catch it.”

“He can stay with me,” Steve cut in, turning his head toward Dustin, “Sound good?”

“Uh, yeah.” Dustin nodded, “I just… I need to pack right? And call my mom?”

“I’ll go give her a call, you two start packing up whatever you need.”

Dustin chuckled weakly, “I guess it’s a good thing I haven’t unpacked from camp yet, huh?”

"Come on. It'll be okay." Steve ruffled Dustin's hair, making his curls look messier than ever.

“Hey!” Dustin ducked, running over to the other side of his bedroom to avoid Steve’s other hand as it came towards his head.

Since they weren’t sure how long Dustin would need to stay at Steve’s house for, they ended up taking both his camp bags and packing one extra with more clothes and a few comics. Dustin made sure he grabbed Austin’s old textbook to bring with him.

Steve whistled when he saw the textbook, “Damn, where the hell did you get that thing from? It’s huge. Please don’t tell me they’ve changed the freshman textbooks.”

“Uh, no. No, I got it from camp. I was allowed to keep it.” Dustin said carefully, making sure he avoided saying just who gave it to him.

“You’re reading that for fun?” 

Dustin snorted at how horrified Steve sounded, “Shut up asshole, you know I like science.”

“Hey are you two done messing around or can we get going?” Hopped called out from what Dustin assumed was the living room.

“I’ll grab these.”

Dustin carried out his camp bags while Steve grabbed the rest. Hopper raised a brow at the amount of bags but didn’t say a word as Steve led the way outside to his car. Dustin followed after him, trusting Hopper to shut and lock the front door.

“I told your mom that there was a wild dog seen in the area and that there are marks from it on your window,” Hopper explained, “She says it’s fine if you stay with Steve but she wants you to call her later tonight.”

Dustin nodded, “Okay, what about Tews though? Are you going to take her to my mom or are we bringing her with us?”

“Tews?”

“My cat.”

“I can’t bring the cat back to the house,” Steve shook his head, “My mom’s highly allergic. She’ll notice the moment she steps inside.”

Hopper grimaced, “...I guess I’ll take it back to the cabin for now. When I come back after your moms' shift I’ll drop it off at the motel with her.”

“Tews isn’t it,” Dustin frowned, “She’s a girl.”

“Fine. I’ll drop her off later.”

“Okay,” Dustin shoved his stuff into the backseat of Steve’s car, “Let me go put her in her carrier.”

“Hurry up!”

Making his way back inside the house, frowning when he realized Hopper didn’t lock the door, Dustin went to his mom’s room to grab Tews’ carrier.

"Tews! Come here," Dustin broke off, muttering "Where are you at?"

Eventually, after searching through most of the house, he found her lying across his bed, cleaning herself.

"Gross, why do you have to do that on my bed?"

Setting the carrier down on his bed, Dustin carefully picked Tews up and placed her inside. 

"Don't worry," Dustin cooed, "It'll just be until you get to the cabin then Hopper will take you out to play. Hey, maybe when he brings El home you can play with her!"

Dustin thought about grabbing a bag of cat food too but from what he saw, Tews already finished their morning bowl. She wouldn't need to be fed again until mid-day. His mom should be done work then, today is her short shift day. Dustin held the carrier against his chest as he carried it down the hallway. He was almost to the front door when what sounded like glass shattering echoed throughout the house.

He couldn't help but yelp in shock as the front door was flung open and Hopper came running inside.

"Get out to Steve!" Hopper yelled, pushing past Dustin and running down the hall.

Hesitating, Dustin debated on whether or not to follow Hopper, to see if the man needed help. But he didn't want to risk anything happening to Tews. His mom already had to mourn for Mews, he didn't want to be the cause of her losing another pet. His grip on the carrier tightening, Dustin ran outside, Steve was holding the passenger door open and gestured for Dustin to hurry.

Steve slammed the door shut, jogging around to the other side, waiting there.

Both Steve and he flinched as a gunshot came from inside the house, followed by another, then one more. Neither of them moved or said a word, instead, they stayed frozen with there eyes locked on the front door, waiting for Hopper to appear. Which was why it was odd seeing him come jogging over toward them from around the side of the house.

Dustin started to open the passenger door, wanting to ask Hopper what he saw, but Hopper quickly slammed the door back shut. Holding it closed with his hand on the door.

Hopper shook his head at him, his gaze going over the car to look at, Dustin presumed, Steve.

After a few minutes where he was stuck sitting there, Hopper pulled open the door and reached in to grab Tews’ carrier. 

“Whatever it was, it ran off before I could get a good look at it,” Hopper said before Dustin could get a word out, “Head over to Steve’s place and just wait there. I’ll go tell Joyce and the other’s what’s going on.”

Dustin’s cheeks heated up in embarrassment, “You don’t have to do that. It’s probably just a wild animal or something.”

“We aren’t taking any chances here kid, not after the past two years.”

After that everything seemed to go by quickly. Hopper left in his truck with Tews and Steve started the car, driving off in the opposite direction towards his house. Hopper told him not to bother heading to the Bryers’ house, just go to Steve’s and hang out there for the day. He would call later to check in with them. Any attempts Dustin made to try getting Steve to tell him what he talked about with Hopper were shut down. In fact, the entire car ride was filled with silence once Dustin stopped asking. He knew whatever Hopper told Steve had to have been serious if Steve was forgoing playing any music during the ride.

He couldn't help but wonder why none of them could seem to catch a break.

He wasn’t sure what Steve and Hopper were trying to keep from him, but Dustin wished that whatever it was, it would go away quickly. 

Chapter Text

It wasn’t going away quickly.

Whatever it was that was staying around his house decided that it was there to stay. Based off of what he overheard from Steve and Hopper's conversation, the thing had been sleeping in his bed and tearing up the carpet in his room. Dustin made sure he called his mom last night and again this morning. She was a bit confused by him staying at Steve's for the past two days but Dustin was able to brush it off as wanting to swim in Steve's pool. 

She knew they knew each other and were like friends but she assumed it was just because Steve knew Nancy and Jonathan. 

Dustin still couldn't understand why it was so hard for some people to believe that Steve and he were actually good friends with one another. Their age difference wasn't drastic or anything. Dustin knew that some members of the Party still couldn't understand the relationship between him and Steve. He's overheard Nancy and Jonathan question Steve about it before, that was the first and only time he's ever heard Steve snap at Nancy.

In defense of their friendship too.

Dustin assumed that staying at Steve's place in one of the many guest bedrooms was going to be just for the night. However, going into his second day staying here, Dustin now knew he would be here for a bit longer. Steve went out and bought more kidlike foods and replaced the beer in the fridge with juices and soda. He had been worried about what Steve’s parents would say to him being there, but according to Steve they left for vacation a few days ago and would be gone for a couple of weeks at least.

Which left Dustin with the place to himself as Steve was apparently scheduled to work the morning shift every day this week.

The first day he spent inside, reading through his comics and eating junk food. Now going onto the second day, having finished all his new comics yesterday, Dustin found boredom quickly swallowing him whole. Reading was out, hanging out with the rest of the Party was out too. Hopper mentioned something about Mike and Eleven going out on a date, calling the others proved to be pointless. Will would be going out with Jonathan and Nancy for grocery shopping, and Lucus was hanging out with Max. 

None of them bothered trying to come to see him, despite not seeing him once since he’s been back.

Shoulders drooping, Dustin tried his best to ignore the heaviness that settled over him. It was fine, he knew the others would be hanging out with each other, or more specifically the couples of the group would pair off. This wasn’t even the first time they’ve done it. Dustin was just glad that Will was actually busy and not being pushed aside like he was.

He needed a distraction. Getting lost in his thoughts was going to end up just ruining his entire day if he let it keep going. Especially if he kept focusing on being alone.

Eyes searching throughout the room, Dustin tried finding something to do. 

He could always pick up where he left off with Austin’s book… he didn’t feel up to doing that though. Not since the memory of his argument with Steve was still so fresh in his mind. Steve didn’t know the book was from Austin, he didn’t even know Austin was who drove him home but Dustin didn’t want to risk Steve taking the book away from him. There was no reason to think that Steve would do that but he had a feeling that Steve wouldn’t be comfortable with Dustin having anything from Austin to keep. He was just about ready to give up on finding something to do, but then his eyes landed on the bit of cable sticking out of his bag.

The bag with his radio on it.

Beaming, Dustin quickly made his way over to the bag and pulled his radio equipment out of it. He wasted no time in getting everything set up and tuning to the right frequency.

Dustin held the makeshift radio up, "Suzie! Suzie, do you copy?"

There was a chance this wouldn’t work, they figured it would but they haven’t had any time to test if their personal radios would work from this far apart. 

"Dusty-bun?"

"Suzie-poo, it worked!" Dustin teased, grinning, "I miss you."

"I miss you too, it's so boring not having you by my side to talk too… Mind telling me why you didn't call to let me know you got home safely? We could’ve known if the radios worked so much sooner!"

"I just got back two days ago. Well, technically one and a half days really. Sorry, things have been nonstop since I got back."

"What do you mean?"

"Well,” Dustin sat down on the floor, leaning back against the guest’s bedroom bed, “I'm staying at Steve's."

"Steve? That Harrington boy you told me about? Why?"

"There's something that's been trying to get into the house through my bedroom. The other's are worried so I'm staying with Steve until they can find whatever it is."

"Oh! What do you think it is?"

"I have no idea. No one's talking to me about it. I don't even know if they've seen it yet."

"Well, I'm glad they're considering your safety. I don't want anything to happen to you."

"I mean, I'm glad they care and all but they're being a bit… much. I haven't even gotten to see any of the others yet! Hopper and Steve are making me stay inside all day."

"Wait, I understand them not wanting you to go home, but you're on house arrest? Why?"

"I have no idea. Steve left for work a few minutes ago and it's not like his parents are ever home. I'm stuck here by myself." Dustin sighed, “I wish they would at least let me go out in the pool, but Steve says I can’t when he’s not home.”

"You have me at least."

"Yeah," Dustin smiled widely, "I know I do. Thank you, Suzie."

They kept talking to one another for hours, even when Dustin’s stomach growled they both paused to make food before continuing their conversation. Both of them carting the food into their bedroom and eating there, it was nice, Dustin realized. It was almost as if they were eating together. They talked about camp, what it was like being back home, and how they missed their other friends they made at the campgrounds. When Suzie began to talk about Austin and how he had also given her a textbook, Dustin fell silent, which Suzie noticed immediately.

“Dusty-bun? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing! Nothing, it’s just… I don't know.” Dustin sighed, frustrated, “...Austin was the one who drove me home.”

“Oh?”

“It was… weird.”

“Weird how?”

“Well… He kept purposely stopping every couple of minutes, it was almost as though he was trying to keep me from getting back to Hawkins early. He kept offering to buy me things, he paid for everything from food to even a few shirts from stores we stopped at on the way.”

“That’s… wow.”

“Yeah.”

“Did anything else happen?”

Dustin hesitated, there was something he had noticed… but he sort of pushed that realization to the side, “...He kept staring at me, and he kept touching my hair. I dunno, it was just weird?”

“He what?

“He kept touching… my hair. It was the same thing you do, just ruffling my curls. It was just… weird. I pretty much ran out of his car once we got here.”

“Ooh, are you okay though?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay Suzie,” Dustin said softly.

“So why couldn’t your mom come get you? Why did Austin have to give you a ride home?”

“She… she’s not really good with driving long distances, or driving in general really.”

“How come?”

Dustin bit his lip, “...Before I, uh, before I moved to Hawkins… I lived with both my parents in Illinois…. There was, there was an accident, we were driving on the highway, coming back from vacation. A drunk driver… he rammed into my dad’s side of the car, he was sleeping in the passenger seat while my mom was driving….”

“Oh my god… oh my god, Dustin. I am so-so sorry.”

Dustin buried his head in his knees, his voice coming out muffled as he replied, “...It’s fine. I mean you, you don’t have to apologize, please. Can we just, can we talk about something else? Anything else?”

“Yeah! Yeah, anything!”

“....So?”

“Oh, sorry, I was trying to think of what else we could talk about…. Uh, tell me about your friends? Or do you want to talk about our plans?”

Talking about the other members of the Party was not something he wanted to spend his night doing, “Our plans? Can we talk about that?”

“Of course!”

It was easy, the way both of them natural fell into discussing their plans for the future. They already agreed that they both would be returning to camp next summer, though instead of coming back to Hawkins, Dustin was going to try and convince his mom to let him go stay with Suzie on her uncle's ranch. It was something both of them were looking forward too. No worries about their family or friends, no strangers from camp watching their every move, it would be just the two of them. 

What Dustin was looking forward to the most was getting the chance to spend time with Suzie, though they would have to wait an entire year when their freshman year of high school ends  before they could see one another.

They went from discussing what they would do during their summer together, to how Dustin could convince his mom to let him go, to him meeting her family, to even what they’d need to pack. The longer he stayed on the line with her, the more Dustin could feel his earlier tension seeping away. The only reason why Dustin was forced to hang up after saying goodnight, was because Steve was apparently home. Steve’s voice echoed slightly throughout the house as he yelled about bringing back a few pizzas and some other snacks. Deciding not to unhook everything, Dustin carefully placed the radio on the end table by the bed before heading downstairs to Steve.

Steve who for some reason was standing stock-still in the kitchen even after Dustin pushed his way past him to look at whatever had Steve’s attention so intently.

The kitchen window, the one above the sink that gave a clear view into the yard, was cracked. Dustin moved over towards it, wanting to see just how extensive the damage was but was stopped by Steve grabbing him by the elbow.

“Wh-?”

“Don’t!” Steve shook his head, “I’m calling Hopper, don’t go near there, okay?”

“B-”

“No buts, come on Dustin. Listen to me, with this at least?”

“O-Okay.” 

Dustin let Steve lead him out to the living room where he forced him to sit on the couch. Steve disappeared for a moment as he ran back towards the kitchen and grabbed the pizza boxes. 

“Here,” Steve set the two boxes down on the coffee table, “Go ahead and start eating, I’m  going to call Hopper real quick and wait in the kitchen.”

“Why can’t you just wait out here?”

“I want to make sure whatever the hell that thing is doesn’t get inside.”

Steve left before Dustin could even get a word in. Annoyed with how he was being treated, Dust sat down on the floor in between the couch and the coffee table. He didn't understand why Steve and Hopper were freaking out so much. Sure, it was definitely creepy and couldn't be a normal dog or anything, but that didn't mean he wasn't capable of looking after himself.

Neither of them even knew he existed outside of the stuff with the Upside-Down happening.

It was hard to tell if they were actually doing this for him or because they were worried about something else being let loose in Hawkins. Dustin wanted to believe that Steve at least truly cared for him… Steve's been there for him more than even the Party was the past few years. He just had to wait it out, Steve was just looking out for him. He guessed Hopper was too.

Chapter Text

It took Hopper about ten minutes or so to get to the house, Dustin knew the man had to have been speeding but decided against saying anything about it. Instead, he stayed silent as Steve and Hopper both stalked past him to check around the yard. Neither one of them acknowledging him along the way. Frowning as his appetite quickly dwindled, Dustin set his half-eaten slices of pizza back into the box and pushed it away. Sighing quietly to himself, he got up off the floor and made his way back upstairs into the guest room he was using.

Steve did say to stay in the living room, but he didn't say he couldn't run upstairs real quick to grab something to do while he waited for them to come back in.

Dustin grabbed Austin's textbook and the notebook he had been using to write down Suzie and his plans. They needed to make sure that they had everything planned accordingly. That way if his mom had any questions he could give her the best answers he could and hope for the best. He met Suzie's mom when she picked her up from camp, she was a nice woman. She had quite a few wrinkles around her eyes but in his opinion, Dustin thought that it just made her look kinder. They looked like they were the type of wrinkles one would get from smiling too much. He knew that although the death of Suzie's father was only a year-and-a-half ago, the loss was still fresh for them. Only Suzie's mom didn't let that keep her from smiling or laughing at any jokes Dustin told her. The only solemn moment he noticed was when she saw him wearing Suzie's bracelet.

She tried convincing him to not give Suzie his hat when it was all he had of his dad but Dustin was determined she keep it. After all, he had her bracelet when it was all she had of her dad, he knew she would take care of it.

The way her mom had hugged him after that and quietly thanked him for being there for Suzie was what convinced Dustin that they were a good family. It was why he wasn't as nervous about planning to spend the rest of next summer, after camp, with Suzie at the ranch. He had their house number so his mom could call and introduce herself to Suzie's mom. Only he didn't want to give it to her until after he was able to tell her about Suzie in the first place.

They would spend a month at camp and leave early to spend the rest of the summer at her uncle's ranch.

There is no doubt in his mind that his mom would love Suzie. She was a lot like him, and even where they didn't have everything in common Dustin knew that Suzie's immediate acceptance of his cleidocranial dysplasia was what would win her over.

Dustin carried the textbook downstairs with the radio carefully put in his book bag and brought down as well.

He wasn't sure how long Steve planned on having him stay downstairs but he wanted to be able to contact Suzie again when he wanted to. He sat down on the floor again and set Austin’s textbook on the table as he opened it up to where he last left off. At least with this, he would be able to get a head start on what they might be learning when the school year starts. He wasn’t sure if they were teaching college-level during freshman year but this would help prepare him even a little. He spent a few minutes just reading through the lessons, he opened his bag and pulled out his notebook, ripping a few blank pages out from the back. He copied down the equations he couldn’t understand, there were more than he would’ve liked but he knew it was because he hadn’t been taught how to solve these just yet. He hoped that he could call Mr. Clarke later to see what he had to say about them, or maybe he’d wait until school started, that way he could show him the equations in person.

Dustin passed the time slowly reading one page after another, jumping from the glossary in the back to what he’s already read to try and figure out what the lesson was on.

He didn’t keep track of how much time was passing. He figured that once Hopper and Steve came back inside he’d be allowed to head upstairs and just stay in his room. He wasn’t in the mood to sit downstairs and talk with either of them, though he knew Steve would want to keep him where he could see him. The first night he spent here Steve practically camped out in the room Dustin was staying in, the both of them staying up all night just goofing off, the majority of the junk food being eaten by him while Steve ate some odd-looking sandwich. Dustin assumed Steve planned to go back to his own room but instead he had spent the night passed out on the carpet.

He just hoped Steve would leave him alone tonight.

It’s not that he didn’t want to hang out with Steve, but when he had wondered if this was all for him or in fear of a new incident on his mind he didn’t want to be near any of them at the moment. Sighing, Dustin leaned back against the couch. The textbook resting in his lap as he glanced around the living room. He could turn on the TV and see what Steve has in his CD and DVD collection, but he didn’t want the noise to cancel out any noises coming from outside in case Hopper or Steve were in trouble. 

That was another thing that bothered him.

He’s faced the Demogroden, the Mind Flayer issue with Will, and even the Demodogs. He was perfectly capable of handling himself and yet neither of them would let him go outside or try to help. It was annoying and a little hurtful that they didn’t trust him to watch their backs. He couldn’t go grab Johnathan’s bat from Steve’s trunk because he was almost certain Steve took it with him to look around the house. Only that wasn’t the lone weapon nearby, there were plenty of kitchen knives within reach, there was a fire extinguisher, the cooking pots, and pans, etc. If he needed to protect himself then he could. 

They wouldn’t let him.

Shoving the textbook to the side, Dustin got to his feet and stomped into the kitchen. He yanked open multiple drawers until he found the one holding the kitchen knives, there was a smaller one tucked into the bottom of the drawer. It didn’t look like any of the other knives but it had a grip on it, Dustin grabbed that one and was surprised when it folded shut. He shoved it into his back pocket and grabbed a slightly larger knife to carry with him back into the living room. He set it down on the table next to the pizza boxes.

He was growing worried that he hadn’t seen or heard from either Hopper or Steve since they went outside.

The darker sky he could see through the window revealed just how much time had passed since they left. Frowning, Dustin picked up his bag and set it on the table. He rushed back into the kitchen to grab one of the Tupperware and a plastic bag, he stuffed the rest of the pizza into the Tupperware and wrapped the knife in the plastic bag before shoving both items into his bag. He left the textbook on the floor but made sure the notebook was inside, he didn’t want to risk anyone reading it. Not if it could result in them trying to ask about the ranch and mention it to his mom.

He probably should’ve felt bad about going behind Steve’s back and leaving the house, but if he was being honest, Dustin was just glad to be outside. 

Walking around the side of the house, he was surprised to see that his bike was leaning up against the house. He assumed that Steve had taken it out of his trunk and left it back at his house. Dustin quickly made his way over to it, pulling it up and swinging his leg over. He took off riding down the driveway without much thought. He wanted to try calling out for them, to see if they were nearby, but he didn’t want to chance to gain any unwanted attention. He didn’t know if whatever’s been following him was nearby or not. He searched through the trees as best as he could while staying on the path. It was… creepy how quiet it was. Usually, whenever he was out riding his bike he could hear the people in the neighborhood, and if he wasn't near any houses then he could have at least heard some of the wildlife or the bugs. Only right now he couldn't hear anything at all. The lack of noise was starting to get to him.

If something did happen and they were missing then… then he needed to get help.

Riding down the path, Dustin kept his eyes straight ahead. 

He hadn’t been able to see where either of them were, he hoped that Steve would’ve at least been nearby the house but he wasn’t anywhere in sight, neither was Hopper. He hoped that wherever they were that they were alright and had somehow managed to avoid getting into trouble. Will should be at his house by now, he knew Joyce wouldn’t let him go out this late, she hadn’t since he first disappeared into the upside-down. When he got there he could get Jonathan and Joyce to follow him back to Steves’ place and help him search for them. It would help if he remembered to find a flashlight… 

“Dustin? Shit. Dustin!”

“What?” Dustin’s head jerked to the side, his gaze landing on Steve and Hopper, both of them standing amongst the trees with their flashlights pointing his way.

They were yelling and running toward him, Dustin didn’t see the large blur racing toward him until it was too late. He yelped as he was tackled off of his back, whimpering as his arm smashed into the ground. It was too dark for him to properly see what had tackled him, but whatever it was, it was heavy. It’s weight settling on his chest and forcing the air out of his lungs, wheezing, Dustin tried to breathe in. It was making some odd kind of snorting noise, hot air hitting his neck as it started huffing and sniffing at him.

“Get the fuck off of him!”

The weight was gone so fast that for a moment Dustin didn’t even notice that it was gone. When he realized that he could move, he turned onto his side, coughing as he breathed in too quickly. He kept coughing even as someone was grabbing his shoulder, forcing him to sit up. 

Dustin gasped as a sharp pain shot up his arm, his entire body freezing in an attempt to ease the pain. He flinched back as Hopper's gun sounded off far too close for him to be comfortable with. 

"Dustin? Hey. Hey look at me, bud, are you okay?"

"Steve?" Dustin blinked, his eyes stinging, "I-I was going to get Jonathan and Ms. Byers. You… you guys didn't come back."

“What?” Steve glanced over Dustin worriedly before looking down at him, “Sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t even notice how long we were gone. You… you shouldn’t have left the house though-”

“What if something happened? If I didn’t leave then how would anyone have known that you guys were gone? If I didn’t leave and you guys were in danger, then by the time anyone realized something was wrong it would’ve been too late!”

“Okay. Okay, next time…. Next time I’ll carry a radio or something so I can check in with you. Promise.”

Dustin nodded his head, sniffing in as he tried to bring his arm closer to his body.

“Your arm… is-is it... Did it break?” Steve swallowed, his hands hovering over the discoloration of Dustin’s arm.

“I don’t think so? It… It doesn’t feel like a broken bone?”

“How the hell do you know what broken bone feels like?”

"I-"

Dustin is saved from answering as a deep growl echoes throughout the area. Startled, both Dustin and Steve turn towards the noise, watching in a muted horror as Hoppers gun clicks empty while by the sounds of it the creature is still raring to go. Dustin leaned to the side as Hopper warily stepped backward, gasping as he caught sight of just what creature at tackled him.

It was… a Demodog.

A very familiar looking Demodog.

"D'art?"

Chapter Text

It was D’art. It had to be. Sure it was dark outside and he couldn't really see that well around him and from what he remembers D'art hadn't been that big. Only that didn't matter because the Demodog snarling at Hopper had a dark patch on its side right next to its hind leg and the yellow pattern on its butt. He never got a close look at any of the other Demodogs but he was able to see D'art up close multiple times. D'art had that weird pattern and that patch every time he molted. D'art who he had helped blow up but was somehow here. Alive.

"What?" Dustin looked at Steve as he spoke, "Dustin… that's not him. You know that it can't be him. We blew the cave up, remember?"

“No, I-” 

Loud snarling cut him off, Dustin’s head snapped around, he could only watch as D’art flung himself at Hopper’s legs, sending him crashing to the ground. Steve cursed, pulling away from Dustin’s side as he flung himself toward Hopper, using his body to hit D’art off of him. Dustin tried getting to his feet, he wanted to be able to help them but he barely shifted and was forced to stop as the pain in his arm flared up. Dustin whimpered softly, bringing his arm in closer to his chest.

D’art rolled back to his feet, his head whipping around to stare directly at him, Dustin hesitantly raised his hand.

D’art didn’t hesitate, he came running toward him, leaping over both Hopper and Steve in order to get to him quicker. Dustin quickly turned to the side, moving his hurt arm out of the way as D’art headbutted against his chest. Almost knocking him over. Grinning softly, Dustin slowly raised his hand and when D'art didn't try to pull back or snarl at him he lowered it onto his head. Gently scratching his nails against the back of D'art's head, Dustin looked past him towards Hopper and Steve.

Neither of them looked very happy.

“Uh…” Dustin grinned awkwardly, “I guess it is D’art…”

Hopper made as though to move toward him but as D’art’s head whirled around, snarling at him, Hopper stayed still. Dustin watched silently as Steve inched his way over toward Hopper, the both of them then slowly began to move toward him. Frowning as he realized that whatever they had planned wouldn’t end well for D’art.

Dustin spoke softly, his lips barely moving as he whispered to D’art. “You need to get out of here buddy. I know, I know. I missed you too. I’m glad you’re alright but you need to go, okay?”

D’art whimpered, his head turning back toward Dustin and butted against his chin.

“Come on, I’m not going anywhere, but you need to leave. Now, before they get any closer, okay? D’art you need to leave.”

D’art let out a low warbling noise Dustin had never heard come from him before. Dustin leaned back as D’art took off running, his stocky form moving briskly through the trees, disappearing from sight almost immediately. 

“Damnit!”

Startled, Dustin’s head whipped around, watching Hopper with wide eyes as he pushed his hair back scowling at where D’art ran off too. Steve bent down to pick up his bat on his way toward Dustin, he knelt down next to him and smiled grimly as he gestured at Dustin’s arm still cradled to his chest.

“...Looks like we should head to the hospital, huh?”

Dustin groaned, “My mom is going to kill me if she found out I got hurt, I don’t think it’s broken… can’t we just get back to the house?”

“No,” Hopper made his way over to them, bending and dusting off his pants, “Better safe than sorry, we’ll get it checked out just in case it is broken.”

“Come on, it’ll be fine.” Steve handed his bat off to Hopper and helped Dustin get to his feet.

It was slow going making their way through the woods with Hopper dragging along Dustin's bike. Steve stayed by Dustin side the entire time apologizing every time that the pain flared in Dustin's arm, causing him to cry out. Dustin kept trying to convince Steve he had nothing to apologize for but ended up giving up after the 5th time it happened, he wished the night would end already. He wanted to just be able to go back to his house with his mom and Tews and be able to go to sleep without worrying about the possibility of anything happening. He was worried that the moment he got into the truck Hopper would yell at him for going out on his own, he knew Steve wouldn't back him up because not leaving the house by himself was one of Steve's rules. Actually the rule was not leaving the house in general but Dustin knew that Steve would be angry with him either way even if he tried to defend his actions.

Did they honestly think that placing him on some sort of house arrest was the best decision? It didn't work with Eleven, why would it work on him?

For the most part the continued making their way back to Hoppers' truck in silence. The only noise being the sound of them walking and Hopper muttering cursing under his breath everytime Dustin's bike got caught on a tree root.

Dustin slid into the backseat of Hoppers’ truck with Steve’s help, grimacing at the trash on the floor.

“If that thing’s back then there’s a chance more of them are too.”

Steve's brow furrowed, "I thought they were all part of that hive mind thing you guys kept talking about. Shouldn't he have died with the others when Ele-uh, when Jane took care of that Mind flayer thingy?"

Dustin tuned out the conversation as Hopper and Steve kept going back and forth, bouncing ideas off one another on why D’art was still alive. The conversation sat heavily on him, on the one hand, he could understand all too well where they were coming from but on the other hand… D’art was alive. He wasn’t sure how to feel. He wanted to feel the same as Hopper and Steve but… but he couldn’t, he couldn’t because he was actually relieved that D’art was still breathing, that he hadn’t killed him.

He was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It seemed they are impossible to him that Hopper and Steve wouldn't try lecturing him on why he should have listened to them and stayed in the house. Sure he got hurt but he was able to find them and see that they were still alive. That heavy feeling from earlier as he felt the churning in his gut slowly faded away when he realized that neither of them had gotten killed trying to find what was after him. Dustin wasn't sure yet if it was good or bad that the creature coming after him and making a mess of his house had been D'art, but he was glad it wasn't another type of demogorgon or some other Creature from the Upside Down.

They couldn't catch a break, could they?

Chapter Text

After arriving at the Hospital, he was only there for at most an hour before his mom arrived. He was right, his mom was definitely not happy to hear that he sprained his wrist. She always worries about his fragile bone structure. So getting a phone call from the hospital about him spraining his wrist when he was supposed to be under Steve's watch seemed to renew her fever in keeping an eye on him. Hopper tried speaking to her, to help calm her down in order to explain what happened but for the first time in his life, Dustin witnessed his mom truly angry. She was careful about it, made sure to tell Steve that she wasn't angry with him and didn't blame him. Though she definitely made it clear that he wouldn't be going back to Steve's house. At least not at the moment, anytime Hopper tried to convince her otherwise she would cut him off and firmly tell him what she thought about his suggestions. It was a little unnerving to see his mom so upset but at the same time, it was sort of badass. He'd never seen her confront someone like that before, it was kind of awesome even if he did feel bad about it.

He would have tried to help convince her but if he was being honest, he agreed with her.

He didn't want to be forced to go back to Steve's house if it meant going back on house arrest. He knew that they meant well, but being left behind and stuck inside all day wasn’t too great of a feeling. It felt too similar to when the others would hang out without him. He went to camp to get away from that feeling, not for it to spread. It hurt, thinking over what happened, it was almost like when everything first went down and they didn’t even consider him being able to help because he’s a kid. He thought that after everything they’ve been through that others would have realized by now that they all could help, it didn’t matter if they were kids or not.

“Dusty?”

Dustin smiled at his mom, trying his best not to let his thoughts show through his facial expression, “Yeah mom?”

“Sweetie, are you alright? I asked you what you thought about the situation…” Mrs. Henderson frowned worriedly, “Should I call the doctor back? Are you in any pain?”

“What? Nonono, I’m okay mom, really! The pain meds already kicked in so I can’t really feel it at all.” Dustin pushed himself into a seated position, ignoring how his mom tried to get him to lay back down, “I promise I’m fine.”

Mrs. Henderson bit her lip, looking from Dustin to Steve and Hopper before glancing back at her son, “... Well, you’ll have to stay overnight, in the morning I’ll pick up your things from Steve’s house then come get you. Okay?” 

“Okay mom,” Dustin spoke quickly before Steve or Hopper could try saying anything else.

It was almost comedic watching his mom hustle Steve and Hopper out of the hospital room and stopping them from trying to start the conversation back up again. He did feel bad lying to his mom about all of this but there was no way he could tell her the truth. Not just because he signed that stupid paperwork to keep silent but because he didn’t want to risk startling her badly enough with the truth that it would affect her health… and he didn’t want to see her be disappointed in him. That above all else would’ve hurt the most.

Lying to her, on a near constant basis now… 

He was tired of it. He was tired of having to tell her one lie after another, sure it was to keep her safe but was that what he was actually doing? 

He honestly couldn’t even tell if he was lying because he had to or because it had become a habit by now. The only one he hadn’t lied too was Suzie, and that was because he only told her what he could tell her, he avoided any topics that would lead to him having to lie. Hadn’t they warned him about this in his past classes? Telling everyone that lying would become a habit they wouldn’t be able to break until it got to the point that his whole life would become just a mix of lies? Wasn’t that technically his life now? For the past few years all he had been doing was telling one lie after another, even to the others when there wasn’t any real reason to have any secrets between them.

He hated himself, just a little bit for thinking that it was their fault he had to lie to them in the first place.

He knew it wasn’t… he knew that and yet that didn’t stop him from thinking it.

It didn’t stop him from looking at the others sometimes wishing that he could go about life as easily as they all seemed too. He knew that wasn’t true though, he knew that none of them were actually okay but he did envy their ability to at least pretend they were. He couldn’t even get through riding his bike around without being overly aware of every little thing. Not to mention how much of an out of it state roadkill leaves him in. He couldn’t even enjoy going on car rides with his mom anymore, he could tell she noticed and was upset he wouldn’t join her for a ride as often as he used too. Driving with her was rare enough as is, he knew that him being in the car with her helped keep her calm while driving and it was selfish of him to take that away from her.

He couldn’t handle it.

He didn’t want to have a… an episode in front of her.

He didn’t want to keep having episodes in general, he wished they would stop. He tried different remedies he found in books, different ways people can handle their PTSD, which he knew without a doubt they all had. Only… none of them worked, or if they were working, they were taking a while to show any effect. He just wanted to be normal again, or as normal as he used to be before all this happened.