It wasn't something Tim gave much thought to, growing up. He knew he was a sport, being so different from his parents. Not that they ever complained. No, they were never so crass as that. They just glanced at him occasionally, making hushed comments behind raised hands, like that would somehow keep him from hearing.
"We should have realized—"
"Coming from such different backgrounds—"
"It was only to be expected—"
No one said the word "sport" but they were all thinking it. That he was so much smaller than them both, than any others they had known.
They reassured him it wasn't anything to be worried about, that it was probably pretty normal in some circles, what with how people had moved and mixed over the centuries.
"If it's so normal," he would ask, "how come you've never heard of it before?"
It sent them into a tizzy, quick to insist they couldn't be expected to keep track of every community, to stay abreast of all the gossip. At the time, he didn't really understand—they were always traveling, always meeting other groups. Couldn't they just ask?
When he got older, it was easy enough to realize that asking would have meant admitting they had a problem.
A disappointing, medium-sized problem.
Tim is, for all accounts and purposes, a born were. Both his parents were weres—his mother a tiger, his father a jaguar. Not quite the same type, but closer than some were couples in that they were both big cats. It's not uncommon for the offspring of unmatched weres to take after one or the other parent. In fact, that's the normal way of things, which is why there aren't a bunch of leopard-wolfs or seal-bears running (or, in the latter's case, flopping) around. There's the occasional liger or the like, of course, but that's not all that frequent.
And then, of course, there's Tim.
There are communities of weres all over the planet, pretty much wherever there are people. Some are well-integrated into regular human society, some aren't. Most of them consist of shared-shift weres, generally some kind of creature native to the region they live in. There's been more dissemination and interbreeding—both between were types and with humans—in recent decades, with the rise of globalization.
Anyway. The species that weres shift into all have two things in common. First, they're mammals. Second, they're big—wolves, lions, seals, bears. They also tend to be predators, though Tim's mom once told him about a were community in India made up of cows, and he knows there's someone on the WereLife message board who claims to be a boar. Though half the board is solidly convinced the dude's a very lost furry who accidentally stumbled into their midst and has yet to realize where he is yet.
The people on the board all think Tim's a were with a hybrid shift, and he hasn't disabused them of the notion. It's easier to say he's gathering population and genetic drift statistics in an effort to further his parents' research into early were culture than it is to explain his issue.
His "issue." Which is to say, he doesn't shift into a tiger, or a jaguar, or even a jager or whatever a hybrid of that mix would be called. No, he's something completely new and different, something that shouldn't even be possible, though it's always made him curious about his more distant ancestors and where they might be from.
Everyone else shifts into animals that are the same size as or larger than their human forms. It makes sense according were-magic allocation and how the shift unfolds. The magic takes in all existing matter, sometimes picking up a bit extra from the were's surroundings if needed.
Not Tim, oh no. When he shifts, it's into a caracal. A medium cat. Something that's less than half his weight as a human. It shouldn't even be possible, as far as were physiology is understood.
Add to that the fact that some of his shift never quite goes away—the inhuman teeth, the black tufts on his ears that have to be shaved off after every shift, the pale marks around his eyes that he learned to hide through careful makeup application at an early age. It isn't normal, it isn't right. No wonder his parents were always talking about him in concerned whispers.
Of course, his luck being what it is, it turns out that none of them were ever as concerned as they should have been.
At the time he turned seventeen, Tim didn't think much of it. Of course, at the time he was also barely clinging to a thread of hope, traipsing across Europe and the Middle East in an effort to find enough proof to convince someone, anyone that Bruce was still alive. He didn't really have time to think about much of anything beyond the day-to-day struggle to stay alive and keep on going.
He continued to not give it much thought when he turned eighteen, being too immersed in trying to juggle his responsibilities at WE, his cases as Red Robin, and studying for his GED.
By the time he turned nineteen, he had much better things to think about. Namely the fact that he and Jason had reached some sort of truce and were slowly, tentatively taking their first awkward steps in the slow dance of friendship-turned-romance.
It's when he turns twenty-two and has been dating Jason for almost a solid three years that it finally comes up again.
"So, I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but is it normal for weres to age backwards?" Jason asks when they've gotten back to their apartment after a rather excellent dinner at Tim's favorite Thai place.
Tim isn't sure if he's heard Jason correctly at first, he's so thrown by the remark. "Uh, no. Why would you even ask that?"
"Okay. Okay, not to worry you or anything but you've been… kinda getting younger and younger looking ever since we started dating."
"Weres age at the same rate as humans. We just turn in animals sometimes, that's all," Tim slowly explains. Sure, there's a bit more to it when it comes to him, specifically, but he's never told Jason that. Heck, when it comes down to it, he's never told anyone that. Not even Bruce, who only found out about Tim's were status when a fight back during his Robin days had left him in need of some emergency dental work in the Bat Cave. "There's no way I could be getting younger."
"Y'sure? Because I did some research into caracals, and the outer limit on their lifespan is seventeen years, which just so happens to be how old you look now. Heck, I know my memories of you from that time are kinda fuzzy, but you look closer to seventeen now then you did when you actually were that age."
"I just. I age gracefully, that's all," Tim insists, because now that he thinks about it, he hasn't changed since he was seventeen. Not physically, at least. He hasn't grown any taller, much to his disgust, nor has he gained any weight, despite repeated attempts to pack on more muscle mass. It's almost like his body reached a certain point and just… stopped.
Heck, even Jason's comment about him looking younger now makes sense when he factors in that stress can cause a person to look older than their age. He's certainly nowhere near as stressed now as he was when he was seventeen, and just having Jason's solid, dependable self around has done wonders for his mental health.
Tim swallows. "Let me ask around some. I don't think it's a thing. Probably."
"Hey." Jason envelopes him in a hug, then pulls back to press their foreheads together—a real feat, considering the differences in their heights. "I didn't mean to worry you. It's probably nothing. Hell, I wouldn't have even said anything, just I couldn't help but notice some of the whispers during dinner."
"Whispers?" Normally, Tim picks up more ambient noises than Jason. Tonight, he may have been a bit distracted by some rather nice alcohol and the lovely way that Jason's eyes almost seemed to luminesce in the restaurant's dim lighting.
Jason coughs, looking more than a little embarrassed. "Just. It's not every day people call me a cradle robber."
No one on WereLife has ever heard about shifting having any kind of effect on the aging process. Tim is about to call it quits and chalk it all up to a really good skincare regime when someone—the otherkin boar dude, of all people—replies to his post.
maybe u have some homo magi in u? knew a girl whos mom was a grizzly and dad was h.m. she had 2 shave her feet postshift and didnt do puberty until she wuz 20 cuz magic makes everything wack
Normally, Tim would ignore anything this idiot says—he's firmly of the belief that "tusklover" is a poseur and not an actual were—but there are enough similarities in the post to what he's dealing with that he can't discount it entirely.
Which is why Jason finds him camped out on their living room floor six hours later, papers strewn everywhere, combing through the databases of two different personal genomics companies.
"Tim, sweetheart. You know I love you no matter what, but why is there a DNA strand constructed out of pasta and pipe cleaners on the dining room table?"
"It could be that you were onto something with the whole reverse aging thing," Tim admits, not looking up as he slides in through a backdoor of a third database.
Metas don't generally make use of personal genomic services—too great a chance some mad scientist might get hold of their DNA and do nefarious things—but some of their more baseline relatives do. Which wouldn't be something most people could connect, but Tim isn't most people in that he's been privy to the civilian identities of a heck of a lot of different metas over the years.
"Still doesn't explain the arts and crafts project you made out of what was supposed to be tonight's dinner."
"Oh. I, uh. I might be a little bit magic? I mean, I can't be sure because my grandparents weren't the greatest at keeping records, but if my Great-Aunt Ida's diary is anything to go by, there's a chance my grandma had a fling with some guy who was a Homo magus. Wouldn't have even mattered, but there's a small chance one of my great-great grandparents on the other side is a distant relative of Tracy Thirteen. All the magic stayed dormant since were is a dominant trait and overrides magic ability, until two dissimilar weres, both with a little bit of H. magi in them, had a kid together."
"You," Jason supplies, ever helpful.
"Me. It… actually kinda explains a lot? Weres don't have shifts like mine, see." Tim swallows, twisting his hands. He shouldn't be nervous about this—Jason isn't aware of the complexities of were culture, doesn't have a clue just how much of a freak he is. Won't even care when he does find out. Probably.
Jason shoots him a fond, somewhat exasperated look. "What, a lovable ball of terrifying fluff?" he asks, coming over to sit next to Tim on the floor, knocking their knees together.
"You're a forty-pound cat. I'd hardly call that 'small.'"
"It's less than half of what I weigh like this," Tim says, gesturing to himself. "Were shifting is a lot more scientific than most magic. People shift into something the same size or larger than what they are as a human. If they go bigger, they automatically incorporate some of their surroundings—dirt, clothes, plants. I have a friend online who once panic-shifted during a stressful family dinner and took in an entire turkey, stuffing and all."
"Hate to break it to you, but I haven't seen any piles of leftover Tim lying about when you shift. Just a beautiful feline who has a tendency to shred my socks and a strong desire to knock glasses off tables."
Tim refuses to dignify that with a response. Those socks know what they did and they had it coming. "Right. But matter can't be created or destroyed, so it has to go somewhere. That's where the magic comes in. I think it's made a sort of… pocket dimension to store all my extra mass in."
"Alright. So that explains why you don't turn into something large enough to hand me my ass more than two times out of five," Jason says, nodding slowly. "Still doesn't explain why you're disturbingly babyfaced for your age."
"No, it does, see." Tim quickly tabs to another window and turns the laptop so Jason can see the formulas he's worked out. "I mean, the physics are a bit shaky because pocket dimensions employ non-Euclidean geometry, but I've done the math and—taking into account my minimal amount of magical ability, plus my were status—my magic can only support a pocket dimension that stores about a hundred pounds, give or take."
"So you become a bigger cat the more weight you pack on."
"Er, not exactly. The weight of our shifts isn't something a were can control. It's a set amount, it doesn't go up or down. If there's not enough material about for a were to shift, they just… don't." Not that Tim's ever had that kind of problem. But he's heard it can happen for some people, especially those whose shifts require a lot of additional mass.
"If you go over 140 pounds, you can't shift?" Jason suggests, which, yes. That would be the logical conclusion and Tim says as much.
"You'd think so, right? But, look. I hit 140 when I was sixteen, and I've stayed that weight ever since. I can exercise, lift weights, eat five-course dinners—I've never gone over." He's gone under, once or twice, when it got really bad and he found it hard to remember to eat each day, let alone get out of bed. But he's not going to tell Jason that. "I think the magic might be keeping me at the optimal age for my height, weight, and shift, as determined by the pocket dimension."
Jason stares at him, a strange look on his face, and Tim holds his breath, waiting. What for, he's not sure—an outburst, an accusation, something. He's just admitted that he might be some sort of unaging immortal by virtue of a very weird magical loophole and some funky genetics. This is definitely not what Jason signed up for when they started dating.
Finally, the corner of Jason's mouth quirks up. "So, basically. What you're saying is that you are, quite literally, pocket-sized."
Tim jabs him in the arm, hard. "I can and will make you sleep on the couch, so help me."
Jason laughs, pulling him into a hug. "Babe, as long as you're there with me, I don't care where I sleep. Or how old you look, for that matter."
"Oh. Well." Tim lays his head against the solid muscle of Jason's chest, biting down a smile. "That's good."