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I'll feel so much better when I've finished posting this. But I don't want to overwhelm anyone actually following me on DW, so... I'll post another chapter later today. And then maybe the last one, too. We'll see how the day goes.

For now, here's the next chapter!

Title: Capturing the Past - Chapter Six
Author: Cynthia J. Klawitter
Category: Gen; Drama; Hurt/Comfort
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Perry Lays An Egg;
Season: Post series (by one year)
Warnings: Some violence, both natural and otherwise (it'll make sense when you read)
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 sixth day was filled with anxious anticipation for both Phineas and Ferb. They'd figured out the best plan they could under the circumstances, and it started with a long wait. They wouldn't be leaving until after supper that evening as that was the only time they were together and left alone for any length of time. While Phineas would adhere to the normal script with William, Ferb would be loosening the screws of the air vent cover to make sure they could be undone quickly and easily later. He'd tighten them again before William's return with his brother so they wouldn't be noticed.

It was harder to calmly keep quiet while William went on and on Phineas noticed. That day's topic was the possibility of the redhead noticing girls in that certain, special way, and tales upon tales of William's own blossoming into hormone-driven angst and acne-filled nightmares. If the boy had actually been listening to the details, he might have been terrified of "the great change" as William called it. But luckily the words were only an annoying buzz in the background as he forced himself to mentally go over the escape plan looking for gaps and possible trouble spots.

Lunchtime brought Phineas back to the present once the food had been served. William smiled at him eagerly and watched as the boy started to eat his meal. "It's good to know you have a healthy appetite," he commented as Phineas chewed. "Your sister has one, too, right? A healthy appetite? No eating disorders or anything?"

"What?" Phineas replied in shock as soon as he'd hurriedly swallowed. "Eating disorders?"

"Oh, I'm not trying to say she has one," William said soothingly. "She doesn't really look like she does. I just wanted to be sure she was all right."

William had seen Candace? Well, Phineas had figured that the man had been at least watching the house for some amount of time, to know that it was rare to find one brother without the other, but he hadn't taken the logic as far as watching Candace as well. It only made sense now that he thought about it, but at the same time it didn't make it any less creepy.

Phineas shook his head. "No, Candace is fine. She eats like the rest of us."

William's smile grew. "That's good, that's good." He chuckled. "Of course that means I'll have to stock even more food, if she eats anything like you do."

"Yeah," Phineas said with a weak little laugh and even weaker smile. He was suddenly more glad than ever that he and Ferb were leaving that night. He really didn't think he could keep up the act any more. This was just too much.

"I may have to think about getting another refrigerator," William mused, tapping his chin with his right index finger. "The extra room certainly couldn't hurt, right?"

Phineas could only give another weak smile, happy for the mouthful of food that provided an excuse not to actually speak. Not that it mattered. William proceeded to ramble on about the adjustments he'd need to make when Candace joined them and how much fun they'd all have, going into the details of what he thought they could do that proved just how little he actually knew about who Candace and Phineas really were as individuals. The man just seemed to be lost in his dream world where the three of them would instantly become a happy little family.

With a mental shudder, Phineas realized suppertime couldn't come too soon.

* * * * * * * *

Perry the platypus found himself stuck in his normal routine the sixth day, and every step of it seemed to take longer than it ever did before. It took longer than usual to be able to get away from the family unnoticed. Monogram bantered with Carl for an extended amount of time before giving the secret agent his assignment, although the extended briefing revealed one piece of good news: Simon the squirrel - the second Agent S - reported that the lady who owned the property his tree was situated on had given the police a valuable clue about the car the man who had taken Phineas and Ferb had been driving the day of the boys' kidnapping. The vehicle was being searched for as they spoke.

When Perry arrived at Doofenshmirtz's residence - again, taking more time than normal for some reason - he found out the evil scientist's trap was more effective than usual, the metal the cage was made of not something that could be cut apart easily and quietly. The cage had also locked with some sort of platform installed in the floor. Escape was going to take a while.

Doofenshmirtz was especially smug that day. There was an extra bright glint in his eyes as he began his customary explanation of his plan. "Ah, Perry the Platypus," he began once the cage had locked into place around his nemesis. "You're just in time to witness the culmination of the last twenty-four hours worth of work!" His smile immediately transformed into a look of apologetic reconsideration. "Well, minus eight hours of sleep, of course. And I can't forget the time I took to make meals and eat. And then there was that call from Vanessa…"

Heinz shook his head and got back to the task at hand. "Never mind all that. What's important is that I have created something that will allow me the great satisfaction of seeing true justice done!" He looked Perry right in the eye. "And just what kind of justice, you ask? Who is the target of this justice?" He gave a quick evil chuckle. "Well, let me tell ya."

The brown-haired man strode over to a poster board on an easel next to a bulky cloth-covered machine and turned it around so a picture collage of various vending machines could be seen by his captive audience. "You see here all of the vending machines that have plagued me over the last few days. No matter where I went, no matter what I wanted, these infernal machines refused to give me what I legitimately paid for! And it was like they were taunting me…" He made a low, wordless growl. "Bags of chips would hang from the shelf, candy bars would get wedged between the metal spiral and the slot divider, sodas would lean precariously over the chute… and nothing! They would stay like that! Even when I would bump the machines, nothing would happen. I even tried to buy another item from the same slots - nothing!" He threw his arms out wide to emphasize his point and knocked over his display. He ignored it and began pacing.

"You know, I have always been suspicious of vending machines. There's more to them than meets the eye, I just know it. And what's been happening to me lately in regards to them just makes me think that I'm right to suspect that they have a secret plan in place. I wouldn't be surprised if it's all in retaliation for creating a strategy to combat them if they should…" Doofenshmirtz's words trailed off as he saw the highly skeptical look Perry was giving him.

"Never mind," he said with a wave of his hand. "What's important now is that I have created the perfect way to get what the machines would try to deny me - and without taking the chance of them falling down and crushing me." He put his fists on his hips. "Do you know how many people die every year by vending machines falling on them? Do you?" He paused as though waiting for a response from the platypus, then waved his arms around again. "Well, I don't know the exact numbers, but I've heard it's more than people who are killed by sharks. Sharks! You can imagine my reluctance in dealing with such a formidable foe."

Perry rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. This scheme was beginning to verge on the ridiculous, like the time the evil scientist had taught himself whale song to insult a whale that had stolen a former girlfriend. He'd found the release mechanism on the cage; he'd let his nemesis actually show off his invention before deciding whether it was worth his time to thwart the plan.

Doofenshmirtz returned to the tarp-covered machine. "So I created a machine that would allow me to give the vending machines the agitating they require to give up my items. I give you…" he yanked off the cloth to reveal a giant laser device somewhat similar to others he'd built in the past, "the Shake-Inator!"

He let loose a maniacal laugh then leaned in close to Perry. "I shall use this to cause the ground in a small radius to shake just violently enough to free any items that were already about to fall, and then I will have everything the vending machines thought they could keep from me!" The doctor's expression turned sincerely concerned. "It won't be enough to rival real earthquakes or anything, or make people fall down… well, unless they were already off-balance… or knock down buildings… unless they were old and rickety, maybe ready to fall down on their own…" Heinz stopped and straightened. "Hmm. I guess it could cause a few more problems than I thought."

The man quickly shook off the consideration. "But no matter! I will have my revenge on those vending machines!" He shrugged. "The rest can sort itself out later." He turned to the device and began pressing buttons in sequence. "Now to program in my route from yesterday…"

Perry's eyes had widened as Doofenshmirtz had explained exactly what the new inator did, and then widened even more when he heard the man's last sentence. Yesterday? He thought back to the path he'd gone on as he followed his nemesis around, and realized parts of it came dangerously close to some of the buildings Candace, Isabella, and their friends would be searching that day. He couldn't be sure they were all strong enough to handle the shaking the machine was sure to cause. Which meant he couldn't allow this scheme to go on any longer.

As if he needed any other motivation.

Perry quickly used the release mechanism and dove out of the cage. One well-aimed flying kick cut off the expected startled exclamation of disbelief when Doofenshmirtz caught sight of him, and then the fight was on. Blows were exchanged, things were thrown at one another, unexpected items were used as weapons. And of course, in the midst of things, somehow someone or something hit the firing button on the inator.

Since the device hadn't been programmed yet, it shot out red beams of light randomly through the open sliding glass wall that led out to the balcony. Perry had no idea what they were hitting. And that thought was absolutely terrifying. He swiftly shifted his focus from the inventor to the invention, and one mighty blow with a large wrench to just the right spot had sparks flying and usual explosion imminent. The secret agent tossed the tool aside and ran for the edge of the building, diving off and activating his glider.

"Curse you, Perry the Platypus!" was the last thing he heard before the top floor blew up. He barely noted the expected expletive; his mind was already on the mad dash he was going to have to make to find out what effects the inator had caused. He had to know if the children were safe.

* * * * * * * *

Candace, Baljeet, and Buford stood around Isabella, and the four of them stared at the list the black-haired girl held. Every item there had been checked off except for one: the building they could see a half-block down the street. It was late in the day; it was just about suppertime. But none of them were willing to put this last building off for another day, even if it meant their parents would be a little worried.

Even if it meant they wouldn't have found Phineas and Ferb.

"This is our last chance," Candace murmured, then swallowed down the sudden lump in her throat.

"What will we do if we do not find them?" Baljeet asked. "What if the others also do not find them?"

"We can't think about that," Candace said firmly.

Buford looked at her with raised eyebrows. "I think we have to. We don't have any other decent places to look here in town. Are we just going to sit in your backyard and wait for the police?"

Candace gave him a stricken look. "I don't want to do that," she whispered. "But we may have to."

"We can cross that bridge when we get to it," Isabella said decisively. "We haven't even searched this last building yet, and no one else is finished with their list either. We don't know if answering those questions is even necessary." She folded up the piece of paper and returned it to her pocket. "Now come on. Phineas and Ferb are waiting for us." She began to walk toward the group's target.

"Hold it!" Baljeet hissed as he quickly caught up with the Fireside Girl and pulled her to a halt. "We cannot just walk up to the building! Remember the last time we did that?"

Isabella bit her lower lip as she did just that. Earlier that day the four of them had simply walked up to what had appeared to be an abandoned structure and were met by six or seven rough looking older teenagers wearing gang-style clothing. Fortunately things hadn't gotten violent, but from then on they resolved to be more careful about their approach to the buildings. "Sorry."

Candace patted her shoulder sympathetically. "Don't worry about it, Isabella. Let's just keep moving."

The quartet used the other empty buildings in the two-block former industrial district to cover their approach, then looked over the one they were aiming for from an alley across the street. "Looks empty," Buford commented.

"Empty enough to approach," Baljeet amended.

"I agree," Candace said, nodding. "Let's do this."

They eyed up the four-story building with its surrounding rickety fence then carefully crossed the street. A quick, unobtrusive search along the perimeter revealed a gap between the wide boards that they could all squeeze through. Once they'd done that, they found themselves facing the back of the old shoe factory, the aged bricks well-illuminated in the light of the setting sun. Fortunately there weren't many windows facing them.

There was a small door with a faded sign above it that probably once said "Employees Only", although they were guessing at that one, and they used it to quietly slip inside. They found themselves in a small, old locker room, complete with wooden lockers and benches. A quick glance confirmed it was deserted, and they moved through to the factory floor proper.

"We need to hurry," Candace said with a worried expression, glancing around nervously. "I don't know why, but I know we need to hurry." She returned the surprised looks she'd elicited. "Oh, don't ask. I can't explain it. But I'm thinking we should split up and get through all four floors as fast as we can. Buford, Baljeet, you two take the first and second floors. Isabella and I will take the top two floors. We'll meet up outside when we're done. And make sure you're out of sight. I want to be extra careful about that."

"All right, Candace," Baljeet agreed after sharing a glance with Buford.

"Come on, Isabella," Candace said, giving a nod to the boys. The two girls hurried off.

The boys followed the other pair up the first flight of stairs to the second floor, then moved into the open space that was found there. The fact that it was so open made their job easier; at first glance it was easy to see it was likely that no one was hiding or being held there. They made a careful circuit anyway, knowing looks could be deceiving. They quickly confirmed their first impressions.

Returning to the first floor, Baljeet and Buford realized that search was going to take longer. There were offices toward the front of the building, with brick walls and solid wood doors that told the tale of how long ago they'd been constructed. Small windows were made of thick frosted glass that were impossible to see anything but silhouettes through but presumably had let in enough light to keep the former occupants from feeling like they had been entombed in their offices. They also made it hard to tell if anyone was either hiding or being kept inside.

Slowly and carefully, Buford and Baljeet opened each door and checked every nook and cranny of all four offices. The only excitement had come from a random rat they startled from its nest in a corner of one of the closets. The boys had thrown themselves into each others' arms, faces buried in the opposite shoulder to keep from making any noise… and then jumped wildly away from each other, cheeks flaming and eyes looking anywhere but at each other. They cleared their throats as quietly as possible and moved on, silently agreeing to never mention the incident in the future.

Once they were finished, the boys left the factory the same way they had entered it. They slipped back through the fence and crept back around to the front of the building, then dashed across the street to wait in the alley they had started from. The shadows, dumpsters, and other random items had made it the perfect spot to do their reconnaissance earlier. Now it would make the best place to regroup and figure out where to go next. The girls were sure to meet back up with them soon.

While the boys were heading back down to the first floor, Candace and Isabella had finally reached the fourth, having carefully gone up the stairs so as to avoid their steps making noise. Once there, they did a measured circuit of the open space, a few partial walls and the boarded windows creating quite a few shadows that made being certain of the space's emptiness questionable until the areas were checked up close. They also found themselves freezing in place when a strange sound suddenly came from above them; they nearly laughed in relief when it turned out to be an owl waking for its nocturnal hunt.

The girls made their way down to the third floor then, another open space with shadows to examine. Another deliberate circuit was made, this time without any animals rousing to almost startle them into giving themselves away. Something that did catch their attention was a breeze that started blowing in through boards over broken windows, stirring up dust from the floor. They both couldn't help but shiver, neither one of them sure if the wind was the only cause.

The second floor was empty when Candace and Isabella paused there briefly on their way down to ground level. It was what they'd been expecting. The emptiness of the first floor was a touch more surprising, neither girl thinking they had taken that long upstairs. They both turned around in place to make sure the boys weren't still there but out of immediate sight, and then another breeze fluttered in. This time, however, a pair of shivers weren't the only lingering effect.

"Did you see that?" Candace barely breathed into Isabella's ear, pointing at a pair of dusty colored curtains that flickered in the light current against the back wall of one of the offices. The younger girl nodded, and the two of them tiptoed over to check the disturbance out.

The first thing they realized when they reached the slightly tattered cloth was that they might never have seen them had the breeze not picked up right at that moment. The shadows were thick there, and the material blended in almost seamlessly. Somehow both girls knew neither of the boys had seen them. Sharing a look with Isabella, Candace reached out and gently lifted one of the obstructions.

There was a door behind it, a thick wooden door with plain iron hinges and a simple iron doorknob. Candace opened it slowly and carefully, doing her best to avoid noise and agitating the curtain. When they saw stone stairs leading down into a basement, a light from some sort of electrical source emanating from below if their eyes could be believed, the girls shared another look and headed down. They knew there was no time to go get the boys or find a way to tell them what was going on.

At the base of the steep steps was a hallway, the distance to the left at least double what reached to the right. Across from them was another door that proved to be locked upon a quick gentle test. With an unspoken agreement, the girls turned to the left to explore what could be revealed that way, the right ending in a corner that hinted at another, narrower hallway steeped in shadows. Bare light bulbs inside simple metal cages could be seen strung along the ceiling from about that point at inconsistent intervals, also headed in the direction they had chosen.

It wasn't long before the girls entered an open space. It was lit by the same bare bulbs, extra wire disappearing into an open section in the wall to their immediate right where a soft hum suggested some kind of generator was providing the power. There were frosted glass block windows in the wall they were facing, below which were a dorm-sized refrigerator and a camp stove resting on an old workbench, its propane tank on the floor underneath. The wall to the far right of the area was covered in a curtain similar to what had been covering the entrance to the space they were now in; it could be guessed they had been used in another lifetime to cover some of the windows of the factory, perhaps in the offices.

What surprised them both was what was against the left-hand wall. There were two large metal shelving units, one in each corner, the first wrapped in navy blue drapes while the second had pink ones. The cloth wasn't perfectly closed, so they could see the sports equipment behind the navy screen and plush animals and other typical girlish items behind the other. In the center of the room was a square card table and two folding chairs.

Candace and Isabella shared a look tinged with dawning comprehension. "This has to be where they were taken, doesn't it?" the older girl breathed, brow furrowing. "Phineas and Ferb are somewhere around here."

"That's what I'd guess," Isabella replied at the same volume. "My bet would be they're behind that locked door we saw when we first came down the stairs."

"Safe bet." Candace looked up at the ancient pipes and air ducts crisscrossing the surprisingly tall ceiling as she considered what to do next. "Connors obviously isn't here at the moment, but we can't be sure when he'll get back. We have to get out of here and call the police." She cringed at her own words. "I hate just turning around and leaving when I know how close we are…"

The redhead's words trailed off when a light thump seemed to come from the ducts behind the wall the electrical wires went into. "What was that?" Isabella asked, eyes wide.

Candace shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe it's just the building settling."

Isabella nodded. "That could be it."

"We have to go. Every second we stick around here is another chance of getting caught before we can help my brothers." Candace then grabbed Isabella's hand and led her back the way they'd come.

The two of them had just started back up the stairs and were barely out of sight of the doorway at the bottom when heavy footsteps from the direction they hadn't gone got louder and louder. The girls froze in place, not wanting to do anything to give themselves and their position away. They knew there was no way to open the door at the top of the stairs without being noticed.

A few seconds later William Connors walked up to the base of the stairs, pausing at the locked door to lay a gentle hand on it and sigh contentedly. But before he could travel on to his destination - which the girls were sure was the open area they'd been in moments ago - a strange, unnatural shaking rippled through the ground and building around them. Candace and Isabella did their best to brace themselves against the walls of the stairwell they were in so they wouldn't fall to the bottom; William nearly lost his own balance, grabbing at the knob of the door he'd been caressing just in time to keep it. As everything started to settle, there was a horribly loud clattering of twisted metal and falling items from the shelving units, joined by startled yelps that were far too familiar to two sets of feminine ears.

What scared the girls even more than the thought that Phineas and Ferb had been injured somehow in the minor quake was the fierce, strangled growl that emerged from William's throat as he quickly righted himself and ran off in the direction he'd originally intended to go. What had happened? And what exactly was William going to do when he reached his destination and saw the scene that awaited him?

Fighting the urge to run after the man that thrummed through every muscle in their bodies, Candace and Isabella carefully snuck back down the stairs and peeked around the corner to make sure the way was clear. As they lightly and silently stepped into the corridor, an outraged wordless roar made them straighten utterly and come to a complete halt.

"No!" William bellowed, the word echoing around the stone and cinderblock walls. "You were coming around! I was winning you over!" Candace and Isabella hurried on as the rant continued. "I'm supposed to be your daddy!"

The girls skidded to a halt in the opening to the large open space and gasped at what they saw. William Connors stood ramrod straight a few feet into the room, shaking in his obvious fury, glaring at the tangled and twisted metal that was strewn across every surface. The pipes and duct system had collapsed onto the card table, crushing it, and both shelving units had come crashing down as well. The real targets of the man's rage, however, were the two boys sitting in the center of it all. It wasn't immediately apparent how they'd gotten there, but it seemed their current location wasn't where they were supposed to be.

"You can't wreck this chance! I won't let you!" William snarled, stepping even further into the mess.

Phineas and Ferb began scrambling back away from the mad man, fear livid in their eyes. "Stay away!" Phineas cried. "Leave us alone!"

There was another wordless roar from the blond man, but before he moved another inch, Candace jumped into the fray. "Don't you dare touch my brothers!" she cried, catching her balance after her literal jump had her landing on some pipes unexpectedly. Isabella had followed a little more carefully, tiptoeing in the spaces in the jumbled pieces of metal.

"Candace!" Phineas exclaimed, utterly surprised now that the males in the room had noticed their audience.

The relief in his eyes along with Ferb's only lasted a short time, though, because William quickly spun around to face the newcomers. "You!" he sneered viciously. "Did you do this? Are you the reason it didn't work?" He started to shift his weight to change his trajectory. "What kind of things did you tell him about our little meeting in the mall?"

Candace used her anger to keep her fear at bay and continued to glare at the man. "I didn't have to tell him anything."

"You're lying. You've been turned against me, and you're lying!"

"I have no reason to lie!" Candace snapped back. "And the only person who did anything to turn me against you was you!"

"What could I have done?" William yelled back.

Candace gasped and drew back slightly. "What could you have done?" she repeated in amazed disbelief. "What could you have done? You left me! You abandoned your four-year-old daughter! And all in the middle of the night with her standing right in front of you! When I asked where you were going, you didn't say a word. You just picked up your bag and walked out the front door, nearly slamming it behind yourself. You barely even looked at me before you just walked away!"

William's face scrunched up in anger. "That's not how it happened!"

Candace straightened to her full height as her eyes widened in outrage. "Don't you dare even try to tell me I'm remembering things wrong! Out of all the memories I have from when I was that little, from when you were in my life, I guarantee you that is the clearest one. I may wish otherwise, but the utter betrayal and abandonment you put me through made sure that one was there to stay for the rest of my life!"

Isabella used the two antagonists' focus on each other during their argument to slip around the redheaded teenager and get closer to the boys. "Phineas, Ferb!" she whispered urgently as the yelling continued. "Are you all right?"

"We're fine, Isabella," Phineas assured her quickly, his eyes still on the confrontation behind her. "He didn't really do anything to hurt us," he missed the incredulous look Ferb gave him at that statement although Isabella didn't, "and the pillows we were using to muffle the noises we were bound to make during our escape through the ducts cushioned our fall."

"Then we really need to get out of here before he can stop us," Isabella urged, gesturing for them to follow her back the way she'd come. The boys both nodded and moved to do so.

The three kids only got to a position behind Candace before they were noticed, stopping William's retort to the teenager's last accusation. "You are not distracting me that easily!" he shouted, pointing at Candace while reaching behind him with his other hand. He stepped forward. "I will not let you…"

His sentence was cut off by another rumbling wave that passed through the building. Only this time the old building couldn't completely take the strain it was put under. Bricks and cinder blocks rained down on the five people from all sides, dust and debris choking the air. And when things started to settle, there were no words, no noise, and absolutely no movement from the basement room.

* * * * * * * *

Baljeet and Buford were just starting to get worried about the girls when the first shock wave hit, sending boxes and crates down upon their position. They scrambled out from beneath the pile; fortunately both were unharmed. They quickly looked across the street and saw nothing had changed.

"There's no way it should take this long to go through two floors of that building," Buford said as he brushed himself off. "The girls must have found something."

"You cannot be certain of that," Baljeet refuted, picking splinters out of his hair.

"So what's taking them so long then, dweeb?" the bigger boy asked belligerently. "What could possibly be on one of the top floors that would keep them from meeting up with us by now? Better yet, why didn't we hear any yelling during that mini-earthquake?"

Baljeet chewed on his lower lip for a moment as he considered the questions. "I suppose there may be more offices," he offered. "Perhaps they were in one of those when the quake occurred."

Buford narrowed his eyes for a moment then shrugged. "Okay, that's a possibility. But I still think it's more likely that they found something."

Baljeet sighed. "That is just as likely," he conceded. "Maybe we should call the others and see if they are able to join us."

"Not a bad idea, 'Jeet." Buford pulled out his cell phone and pulled up his contacts list. He'd added each of the team leaders before they'd split up the first day of the search.

The brown-haired boy shot off a quick text message with their request and returned his gaze to the factory. "You don't think we should go back in after them, do you?" he asked his companion.

Baljeet shook his head. "We have no idea what the girls' situation is," he said. "We could make things worse for them - and for ourselves - if we were to return to the factory."

Buford's phone gave a quiet beep, alerting them to an incoming text. "Jeremy says he's on his way," the husky boy announced after reading the message. He pressed a couple buttons. "And Stacy does, too." He frowned. "At least, I think that's what she's saying." He showed Baljeet the screen.

The Indian boy narrowed his eyes as he took in the textspeak. "I will go with your guess," he said after a moment. "She has used too many abbreviations for me to be certain, however."

"Eh, close enough," Buford said with another shrug.

"What about Coltrane?"

"He and his group are probably in the middle of a search. He'll get back to me when he's done."

A few minutes later the second quake hit out of nowhere, once again throwing the boys to the ground and dumping random junk on top of them. There wasn't nearly as much as the first time, but that wasn't their main concern. Across the street, part of the building collapsed on itself, dust and debris billowing into the air as a hole in the ground was partially revealed.

The scramble to freedom was even faster than the first time, and Baljeet and Buford looked at each other in horror. The smaller boy began to dash forward, but was held back. "Don't do it!" Buford warned sharply. "That place is way too unstable!"

"But our friends!" Baljeet protested.

"I know," Buford said sadly. "I know. I think we can get a little closer, see if we can see them in all that. And if we do, or if we hear them, I'm all for jumping in and helping."

Baljeet sighed. "Let us move closer then," he said. "I would not wish to miss a cry for help."

Buford nodded. "I hear ya there."

With that, the boys moved closer to the crumbling building. It was time to wait.

* * * * * * * *

It was shadowed and the air was filled with lingering dust when Candace came to an indeterminate time later. She started to move her eyes from side to side, a low moan escaping her lips while trying to see what she could without moving her head. It wasn't much.

"What happened?" she whispered. Her brows furrowed as she tried to remember. "Man, my head hurts." She lifted a hand to her forehead, blinking when she felt rough stones fall away from the limb. In the odd, eerie light, Candace's eyes widened and everything came back to her. Some kind of small earthquake had hit the building, causing part of it to come tumbling down on them all just as William Connors was about to attack them. Well, she thought he was going to attack them. He'd looked angry enough to do it, at any rate.

Considering there was still light, sporadic and spooky as it was, it was probably a safe guess to say the room with the generator was mostly intact, as well as a good number of the light bulbs. Candace pushed herself up to a sitting position, hoping to use the stroke of good luck to find her brothers and Isabella and get them all the heck out of there before William dug himself out.

Candace froze then jerkily looked around. William still needed to dig himself out, right? He wasn't just sitting or standing there waiting for the kids to reveal themselves?

No, no sign of him. Candace sighed in relief.

To Candace's right was the open doorway where she could see the hallway was still relatively intact. There was no way to be sure of the stairway to the ground floor, but they'd have to take their chances if they wanted to get out. To her left was the darkest patch of blackness, where William most likely was if she remembered correctly which way it looked like he jumped. In front of her was the largest part of the room, piles of rubble of various sizes adding to the weird shapes of the shadows. And now that the dust was actually settling, a few beams of true daylight could be made out coming down from the ceiling.

The teenager's eyes made a second circuit around the room, and came to screeching halt at something she'd missed the first time around. About ten feet away from her was a shock of dust-covered green hair, making the girl scramble forward to check on the source. She pushed aside the bricks that hid the rest of Ferb's head and gasped. The side of the boy's face she could see was covered in blood, and his eyes were closed. Biting her lower lip, Candace reached out a shaky hand and gently placed her fingers over his carotid artery, scared beyond belief. "Please, please, please," she pleaded softly, desperately.

She nearly broke down into tears when she felt the warmth of his skin and steady beat of his heart beneath her fingertips. "Oh, Ferb," she sobbed without letting the dam break. "Thank you. Thank you." Her chin dropped to her chest and her eyes closed as she shifted her hand slightly to rest on his shoulder.

"You… you're welcome," a soft voice replied with a British accent.

Candace's eyes sprang open as she gasped, then looked down to meet a bleary, half-lidded dark blue gaze. Her smile formed without any thought, and was returned. "Hi, Ferb," she said simply.

Ferb's smiled widened a bit, then his expression turned slightly confused. "Um, why were you thanking me?"

Candace gave a short, choked laugh. "You're alive, you nut," she explained, finally starting to clear the rest of the rubble off of him. "With all the blood that's on your face, and you weren't moving…" She paused and shuddered, then took a closer look at Ferb's hairline. "You've got a cut above your right temple," she said.

"Head wounds tend to bleed quite profusely," Ferb said, bringing a newly-freed hand up to touch the affected area. He blinked at the sight of red staining his fingertips when he pulled the appendage away.

"We should clean that up before we find the others," Candace said, looking around the room once more. "Then we have got to get out of here."

"Right." Ferb sat up carefully and shifted his legs out of the light layer of rubble that covered them. He then started studying the area for any signs of Phineas or Isabella.

While Ferb did that, Candace looked for something to clean her brother's face. Her gaze fell on the pink curtain draped over one of the fallen shelving units; it wasn't long before she had a few pieces of the cloth torn off. She quickly wiped most of the blood from Ferb's cheek, then had him hold the scrap of fabric to the cut. "Did you see anything?" she asked, looking around for herself.

Ferb shook his head. "Nothing that immediately stood out. They should be in that direction, however." He pointed further into the room, somewhat toward the far left-hand corner. "I think I remember them jumping that way as the walls started to fall."

"That's good enough for me. Stick close while I check it out." Candace began making her way through both layers of rubble and around the larger piles in the direction Ferb had mentioned. "I wish we would have remembered a flashlight," she grumbled.

"That would be helpful at the moment," Ferb said dryly from right behind her, tucking the makeshift bandage away.

"Thanks for the support."

The two of them had just gotten around a smaller pile of broken bricks when a low feminine groan reached their ears from not too far ahead. "Ph-phineas?" Isabella's voice asked weakly. "Phineas?"

It was easy then to get to the source of the sound. Candace and Ferb crouched down close to where they thought Isabella's head was, signified by a darker patch of black with a slight sheen to it. "Isabella?" Candace asked, hesitating to reach out and touch the younger girl in case she was injured - or she wasn't where it was thought she was. The teenager didn't even want to think about the possibility of touching the girl, but in the wrong spot.

There was a brief moment of silence before Isabella spoke again. "Candace? That is you, right?" Her voice quivered a bit with nerves.

"Yeah, it's me. And Ferb's with me," Candace soothed with a small smile.

"Um, why can't I see anything? Are all the lights out?" Nerves were starting to transition into fear.

Ferb merely reached out and pushed Isabella's hair back behind her ear, having used her questions to pinpoint where exactly they were coming from. It hadn't taken much from there to figure out what the problem was.

Isabella blinked in surprise for a moment then smiled in relief. "Thanks, Ferb. I was getting a little scared there." The happy expression faded quickly. "Is Phineas with you? What about Mister Connors?"

Candace involuntarily glanced behind her before responding. "I have no idea about Connors, which doesn't bother me nearly as much as the fact that I don't know where Phineas is. Do you know what happened to him after the second quake hit?" She joined Ferb in clearing the debris off of the other girl.

"He… he yelled… something, I don't even know if it was a word," Isabella began, keeping still while the other two worked. "Then suddenly he leaped forward and grabbed my wrist, then threw me back into the room and tried to jump after me. I saw Ferb fall back and Phineas start to go to the ground…" She shook her head lightly. "Then it felt like my head exploded, and the next thing I know it's… now." She sighed. "I'm sorry if that doesn't help much. I'm not feeling my best at the moment."

"Gee, I can't understand why," Candace said, rolling her eyes with a small, fond smile. "You don't have to be perfect right now, Isabella. What you've told us is enough."

"I'm not perfect," Isabella protested. "I just want to help the best I can."

Ferb paused in his work and placed a gentle hand on her exposed left shoulder. He waited until she met his gaze then gave her a little, uplifting smile.

It was enough.

"Thanks," Isabella whispered.

"Beside your head, are you hurt?" Candace asked, finishing freeing her younger friend.

"I don't think so," Isabella mused, mentally evaluating herself. "At least, nothing beyond a bunch of cuts and bruises. I'll be fine until we find Phineas and get out of here."

Candace smiled and nodded at the obvious determination, knowing it was shared by them all. "Good. Then why don't we do that?" She turned around and started to take a closer second look at the area between where Ferb and Isabella had been found. That seemed to be the best bet from what Isabella had told them.

It felt like forever, but it was only a few minutes before a flash of dark red hair sticking out of a small pile of brick and cinder block shards caught the trio's attention. They quickly moved to clear it, all of them worried at the lack of sound or movement from the boy. When Phineas was free of the debris, Isabella examined him, citing her First Aid Patch as qualification. It was good enough for Candace and Ferb.

The black-haired girl cringed along with her unconscious patient when she ran a hand along his left arm. "I think it's broken," she said, looking at the other two over her shoulder. "It's not sticking out of the skin or anything; I don't even think it's really out of alignment. But we should probably make a splint and sling for it to keep it from getting too jostled either when we move him or when he wakes up."

"I'll go get more strips from that curtain," Candace offered while Ferb dug out some of the pipes that had previously run along the ceiling.

"This won't take long," Isabella assured them once she had the supplies she needed. Not only did she splint the forearm and place it in a sling, she also used another strip of cloth to secure the arm to his chest, making it completely immobile. "We'll have to help him if he's awake and we have to climb."

"Not a problem," Candace said firmly.

Before anyone could suggest leaving, Phineas' eyes began to flutter, and his head rolled slowly from side to side. "No," he moaned. "Leave them alone. No!" He sprang into a sitting position with his last word, the shout startling everyone including himself. Phineas blinked and came back to reality. "Uh, hi, guys," he said a touch breathlessly. "Are you all okay?"

Isabella and Ferb grinned while Candace chocked out a teary laugh. "Trust you of all people to be more worried about everybody else when you're the most injured," the teenager said. She resisted the urge to hug her brother fiercely and instead channeled it into a tight grasp of his right forearm.

Phineas gave her a smile. "But I know I'm hurt," he refuted. "It's you guys I couldn't be sure of. Especially after the dream I just had." He shuddered, then flinched when the movement set off a flare of agony up and down his left arm. "Oh, wow. You weren't kidding about me being hurt pretty badly."

"Would I do that?" Candace shot back. "Now, Isabella thinks your arm may be broken and put it in a splint and sling. Don't try to move it. We'll help you get up and over things."

"Thinking of getting up and over things, I believe we should be going," Ferb said, the urgency in his tone only apparent because the people with him knew him so well.

Ferb and Isabella flanked Phineas once the redheaded boy had been helped to his feet while Candace led the way out of the room. "Are you guys really okay?" Phineas asked his two closest friends in a low voice as they walked. "Don't try to spare me just because of my arm."

Isabella gave him a soft smile. "My head hurts," she told him honestly. "A brick or something like it hit me and knocked me out for a while. But other than that I'm fine."

Ferb pointed at his hairline when his brother turned a gaze on him. "It looked worse than it was, although I'm sure we should all be examined by medical personnel. I'll be fine."

"Good." Phineas' gaze dropped to the floor for a moment. "That's… good," he finished in a barely audible whisper. He went a few more steps then took a deep breath and shrugged off as much of the negative feelings as he could. "Then let's all get those examinations."

The group had only gone a few more steps when the sound of shifting bricks came from the dark corner it was guessed William Connors had thrown himself. They shared a sudden wide-eyed look filled with fear, then began to hurry through the doorway and into the hallway. The scraping sound only got louder.

"Come on!" Candace cried, tears welling up in her eyes. They were so close, so close! They couldn't get caught now.

"What about the building above us?" Isabella asked. "Will we even be able to open the door?"

"Doesn't matter. We have to try." Candace forced some steel into her tone as she started up the steps.

A louder shift of bricks echoed to the four kids, followed by a deep, pain-filled grunt and groan.

Candace threw herself at the door at the top of the steps with a wordless cry of frustration, then nearly bounced back down the stairs when it only opened a couple of inches. Apparently Isabella's concerns were quite valid; a pile of rubble was preventing a clear path to freedom. There was only a small open wedge that the door had caused.

It wasn't nearly enough to get a body through.

"What do we do?" Isabella whispered.

"I don't know," Candace replied, nearly crying. "I don't know!"

Ferb silently moved up next to his sister and pushed against the door. It moved fractionally, so he pulled the door nearly closed and used it to slam against the rubble. Then he looked back at Candace.

The redheaded teenager gasped in surprise and blinked back her tears. "That might work," she murmured. She added her weight to the next effort once Isabella and Phineas moved down a step to stay out of the way, and the door opened another fraction.

"I don't know if that's going to work in time," Phineas said nervously, glancing back into the basement.

"We have to try," Candace said through clenched teeth just before she and Ferb did it again.

"I know," Phineas said. He and Isabella shared a concerned look.

Before the two siblings could deliver another blow, more echoing sounds of shifting bricks reached them. The four of them shuddered, then froze at an even louder noise, a rumbling from the ceiling not far from where they were. Dust began to rain down into the hallway below, and Phineas and Isabella instinctually moved up as far as they could go.

"The ceiling's going to go," Phineas declared, his eyes wide.

"And very soon," Ferb added.

"We're not getting this open before then," Candace warned. She swallowed anxiously.

Suddenly it was like a clap of thunder crashed right next to them. They all huddled together, and the ceiling behind them came down with a deafening roar. It sounded like the whole world was coming to a violent end.

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March 2013

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