Red Robin returns to the Watchtower after the completion of his mission with the League exhausted and tense in a way he wasn’t when he left months earlier. It was supposed to be a simple mission. Helping out the League as their stand-in tech guy while they established another communication hub somewhere in the galaxy. Vic was in the middle of some high-level project he couldn’t afford to take any time away from and Bruce had apparently volunteered him as the next available nerd for the mission. He had been slightly irritated at the fact that Bruce hadn’t even bothered asking him first but mostly excited to finally be able to get his hands on the interstellar communications systems that the league uses. Vic is almost always the one who works on things like that and Tim was definitely looking forward to exploring it himself.
Jay and Dick were none too thrilled to find out he planned on leaving them for a whole two months but it wouldn’t be the first, and probably far from the last, time one of them would be pulled away for a mission and they always managed.
If it had gone according to plan it would’ve been a relatively simple mission. Go in, set up the communication hub, make sure that everyone staying there knows how to operate it, and head back home. The Leaguers were there as representatives of earth and their mission was to ensure the peace talks succeeded but with the Green Lanterns already allied with the planet and vouching for them, it should’ve been a piece of cake.
Of course, when was anything ever that easy? Instead of being a simple tech mission, Tim had been dragged into the rapidly unraveling peace talks, apparently, Hal had broken some kind of sacred rule no one had been aware of. Fucking thanks Hal. As a result, all the diplomatic representatives from Earth and official allies of the Green Lantern Corps (Tim included) were trapped in a fucking time loop while a trial was conducted to decide whether the alliance would proceed or they would all be declared guilty and executed. A bit extreme in Tim's opinion, especially considering his only crime was being associated with the League who was in turn associated with the Green Lantern corps but apparently their society took the pursuit of justice to a whole other level.
In the end they had obviously won, the alliance had been finalized, Tim got the system up and running, and they returned to the watchtower on schedule.
See it was on schedule for anyone outside of the time loop, but for the poor suckers inside it, the trial had dragged out for Twenty. Seven. Months. That was two years, three months, and twenty-six days, or exactly 847 days according to the earth clock Tim had conveniently brought along to avoid losing track of time in a different solar system.
That was 847 days spent trapped away from the rest of the universe, 847 days not knowing if today was the day the verdict finally came in, if today would be the day they were either going to be finally freed and allowed to return home, or killed.
The league members were all friendly enough to him but they were all around Bruce's age and spent most of their time together, leaving Tim alone and on the outskirts; isolated even amongst allies. Because while they were allies, they weren't close and definitely weren't friends. To be totally honest Tim was surprised he was still sane. He had done enough research on the effects of long term isolation to know the kind of shit something like that can do to someone even in a controlled environment, and a potentially hostile alien planet would definitely not qualify as a "controlled environment" in any sense of the word. But, it was fine now! They hadn't been executed. The alliance had been formed. Tim hadn't lost it, and the mission objective was completed even if there were some... bumps along the way.
Deciding to simply repress all thoughts about the mission for now Tim sighed as he made his way through the watchtower sticking to the shadows. He had just finished the longest most exhausting mission debriefing of his life and everyone was not so subtly trying to make him talk to Dinah before he returned to Gotham but he was honest to god going to have a breakdown in front of everybody if he had to stay in space for one more goddamn minute when he was so close to finally being home. So, sneaky shadow time it was as he evaded all the well-meaning members, changed into civvies, and took the zeta tube to Gotham before anyone could try and stop him.
Stepping out of the phone booth and adjusting his backpack and duffle bag that held his vigilante gear Tim took a deep breath of the polluted air and couldn't hold back the, no doubt disturbingly manic, smile on his face if he tried. He got a fair share of concerned looks from people walking by but he found he simply had no fucks left to give at this point. It had been a month off-world before the time loop mess happened and then another month before they could return home after that. So after 908 days in total away from home, of not knowing if he would ever breathe in the shitty smog of Gothams air again Tim felt he had earned the right to look a little deranged.
God 908 days since he last saw Dick and Jason... Fuck there were months when thinking of them was the only thing that kept him going, when he had all but given up on ever leaving that stupid fucking planet again... Nope! No. Not going there, Tim. We're back home now and everything is fine. Not going to make a big deal out of it. He was alive and back on Earth and in less than 15 minutes he could curl up with his amazing boyfriends and finally relax. He's gone this long without breaking down; he absolutely refuses to lose it now.
Making his way back to his perch where Jay and Dick always met him after any of them returned from a long away mission Tim wondered what he was going to tell them. It had only been two months for them and he didn't want to worry or upset them over something that was out of their control and already in the past, despite the fact that no one had any way of preventing what had happened, he knew them well enough to know that they would find a way to blame themselves. On the other hand, he also wasn't nearly stupid enough to think he could hide it from them when the whole league knew and it was in the files available for anyone to read, Bruce probably already knew. And if they were going to find out anyway it would definitely be better for them to hear it from him. But damn he really wasn't looking forwards to that conversation, he really just wanted to forget about the whole thing.
Blinking in surprise he realized he was already standing outside his perch. Shit. Must have zoned out for a minute there. Stupid. Too accustomed to the same monotony of the routine in space. He’d have to train that out sooner rather than later if he didn't want to get killed on patrol. Though for some reason the idea of going out as Red Robin anytime soon gave him a pit of dread in his stomach. Probably some kind of hangup from having to be Red for so long, only relaxing in the privacy of his own
Well Dick always bugged him and Jay to take more time off anyway (fucking hypocrite) so maybe he could get away with a week off to recover. That wouldn't raise too many questions, right? Most heroes took a break after extended missions like that, especially ones that went wrong. Nodding to himself Tim went to unlock the door before hesitating with his hand on the knob. He still hadn't actually decided what he was going to tell his well-meaning but very overprotective boyfriends.
Before he could come up with the right way to phrase it that wouldn't freak them out too much the door flung open and Jay stood smirking at him with soft eyes, god he had missed those eyes so much. He had missed Jay so much. He didn't even realize he was tearing up until Jay froze in the middle of whatever teasing thing he was about to say and dropped the casual smirk.
"Tim..?" He asked hesitantly opening the door further for him to come in and looking more and more concerned when he came in but just bit his lip and shook his head, not trusting himself to say anything as he glared at the ceiling and tried (unsuccessfully) to blink away tears.
Fuck. Dammit Tim this was not the plan! Admittedly he hadn't quite decided exactly what the plan was but he knew the goal was to not freak anyone out. So much for that.
"Babybird please say something you're worrying me a bit here." Jay said in that soft gentle tone he usually saved for traumatized victims and little kids. Tim took a few shaky breaths in before trying to smile at his worried boyfriend. It wasn't convincing in the slightest and he knew it but maybe he could still salvage this.
"I'm-I'm fine, sorry Jay just-" whatever excuse he might have said was cut short by Dick sliding into the room in only a pair of Nightwing pajama pants (cause he was secretly the biggest fucking dork) and a pair of fuzzy socks.
"Timmy!!! You're finally back!!" He exclaimed with a grin before freezing at their faces, Jay still looking alarmed and worried and Tim no doubt a mess with tear tracks down his face. "Oh shit," Dick said, immediately more subdued and suddenly right beside Jay. "Bad mission baby?"
Any response Tim might have made was cut off by an embarrassing keening noise when Dick pulled him into a hug. Dick and Jay both froze and he could feel them looking at him in shock and concern as he fucking melted into Dicks arms, his face tucked into the taller vigilantes neck. Damn he was really blowing this whole "Don't worry them" thing.
But holy shit. He thought to himself. How long has it been since he's last had physical contact with someone outside of sparring? Stupid question. He knew exactly how long. 908 days. 908 days since Jay and Dick had cuddled him and fussed over him making sure he had everything he needed for a two-month-long space mission, from his extra suits to his own coffee. (Which had run out barely a week into the time loop.) 908 days since he had last seen his boyfriends and- fuck, he was definitely crying in earnest now.
“H-hey guys,” Tim said trying to smile and play off his obvious issues, it wasn't that convincing considering he was still wiping away tears and shaking like a leaf but he could pretend. “Sorry about that..” he said quietly and avoiding eye contact he made his way into the bedroom to drop his stuff. The duffle of his costume and armor was way heavier then it looked and it definitely needed to be cleaned but Tim just dropped it on the floor before sitting on the bed, all too aware of how his partners had followed him in and were exchanging worried looks trying to figure out what was wrong. Hesitantly they sat on either side of him and there was a moment of tense silence before Jay cleared his throat and spoke, using the soft gentle tone he usually reserved for traumatized victims.
“Rough mission babybird?”
Tim couldn't help himself at that, snorting a bitter laugh and blinking tears out of his eyes as he glared at the ceiling cursing himself for his sudden inability to regulate his emotions. Rough mission is the fucking understatement of the year.
“Tim-” Dick said growing more concerned by the second, “Can we ask what happened? We're so glad that you're back, missed you so much baby, and if you don't feel comfortable talking about it we won't force you to, but... we’re worried about you.”
Tim sucked in a deep breath and closed his eyes not wanting to remember everything that had happened in those “two months” he had been gone. Not wanting to remember the fear and resignation that he would never have this again. Never see his friends or family or amazing partners. Fuck those were definitely tears rolling down his face right now. May as well bite the bullet.
“Time loop” he whispered almost too quiet to hear but based on the sharp inhales from both of the older vigilantes on either side of him they heard and understood the implications of those two words.
It was Jay who spoke up in a hesitant voice, “Oh shit babybird... fuck, how long was it for you?”
Tim pursed his lips and once again tried to stop the tears but he couldn't help the flinch and the way his eyes flew open when Dick gently wiped them off his cheeks. The older vigilante immediately looked hurt and apologetic, trying to pull his hand back but pausing when Tim leaned into his touch, desperately starved for affection. Hesitant and heartbroken, Dick slowly responded and wrapped the smaller man in a hug. And Tim. Tim fucking melted he didn't even realize he was nuzzling into Dick's arms until Jay swore quietly under his breath and snapped him back into the present. He felt his cheeks heat with embarrassment, the tops of his ears were positively burning.
“Fuck Timmers you're starting to freak us out, please just tell it to us straight. How long has it been for you since you’ve seen us?”
Tim bit his lip and hid his face further into Dick's chest so he wouldn't have to see their reactions.
“It's been three years…” he whispered and the broken noise they both made had him feeling instantly guilty but he couldn't stop the words flowing out of him now that he'd started. “God I'm so pathetic its been years since I’ve been hugged but I didn't expect to fucking melt like this at the slightest bit of physical touch”
“Oh, Timmy…” Dick said sadly as he gently coaxed Tim's head out from his chest so he could look his amazing boyfriend in the eyes “You can ask me for hugs whenever. From either of us really, we’ll give you all the cuddles you could possibly want okay?”
Tim knew he looked pathetic and vulnerable as he worried his lip for a moment and despite knowing that Dick would never lie about something like this he just had to check, he made eye contact with his boyfriends and asked in a hesitantly hopeful tone, “...Promise?”
Dick felt his heart breaking a little more in his chest at that and his words got stuck in his throat. Luckily Jay was there, he plucked Tim out of Dick's arms, and laid them down, pulling Tim to his chest, and wrapping himself around the smaller man protectively. He pressed a kiss to Tim's head and kindly ignored the way he trembled and soaked up the affection like, well, like he’d been starved of it for years, Jesus Christ.
“We promise babybird. We gotcha now and ain't nothing gonna take ya away from us again. Fuck the league. They can deal with their own shit from now on. You’re ours, and I think I can speak for Dickie too when I say we ain't gonna letcha out of our sight again anytime soon. You’re stuck with us. Ya feel me?”
Dick blinked away his own tears when he saw Tim nodding into Jay's chest with the tiniest hint of a genuine smile on his lips even with the tears that were still slipping out. He laid down next to them and pressed himself close, chest flush against Tim's back, an arm over both him and Jay. Their legs were all tangled together and it was definitely not fine, Tim would need to talk about it and they would all have to relearn how to work together again and find a way to acclimate Tim back into their relationship. But those were problems for another day. Right now they just needed to cuddle their bird and hide away from the rest of the world. Patrol be damned, B could deal with it tonight. It was far from okay, but it would be.