"Zebras!" Seth yelled, running over to the zebra exhibit, trucking an unsuspecting 8 year old out of the way in his haste to be at the front. Kendra sighed, she loved her little brother and she knew that he was so much more mature than he once was, but boy, could he act like a child sometimes. Kendra cast a glance at Bracken, who returned it uncomfortably, eyes roaming over the zebra exhibit mistrustfully.
"Act more natural," Kendra murmured to Bracken, nudging him with her shoulder and taking his hand. "This is a covert mission."
Bracken nodded to her relaxing visibly, allowing her to pull him closer to the zebras. For a while, Maddox had been tracking a shady business man named Alexander Sokolov, who he suspected was illegally trading fairies and other magical creatures and abusing them. After many months of investigation, Maddox had found the evidence he was looking for, and the day at the zoo was a sting operation to arrest Alexander. Though Maddox and a few others on his teams would be doing most of the work, Maddox had requested their presence in case of emergency with any of the creatures, and as a sort of insurance. If they were to see Sokolov, they had been ordered to call Maddox and other others so they could make the arrest. Bracken had been persuaded to come along on the mission by Seth, given that he was visiting Fablehaven for a few days. However, that was before Bracken had found out that they would be going to a zoo/wildlife preservation center. Bracken had explained his dislike for any type of zoo, believing strongly that no animal should be kept in a cage.
"They look sad don`t they?" Bracken asked absently as they watched the zebras romp around their huge pen.
Seth gave Bracken a strange look. "Not really?"
Bracken looked defensive, "Well of course they are!"
Seth raised his eyebrows, "What, can you read their emotions?" he asked sarcastically.
"Yes!" Bracken replied at the same time that Kendra said, "No."
Kendra gave him a look, "You know you can`t Bracken."
Bracken huffed in exasperation, "Okay maybe I don't know that for sure, but what kind of a life is being trapped in a cage every day?"
"But they don't live in a cage, they live in the land behind the zoo." Seth reported, pointing to a sign that read "Zebra Care." As Bracken unhappily examined the sign that told about where the zebras lived and their health and care, Kendra and Seth headed over to the lion exhibit.
"What`s his problem?" Seth muttered under his breath to Kendra as they approached the guardrail.
Kendra shook her head, "Give him a break. I think this place reminds him of his own imprisonment."
"But it`s not even a zoo, it`s a wildlife center. They help animals!" Seth whispered hotly.
Kendra smiled at him sadly, "It`s different for people like him. He was in that place for 300 years Seth, and that takes a toll on a person, even on Bracken."
Seth nodded gloomily, "I guess you`re right. But I just wanted him to have fun, I didn't think he would hate it this much."
"I don't think he hates it, I just think it`s a little bittersweet for him." Kendra nudged Seth with her shoulder, "But maybe you could convince him that this place isn't so bad."
Seth perked up a little, "Yeah! Maddox gave us behind the scenes passes! Let`s go see what these animals really live like!" Seth jumped off the ledge he was perched on, and ran over to Bracken and grabbed his arms, tearing him away from the sign and herding him over to the main animal care building. Kendra smiled a little to herself before following her brother and Bracken, if anyone could cheer up Bracken today, it would be Seth.
Seth led the group into the animal care facility, flashing their badges at the employee that stood guard. Kendra, Bracken and Seth watched as several sea lions dragged themselves from the water and down the metal ramp into the underground part of their exhibit. The employees began to feed the sea lions as they happily played in the large tank that was set underground, diving for the food the caretakers threw into the tank. Even Bracken had started to cheer up a little, as they moved on to observe the otters, dolphins, birds, cheetahs and other animals that were being taken care of and fed. They had even seen the nursery, per Kendra`s incessant begging, cooing happily at all the baby animals there. It was as they were walking to see the pandas when Bracken has spotted their target. Alexander Sokolov was walking with a group of zoo employees around the complex. Bracken had grabbed Kendra hard around the waist and placed his hand on Seth`s shoulder and steered them casually out of sight of Alexander Sokolov.
"We need to get Maddox!" Seth whispered intensely, pulling out of Bracken`s grip.
Bracken nodded, "I`ll go with you and Kendra-"
"I`ll keep an eye on him." Kendra finished. The declaration had been a burst of confidence in herself that she didn't know she had.
Bracken eyed her dubiously, obviously unhappy with her decision, but allowed Seth to drag him out of the complex to fetch Maddox. Kendra took a deep breath, composing herself before walking back to where Alexander was. Kendra moved languidly back to the nursery. She kept her eyes on the room beyond the glass, refusing to take her eyes off the room, for fear she would give something away.
"Fascinating isn`t it?" Kendra heard a voice say from right behind her left shoulder and she jumped, hand moving instinctively towards the knife that was hidden on her thigh underneath the blue dress she wore. The man who had spoken stepped up beside her to the viewing window and she laid eyes on him, she realized that it was indeed Alexander Sokolov that had spoken. Kendra forced her hand to rest on the railing, away from the knife and molded her face into an innocent smile.
"Definitely." She kept her answer brief, trying so hard to remain calm despite her racing heart. She allowed herself to glance at the man beside her. Alexander Sokolov looked much younger in person, and his perfectly pressed suit and his coy smile made him look much more handsome as well.
"I`m Alexander. Alexander Sokolov." Alexander stated, turning towards her and holding out her hand.
Kendra faced him as well and took the hand he had offered. "Melissa Carps. Nice to meet you Mr. Sokolov." She responded, using the fake name that had been given to her for the mission.
"Please, it's Alexander. Mr. Sokolov was my father." He replied, lips curving into an indulgent smile. His eyes drifted from her face down to the badge that rested in a lanyard around her neck, "So, who did you have to pay to get back here?" The blunt nature of the question surprised her and she fought to keep the smile on her face. Alexander began to laugh, and she let her smile grow the slightest bit.
"I`m just joking with you by the way." Alexander clarified, turning back to the nursery.
Kendra nodded, playing along, yet recognizing the real reason behind his question, "My cousin works here and he gave me and brother passes for our birthdays." Kendra improvised, going along with her supposed family history.
"Ah. How kind of him." Alexander replied. His response was casual, but Kendra could feel how he visibly relaxed at her answer.
"So, who did you pay?" Kendra asked innocently. Even she was surprised at her own boldness. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Alexander smile slightly.
"Myself." Alexander admitted with a slight laugh. "I own fifty percent of the zoo`s stocks."
"Mm. Fascinating." Kendra replied before taking a big chance. "It`s so nice how well this place takes care of their animals." She risked another glance towards him and continued. "I mean, my boyfriend is always sort of hesitant when it comes to places like this, he`s a big animal activist, you know, but even he is really impressed at how state of the art this place is." Kendra knew she was rambling, but she needed to keep Alexander occupied until Bracken and Seth could get back with reinforcements.
"I know what you mean." Alexander agreed. "It`s actually why I invested in the first place. I always remembered going to the zoo and seeing all those depressed animals and when I found this place, I knew I wanted to be involved."
Kendra smiled at him, "Of course. My cousin was so excited when he got a job here. It was his dream."
Alexander turned towards her curiously, "What is your cousin`s name anyway? Maybe I know him."
Kendra turned as well to face him more directly, "His name is Maddox. You probably have crossed paths with him, he does a lot for the zoo." As she spoke, she could see over his shoulder the doors burst open and a group of people striding inside. In the front, she could see Bracken, Seth and Maddox walking towards them.
"And you know," Kendra burst out, desperately trying to keep Alexander`s attention turned towards her, "My cousin cares a lot about animals. Even the more exotic ones, he`s spent his life doing all he can to help animals, and you know," Kendra stepped closer to Alexander, feeling bolder, and angrier. "He does a lot to fight against people like you."
"Like me?" Alexander asked offended, but this close to him, Kendra could see how his eyes had widened in panic at her words and how his posture had stiffened. "What could you possibly mean?"
Kendra gave him a smile as Maddox and his team got closer to them, pitching her voice lower as to avoid being heard. "People who use and abuse other creatures for their own profit. It`s disgusting, you know, the things you`ve done to those creatures. I`ve seen the reports you know, and trust me, you will have a long time to think about what you`ve done."
Bracken stood near the zebra exhibit watching the zebras eat. Kendra walked up to Bracken, nudging his shoulder with hers.
"So, do you feel better about this place now?" Kendra asked.
Bracken smiled a bit, "A little bit, yeah. But I still don`t like the idea of animals being trapped."
"Bracken, these animals are here because they were rescued and rehabilitated or were born in captivity. And besides," Kendra pitched her voice softer. "This place isn't like the Sphinx`s dungeons."
Bracken nodded, looking over at her, his eyes sad. "Yeah." He replied softly.
"It`s okay you know," Seth`s voice came from behind them. "It`s okay to remember it." His voice was quiet and serious. Bracken appeared surprised at this omission before stepping forward and squeezing Seth`s shoulder.
Inspired by my recent trip to the zoo. Hope you liked it, huge thanks to Christian for the review and unbreakable walls and FangirlingThroughTheAges for the favorite and follow. Love ya guys! (I do not own Fablehaven!)