Disclaimer: Characters and premise are the property of DC, I'm just borrowing them for a little non-profit fun.
The notion for this story comes from the following YJ_Anon_Meme prompt:
Superboy Needs More Hugs: I just want someone to get it into their head that Superboy needs hugs. Because he is sad and angry all the time and hugs will fix him. So they recruit all the others to this mission and there is lots of hugging and cuddling. Superboy acts all annoyed at first but you know really it makes him feel better.
(Maybe M'gann thinks it because it's what's done on Mars or what TV told her happened on Earth. Maybe Kaldur thinks it because that's what they do in Atlantis or because land people are weird. Maybe Artemis shows up and is all, what has taken the rest of you so long to notice this? Or maybe Robin thinks it because his parents used to hug him and Batman doesn't... Or whatever.)
Dick looked around his classroom superstitiously. As he'd anticipated no one else seemed to be anywhere near done with the programming assignment. 'Well, they don't spend their weekends and evenings hacking security codes while being shot at,' Dick thought with a touch of amusement.
He checked that their teacher was occupied elsewhere then opened up a web-browser and began surfing sites on behavioral sciences. Crime-fighting in Gotham inspired a certain amount of interest in psychology. Trying to make sense of all the nutcases running around was almost addictive.
Dick skimmed several articles. The fourth brought a frown to his face. He clicked on a connecting link then googled several of the names mentioned as sources in the article. As Dick became more involved in his research he began chewing worriedly on his lower lip.
"Seriously? You want us to..." Kid Flash began skeptically.
Robin pointed to a high-lighted section of the print out. "They die!" he exclaimed with agitation.
"I don't think these studies apply to his situation," Aqualad said.
"I think it's a great idea!" Miss Martian declared.
Superboy walked into the room. The other four instantly went silent. Then a mischievous sparkle entered Kid Flash's eyes.
Almost faster than the eye could follow the speedster was across the room. He glomped Superboy enthusiastically. Then, as soon as he felt the other boy's muscles tense, he darted away to a safe distance.
Superboy dropped into a defensive crouch and glared.
"Robin told me to!" Kid Flash exclaimed pointing to the other boy dramatically.
"That's not what I meant!" Robin protested when Superboy switched his angry look to his smallest teammate.
Quietly Aqualad folded Robin's print-out in half and tucked it under his arm. "Wally is obnoxious. Robin is..." Aqualad hesitated, his hand tightened on the report, "over-reacting. Ignore them," he advised. Then he turned to the rest of the team. "Making him uncomfortable is not good for our teamwork, nor does it accomplish your goals. Cut it out."
Superboy straightened. He glared down at Kid Flash then nodded to Aqualad, relieved that someone was apparently taking his side. "If you aren't doing anything important?" he questioned then turned and walked back out of the room.
Later Aqualad read over the report Robin had pulled together. It was reputable science. The situation wasn't directly comparable, of course. How many sixteen week/sixteen year old clones were there after all? On the other hand, Superboy was barely four months old, technically, and the conditions at Cadmus had probably been much worse than anything conceived of in the studies on human infants.
He thought about his own childhood, the things he took for granted and winced.
Robin was, perhaps, going about this the wrong way, but he wasn't altogether wrong to worry.
"Overall, I believe the team exercise went well," Aqualad said. Cautiously he put a hand on Superboy's arm.
Superboy's gaze flickered uncertainly to the hand on his arm.
"You and Robin appear to be establishing the beginnings of a good rapport, but be careful about crowding Kid Flash. His powers work to their best advantage when he has room to maneuver."
Aqualad noticed that Superboy was holding his breath. Under his hand Superboy's arm felt like granite, his muscles were so tense. But he wasn't pulling away. He wasn't moving at all, except for his eyes, which darted between Aqualad's hand and his face.
"Are you alright?" Kaldur asked.
"No. Yes! What?" Superboy stammered.
"Are you alright?" Kaldur repeated patiently.
"Why are you doing that? You didn't before." Superboy demanded.
"Does it bother you?" Kaldur asked.
"Are you going to stop?"
"If you want me to."
"It- isn't bothersome."
Kaldur smiled. "Alright. Now, when you launch a simultaneous attack with Kid Flash try to take the more confined angle for yourself. You and I can take a hit more easily than the others."
There was a sudden wind in the corridor that resolved into Kid Flash. The boy grinned manically then all but tackled Superboy, a moment later he was gone.
"Confined spaces?" Superboy remarked.
"Restricts his ability to dodge," Aqualad confirmed.
"I thought it was a *very* good idea," M'Gann commiserate as she took a seat across from Robin.
"Aqualad only said we shouldn't make him uncomfortable," Robin said. "Wally's not taking this seriously. We're not supposed to ambush him, just hug him."
"We should go about it naturally," M'Gann suggested.
"Okay, here's the plan..."
"Movie night!" Robin declared. He dropped a bowl of popcorn into Superboy's lap.
Kid Flash snatched the stack of DVD's out of M'Gann's hands and started flipping through them. " 'Axe Murderer 4', excellent! 'I Know Where You Live', not bad. 'Blood Bath, The Sequel' I haven't even seen this one yet. Cool!"
M'Gann took a seat to Superboy's right. Robin perched on the left arm of the couch. "Scoot over huh?" he asked Superboy, "I don't have any room."
"There's a chair over there," Superboy said as he noted the lack of space between himself and M'Gann.
"But you have the popcorn."
"You gave it to me." Tentatively Superboy shifted closer to M'Gann. She leaned into him and took a handful of popcorn.
Robin wedged himself into the space on Superboy's left. "M'Gann and I don't take up much room. We'll all fit."
Kaldur went to the kitchen. He returned a few moments later with a small bowl.
"We're watching 'Blood Bath' first," Wally decided. "In the first one this guy got ripped right in half. It was great! Really showed all the gore."
Kaldur leaned on Superboy's shoulder as he reached over the couch to scoop up his bowl of popcorn. "I don't see the appeal of slasher flicks," he stated.
"Come on, they're the best," Wally insisted as he started the movie.
"Robin told me all about them," M'Gann said. "They seem useful."
"She means interesting," Robin corrected.
Superboy held the popcorn bowl with both hands, uncertain of where else he could safely put them. He edged slightly to the left to give Robin a little breathing room then shifted back to the right when his leg brushed up against M'Gann's.
"Hey! I wanted to sit with M'Gann," Wally complained. "And don't hog the popcorn!"
"There are additional bowls in the kitchen," Kaldur remarked. He patted Superboy on the shoulder then settled in a nearby armchair.
"The credits are starting," Robin exclaimed.
Wally plopped down on the floor in front of the couch. After a minute he sat up so he was leaning back against the space between M'Gann and Superboy. He reached up for some popcorn. Superboy obligingly moved the bowl under his hand.
On the screen a dark shadow slunk toward an unsuspecting sorority house.
M'Gann let out a suspiciously cheerful yelp and wrapped her arms around Superboy.
"Wha?" Superboy forced himself not to jump at the realization that he'd probably kick Wally, knock Robin off the couch and spill the popcorn if he moved away from M'Gann.
"It's a scary movie," Robin explained. "Girls scream and grab the closest guy. It's tradition."
"But nothing happened," Superboy argued. He looked at M'Gann who was clinging gleefully to his arm. "Our missions are worse than that and you don't..."
M'Gann grinned up at him. "I'm studying Earth traditions."
Kaldur sighed and shook his head.
"Shush!" Wally complained. "Someone's about to get mutilated."
Robin leaned closer to Superboy and whispered. "These movie are a lot more fun if you just go along with the atmosphere."
Superboy shrugged and turned his attention to the movie. He puzzled over the characters running around shrieking and doing everything possible to make sure they stayed trapped rather than fighting back or trying to escape. Some time later he started to reach for the popcorn only to realize that the arm M'Gann wasn't wrapped around was pinned behind Robin's back.
The smaller boy glanced up from where he was cuddled against Superboy's side.
Superboy glanced at the rapidly disappearing popcorn. He looked at Robin and M'Gann, his expression softened and he settled back without disturbing them.
Robin rescued a handful of popcorn from Wally and fed Superboy a piece. "Told ya, these movies are fun."
Black Canary raised an eyebrow as a yellow blur dodged around her and into the kitchen where it pounced on Superboy. She rubbed her eyes and blinked a few times. She had not just seen Kid Flash hug Superboy, had she?
Superboy lunged after the speedster, herding him into the corner between the sink and the refrigerator. Kid Flash tried to duck around him and ended up pulled into a rough embrace. "You're not the only one who can do that," Superboy declared smugly.
"Gah! Don't hug me!" Wally protested as he squirmed free.
"My turn!" M'Gann exclaimed and leaping up to hug both boys. This time Wally didn't protest.
Kaldur shook his head and smiled to himself as he continued sipping his coffee.
"Drive by huggings," Robin explained helpfully.
Black Canary shook her head. "Don't explain. Please?"
"... So why was Robin reading papers on child rearing in the first place?" Flash asked.
"Who knows? But he found something about high infant mortality rates and correlations with failure to thrive in babies who aren't held and for some reason he decided to apply it to Superboy," Black Canary replied. "And the rest of them went along with it, in one way or another."
"It is helping," Red Tornado remarked. "Since their campaign of regular positive physical contact began, Superboy smiles more and takes offense less. His control over his strength is becoming more second nature as he has begun to engage in play-fighting."
"Robin's solution was sensible," Batman stated. "Isolation-reared monkeys develop depression, social withdrawal, avoidance of touch, self-mutilation and pathological violence as juveniles... assuming they survive that long. Providing them with a substitute parent reduces the occurrence of these symptoms. Working with the assets at hand is a good practice... And since certain other assets aren't co-operating," he muttered to himself.
Flash hid a grin. "Perfectly logical," he agreed.