Tim remembers his birthdays before the age of seven with fondness and bittersweet nostalgia. Those days when his parents threw him excessive parties with kids bribed to attend are like a far-off memory. The birthdays after seven are better off forgotten and repressed into the depths of his mind.
Deathstroke took over his birthday celebrations once he turned eight, and it’s been an on-going trauma ever since. One he thought he was finally freed from upon his fourteenth birthday and a noticeable lack of assassin.
Then exactly one week before his birthday, Tim receives a text alert and almost throws his phone at the wall in panic.
The time is almost here. I will be coming to get you for a day out.
I have a present for you.
Update your will. Just in case.
Slade doesn’t say anything else, and Tim is left to hyperventilate under his bed in the dark. Glowing yellow eyes staring up at him, a birthday song being sung, black blood gushing from a headless body—no, don’t think about it Tim.
He looks at the little glow-in-the-dark stars glued to the underside of his mattress and thinks of how much better the ones on his bed at Wayne Manor are. He thinks of the “How to parent your superpowered child” book he plans to write. He thinks about the giant skull cake Alfred plans to make for Tim’s birthday.
Oh god, he’s going to die, isn’t he?
Once Tim recalls that he still has the will to live, he rolls out from under the bed and towards the desk. Survival plans are pulled out of a drawer, and Tim keeps a grip on a pen hard enough to shank someone with.
“Kaiser, how likely are we to get a hold of the portal gun again?” He asks the phone desperately.
A little red face shakes a negative at him.
“That’s what I thought.” Tim strikes out the tentative Plan D and moves on to Plan E.
Since Jason may have told the others about Tim’s previous experiences, he waits until the last second to mention Slade kidnapping him for his birthday. He wants to update his will beforehand and tick off as much of his bucket list as possible before he’s grounded to the manor.
It’s two days until B-day when Tim finally sends out the text to inform everyone of his soon-to-be demise.
Slade promised to come get me. Says he has a present for me. He pauses then continues to type. He said to update my will just in case.
TO THE CAVE NOW is the immediate reply.
As he thought, the others don’t take the news too well. Jason and Dick barricade the Batcave while Bruce rushes to prepare for every kind of contingency. Barbara keeps an eye on Deathstroke’s movements, and Alfred circles the grounds with Ace the Bathound by his side.
It wouldn’t be so bad if all of them weren’t convinced that Tim will eventually run off to sacrifice himself to Deathstroke to save the others.
“Stop freaking out,” Tim says from where he’s tied up like a worm in the world’s strongest bubble wrap. There’s so much of the stuff enveloping him that it keeps him both insulated and comfortable while lying on the ground of the cave.
“I’m not freaking out,” Jason says, pacing in front of him and absentmindedly checking and rechecking the safety on his gun.
“You are, and it’s making me freak out,” Tim says, trying to kick his legs for circulation.
“Your previous birthdays could have gotten you maimed or killed,” Jason points out sensibly before reaching out for the absurd, “or possibly traumatized to the point you’re running around dressed like Slade and calling yourself Slade Jr. and trying to have Slade Jr. Juniors.”
There is so much wrong with Jason’s line of thought that Tim doesn’t even bother trying to unravel it. Instead, he chooses to wallow in regret over not being more careful about what he wrote to Jason when he thought him dead.
“Just don’t throw me in the holding cell please,” Tim eventually pleads.
“I’ll consider it,” Jason replies with a patronizing tone.
Dick, sadly, isn’t any better when it comes to Tim’s safety. His own experiences with Slade on top of a trauma gained from dimension traveling means he ends up slightly more paranoid than Jason. He’s slightly scarier too.
“Don’t worry, Timmy,” Dick coos while petting Tim’s hair and gazing down at him with the crazy eyes. “I’ll cut it off if I have to.” Dick never explains what “it” is, and Tim is certain he doesn’t want to know.
Any attempts at wriggling away are over before they begin, and Tim resigns himself to being tossed around the Batcave by his enthusiastic protectors like birds with a fat, juicy caterpillar. Bruce apologizes and blames the extreme behavior on Dick and Jason, but Tim sees the microchip gun hidden behind his back.
Despite his begging, Tim ends up suited up and sitting inside the clear holding cell the night before his birthday. It’s almost a relief when the power flickers exactly at midnight.
“Defensive positions, now,” Batman growls.
Nightwing and Red Hood circle around the Batcave’s most defensible points, and Red X decides to lie down on the cot and wait for the inevitable. None of his survival plans would have worked out anyway.
The power goes out for good, and the cave descends into madness.
Red X holds up his wrists and allows Ravager to put the handcuffs on him. With a pop of her chewing gum, she grabs him by the belt and slings him over her shoulder. The others are too engrossed in warfare with Deathstroke to notice them leaving the cave.
Rose is kind enough to strap Tim to her motorcycle to make him feel safe and mean enough to snap a colorful, sparkly party hat onto his head. They take off at breakneck speed, and Tim does his best to pretend his stomach isn’t resting in his throat.
He really wishes Rose would consider traffic lights as more than decorations.
When the cityscape of Gotham changes into countryside and lakes, Tim’s feelings of apathy turn into ones of despair. The feeling of doom rises substantially when the motorcycle stops at what is clearly a magic ritual site in the middle of nowhere.
“Here we are,” Rose says, somehow sliding off the bike like a supermodel despite the two-hour drive at top speed. “Made it in time for the party.”
“I don’t want to go in there,” Tim says, eyeing the massive rune circle encircled by boulders to hide it from view.
“Too bad.” Rose yanks him off the bike and pulls him towards the ritual site. He digs in his heels, leaving trenches in the grass, but she doesn’t even seem to feel the resistance.
They come to the edge of the rune circle; neither of them says anything for a long while, eyeing it dubiously.
“If I die, I’m going to haunt you like the rest of your family,” Tim says mildly.
“You’re not going to die, but I’ll avenge you if you do,” Rose tells him. “Then I’ll bring you back to keep our contract intact as seen in the ‘immediate revival’ clause.”
Tim is thrown into the circle, hands still cuffed, and the runes light up bright enough to blind him. He only has enough time to move his wrists towards where he thinks Rose is and hold up both middle fingers before he disappears.
Dark colored robes fill a long, black table, and eyes hidden beneath hoods stare at him. He tries not to shiver as the cuffs on his hands unlock and fall to the ground without anyone lifting a finger.
“Come, child. Your mentor has spoken quite highly of you. Let us see if you can escape our clutches and win a boon.”
“Can I not?”
“You already signed the contract.” A bony hand holds up an old, faded paper that holds the signature of a foolish, five-year-old Tim.
Take any standard horror movie where a bunch of stupid teenagers are trying to survive a killer in a creepy environment, and that is Tim’s birthday. Except he has no one to use as a meat shield, and the trees are literally trying to eat him.
It’s not a surprise that he gets caught and tied to a slab of marble.
“Happy birthday to you,” Death sings as she dances in black cloth and white bones. “Happy birthday, my poor child.”
He manages to escape before the knife comes down, but it’s a close call.
The next trap sticks him inside a crypt where zombies and cats alike try to chew his face off. He gets an unexpected assist from the one who put him in this situation to begin with.
“Happy Sweet Sixteen,” Tim reads from a card stuck taped to a cremation urn. The handwriting is Slade’s. He turns the card over. “One free ally? What does that mean—oh shit!”
An orange tabby cat jumps at him with claws outstretched, and Tim throws the card at the cat with a scream.
“Stop making a mess everywhere.” A sickly-looking boy with hair shaped into horns huffs at him. The orange tabby cat glares at Tim from his arms.
“When your people stop trying to, and I quote, ‘Free my insides and unleash my potential.’”
“They just want your spleen for a potion.”
“I figured as much.”
Tim holds up a tree branch with leaves twisted into stars. It’s supposed to a one-use wand of teleportation, but it just looks like a normal branch with unusual growth.
“You sure this will take me out of here?” He asks.
“Are you doubting my abilities?” The boy narrows his eyes.
“Teekl, scratch him.”
The cat jumps out of the boy’s arms, and Tim screams.
The cat is cute enough that even as it licks Tim’s blood off its paws, he can’t help but forgive it. When he says this out loud, the boy declares he has good taste and wishes him a happy birthday.
The ominous crack of thunder accompanying these words is oddly well-timed.
“You’ve escaped, I see. Well done, you’ve won the boon.”
“Great, so I want—”
“Hold. Your mentor already chose it for you.”
“Zeus damn it!”
When Tim reappears, he’s standing in the living room of the Teen Titans’ Tower, holding a silver tabby cat in his arms, and staring blankly in the direction of the giant tv. He tries hard to ignore the little globes of light dancing out the corner of his eyes.
“Tim?” Superboy flies off the couch, and the phone that had been in his lap clatters to the ground.
“I might be friends with a witch-boy,” Tim says evenly.
“Come again?” Superboy holds out a hand, and his phone slowly and wobbly floats upwards. He doesn’t look away from Tim, examining all the rips and tears in his suit with narrow eyes.
“And I have a cat now.” Tim gently strokes the cat in his arms and gets a soothing purr in response. Tim almost breaks down and cries from how much he loves the little creature.
“I see that.” Superboy fires off an emergency text to everyone still looking for Tim.
“He can change his sex at will. His name is Leilo.” The cat taps Tim’s arm urgently, and he corrects himself. “Her name is Leilo.”
The magical familiar is almost enough to make up for everything that Slade put Tim through. Leilo can eat a whole man in one bite and knows how to play chess. She’s the best cat ever.
“Nice to meet you, Leilo,” Superboy says, rubbing his neck awkwardly. “So Tim, do you want to eat some cake while we wait for everyone to get here?”
“Yes,” Tim nods so fast his neck feels like it might snap, “yes, I do.”