A/N – This is a story I've had in mind for a long time, but it took me forever to actually get down to writing it. And yes, the title is a reverent tip of my hat to the magnificent Mr. Charles Dickens.

Characters belong to Messrs. Povenmire and Marsh.

I'm going to trust that my regular readers have read the earlier story that feeds into this…

Our Mutual Friend

Vanessa Doofenshmirtz was sitting on a blanket spread under a tree. No, not a tree; the Tree. The Tree under which her sweetheart and his stepbrother had dreamed up their most brilliant inventions and adventures. It was March, so the leaves were still coming in, and the air was still brisk, but she didn't mind. While everyone else had been talking about beach parties and tropical resorts, all Vanessa had wanted to do with her Spring Break this year was come home to Danville and hang out with Ferb.

The lanky, green-haired sixteen-year-old was sitting on the blanket as well, and scattered between them were the remains of a picnic lunch. Ferb had outdone himself, thought Vanessa. He had modestly insisted that most of the food had been his Mum's work, including the cold fried chicken, pulled from the bone, and the cold slices of her award-winning meat loaf, cut for making sandwiches. Ferb had whipped up the potato salad, himself, from his mother's secret recipe, and although he was afraid he'd overdone the mustard a bit, Vanessa had assured him it was very good. Best of all, he had baked brownies from scratch for their dessert, and she had eagerly scarfed down a couple of them.

"I'm experimenting with recipes," Ferb explained. "This one didn't turn out quite as well as I'd hoped."

"Are you kidding?" Vanessa mumbled through a mouthful of chocolate. "These are great!"

"I'm glad you like them," he answered, with a gratified smile, "but they're a bit cakey. And they don't have that good, crisp, shiny surface a proper brownie should have. Someday," Ferb vowed, "I am going to bake you the ultimate brownie."

"Well, while you're working on it," Vanessa brushed the crumbs from her sweater, "I'll be happy to do the taste-testing for you." She got up on her knees to reach for the cooler of iced tea and refilled her cup. "So, do I get my surprise now?" Sitting back down and taking a sip, she gave him a curious look.

Throughout their luncheon, there had been something sitting in the grass, past the edge of the blanket opposite the tree. It appeared to be a rectangular box, a little over two feet by one foot and about a foot and a half or so high, covered with a couple of large towels. She had asked about it earlier, and Ferb had said, "You'll see." Now, he began gathering up leftovers and placing them in the picnic basket. "I'm not certain what you'll make of this," he said quietly, a thoughtful expression on his face as he cleared away their lunch. "But, I've wanted to show it to you for the longest time."

His eyes met Vanessa's as he made this last declaration, and she caught the tender gleam in them. She couldn't even imagine what he was talking about, but it was obviously something important. Now, he handed her a napkin, and took up one for himself, carefully wiping any remaining drips or crumbs from his fingers. Vanessa followed his example without questioning. When he was done, he scooted across the blanket to sit in front of the mysterious box, and motioned for her to join him. "Close your eyes," he instructed. "Don't open until I tell you."

She did as he commanded, listening as the towels were apparently swooshed off, then she heard Ferb moving around, and there was a bit of scraping and a soft, glassy-sounding thump, and she sensed him sitting down beside her again. "All right," his voice was low and soft, "open your eyes."

The towels were spread on the ground, off to one side, and the glass cover of a display case rested on them – that was what Vanessa had heard, Ferb removing the case from the object it had been protecting. Now she was looking at what it had covered, and it took her a few moments to process what was sitting before her eyes. Her first impression had been of some sort of sculpture, or antique toy…? The tiny painted horses perched on narrow rails of red, green and yellow were the first detail to draw her full attention, and as she began to pick out more specifics – the airplanes, the tea cups, the carousel – she recognized what stood before her. "It's your Pleasure Garden," she gasped in delight. "Oh, Ferb…" There was a lump in her throat as she examined the miniature replica of the backyard amusement park Ferb and Phineas had built when they were ten. Vanessa had never forgotten the wonderful afternoon she had spent there, how Ferb had taught her to fly the Airplanes and coaxed her into trying the Steeplechase. She had felt like a silly little girl, riding the Carousel and spinning the Tea Cups with him, and she had loved every minute of it. "How on earth did you ever…?" she murmured, awestruck by the intricacy of the details. Vanessa fell speechless at that point, for her eyes had found the Enchanted Glade. There was no water in the canal, but there was a miniscule Swan Boat sitting just outside the entrance, and her breath caught as she peered at it more closely. Instinctively, she reached for it, then pulled back, casting an apologetic look at Ferb. With a slight nod, he gave her his permission, and she carefully lifted the boat with her fingertips and placed it in her other palm. The neck of the swan was fractured and bent, and Vanessa's eyes were a bit misty as she looked to Ferb's. "You even put in our boat." Vanessa and Ferb had ridden the Enchanted Glade together, and had ended up capsizing their Swan when he had tried to pluck one of the artificial water lilies for her. She knew he had been in love with her, or at least infatuated with her, as far back as that, but the thought that he had bothered to recreate such a tiny detail touched her to the core. "I can't believe you built a model of the entire Pleasure Garden. It must have taken forever!"

Ferb was still and silent as she looked at him. Vanessa could tell when he was mentally piecing together words and she patiently waited for him to speak. At last, he said, "It's not a model."

She laughed slightly at this; he could be so picky sometimes about using the correct words. "Okay, replica? Reproduction? What would you call it?"

"Vanessa…" There was a flicker of anxiety in his eyes as he faced her. "You're never going to believe this, but… That is the Pleasure Garden. That boat," he indicated the swan still in her hand, "is the actual boat we overturned in the canal."

She could tell he was serious, and she looked from him to the boat and back again before she said, "But, how did you…?"

"I have no idea," he confessed. "We all walked out of the yard, and when I went back in, the Pleasure Garden had gone and this was sitting right here."

Ferb had to be telling the truth, thought Vanessa, examining the whole thing again. There was far too much detail for it to be only a replica of the original. Gingerly, she replaced the Swan Boat in the dry canal. They had both ended up soaking wet that day, but Ferb had come up with the lily blossom and, in a gesture of chivalry worthy of his British ancestors, had gallantly tucked it into her dripping hair. She had worn it all the way home and, on a whim, tucked it away in a drawer; she wondered what Ferb would think if he knew she still had that silly fake flower. She might have told him then, but her mind was suddenly jolted by the memory of how she had gotten home that night. Vanessa's eyes went wide and she drew a sharp breath as she continued to stare at the miniature Pleasure Garden. Clearly, Ferb had noticed her reaction, for now he reached out and touched her arm. Turning toward him, she saw his inquisitive expression, and said, "I think – I may know what happened. You're going to think I'm crazy," she warned.

"Try me," he prompted her.

Vanessa collected her thoughts and began, "You know how my dad is always building these crazy Inators of his? Well, he built this one he called the 'Shrinkinator.' He tried to shrink all these famous buildings for his train set once. Yeah, I know," Vanessa rolled her eyes, heading off any snickering remarks, although Ferb had not so much as cracked a smile. "But," she gestured at the little park, "this is exactly what the Shrinkinator would do if you used it on the Pleasure Garden."

Ferb looked perplexed by this. "But, why would your father want to shrink the Pleasure Garden? Unless he was aiming at me," he added, finally showing a flicker of amusement.

"No, no," Vanessa returned the half-smile. "He wouldn't have cared about that. You were just a kid then, and we were just friends. Besides…" This was the even crazier part, and she hesitated for a moment before she went on. "I don't think it was my Dad who did this." Vanessa extended her hand toward Ferb, and he took it in both of his, giving her an encouraging squeeze. "Ferb, I am going to tell you something that is going to sound like the most insane story you've ever heard, but you have to believe me. I couldn't make this up."

"I promise, I'll believe whatever you tell me." His solemn gaze spoke of utter sincerity.

"That day, when I left here," she began, then stopped to digress. "I've told you how my Dad is always coming up with these Evil Schemes of his, and how he has this Secret Agent Nemesis who's always 'thwarting' him?" That was the most Vanessa had ever told him on the subject. The whole truth was too much to expect anyone to swallow.

Ferb didn't nod. He didn't do anything but blink a couple of times and regard her with an intent look.

"Well…" Vanessa wasn't sure how to take his reaction, "he picked me up that night and gave me a ride home. Dad's Nemesis. And he had something in the back of his… car," she went with the safe description, "that looked like the Shrinkinator. It probably doesn't mean anything," she dismissed this thought with a flutter of her hand. "I don't even know why he had it, or why he would have used it on this. I mean, it's not like he even knows you." Vanessa saw Ferb's chest rise and fall as his breathing grew more rapid. And no one else would have noticed, but she also became aware that he was nibbling at his lower lip. "I just don't know of anything else that could do this," she gestured again at the Pleasure Garden. "It's too weird a coincidence not to mean something."

Ferb was inhaling more slowly now, as if striving to calm himself. He avoided her eyes, his gaze drifting over the little horses and airplanes. He was still holding her hand, and was stroking it softly with his thumb. Neither of them spoke for what seemed like an eternity. When Ferb finally opened his mouth, the sound that escaped him was little more than a whisper. "Vanessa, you know I have trusted you in the most intimate of ways. I want to trust you with this, as well." When he faced her, the intensity of his gaze made her own heart beat faster. "But, you have to understand, this isn't just my secret. I'm not even supposed to know about this. You have no idea of the harm that could come of this getting out – or getting back to your father."

"Ferb," she laid her free hand on his cheek and regarded him with steady eyes, "you can trust me with anything."

He turned his face slightly to lay a kiss in her palm before he reached up for her hand and cradled it in his lap with its companion. "I think I know what happened," he said, in a low voice, and she scooted closer to him to listen. "Vanessa, your father's Nemesis does know me."

"Oh, no, I doubt that," she shook her head slightly. The whole Evil Scientist versus Semi-Aquatic Mammal thing was so outlandish, he couldn't possibly know about it; he had to be mistaken.

"His name is Perry," said Ferb, simply. "He's a platypus."

His calm, matter of fact tone stunned her. "Ferb, how on earth do you…?"

"He's our pet."

Vanessa could do nothing for a minute but gape at him. Of all the weird, improbable things… Her father's Secret Agent Nemesis was her boyfriend's pet? She had never thought of Perry as anyone's pet. If she had thought about it at all, she would have assumed he lived in some secret lair called, like, "The PlatyCave," or at the headquarters of O.W.C.A. Besides, wouldn't an ordinary platypus have lived at the zoo or something? Not in some suburban back yard. And now, Ferb was acting like this was the most normal thing in the world. Vanessa's head was starting to spin, and all she could say was, "You never told me you had a pet."

"You never saw him, so it didn't come up. He's just a platypus," Ferb smiled slightly; "they don't do much, you know. When we finally discovered that he – well, it's a long story, I'd rather save that for another time. Suffice it to say, Perry and Phineas and I are all on the same page now. But, once I knew Perry's secret, I also knew his connection to your father. And, I presumed, to you."

Vanessa nodded. In some bizarre way, this was starting to make sense. "So, maybe Perry did have the Shrinkinator, and maybe he did use it on the Pleasure Garden."

"There's more." Ferb pondered for a moment before he ventured, "I think it was Perry who invited you here that day. You thought I had done it, but," he shook his head. "And I first thought it was Phineas, but it wasn't."

"You're saying… Perry invited me to the Pleasure Garden? But, why…?"

A bashful smile shaped Ferb's mouth, and his eyes were cast downward as he said, "He knew how I felt about you. Perry's always known a lot of things about me," he confessed. "He's a good listener."

Vanessa could easily imagine a certain little green-haired boy pouring out his heart to the loyal, furry friend who could be trusted to keep his secrets.

"He gave me a wonderful day with you," said Ferb. "And found a way to let me keep it."

"To let us keep it," Vanessa corrected, leaning in to kiss his cheek.

They were both surprised by a familiar Krkrkrkrkr, and turned to see the subject of their conversation emerge from behind the tree. Perry, not as young as he used to be, and looking for all the world like a harmless, domesticated creature, climbed over Ferb's knee and crept into his lap. But the platypus's eyes came into focus when they met Vanessa's, and there was the slightest curve to his bill when he reached out to her.

Vanessa fondled his paw as she remarked, "Oh, there you are, Perry."

And Ferb stroked his old friend's head as he said, "Thank you, Perry the Platypus."


A/N – OK, if you haven't read "Good Old Fashioned Fun" – and I'm hoping everyone has – that's the whole backstory about the Pleasure Garden, so, yeah, go read it now. And if you're wondering how Phineas & Ferb know Perry's secret, that's covered in "The Other Kiss." Oh, and for the outcome of the "ultimate brownie" reference, see Chapter 2 of "Vignettes a la Carte."