Sometimes, someone asks their mom, "Don't you think it's strange that Ferb doesn't talk?" So far the count is three substitute teachers, two regular teachers, one camp counsellor, and one other mom.
Mom always says, "no," now. Once, Phineas did catch them talking about it. He had gone downstairs for a glass of juice, and she was sitting at the kitchen table with their dad. "So you don't think we should… you don't think it's me? Or Phineas or Candace?"
Phineas had stood outside the door. He didn't think it was him. He hoped it wasn't him. It had never really occurred to him that there was anything wrong with Ferb not saying so much. He talks to Phineas just fine.
Dad had said, "No, I think he's getting on great. He loves being here."
"So was it- I mean, was it after…?"
"Ferb's never really been particularly loquacious. It got a little worse after- But he communicates perfectly well. Don't worry, darling."
Phineas had worried, a little. He likes having a brother. He loves Candace too, of course, but Ferb is his best friend and his partner in all of their plans. Phineas is not a psychology expert (of course he's read a little) but he would hate to be the reason Ferb doesn't talk. He had always thought that was just Ferb. There's nothing wrong with it.
Ferb was sitting on the bed when he got back. He nodded at Phineas and smiled. Then he looked at Phineas's empty hand. He reached down beside the bed and pulled a carton of juice from the cooler (a remnant of the day's activity – undersea picnicking between trying to form an island of their own) to give to Phineas.
"Thanks. Hey - if I was drowning or something, you'd shout for help, right?"
Ferb blinked. "Of course."
"Yeah, that's what I thought."
"You can swim."
"I know. Forget about it."
* * * *
The next teacher says, "And he does everything Phineas asks."
This isn't true. Ferb disagrees with Phineas more often than anyone else. There was the time Phineas thought Ferb had created the spy mission; when he finally heard what Ferb was saying he looked around and his brother's arms were folded. Phineas looked at him and said, "You didn't do all that, did you?" Ferb had just narrowed his eyes and gone back to his book.
The teacher says, "Communication is an important part of development."
It doesn't always help when Ferb does speak. There's the time Ferb stares at him and asks, "You do know that Isabella likes you, right?" She had just gone home after a flying visit to offer her assistance in alien communications.
"Of course. I like her too." Isabella is awesome. She throws herself into their plans better than anyone else, she has a number of very useful skills, and Phineas is always glad to have her around.
Ferb narrows his eyes and at the time that makes no sense at all.
* * * *
Most of their friends don't comment on it any more. Once, earlier on, some kid at the mall asked whether Ferb doesn't talk cause he's an idiot.
Candace shrieked, "Leave my brothers alone!" and punched him in the face.
That wasn't really necessary, since Ferb nerve-pinches people who threaten him. (And if anyone needs proof that Ferb doesn't always listen to Phineas, then that's it – Phineas has told him before that they probably shouldn't do that). But Phineas appreciates that Candace is their big sister and she wanted to stand up for them. She's good about things like that.
They still run away, and end up at the back entrance to the mall, sitting on the grass. They're all breathing hard and Ferb looks at Candace.
She says, "Oh, shut up, you," and punches him lightly on the arm, laughing the whole time.
* * * *
Ferb looks at the space beside them in the garden.
"Yeah," Phineas asks, "Where is Perry?"
Ferb shrugs. Somewhere in the distance, there's the sound of an ice-cream truck, oddly distorted, like its being dragged through the air. That's weird.
Mom comes outside. "Hey boys."
"Hey, mom," Phineas says. Ferb waves at her.
She says, "You want to know what I found in the attic? Your Dad's old toy-soldiers. You want to take a look? I thought maybe you'd like to have a go with them. You could use the sandpit for a battleground!"
Ferb takes the box, hugging their mom with one arm.
"Thanks, mom," Phineas says. She pats them both on the shoulders and goes back inside. Phineas says, "Ferb, I know what we're going to do today."
Later, Ferb is using the blowtorch, with a green military helmet above the facemask. Phineas is hovering beside him with blueprints and Ferb points at the design for the trenches.
"Yes, I know. But the tiny horses won't." Ferb shakes his head. He points again, and starts drawing over the plans with the pen he had stuck behind his ear.
"Hey, you're the battle simulation chief engineer, go nuts." Ferb smiles and starts redesigning.
Ferb is just better at the engineering stuff – it doesn't bother Phineas. Ferb communicates better in blueprint than most people do in English. Phineas is programming the AI for the cavalry and he trusts Ferb to do the engineering. Everything else they can divide between them later.
"Hey, Ferb," Phineas says, "do you want to be the green horses or the blue ones? Or should we get Isabella?" Ferb tips his mask up to look at him. "Yeah," Phineas says, "I like it better when we're on the same team too."
"Hi, Isabella. Right on time."
"Oh, just playing with these old toy soldiers my Dad stashed in our attic. We've souped them up a little."
"Cool. Can I play? The Fireside Girls are working on our Battle Tactics and Strategy badge."
"Sure. You can be the blue horses." He looks at Ferb. "I like the green ones."
"Well," Ferb says, "you can be something of a traditionalist."
* * * *
The battle ends in a draw, when a flood of ice-cream syrup washes the whole scene away. Ferb grabs Phineas's arm to stop him being washed away too, and they hang onto the fence. Isabella and the Fireside girls hold onto each other, and thankfully a flood of ice cubes follows the syrup, so at least everything's clean, if a little cold. Phineas would hate mom to be mad at them for getting everything sticky.
Isabella and the Fireside Girls wave goodbye and Phineas is left under the tree with Ferb. They've rescued a few of the soldiers, and Ferb pushes them gently over the dirt. Phineas takes the left battalion and they launch an attack on the root of the tree.
Perry finally reappears, just about at the time it starts raining ice-cream topping.
"Weird," Phineas says.
Ferb looks at him.
"Yes," Phineas agrees. "Yes, I do want an ice cream sundae. Let's go."
Ferb stands up.
"Chocolate or vanilla?" Phineas asks.
"Of course," Phineas agrees. "Both is much better."
Ferb smiles at him and nods once. They walk into the kitchen together. Phineas gets the ice cream and Ferb gets the glasses; Phineas gets the spoons and Ferb gets the syrup. They meet at the table at the same moment. Ferb takes one of the spoons from Phineas's hand and slides him a glass. He looks at the ice cream with great concentration and begins to make Phineas the first sundae.
Phineas just doesn't understand how anyone thinks his brother doesn't speak. They talk all the time.