"Daddy? How did you and Mommy know you were in love?" Phillipa Cobb asked her father over brunch. She frowned when Cobb spat out his orange juice and coughed as if choking. "That's not funny, Daddy."
Phillipa Cobb was twelve, and it had been awkward enough when she got her period for the first time a few months ago. The nice thing about moving to Danville was that it was a quiet city in the tristate area. The neighbors were very nice, and Mrs. Garcia-Shapiro was kind enough to help him with the talk. She also tried to feed the entire Cobb family matzo ball soup and enchiladas. James thought it was great, and ran around the Garcia-Shapiro house chasing after Pinky, their chihuahua. Phillipa and Isabella Garcia-Shapiro were good friends, so it was natural to ask Isabella's mother for help. Phillipa really enjoyed living in Danville, and had joined the same Fireside Girls troop that Isabella led. That automatically gave Phillipa a whole group of friends at school. She was also friendly, so she met other children in the neighborhood. Some of the families had young children to play with James, and none of Phillipa's new friends made him feel excluded. It was a wonderful place for Cobb to raise his family.
He had just never thought of Phillipa as grown up before. He wasn't sure he liked it.
"Why do you ask, honey?" Cobb asked her, glad his voice was even.
"I think I'm in love," Phillipa sighed. "I talked to Isabella and Addison, and they think I am, too. You would know for sure, though. You and Mom were in love and married and everything. So how would I know for sure?"
Cobb sighed. This wasn't a conversation he really wanted to have, but he understood how very important this was. Phillipa was trusting him with something significant, and he couldn't screw it up. "This is a serious question," he temporized. "It doesn't have an easy answer."
"Oh," Phillipa said, disappointed. "Addison though I should ask Phineas and Ferb to make a machine to tell me if I am or not, but that's part of the problem."
"What do you mean?"
"I think I love Ferb," she said softly. She eyed her brother, who was ignoring her in favor of the TV behind them, which had one of his favorite cartoons on. "Don't tell, Dad."
Cobb gave her a fond smile. "I won't. How about we talk more about it later?"
Ferb Fletcher was a good kid. Linda Flynn-Fletcher had helped throw the welcoming party when they had first moved to Danville two years ago. She and her husband Lawrence Fletcher owned the local antique shop, and their three kids helped make Phillipa and James part of their group of friends. Ferb was the quiet one of the two boys, and they never got into serious trouble. Phillipa described some wacky antics, but they were good kids from a good family. Cobb supposed it could be worse.
The later inevitably came. While James went to discuss Space Adventure movies with his friends, Cobb and Phillipa went to the den to look at old photos of him and Mal. "She was more than just beautiful, Phillipa. She was smart. Brilliant, really. It felt like the whole world was better just for her being in it, like just a smile from her would make everything better. Like she was the most important person in the world."
Phillipa looked from the pictures to her father's distant, glazed expression. "I feel that way about Ferb," she said quietly.
Cobb let out a sigh. "Ferb." He sighed again. "What's his full name?"
Phillipa paused. "I don't know." She frowned. "Everyone just calls him Ferb."
"You should ask him, then," Cobb told her. "It'll give you something to talk about." He gave her a wry smile. "I know he doesn't talk much."
She looked scandalized. "I can't do that! I'll look stupid! I can't look stupid! He won't like me back. He's so smart and perfect and he won't want to hang out with anyone stupid like me!"
Cob sighed. While he didn't think it was a horrible idea if she didn't ever date, it wasn't very practical. "Phillipa..."
"I can't believe I don't even know his full name!" She let out a wail and began to cry, which made Cobb feel even more awkward. He'd never done well with tears, and this made him feel even worse. He'd only thought to ask a bit about Ferb, to find out more about him. He never intended to upset her.
"Honey, how about if I help? If I start going through records..."
"That's cheating," Phillipa declared loftily, tears slowing. Oh, the mercurial moods of preteens.
"What if I ask Linda or Larry?" She looked horrified. "Or Candace?"
"She doesn't know either. I asked."
Cobb blinked, nonplused. Candace was Ferb's stepsister. He would have thought she would know his name. "Well, what about Phineas? They're always together. He would know it, right?"
"I'd feel stupid asking him..."
Not wanting to start Phillipa's tears again, Cobb hastily shook his head. "Let me take care of it, Phillipa. I'll talk to Phineas..."
"No! You can't! Then he'll tell Ferb!"
Cobb wanted to sigh and rub at his forehead. He wished Mal was still alive. She would have known what to do. "All right. I'll figure out a way to get Ferb's name from Phineas without talking to him. How's that?"
Phillipa grinned and threw her arms around Cobb, gripping him tight. "Oh, Daddy! Thank you! Thank you!"
As she ran to go call Isabella, Cobb sighed. He had been thinking of using a PASIV, but he didn't have one anymore. It would have been too much temptation.
He would have to call Arthur, maybe get the old team together. Most extractors hated going into the minds of children. Those dreams were too unstable, too changeable. Cobb didn't think even he would be able to handle it alone.
No, he would need the whole team for this one.
"You're asking me to extract from a child," Arthur said, disapproval in his tone. "And I can easily look up birth records."
"I promised Phillipa..."
"Dammit, Dom. Do you even know what you're asking? The risks involved?"
"I'm asking because you're the best," Cobb said quietly. "And because I know you'll tell me what the risks are. Even I don't know them, since I haven't done it before."
"Children's minds are too malleable," Arthur began. "You have to be careful because there isn't much context, and it's too easy to warp them. There's usually not as much need for subtlety in a child's mind. Plus, dosing everything would be weight-based and would be delicately done."
"Any chance of calling in Yusuf?"
Arthur sighed. "Dom. Just look up the records. Or let me. That's easier than taking this risk."
"I promised my daughter. I can't break that trust. I've ruined everything else, Arthur. I don't want to start ruining what little I have left." Cobb sighed.
"It's been a few years, Dom," Arthur said, relenting. They had been friends for far too long, anyway. Ariadne had been right; Dominic Cobb had always been in his blind spot. "I'll see what I can do. For this to work, you need the best. I'll get on it."
"Thank you, Arthur."
"Don't thank me yet," he said, and Cobb could hear the smile in his voice. "We haven't been inside the child's mind yet. That might just break what little you have left of yours."
"I suppose you don't think this is impossible, then," Arthur said, looking at Eames and Yusuf. He had flown to Mombasa to meet them regarding Cobb's request, and he knew he had startled the forger by showing up in linen khakis and a polo shirt. Just because he knew how to dress up didn't mean he didn't know to dress down, too.
Eames snorted. "Does he always have to make things so bloody difficult? I rather enjoyed not having to watch my back on an extraction job for a change."
Yusuf's eyes were alight, more for the possibilities of using his skills as if this was an academic question. "The side effects of standard somnacin would be more pronounced in a child, I think. Rather like with the elderly. I could always try to fine tune the formula to remove some of the anticholinergic side effects, but we still have the dual problems presented by his age: fast metabolism and lighter body weight. It will be a delicate balance to get the sedation and the somnacin just right."
"I can't believe you didn't tell him to shove off and just look it up. The boy was born in England, yes? Just get the damn birth certificate."
"I did mention it to Dom," Arthur replied wryly. "He said something about how his promised his daughter."
"Bah. She'd never know. It's not like she can know about the dream sharing now, right?"
"She doesn't," Arthur confirmed. "But you know Dom well enough to know he'll do or say something stupid to give it all away. Those kids are his life. He'd do anything for them."
"Including leading us all to limbo for another turn," Eames said, shaking his head. "No thank you."
"Because you can't do it?" he challenged, setting the Englishman's eyes to narrowing.
"It can be done, Arthur. You know that. But it shouldn't be done, and therein lies the difference. Not all of us are beholden to the man, and not all of us are willing to follow his twisted little path."
"I like the challenge of the drugs," Yusuf said as Arthur frowned, "but doing this is only going to work if the team is the best. They have to be fast, flexible and almost childlike in their own way to understand how quickly and literally a child's mind can change. Anything your architect builds can be changed in the blink of an eye."
"That's why I'm asking you two," Arthur said quietly. "Dom can't do this. He's been out of the game since the Fischer job, and he's too close to it besides. He'd be more of a tourist if he came with us."
"Who are you going to ask to complete the team, then?" Eames asked, curious despite himself.
"I figure you and I can work as extractors, Yusuf can be chemist, and Ariadne can be our architect."
"Still in contact with her, are you?" Eames asked, eyebrow arched. "I thought you didn't mix business with pleasure, darling."
Arthur managed not to flush, though he looked down at his notebook and refused to to acknowledge the comment. "She's almost done building a level for Octavian. We'd be able to have her start something for us as early as next week."
"She isn't working with that two-bit piece of trash?" Eames scoffed. "As if you'd let her."
"She's a big girl," Arthur replied, looking up with a stony expression. "So are you in?"
Yusuf was already grinning and nodding, looking forward to the intellectual challenge of it. "I'm in."
Both men turned to look at Eames, who blew out a breath and shook his head ruefully. "You both are going to need my help to keep your wits about you, I know it. Fine, fine. I'm in."
Their target was Phineas Flynn, a twelve year old classmate of Phillipa Cobb's. The idea was to get him to think of his stepbrother's full name, and then extract it. That sounded simple enough on first glance. Ariadne was able to recreate the entire city of Danville, with enough boltholes throughout the map in case Phineas' projections got out of hand. Just in case, she was going with them, so that she could make changes to the map as needed. Based on some of the stories Phillipa had told about her friends, they chose to recreate summer. There would be fewer adults around, no responsibilities, and it would be easier to have Phineas interact with either his projection of Ferb or Eames' forgery of his friends. They would direct the conversation to Ferb's full name, have Phineas think of it, and then take it out of the wall safe in the Flynn-Fletcher household if he didn't outright tell them. When he woke, he would think it was just a dream.
The first sign that something was not quite right in the dream level was the platypus. Phineas and Ferb had a pet platypus named Perry, and they all knew that platypi didn't do much. As far as they knew, Perry wandered around the backyard or the household at will, appearing and reappearing throughout the day. Phillipa had said that Perry was cute, and was good for snuggling.
This Perry was standing upright on his hind legs, a fedora perched on his head. He glared at Arthur as if he knew what was happening, and pulled a dart gun out from behind his back, a thick watch on his wrist. The dart narrowly missed Arthur, who dodged and rolled to the side. He could have sworn he heard do-be-do-be-do-wah, do-be-do-be-do-wah behind him, which made no sense. Then there was a jazzy "Agent P!" behind him.
"What's that?!" he cried, looking around in shock. Perry the platypus was acting as if he was the head of militarized security. "Phineas shouldn't be militarized!"
"He's a child," Ariadne said, pulling Arthur to his feet. "Come on. I think Katie lives next door. We'll watch over the fence."
"If it's just a projection..." Arthur began, pulling his usual Glock from beneath his jacket. He turned, but Perry was gone. "Okay, this can't be good."
"Just continue with the plan," she hissed. "Buford's coming!"
Buford was a stocky boy, nominally one of their group of friends. He was also something of a bully, often in jeans and a black T shirt with a gray skull on it. He was accompanied by a thin Indian boy whose arms were gesticulating wildly as he was explaining how he managed to lose the one piece of sheet music he was sure would earn him a prize at the polka recital. "Hey," Buford said, "let's see what Phineas and Ferb are up to."
"Oh!" The other boy pulled out an extensive color coded schedule with the name Baljeet printed carefully on top. "I scheduled that for today!"
"Perfect." Buford pushed his way into the backyard. Eames had managed to copy the boy's swagger perfectly, and the projection of Baljeet hurried to catch up with him. "What 'cha doin'?" he asked.
Phineas and Ferb were under the tree in the backyard, looking over blueprints. Isabella had been batting her eyes at Phineas, and immediately whipped around to glare at Buford. Though he knew this was just a projection, Eames felt a little chill settle over him at the sight of it. "You and I are going to have to have another little talk."
Phineas and Ferb looked up with a smile. "Oh, hi, Buford. You're just in time."
"In time for what?"
"We've got plans to help the Fireside Girls put together the Fall Jamboree..."
"Boring!" Buford replied, rolling his eyes.
"But that sounds lovely! I can play the polka."
"I've heard you. You're not that good," Buford intoned, making Baljeet's shoulders sag slightly.
"We were thinking of making a carnival," Phineas continued. Ferb nodded. "You know, with booths and cotton candy." He pointed out the blueprints that he and Ferb were going through. "But of course, this is the Fall Jamboree. It has to be spectacular." Ferb nodded enthusiastically again.
"What about a booth where you guess Ferb's name?" Buford laughed, crossing his beefy arms over his chest. No one else was laughing. If anything, they all just looked at him.
"Who are you, Irving?" Isabella scoffed, shaking her head.
Baljeet snickered. "He's such a nerd."
"So says my nerd," Buford said, unfolding his arms to shake his fist in front of Baljeet.
He held his hands up in a placating gesture. "Sorry, sorry..."
"Anyway," Phineas said, ignoring the byplay as if it was a common occurrence. From Phillipa's stories, it usually was. "We have booth ideas!" Ferb turned over a blackboard that no one else had noticed, which had chalked sketches in his careful hand. "So there they are! We want more than just a carnival and concert atmosphere."
"Though really," Ferb stated in his usual droll voice, "a party is a party, no matter what you call it."
"Precisely, Ferb. So it's got to be the biggest party Danville has ever seen!" Phineas had a wide grin beneath his big triangular nose. "I'm thinking nacho launcher! Dip fountain! Chocolate rain! We can have Jeremy and the Incidentals play at the Fall Jamboree. Hey, can the Baljeetles play again?" he asked Baljeet.
"But I'm not taking Summer Rocks that week! And they have a free floating curriculum! I wasted my time and there wasn't even an A for my effort!"
"Well, I suppose we can ask Love Händel to play again. Mom and Dad really love them," Phineas mused.
"Isn't that them next door?" Baljeet asked, pointing over the fence. There was a stage with the three members of Love Händel playing a song. The kids all approached the fence, and Ferb flipped it over, allowing them all to squeeze beneath it and into the next door neighbor's yard. Arthur and Ariadne were sitting in the crowd, listening to the song and making sure they were as unobtrusive as possible.
"Every time I come near, you pull on the string
And I can't untie the knots tying me down.
We raise up our voices, intending to sing,
planning to run all over the town.
I'm following you, yeah, I'm following you,
Every last thing I do is for you.
I'm following you, oh, I'm following you,
Why can't you see my love is true?"
Isabella sighed and leaned closer to Phineas. "Isn't it such a romantic song?"
"What? Yeah. I suppose so. They're my mom's favorite band, and she loves those kinds of things." He completely missed her look of disappointment. He pulled a notepad out of his back pocket that was nearly as big as his head and wrote Love Händel in big block letters. "There we go. More planning to do, I think."
"I was expecting... something more," Baljeet said musingly, looking over the mostly empty notebook.
"Hm... We did roller coasters already. Twice. And the fighting tree houses and the pinball machine through downtown... There must be something bigger we can do for the Jamboree. Something to really make our mark."
"Kissing booth?" Isabella offered.
Phineas pondered that. "Too ordinary," he decided, missing the frustration on her face. "We need something big. Something Phineas and Ferb style."
"What is that short for anyway?" Buford asked, deciding to simply be blunt about it.
Phineas seemed to think about it for a moment, then shrugged. "Either way, it doesn't fit the marquee we've put up."
Before Buford could ask "What marquee?" one unfurled along the fence, and it had Phineas and Ferb present... written on it with silhouettes of their profiles behind their names. Arthur and Ariadne got up and made their way toward the Flynn-Fletcher household, which was where the safe was located.
"The problem with doing something amazing every day," Ferb began in a musing tone, "is that eventually the ideas dry up, and it's hard to top the prior event."
Phineas pondered the words as Love Händel packed up. Bowling For Soup was next on the playlist. "Ferb! That's it! I know what we're going to do today!" He grinned brightly at Ferb's raised eyebrow. "We're having trouble because we're thinking of doing just one thing for the Jamboree. But it's a Jamboree. There's supposed to be a wide variety of things to do, things to see. So obviously, we don't need one big event. We need lots of events." He smiled and nodded. "It's just the two of us, but if we adjust the programming on the Phine-droids and Ferbots, I think we can have the Jamboree all set up by this afternoon!"
The kids all slipped under the fence into the Flynn-Fletcher backyard as Bowling For Soup began to tune up next door. In no time, there was a veritable army of robots resembling Phineas and Ferb, each with blueprints under their arms. "Let's get to planning!" Phineas chortled. He looked around. "Hey. Where's Perry?"
The safe was in Linda and Lawrence's bedroom. It seemed to be the best place to put it, since Phineas wouldn't have spent a lot of time in there. His projections of his parents were off at the antique shop, so Arthur and Ariadne wouldn't be interrupted.
At least, that was the plan.
The platypus was there, fedora on his head and watch beeping at his wrist. He was poised on the dresser in front of the safe, ready to spin into a back flip that would send Arthur flying. He felt odd about taking out his Glock to shoot the platypus; all his research said that platypi didn't do much. Ariadne smiled encouragingly at the platypus and dreamed up a bowl full of platypus food. "Perry," she began brightly. "Aren't you hungry?"
Perry chittered at them, brows furrowed in intense concentration. As soon as Arthur stepped forward, he immediately went into motion. He flipped through the air and landed on Arthur's head. He dropped his Glock to try to peel the platypus off his head, but the egg-laying mammal was determined. Arthur backed up into the wall and tried to bang his head against it to loosen Perry.
Shocked that Arthur was losing to Perry, Ariadne didn't know what to do. After a moment's hesitation, she headed for the safe. She wasn't an extractor by any means, but Arthur was occupied and diverting Perry's attention. She did her best to ignore the little arms sending karate chops at Arthur's temples as he staggered around the bedroom, crashing into things as he was unable to peel the platypus from his head.
Yanking open the safe, Ariadne took out the single slip of paper in it. Unfolding it, she saw the name listed there just as Perry looked up with an angry chitter at her. Ariadne folded it back and stuffed it down her shirt, turning around quickly. The platypus launched himself from Arthur's head, but Ariadne rolled out of the way and dropped into a crouch. The two of them faced each other warily, and Arthur looked from one to the other. "Did I just get my ass kicked by a platypus?" he asked in shock.
"Yeah, I think you did," Ariadne said with a grin, not taking her eyes off said platypus. "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone."
"Let's get out of here," Arthur said, opening the door to the bedroom. They could hear music filtering in from outside, as well as Phineas and Isabella calling for Perry. "I guess you're wanted outside, buddy."
The platypus gave him a disgusted sniff and launched himself past Arthur, whipping the fedora off of his head and tucking it back underneath his blue-green fur.
"All righty then," Ariadne said, pushing herself up to her feet. "I think I've seen everything now." She handed the sheet of paper over to Arthur. "Can't hurt to have a redundancy for this, right?" she replied in answer to his unspoken question.
Arthur smiled and looked at the name on the paper. "We got what we came here for. Let's go."
The two of them stopped short at the threshold to the backyard. There were dozens of robots shaped like Phineas and Ferb scurrying around the backyard, each pair creating something different. The original Phineas and Ferb were in the center of the controlled chaos, a clipboard and easel beside them. Isabella, Buford and Baljeet were standing there with Perry, and other Fireside Girls were coming into the backyard to check their progress. Arthur picked out Phillipa easily, and she smiled at Ferb. He didn't seem to notice it, just as Phineas didn't seem to notice Isabella's attempts to get his attention. Ariadne caught Buford's eye and nodded toward the front yard. She and Arthur slipped out of the house unnoticed, heading for the front yard just as Candace was running in with Stacy.
Candace ignored Arthur and Ariadne, instead glaring at Phineas and Ferb, hands on her hips. "Phineas!" she bellowed. "I'm telling Mom! You can't hide this by the time she gets back, and you're going to be so busted!"
"But we're working on ideas for the Fall Jamboree. Mom would love it. We even have Love Händel and Bowling For Soup coming to play!"
In the background, Bowling For Soup revved up into another power chord as they sang out "This could be the best day ever!"
"Come on, Candace," Stacy was saying, pulling her into the house. "It's Bowling For Soup! Just let it go this once. You're working on becoming a better person, remember?"
Candace looked back toward the chaos with a plaintive expression. "B-b-b-b-but!"
"Not now," Stacy said as she pushed Candace into the house. "Besides, what are you going to wear? Don't you have a date with Jeremy?"
Brightening, now Candace pulled Stacy into the house. "That's right! Jeremy!"
With that as a distraction, Buford had made his way across the backyard and resumed his own appearance as Eames. None of the children noticed him. "Did we get it?" he asked Arthur.
"We've got it. Now let's get out of here before something else happens."
Somewhere in the background, there was an explosion on the top of a building labeled "Doofenschmirtz Evil, Inc." and the vague sound of someone saying "Curse you, Perry the Platypus!"
"You know, I don't even want to know what that means," Eames said, shaking his head as they went down the street from the Flynn-Fletcher house.
"It's probably safer that way," Ariadne agreed.
"Whatever else he says, Dom and I are even," Arthur sighed. "No more extracting from children. Ever."
In repayment for the extraction, Dominic Cobb had a barbecue and invited the team members. He had paid them, of course, but he understood that they hadn't done the job for the money. Some of the neighborhood children arrived, and he had invited a number of families as well. He called it a back to school party for the end of summer, and spared no expense in food or drinks. He was generally well liked in Danville, so the party was well attended.
"You know, you're looking good," Ariadne commented, seeing Cobb approach them with a platter full of burgers and steaks. "Domestic life has been good for you."
"I can't thank you all enough," he said, coming to sit at the table. Ariadne and Arthur were sitting on one side of a picnic table, and Eames and Yusuf were sitting across from them. Cobb sat down next to Arthur and smiled at everyone around the table. "Not just for this, for helping me make Phillipa so happy. But for everything. That even with everything going wrong, you still helped me pull through so I could be here for them again. I can never thank you enough."
Eames eyed Phillipa standing next to Ferb, who seemed a little disconcerted by her attention. Whatever she was saying, it was making him nearly blush. "It seems like your little girl is growing up, Cobb."
He sighed and followed Eames' line of sight. "Don't remind me." He gave them a wilted smile. "At least he's a good kid."
"Don't just call us when you need us, all right?" Arthur said, voice pitched just soft enough so that Cobb was the only one to hear him. "We can always visit like civilians."
Cobb's smile grew even wider. "I'd like that. I really would. Thank you."
"Hey, Dominic!" Lawrence Fletcher called from across the backyard. He was waving. "Next round of steaks are almost done!"
"This is a good town," Cobb said as he stood up. "You know, if you ever wanted to come live here, too."
"We'll think about it," Arthur said diplomatically. He looked around and gave Perry the platypus a wary gaze. This was real life and this was not a projection protecting Phineas anymore. Still, he found it unnerving the way the little platypus was constantly underfoot. Arthur didn't appreciate Ariadne's snicker, but he supposed if it had happened to someone else, he would be laughing, too.
"To a job well done," Eames said, lifting his cup of soda.
Ariadne couldn't help but grin as Phillipa leaned over and kissed Ferb's cheek. At least, she intended for it to be his cheek; he turned to say something to her at the last moment, and their mouths met in a kiss. "To Phillipa and Ferb. They're adorable together."
The entire team glance over at the two teens smiling shyly at each other. Cobb was looking over at them, pleased and mortified at once.
"Ah, parenthood," Yusuf said with a fond smile. "The adventure that follows you around no matter where you go."
They laughed and tucked into the food. As Phineas liked to say, it had been the best day ever.