March 31, 2010

The teachers at Danville Elementary had long ago learned that, while Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher were joined at the hip the rest of the time, it was preferable not to have them in the same class. It wasn't that they misbehaved; to the contrary, they were extremely happy to comply with classroom rules. One too many teachers had been disconcerted by their challenging of known and accepted scientific laws, however, and it was universally decided by the teachers' union that having one of the two at a time to wrangle was plenty. Enrichment class was one of the rare exceptions, as it was only offered a couple of times a day, and the students left their normal classrooms to attend. As many of the fifth-graders as would comfortably be accommodated at one time were shifted into the art lab, music room, or gym, depending on the day, and the Flynn-Fletcher duo always managed to get this class together. After nearly six years, including kindergarten, at Danville Elementary, most of the staff knew them and had stopped questioning things long ago. Phineas dreamed up wild ideas that he was never sure how to implement; Ferb could design nearly anything but needed a spark of inspiration to get him going. It was best not to attempt to force either of them to transcribe music, or they'd grab a guitar and spontaneously compose a new piece to fight boredom. They were, in a word, brilliant, and they frightened most adults because the boys caused them to reexamine their own assessment of their personal intellect.

Cindy Fransisco had Phineas in her fifth-grade classroom this year, and she realized with a start that today was Wednesday, which meant art class. Which was fine and good, except there was a substitute art teacher today. One new to the school. Who would be exposed to the full force of two of Danville Elementary's most infamous students, unsuspecting.

Whoever the substitute was, God help them.

- - - - - - - -

Phineas had always loved art class. He liked music better, but art was fun. It was proving to be interesting today, though, and not in the best of ways, because the teacher was new, and – in Phineas' opinion – personified the stereotype of, "Those who can't do, teach." He and Ferb had some pretty awesome teachers over the years, but this one wasn't joining the ranks just yet. She needed a bit of education herself, and mostly regarding the care and handling of one Ferb Fletcher.

Ferb just didn't think like other people. His brain functioned on a wildly cool, amazing different level, but sometimes he was a little out of touch with the rest of the planet. Phineas was used to that, and it never bothered him. But as Ferb sat, blinking blankly at the artist's pad set before him, it occurred to Phineas that perhaps their new teacher could use a hand.

The teacher, Ms. Kiley, she'd said her name was, approached Ferb for like the third time. "Honey, you haven't drawn anything."

Ferb turned his head, stared at her, then sighed in a most put-upon way and promptly drew a stick person. Signing it "Francis," as she had been calling him by his given name the entire class, he then ripped the page out of the notebook and handed it to her. Phineas had to bit his lower lip hard to keep from laughing, which would not have been well-received – by Ms. Kiley. It was incredible, how Ferb could manage to be so sarcastic without saying a word.

As the teacher sputtered a bit and was obviously trying to figure out what to make of the situation, Phineas felt obliged to step in. "Um, ma'am, my brother...well, his brain doesn't work quite like everyone else's." He had learned long ago that the word "autistic" caused most subs to freak and call for the special needs teacher, so he tried to play it cool. "He doesn't really consider himself an artist in the traditional sense. He can draw, but he...." This was going to take forever to explain. "Listen, do you have any blueprint paper?"

Ms. Kiley thought for a moment. "Um, I think so." Phineas knew they would; the regular art teacher knew Ferb well and always had stock on hand. Ms. Kiley left for a moment and returned briefly with a sheet of blueprint paper. "Here it is."

"Great!" Phineas took the paper and handed it to Ferb, who brightened and dug his engineering pencil out of his bag. He thought for a moment; class time was growing short, so he needed to come up with something easy. "Can you do England for me?" Ferb would know what he meant.

Ferb nodded, grabbing a ruler from the table and getting to work. Twenty minutes later, when he handed Ms. Kiley plans for 1:6 models of the most famous attractions of London, complete with a working clock for Big Ben, the look on her face was priceless.

- - - - - - - -

The time that Candace had stayed up a little too late watching that sci-fi movie marathon and become convinced that Ferb had been taken over by an alien, she had a tape recording, which she insisted was "an entirely different silence" than they were used to from Ferb. It might have sounded more than a bit crazy to anyone else, but even though Candace had been way off-base, Phineas actually understood what she meant by that. Ferb was normally quiet, true, but when he was troubled or lost in thought, it was a different sort of silence, detectable only to those who knew him best.

Ferb was in the midst of one of those troubled silences when Phineas finally had enough of giving Ferb his space and went back to the bedroom, climbing onto the bed. "Hey, bro, what's wrong?"

"Nothing we could solve," Ferb said softly. Laid out before him on the bed were the plans for the 1:6 tour of London.

"We can do anything we want to, right?" Phineas asked, trying to cheer him up. He suspected the model wasn't really what Ferb had on his mind, since they could have pulled that off by the time they were six, but it was all Phineas had to work with at the moment. "Hey, why don't we put that model on the list for Saturday? We could even make a double decker bus to scale and put our G.I. Joes and some of Candace's old Barbies in it."

Ferb snorted. "If the model was all I wanted, I'd have done it already. It wouldn't take but a couple of hours."

"What, then?" Phineas asked.

"I was thinking about Mother." Ferb traced the sketch of the houses of Parliament with one finger.

"What about Mom?" Phineas asked. "She's making spaghetti downstairs; I'm sure she'd be happy to talk to you."

Ferb shook his head. He didn't look annoyed, just distant. "No, not Mum. My mother." He sighed. "One of the most important figures in a child's life, and I can't even remember her. And I really can't talk to Mum, because I do love her dearly, and I don't want her to feel slighted."

Phineas reached out with one arm, wrapping it around Ferb's shoulders. "Have you talked to Dad?"

Ferb nodded. "Yes, and he's told me all about her, but that doesn't change the fact that I don't remember her."

Phineas knew that Ferb hadn't been much older than a baby when his mother died, so it was hardly Ferb's fault that he didn't remember his mother. That had to be awful. Phineas had never met his biological father, but the man was alive and if Phineas had the option to contact him. Phineas never did, because as far as he was concerned, Dad was the only father he needed and certainly the only one who mattered. But Ferb's mother had been wonderful by all accounts, even if Phineas didn't know much about her. It wasn't anyone's fault that she died, just awful luck.

What if Ferb's mother hadn't died? Phineas felt bad that the thought scared him so much. But if she hadn't, it was entirely likely that she and Dad would still be married, and he wouldn't be Phineas' dad, and Ferb might even still be in England. The thought of not having Dad or Ferb – his brother, his best friend – in his life...Phineas found it very unnerving. True, if it had never happened, he wouldn't know what he was missing, but still.

Ferb turned his body in to hug Phineas. "Don't worry. I'll never regret what we've had. I do wonder what could have been, but as many times as I've been over it in my mind, I don't think there was really anything that could have been done to prevent my mother's death. Her asthma was very severe, even with as hard as she worked to control it." He was far more verbal than usual, which meant he really had been doing a lot of thinking. "I only wish I could remember her. I've seen pictures, but it isn't the same."

"No, I guess it wouldn't be." Phineas tried to think of something, somehow, that could cheer Ferb up, and then it hit him. "Hey! Ferb, I know what we're going to do on Saturday. Is there any way you can rig up a device for the old time machine at the museum that'll let us dial in an exact date and location?"

Ferb gave him an "of course" sort of look.

"Perfect." Phineas grinned. "I think it's time we took another trip to jolly old England."

- - - - - - - -

April 3, 2010

They were at the museum and all was set. After peeking into Dad's old photo albums, Phineas had chosen a date on one of the pictures and set the dial on Ferb's new device for May 16, 2000. He punched in the coordinates for a park in London, then frowned at a new button. "Cloaking device? Ferb, you really do think of everything."

Ferb shrugged as he got settled in the seat. "I figured as long as we were already breaking several laws of known physics, why not throw in a few more?"

"Sounds good to me." Phineas grinned at his brother, then threw the switch.

- - - - - - - -

London, England

May 16, 2000

The timing was going to be tricky, in order to avoid seeing anyone from their future and creating some kind of inadvertent temporal paradox, but Ferb was sure they could pull it off. He hit the button on the cloaking device's remote so that it would become invisible, then hopped out and handed the remote to Phineas. After a surreptitious glance about the park, Ferb saw her. His mother. His breath hitched, and for a moment, he almost chickened out. What if she didn't match the mental image he'd carried of her for as long as he could remember? But this was what they'd come here for, and he wasn't going to give up due to nerves. Besides, she was alone now, except for a small child. Ferb knew it was himself, but he also knew he was young enough that the incident wasn't likely to create a paradox. After all, if he remembered nothing of his mother other than a vague sense of warmth and protection, he wasn't going to recall running into himself. Mother and son were sitting on a blanket, and it wouldn't be long before someone joined them. Ferb and Phineas couldn't risk that, and they were actually quite lucky to arrive when they had, so Ferb had to move quickly or risk losing his chance. He nodded to Phineas, indicating that they should go.

Phineas nodded. "All right. Let's make sure to remember where we parked."

They strolled out into the open, having used an Internet map search for a secluded location to determine their exact latitude and longitude. As per the plan, Phineas trotted up to the woman on the blanket, while Ferb remained a short distance away. She was beautiful, green hair shining in the sun, laughing as she bounced her child on her lap. Phineas waved as he approached. "Hi. Mrs. Fletcher?"

She smiled at him. "That'd be me. What can I do for you?"

Phineas stayed in character, exactly as they'd planned. Ferb had anticipated no less from him. "My cousin, he moved to the U.S. to live with my family when he was pretty young, and we've been doing some research, we think you might be related. He doesn't know much about his mother's side of the family, and he's really been wanting to find out. He tracked you down as a possible connection – cousins twice removed." It was a necessary lie, unfortunately. "Your maiden name is McGill, right?"

She nodded. "Indeed it is."

Ferb closed his eyes, savoring every moment, drinking in the sound of her voice.

"Well," Phineas continued, "he's pretty shy, and he wants to keep this low-key...would you be okay with meeting him?"

"Oh, of course!" She looked around. "Where is he?"

Phineas glanced over his shoulder and waved to Ferb, who'd taken up a position on a park bench. His mother smiled as he walked over. "Ah, looks like we're related, all right. The hair's a bit of a genetic curse, isn't it?"

Ferb shrugged. "I've grown to appreciate it."

"I keep telling my Lawrence, I hope little Ferb here finds himself a rock band, because it's about the only useful purpose I can see to having that hair thrust upon one's self." She thrust forward a hand. "I'm Libby, by the way."

Ferb shook her hand. Her skin was so soft, softer than he'd even imagined. "Francis Thomas." Fortunately, his middle name was also a common last name, so he could get away with using it as a pseudonym.

Libby's smile widened. "That's my son's name, Francis. Of course, no one's called him that since he was two days old, but it's what he came home with." She bounced the toddler on her hip, and Ferb found it rather surreal to be looking at himself at thirteen months old, especially as his younger self giggled and waved at Phineas.

"It means a lot, to finally meet you." Ferb was grateful it was going as well as it was. It was odd, no doubt, but he'd gathered enough from his father's descriptions of his mother to know she would probably go with the flow. Speaking of his father, Ferb saw him in the distance, and sighed. He knew this visit would have to be brief, but he wished it were longer. "My mother died when I was very young, and her parents died before I was even aunt is the only person from her family I've ever been able to know."

"Oh, you poor dear." Libby reached out and put a hand on his cheek. "Well, I may only be a distant cousin, but I'm happy to help however I can."

Ferb nodded and reluctantly pretended to be surprised as Phineas pulled at his sleeve, calling him by his given name and pointing at his watch. "Oh, my. I'm sorry; time's gotten away from me. I'm afraid I have to get to Heathrow for our flight back to the States."

"That's too bad." Libby frowned, then dug around in her purse and pulled out a piece of paper and a pen, jotting down a number. "Here's my number – ring me if you're in town again and we'll have to get together. And feel free to give me a ring any time you like."

"Thank you." If only he could. Ferb smiled, burning the moment into his memory, especially when she leaned down and squeezed him in a hug.

"Take care of yourself," his mother whispered.

"You too," he replied, even though he knew how things turned out. And it wasn't all bad, Ferb knew. He had a stepmother who truly was a wonderful mother to him and the best siblings he could have asked for. Life was like that, bad and good and you had to roll with it. All in all, he thought he managed well enough.

Phineas was uncharacteristically quiet after they'd returned the time machine to the museum and were making their way home. "Well, that was pretty amazing."

"Yes," Ferb agreed. "Yes, it was."

"I'm not sure how we'd follow that up," Phineas said. "We've got the whole rest of the day, but it's kind of hard to compare to something that intense and personal."

Ferb shrugged. "I was thinking of the 1:6 London. It could be fun."

Phineas laughed, smiling widely. "Perfect. Dad ought to get a kick out of it."

Ferb nodded. "No doubt. He's got quite the G.I. Joe collection of his own in the attic, you know. Some of them are Hasbro originals."

"Wow." Phineas looked impressed. He skipped along on the sidewalk, deliberately missing the cracks – a habit left over from the days when they'd been young and superstitious.

A smile tugged at the corners of Ferb's lips as he realized something. "Do you remember what I told you last summer, when we were working on the backyard spa?"

"Yeah." Phineas made the "cross my heart" gesture with one finger. "Don't worry, I haven't told a soul. I wouldn't worry about it too much if I were you, though. It's totally understandable to want a project that's just the two of us. I don't think you're jealous or anything. Sure, it's cool to have fun with everyone else, but it'd be kind of nice sometime to have some quiet, awesome bonding experience."

"That's just it." Ferb draped an arm over his brother's shoulders; they were in perfect step. "We've finally done it."

Phineas' grin could've lit up St. Louis for a week. "Yeah, buddy, I guess we have."

Ferb closed his eyes, savoring this perfect morning, though when Phineas yanked at him to keep him from walking into a tree, he considered that walking with one's eyes closed was not terribly advisable. But Phineas was watching out for him, just as Ferb watched out for Phineas when necessary. And Candace watched out for both of them, even if her methods were a bit pathological at times. All because fate had drawn them together. It was a little overwhelming at times to think about. Which was precisely why Ferb didn't dwell on it for long. He turned his mind to their afternoon project, feeling the unspoken synergy between himself and his brother.

Phineas looked up at him. "Ferb, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

Ferb nodded. "Well, yes, but where are we going to find a 1:6 scale platypus?"

- - - - - - - -

So, that's all, folks. Except not quite. The sequel continues to dictate itself to my brain, and I hope to post the first chapter tonight. Thank you all again for the reviews; it's been a great ride, and you gave me tons of inspiration and many smiles along the way.