Disclaimer: I do not own Teen Titans or it's characters. And you don't know how angry I am about that.
Mind and Body Chapter 1: Hello and Good Morning…Not.
The keepers of Manhattan Zoo were grateful for their job: almost anyone could find something that needed to be done to earn some money. It was partly cloudy when the great, green Main Coon stretched and trotted out from the shade next to a confection stand that it had been sleeping next to. He looked around imperiously and hopped up on the low rock wall next to the tiger enclosure.
He looked proudly all around him, at the park in front of him, at the single oak tree in its center that shaded a legion of picnic tables, the stand he had just vacated on his right, the man in the khaki uniform of a zookeeper that was sitting down next to a family at one of the tables for a rest, and the unshaven man that was strolling directly past him. Hmmm, he thought as his sixth sense alerted him, that one might be trouble. He mentally shrugged and simply congratulated himself for finding such a purrfect—oops, I mean perfect—place to establish his rule. The other animals were mostly capable of understanding his level of sophistication, and they were more varied here than anywhere else in Manhattan. The humans were as clueless as ever—here he corrected himself again: humans were supposed to be the protectors of the world, and at least here they did something in that line of work. But he had seen too many of them be cruel to anything that lived. He stretched and accidentally attracted the attention of the dangerous man.
Nice going, Feline Charms, he thought wryly, you had to work your magic on the one that could hurt me. The man did a comical double take, went pale of face, and quickly backed away. Yeah, yeah, Racist, go ahead and stare. I am in complete sympathy with Africans.
One of the tigers, a rather runty individual of the Bengal variety, chuckled sadly. Do you ever stop trying to talk to the humans?
The Maine Coon's tail swished irritably. I don't really care that you disapprove of persistence, Shiva, but my kind belongs with a human. Even if I have yet to find someone worthy to be my owner, I will continue to search. In the meantime, I'm content to live here. Then he noticed what the man was doing and felt the old predatory instinct rise, turning his vision green.
Outside of the cat's mind, the atmosphere suddenly became oppressed and the shadows became more distinct. Without actually changing the idyllic setting, it became menacing. Anthony Plaide, one of the keepers, was attuned enough to his work environment to notice it vaguely, but as he had been engaged in conversation with a tall, broad-chested man that looked like he hadn't seen the business end of a razor for a while, he didn't actually become aware of it.
"Hey mister?" the man's harsh voice said
"How may I help you?" Anthony asked cheerfully, "Do you need to find the bathroom?"
"No." he said, "I want to know about that cat. The green one: how did it get that way?" His tone was a little frightened, which was an odd one for such a physically capable man. Anthony flinched ever so slightly as he glanced at the cat and felt the full blast of its' glare. He turned to the man.
"No one knows how he became green, but Forrest has lived here for practically six years: he was a kitten when he arrived. It hasn't really had a past outside of the zoo, but it still startles people how much he has demonstrated an awareness of it."
"It's unnatural," the man said, "You ought to kill it."
Anthony blanched at the comment and announced urgently, "I suggest you throw that thought away, burn it, and tear it to shreds because you don't want to know what'll happen if you try."
In confusion, the man stared at him, "Why ever not? It's unnatural: unnatural things don't belong, so it should die."
"You're digging your own grave by saying that," Anthony said seriously, "about two years ago there was another man who suggested the same thing. When he went to carry through with his plan, he died. It wasn't noticed until the next day, but the result was…well, let's just say I don't want to think about it. Forrest was sitting on top of his corpse."
The man snorted and stood to leave. "You're nuts to think some stray could be dangerous."
"Then why do you want to kill Forrest?" Anthony said, "No one is allowed near him, by his own rules; with him around, there hasn't been any problems otherwise, either."
Despite himself, the man asked how that was. The reply was that everything just seemed to go well: no one else had been attacked by an animal, and no facilities had broken down since the day Anthony had found him outside a hospital and brought him to the zoo.
After hearing the story, the man who called himself Phil Armonic shook his head and quietly took his leave.
That night Phil spent a full half-hour in his small apartment shining his gun. It was a trusty piece, if old fashioned, and he had hunted with it in the Rocky Mountains in his bad years. It could handle one more job. That damn green cat had scared him. Nothing scared him anymore after the time a Mountain Lion had snuck into his camp, and nothing that broke that record should live. Dark thoughts gathered like a storm cloud over his head, and he loaded it full of shells. He chuckled, "Nothing lives if it frightens me." He muttered to himself.
He stood up, put on his jacket, slung the gun over one shoulder, and strode purposefully through the door. The night was clear and warm, without even a trace of a breeze, and the few stars that could make themselves known beyond the backdrop of city lights shone steadily. He strolled to his little black Honda and got in. Before driving the short distance to the zoo, he checked that the silencer he had bought was secured on his gun. Satisfied with the result, he left it alone.
Arriving at the wrought-iron gate, he parked, grabbed his gun, and slipped over it. Taking care to avoid the paths of the security cameras, he slipped through the shadows toward the tiger enclosure. The sound of the crickets vanished abruptly and the air chilled. The hair on the back of his neck standing vertical, Phil crouched defensively but didn't understand why he did.
He entered the deepest shadow yet—though there was still some light—and spotted the cat's eyes. Forrest ran at his first approach.
Chuckling, he relaxed. "See, mister zookeeper?" he said to himself, "Nothing to worry about." He went on through the complex. A minute later, he was almost caught by a night guard but he backed up into the building's shadow in time. Angry with the man for interrupting him, Phil slunk up behind him and pressed the barrel to his back.
The man stiffened in fright and began to whip around…when a bullet silently tore through him, tearing out his lungs. At the same time a hand found its way around his throat and crushed his Adam's apple, making it impossible to scream. In a sea of pain, he collapsed limply at Phil's feet.
After a dispassionate look at the man, Phil shrugged and walked on, letting him struggle weakly against the encroaching darkness, coughing up blood and unable to cry for help. He would be dead in five minutes, Phil was sure.
Having recovered the dogged mentality that was required for tracking, Phil followed the faint traces of a small feline form's passage. Through half the compound he followed, and became so absorbed in his self-appointed mission that he didn't realize where he was. The traces faded away abruptly and he looked up, thinking it was sitting on a building, perhaps watching him…but it was a cul-de-sac, a dead end. He started to turn unthinkingly, and then realized what had happened. Damn, he thought, that green freak lead me here! It was a trap!
He didn't know why it frightened him so much, but he snapped around and raised the rifle to his shoulder, his whole body primed to take a quick shot.
All he saw was a giant shadow before the pain flared all across his neck and body, and the ultimate darkness took him.
His scream had hardly begun when it was silenced forever.
The pale sun rose the next day in a washed out sky as Monday greeted those foolish enough to rise with the sun. Normally the dark house at the end of the street would be the last one out and about as the proprietor, one Ella Swaggart, insisted on her "beauty sleep". The others that lived on Felton Lane would joke among themselves that this was a perfectly reasonable request, as Ella could use all the additional beauty she got. Other than the bleak building at its end, Felton lane was a classic Manhattan street in that the houses were made of stone and fitted tightly together, along with the constant miasma that lingered from car exhausts and mixed with other types of pollution.
But today was different. Today Ella was the first being to get up, as a surprise was in store for her many young charges. Khale Orphanage was the building's name, and while the neighbors respected the mission, they thoroughly disapproved the methods.
Rachel Roth, six years old, sat on her bed in the far corner of the dark building she had the misfortune of calling home trying to block out the feelings around her with a book. It was the only good one in Ella's possession, she believed. It wasn't so much that she was up early as she was up late: she never slept as well at night, though she was perfectly capable of it, and she preferred to pass the daytime in a partially-sleeping state or a book.
Ella never really knew how far Rachel had gotten in her reading: after giving her and the rest of the children the essentials of writing, reading and arithmetic, Ella had left that part of their lives painfully empty. Rachel preferred it this way, to be truthful, because when Ella wasn't watching the kids she couldn't hurt Rachel. And she was free to go ahead and learn, which was the best thing she liked to do. However, the other children made up for this lack of ministrations in spades.
An orphanage may not be a particularly nasty place in general, but being the target of extreme prejudice because of her purple hair and pale skin made Khale Orphanage almost insufferable. Rachel usually dived into her book in an attempt to block out the bleak surroundings of the girls' common bedroom, but there was never such luck.
With the sleeping forms of her own gender sleeping in neat rows along the wall, Rachel was perfectly happy to leave them be because she had just gotten to the most exciting scene in "Wicked". She was interrupted by a loud, insistent thump on the heavy oaken door and Ella's voice rang. "Come on, you lazy little gits!" she said in impatience, "Today's the day!" she sang, "The sun is shining…and the zoo awaits!"
Rachel briefly snorted in the privacy of her mind. Did Ella really think that such a falsely bright tone would make them happy? She should have at least used it first: that way it made sense. Rachel admitted, however, that the children had been strangely excited when they had been told the orphanage procedures were changed slightly so they actually saw the outside at least once a week and they did go somewhere interesting once a month. Tricia, in the bed next to her own, groaned and fell out from under her sheets to land on the floor with her stomach. "Two more minutes, mommy…." She mumbled through her brown hair and the floor.
Rachel sighed as she felt Tricia's denial in her thoughts. Tricia was one of the few that had become an orphan at the perfect time to remember her parents yet still be unable to care for herself. Rachel could actually count herself lucky that she didn't remember hers. She sensed Ella's quick temper rise outside the door and swung out of her bed.
Crouching down, she shook Tricia's shoulder as the rest of the girls, about 25 in total, left the safety of dreams with varying levels of resistance and got up. Ella swung the door open and saw that her knock had achieved the intended effect. Ella looked around with a sharp gaze, despite how watery her pale blue eyes were. Noticing something wrong, she asked the girls a question. "Where's the creepy one? Rachelle?"
Rachel shook her head. Couldn't she even get her name right? She had been here for as long as she could remember: five years, if the records were correct. She was the last of the first batch to be sequestered at Khale, yet Ella still forgot her name. Sighing, she stood up, having done her duty by the relatively spoiled Tricia. Still Ella pretended to not see her. "I said, 'where is Rachelle'?" She insisted, "You girls are supposed to speak when spoken to, not become mute."
Not wanting to be isolated as a potential friend of "the creepy one", none of the girls answered. The exception to this rule was Tricia. "P-Please, Miss Ella," she squeaked through a huge yawn, "She w-was helping me get up: I-I-I'm a late riser, and she k-knows I like animals…." She fell silent at Ella's glare.
"Yes, well, so you found her." Ella said in disappointment.
As the others shuffled through the door that Ella vacated, many of them made sure to go in such a way that they could bump Rachel. So Rachel hung back, clutching "Wicked" to her small chest. She slipped out of the door once all the "bumper car" girls had gone, hoping to be down the stairs before she was caught by….
Damn. Cameron Cole came bouncing out of the boys' room looking absurdly fresh. His blond hair floated about his round, open face like a halo, and his blue eyes invoked trust among the others. Rachel shook her head to herself, knowing that he was feigning his freshness: the sleep-deprivation virtually poured off of him. Sensing a spike in his version of good humor, Rachel started sweating and tried to go down the stairs as quickly as possible.
"Hello there, twerp," he began casually, with that ever-present tone which sounded to the innocent to be affable, and grabbed her arm hard when she tried to leave, "I knew you'd wait for the others to go down: you're very helpful when it comes to giving me chances to have fun with you."
Rachel cursed herself mentally. How could she have forgotten? Well, what was done was done and she would have to face the consequences. Letting go of her right arm, and leaving bruises behind, Cameron pinched her left arm hard enough to make her drop the book. Ella was a twice-damned fool for having taught him the "turtle-bite" pinch, but it wasn't like he did it to Ella, so Ella didn't care. Cameron shrugged at her reticence and started walking down the stairs. "I'll let your silence go this morning," he said. Yeah right, Rachel thought, you're too tired to really try. But Cameron was talking again. "But don't worry: there'll be plenty of opportunities at the zoo." And, leaving Rachel to shiver in fearful anticipation, casually waved behind himself and strolled ahead to get some of the oatmeal before it was all gone.
Great, she thought, knowing him, it'll be something like throwing me in with the tigers and watching as they tear me apart.
Not wanting to go through the traditional follow up from Ella, Rachel instead went to the kitchen and swiped some of the tea that Ella always kept on the stove for herself. Besides, it felt good to get a bit of silent vengeance.
She wasn't allowed to eat anything other than what was served at the meals, so the tea would have to be enough for now.
Besides, she really didn't want to watch Ella inevitably chew out Tricia for defending her.
Author's note: Maybe it sticks in the craw of many readers to see a cliffhanger in the middle of a chapter, but the end result of the mysterious attack will be revealed in the next chapter: Paths Cross.
Also, reviews may not be needed, but they are very nice.