A/N: Oh heavens, it's over. I've been nitpicking over this chapter for the longest time, but I've finally gotten it to a point where I'm mostly happy... even if the characters aren't. I won't go on much here, so I'll just say that I hope you enjoy~
And there's this nagging suspicion
That won't leave me alone tonight—
It's just that everything I try to do,
Nothing seems to turn out right...
Ferb did not bear his brother's trademark optimism, and so he felt everything was going to end poorly as soon as he saw the car parked in the alleyway beside the DEI building. He did not need to psychic powers to know that Vanessa was not alone in the building, and his intuition told him that he was not going to be welcome on account of the inauspicious guest. Nevertheless, he entered the front door, which was fortunately unlocked, and made his way to the stairwell. The elevators had long since been shut down, and Vanessa was going to be up near the top floor, but he really did not mind the exercise. The time spent climbing the stairs would give him a chance to think anyway.
A scornful voice in the back of his mind taunted him, saying that he could have at least had Isabella if he had played his cards right. He should have known that his brief moment with Vanessa had been too good to be true. She was too good to be true. Or maybe it was him. Who knew, really? And what did it matter anymore?
Several floors from the top, Ferb slowed his pace. As much as he knew that he was going to have to face what was to come, his heart continued to protest vehemently at the imminent confrontation. Too long he had pined for this punk-rock siren to have her abandon him after a one-night stand... if it could even be called that. He reminisced on the feel of her lips on his, her hands tangled in his hair, her body pressed full on against him. It was more than he ever could have hoped for—a small scraping off the top of the recesses of his deepest fantasies, true, but that kiss could have been the beginning of something amazing. They had stayed up the whole night talking—just talking, and yet it had been wonderful—about everything from her father to Johnny to simple trivialities, and Ferb had almost felt secure in what could have become.
And yet, a small part of him had always known that it could never last. If not for his cynically realistic side, he would have attributed his subconscious doubts to the fact that they were too different to mesh. Some claimed that opposites attract, but a certain amount of likeness was required to keep a relationship fuelled. Maybe Vanessa would grow out of her edgy, rebel ways when she got a bit older, but until that point, his tendencies toward upstanding behaviour would be too much of a clash. As much as he could claim that he did not care... she probably would. An unconscious smile twisted his lips bitterly as he wondered if they might be able to try again somewhere down the road.
Finally Ferb found himself at the door to her father's old lab, the room in which they had spent the previous night. Though unsure if she would be there, he was soon alerted to a presence by a murmur of distant voices. They were not coming from the lab, however, but from another room down the corridor. He trod lightly until the voices became loudest outside of another door. Without knocking, he pushed open the door and peered inside.
To his surprise, it was not Johnny, as he had expected, seated beside Vanessa on a cosy loveseat—it was an older man who appeared to be her father. Ferb had personally never gotten more than a glimpse of him, but he could recognise the old doctor by pictures that Vanessa had shown him. Her father's features had changed dramatically since those pictures were taken. His face now looked more sunken, his hair greyed and thinner, and his body far more stooped and skeletal. His eyes, glassy and unsettling, fell immediately upon Ferb. At his shift in attention, both Vanessa and a young nurse standing off to the side glanced up as well.
Vanessa blushed a fiery crimson as soon as she saw who was at the door. After murmuring several words to her father, who only nodded vaguely, she stood and strode over to Ferb. She pushed him back a few steps and slipped into the corridor as well, shutting the door carefully behind her. Her dark eyes were livid.
"Can't you knock?" she fumed.
Ferb was at first too disconcerted to speak. The image of her woebegone father as he clasped his bony fingers together and stared placidly at Ferb remained clear in his mind. He felt guilt at having interrupted the visitation, especially considering all that Vanessa had ever confided in him.
Vanessa crossed her arms and tapped one boot-clad toe. "Well? Is there something you want?"
You, was what he wanted to say, but he could not summon the word. Instead, he shrugged wearily. It was not the time to bring up the mess with Isabella. Vanessa obviously had more pressing matters on her hands.
Vanessa cocked an eyebrow but loosened her stance. Her hands fell to her hips, and she sighed. "I'm sorry. It's just... these visits always have me on edge, you know?" She bit her lower lip. "I kind of need to talk to you anyway."
Here it comes. Though she was not host to a rival in love, there was still something wrong. Ferb did not know what it was going to be, but having already resigned himself to the end, it was somehow easier to swallow now. "You don't have to do this now," he answered quietly. He did not know whether he wanted to spare her, or drag it out even further so that he may not have to deal with it immediately.
"No, I do." Her eyes turned to the door for a moment, and she took a deep breath as they came back to him. "But... I can't do... this. Not now."
A part of Ferb screamed for him to protest, to demand why she would build it all up just to back out, to beg the question of why she had said she loved him last night. However, he said nothing—just let her words tide over him in a stinging swell. Stoic as always, he thought bitterly.
"I like you Ferb, I really do." Her words belied her statement of the previous night. Love? What a laugh. "I just have a lot to deal with right now." She gestured in the direction of her father. "That, and trying to find work, and... you know. Everything else."
Again Johnny's image came to Ferb's mind, but he chose to let it go. If she wanted to make that sort of stupid decision again, then it was her prerogative. He just hoped she knew that he was no longer going to be there to save her should her relationship come to bite her once more. A sour taste rose in his mouth, but again, with a great deal of restraint, he was able to swallow down any hateful pleas.
"And... I really think you can do better than... me. I don't want to hurt you. I only hope you, you know, understand." Her voice was hardly trembling. Of course it would not be particularly difficult for her; after all, it was just letting down a kid who had been crushing on her for a while—no big deal. "Do you think we can still be friends?"
What sort of question was that? Did she not comprehend the magnitude of the letdown? Perhaps she did not understand that when you string along someone who has had feelings for you for such a long time, the other person does not take well to have that string cut so abruptly. Last night had been nothing short of an infinitesimal period of bliss in the tumult of the summer's goings-on. For a few sweet hours, he had been permitted to believe that he might be able to secure something with the girl of his dreams... and now it was over, all on her whim. She had risen him up only to drop and break him, and she expected a normal friendship in return.
"I'm sorry, Vanessa," he muttered, and he turned for the stairs. She did not follow, did not call out—he only heard the door close again as she re-entered the sitting room.
What he did not see were the tears quickly blotted by the back of Vanessa's palm as she swiftly closed the door to the hallway. In the second before she returned to join her father on the couch, her heart shattered. Letting Ferb go was not what she had wanted, but it was necessary. It was not so much that he was not her type—it was that she was not his. He was... too good for her. He deserved better. And how he felt for a girl like her scared her, in a way. As soon as she had said goodbye to him that very morning, she had begun to panic. She could hardly begin to understand how she felt about him—or even about Johnny, for that matter, despite everything. And if she could not reciprocate Ferb's feelings to their full extent, then she owed him the end of... of whatever they had started. Regardless, she felt a tragic sense of guilt for what she had done and a heart-rending agony for what she may have lost. Still she did not pursue him. She merely let her old teenage indifference to everything blot out the pain, put on her best phony smile, and sat down beside her father. Not caring had been her speciality, after all. Maybe years from now, she would be able to let down her guard. Until then...
Ferb kept his chin high as he began the long journey back down the stairs. It was going to be perfectly fine. She was not the only desirable young woman in Danville, or in the country for that matter. University was going to start soon, and there he would find a multitude of people with whom he would share far more interests and personality traits. It was going to be okay—
A couple of flights down, his grip on self-control slipped. He stopped on a landing, and, shaking violently, he leaned his forehead against the cool stone wall. He pressed both of his palms to the wall to prevent himself from pounding on the stone in frustration. In the space of an hour, he had lost two chances at unrequited love: one with a girl who thought that she loved him and one with a young woman who he thought had loved him. The odds were unimaginable, and yet the worst-case scenario had occurred, leaving him with nothing.
Tears beaded at the corners of his jade eyes, but he would not allow them to fall. He was not going to show weakness. He knew that he would be able to cope, but goddammit, when it seemed as if everything was working against him...
Ferb then thought of Phineas. His brother's sunny, beaming face that he always wore, especially when he came up with an all-new brilliant idea, was like a beacon in the darkness. Phineas was the one person upon whom he could rely, the one person who would not judge or hate or scorn...
He stared blankly at the wall. He had hurt this person—the one person who would never actively hurt him. It was time to stop drowning in the self-pity, and get back home to apologise to Phineas. At least his own brother could not be angry at him forever. Phineas was someone he would always have on his side. Thinking about it allowed his head to clear so that he could continue without breaking down.
Ferb's thoughts drifted to Isabella as he meandered home. He wondered if it might have been easier if he had just allowed her to kiss him last night, to keep on pretending for her sake—for everyone's sake. Maybe it would not have been right, but anything was better than nothing... or was it? Was he willing to throw away himself, his wants and needs, just for a relationship? Just to stave off the loneliness? Again he tried to convince himself that she was a nice enough girl... and again he convinced himself that she would always be Phineas', whether the two of them knew it or not. In any case, he did not love her... not in the way she supposedly wanted him to.
And in a matter of time, none of it would have any significance.
Upon arriving at his backyard, Ferb did not see either of them. Only distantly curious, he entered the house and began looking around. Not until he peered into the living room did he find them. The television was on, showing a music video channel that was on low volume. As Ferb walked closer, he saw that Phineas and Isabella were curled up on the couch, their eyes closed, seemingly dozing. Their hands were entwined, and Isabella's head was lolling on Phineas' shoulder.
Perhaps they now knew it after all.
The faint crease visible on Phineas' forehead, however, indicated that something was amiss—Ferb knew his brother's countenance all too well. Perhaps Isabella had explained to him what she had been told—that they belonged together. Judging by his brother's unsettled visage, Phineas had succumbed to it somewhat unwillingly. Isabella, of course, looked none the better. She too had sacrificed her current feelings for what life seemed to expect of them.
Admittedly, Ferb could not have anticipated these exact developments, and yet... in a twisted sort of way, it was, as Phineas would say, serendipitous. Like a procession of dominoes toppling toward a final trigger in the Rube Goldberg machine of their lives, the events of the summer had led them all to this. Despite their capricious emotions and the drama of the past two months, Phineas and Isabella had somehow wound up together. There was perhaps no greater indication that they were meant to be.
Ferb was almost surprised, however, that Phineas had given in so quickly. Despite his conviction that Phineas and Isabella would indubitably be the perfect match, he would not have believed that his brother would so easily cave to the seemingly predetermined plans of the universe—especially ones concocted primarily by Ferb's own beliefs. Though Ferb was occasionally susceptible to fatalistic notions born of his own misfortune, he would have assumed that it would have taken time to open Phineas' eyes to what may truly be best for him. And yet, there he was, hand in hand with the young girl, after a matter of hours. It was odd to Ferb that the two of them had gone from... whatever they were... to whatever they were now so quickly.
Unless, of course, Phineas had lied to Isabella back at the start of summer—unknowingly, perhaps. There was always the possibility that he wanted the relationship without fully being aware of it. How else could he feel about a charming young lady who had been in his life for as long as any of them could remember? It could be that his supposed resignation was actually a manifestation of something he had always subconsciously felt. And Ferb could still not believe that Isabella's long-standing feelings for the boy had changed so drastically in a matter of weeks. There were obviously some underlying factors that played into whatever had occurred in his absence.
He could always be wrong, though. It seemed that he had been wrong about many things lately.
No doubt everyone else would be ecstatic that Phineas and Isabella were now a couple, ignoring for a while that they would soon be separated by their choice of educational institutes. Ferb, however, believed this distance would be a relief to them rather than an obstacle. Ironically enough, being apart would no doubt make it simpler for them to cope with the idea of being together. He believed that, given time, they could come to love one another. He only hoped that they, particularly Phineas, would be content with whatever became of them in the long run.
A swell of loneliness threatened to engulf Ferb once more, but he found it blocked by self-imposed stolidity. Certainly, Isabella and Phineas had found... perhaps not happiness, but something that might lead to it. Ferb was capable of feeling happy for them despite his own failures in love. Yes, it was difficult to accept, but he had orchestrated his own misery. He was in no position to complain.
He made his way up to his room and flopped down onto his bed. In less than a week, he would be halfway across the country, and all of these problems would be nothing more than the unchangeable, indifferent past. In the grand scheme of life, a couple short months spent in emotional turmoil would not matter in the least. Soon he would forget, and life would go on.
It was still almost too difficult to accept that everything was going to change, and it was impossible to tell whether it would be for the better or not. Phineas and Isabella had finally shelved their fickle emotions and found some sort of solace in each other, even though they were about to be torn apart. Ferb had been offered his chance with Vanessa only to have it pulled out from under him in less than a heartbeat. Love had come and gone and changed for everyone, and nobody knew what the autumn would have in store. Everyone was moving on in some sort of way, whether into something new or out of something old. Their carefree childhood lives were now over.
The curtains at his window were pulled apart slightly, and a dusty stream of light filtered across the room. Ferb hauled himself out of bed and twitched the curtains apart further, looking at the old tree in their backyard. Through the nostalgia that threatened to blur his vision with fresh tears, he could see that a few leaves had already begun to change colours, even though September had not yet begun. Summer had officially surrendered itself to the change of seasons.
Ferb knew that it was time for all of them to do the same.
Summer blows away, and quietly gets swallowed by a wave...
A/N: The lyrics preceding this chapter are from Everything I Try to Do, Nothing Seems to Turn Out Right, by The Decemberists. The lyrics at the end are from Summersong, also by The Decemberists. As you might recall, we began with Summersong, and so we ended with Summersong. Appropriately so, I think.
I would like to thank all of the readers&reviewers for all the love and support throughout the course of this story. Although it hasn't always been easy, I've managed to work my way through writing my longest story ever, and I'm fairly proud of myself. Summersong isn't perfect - as you know, it's had its rough patches, but I think the final product turned out well. I hope that you've all enjoyed the ride as much as I have, although it's heartbreaking to say goodbye to the story to which I've become so attached. All things must come to an end though, so again... thank you all, and I hope to return with something new soon.