A/N: You guys. YOU GUYS. I promised Rockport268 that I would write this for her. Do you know when I promised that? MARCH. I'm not even kidding. That's how awful I am. I've been so focused on writing my own original fiction that I haven't been in the fanfic mood since I finished Another Reason.
A few notes about this story. The canon is that Logan joined the group in third grade, but since Rockport requested a fic with little!BTR I wanted to make them actually little. The ages of the boys aren't specified in this story, but I pictured them as maybe four or five years old. It also has the most un-creative title ever, because I want to finally get this thing published. Also, I tried to write this as I thought a young Logan would think it. Does that make sense? I wanted it to sound like young Logan was telling the story. ...Except, you know, it's in third-person. Whatever.
Oh, and before anyone messages me, no, I am not currently accepting requests. Please don't ask.
Rockport268, this story is hereby dedicated to you. I'm so sorry it took so long! I really hope you like it :)
The Petting Zoo
"Are there gonna be tigers?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe."
"What about a gorilla?"
"We'll see when we get there, Carlos."
"And bears? And giraffes? And a unicorn?"
Mrs. Knight tugged on the leash of Carlos's child harness as he attempted to dart ahead of the group. She restrained James as well, who was equally excited, and pulled him back to her side before he skipped away.
"I wanna see a peacock!" he cried.
Kendall and Logan, the two children trusted to walk by themselves and without the use of a leash, followed closely behind. Kendall's lips were curved into a broad grin as his curious green eyes drank in the sight of the zoo's wide, colorfully-painted admission building.
Logan, however, was less than thrilled. The world was a dangerous place, and as far as he was concerned, Mrs. Knight was leading them to their deaths.
He nervously fiddled with the hem of his t-shirt—his favorite shirt; the blue one with the cartoon face of a friendly, non-threatening kitten on the front—unable to understand his friends' excitement. Carlos, James and Kendall perhaps stuck strictly to their daily doses of Power Rangers, but Logan was no fool. He watched the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. He knew that tigers had giant teeth and claws to snatch up their prey, and gorillas had massive fists the size of Logan's head. And bears? They could eat people. Logan didn't think giraffes were very aggressive creatures, but one could accidentally trample him into the dirt if he got too close. And he was pretty sure unicorns only existed in storybooks, but if they were real, they'd probably use their horns to impale the next kid to look at them wrong.
But with all the vicious predators at the zoo, Logan feared one more than the others. Their five rows of razor sharp teeth and thirst for blood made them one of the most feared animals on earth. He'd learned all about them from Shark Week.
Logan caught up to Mrs. Knight and timidly tugged on her sleeve. "Will there be sharks?"
She turned her head to answer him, but stopped when Carlos raced towards the entrance, forgetting about his restraints. He only took a few steps before the harness held him back. He fell hard, plastic helmet clunking loudly against the pavement. Carlos always landed on his head.
Mrs. Knight gasped and, tugging James along with her, aided uninjured Carlos to his feet. "No, sweetheart," she assured Logan, "the zoo doesn't have any sharks. You have nothing to worry about. All the animals are in cages, so they can't get you. We're just here to look at them."
Her words made his heart calm its rapid pace. No sharks. Qualms slightly eased, Logan took a deep breath and followed Kendall's mother as the group finally crossed the parking lot and made it to the entrance of the admission building.
"Let's go inside!" Carlos said, bouncing up and down. He pointed furiously to the doors.
Mrs. Knight didn't loosen her grip. "Wait a minute. Before we go inside, there has to be some rules."
Carlos, James and Kendall groaned simultaneously.
"First rule: you have to stay by me. Absolutely no running off. Understand?"
All four nodded.
"Now can we see a peacock?" asked James, the harness causing him to run in place as he tried to escape.
"Second rule," continued Mrs. Knight. "You have to walk on the sidewalks. No straying off the path. Thirdly, no throwing things or yelling at the animals. Carlos, that means you."
"I won't, I won't! Can we go in now? Pleeeease?"
"Okay, okay, hang on. I want you boys on your best behavior. Otherwise we'll have to go home. Got it?"
As his three friends nodded vigorously, Logan secretly hoped they'd be obnoxious and destructive like usual. Then they wouldn't have to stay at the stupid zoo.
Logan trailed behind the group as Mrs. Knight led them towards the entrance building. They were greeted by a gush of cool air and posters of animals and smiling zoo keepers. Unnerved, Logan clung to the tail of Mrs. Knight' shirt. Kendall gave him a funny look, because Kendall wasn't scared of anything. He really wasn't. Carlos claimed he wasn't scared of anything either, but Logan knew Carlos didn't like thunderstorms or cats or sleeping without his nightlight. Kendall didn't mind any of those things, plus, one time, he stubbed his toe and he didn't even cry.
They had to wait in line behind a few other families. By the time it was their turn to pay, most of Logan's fears had begun to trickle back in. The anticipation was killing him. One of the posters on the wall beside him was of a lion, caught in the middle of a massive yawn, showing off a perfect view of its pointy fangs. Logan shuddered and huddled closer.
After speaking to a young, smiley man, Mrs. Knight bent down with four plastic strips in her hands. They were wristbands, she explained, and the boys needed to wear them so the staff knew they were allowed inside. Logan reluctantly held out an arm and let Kendall's mother snap the bracelet in place. He examined it once it was on; a purple ring stamped with paw prints. It was itchy.
Logan unconsciously reached for Mrs. Knight's shirt once more as she secured her grip on James and Carlos's leashes and led the group across the room. They passed a few other families and children, most giggling happily and clutching stuffed animals from the gift shop. The plush toys sure seemed friendly, but Logan wasn't fooled. Tigers were deadly. That was why he refused to eat Frosted Flakes cereal.
He checked behind his shoulder to ensure Kendall was following and hadn't been snatched up by some animal that had gotten loose. Thankfully, his friend was only a few steps away, smiling delightedly as the group passed through the doors that led to the zoo.
Logan wrinkled his nose when a breeze hit his face. The air was hot and stuffy and smelled like the inside of a barn. Gross. Crowds of people, all taller than him, moved by on the sidewalks, peering into the various cages and displays. Some parents clutched the hands of little kids his age, but some of the children were older. Their hands held snow cones, toys, and balloons. Logan didn't like balloons. Balloons could pop.
He tried really, really hard not to be scared, but his heart thudded a little faster and made him fidgety. He looked desperately to Kendall, but the blond boy didn't seem the least bit perturbed by the busy environment.
"Mom?" said Kendall, reaching up to poke her arm. "Can we get a snow cone?" He pointed to the right, where lines of patrons waited in front of small venders and kiosks.
"Maybe later," she dismissed. 'Maybe' usually meant no, Logan knew, but he didn't say anything to Kendall, who accepted the answer and fell back to marveling silently at the large vicinity.
"Okay, boys," said Mrs. Knight. "Where do you want to go first? There's the African savannah exhibits, or the Asian rainforest—"
"THERE'S A PEACOCK!" shrieked James. He tossed his hands in the air and bolted towards the display of birds up ahead. When Carlos followed his friend, Mrs. Knight yelped and was yanked forward like a helpless trainer walking two eager puppies.
"Logan, Kendall, come on," she called over her shoulder.
Kendall giggled and hurried after his mom. Now standing without his friends in the center of a crowded walkway, Logan felt utterly exposed. He whimpered and darted to the bird exhibits. Mrs. Knight was struggling to keep James and Carlos under control as the two fought to see into the large peacock exhibit. Logan picked up his pace and latched himself around Mrs. Knight's leg.
She tottered unevenly on her feet. "Logan, sweetie, you can't cling to me like that. What's the matter?"
He swallowed an emotional lump in his throat, and, keeping his head down, slowly peeled himself away from his protector. It wasn't like he was a baby or anything.
"Logan, lookit this peacock!" James cried, pointing into the display.
Logan bit down on his lip. "Okay," he agreed, forcing away the tremble in his voice. His eyes shifted quickly to Kendall, who ran bravely behind his friends and peered over the safety rail.
"Aren't they pretty?" said Mrs. Knight. "The colorful ones are boys. They have bright, big feathers to attract mates."
"Whoa, lookit 'em!" Carlos exclaimed. "He's trying to get a wife?"
Mrs. Knight chuckled for some reason.
Logan was slightly intrigued by the talk of feathers and pretty colors. Hesitantly, he inched behind his friends and gazed over their shoulders to see into the exhibit. A blue bird with a giant fan of shiny green feathers stood proudly in the center of the display. Logan gasped and jumped back. The feathers had strange, ovular designs on them, like a hundred little eyes watching him.
Kendall noticed as Logan slowly backed away to the safety of Mrs. Knight's leg. "You don't like the peacock?" he asked.
Logan shook his head.
Carlos suddenly shrieked in delight. "LOOK, A PIGEON!" He dashed towards the other displays, but Mrs. Knight held him back by tugging on the leash.
"That's a toucan, Carlos," she sighed. "Okay boys, time to move on. Let's go see the other animals."
Kendall and James followed eagerly, leaving Logan by himself again. He once again toyed with the hem of his kitten shirt. Why couldn't the zoo have kitties?
"Logan, come on," Mrs. Knight called over her shoulder.
Around him kids laughed and screamed. People bustled by pushing baby strollers and holding hands and carrying children on their shoulders. The sun beat down on the crown of his head and the stale air was making him uncomfortable. Fairly certain he was in imminent danger, Logan checked behind him for sharks or other wild animals, then hustled to catch up with Mrs. Knight and his friends.
The bird exhibit turned out to be not so bad, except for when they made noise. There was a parrot that squawked and rustled his feathers. Logan was pretty sure that meant the bird was planning to gouge the eyes out of the next person to get close. But there were a lot of small birds too, and some were really colorful and pretty. Maybe birds weren't so bad.
He almost allowed himself to feel better until Mrs. Knight told them they were going to the Australia outback exhibits next. He saw koalas, which Kendall thought were awesome, and some deer-looking thing Carlos claimed to have seen before when his dad accidentally hit one with their car.
There was a man and a woman standing beside Logan, also admiring the deer-thing. The woman said, "Come on, Greg, I want to see the crocodiles."
Carlos and James overheard the conversation. "Let's see crockerdiles too!" exclaimed James. The two skipped after the couple, forcing Mrs. Knight along.
The crocodile exhibit was on the opposite side of the walkway. "Come on," Kendall said to Logan.
"I don't want to," he murmured, following Kendall anyway. He didn't really mean to say it out loud, but his mouth betrayed him.
"But they're cool," Kendall replied simply.
False. They were only cool on TV.
The Discovery Channel said crocodiles lived near water. And if Australia had crocodiles, then they probably had sharks. But sharks lived in water, so as long as Logan avoided falling into the exhibit then he couldn't be gobbled up, right? Unless, of course, the shark leapt out of the water to snatch him in its jaws and pull him under. He'd seen that on TV once. Sharks were crafty. They launched themselves into the air and caught birds flying low to the sea. Logan's mom once said that Logan was so little because he ate like a bird. He didn't want to be a bird.
"Kendall," Logan said, rushing to duck behind his friend. "Is there sharks over there?"
"Mom said there's no sharks, remember?"
"Yeah, but what if she's wrong?"
Kendall crinkled his brow, confused by the thought. "Mom can't be wrong."
Logan bit down on his lower lip. He wanted to be brave like Kendall. Taking a deep breath, he peered warily over Kendall's shoulder, where a muddy brown puddle of water stared up at him. And sharks, Logan knew, needed the salty kind of water, not the rainy kind. The shallow pond certainly didn't look like ocean water. Ocean water was big and blue and spanned forever.
He felt a little better after he'd convinced himself that sharks wouldn't lurk in the crocodile exhibit, and was about to step back when two hands slipped under his arms and lifted him off the ground.
"Can you see down there?" asked Mrs. Knight, holding him up so he could gaze over the safety rail. "Is this better?"
Panic jolted through him. He was no longer behind the protective bars, but above them. He had a clear view of the crocs below, and although they didn't seem to notice him, he had a sudden vision of their jaws opening wide to rip him into tiny bits.
He screamed and kicked his legs. "Put me down! Put me down!"
Mrs. Knight immediately placed him on his feet. Breathing hard, he scurried to his friends, knowing they wouldn't try to dangle him over the exhibit like meat on a hook. Carlos and James halted their merriment to look at him strangely, whereas Kendall seemed slightly concerned.
"Logan, what's the matter?" Mrs. Knight asked, gently. She knelt to his level and placed her hand on his arm. "Don't you like the animals?"
He tried really hard not to cry, because crying was for babies, and Logan was not a baby. But some dust or pollen or something must have blown into his eyes, because they began to water. "N-no," he admitted with an involuntary sniffle. "They're mean."
Mrs. Knight chuckled. Logan didn't know why. "Sweetheart, the animals can't hurt you. I promise you're perfectly safe. See?" She swiveled around and gestured to the lazy crocodiles. "They're in there, and you're out here. Plus, they look kind of bored, don't you think?"
Logan rubbed the tears out of his eyes and snuck a peek at the nearby beasts. The moment his gaze fell on the largest of the trio, its tail twitched, sending a splash of murky water to drench the others. Its scaly body bent into a U shape as it whipped around to snap at something in the air, sunlight glinting off its long row of pointed teeth.
A startled cry burst from Logan's mouth as he leapt into Mrs. Knight's arms, shivering in fear. He regretted the decision immediately, because for all he knew she was about to extend him to the crocs again. Determined not to become an afternoon snack, he wrapped his legs around her waist and his arms securely around her neck. His eyes kept leaking tears.
Mrs. Knight rose with a weary sigh. He felt one of her hands rub a soothing circle on his back. It helped a little, but he couldn't prevent a few whimpers from making themselves audible.
"Mom, why's Logan sad?" asked Kendall, tugging at her shirttail.
She began a reply, but stopped abruptly. Logan felt her body stiffen. "James and Carlos!" she scolded.
Curious, Logan cautiously lifted his head from her shoulder to locate his two friends. "What do you think you're doing?" Their leashes were looped around Mrs. Knight's right arm, but apparently even with restraints they could manage to get themselves into trouble.
Wide-eyed, the boys turned at the sound of her furious voice, thrusting their fists behind their backs. "Nothing," Carlos offered sheepishly.
Mrs. Knight stomped over to the trouble makers, who stood with their backs against the safety rail. Logan squeaked and clung to her tighter.
"Show me what's in your hands," she demanded.
Carlos and James exchanged glances before lowering their heads ashamedly. They slowly revealed what was clenched in their small palms.
Mrs. Knight gasped. "You were throwing rocks at the crocodiles?"
"Carlos said to!" James accused, pointing a finger.
"Nuh-uh! He's lying!"
"No, he said it was dumb that the crockerdiles weren't moving so we were gonna try to wake 'em up."
Mrs. Knight took the rocks and let them clatter to the sidewalk. She readjusted her hold on Logan, then pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration. "Do you remember what I said about throwing things at the animals?"
James placed a hand on his chin, mocking thoughtfulness, while Carlos blurted out, "To not."
James elbowed him in the side.
"That's right." Logan sensed her lecture wasn't finished, but she stopped when a security guard was spotted approaching. Mrs. Knight stood. "Okay, let's get out of here. Kendall, I want you to hold Carlos's hand so I can make sure you don't get lost."
Kendall frowned at Carlos's outstretched arm. "But I don't wanna hold Carlos's hand."
"It's all sticky."
Carlos examined his palms and wiped them on his jeans.
Mrs. Knight was appalled. "Sweetheart, what's on your hands?"
"Ice cream," Carlos replied casually. He stuck a finger in his mouth, which Mrs. Knight promptly pulled away.
"We didn't have any ice cream today," she said.
"We had some at Buddy Simmons' birthday party yesterday," James reminded.
There was a small pause as Mrs. Knight closed her eyes and sighed. "Well, I have Wet Wipes in the car," she muttered. "Kendall, take James's hand, then."
"Where're we going?" asked Kendall.
"Someplace I think you'll enjoy," replied Mrs. Knight.
"No, honey, not yet."
Logan was much more comfortable in Mrs. Knight's arms. He shut his eyes and rested his forehead against her shoulder so he wouldn't have to see all the scary people and animals as they walked. Still, he could hear the noises of the crowd buzzing and the birds chirping in their cages. He held on tighter.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed, but suddenly they had stopped and Mrs. Knight was kneeling to set him on the ground. Logan whined and refused to ease his grip. Mrs. Knight peeled him away and explained that they were at the "petting zoo," a place where he could play with friendly farm animals. Logan assumed that meant ugly pigs and twitchy chickens and giant horses and cows, but when Mrs. Knight forced him to turn around, he saw Carlos and James free of their harnesses and in one of the exhibits. Mrs. Knight had said the animals were harmless as long as they were in their cages.
His eyes flew open wide, and when they did, he noticed Kendall and a few other kids were in with the animals, too. And the animals weren't pigs and horses, they were goats and lambs.
"Look," said Mrs. Knight. She reached her hand between a white fence, and a little goat made a "baa" sound and licked her fingers. "They're nice, see? They just want you to pet them and give them food."
"Are we the food?" Logan asked, still uncertain.
For some reason, Mrs. Knight thought that was funny and laughed loudly. "No, sweetie. You feed them goat food. Come on." He followed her to a machine that looked like the ones at the convenience store that dispensed prizes. Mrs. Knight placed a quarter in the machine and twisted the knob. Instead of gumballs or a tiny toy in a plastic capsule, she received a handful of little brown pellets.
Logan held out his hand and listened as Mrs. Knight explained how to feed the goats. "And no, before you ask, they won't bite you. They just lick at your hand, kind of like a kitten." She tugged at his shirt, and he smiled for just a second before he remembered he was still possibly in danger.
"See? Look at Kendall, James and Carlos. They're having fun."
Sure enough, Carlos was on his knees hugging a frightened-looking goat to his chest, and James was busy petting a scruffy white one that kept trying to lick his arm.
"Logan!" Carlos shrieked when he noticed the timid boy staring. "Come pet Peaches!"
Mrs. Knight sighed. "Great. He's named it."
"No, Jeff, I already gived you food!" James scolded the white goat as it nuzzled his side. He cupped the handful of feeding pellets protectively to his chest.
Kendall approached him. "Why's your goat named Jeff?"
"I named him. He's mine."
Mrs. Knight stood and called to the kids over the fence. "No, no, boys, these goats belong to the zoo. Don't get any ideas about taking them home." When Carlos hugged Peaches around the neck, Mrs. Knight groaned and shoved the pellets into Logan's hand. "Here," she told him. "Go feed the goats, Logan. I promise they won't hurt you. Hey—James! Goats are not for riding!" She hurried into the pen.
Logan peered dubiously at the goat food in his small palms. A couple pellets spilled through his fingers and fell to the sidewalk. His kitten shirt was suddenly too hot beneath the collar. What was he supposed to do? He couldn't go into the pen with the goats. What if one accidentally bit off his finger when he was trying to feed it?
Frustrated tears burned his vision as he stood there on the hot asphalt, watching the other kids in the pen giggling and having fun. Maybe he could do it. Maybe the goats were nice…
"Come feed the goats," a familiar voice called.
Logan looked up and saw Kendall standing at the fence, a big grin on his face and two little goats by his side. "Come on, Logan, it's fun. Are you scared?"
"No," he murmured.
"Yes you are. Scaredy-cat!"
Logan narrowed his eyes. "I'm not a scaredy-cat!"
"Then come in here."
Logan stomped his foot. "I'm not scared!" Kendall and Carlos and James always called him scared. Maybe this time he could be brave, like the zookeepers and the safari guys and the Crocodile Hunter on TV.
Sucking a deep breath into his lungs, Logan clutched the goat food in his fist and marched toward the gate. He checked both ways for sharks, saw no water aside from some small troughs in the pen, and stepped inside. Immediately a lamb scampered by his feet. Startled, Logan gasped and jumped back.
Kendall jogged over. "Gimme some food. I'll show you."
Logan didn't hesitate.
When the pellets were evenly distributed between himself and Kendall, Kendall knelt to the ground and stuck out his palm. Two goats, one with black spots and another all white one that resembled Jeff, rushed toward the scent of food. Their wet tongues darted along Kendall's palm, and their lips moved over his fingers to eat up the remains. Logan examined the goats closely as they gobbled up the food. They seemed gentle—not biting, but rather licking.
Kendall giggled. "It tickles! Here, you try." He climbed to his feet as the spotted goat began nibbling on the strap of his overalls.
"Oh no, he's eating you!" Logan cried, another bolt of fear tearing through his body. He glanced around quickly for Mrs. Knight, but she was too busy attempting to dig goat food out of Carlos's mouth.
"It's okay," replied Kendall, unconcerned, as he gently tugged the strap away from the goat's hungry mouth. "It don't hurt. Goats are just stupid."
Logan slowly began to back away, his burst of confidence gone. He had every intention of making a run for the gates when Kendall suddenly grabbed his wrist and brought his hand down on the goat's back.
"You can pet them," said Kendall, simply.
His hand automatically jerked away, but then he stopped. The goat's fur was short and coarse, but wasn't exactly unpleasant. The animal bleated happily.
"See, he likes you!" Kendall said.
Gulping, Logan placed his hand once again on the goat's back and stroked the fur. It gently nudged his leg, sort of like Carlos's puppy did. Then it raised its snout in the air, undoubtedly signaling it wanted the food clutched in Logan's other fist.
"Um, okay, Mr. Goat. Please don't bite me." He closed his eyes as he stuck out his hand. It didn't hurt at all. In fact, it was how Kendall had described it: ticklish.
Logan giggled so hard that the remaining pellets fell to the dirt. The goat eagerly lapped up the remains, not protesting in the least when the two boys continued to pet its fur and scratch its ears.
"I like this goat," Logan remarked, beaming. His mom would be really proud of him when he got home and told her all about how brave he was.
A scream tore through the pen.
Logan snapped up, recognizing the voice. It was James, lying flat on his back and flailing his arms at Jeff, who licked his hair. "HELP! MRS. KNIGHT I'M BEING EATEN!"
"James, he's just playing," Logan called over. His friend didn't seem to hear him.
Mrs. Knight appeared carrying a sobbing Carlos in her arms. "No, we can't leave!" Carlos cried. "Who's going to feed Peaches when I'm gone? He's still hungry!"
"Carlos, the other kids will feed him—"
"What if he dies!"
Another shriek from James, followed by tears.
Mrs. Knight grabbed the back of his shirt and hauled him to his feet. He immediately raised his arms in the air, wanting to be held. Since Mrs. Knight was the strongest person in the world, she lifted James effortlessly and carried him on her other hip. Other people began to stare at Logan's sobbing friends.
"Kendall, Logan, time to go," shouted Mrs. Knight, hurrying to the gate.
"Bye, goat," said Kendall, giving the animal a final pat on the head.
"Bye!" Logan patted him also.
They rushed to catch up with the busy mother. Logan peered over his shoulder and waved at the goats. He couldn't believe he'd been so scared. He even decided the goats were pretty cute—though not as cute as kittens. Admittedly, he was sad they were leaving.
Kendall poked Mrs. Knight's arm. "Mama."
The snow cone man was really nice, even though James and Carlos were being super loud. Mrs. Knight offered treats to them in hopes of raising their spirits, but the boys were too distraught to eat. When she reached the counter of the small kiosk she had to place James on the ground in order to reach her wallet. Like a magnet, his little arms immediately attached themselves to her leg. His tuft of assaulted hair stuck straight up like a spike, and, being naturally curious, Logan reached out to poke it. James cried harder, and Logan wiped the goat spit on the shoulder of Kendall's overalls. Kendall didn't seem to mind.
Once Kendall was presented with his long awaited pink snow cone and Logan was handed a purple one, James was hoisted back onto Mrs. Knight's hip. Logan peered up at Kendall's mom and wished he could be that strong someday.
Happily munching on his grape-flavored ice, Logan followed the group to the building where the nice man had given him his bracelet. Some lady who was dressed like a safari guide on TV waved goodbye, her broad smile faltering a bit at the sight of James and Carlos.
At the car, Kendall smiled at Logan. "I told you it wasn't that scary."
"Yeah, I like goats now. And you know what I wanna see next time? A llama!"
"PEACHES, I LOVE YOU!" Carlos screamed as Mrs. Knight strapped him in his car seat. "PLEASE DON'T DIE!"
"My hair is ruined!" cried James.
Logan took one last bite of his snow cone, then handed the rest to James, who sniffled a bit, but accepted it and finally quieted down. Mrs. Knight had a sheet of stickers she kept in the glove compartment for precisely these reasons and passed back a glittery stegosaurus to Carlos. He stuck it on his shirt, shrieking now in delight instead of sadness.
"Mrs. Knight," said Logan, "since we were good today, does that mean we get to come back?"
Mrs. Knight sure did sigh a lot.