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the pillow fortress of solitude

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It's the tail end of summer and Superboy is staring at some documentary about dinosaurs, but Dick doesn’t think he's watching – Superboy keeps blinking hard and shaking his head in small, quick jerks. Dick is sitting where he can keep an eye on him, perched on the arm at the other end of the sofa while he makes his way through the Project Kr files.

Then Wally zips past on his way to the kitchen, does a screeching halt, double-takes, and says, like a dumbass: "Huh. Hey Supes, you kinda smell."

Dick, thinking the same thing but quietly, geez Wally, smacks his forehead.

Superboy turns and narrows his eyes. "Excuse me?"

Wally flails his hands, blurring at the edges. "Whoa, no, no, not in a bad way! It's just, uh. I think your scent changed, dude?" He leans on the back of the couch, not actively in Superboy's space but close enough to pick up his scent better. He looks from Superboy to Dick, raises his eyebrows. "You don't smell that?"

Dick says, "I do, but I was gonna be polite, Kid Mouth. You're getting it too?"

"But –" Superboy's brows come together and he frowns, more confused than thunderous. "Smell what? Getting what? Guys."

Wally opens his mouth, pauses. Not a speedster blink-and-you-miss-it, he actually takes a second to visibly think. He says, "I'm pretty sure it's not a bad thing. Nothing serious! But trust me, something's up. The nose knows, man." He straightens up, hooks his fingers in the belt loops on his jeans. Glances at Dick and screen projection from his gauntlet. "Probably better to get things checked out, just in case."

Superboy follows his gaze and his frown takes a different slant. He shakes his head, but gets to his feet, starts moving towards the door.

Dick nods to Wally, dismissing the files and flipping up, over the arm of the sofa. "I'll get Red Tornado and meet you guys in medbay." Red wasn't exactly a healthcare professional, but he was better than nothing – if Dick was right, they were actually going to need an adult for this.

-

Canary says they should give Superboy some space to process things, after, but when he doesn't show up for lunch they go looking.

They find Superboy wedged into a closet not far from the lounge, along with all the missing couch cushions, some extra pillows, and what Dick thinks is probably all the bedding from Superboy’s room. It’s not exactly a pillow fort – and there’s a thought, does Superboy know about pillow forts? It’s not much of a nest either: from what Dick can see, there’s a tangle of sheets on the floor, but the cushions and pillows are piled in a lumpy mountain made more for burrowing under, with another blanket pulled over the top to help hide Superboy from view. Mostly. It’s a small closet, and Superboy is kind of a bulky guy.

In retrospect, Superboy’s tendency to sleep more easily in small, enclosed spaces maybe had as much to do with him being a bewildered baby omega as it did with his pod at Cadmus. From what Robin has learned in the past few hours, Cadmus kept their clone dosed up on hormone blockers while they did their child development speedrun, apparently just in case because who even knew what would or wouldn’t happen with hybrid human-Kryptonian biology? All the parts were assembled, but maybe they wouldn’t work. But Superboy would have had some pretty basic instincts still, probably. Whether he’d recognized them up to now was up in the air though, because Superboy had a downloaded education, near-zero context for lots of things, a little more than a month or two of conscious life, and the body of a sixteen year old about to start in on the other half of puberty. He wasn't exactly in tune with what was and wasn't worth asking about, when it came to his own body.

And they hadn’t thought – Superboy was Superman’s clone. Kryptonians didn’t have dynamics the way humans did, despite most other outward similarities. Not that anyone was asking Superman about his junk to his face, but from what Clark and the Kents could tell, Clark didn’t have any kind of recognizable cycle and was unmoved by scent or hierarchy. Plus: alien species. So.

Fresh out of the pod, Superboy hadn’t seemed anything but Kryptonian. As long as he was stable and reasonably healthy, digging through his mostly encrypted, partially redacted medical files wasn’t a super high priority. His scent had been faint and a little odd, like Superman’s but not quite – Dick had thought the difference was a clone thing, or maybe a Kryptonian adolescent thing. Then, of course, Superboy’s scent had started changing and hey! It was an adolescence thing.

Just, not Kryptonian.

The pillow mountain shifts as Dick sits next to it, one hand moving to keep from getting bopped by a falling pillow. He can see the curve of Superboy’s back through one of the gaps if he leans over a bit, and from this close he can definitely smell the fun combo of stress and fever–sucked to be Supey today. At least it was just gonna be pre-heat this time around, from what they could tell – all the discomfort, none of the more awkward shenanigans. Finding out Superboy was half-human was already wild enough; no one needed to contemplate having to give the chronological infant a remixed omega version of The Talk. That was for some other day, and a job he would gladly hand over to the grownups.

It doesn’t stop a mild panic from descending anyway, once they see how he’s doing, but Dick ignores the outbreak of whisper-shouting. Kaldur can handle that. He props his elbows on his knees and scoots a little closer, pitching his voice low – if the fever wasn’t actively roasting his brain, it was probably giving Superboy a killer headache.

“Heya, Superboy. Hey dude. How you feeling?"

The pile shakes the tiniest bit. A muffled “ugh” emanates from somewhere towards the wall.

"That's what I figured.” Dick shifts to get his knees under him and says, “Can I move some of this? Bet you'd feel better with a little fresh air on your face."

"S'cold."

Dick can't help a small laugh as he pulls away the top blanket and starts rearranging the pillow pile. "Yeah, that'd be the fever. Fevers with chills never make much sense. Burning up and freezing anyway, sheesh." Move this here, toss that over there – ah. Dick pushes a cushion out of the way, uncovering Superboy's head. "Here we go. S'up, big guy."

Superboy scrunches his nose as the light hits his face and makes a soft hurt sound, and wow does that ever mess with Dick's head. People always talk about alphas going haywire when someone’s in trouble, but he’s an omega and geez does he wanna just. He doesn’t even know. Go back in time and kick a whole bunch of Cadmus scientists in the head and flip them into a wall, maybe. They're no strangers to Superboy getting his ass handed to him in training or on a mission, but Dick thinks this is the first time the team have seen him laid out by something mundane, something they can't fight – even when he was being mind-controlled that first day awake, it was an external threat. Seeing him ill is more than a little freaky because dude's functionally invulnerable. Does Superman get so much as a sniffle, ever?

Dick reaches over and runs a hand through Superboy's hair, up over his forehead and sideways along his temples in one long motion. Superboy turns towards him and whines. Cuts himself off and hides his face, and between one blink and the next Wally is with them, pressing lightly against Dick’s side.

Wally says, “Hey Rob, Supey, I got a thing set up in the other room if you guys wanna move over there?” His voice is mostly even, but Wally’s got a wide-eyed look like his soul is vibrating into another plane of existence or something.

Wally says ‘if’, but he starts moving pillows around at superspeed until Superboy sits up. Superboy’s hair is sticking up all on one side, and when he tries to climb over the mess, he has to put his hands on their shoulders for balance. His foot catches in a sheet and he almost takes them both down with him when he trips, but they manage to get to the new nest in one piece, no concussions.

Wally goes back to bring everything from the closet, starts adding it in, and just like that, a layer of tension melts from Superboy’s shoulders. Superboy makes another monosyllabic noise, lighter this time, and faceplants right in the middle. The room smells like the whole team – Dick pokes around, and it looks like Wally grabbed stuff from everyone, even Artemis, for all that they're always growling at each other. He points at it, grinning, and Wally rolls his eyes, bumps his shoulder as they both clamber into the nest with Superboy. Supes hasn’t asked for company in so many words, but Dick remembers how Wally’s first pre-heat turned him into a baby koala up until the fever really knocked him out, after which he was more like an octopus. Dick sits on one side, Wally on the other.

Wally looks at Dick over Superboy’s body, still facedown like maybe he’s trying to smother himself into unconsciousness – that or Superboy just doesn’t have the energy to turn over. It’s a speaking kind of look, a ‘what do we even do now, bro?’ kind of look.

Dick shrugs. Eyes Superboy. Weighs the odds.

Dick scoots a little.

Pauses.

Scoots a little more, so he’s pressed all along Superboy’s side. When nothing happens, he leans in and headbutts Superboy, rubs his face against him and pushes until Superboy takes the hint and rolls towards Wally, who starts preening his gross sweaty hair.

Superboy blinks at them and makes a bewildered, sleepy sort of rumble when Dick scents him again – not like he’s unhappy, but like he doesn’t get what the heck is happening. And maybe he doesn’t. Up to now Dick would have said that they were friends, teammates, but that he wasn’t sure if they were the kind of friends that scent marked each other. Wally, Kaldur, Roy – they were his. Artemis was a maybe, probably would be if she wasn’t so skittish under that tough alpha girl exterior – a work in progress. M’gann was a Martian and didn’t quite get it, but she picked up enough from TV to always welcome a hug. Superboy –

Superboy lets out another whine when Dick makes like he’s gonna move away even a little bit, and yeesh, that sound. He keeps his face tucked against Superboy’s chest instead, lays down and throws an arm around him, rubs little soothing circles while he thinks.

Superboy is part Kryptonian and part human and an omega and practically a baby, even if he is physically and mentally sixteen-ish which, clone problems, wow. The genomorphs apparently called him a brother, but the team is probably the closest thing Superboy has to a pack. He doesn't have anyone else, really. Clark is Superboy’s father, in a half-baked sort of way, but even leaving aside all his current issues, Clark probably doesn’t feel the kind of pull you’d normally get between parents and kids – not totally heartless, but totally oblivious.

Lots of little Superboy things are gaining new dimensions, and it’s kind of distressing. For a hot second he kind of, almost wants to ask Bruce to adopt Superboy, but god knows how that would go – save that thought for when his alleged mothering instincts aren’t yelling at him, maybe. His brother-ing instincts? Hm…

-

Dick only realizes he dozed off when he wakes up enough to hear Wally asking, “So, dude, what was with the pillow fort of solitude, anyway?”

A long pause. A slight tug on Dick's sleeve. Somewhere above him, Superboy says, “Instinct, supposedly.”

“Well yeah, but." Pause again, blankets rustling. Dick can't see him from this angle, but he can imagine Wally chewing his lip, thinking. "Right. Next time you wanna build a nest you ought'a ask us for help. We'll make it super cozy! Me 'n Rob are pros at nests."

"What, because he's Robin?"

"Ha! Is that a pun?"

"Uh. I guess?"

“Heh. Nah, it’s just, yanno, practice. Lots of sleepovers, lots of – this.” There’s another blanket-shuffling noise, and a light fwhump. Wally’s voice closer when he says, “If you got any questions, you can ask, okay? Like, within reason; I call not it on The Talk. But for the other stuff, you know, about omegas, being one – I mean, I guess they must’ve given you a biology 101 crash course – ”

“I – they did. Biology, sociology.” Tug on Dick’s sleeve, and he cracks his eyes open and sees Superboy worrying at the fabric. “But it’s. It’s different, having it happen. It’s weird. Uncomfortable.”

Wally sighs. “Yeah, you kinda got everything dumped on you at once, huh? The rest of us have a couple years to get used to it before the real nonsense starts. But it’s not gonna be all bad. I mean, some people’re gonna be creeps about it,” and a look passes over Wally’s face, same look that Dick probably has on the inside because oh man, he is not looking forward to anyone creeping on their boy, “But we got your back, us, the team, the League. Man, one time someone tried to give Robin trouble and Batman just – ”

There’s a knock by the door and M'gann's bright voice, coming closer: "Superboy! Feeling a little better? Artemis and I made food, if you're hungry. She said her mom makes this whenever she's sick, it's cháo. It's like porridge, I think. There's some here for you and Robin too, Wally."

A slight shift in the air, and Dick sits up to whack Wally with a pillow before he can even get a breath in to start flirting.

"Hey!"

"Thanks M'gann," Dick chirps. Wally catches him by the collar and drags him across Superboy's lap to Wally’s side, where he puts Dick in a headlock, pulls him down, and scents Dick with his wrists and face while Dick cackles. M’gann giggles and Superboy stares at them like they’ve lost it, but it’s all good because when Dick tries to draw him in, he goes easily. He lets himself get scented and cuddled and even scents them back, awkward but almost smiling.

They aren’t out of the woods yet, but Dick thinks they’re gonna be just fine.