Author's note: Yes, I know this is technically a kids' show, and that this fic doesn't exactly fit alongside the rest of my fanfic library. But that is why they invented the term "guilty pleasure." This is an addendum to episode 18 and, therefore, contains major spoilers for it! And, as always, the characters are not mine (meant to be the fictional/animated bros from the cartoon only, of course), and the story is.
The Tortuga bay doors opened shortly after its emergency take-off; Zach's brainwashed rhinos, outfitted with bulldozers all set to demolish their ship, had narrowly missed them, but Martin's worries weren't over yet; while Aviva had been worried about getting them off the ground, Martin was still dwelling on the fact that he had been fooled by an impostor pretending to be his brother.
How come I couldn't I tell sooner that wasn't the real Chris? he berated himself, as he frantically scanned the stampeding herd; his communicator had caught a flash of green atop one of the metal-coated rhinos, and he was hoping that his real brother was still alright down there.
Martin's sixth sense had told him that something was awry when he had gotten that last communication from Chris. If only he had heeded that voice in his head sooner, he could've realized that he had been speaking to an impostor, stopped Zach's plan sooner, and, more importantly, find out where his real brother was and rescue him.
"Come on, Chris, you've got to be here…" Martin said, more to himself than his brother.
He gasped, suddenly seeing Chris hanging onto the back of one of the rhinos for dear life. But… what was this? There was… another Chris, on the rhino next to him?
Martin's heart sunk rapidly in his chest. Which one was real? And why, for Heaven's sake, couldn't he tell his own brother from an impostor was when picking out an individual animal in a group was child's play for him?
Zach's cackle made Martin realize that the robotics expert had him exactly where he wanted him. And it was a highly unnerving thought.
"Hey, Blue Boy!" Zach taunted. "They can't hold on much longer! Think you can figure out which one's the real one in time?"
Both Chrises were staring at Martin with a silent plea for help. Martin's blue eyes darted from one to the other and back again as the sweat poured down his brow.
"Martin, you have to hurry!" Aviva cried, as she let the Tortuga hover as low as she dared.
"Better listen to her," Zach sneered, his hand moving to his control panel.
"You wouldn't…" Martin gasped. Yes, it was true that Zach had always been the nemesis of the brothers since childhood, but was he really going to go that far to get one or both of them out of his way?
A chill ran down Martin's spine as he realized that yes, Zach was more than capable of doing so. This was no longer the childhood rivalry they had—somewhere along the line, this had become serious—the animals' lives were at stake, with the brothers vowing to defend them. Now… Zach was upping the ante far too high.
"Try me," Zach said, his eyes narrowing as he affirmed Martin's worst fears. The two rhinos carrying the two Chrises were now forced to buck and shake violently with the intent of dislodging their helpless riders, both Chrises calling out to him for help.
"No!" Martin cried, realizing that his time to determine which was his real brother was limited. "Chris!
Zach's triumphant cackle rang in his ears, and, desperate to somehow save his brother, Martin bailed out of the ship with the portable hang-glider on his back, determined to rescue his brother once he hit the ground… if he could figure out who he was.
Why can't I figure it out? he silently cried. What's wrong with me? Chris, which one is the real you?
Martin shut his eyes for a split-second, trying to focus on which one was real. But even that didn't seem to work.
He barely noticed that the ground was rapidly approaching him as both his brother and the impostor called out to him to be careful. Closer… closer… closer…
Martin hit the floor with a smack, and he shook the cobwebs from his head as he took a look around. The herd was gone, and so was Zach; he was on the floor of the room he shared with his brother aboard the Tortuga. His hammock swung slightly after his fall from it, and the digital clock read 3:05.
He took a deep breath, rubbing his chin.
"Just a dream…" he told himself.
But he froze as he looked around; across the room, his brother's hammock was also empty. But… that couldn't be! He had rescued his brother when Zach had used the brainwashed rhino to send him flying! …Or had thatbeen the dream, and what he had just recalled was a real memory?
He received his answers at the same time his fears were dispelled as Chris—the real Chris, without a shadow of a doubt—appeared in the doorway of the room with a carton of soymilk in one hand, an empty glass in the other, and a concerned look on his face; obviously, he had heard Martin falling out of the hammock and had come to check on him.
"You okay, Bro?"
Martin let out a quiet sigh of relief again and pushed himself up to his knees.
"Yeah. Someone should put a warning sign on those hammocks…" he said, managing a smile and a wisecrack now that he knew everything was alright.
Well, just barely, anyway—the fact hadn't changed that he had failed to listen to his gut instinct when he first suspected that there had been an impostor Chris running around, and then nearly letting his younger brother down; worst of all, Martin hadn't come to the immediate realization even when the doppelganger had made glaring mistakes that distinguished him from the real Chris. By all accounts, Martin should've been vigilant enough to spot the phony from the moment he had opened his mouth; as it was… as far as he was concerned, Martin had allowed himself to be fooled. And that, in his eyes, was completely unacceptable—at least for his younger brother's sake.
No wonder it was still weighing heavily on his mind and invading his dreams, as well… Thankfully, he hadn't been forced to try to guess which one was the real one; Zach hadn't thought to use the impostor again—though it was well within Zach's limits to try something like that in the future.
And that thought was not a comforting one; if that were to ever happen, Martin was not sure that he would be able to distinguish his brother from the impostor.
Chris certainly wasn't fooled by Martin's attempt to make light to mask his not-so-inconspicuous worry.
"Something on your mind?" he inquired of his elder brother.
"Hey, if anything, I should be asking you that," Martin countered, steering the conversation away from himself. "Another case of temporary nocturnal behavior?"
"Temporarily nocturnal behavior" was the brothers' term for insomnia. Jimmy often pointed out that it was a waste of syllables, but the brothers didn't seem to mind.
Chris gave a nod.
"Yeah, but a mild case," he said. He held up the carton of soymilk. "And all we have in the fridge is soymilk. I was trying to figure out if soymilk worked as well in helping you sleep as regular milk did. I feel like I should know this, but at 3 in the morning, it seems to have slipped my mind…"
"Soymilk should work betterthan regular milk," Martin said, stifling a yawn. "It has more tryptophan."
"See, I should've remembered that…"
"Well, on the list of things that you should've remembered, it's not that important," Martin said, before he could stop himself; he then winced, but realized it was too late to retract his words.
Chris blinked at his brother's words, and it didn't take him long to realize what this was all about.
"Hey, Martin, if this is about what happened with my double, don't let it bother you," he said. "It could've happened to anyone."
"Maybe, but it shouldn't have happened to me," Martin said, realizing that the metaphorical cat was out of the bag. "The signs were all so obvious—saying things that you'd never say, acting all weird…"
"Don't you think you're being a little too tough on yourself?" Chris asked, as Martin continued to berate himself.
"No, I'm not," the older man insisted. "I'm your brother. If there was anyone else in the world who should've realized that the you calling in wasn't really you, it should've been me—and right away."
"Hey, come on!" Chris said. "Give yourself some credit! You were the one who said that you felt that something was up. And you figured it out, too."
"Just barely," Martin said, not convinced. "And all this wouldn't even have happened if I hadn't been distracted instead of coming back to get you like I promised. I let you down out there, Chris."
"Yeah, but you saved me when Zach ordered that rhino to send me flying," his brother reminded him. "Doesn't that even it out?"
"I guess…" the older man sighed. "So, what's on your mind?"
"Huh?" Chris asked, surprised to have the tables turned on him. But there was no use denying that he did have something on his mind.
"I was just thinking of things…" he said. "When Zach said that he was sending that herd after you guys, all I could think about was finding a way to warn you in time. It was lucky that you guys found that contact lens and figured things out just in time."
He shook his head.
"I don't get it…" he said. "Zach's always had these crazy ideas about using animals for his own use… but now it's come to this?"
"I was wondering the same thing…" Martin said, lying back on his hammock as he stared at the ceiling. "Well, that… and what's next?"
"What do you mean?"
"Zach isn't going to give up," Martin said. "He never does. And when something doesn't work, he comes up with something else. So what'll he do next?"
"I wouldn't put it past him to try to swap me out for a fake again, and this time have him steal the animal right from under your nose," Chris sighed. "As far as Zach's concerned, you never figured out that wasn't really me."
Martin's eyes narrowed, and Chris flinched, realizing that he hadn't helped his brother feel better about it.
"You know what?" he said, trying to backtrack. "Maybe he won't try that again. Maybe—"
"Yeah, he will," Martin said. "He'll try it again, and this time, he'll make sure that the fake doesn't give any clues that'll give him away. And even if he doesn't try it again; he'll just come up with something else to try to trick me."
He sighed, holding a staring contest with the ceiling.
"And if it's not Zach, it's someone else," Martin went on. "There's Donita and Gourmand… And those are the only guys we know of—who knows how many more poachers are out there?"
Chris thought for a moment, obviously taking into consideration what Zach—or Gourmand or Donita—had planned for them; but after a moment, he then put on a good-natured smile.
"But you'll be ready for him this time, Bro," he said, the unshakable confidence in his voice evident.
"You really think so?" Martin asked, glumly.
"Hey, I know it!" Chris said. "If there's one thing I can count on, it's that you'll always come through when the chips are down, one way or another—like that time when Gourmand had taken me with those platypus eggs. If I go in over my head, you've still got my back. I'm not worried."
Martin looked up as Chris poured himself a glass of the soymilk and managed a smile. Chris had always been this way as far as he could've remembered—relaxed, optimistic, and keeping his cool.
It wouldn't be that hard to remember that if he ever had to deal with an impostor again, he realized.
"Hey, for what it's worth, you do pretty well yourself when those chips are down, too," he said to his younger brother. "You've pulled me out of jams before, and I'm sure there'll be other jams you'll pull me out of."
"See?" Chris said, grinning between gulps of soymilk. "No one can crack our team! Zach doesn't have a chance!"
He placed the carton of soymilk and the glass on the table and hopped into his own hammock, relaxing.
But something was still on Martin's mind.
"Chris?" he asked, mulling over their conversation. "If you weren't worried, what was keeping you awake, anyway?"
"Well, what I said was that I'm not worried," Chris replied, somewhat cryptically. "And that's the truth."
"Yeah, but that doesn't tell me…" Martin trailed off, the realization setting in.
"Present tense…" he realized, quietly.
Chris didn't reply; already, he was starting to doze off. The tryptophan in the soymilk was doing its job.
Martin rested back on his hammock again, feeling better about the whole misadventure. And, apparently, his brother was, too.
He could live with that.