Here it is, folks, the final chapter! Thank all of you so very much for coming along with me on this wild ride, and I hope you had as much fun as I have. Enjoy, and be sure to tell me what you think!
A week later, Heinz Doofenshmirtz was drawing out plans for yet another evil inator (he wasn't entirely sure if it was going to make everyone's shoelaces in the Tri-State Area stay permanently untied, or if it would make the shoelaces tie together) while Vanessa sat on the couch in the main living area listlessly leafing through one of her punk fashion magazines. What was even stranger than the fact that she hadn't retreated to her room - again - was that she hadn't glared at him once. Not even when he originally described his plan to her. She'd just given him a tiny, indulgent smile and looked back at her open periodical.
Vanessa's uncharacteristic behavior was distracting Heinz from the project at hand. How could he focus on being evil when something was bothering his little girl? The worst part about the source of the distraction was that he couldn't even really get angry about it. He just couldn't be angry with Vanessa.
The evil scientist sighed. Underneath it all, he knew it was more important to help his daughter than work on the new inator plans. So, he capped his dry erase marker and set it in the tray at the bottom of the scribble-filled board, then turned to look at the brunette teenager on the couch. "Vanessa?" he asked tentatively. He was always afraid of pushing too hard.
Vanessa glanced up from her magazine. "Yeah, Dad? Did you need something?"
"I was just wondering what was wrong. You don't really seem interested in your magazine, and you've been a bit… mopey since you got here. Is there anything I can do?"
"Oh, Dad," the girl said with a sad little smile. She closed the publication and tossed it onto the coffee table. "Thanks for caring so much, but I'm not sure there's anything you can do." She shrugged. "I'm not sure there's anything actually wrong, either. It's a little confusing."
"Well, why don't you tell me what's going on?" Heinz suggested as he came over and sat in the chair closest to her position on the sofa. He leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "Confusing things are my specialty."
Vanessa fought back a smile at the comment, knowing how true it was, although not as her father had intended it. "Did Mom tell you about what happened to her friend's sons?"
Heinz blinked for a moment, not immediately making the connection but willing to go with it. "I'll admit she sounded… happier on the phone when I talked to her this week, but she didn't say anything specific. I take it the police found them? And they were all right?"
Vanessa nodded. "They were found, yes, but not by the police. Their sister organized a bunch of her friends and the boys' friends in a search, based on some theory she came up with. I guess they really saved the day, too. It was late last week."
Heinz's brow creased in confusion. "That's a good thing for you, isn't it?"
She shrugged. "Well, yeah, of course. That's not what's bothering me. It turns out Johnny is friends with one of the sister's friends, and he was asked to help out."
"So Johnny didn't help?" Heinz asked. On one hand, he wouldn't have blamed the boy if he hadn't, but on the other it was for a couple of kids. He could go either way on that one.
"No, he did. That's kind of the problem."
Heinz straightened and blinked again. What was it with teenagers? "You've lost me. How is that a problem? Didn't you want Johnny to help look for those boys?"
Vanessa sighed. "I never knew he was looking, Dad. He never told me what he'd been doing those two days."
Her father nodded. "All right. So you're angry because he didn't tell you about looking for the boys?"
"You're going to have to tell me exactly what the problem is, Vanessa. I'm not seeing it."
"It's okay, Dad," Vanessa said with another sigh. "Like I said, I'm not even sure there's a problem."
"Wait a minute," Heinz protested gently. "Something is obviously bothering you. To me, that's a problem. Please, just tell me what it is."
Vanessa looked him in the eyes for a long, quiet moment, then dropped her gaze to her lap. "I guess when Johnny was asked to help, his friend told him to get as many other people as he could to help too. I don't know if he asked Eddie, Greg, or Lacey, but he never asked me. He said he knew I wouldn't want to go wandering around getting dirty in some old, dusty buildings all day, so he didn't bother." She shrugged and shook her head slightly. "There's no way he could have known that I knew about the boys he was looking for, it's not that any of that came up in conversation or anything. And he thought he was putting my considerations first, so that's something. But… I never thought of myself as someone who worried about getting dirty when something important was going on. That's… shallow."
Heinz watched the girl for a short time, feeling a little awkward with where her comments had gone. He was fully aware of how shallow and petty he could be from time to time. He didn't want her to think badly of him because of that streak in him. Then he shook his head. It wasn't the time for self-centered thoughts; his little girl needed her daddy on this one. He reached over and took her hand, causing her to look back up and meet his gaze. "You aren't shallow, Vanessa, I promise you that," he said sincerely. "Although I'm not sure I had anything to do with it." They shared a smile. "It makes sense that it would bother you that your boyfriend would think of you like that." He brightened as an idea struck him. "I could invent an inator that would make him extra clumsy whenever he had bad thoughts about you!"
Vanessa rolled her eyes, her smile widening. "That won't be necessary, Dad, but thanks for the thought." She chuckled then calmed, her expression turning soft. "And thank you for the pep talk. It means a lot that you think that way about me."
"I'm your father," Heinz said as he stood and took Vanessa into a warm embrace. "I'm supposed to think highly of you." He pulled back to arm's length and let his smile turn a bit impish. "You just make it easy for me."
"So you say now," she refuted. "I seem to recall a few times growing up…" She left her sentence dangling, knowing he could finish it in a variety of ways.
"Well, that's not important," Heinz said dismissively, letting her go as he spoke with his hands. "I just know you're a wonderful girl, and any boy is lucky to have you. Very lucky, considering if I had my way you wouldn't be dating until you were thirty. Maybe."
Vanessa's eyebrows rose. "You invited Johnny to my birthday party last year when you knew how I felt about him."
Heinz cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Yes, well, I thought of it more like a little schoolgirl crush. I thought it was cute. I didn't think it was serious."
"Oh, Dad," Vanessa chuckled, shaking her head. "I'm going to go give Lacey a call, see what she has to say. Maybe she knows something about this I don't."
"All right, Vanessa. I'll let you know when lunch is ready in a little while."
"Thanks, Dad," Vanessa said as she started to leave the room. She paused before disappearing down the hallway. "For everything."
Heinz smiled as she went into her room and shut the door. His little girl was going to be okay, and he'd helped. Life couldn't get much better than that. With that thought in mind he threw himself back into his evil plan with gusto.
Just over a week after Phineas and Ferb came home, Candace sat in her room late at night having a hard time feeling like things had gotten back to normal. Sure, the boys had gone back to implementing their big plans - they were inventing a new multi-player video game for the network they'd created for themselves and their friends the year before out of deference for their need (and Isabella's) to take it easy for a week because of their concussions - but she could see circles under their eyes when they came down for breakfast in the mornings. She was pretty sure she had them, too; she didn't want to count how many nightmares she'd had since they'd gone missing in the first place. She just didn't know what to do to make things better.
Their parents and grandparents had been great about everything. They gave the kids space when they needed it, but were there to listen when that was required. No one pushed too hard for information that wasn't freely given; neither Phineas nor Ferb had mentioned everything that had happened while Connors had kept them in that basement, everyone was sure of it, but it was also known that if it was important it would be shared. Grandma and Grandpa Flynn were set to leave just after Grandma and Grandpa Fletcher's flight left a couple of days later. It was nice to spend so much time with both sets of grandparents.
Candace had found herself checking up on the boys randomly as the days went by, making sure they were where she thought they were and that they were all right. She usually didn't realize what she was doing until she'd caught sight of them; she was always a little embarrassed, but since she already had a reputation for wanting to know what they were up to on a regular basis, she didn't think the boys had caught on to the new rationale. And was she ever grateful for that.
She sighed and turned off her laptop, having tried to play around on the internet until she was exhausted enough to go to sleep without having to think about it too much. If she went to bed when she was just starting to feel tired like she normally did, she stayed awake thinking, and thinking led to the really bad nightmares. But it wasn't working like it had before. She had been just going through the motions, her mind whirling with thoughts she was doing her best to avoid through the activity.
"Fine," Candace said to herself, "I'll go get myself a glass of warm milk. And then I'll go through the magazines Stacy got for me today until it kicks in." She stood up and grimaced. "Hopefully that actually works."
She took her time drinking her warm milk in the dark kitchen, trying to keep her mind blank and her body relaxed. She was actually feeling a little better about her chances as she carefully returned up the stairs. Her shoulders didn't feel as tense, and her mind was clearer than it had been at that time of night all week.
A muffled shout as she passed Phineas and Ferb's room made her muscles taut all over again, and stopped her in her tracks. Candace leaned into the door, hoping to find out it was a one-time deal and needing to hear if it wasn't. She couldn't be sure if the voice had belonged to Phineas or Ferb, but it would be unpleasant either way she was sure.
"Candace!" Phineas cried a moment later. "Candace, no! Don't go to… Leave her alone! Don't… Please…"
Candace was inside the boys' room in a flash, quickly but carefully closing the door behind herself to avoid waking up their parents. Phineas was thrashing from side to side under his covers, tears streaming down his face as his protests disintegrated into sobs. She glanced over at Ferb as she hurried to her redheaded brother's side and saw him also turning fitfully in the moonlight that streamed through their window. The teenager bit her lip as she sat on the right-hand edge of the raft that served as Phineas' bed; then, suddenly, Perry was at Ferb's elbow, nudging it with his bill until he'd gotten into the crook of the green-haired boy's arm. The platypus' physical presence seemed to be enough to calm Ferb down somewhat, allowing Candace to focus on the quietly crying Phineas.
Just before Candace could lay a gentle hand on her brother's shoulder to wake him, Phineas started thrashing even more violently than before. "No!" he yelled, his voice cracking. "Bring them back! Bring them back!" He sprang into a sitting position, his arms reaching out toward whatever the source of his nightmare was, his sister barely able to keep from being accidentally slapped in the face. Yet he was still asleep.
Candace instinctually wrapped her arms around the distraught boy. "Phineas, I'm right here. I'm right here," she said soothingly as he struggled slightly. The sound of her voice made him go limp and made her readjust her grip to keep them both upright. "Candace is here, Phineas. I'm not going anywhere. I'm right here." She started to rub a hand up and down the top of his left arm.
Phineas turned his head into her shoulder and started crying in earnest, almost knocking the wind out of her when he brought his cast-covered arm around and connected with her side rather forcefully. "Don't let him be your daddy, Candace," he sobbed, his voice muffled by the girl's robe. "He doesn't know how to be a daddy. He just wants us to take the place of his other kids."
Candace was horrified by the pleas, immediately understanding what he had to be talking about. She squeezed her brother tighter. "William Connors is not and will never be my daddy, Phineas, no matter how much he may want it," she insisted. "I promise. I promise." She had to fight back her own tears at that point. If this is what had been haunting Phineas' dreams, that she could be talked into going away and joining Connors, into letting him be her daddy and go back to being his baby girl…
She shuddered at the mere thought.
Phineas nodded and began to sniff. "And… and do you have Ferb with you?" he whispered. "He was almost a skeleton the last time he let me see him…"
"Ferb's here, too," Candace assured him, frowning in confusion. What was he talking about now? "And I promise he's just fine, perfectly healthy."
"Oh, that's good," Phineas breathed with a huge sigh of relief. He squeezed his sister tighter. "And you're okay, too? He didn't hurt you?"
"He didn't hurt me, Phineas. I'm just fine." She couldn't fight back the image of Jeremy diving headlong at her to keep her that way, though. A different part of Jeremy taking that bullet was one of her least favorite recurring nightmares.
Phineas merely nodded and took another deep breath. His posture subtly shifted as he released it, and Candace could feel his brow creasing through the thin fabric of her robe. His hands clenched into loose fists against her back, balling up the material with them. "Candace?" he asked tentatively.
Candace smiled when she realized he must have finally woken up. "It's me, Phineas. Are you okay?"
"Man, that was a nasty nightmare," he admitted, letting himself rest against his sister when she didn't let go. He turned his head to the side and opened his eyes, blinking in the moonlight. "I'm sorry if I woke you up."
"You didn't," she said. "I'd gone down for a glass of milk to try to get to sleep in the first place, and I heard you on my way back to my room."
"Then I'm sorry that I kept you from getting to sleep."
"Oh, stop it. I wasn't that tired. And helping you is way more important." She rested her head on top of his.
Phineas just nodded. "You know, I'm really glad you were here," he said after a moment. "I feel so much better than I ever have before after one of these things." He hesitated. "Was I… talking in my sleep? Asking you questions?"
Candace lifted her head and looked down on him, his position never changing. "Yes. Yes, you were," she confirmed, really hoping he wasn't going to get embarrassed and not tell her anything.
"Then that's what did it," Phineas said with a small smile, giving Candace a squeeze. "I heard you giving me real answers, and it changed the way that dream always turns out. Things ended a lot better this time." He took a relaxed breath then paused before releasing it and his fists. "Is Ferb… okay?"
"I'm fine," Ferb answered quietly from the other bed before the teenager could respond. Candace and Phineas looked over to see him lying in bed watching them, his arms wrapped around Perry.
Candace noticed the touch of need in the steady gaze and smiled, reaching a hand out to wave him over. "Come on. There's more than enough room for one more."
Phineas grinned as his brother began to take them up on the invitation. "Well, two more. Wouldn't want to forget Perry."
Candace wrapped her extended arm around the green-haired boy once he'd crawled onto Phineas' bed and was a little surprised when he let go of Perry and threw both arms around her waist to burrow his face into her shoulder. He shook slightly when she tightened her grip and laid a kiss on the top of his head. "It's all right, Ferb. I'm here," she said gently. "Phineas is here, and even Perry's here. Mom and Dad are just down the hall, Grandma and Grandpa Flynn are in the spare room, and Grandma and Grandpa Fletcher are up in the craft room. We're all here, and we're all fine." She felt him smile and nod his head, but he didn't let go.
"She's right," Phineas added softly, not leaving the circle of Candace's other arm. "We're here. Even better, we're home, both of us, just like we agreed."
"I wouldn't have left you behind," Ferb said, turning his head slightly so he was sure to be heard.
"I know," Phineas said with a small smile.
Perry chattered then, managing to rub against both boys at once and drawing the attention of all three kids. The action also reduced the tension in the air. With the release, Phineas and Ferb sighed and leaned against Candace, and the girl closed her eyes and gave them both a gentle squeeze.
Phineas yawned. "I think I can actually get back to sleep," he said, his voice matching the words. "Or, well…" He blushed slightly, looked down for a second then glanced between his brother and sister. "I feel really weird asking this, I mean since we're not little kids any more, but…"
Ferb gave him a knowing smile. "I'd feel better if we shared the bed this one time, too," he said simply.
"Candace," Phineas said after he'd shared a grateful smile with Ferb, "could you maybe stay until we actually fall asleep?" He gave her a big-eyed look that was all the more endearing for the fact that it wasn't consciously being used for manipulation purposes. "It just feels better with you around right now."
"I'll stay," Candace agreed. "It'll make me feel better, too."
Phineas and Ferb got under the covers, then Candace stretched out on top of them next to the boys, her arm draped over both and her hand between Ferb and Perry. The platypus had curled up in the tiny space between the green-haired boy's stomach and the edge of the bed. Phineas managed to keep his cast out of the way by lying on his left side and tucking it under his pillow. For all that they were crammed together, they all felt contented, and it wasn't long before the boys were fast asleep. Candace watched them with watery eyes and a fond smile, feeling like the missing piece to normal had finally been found.
And when Linda and Lawrence poked their heads into the boys' room in the morning to make sure they were all right, the sight of all three of their children and Perry sleeping peacefully together was one they would treasure for the rest of their lives. The picture they quietly took certainly didn't hurt, either.
Two months later, Phineas sat on his bed in the middle of a rainy afternoon doing the exercises he'd been given by his therapist for his left arm as he stared out the window lost in thought. Ferb was downstairs in the study fixing the family computer; no one was exactly sure what Lawrence had done, but something inside the tower had definitely fried. Ferb's actions were the last attempt to save it before they finally gave in and bought a new one.
As far as his arm was concerned, Phineas was glad it was starting to look normal again. It was also regaining strength pretty quickly since he was very good about keeping up with his exercises; it didn't hurt that he also insisted on using it while he and Ferb built and used their inventions on a daily basis. His physical therapist always sighed and rolled her eyes before reminding him what could happen if he overdid things when he admitted to his amount of activity. Then she ended up praising him for his accelerated level of recovery, not that it excused ignoring her advice. Phineas was just glad that he'd pretty much be back to normal before school started not too far in the future.
What was really on his mind at that point went deeper than lingering physical issues. There was an action he wanted to take, to help heal a wound he'd only realized he was suffering from about a month and a half ago. But he needed to talk to Candace about it first, to make sure it was the right thing to do.
As though the thought had summoned her, a set of footsteps coming up the stairs along with the teenager's voice saying goodbye to Stacy reached Phineas' ears, and he was suddenly moved to act. He opened the bedroom door just as Candace reached it. "Candace? Could I talk to you for a minute?" Phineas asked as she closed her flip phone to end the call to her best friend.
"Um, sure, Phineas," Candace replied, confused. "What do you need?"
"It's actually kind of important," he said as he waved her inside his bedroom and closed the door behind her. He waited until she sat down on the edge of Ferb's bed before continuing. "It's about, um, William Connors."
"What about him?" Candace practically growled. The man was a topic almost certain to always set her off just at the mention of his name. "Are you having nightmares again?"
"No, no, that's not it," Phineas quickly assured her. Those had started to fade away right after Candace had comforted him in the middle of the night soon after he and Ferb had returned home, and had pretty much ended as soon as they'd been told the man had been declared incompetent for trial and institutionalized in the secure wing of the Tri-State Mental Health Hospital a little ways out of town. It had been a pleasant surprise to see how fast the wheels of justice had turned for the case.
Candace narrowed her eyes as she eyed up her brother. "Well, something's bugging you about him. You're not worried about him getting out or anything, are you?"
Phineas shook his head. "Not really. Although I suppose you could say this is somewhat related to that, at least indirectly."
Candace rolled her eyes. "Phineas, just spit it out. You're making me nervous."
"I don't want to be linked to him any more," he said simply. "I don't want there to be a connection he thinks he can use at some point in the future to try to come back into my life." He shrugged. "I want to be able to move on, and away from him."
"Are… you saying what I think you're saying?"
"I was thinking of trying to have William Connors' parental rights terminated." Phineas sighed when Candace's eyes got bigger and her jaw dropped at the statement. "But I don't think I should do it alone. It doesn't make any sense to just terminate his rights for me, so I wanted to talk to you and see what you thought of the idea. If you don't want to do it, I won't worry about it any more. It's not like he's going to get out of either the hospital or prison before I'm an adult and can take care of myself anyway."
Candace raised a hand to cut off her brother's rambling. "Wait a minute here. Let me see if I got this straight. You want to terminate Connors' parental rights, but you won't if I don't want to."
Phineas nodded. "That's right."
Candace chewed on her lower lip. "I hadn't even thought about it, to be honest."
"Really? Wow. I'm actually kind of surprised by that," Phineas said with a shrug.
"What do you mean?"
"Candace, you practically explode if the name William by itself is brought up in casual conversation, and I really feel sorry for Mrs. Connors at the library after the way you reacted the last time you were there and heard somebody call out to her." The boy's eyebrows rose as his expression screamed, "Well, am I right?"
Candace frowned, the expression all the deeper for the fact that he was right. "Hey, I apologized for that."
Phineas couldn't help but grin. "Yeah, well, she still flinches every time she sees you walk in the door. You really left an impression on her."
"Great. Now I'm scaring librarians." Candace sighed.
"No worries, big sister. She's getting better every day."
"Anyway, back to what we were talking about," Candace said in a rush, blushing. "Are you serious about wanting to terminate Connors' parental rights?"
Phineas' happy expression faded and he grew serious. He nodded. "It's like he still has a little bit of a hold on me, with that legal connection. I mean, it's not like he's going to be paying any more child support, so we don't need him for that. And Dad is our dad. I don't need or want another one."
Candace considered what he'd said, staring at her lap as she chewed on her lower lip. "I think you're right," she finally said quietly, not looking up. "Lawrence Fletcher is more of a father than William Connors could even dream about being, and Connors is going to dream about being one as long as he thinks he has kids to be one for." She lifted her head and met Phineas' gaze. "I think we should do it. How do you want to start?"
Phineas came over and sat next to his sister. "I think we need to go to Mom and let her know what we want to do. I'm pretty sure she'll have to be part of everything, too."
"Yeah, and she'll probably know a lawyer who can take care of things for us." Candace took a deep breath and released it. "So what did Ferb say when you told him about this?"
"I haven't talked to Ferb about this." Phineas dropped his gaze to his lap.
"You haven't? Why?" Candace asked.
Phineas shrugged. "I couldn't help but think this had to be between you and me, at least at first. Once we talk to Mom I'll tell him everything. He deserves to know."
Candace gave him a sympathetic look. "Don't feel bad, Phineas. I know Ferb's your best friend as much as he's your brother, but sometimes there are things you just can't share right away. It's happened a few times with Stacy, and I never enjoyed it."
"Did you end up telling her?" Phineas asked, bringing his eyes up to meet hers.
"Every time but one," she answered candidly. "I haven't told anyone about that one."
"How did she take it?"
Candace smiled. "The first time was bad, but we were eight. The last couple of times she understood once I explained why. And I guarantee you, if anyone will understand Ferb will."
Phineas returned the expression. "Yeah, he probably will. At least I hope so."
They sat there for a moment longer, then Candace's brow creased as an idea occurred to her. "You know, there's something else we can do once we dump Connors," she offered.
"We can ask if Dad would be willing to adopt us. Make the relationship we have with him totally and completely legal." The more she thought about it, the more the idea excited Candace.
"But it's already legal," Phineas said, a bit confused. "He can sign papers for us and things like that."
Candace nodded. "Yeah, as our step-father. But if he adopts us, he'll just be our dad. Completely and utterly. No questions."
Phineas blinked. "And then there wouldn't be any room at all for William Connors to try and get back into our lives." He started to smile. "This idea sounds better and better."
"You bet it does!" Candace was getting more and more energized.
"And then Ferb will just be my brother, not my step brother." Phineas' smile grew wide. "Not that I thought of him as anything else anyway, but there's that whole legal thing you mentioned."
"Oh, this is going to be great!" Candace enthused, bouncing on the bed.
Phineas chuckled and shook his head, then sobered somewhat. "Well, we do still have to ask Dad if that's what he wants to do," he reminded his sister. "And we should ask Ferb, too. And Mom might have something to say about it all."
Candace hopped to her feet to cover up her sudden nervousness. "Yeah, we have to do that," she said, subdued. She looked at Phineas with a worried expression. "Do you think anybody's going to have a problem?"
"Not really, but we still need to ask. They might need some time to think about it, or get used to the idea."
"Yeah, that makes sense," Candace said, somewhat mollified. "Do you think we should talk to Mom now?"
"That might be best. Hopefully we can be done before Ferb finishes with Dad's computer." Phineas pushed himself to his feet, and the Flynn siblings headed downstairs.
As luck would have it, Linda was in the garage doing laundry when Candace and Phineas found her. Candace made sure to shut the door behind them as Linda gave them a slightly confused smile. "Well, hi, you two. Is there something you needed from me?"
The siblings shared a brief look. "There's something big actually," Phineas began. "I've been thinking about it for a while, and I just talked it over with Candace. We're in total agreement."
Candace nodded. "We sure are."
"And just what are the two of you in agreement on?" Linda asked as she slowly placed the shirt she'd been folding in the basket at her feet. "What is this about?"
"We want to terminate Connors' parental rights," Candace said bluntly, crossing her arms over her chest. "He's never been a real dad to either one of us, and now after what he did to Phineas and Ferb, neither one of us wants anything to do with him ever again." She shrugged. "Why should we be legally connected to him?"
Linda's eyes grew large and she withdrew slightly. "That's what you've been talking about?"
Both kids nodded. "At least just now," Phineas clarified.
There was a long moment of silence as Candace and Phineas watched Linda stare at the floor and rub her hands together. "I feel like I should apologize," Linda said finally. "I never realized what kind of man Bill could become, and how much that oversight would come to hurt you." She looked up then with tears in her eyes. "I could have terminated his parental rights years ago, using abandonment as the reason. But I wanted him to pay his child support, to be forced to accept at least some responsibility for your welfare. And I'll admit making him have to send out those checks was a little bit of revenge for treating Candace and me so poorly while we were together. Now you've both had to suffer for my selfishness."
"Mom!" the kids cried, dashing forward and throwing their arms around her. "No!"
"That's not what this is about, Mom, I promise," Phineas said firmly, his head pressed against her upper chest.
"It's not your fault he's an idiot. You had every right to expect him to take care of his responsibilities," Candace added, her chin resting on Linda's opposite shoulder. "His issues are his fault, not yours."
Linda squeezed them tight, releasing a little breath of relief at their lack of blame. "I love you both so much," she whispered. "You're the only good things to come out of that marriage."
They stayed like that for a short time, then stepped back and shared a loving smile. "We love you, too, Mom, and would never want to hurt you," Phineas said. Candace nodded her agreement.
"I know," Linda said. "Now why don't you tell me exactly what brought this discussion up? I mean, I understand why it would, I just want to know the particulars."
"A while back I realized as much as Ferb and I were home, and he was locked away at the mental hospital, I didn't feel like I was free of him," Phineas began to explain. "There was something lurking over my shoulder that was just… haunting me. I went over a bunch of things he said to me while he was trying to win me over and I just knew it was that connection he kept claiming to want to recreate with me. And I also knew I didn't want that connection. It took me a little while to figure out what I could do about it, though. Then I figured if it was going to happen, it should be for both Candace and me or it just wouldn't make sense. So I talked to her earlier today, we agreed on it, and then we came to talk to you."
Linda stared at her son for a long moment. He was completely sincere - he almost always was - and he'd just explained the feeling she'd had since the boys were returned that things weren't finished yet. And he'd also given her the solution she didn't know she'd been looking for.
The silence went on long enough for Candace to start getting nervous. "Mom? You understand why we want to do this, right? You're okay with this, aren't you?"
Linda blinked and turned her attention to her daughter. Her brothers being missing had been bad enough, but this whole thing had also dredged up all the old hurts Bill had done to Candace when she was just a preschooler. She deserved better than that. "I understand, Candace, and I'm perfectly fine with it." She gave her children a somewhat shaky smile. "I don't see why we shouldn't just go ahead with this. It'll sever my last connection with him, too, and maybe I need that more than I ever realized before." She stepped forward and once again took them into a tight embrace.
"Um, there is one more thing," Candace said once they'd separated again.
"There's something else?" Linda asked, surprised. What else could there be to this?
"If you're okay with this, and Dad is, and Ferb…" Candace shared a quick look with Phineas, who gave her an encouraging one in return. "We'd like to ask Dad to officially adopt us once Connors is out of the picture. He's always been our real dad if not our biological one, and we want to make that official. Tie it up all neat and legal like."
Linda's eyes widened again in shock at the suggestion. It was only a second later that she began to smile. "I think that's a wonderful idea," she said with a small chuckle. "And I think your father would be honored."
"We still want to make sure we ask him, though. Him and Ferb," Phineas insisted. "We want this to be a real family decision. We won't push for it if anyone's uncomfortable."
"Definitely," Candace agreed.
Their concern for the family made Linda proud, and she just couldn't resist giving them another hug. "How about we talk it over after supper tonight?" she offered once she'd let go. "We can get everything decided, and then you two and I can go see my lawyer tomorrow and get whatever paperwork started that we need."
Both kids brightened at the prospect, then asked about what they were having for dinner. It didn't take long from there for things to go back to normal, Phineas returning to his room while Candace went into the living room to watch TV and call Jeremy to talk until the evening meal was ready. Linda just finished folding the laundry then went in to start her pot roast.
The meal went like it usually did, with lots of talking and laughing, but also with an undercurrent of anticipation. Candace quickly cleared away the dishes when everyone was finished, then surprised both Lawrence and Ferb by returning to the table. "Is it time?" she asked as she sat back down. "Can we start?"
Linda rolled her eyes. "Yes, Candace. Why don't you go ahead and explain to your father and brother why you're about to burst at the seams?"
"Did you get some kind of exciting news earlier today?" Lawrence asked, an amused smile on his face.
"Nope," Candace answered brightly. "But I think I'm going to let Phineas start. It was his idea."
That made Ferb give his brother a startled look. They hadn't discussed anything particularly exciting lately. What kind of news could Phineas have that he wasn't already aware of?
Phineas gave the green-haired boy a slightly guilty look in return. "I didn't mean to keep anything from you, bro. This was just something I needed to work through on my own, and then I needed to talk to Candace first, and…" He took a deep breath and blew it back out slowly. Settled, he then proceeded to explain his idea for terminating William Connors' parental rights, and why it was so important to him.
When he was done, Ferb simply placed a light hand on his brother's forearm and gave him a small, understanding smile. That was the kind of thing that was most certainly personal, and the rationale given was more than enough to erase any hurt that might have been inadvertently delivered.
"Thanks for understanding, Ferb," Phineas said quietly.
"And that was just the start?" Lawrence asked, noting the exchange between the brothers out of the corner of his eye but aiming his question at Candace. "What more could we have to talk about? I mean, of course I support the decision you two have made in regards to the termination, I would never even think of doing anything else, but…" His words trailed off a bit helplessly as his confusion came to the fore.
Candace shared a smile with Phineas, and the girl looked Lawrence right in the eyes. "Dad, we were wondering if after this whole thing goes through if you'd be willing to officially adopt Phineas and me. I mean, I told you right after the boys went missing that I consider you my real father, and I know Phineas feels the same way, and no matter what that won't change, and…"
"What Candace is saying is that we'd really like to make it completely and totally legal," Phineas finished for his sister. He turned to Ferb. "That is, if both of you are all right with it. We don't have to change anything if either of you don't want to."
Ferb's expression turned surprised all over again, but he made no further gesture or comment.
Lawrence looked from Flynn sibling to Flynn sibling, took in their earnest, eager expressions, and felt the tears well up in his eyes. "I would be honored to adopt the both of you," he said in a gentle, emotion-filled voice. "I've always loved you like you were my own from the very start." He spread his arms wide, and both Phineas and Candace got up and rushed into the warm embrace that had been offered.
"Hey, Ferb," Phineas said once the hug had ended. "Are you okay with all this? If you're not, we won't do it. I mean it."
"I'm all right with it," Ferb said slowly, his face undecipherable. "But if it's going to happen, I have a request of my own."
"What request?" Phineas asked before anyone else could. There was a fear behind his question that spoke of a worry that a barrier was about to come up between them.
Ferb merely looked at Linda - who'd been watching the whole proceedings with a hopeful, sentimental gaze - and smiled. "If Father is going to adopt Phineas and Candace, I would be grateful if you'd do me the honor of adopting me. Then our family would be complete."
Linda gasped, the sound echoed by both Candace and Lawrence, and brought her hands up to her mouth in surprise. Phineas began to grin. Ferb continued to gaze at his mother expectantly.
"Of course," Linda whispered finally, a smile of her own breaking through when she dropped her hands back to the table. "I would love to adopt you, Ferb. I love you!" She gave a little laugh and offered the boy a hug of his own, and he quickly took her up on it.
"This is just awesome!" Phineas exclaimed as Ferb took a step back.
"Yes. Yes, it is," Ferb agreed with a tiny smile.
There were more hugs and laughter after that, along with a discussion about what was going to be done the next day. They all came up with questions for the lawyer, and decided they would all go to the appointment Linda would arrange. And when they went to bed that night, all five of them had light hearts and bright expectations for the future. The hard journey William Connors had put them through was finally over, and they had come out the other side stronger and better than ever. Life was simply wonderful.