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[personal profile] winterjameson

Well, this is better than before, that's a plus...

I don't really have a lot to say here, except here's presenting the next chapter!

Title: Capturing the Past - Chapter Five
Author: Cynthia J. Klawitter
Category: Gen; Drama; Hurt/Comfort
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Seriously minor ones for Candace Gets Busted and Get That Bigfoot Outa My Face!
Season: Post series (by one year)
Warnings: Minor violence to a minor
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)

Phineas had pretty much let himself slip into the routine by the time the fourth day came around. It was the easiest way to let William believe he was getting his way, which was the easiest way for Phineas to keep the man's attention away from Ferb. The green-haired boy had used the entire day before to scrape away the paint from the screws on one side of the air vent cover with the stolen nail file, standing on the metal headboard of Phineas' bed to reach them. He only had to finish up the other side, and the two boys could start to make their escape plans.

Of course, Phineas was still ready to send only Ferb out on that escape. He thought it might be easier to keep William distracted by staying, giving Ferb the best chance of not being followed, and the police the best chance of finding William. The redhead had successfully avoided referencing his brother, and was almost completely sure William was barely even thinking about him.

The majority of the day had gone as the other three had: the boys were taken out before breakfast for a morning bathroom run in a small water closet behind the room they slept in and at the end of a hall on the opposite side of that room from the way William and Phineas usually went later in the day. Phineas then requested three plates full of food that he shared with Ferb, was taken out to the large room down the main hall as soon as the morning meal was finished, and, with only a brief break for lunch, was bombarded with self-centered tales and desperate, deluded attempts to be his one and only daddy.

When the stories, rants, and disconnected questions were finally at an end for the day, William guided Phineas back to the bedrooms, the blond man practically glowing. Phineas could only guess what the man was thinking, most likely something congratulatory about how well things seemed to be going. Oh, if only he knew what was going on in Phineas' head…

"I'll get your supper started in just a few minutes," William said once they'd reached the room at the back of his own bedroom. He started to unlock the door. "And if you eat like you have the last couple of nights…"

William's words trailed off as he opened the door and looked inside. It was easy for Phineas to see the reason for the man's shock as the redhead stepped inside; the room was empty, only the furniture to be seen. Ferb was gone.

Phineas couldn't help but smile. A quick glance up at the air vent showed it still in place, no sign it had been tampered with. Ferb had done a great job of disguising his escape route. Phineas also hadn't heard a thing from the ducts, so Ferb had managed to figure out a way to muffle the sound of his passage, something that had been worrying them both the night before. A weight lifted off his shoulders, one he hadn't realized he'd been carrying.

But his relief didn't last long. A second after everything had registered, two large hands gripped Phineas' shoulders painfully and spun him to face an absolutely furious William. There was an insane rage in the darkening eyes glaring daggers into him. And the voice that came out of the man's mouth was rougher and deeper than it had ever been before.

"Where is he?"

"I don't know," Phineas answered quietly. He fought the urge to lick his lips nervously as he held onto every ounce of courage he had.

William gave him a violent shake. "Where is he!" the blond man shouted, spittle flying.

Phineas flinched but held onto his composure. "I really don't know," he insisted. He couldn't hide the quiver in his tone. His fear was rising exponentially. Could he hold on until Ferb got back?

The thin fingers dug even more sharply into the soft flesh of Phineas' upper arms. "You've been planning this all along," William growled, his eyes narrowing. "You distracted me while that… gremlin of a boy snuck out. You wanted him to bring back the people who would make everything fall apart in flames!"

"What?" Phineas blurted out in reply. It was true, he knew, at least the wanting Ferb to bring back help, but something in the man's voice screamed there was so much more to the accusation. He just didn't know what that something was.

"You're against me! She turned you against me!" William shook Phineas again, squeezing even harder, this time causing the boy to involuntarily let out a yelp of pain.

Meanwhile, from where he'd been frozen under his bed, Ferb realized the time to do something was now. The constant rubbing of his chest against the somewhat rough walls as he scraped away the paint from the vent cover screws had caused the button of his shirt to loosen, eventually leading to the threads breaking and the button to fall to the floor. Thinking William might notice the missing piece of plastic and suspect some kind of an escape attempt, Ferb scrambled to find it, his search leading him completely under the bed and into the darkest corner. He had just managed to catch a tiny glint when he heard the key in the lock, making him scoop up a handful of dust along with the button.

But just before he would have pushed himself back into sight, he realized he still held the nail file in his hand. Ferb scowled at the piece of metal in frustration. He would shove it into a pocket, but his sudden reappearance might make William suspicious enough to search him, and the file could not be found before he and Phineas were ready to leave. He also couldn't just leave it on the floor under the bed; William was sure to examine the space where it would look like Ferb had been purposefully hiding himself. So just as William started his interrogation of Phineas, Ferb gently and quietly slipped the file between the mattress and the metal frame it rested on, leaving just enough sticking out so it would be easy to recover later.

Phineas' cry of pain made Ferb flinch as much as he would have if he'd been the target of William's wrath. And he knew he'd run out of time. With one big push, Ferb slid out into the middle of the room. "I'm here," he said as soon as he'd cleared the bed frame and sat up. "I'm right here."

William shoved Phineas away from him, ignoring how the redheaded boy barely managed to land on the other bed, sprawling across it as the man stepped forward and loomed menacingly over Ferb. "And just what were you plotting by hiding under that bed?" he asked darkly, his volume lowering once again.

"Nothing," Ferb promptly replied. He held out the hand that held the button. "I was fidgeting with the button of my shirt and it came off, falling onto the floor and rolling under the bed. I came out as soon as I managed to finally get a hold of it." He gestured to the remains of the frayed threads near the collar of his shirt when William's eyes started looking him over.

"I see," William said slowly, taking in both the button and the threads. He took a pair of deep breaths and released them deliberately. "I see." And then it was like a switch flipped inside him, and he turned to Phineas with a bright smile as though nothing had happened. "I'll bet you're hungrier than ever tonight. I'll get to work on supper for both of us."

Phineas just blinked from his position on his bed, half-propped up by the arms he had extended behind him as he lay on top of the blankets. He then watched as the lack of an answer seemed to be as good as a verbal confirmation, William giving him a wink before calmly turning around and leaving the room, the door shutting lightly behind him before the lock was once again latched into place.

Ferb hurried over to him. "Are you all right?" the green-haired boy asked. "Did he hurt you?"

Phineas turned his head and blinked wide-eyed at his brother. "You were right, Ferb," he whispered. "We both have to go together."

"That doesn't matter right now," Ferb insisted. "Are you hurt?"

"I'm fine," Phineas said dismissively, sitting up completely. He unconsciously flinched at the movement as he stared at the door. "He really is going to just go and start cooking supper. It's like that whole thing never happened."

There wasn't anything for Ferb to say to that. It was simply true. What worried him, however, was the way Phineas' hands unconsciously came up to rub at his upper arms where he'd been held. Ferb silently reached out and pushed up the short sleeve closest to him, his eyebrows furrowing together when he saw the already-forming bruises.

Phineas came back to the present and turned his head to watch when he felt the fabric of his shirt moving, his own eyebrows furrowing at the reveal. "Oh, wow," he murmured. "That actually hurts."

"I'd be more surprised if it didn't," Ferb said, letting go of the sleeve.

"Yeah." Phineas looked at his other arm and frowned at the matching marks there. He sighed as he put the sleeve back in place. "I never thought he'd go this far," he whispered.

"I hoped he wouldn't," Ferb said, sad to see the effects of Phineas' rose-tinted glasses being torn away in such a violent fashion. He chose to focus on that emotion rather than the rage he was feeling over his brother's mistreatment; there wasn't anything he could do about the latter. At least, not at the moment.

Phineas nodded. "This just got a lot more dangerous." He brought his head back up and looked at Ferb. "We have to get out of here as soon as possible. And I think I have an idea for how to do it quietly."

Ferb gave him a small smile. He knew Phineas could bounce back, and the strong determination in his eyes was great to see. Now to put together that escape plan…

* * * * * * * *

During the fourth full day of Phineas and Ferb's disappearance, Candace and the rest of the kids finalized their list and tried to decide where to go from there. "This is a huge list," the redheaded teenager said as she stared at the printout she held.

"So what are we going to do about it?" Buford asked aggressively from where he was sitting next to Baljeet on Candace's bedroom window seat.

"Yeah, I don't think we can pare it down any further," Jeremy said from his position standing next to his seated girlfriend.

"But it's too big for the six of us to handle on our own," Stacy said as she bounced on Candace's bed and made Isabella have to catch her balance on the other side. "It'll take forever to go through all those buildings."

Isabella stood up to keep from getting tossed around further then paused to think. "What if we had more people to help? I know the rest of the Fireside Girls would be happy to do that, and there's always the rest of Phineas and Ferb's friends." She gestured at Candace and Jeremy. "I bet you guys know more people who would help."

Candace and Jeremy shared a look. "Sure we do," Jeremy agreed. Candace nodded.

Baljeet raised a hand to get everyone's attention. "Are we sure this is the best place to be continuing this discussion?" he asked nervously. "Your parents and grandparents are here in the house, Candace, and we cannot be sure if we can be overheard. I do not believe we would be allowed to continue our plans if they were to know about them."

"You weren't worried about that when we were talking yesterday," Buford protested.

"We were discussing the particulars of the buildings, not the particulars of a plan to thoroughly search and examine them," Baljeet refuted. "There is a difference."

"He's got a point," Candace said before Buford could say anything else. "There are a lot more people than usual, and there's no way to keep track of them all, especially not from here with the door shut. I'm not even sure the backyard is safe, not with how many things I've overheard going on back there the past couple of summers. So where do we go?"

Isabella smiled. "How about Danville Park? No one would think twice about a large group of kids getting together there, and as long as we don't go around shouting or deliberately grabbing people's attention, no one should pay close enough attention to what we're doing and saying to figure anything out. I can have the troop there in a half-hour, tops."

Candace considered it. "I have to make a few phone calls, and I can't guarantee a lot of people, but I'd say a half-hour, forty-five minutes is reasonable."

Jeremy nodded. "That's about what I was thinking."

"Baljeet, Buford, could you two get the rest of our friends?" Isabella asked them. "I'll organize everything at the park. You know, by the shelter. We can organize the picnic tables into a semicircle and use the one cinder block wall to tack up a large map of Danville with all the buildings on our list marked on it." She shrugged. "It'll make it easier to assign sections to the groups we'll have to split up into."

"We're on it," Buford answered for the pair of boys, jumping to his feet. Baljeet did the same a moment later.

"Then let's do this thing," Candace declared.

It was an hour later before all the kids had gathered at the park shelter, rearranged as Isabella had described, the Fireside Girl troop leader and Candace standing to either side of the enlarged map of Danville they'd printed out before separating to gather their respective recruits. "I'm thinking we should have at least one teenager with each group," Candace said after getting everyone up to speed with the situation. "That way we have drivers if we can get access to enough cars, and someone old enough to deal with what we could possibly find in any of the buildings."

Isabella nodded her agreement. "That makes a lot of sense. Now who's willing to lead the groups? The more we have, the less buildings each one has to search." Her positive expression fell when only Candace, Jeremy, Stacy, and Coltrane raised their hands. "Really?" she asked. "That's it?"

There was nervous shifting amongst the other teenagers. "I'm sorry," Jenny said sincerely. "I really want to help, but I'm not sure this is the kind of confrontation I can handle leading people into."

"And I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to being in charge of something like this," Jeremy's drummer Dustin said with an apologetic shrug. "I'm more than game to tag along, though."

"If Albert were here I know he'd be willing to take charge of a group," Irving said confidently. Baljeet and Buford had found him sitting alone in his bedroom, shades drawn, slowly leafing through each of the scrapbooks he'd devoted to Phineas and Ferb's exploits over and over again. His mother had said it was what he'd been doing since he'd first gotten word of the boys' disappearance. It was amazing the kind of transformation asking him to help search for his heroes had brought about in him. To say he'd been overjoyed was an understatement.

They could all only hope he'd keep his emotional enthusiasm under control.

Ignoring the last comment, Isabella put a smile back on and nodded decisively. "Well, that's fine, then. We'll just break up into four groups. Thinking about it, the numbers will work out better for safety anyway." She turned to the strip of blank paper that bordered the map and listed each teenage leader with a number beside the name. "Let's get the groups organized."

When all was said and done, Candace had the smallest group, consisting of herself, Isabella, Baljeet, and Buford. They'd tried to even out the number of teenagers, since there had been eight of them there, but Jenny's cousin Sarah had refused to be separated from her relative, who'd already been randomly assigned to Stacy. Jeremy had volunteered to take Irving in his group, seeing his girlfriend's expression get uncomfortable when his name came up. Everyone else was divided up evenly, then the city was quartered, and the appropriate list of buildings to be searched was given to each team leader.

"Just remember, we're mainly looking for information," Candace told them all once everything had been sorted out and looked ready to go. "As much as I may wish we could do otherwise, we can't afford to confront the man who has taken my brothers. Whoever finds out where Phineas and Ferb are has to call the police as soon as possible, then stay back and watch the building until they arrive. Answer whatever questions you have to as honestly as you can. And be sure to call the rest of us. I think it's safe to say we're all eager to know where the boys are and if they're safe." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Please let them be safe," she whispered to herself.

"You heard Candace," Jeremy chimed in, stepping forward. "Let's move out." He turned to his girlfriend and took a gentle hold of her shoulders, causing her to open her eyes and look at him. "You're doing great, Candace. Now get out there and find your brothers. And whatever you do, stay safe." They shared a loving smile and a soft, lingering kiss before Jeremy led his team to the car he'd borrowed from his parents.

"Well, you heard the man," Candace said to the trio she sensed had gathered around her as she watched her boyfriend get into the car and disappear into traffic. "Let's get this party started." She grinned wickedly. "William Connors is going down, down, down."

* * * * * * * *

The building search ended at suppertime, no one wanting to alert or worry anyone's parents, sharing what they'd learned so far when they met back up at the agreed-upon gathering spot of the park shelter. They would again gather around mid-morning the next day to review where everyone would be going before heading out once more. There hadn't been an enormous amount of progress since they hadn't been able to start until a little after lunch, but hopes were high for tomorrow.

Perry the platypus had noticed the second gathering in the park on his way down from Doofenshmirtz's building - and the minor explosion of the Left-Shoe-Inator he'd caused to thwart the evil scientist's latest attempt to take over the Tri-State Area. The secret agent still couldn't help but roll his eyes when he remembered the plan; Doofenshmirtz had intended to use his Inator to make all the shoes in the Tri-State Area left shoes, thus making all the citizens extremely clumsy - and by extension conquerable - because of their two left feet. The man admitted that it was a bit of a stretch, but since everyone's right foot would be excessively uncomfortable being in a left shoe there was still a good chance it would have the intended effect. Perry had quickly disabused him of the notion.

The platypus managed to get to Candace's side as the debriefing started, where he was shocked and a little bit impressed at the level of organization and thorough detail everyone was putting into the search. He looked over the map before Isabella rolled it up to take home for the night; he'd already searched a number of their intended targets the day before. He hadn't found what he was looking for, unfortunately, but that also meant he was sure whoever went through those buildings would be safe.

His only problem now was that he wasn't sure if he'd have time to search the rest of the kids' proposed sites before they got there. This latest plot of Doofenshmirtz's had been relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, so it was quite likely he'd have another one up and running the next day. That meant no hunting until his nemesis had been taken care of, and there was never a solid timeline for that. Perry sighed. He'd just have to do the best he could, and trust that the care and consideration the kids were putting into this would keep them from harm.

And who knew, maybe they'd actually succeed. Perry could only hope they would.

* * * * * * * *

Coltrane pulled up in front of a sprawling, single-story old factory building on the north side of Danville the next morning with the rest of his team filling his semi-restored powder blue Bel Air. "Well, this is our first stop of the day," he announced as he turned off the engine. "Let's keep it quiet and stick together."

"Yes, sir!" Milly, Katie, and Holly replied cheerfully from the back seat.

"I'm cool with that," Coltrane's punk friend Johnny said from the passenger seat.

They all got out of the car and paused to examine the property. There was a fence around it, a closed gate restricting access to a driveway of sorts that led around back, most likely to an employees-only parking lot as well as delivery docks. The chain and padlock keeping the gate closed appeared old and rusted; it certainly hadn't been tampered with any time in the recent past.

"If Phineas and Ferb are in here, Mister Connors didn't use the gate to get inside," Milly said.

"Let's walk all the way around," Coltrane suggested. "Maybe we'll see some kind of opening somewhere a little more out-of-the-way." The others nodded and followed.

"Aw, man, I think we found where these guys dumped their garbage," Holly complained on the other side of the building, a look of disgust shaping her features as she pointed at the overflowing dumpster half-hidden behind a crumbling brick wall.

Katie gestured to spot up ahead. "Look! There's another gate in the wall here!" She ran over to it. "There's no chain and no lock."

Coltrane quickly joined her. "You're right. Good eye." He gave her a smile, and the blonde girl blushed.

Milly stepped up next to Katie as Johnny and Coltrane tested the gate to see if it would make too much noise when they tried to open it. "I think you just earned a 'Got a Cute Boy to Smile at Me' patch," she whispered with a wicked grin. Katie just rolled her eyes and elbowed her friend, her blush deepening.

"At least we don't have to worry about multiple floors to check out," Johnny quietly commented once they were all inside and he'd picked the lock to the back door of the factory.

"That'll help make this search quick," Milly agreed.

Coltrane nodded his agreement. "I'm also thinking this much dust and dirt doesn't bode well for finding the boys," he said, gesturing at their surroundings. The layer of said dust and dirt was thick and smooth, only rarely disturbed by tiny animal tracks.

Holly's lips turned up in a sardonic twist. "If they were here I think we'd be able to track them down by their sneezing."

"Well, as long as we don't kick up too much of this stuff, I won't have to worry about taking a shower before I meet up with Vanessa later this afternoon," Johnny said with a shrug.

"She couldn't come along today, huh?" Coltrane asked.

"Nah, I just told her I'd meet up with her around dinnertime," Johnny said. "This place wouldn't be her kind of scene."

The dreadlocked bassist stopped in his tracks and turned to face his friend. "You mean you didn't even ask her if she could join us?" he asked. "I told you yesterday we could use all the help we could get for this search."

Johnny blinked at the shock and intensity in the low-volume voice as the three girls backed away slightly. "Hey, man, I don't think she even knows these kids. And she's been real moody the last three, four days. I wasn't going to bug her about it." He frowned. "And I'm here, aren't I?"

Coltrane just sighed. "Yeah, you're here. Sorry to give you a hard time." He took a deep breath and released it. "Let's finish checking this place out and move on to the next one. I really don't think they're here."

Silently, the five of them did just that.

* * * * * * * *

"We are stopping for lunch after we're through here, right?" Sarah asked as the five members of her group carefully checked out the second-floor offices of the factory they were in. She glanced at her cousin. "You're hungry, too, aren't you, Jenny?"

"This search is more important than hunger," Jenny declared in a low voice, peeking around a standard office partition wall.

"Will you two please focus?" Stacy asked from a little ways ahead. She was about to open a door marked "Office Manager". "I can't hear if there's anyone in here or not."

Django sighed and looked at Gretchen. "I bet if someone's in there they can hear us," he whispered. Gretchen grinned.

The Fireside Girl then softly cleared her throat and got the older girls' attention. "We should probably reduce the volume of our discussions," she suggested quietly and politely.

Stacy shot her an apologetic look. "You're right," she whispered, then turned to Sarah. "We'll get lunch when we're done here, before we go to the next building. Now please focus on the search. Phineas and Ferb are counting on us."

"Well, they're probably counting more on the police," Sarah muttered sourly to herself, crossing her arms over her chest as she looked around the corner of another partition and tossed her long blonde hair back over her shoulder.

"Of course, Stacy. I want them back as much as you do," Jenny said with a smile. "Sorry about that."

As the younger pair had guessed, the manager's office was empty, showing no signs of anyone having been there in quite some time. The rest of the second floor proved equally as deserted. The first floor was almost totally open with only cinder block pillars holding up the upper story, so it was relatively obvious no one was being kept there. However, the back fifth or so of the space was lost in a mostly windowless gloom, so they were forced to go closer to make sure of their guess that the building had been completely abandoned.

Stacy led the way, swallowing nervously. She was beginning to regret taking on this whole leadership thing. A step and a half behind her were Gretchen and Django. The younger kids were eager and wary, their eyes darting around carefully and observantly. Last in line were Jenny and Sarah, the blonde getting closer and closer to her brunette cousin with every stride forward. They were also looking around carefully, but only Jenny was doing it for the right reason.

And then it happened. A shuffling noise came from the far right-hand corner followed by a squeak, and then a dark shape dashed by in a blur.

Sarah screamed at the top of her lungs and jumped on Jenny, wrapping her arms around the other girl as she practically tried to climb on top of her. "Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! I felt it brush my leg! It brushed my leg!"

"Where did it go?" Stacy exclaimed wildly, the other girl's panic becoming contagious. She spun around then jumped back, crashing into Gretchen and Django. The three of them fell to the floor in a heap.

"What was it?" Jenny cried, too tangled up with her hysterical cousin to do much of anything. "I didn't see anything!"

"It's still here, I know it is!" Sarah sobbed.

Gretchen managed to extricate herself from the pile and looked around. "I don't believe anything is still in the building with us," she said gently in an attempt to soothe.

Sarah glared at her. "You can't say that for sure!"

That made the scout scowl. "I don't believe any animal would remain in the building with all the racket you're making," she shot back.

"But where did it go?" Stacy reiterated as she pushed herself back up to her feet. She continued to shakily look around.

"It went that way," Django said, pointing toward a gap beneath a door where the shipping and receiving department had to have been. "It had to have gotten out of here by now. We should be fine."

Jenny gave him a grateful look as she tried to pry her cousin off of her. "Well, we should get going then. And maybe use the other exit?" She finally pushed Sarah away.

Stacy fought hard to get her breathing back under control then nodded. "Yeah, yeah, that's what we should do," she agreed, her voice still a little wobbly. "Phineas and Ferb aren't here anyway, and it's definitely time for lunch." She looked around one last time and started walking toward the door they'd used to get in - conveniently on the opposite side of the building from the place Django had gestured toward. "Let's get out of here."

"What?" Sarah screeched. "You're going to move when you don't know for sure where that monster is? You're crazy!"

"Well, it beats standing here waiting for it to come back," Stacy retorted as she continued to move. Her irritation at the other girl's attitude let her totally regain her composure. She still couldn't help but let her eyes dart to all the shadows in the spooky place, but she was hoping no one would catch that. "We're leaving. If you want to stick around by yourself and welcome the thing back, go right ahead."

Sarah watched the other four take a few more steps toward the exit. "Fine!" she exploded as she scrambled to catch up. "But if we run into that nasty beast again I'm blaming you."

Stacy just shook her head and rolled her eyes, and before long they were all back in the car she'd borrowed from her mom. "Now lunch," she declared, turning the key in the ignition. "And I think we need to have a little talk about strategy."

Gretchen smiled at her from the front passenger seat. "That's a great idea, Stacy," she enthused. "I can help with that if you'd like."

"That would be great."

"Don't go there," Jenny murmured to her cousin when she heard the blonde let loose a low scoff at the exchange, the pair sitting together with Django in the back seat. "You have no idea what the Fireside Girls are capable of. Besides, your attitude this whole morning has been totally negative. If you don't lighten up, you could totally wreck our chances of finding Phineas and Ferb."

"And how would I do that?" Sarah replied in a whisper just as quiet as the original comment. "I've been helping look, haven't I?"

She didn't see Django roll his eyes at the question.

Jenny turned her head to look at her. "You don't really think we're going to find them," she said bluntly. "Your attitude is totally negating the power of positive thinking the rest of us have going. And we need all the positive energy we can get right now, because we all really want to get Phineas and Ferb back safe and sound. I know you like them; now prove it by really putting your heart into the search."

Sarah was taken aback by the intensity of Jenny's plea, and she realized she'd never taken this attempt to find Candace's brothers seriously. Finding the boys was something the police were supposed to do, not them. But just looking was obviously vitally important to these people who knew the kids more intimately than she did, and so, because she loved her cousin and liked her cousin's friends, she finally resolved to truly help instead of just go through the motions. She smiled and nodded.

Jenny's pleased and relieved smile in return made the decision all worthwhile.

And with that, the fivesome continued on their way to lunch and the second half of their search for the day.

* * * * * * * *

Phineas spent the morning of the fifth day more nervous than any day previous. Would what had happened the evening before come back to haunt him? His shoulders still throbbed slightly, especially when that question crossed his mind. William hadn't shown any signs of that, either when he took the supper dishes away or at the start of the day. But the redhead couldn't help but watch carefully for any sign that the mercurial man was about to go the other way.

There had been more sports talk when the two arrived in the open space reserved for that. William talked about visions he had for the future, when he'd take Phineas to see some college and professional games, maybe even take him overseas since the boy liked soccer so much. He talked about vendors and snacks, catching foul balls and getting players' autographs. He could see things so clearly; didn't those ideas excite Phineas, too?

No. No, they did not. Phineas wasn't about to tell him so, however. He wasn't about to rock the boat at all if he could help it. He just said what he thought William wanted to hear, and hoped Ferb could finish getting the paint off of the last two screws - a task that had been interrupted by the violent mess the day before. Neither boy could bring himself to get back to it before going to bed, either; they were too shaken up.

Lunch finally rolled around, and William brought out the usual table and chairs from the utility room that took up the back part of the space. He'd started totally clearing them away when he took up playing with the sports equipment, and had to bring them out at lunchtime. Phineas had regretted it at the time; he thought there might have been potential for part of the table or one of the chairs to be used in an escape attempt.

But now Phineas sat on one of those chairs at the table, watching William making something on the two-burner camp stove he used to prepare food. He also listened very carefully to the rambling the man did as he cooked. He'd tuned it out on the previous days because it was said in low tones and filled with random phrases and ideas he couldn't make sense of. Now it could hold keys to the man's mental state.

"Yeah, yeah, games will be great," William muttered. "We could go down to San Diego, or maybe up to San Francisco or Oakland… We can stay around for baseball… And L.A. has a soccer team, doesn't it? Yeah, I think it does… Something about Beckham… At least he likes soccer, he likes sports… He's a real boy… Into boy things… Don't have to worry about that… He's coming around… He's coming around… And then he can help me… Help me talk to her, convince her… Yeah, he'll help me… Then she'll know I'm serious… She'll see everything I got for her… Know I thought of her, want her to be happy with me… She'll know who her real daddy is… She'll come around… And he'll help me… Yeah…"

Phineas blinked and swallowed nervously as what William was muttering about came home to him. He was actually going to be expected to help convince Candace to stay. William was going to take Candace. And everything William got for her? That must mean that shelving unit with the pink curtains and girl's items was meant for his sister. On top of that, Phineas had a feeling the two beds in the room he and Ferb were staying in were meant for him and Candace. But why hadn't she been taken in the first place?

It was something he couldn't worry about right now. No, right now he and Ferb had to finalize their plans to get out of there and then do it as soon as possible. There was no way he was going to let William kidnap his sister.

There was absolutely no way.

* * * * * * * *

"I'm pretty sure I saw another door on the first floor. In fact, I know I did."

Jeremy sighed to himself as Irving insisted on doing another sweep of the first floor of the building his group was searching. It was the second one they'd tackled after lunch; the blond teenager was beginning to wonder if there'd be a third before suppertime called a halt to their activities for the day. Irving seemed determined to thoroughly examine every square inch of every structure they went into, even when it was obvious the area was deserted. Apparently his enthusiasm had been channeled into an intense anal-retentive focus on every last little detail, beyond what was absolutely necessary. Jeremy couldn't help but worry that he wouldn't be able to keep the younger boy from diving in and doing something dangerous and foolhardy if the group came across any signs that Phineas and Ferb were actually there.

He was also extremely glad he'd offered to take Irving on his team instead of letting him volunteer himself for Candace's. She would have snapped by lunchtime.

"Oh, come on, Irving!" Adyson complained. "We have two more floors to search. If we keep going at this pace we'll never finish going through the buildings on our list!"

"She's got a point," Dustin leaned over and murmured to Jeremy.

"How can we say we've really searched the buildings completely if we don't examine every single corner thoroughly?" Irving shot back.

Adyson rolled her eyes and planted her fists on her hips. "I think it's a safe bet to say there's no one on this floor when we can see the entire expanse of it! There may be a few shadows in the far corners, but that's it. That's it! Can we please go up to the second floor now?"

Irving scowled. "Fine, you can go up if you want to. I'll just finish looking around down here."

"That's not happening," Jeremy finally interjected. "We don't separate, remember?"

"Come on, Irving," Ginger entreated. "We can take another look around here on our way out, okay?"

The bespectacled boy stared at the taller Fireside Girl for a long moment, his expression a little lost, then sighed and dropped his gaze. "Yeah, that'll be fine," he said, crestfallen. "And you're probably right, Adyson. We need to search faster." He started for the stairs to the second floor. "Let's get going."

The others followed. Jeremy resolved to have a talk with Irving when they were done there; he hadn't wanted the younger boy to be so gung ho, but he also didn't want him to be so dejected. Neither mental state would help in the long run. Jeremy just had to make him see that.

For now, though, the search continued.

* * * * * * * *

Candace sighed as she and her group got back to her parents' car after finishing up the search of their last building of the day. "That took a lot less time than I thought it would," she commented, leaning against the side of the car.

"We're getting good at this," Buford said with a shrug, crossing his arms over his chest.

"I wish we did not have the occasion to do so," Baljeet said, then took a deep breath and released it slowly.

"Well, yeah," Buford conceded, "but at least we're doing what we gotta do better than anybody else."

Candace sighed again and glanced around without really seeing anything specific. "So how many places do we still have on our list?" she asked.

Isabella pulled out the piece of paper she'd jotted down their team's portion of the targets the day before. It was her turn to sigh. "I'd say a full day's worth, if we have to search all of them," she replied sadly. "We won't be able to take much of a lunch break, either."

"I can't believe we found so many buildings that fit our criteria," Candace said, frowning.

"Well, the number is not so great, really," Baljeet refuted thoughtfully. "We must necessarily take a certain amount of time to carefully search each building, which limits the number we are able to go through in any set timeframe. Those limitations may make a smaller list seem much longer."

"I can understand that," Candace said after a moment of consideration. "However, it's not helping with the thinking this is taking too long. What if the boys don't have the time for us to check everything off the list?"

Isabella reached out and placed a gentle hand on the older girl's arm. "Don't let yourself think that way," she said firmly. "We can't do that to ourselves. We're doing what we can, and that's all we can do."

Candace gave her a shaky smile and brief nod.

The others silently let the teenager get herself back under control, then Baljeet spoke up. "Are we not supposed to meet the others in the park before going home for supper?" he asked gently.

"Yeah, we are," Isabella confirmed. "We should probably get going."

"We should," Candace agreed. "Come on, get in the car. We'll get moving."

"I'm looking forward to my mom's spicy tacos tonight," Buford said as he hopped into the back seat with Baljeet. "She made sure to tell me about it before I left this morning."

Baljeet rolled his eyes and buckled his seat belt. "Then I am glad I will not be staying with you tonight."

Buford snapped his head around to glare at the smaller boy. "What was that, nerd?"

Isabella turned to look back from the front passenger seat and frowned. "Buford, you have to admit you're not the easiest to be around after you've eaten something spicy. I've gotten a few whiffs from your tent when we stayed at Grandma and Grandpa Flynn's cabin." Her expression turned wicked. "Let's just say you inspired me to hurry off and take care of my morning rituals."

"Well, if that's what it takes to run you away like a…" Buford's eyes glittered with equally-wicked glee.

"You do not want to finish that thought," Isabella growled, eyes narrowing dangerously.

Buford clamped his mouth shut, proving the black-haired girl correct.

Candace chuckled and shook her head at the others' antics, relieved to have something help take her mind off her troubles, if only partially. "Let's not distract the driver while she's driving, all right?" she quipped, making a left turn to head for the park.

"Yes, Candace," the other three chimed in unison.

It wasn't the smoothest ending to a stressful day, but at least there was still hope for tomorrow. And they were all going to hold onto that thought like a lifeline.

* * * * * * * *

Perry drifted back to the Flynn-Fletcher home just after supper had been served, and he was totally exhausted. His assignment that day had been to follow Doofenshmirtz all around the city, Monogram and Carl unable to piece together what his latest plot was as he hadn't been seen actually buying anything. As far as the secret agent could tell as the day went on, that fact had bothered the evil scientist as much if not more than the two that had given him the mission.

The only plus in an otherwise boring yet confusing day had been how early the job had ended. About one-thirty in the afternoon, Doofenshmirtz had stopped in his tracks a couple of blocks away from his building and turned to face Perry - unerringly staring directly into the platypus' hiding spot. "I am going home now, Perry the Platypus," he'd said, irritation as thick as his Germanic accent. "I have decided to give up for the day. I'm obviously not meant to get any evil done." He'd paused, and inspiration obviously struck. "But I have the best idea for tomorrow's inator! I promise it will more than make up for today. I have to start getting it ready!" And Perry watched as the excited man ran off, his white lab coat flapping in the breeze behind him.

Tomorrow was going to be interesting.

But there was the rest of the day to consider. Perry immediately called in to Monogram, turning his watch around so his superior could see his target disappearing into the Doofenshmirtz Evil Inc. building, letting the picture explain the situation. He'd been congratulated for a job well done… even if it wasn't understood exactly what job had been done. With one last "Good job, Agent P! Get ready to do it all again tomorrow!" the communicator went dead, and the platypus was left to his own devices.

There was a search to continue.

And search Perry did, going through his copy of the list of buildings the kids had put together and investigating as many as he possibly could. He only skipped the ones he found were being checked when he came upon them; he was happy to see the kids were being careful and had insisted on staying together in groups. It soothed a few fears. Fortunately for the teal animal, his being small, unobtrusive, and loaded with spy gadgets made his searches even more quick and efficient.

Even so, time was an enemy that would not be denied. The dinner hour arrived, and Perry still didn't want anyone to note his disappearance beyond the usual. So, he headed home. But he'd gotten through the overwhelming majority of the buildings on the list, leaving only three contenders for the next day. He was sure Phineas and Ferb would be found in one of them; he was confident the kids had hit upon the right track of thought in developing the lead. He'd do a little bit of research on the three targets after the household had gone to bed, see what particulars he could dig up on each building so he'd know what to expect when he got there. It shouldn't take too long, and then he could get some well-deserved rest for the night.

Tomorrow wasn't just going to be interesting, it was going to be exciting and action-packed. Perry just knew it.

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