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Okay... I blame my forgetfulness on the fact that I'm in a play, and that I'm writing my next Phineas and Ferb fic. That doesn't let me off the hook, but it is a reason...

Here's the next chapter!


Title: Capturing the Past - Chapter Three
Author: Cynthia J. Klawitter
Category: Gen; Drama; Hurt/Comfort
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Summer Belongs To You; Hail, Doofania!; Candace Gets Busted; Vanessessary Roughness; Got Game?; The Best Lazy Day Ever; Perry Lays An Egg; Thaddeus and Thor
Season: Post series (by one year)
Warnings: I wouldn't say language, per se, but there's at least one crass reference...
Summary: Having lost one family, Candace and Phineas' biological father returns to reconnect with his older children. When Candace isn't willing to oblige, Phineas isn't given the option of doing the same. Although the police are doing their best when both Phineas and Ferb go missing, Candace and the rest of the kids are determined to do some hunting of their own. Will they be able to find the boys in time?
A/N: My take on the Candace and Phineas' biological father returns and causes problems for everyone trope. I like how it worked out. Also, unless specifically stated otherwise, this piece does not take place in the same timeline as the majority of my stories.
Status: Complete (as of 1/14/2012)



The kids in the backyard were unusually quiet, merely sitting in a group silently supporting each other, and especially Candace. Things just weren't the same without Phineas and Ferb and their big ideas, even the teenagers could feel it. Now no one knew just what to say; words seemed inadequate.

What few attempts at conversation had happened once the rest of the Fireside Girls had arrived died quickly when Candace had broken down into soft sobs into Jeremy's shoulder, the teenage boy immediately wrapping both arms around her comfortingly. The redhead had seen her grandmother lead her crying mother away from the glass door, and it turned out to be the last straw for her as well. Isabella had hesitantly placed a gentle hand on the older girl's arm, her own eyes watery. Everyone else had politely let her cry, knowing how much she had to have been holding in since the family had figured out what was going on with Phineas and Ferb.

"Man, I find out who did this and it'll be like he'd never been born," Buford snarled in a low, threatening tone, his eyes narrowing darkly as he punched a fist into an open palm. Baljeet instinctually scooted away a few inches.

Everyone looked at Candace in shock when she gave a weak laugh. "Well, that would kind of defeat the purpose," she said a bit cryptically.

"What do you mean?" Buford asked with a belligerent thrust of his lower jaw. He hated being laughed at.

"The man we think did this is… um… my mom's first husband." Candace sighed at the surprised looks from most of the group - she hadn't told anyone but Stacy and Jeremy when they'd first arrived that morning, and of course Isabella already knew - that were still lacking in understanding. She didn't want to admit to the connection to the man; she figured they'd all get it considering they knew that the Flynn-Fletchers were a blended family. "You know," she continued, drawing her words out, "Phineas and my…" She sighed again. "Oh, how do I put this politely?"

Stacy rolled her eyes and saved her the trouble. "Sperm donor?" she offered. She straightened in the circle of Coltrane's arms when everyone looked at her with a gasp of horror. "Oh, come on! That's what he is, right? I mean, Candace, you always said Mr. Fletcher was more your real dad than the guy that ran out on you. Why give this guy the honor of the title, even if it only is biologically?" She crossed her arms over her chest and stared at the group a little defiantly.

Jenny blinked and turned her gaze to Candace. "Whoa, Candace, your dad came back? After all this time?"

"You mean you have not been in contact with him since your parents divorced?" Baljeet asked. He seemed almost scandalized by the idea.

"No. No, I haven't," Candace answered with another sigh. She proceeded to tell everyone a Reader's Digest version of the story through the night before. She figured it would be easier than answering a ton of questions.

"That's just spooky," Adyson said once the older girl finished. The other Fireside Girls nodded their agreement with the sentiment.

Coltrane gave Stacy a comforting squeeze when he felt her shudder at the conclusion of the recap. "Are you supposed to hear anything from the police today?" he asked Candace.

The redhead gave a small shrug. "I think so, at least if they find out anything. But they didn't make any promises." She sighed. "We're just stuck waiting."

Everyone else sighed at the statement of fact, and a solemn silence fell over the backyard.
 

* * * * * * * *


Vanessa Doofenshmirtz sat in the front passenger seat of her mother's car staring out the window and watching as the buildings of Danville went by. She hated not having a car of her own! Well, she quickly amended mentally, her father had come through with that one on her birthday a little over a month ago, but she'd let Johnny and some other friends take it to fix it up. Apparently something major had been wrong with it since she didn't have it back yet. Johnny kept reassuring her it was being taken care of and not to worry; she could only hope he wasn't in over his head.

For now, though, she was stuck going shopping with her mom when her friends weren't available. It wasn't too bad, not really. She and her mom had a pretty good relationship; disagreements about her dad's evil nature aside, the woman was always there for her. Besides, her mom had offered to buy her a couple of new outfits for her senior pictures that were scheduled for a couple of weeks before school started, and what teenage girl was going to turn that down?

"Are you serious?" Charlene Doofenshmirtz blurted into her phone as she drove. She'd gotten the call just as they'd left the mall parking lot; Vanessa guessed it was one of her friends. "That is horrible! Maybe I should stop by, make sure everything's okay and see if she needs anything." The older woman listened to the response and smiled. "I'll be sure to tell her you said so. I'll talk to you soon. Bye." She snapped her phone closed and placed it in the cupholder in the console between the seats. "We have to make a little stop on the way home. There's someone I want to check in on."

"Oh, come on, Mom," Vanessa complained, turning to look at her mother. "Can't you just drop me off at home first?"

Charlene sighed. "Linda's house is on the way. It won't hurt you to come with me."

Vanessa rolled her eyes, knowing there was no way out of this unexpected side trip. "So what's so important it can't wait until I'm not with you?"

"My friend Linda - you remember her from my cooking class last summer? - well, her sons are missing. From what I've been told they've been kidnapped. I want to make sure she and the rest of her family are doing all right." She gave the brunette girl a significant look. "That's what friends do."

"I get that," Vanessa said a touch defensively. Just because she hadn't gone over to her friend Renee's house when she'd been sick over spring break…

"I'm just making sure. Call it a mom thing."

Vanessa rolled her eyes again. Mom things tended to be really annoying, and this one was no exception. "How long are we going to be there?"

Charlene shrugged. "Not too long; I don't want to intrude. I just want Linda to know that she has friends that will be there for her if she needs them."

The teenager didn't bother to reply, turning her head back to look out the passenger side window. Her mom had more than made her point; she obviously hadn't gotten over her disappointment about what happened during spring break. But this wasn't going to be one of those visits that lasted all afternoon, so she'd live with it. It was a terrible thing if those kids had really been kidnapped. She couldn't begrudge the sympathetic stop.

When the car came to a halt, Vanessa was sure she recognized the house from somewhere. She thought she'd actually been there before, but she couldn't quite remember when. So she didn't make a protest when her mom asked her to come along. Maybe she'd figure out what she was forgetting.

Vanessa stood silently behind her mother as the woman knocked on the door. "Charlene!" the redhead who opened the door said with surprise when she saw her guests. "What are you doing here?"

"Helen called me and told me what happened yesterday," Charlene explained. "I'm so sorry."

"I see," the woman said a bit sadly. She opened the door wider and gestured for the other two to come inside. "Why don't you come in?" She managed to give them a smile, but Vanessa could see how much effort was behind it. "And thank you for your concern."

"We're friends, Linda," Charlene said as the door was shut behind them. "I wanted to make sure you knew I was here for you. I can only imagine how I'd feel if it was Vanessa who'd gone missing." She stepped forward and took Linda into a tight hug that was returned full measure.

Linda finally moved back with a sniff and glanced at the quiet teenage girl standing respectfully to the side. "I take it this is your daughter." She smiled and offered her hand. "A pleasure to meet you."

Vanessa shook the offered appendage. "A pleasure to meet you, too," she replied politely.

"Yes, this is my one and only," Charlene said as she and her daughter followed Linda further into the house. They found themselves in the living room where an older woman sat on the couch. "I still can't believe she's going to be a senior in high school in the fall."

"I understand completely. Candace is going to be a junior." Linda shook her head then gestured toward the older lady who rose at their arrival. "Charlene, Vanessa, this is my mother Betty Jo. Mom, this is my friend Charlene and her daughter Vanessa."

"Good to meet you," Betty Jo said with a smile. "I'm glad you stopped by."

Charlene shrugged. "So am I."

As the ladies continued their conversation, Vanessa let her gaze wander around the room. She noted the sliding glass doors that led outside and the group of people sitting around a large tree in the back yard. There were a bunch of interesting antiques and pieces from other countries on display. And the pictures showed a happy family, complete with a pet platypus. The girl couldn't help but chuckle to herself as she was reminded of her father's nemesis.

Those chuckles were cut off sharply when she took a closer look at a framed photograph of three kids she guessed were Linda and her husband's children. She recognized them all; the redheaded boy was Phineas, the energetic leader of that group of kids she'd hitched a ride with from Tokyo to Paris the summer before, and the girl was Candace, with whom she'd accidentally swapped clothes thanks to the dry cleaners and whom she'd hung out with while the kids got a giant ball of rubber bands in the middle of the Himalayas. And hadn't she thrown a killer party here at one point? But it was the green-haired boy that had totally captured her attention. That was Ferb, the boy who'd helped her get the Pizzazium Infinionite for her dad at the Super Duper Mega Store. Ferb, who had listened so well to her complaints about her father when they were at the Eifel Tower, and even gave her some pretty good advice about the situation. She was relatively sure he had a bit of a crush on her, but that was all right. He wasn't creepy about it or anything. He was really a pretty cool kid, if a quiet one.

Suddenly, the idea of her mom's friend's kids being kidnapped came home to her, really meant something beyond a remote sense of sympathy. She liked Ferb and his brother. She didn't want him - either one of them, really - to be missing or hurt.

"Were the boys kidnapped?" Vanessa blurted during the next lull in the conversation.

"Vanessa!" Charlene exclaimed, shocked.

Linda gestured her friend to silence as she looked at the teenager. Something about the look told Vanessa that the sorrowful mother knew why she'd asked. "Yes," she said simply. "The boys were most likely kidnapped. Phineas and Ferb aren't the type of kids to run away."

Well, that confirmed that, although she hadn't needed the verification. It was Ferb. Vanessa nodded. "I'm so sorry. I… I met Ferb a few times. Phineas, too. He, um, they, helped me out a few times. He's a sweet kid." She had no idea why she needed to say that, but the words just came tumbling out.

Linda smiled. "I'm glad you think so. We think he's sweet, too."

"I hope he and his brother are returned soon."

"Thank you," Linda said sincerely. "That means a lot."

Linda's husband and father came downstairs just then, and the adults took over the conversation once again. As they talked, Vanessa tried to think of something she could do to help, but nothing occurred to her. She was supposed to spend the weekend with her father…

A sudden thought came to mind, bringing up a question for him. The self-proclaimed evil scientist better not have had anything to do with this kidnapping, or his daughter was going to show him just how much the whole idea upset her. And he would not enjoy that show in the slightest.
 

* * * * * * * *


Vivian Garcia-Shapiro came over soon after Charlene and Vanessa left, immediately taking Linda and then Lawrence into a hearty embrace and offering rambling yet sincere condolences and support. As the afternoon went on, even more of Linda's friends stopped by to offer their own commiseration and encouragement. The redheaded woman was overwhelmed by all the good will, never realizing until that day just how large her circle of friendship was. It was a wonderful feeling. She just couldn't help but wish it hadn't been necessary.

After supper that evening, in which Vivian and Isabella had been invited to join the Flynn-Fletcher family, a detective arrived at the house with some news.

"Well, based on the information you gave me about your ex-husband, Mrs. Flynn-Fletcher, we were able to put together a history and track his more recent activities," Detective Walters said once he'd been introduced to the new people at the house and reassured that it was all right to speak about the case in front of them. "You were correct that William Flynn married again around the same time as you and Mr. Fletcher. His second wife was a Christine Connors, and he took her name. They divorced three years later after having two children. Three years after that, Christine Connors had his parental rights terminated, citing abandonment. William Connors has been working at the same record company in Los Angeles as a sound technician since his second divorce, and about two months ago went on a four-month leave of absence."

"Leave of absence?" Linda asked. "That's odd. His child support checks have arrived on time and for the full amount. I never would have guessed he wasn't currently working."

Walters nodded. "I looked into that when I noticed you hadn't said anything about him missing any payments. Apparently he paid the Child Support office a large lump sum, anticipating the need. The agency would just send out the appropriate amounts each month, of course."

Lawrence cleared his throat to get the detective's attention. "Why on Earth would he take a four-month leave of absence? That seems like an awfully long time to be absent from work."

"That's just what I was thinking," Walters said with a small smile, "so I contacted the record company. They say this is the first time he's ever taken time off, that he hasn't even missed time for a sick day. Apparently he told them he was working on a concept for a first album for a band he's in, and needed some time to focus on it. He even asked if one of the producers would be willing to take a listen when he got back." The brown-haired man shook his head, his expression skeptical. "His employment record is squeaky clean, at least at this company."

"You don't have to tell me about his time as a roadie," Linda said darkly. "I know all I need to know about that employment record."

"I'm sure you do," Walters said sympathetically, his tone saying louder than words that he'd done the research and knew what she was talking about. "Anyway, I did some hunting around Danville and discovered that a William Connors checked into a local hotel on the eighth of this month, and checked out on the thirteenth. There hasn't been any activity on his credit cards or bank accounts since then, and the only large transaction I could find in the last six months was in the amount that was sent to the Child Support Agency."

Candace drew herself up to her full height where she stood next to the sofa on the side furthest from the detective. "Are you saying he couldn't have done this? That he's not that one who took Phineas and Ferb?" Her face was a jumble of emotions, revealing what was going on inside her heart at that moment. Her grandfather, who stood next to her, silently placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.

Walters shook his head. "That's not what I'm saying. Actually, the lack of activity was suspicious to me. So I gave a buddy of mine that works on the LAPD a call and had him check out Connors' residence, see if he was home and would answer a few questions. Turns out he's not at home, and there's a stack of mail in his mailbox to prove it. My buddy asked the neighbors if Connors had been seen, and they said he hadn't, and that it was odd that they hadn't seen him. What's even stranger is that his car is there in the driveway. I have a feeling he's still in Danville, and he tried to cover up that fact. I just don't have any solid evidence yet to back me up."

"So you're saying he could have done this," Betty Jo said more as a statement than a question, wanting to be clear.

"I can't be sure," Walters said firmly. "I need more information. That's where the evidence seems to be leading me, but I don't want to blind myself to any other possibilities. The main goal here is to bring the boys home as soon as possible, and I have every intention of doing that."

"And we thank you for that," Lawrence said sincerely.

Walters gave the man a grateful smile and nod. Then he took a deep breath and continued. "So, have there been any calls regarding a ransom of any kind?" he asked matter-of-factly, returning to the business at hand.

Linda shook her head. "No, nothing. The only calls we've had were from friends and Lawrence's parents telling us when their flight would be getting in."

Walters' eyebrows rose. "Flight?"

"My parents are flying in from London," Lawrence explained. "I'll be picking them up from the airport in a couple of hours."

"I see," Walters murmured, making a note in his open notebook. "I do have one question for you, Mrs. Flynn-Fletcher. What can you tell me about William Connors' parents?"

"Bill's parents?" Linda echoed, surprised. "Um, let's see." She paused and thought about it for a moment. "Well, Bill was adopted. Eugene and Gertrude Newman were his adoptive parents. I have no idea about his birth parents." She blew out a loud breath. "They lived in a small town in Nebraska, near Omaha. We visited them once, just before Candace was born. They seemed like nice enough people, if a little distant, but that could have been Bill's attitude more than anything. He always seemed to have a grudge against them, something about not being good enough since he wasn't theirs biologically." She frowned. "He always sounded like a little kid when he'd say that."

Walters nodded, taking notes. "Do you think they resented his attitude?"

Linda shook her head. "No resentment, not on their part. I think they were disappointed that he felt like he did. Gertrude told me about having tried so long to have a baby before they adopted Bill, that they had been so happy when they brought him home. There was another miscarriage a few years after the adoption, too, so it hurt even more that Bill was so… mean toward them." The redheaded woman gave a short laugh. "I haven't thought about that visit in over a decade. I'm surprised I remember so much about it."

"Wait a minute," Candace said slowly, her brow creased in thought. "Does that mean that my middle name is after… his mom?"

"Bill's mom? Well, yes, actually. I liked her. I thought it was a nice way to honor her, maybe inspire Bill to reconnect with his parents. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way."

"What about Phineas' middle name? It's Vincent, not Eugene or Clyde. Who is he named after?"

Linda gave her daughter an impatient look. "This is not the time, Candace."

Candace scowled. "Mom…"

Linda rolled her eyes. "I liked the name, all right? I always liked Vincent Price's movies when I was growing up, so when I had to come up with a middle name to go along with Phineas that's what popped into my head. Are you satisfied now? Can we go back to trying to figure out what happened to your brothers?"

Candace gasped as her hands flew to her mouth, her eyes filling with tears. "Oh my gosh!" she cried. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean… I'm… I'm sorry!" She spun around and ran up the stairs.

"Candace!" Linda called after the teenage girl, jumping to her feet, her husband right beside her. She turned a horrified gaze to Lawrence. "I didn't mean to be so hard on her, I really didn't."

"I know, darling," Lawrence said comfortingly, giving her shoulders a squeeze. "I'll go up and speak with her."

"I'll go," Isabella offered quickly. "You can stay and finish answering the detective's questions, and when you're done, I'll get out of your way." She rose to her feet from her place on the floor next to the chair her mother sat in and headed for the stairs. "I'll let her know you won't be long." She disappeared up the steps.

Linda covered her face with her hands. "I don't want her to think she's any less important to me at a time like this," her muffled voice said from behind her fingers. "I don't want to hurt her."

Lawrence drew her into a comforting embrace. "Of course you don't, darling," he murmured into her hair. "Right now you're under an incredible amount of stress, and so is she. It all came out wrong this time on both sides, that's all." He looked over at the respectfully silent detective. "Do you have any more questions, Detective Walters?" he asked.

Walters smiled. "Only a couple, and then I'll let you go for the evening. Is that all right, Mrs. Flynn-Fletcher?"

"Of course," Linda said quickly, turning slightly in her husband's arms as she dropped her hands to his chest with a quick swipe of her eyes and a sniff. "Ask whatever you need to."

"Thank you," the detective replied and returned to the matter at hand as gently as he could. He knew both parents' minds were on the girl upstairs. He only hoped everything could be smoothed over quickly once he was gone.
 

* * * * * * * *


Candace lay on her bed, curled on her side facing away from the door. Isabella had tried to make her feel better, hurrying up after her and telling her that no one was mad at her before being called away once the detective had left. The younger girl had done her best to give comfort; the effort was appreciated but unnecessary. The teenager knew she'd been out of line, and felt that she didn't deserve the reprieve quite yet. How could she accept comfort when she'd acted so selfishly at a time when her concern should have been with her brothers' safety?

She really wished she knew what had driven her to ask about Phineas' middle name. What did it matter, anyway? Just because she had a connection with her birth father's family and he didn't… She shook her head fiercely, her teeth gritted together tightly. There she went again, being selfish and self-centered.

"Candace?" a soft voice called from the doorway.

Mom. Candace should have known that her mother would come to her eventually.

"I'm sorry," the girl repeated, not turning over to face her guest. "I can't believe I said that. I can't believe that I asked those questions when I should have been more worried about Phineas and Ferb."

"Oh, Candace," Linda said as she sat down on the edge of her daughter's bed, reaching out to smooth back some of the long hair of a couple of shades lighter than her own. "We all react to stress in different ways, that's all. You'd just gotten a whole lot of information about your birth father that makes him look all the more guilty of kidnapping your brothers. It's all incredibly overwhelming."

"That doesn't excuse my stupid questions," Candace said with self-disgust. How could her mom forgive her so quickly for this?

Linda was quiet for a time, just continuing to stroke Candace's hair. "I should have told you a long time ago what I knew about your father and his family," she said finally. "I was so afraid to speak badly of him because he'd hurt me so much during our marriage. This was your father, not just my ex-husband. And he'd hurt you badly as well. I can still feel your tears as you cried onto my shoulder at night…" Her voice trailed off, and Candace tensed as she realized the woman was fighting back tears of her own at the old memory. "I never understood how he could walk away from you like that, how he could walk away and not look back. Even when I told him about being pregnant with Phineas, all he said was to let him know when the baby was born so he'd know when his child support would be going up. He didn't even question if the baby was his, like I was expecting. And after a time, you got over the hurt, and Lawrence came into our lives. Phineas was so young; he never had a reason to ask about his father because there was someone there to take that place in his life."

Candace rolled onto her back so she could look her mother in the eye. She noted that both of them were holding back tears. "And I didn't worry about my daddy anymore because I had a new one, a better one. One I knew loved me and wouldn't go away. Oh, Mom, I don't blame you for not saying anything. You made sure Phineas and I knew how our family was put together; we just never asked questions because we liked our family the way it was. Who knew your first husband would come back and do something like this?"

Linda smiled down at her. "I hope you were listening to what you just said, young lady. Because that also means that you shouldn't feel guilty for trying to spare our feelings by not telling us about Bill's little visit with you at the mall last week."

"You are one sneaky lady," Candace said with a mock frown. She only held the expression for a couple of moments before letting it fade back into a sad one with a sigh. "But none of this excuses what I said tonight. I shouldn't have been so worried about something so stupid when my brothers are in trouble."

"Candace, I think you just latched onto something small because you were feeling so overwhelmed by everything else," Linda said sympathetically. "If anyone said something wrong down there tonight, it's me. I'm fully aware that you're very worried about your brothers, and the way I snapped at you was inexcusable."

"But, Mom…"

"No, Candace, I mean it. I'm the one who…"

"I think the both of you should just forgive each other and be done with it," a new voice said from the doorway. Candace and Linda turned to see Lawrence standing there smiling at them. "You both said some things you regret and you're sorry. You're both also under a lot of stress right now. It's understandable that some things are going to slip out at an inopportune and inappropriate time every now and again. I'm sure by the time this is over, I'll have said my share, and I hope you'll be able to forgive me. For now, however, you need to let this go. Forgive each other, and, more importantly, forgive yourselves, for the boys' sake." He gave them a loving look that implored them to take his advice then glanced at his watch. "Now, I'm afraid, I have to be going. I should be able to get to the airport just in time to meet my parents' flight. We should be back in an hour, hour and a half."

Linda rose and moved over to her husband, giving him a warm embrace and loving kiss on the lips. "Be careful, dear," she told him.

Candace quickly followed her mother's example, her kiss landing on his cheek. "Tell Grandma and Grandpa Fletcher I can't wait to see them."

Lawrence gave them another smile. "I'll do that. Now I'm off." He gave each of his girls one last hug and headed out.

Candace looked at her mom for a long moment, then quickly moved to hug her. "I love you, Mom," she said into the older woman's shoulder.

"I love you, too, Candace," Linda said into the girl's hair.

When the two broke away from the embrace, they gave each other a little smile, then headed down to the first floor to wait with Linda's parents for Lawrence and his parents to return.
 

* * * * * * * *


Phineas and Ferb sat alone in their bedroom after supper that night, Phineas having once again gotten a double helping to make sure both he and his brother had enough to satisfy them. He'd done the same thing at lunch, being taken out again after the midday meal for some more "bonding" conversation. The redhead expected to be taken out again after dinner, but had been wished a good night when the second tray had been retrieved.

"You know, Ferb," Phineas said once he was sure they weren't going to be interrupted, "I think there's something seriously wrong with this guy."

Ferb gave his brother a somewhat surprised look. He knew just how much it took for Phineas to give up his slightly rose-colored-glasses view of the people around him, so for this William Flynn to have elicited this response meant something huge had happened during the day. He just wished they'd had time to talk during lunch so he could have taken the afternoon to consider whatever information Phineas had managed to uncover, but the older man had seemed quite impatient to get back to talking with the boy.

Phineas gave Ferb a small smile. He knew about his tendency to expect the best of people for as long as possible, so he wasn't surprised by the reaction. He then proceeded to tell the other boy about the morning's conversation, explaining what he'd figured out about William's past.

"I have to admit, he kind of freaked me out when he exploded like that," Phineas concluded. "And then he just rambled randomly for another hour before deciding it was time for lunch. I didn't want to set him off again so I stayed quiet, but I tried to listen to everything he was saying. I didn't understand any of it, though."

"At least you tried," Ferb told him. Actually, he was quite proud of his brother. Phineas usually did seem to know when to speak and when not to, and this time it probably kept him out of trouble.

"Yeah," Phineas replied, his gaze dropping down to his lap momentarily. "It's going to be hard to lead his conversations anywhere," he said once he met Ferb's eyes again. "I really don't know what's going to upset him, and I don't think I'll be able to get anything useful out of him if he acts like he did this morning after he lost his temper."

Ferb gave the redhead a worried look. "Did you feel threatened when he lost his composure?" he asked.

Phineas shook his head. "Not really. I don't even think he knew I was there except peripherally while he went off on his rant." He sighed. "To be honest, I'm more worried about you."

"Me?" Ferb parroted, totally surprised. "Why are you worried about me?"

"Well, look how upset he was about the guy his second wife married. If he found out you were my step-brother…" Phineas left it hanging, knowing the other boy would get his drift.

Ferb did, quickly. "He might react to me in the same violent manner. I see." The green-haired boy frowned. "It may be best if we find a way to escape as soon as possible."

Phineas nodded. "Definitely. But if we can't both go, you should head out alone. You can figure out where we are and bring back help."

Ferb's frown became a scowl. "I am not leaving you alone in the clutches of this madman," he declared decisively. "Either we both go, or we both stay."

"But Ferb, what if he finds out who you are?" The redhead's blue eyes were filled with concern.

"As long as you watch what you say - and I trust you will - there's not much danger of that," Ferb refuted.

"Well, you said yourself that he just dismissed you and focused all his attention on me. He might not even notice if you're gone."

"And what if he does? Do you really believe he'll merely shrug and take you off for another little chat?" Ferb shook his head. "No, I believe his temper would take hold at that point, and you would be the only one there to receive the brunt of it. I can't allow that. I worry about you as much as you worry about me."

Phineas chewed on his lower lip as he considered his brother's argument. He supposed it could turn out that way, but then again maybe not. William Flynn wasn't the most predictable man. He couldn't help but still believe that getting Ferb out of there - with or without him - was the smartest thing to do.

Ferb saw the battle going on behind his brother's gaze and knew the other boy hadn't given up trying to save him. He sighed softly. "Look," he said after a long moment, "why don't we try to come up with a solution that will get both of us out of here? If that doesn't appear to be possible, we can discuss one or the other of us going out alone."

Phineas brightened at that and nodded. "All right. First, I think we should nail down the schedule we'll be working with, see if what happened today is going to be standard. If I get more of a chance to wander around that big room, I might be able to find a way out or something that can help us find a way out from here. Like, maybe some tools or something like that." He pointed up at the grate-covered air vent close to the ceiling. "If we can figure out a way through there, that might be the way to go."

"We'll definitely need tools for that." Ferb squinted his eyes a bit and took a closer look. "I believe the screws have been painted over a couple of times, so that'll make things that much more difficult." He looked back at his companion. "But I also believe it can be done. The question is, can it be done quickly and quietly?"

"Well, a screwdriver is the first step," Phineas said, crossing his arms over his chest. "And if he really leaves us alone from after supper until breakfast, we'll have more than enough time, even if it takes a couple days to be sure we keep the noise down."

"I believe I can design a way to use the beds to our advantage for an escape," Ferb said thoughtfully. "We'll need some tools to work with, however."

Phineas grinned. "We'll come up with something."

Ferb smiled in return, then remembered something. "What did the two of you talk about after lunch? I don't believe you said."

"No. No, I didn't," Phineas admitted with a sigh, his smile fading ruefully. "He started out talking about trying to find some common ground, and how he was sure I just had to be into sports, being a boy and all. Then, before I could say anything, he rambled on about all the sports he'd been involved with in high school, and all the great plays he'd seen and taken part in…" He sighed again. "I had to work hard not to fall asleep; I have a feeling that would have set him off again." Ferb gave him a look that shared his agreement with that assessment. "His reminiscing gave me a better chance to look around the room, though, and I saw two curtained off areas on one of the walls, one in each corner. I don't know what's in them yet, but I'll do my best to find out as soon as I can."

"I know you will."

The two brothers shared a supportive look, then continued to talk for a while before going to sleep, armed with a plan of action for the next day.
 

* * * * * * * *


Perry the platypus hung around the Flynn-Fletcher house longer than he had the morning before since it usually took Doofenshmirtz a day or two to bounce back from his more epic failures. He'd check in and find out for sure, of course, since he'd been surprised by the evil scientist a time or two in the past, but he had a feeling this wasn't going to be one of those times.

The secret agent had more important things to find out when he contacted Major Monogram. He'd been told most of the information about William Flynn - well, Connors legally, according to the police detective he'd managed to slip in and overhear the night before - that had been shared with the family when he'd checked in after the virtual reality plot had been foiled. The only thing that had been added was that an OWCA informant had thought he'd seen the man in Danville the day after he was supposed to have left. Perry hadn't known about Detective Walters' LAPD contact checking out Connors' home, however. That made their informant's sighting a lot more credible. Fortunately, the platypus had thought to use his watch to record the conversation, and had sent it in to Carl to be analyzed and added to the agency's file.

Like he had the morning before, the little blue platypus stuck close to Candace, the girl still showing signs of lingering guilt and the beginnings of a restlessness the monotreme recognized as he felt it himself: she wanted to do something, anything, to get the boys back. He worried a bit for her, as the teenager could be quite impulsive. That just inspired him to do more to help the police - without them realizing of course - get to the bottom of it all even more quickly.

That impulse grew by leaps and bounds when Isabella Garcia-Shapiro came over halfway through the morning. Here was another impulsive, headstrong girl who was very attached to Phineas and Ferb. If Candace settled on a course of action, the younger girl would most likely jump right in to help. He liked Isabella but… Perry sighed. The whole situation was getting more complicated the longer it went on.

As the two girls joined Linda and Lawrence and their parents in the living room, Perry decided it was about time to check in with his superiors. He just hoped Monogram and Carl could give him the information he needed to find the boys he loved before the girls he cared so much for did something drastic… and dangerous.
 

* * * * * * * *


"There has got to be something I can do to help find Phineas and Ferb!" Candace exploded once she and Isabella had gone into the backyard to let the adults talked unfettered. The redheaded teenager paced back and forth in front of the tree that Isabella leaned against. "I just can't take sitting around doing nothing!"

"I understand, Candace," Isabella said sympathetically. "I feel the same way. But we'd probably just get in the way of the police, and I know they wouldn't like that."

Candace waved off the argument. "Well, obviously we'd tell the police anything we found out, and back off if things got dangerous," she said dismissively. "Even if we just went to a few places and asked questions, it would make me feel better."

The younger girl nodded. "Yeah, me too."

The gate opening drew the girls' attention. Baljeet's head popped into sight a moment after, his expression questioning. "I hope I am not intruding," he said deferentially.

"Come on in, Baljeet," Candace said, pausing as she waved him in. "Isabella and I were just discussing what we could do to help find Phineas and Ferb."

"Are the police not searching any longer?" the Indian boy asked, surprised.

"Of course they are. We just want to do something to help. I can't stand just sitting around here doing nothing anymore." Candace began pacing once again.

Baljeet's surprise turned to horrified shock. "But will you not be breaking the law?"

Candace rolled her eyes, but Isabella responded first. "Anyone can ask people questions, Baljeet," she said matter-of-factly, flipping her long black hair back over her shoulder. "They don't have to answer if they don't want to. And if we hear something important, we can tell the police. They'll probably be glad for the help."

"Really?" Baljeet asked suspiciously.

"Of course!" Isabella replied with confidence.

Candace sighed and came to a halt when the boy seemed appeased by the sentiment. "You know, if Phineas and Ferb were here, they'd already have a plan on how to do this," she grumbled. "It never seems to take much to inspire them."

Isabella and Baljeet shook their heads. "No. No, it doesn't," the girl said. "Remember the F Games? All I had to mention was the biggest game ever, and Phineas was already coming up with something."

The older girl smiled at the memory. "That was actually kind of fun, especially when it fixed my bad hair day. I think the only time I couldn't spark anything with them was when they had their best lazy day ever - and believe me, I tried. I can't believe I couldn't think of anything to do that didn't involve busting them for one of their projects." She shook her head. "Talk about a low point."

"Why do you try to bust them so much?" Isabella asked. Baljeet perked up, just as curious about the answer.

"I…" Candace hesitated as she blushed. She'd never tried to explain that to anyone before. Stacy and Jenny always just accepted it as normal, and Jeremy never asked, although she'd seen the question in his eyes a few times. "It's kind of embarrassing, really. I mean, I don't do it very often any more, just when their project is especially dangerous looking."

"That does not truly answer the question, however," Baljeet said.

Candace stared at the ground, unable to look them in the eyes. They'd been around for a lot of her busting attempts and the rants that preceded them. There was no way to whitewash this, and a part of her didn't want to try. These two kids were two of her brothers' best friends, just as close and important to the boys as family. She felt a connection to them, and suddenly the words came easily.

"I was jealous," she finally said simply. "They were doing all these grandiose things, marvelous feats of imagination come to life… and getting away with it. Even if I could have come up with half of it, there's no way I would have. Heck, when I had the boys build that nest for the egg we thought Perry laid, Mom saw it and had me clean it up. She didn't even wait for an explanation. The boys told her all about why we'd put it together a little later, though, and she apologized for not being patient, but still." The redhead looked up with a rueful half-smile. "I'm pretty sure it has something to do with me being the oldest. And who would really expect their kids to do what Phineas and Ferb do?

"I'd love to have that spark, that ability to create so much something out of nothing, and so quickly. They really do amazing things. It's like when I had them make that fort to outdo Mrs. Weaver's nephews: I just knew anything Phineas and Ferb would put together would blow away anything those other boys could do, even though I know they did it just to make me happy." She couldn't keep her mouth from turning up in a satisfied smirk. "I have to admit I enjoyed it when those other boys' sister begrudgingly admitted I'd been right about that."

"So you do not hate them?" Baljeet asked.

Candace looked stunned at the suggestion. "Of course not!" she immediately protested. "They're my brothers! Jealous I may be, but when push comes to shove, I'll back them every time. And some of the times I lost it was because what they were doing was so dangerous. That's the only reason I call Mom any more, like I said before." She sighed. "I love them very much. And I want them back." A determined look transformed her features. "So," she said brusquely, "anyone have any ideas on what to do?"

The gate opened again, this time with Buford strolling through. He smirked at Baljeet. "I figured I'd find you here." He glanced at the girls. "So is there any news about the dinner bell?"

Candace filled him in. "Now we just need to figure out what we're going to do to help get them back," she said once she finished. "No more sitting around here moping and getting depressed."

"I'm thinking we should start looking for Mister Connors at the last place he was seen in Danville," Isabella said decisively. "Do we know the name of the hotel he was staying at?"

"What good's that gonna do?" Buford asked. "I'm willing to bet the cops have already been there and asked all the questions they needed. What more could we find out?"

Isabella frowned at the larger boy. "We could get lucky and run into someone they didn't interview, like a guest or employee that wasn't there when the detective came by. Besides, even if we only get the same information, at least then we'll have it. It's not like Detective Walters is going to share all his notes with us or anything."

Buford shrugged. "Fair enough, I suppose."

Candace lifted a hand to get their attention. "While that's all fine and dandy, what story are we going to give them for being there asking questions? I don't think they're going to buy idle curiosity or a burning desire to imitate Nancy Drew."

"Could we not simply tell them the truth?" Baljeet offered. "You are looking for your father, and the hotel is the last place he was seen."

"And then they'll tell me the police have already been there and I should just go home and wait for them to figure everything out," Candace retorted with a roll of her eyes. "Yeah, that'll work."

"I did not say to explain about Phineas and Ferb," the Indian boy protested. "In fact, you should not mention the police or the case at all. You should merely say that you are seeking your father, for you have not seen him in some time."

The other children looked at Baljeet with growing respect. "That is sneaky," Isabella said, smiling.

Buford nodded his agreement. "Didn't know you had it in ya, dweeb."

Candace's grin was wicked. "And if they try to give me the runaround, I can get all teary-eyed and talk about how he missed my sixteenth birthday. And I'm still not lying!" She gave the low, somewhat maniacal laugh she usually reserved for when she thought she was about to bust her brothers.

"You're going to need a picture," Isabella said.

"I'll download one from the internet, and then we can go over to the hotel." Candace's grin shifted into a satisfied smirk. "I think this is going to be fun. That jerk is going down!"

The others returned the expression, and they all went inside to put their plan into motion.

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